The Great Court at the British Museum

The Great Court at the British Museum
The Great Court at the British Museum

The largest covered public square in Europe, the British Museum’s Great Court was originally intended to be a garden. However with the creation of the reading room in 1852, the courtyard became the museum’s library and it wasn’t until it’s move in 1997 that the courtyard was opened again.

The Great Court at the British Museum
The Great Court at the British Museum

A competition was launched to find a new way to open the space to the public, eventually won by Norman Foster who took inspiration from the Reichstag’s domed roof in Berlin.

The Great Court at the British Museum
The Great Court at the British Museum

It is made of 3,312 uniquely sculpted panes of glass which were designed on computer and covers two acres. It increased the museums public space by 40%.

The Great Court at the British Museum
The Great Court at the British Museum

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Eye

TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Continue reading “The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe”

The Wrestler of the Antikythera Shipwreck

The Wrestler of the Antikythera Shipwreck
The Wrestler of the Antikythera Shipwreck

In the National Archaeological Museum in Athens you can find a special gallery for the finds from the Antikythera shipwreck, a boat carrying luxury goods from around 75–50 BC which was wrecked in a storm off the coast of Greece. It contained many statues, vessels, coins and of course, the famous 2000-year-old computer I’ve previously written about.

Many of the fine marble statues were recovered from the wreck site, but had been badly corroded after thousands of years lying on the seabed. The truly amazing finds however are those that were only half-buried in the seabed, leaving part of them beautifully reserved and part ravaged by time.


Some Funny Faces in Jerez

Every November I become bereft at the loss of my weekend fix of F1 and look forward to March and the spine tingling introduction of The Chain by Fleetwood Mac which tells me it’s F1 season again.  So, it’s only natural I’ve been glued to the BBC F1 website looking for snippets of info and some short clips of the new cars.

And this year they’re pretty new.  New regulations and changes in technology means we’ve got all manner of things to look forward to, from 1.6-litre V6 turbos to hybrid energy-recovery systems, and not forgetting a nose only a mother could love. All the talk is currently about those crazy (ugly?) noses as the teams interpret and stretch the rules.

Despite the anteaters, broom handles and hoovers racing around the Jerez track, I can’t wait to see how this massive shake-up of rules is going to effect the 2014 season. Personally, I’ve got high hopes for Button and Alonso, not least because Red Bull seem to finally be hitting a rocky patch.

What The Shanidar Cave Burials Tell Us About Neanderthals

The term ‘Neanderthal’ has become synonymous with the type of behaviour associated with ‘sluggish’, ‘brutish’ cavemen, and the term has entered the English dictionary as also meaning ‘an uncivilised or uncouth man’. Indeed, one online dictionary gives their definition of Neanderthal as meaning ‘crude, boorish, or slow-witted person’ and Neanderthaloid as ‘ill-mannered and coarse and contemptible in behaviour or appearance; stupid, oafish’ .

This view stems from the academic, religious and public climate that saw the first Neanderthal discovery in 1856, three years before Darwin published his ‘Origins of the Species’, and which cultivated the image of the Neanderthal as a deformed sub-human. Marcelin Boule’s discovery of the ‘Old Man’ of La Chapelle-aux-Saints in 1908 seemed to confirm this brutish appearance and led to the popular stereotype we know today, despite later findings showing the Neanderthal was crippled by arthritis and disease. This century old stigmatism led to the reconstructions which we see from various publications through the 20th century, depicting Neanderthals as everything from walking monkeys with spears to hunched, shambling creatures.

Only recently have the Neanderthals image started to be reassessed, with modern reconstructions portraying more accurate anatomical and cultural features, although academia is still divided on the subject of modernity and intellect. The language used to describe this period of time also contributes in some way to how we view Neanderthals and their contemporaries. Words such as ‘archaic’, ‘modern’, ‘pre-modern’ and ‘proto-human’ make us perceive Neanderthals as being somehow ‘sub-human’, unable to display the type of ‘modern’ behaviour which we associate with abstract thought, symbol use and manipulation. There is a note of surprise in the tone of articles when ideas such as burial, health care or symbolic thought are displayed by a Neanderthal site or find, as if this is somehow astonishing behaviour for hominids not of the ‘human’ sort. Headlines such as “Neanderthal hunters rivalled human skills” , “New Evidence of Neanderthal Violence”  and “Grisly finds confirms Neanderthal cannibalism”  exemplify the continuation of our judgemental view of Neanderthals.

Even in today’s climate of modern academic debate and reasoning, it is hard for theories of Neanderthal behaviour and culture more typically associated with the early-modern human contemporaries, to be taken seriously. Most are vociferously debated and on the whole rejected, whereas similar evidence from early-modern human sites are believed with little of the same dispute.

However, as more evidence comes to light, it is becoming harder to delineate between the behaviour of the Neanderthals and their contemporaries, and recent work is steadily demolishing the idea of the sub-human Mousterian man. These previous stereotypes however must be borne in mind when reviewing the evidence for and against Neanderthal culture and identical methods of examination and reasoning of the data must be applied to the Neanderthal evidence as for the early-modern humans.

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The Naming of Cats is a Difficult Matter by TS Elliot

The Naming Of Cats, a poem by T S Eliot
I call him Lynx, but who knows what he’s calls himself

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—
All of them sensible everyday names.


Treasures of Natural History: Dodos, Darwin’s Pigeons and Neanderthal Skulls

At a recent trip to the Natural History Museum in London I visited their new gallery of treasurers from their collections, which as you’d imagine, are amazingly varied and cover everything from geology and dinosaurs to early human evolution and the animal kingdom.

A composite Dodo skeleton at the Natural History Museum in London
A composite Dodo skeleton at the Natural History Museum in London

One of the most interesting specimens on display was a composite skeleton of a Dodo, the large bird native to Mauritius which was hunted to extinction over 350 years ago. The complete isolation of this island let the Dodo birds grow and evolve without natural predators and become flightless; much like the Kiwi and the Kakapo. Very few skeletons of Dodos have been found, so seeing the full majesty of the 3ft tall bird was a rare treat!

Continue reading “Treasures of Natural History: Dodos, Darwin’s Pigeons and Neanderthal Skulls”