Posts Tagged ‘Bristol University’

History Debunked on Bristol University’s Statue to Henrietta Lacks

October 8, 2021

There was news yesterday that Bristol University had put up a statue of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman outside its medical buildings. This was accompanied with rather grandiose statements hailing her as the mother of modern medicine. This surprises me, as you would expect from such a description that Lacks herself was a doctor, surgeon or biologist of some kind. As Webb’s video shows, she was actually none of these. She was an ordinary Black American woman, who died of cervical cancer. What makes her different is that cells were taken from her body, cultured so that the line has carried on, and were studied by doctors and biologists. This has led to a number of cures and treatments for diseases like the Polio vaccine. Some of this research was done at the university. Hence the statue. I think the decision to put one up to her may well have been influenced by a book that was published about her a few years ago, The Case of Henrietta Lacks.

Webb considers that the statue is part of a general campaign to pull down monuments to White men and put up statues instead to Black women, even if their contribution to British history and culture is actually quite minor. He talks about a monument put up in Wales to honour a Black headmistress. He feels that while the woman would hardly warrant a statue if she were White, at least she did something more worthwhile than Smiley Culture. He was a pop star in the 1980s who was promoted yesterday as a hero of Black British history in an article in the Metro by Alicia Adjoa. But Culture’s end was rather less than heroic. He committed suicide after being caught importing a massive amount of cocaine. Bristol, in his view, is trying to put up a statue to a Black person to replace the one of Edward Colston, pulled down by Black Lives Matter protesters.

There is indeed pressure to put up statues of great Black British figures. The argument is that there are too few monuments to Black people and that this doesn’t represent to the diversity of contemporary British society. The problem is that while Blacks have been present in Bristol since the 16th century, they’ve only been here in large numbers since the Empire Windrush. And the majority of Black Britons led largely humble, unspectacular lives. Hence the fact that many of these statues honour people, whose achievements, while worthy, are relatively small.

I also think the statue has been erected for reasons quite specific to Bristol University. The University has considerably benefited from donations from the Colston charities. This, not surprisingly, is resented by Black activists, and so the University responded a few years ago by appointing a Black woman to be its first professor of the history of slavery. As far as I can make out, her job is really to work out what to do with the money from the Colston charities in the way of anti-racism and pro-Black policies.

The University was also in the local news this week for having set up a bursary solely for Black students. BBC Points West announced that the current Black population on campus is only less than 3 per cent of the total. This seems to me to be a response to another accusation. Bristol has a large Black population. I don’t know what the situation is now, but London, Birmingham and Bristol were the cities with largest Black populations in the UK. But the number of Black students at the university was small. The problem with this criticism is that Bristol, as one of the country’s leading universities, has, or used to have, very high entrance standards. Blacks perform less well academically than the other races, and so consequently have less opportunity to enter further education without the benefit of such affirmative action programmes. Also, when I was at school back in the 1980s you were actively discouraged from applying to the university in your home town. Thus it wouldn’t have mattered how large Bristol’s Black population were, they would have been advised by their teachers at that time to apply to universities and colleges elsewhere. Of course, this has changed somewhat with the ending of the student grant and the introduction of tuition fees. More students are applying to local universities through the sheer necessity of keeping costs down by staying in their home town.

Now the statue of Lacks is all very well, but I feel that if statues are going to be put up, it should be to people with some connection to the city. If we’re talking medicine, perhaps the first Black nurse to serve in one of the city’s hospitals. Or the person or people who started St. Paul’s carnival, if there isn’t one already. My mother also remembers there being a Black Bristolian boxer of her parents’ generation. A statue could have been put up of him as a local sporting hero. You could even go back to the depictions of Black Bristolians published in the 19th century.

While these people wouldn’t have been great scientists, they would at least have had a genuine connection to the city.

Two Fairy Sightings from 20th Century Britain

June 7, 2021

My last blog post was about a video I found on YouTube from Irish television in 1966. They were covering the attempt by an Irish docker, Tim Hayes, to spend 101 hours buried underground near a fairy fort in order to disprove the existence of the ‘Gentlemen’ or ‘Good People’. The film included a brief interview with a local man, who said he would definitely not want to interfere with the fairy fort, and would be extremely upset if anyone else were to do so or interfere with the field in which it lay. The film testifies to the continuing power of real belief in the fairies, despite the onward march of rationalism.

But it isn’t only in Ireland or the Celtic countries that belief in the fairies still persists. People are also still seeing them in England too. I found these two accounts from the 20th century in Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, (London: Reader’s Digest 1973), p. 121.

All dressed in green

‘… When we were on holiday in Cornwall, my daughter and I came down a winding lane, and all of a sudden there was a small green man – all in green with a pointed hood and ears. We both saw him … we were cold with terror and ran for the ferry below.’ A 20th century description by a man from Shropshire.

A fairy guide

‘… It was on the Berkshire Downs, and we’d lost our way, and didn’t know what track to take. When I looked round, there was small man in green standing at my elbow. “You’ll be all right,” he said, “You take that one; you’ll be all right.” Then he didn’t disappear, but he just wasn’t there any more’. Described in 1962 by a Somerset farmer’s wife.

And sightings continue to the present day. I went to a folklore/ paranormal conference a few years ago here in Bristol on the fairies, which included people who very firmly believed in them. And when I was studying for my archaeology Ph.D. at Bristol university, I went to a seminar on fairies presented by the epic Ron Hutton. Hutton opened by singing the theme to the Southern vampire TV series, Tru Blood, before describing a sighting of a fairy one evening by a young man and a women in Glastonbury. Well, where else? The couple saw this strange light bouncing along the ground. One of them asked the other what on earth it could be, and got the reply ‘It’s a fairy. What else could it be?’

Having said that, you have to be careful of jokers. My mother had an old friend from college down in Cornwall. She went down there one year to visit her. They were out on a trip somewhere, and she, the friend, my father and the friend’s mother went on to wherever they were going, leaving the friend’s father behind to have a sit down and rest. When they returned they found that he’d been talking to an American woman. This was at a time when there was a spate of fairy sightings. The American had asked the old fellow if he’d seen any. Oh yes, he replied, he certainly had. They were at the bottom of his garden. That wasn’t remotely true, and when they challenged him on it, he replied, ‘Well, it’s what she wanted to hear.’ Sometimes that smiling old rustic telling you of his supernatural encounters may not be the naive, horny-handed son of toil in touch with the supernatural you believe him to be.

But in the spirit of this post, here’s another video I found on YouTube. It’s the folk-rock band Steeleye Span playing ‘Wee Wee Man’ about a fairy from the 1970s.

The Satanic Rites of Glossop Tories

May 29, 2021

Ho ho! We suspected as much! People as evil as Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVile have to be in league with the forces of darkness. Now there’s the proof that at least one local Conservative club has had truck with the Evil One. ‘Cause archaeologists dug up the occult image they were using, as well as the remains of candlewax, chicken bones and other paraphernalia from their diabolical ceremonies.

A friend of mine helps run a psychic research society. Unlike the ghost hunters you see on TV, who every week seem to encounter real, unquiet spirits and run around screaming that they’re possessed, his organisation is very serious about investigating the paranormal scientifically. Quite a few of them have backgrounds in the medicine and the sciences. There is a very sizable academic literature on parapsychology and the proper investigation of paranormal events, including the proper scientific protocols to rule out misperception, fraud and false results. The paranormal is now regarded by very many people as something as a joke, but it was taken very seriously at one time. The founders of the British Society for Psychical Research included some of the most prominent politicians, academics and scientists of the 19th century.

As they’re unable to meet in person due to lockdown restriction, my friend’s been arranging a series of Zoom talks about the paranormal. He asked me if I’d like to give one. I agreed, and chose the archaeology of magic as the talk’s topic. There’s been a revival of interest in the history of magic and witchcraft by historians since the 1960s. This was pioneered in the 1960s and ’70s by French historians, who wanted to investigate the ‘mentalites’ – the mental worldview – of previous ages. Interest in witchcraft and the witch craze of the 16th and 17th is immense, because of the parallels between them and the persecution of minorities by the horrific totalitarianisms of the 20th century – Nazism, Fascism and Stalinist Communism – as well as parallels to the Cold War and ‘reds under the bed’. They’re also investigated because of what they say about these centuries attitudes towards women. Feminists are thus particularly interested, including activists who believe that the witches weren’t servants of Satan, but female adherents of an ancient mother goddess cult. Historians are also interested in witchcraft because it marks the transition from the enchanted world of the Middle Ages, when the universe was occupied by angels, demons, fairies and magicians, to secular modernity and the rationalism of the 18th century. And finally there’s the modern occult revival, which began in the 19th century, which has been particularly investigated by Dr Ronald Hutton of Bristol University.

Archaeologists have been rather late to the party. I think this is partly because archaeologist tended to identify anything with a vaguely supernatural use as ‘ritual’, rather than religious. There was an attitude that archaeologists could not reconstruct the religious ideas of past societies from their material remains, although in the case of temples and shrines, that’s clearly not the case. But it can be difficult without textual information. Also, many archaeologists didn’t want the sensationalism that came with the words ‘magic’ and ‘supernatural’. The first major book on the subject was Ralph Merrifield’s The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic. The kinds of items and remains investigated by archaeologists as magic include human and animal remains buried under houses, possibly as foundation sacrifices, charms and amulets, curse tablets, witch posts – carved posts in houses to stop witches or the walking dead entering – witch dolls and bottles, as well as items of clothing like shoes also left behind walls in houses. One of the books I’ve been using is The Materiality of Magic, edited by Ceri Houlbrook and Natalie Armitage (Oxbow: 2015). This is a collection of papers on archaeology and magic that came out of an interdisciplinary course run by the University of Manchester.

One of these papers, by A.J.N.W. Prag, ‘The Little Mannie with his Daddy’s Horns’, recounts how Manchester museum acquired a devil figure – so they thought – in the 1970s. The museum was running an exhibition of Celtic heads, and the cleaner at the local Tory club in Hollingworth had discovered one when she was cleaning the cellar. The museum experts came down, examined it, and found the remains left from the last time it was used. Which was apparently in 1916 to benefit the troops at the front. The museum quickly arranged to purchase it from her, partly because they were afraid that Satanists, especially American, would get wind of it. However, after they acquired it, their staff suffered a series of accidents. People who hadn’t had a car accident in their life suddenly scratched both sides of their vehicles, one worker cut his head open and then managed to lock the keys in the car of the colleague who took him to hospital. Eventually it got to the point where no-one really wanted to touch, until one of the women took to soothing it physically. But there was a further surprise when they were about to put it on display. A visiting expert on Africa told them that it wasn’t actually Celtic, but African. Specifically, it was a nomoli figure from the Mende people of Sierra Leone. This raises the question how such an exotic item found its way to a Tory club near Glossop. The paper speculates that it may have been brought to Manchester by one of the Jesuits involved in the exorcism of the possessed nuns at the 17th century French convent, which formed the basis for the Aldous Huxley book, The Devils of Loudoun, and the Ken Russell movie, The Devils, with Oliver Reed. It’s possible that the image, brought to the convent by a missionary clergyman, may have been at the heart of the accusations of witchcraft.

The idea of the local Tories practising their Satanic rites sounds like something from Last of the Summer Wine. Back in the 1980s there was an episode in which Sid and his wife at the local cafe were catering for a Masonic-style secret society, the Bullocks. As Foggy and Clegg are talking about it downstairs with Sid and Ivy, Compo comes down from their upstairs room where they’re holding their secret ceremony. He calls them a load of pansies, or something similar. When asked, they’re all there stamping their feet like hooves and holding their fingers in front of their heads like horns, chanting ‘Who’s a pretty bullock then, moo, moo? Who’s a pretty bullock then, you, you.’ Later Clegg and Compo embarrass Foggy by stealing their banner and running across one of the hills with it, so it proclaims to all and sundry, ‘Bullocks’.

Is this the kind of thing that’s going on in Tory clubs up and down England, we wonder? I find the whole thing peculiar and funny, and it inspired me to make this painting of Thatcher as the Satanic figure, Baphomet. If you can’t quite make out the text, it’s supposed to read ‘The Satanic Rites of Thatcher’. Hope you enjoy it and don’t have nightmares.

Photo of Israeli Flag Flying Alongside Confederate at Pro-Trump Rally Shows Real Racism and Fascism of the Ultra Zionists

March 2, 2021

In a previous piece Tony Greenstein wrote protesting against the rabid witch-hunters of the Zionist Jewish establishment attacking Bristol Uni lecturer David Miller, he described the close relationship and collaboration between Israel and its supporters and real Fascists and islamophobes. Like Katie Hopkins and the noxious founder of the English Defence League and Pegida UK, and all round thug, Tommy Robinson. He illustrated this with several damning photos. The one below shows Israeli flags being waved alongside the banners of the English Defence League at an EDL rally.

There’s also this Tweet from Gabriel Kanter-Webber, whose name suggests to me that he might be Jewish, asking why the Zionist Federation invited ‘Hatey’ Katie Hopkins to their annual dinner.

And then there’s this pic of the Israeli flag being waved alongside the Confederate flag at a pro-Trump rally at the Capitol, attended by real Fascists and White supremacists.

Tony writes of these shameful incidents

‘Who can forget the flying of an Israeli flag outside Capitol Hill on January 6th alongside the Confederate flag and an assorted group of neo-Nazis and White Supremacists? Our own fascist groups such as the EDL fly the Israeli flag at demonstrations. Tommy Robinson and his Football Lads Alliance have worked closely with a group of far-Right Zionists led by Jonathan Hoffman, a former vice chair of the Zionist Federation without any criticism from the Board. That darling of the far-Right, Katie Hopkins, was a guest at an Israeli Embassy dinner and had her picture taken with the Ambassador Mark Regev.’

See: Defend Bristol University’s Professor David Miller – Defend Academic Freedom – Defend Free Speech – Tony Greenstein

This should shock many Jews, as there is a proud history of American Jews supporting Blacks in their campaign to end segregation. Jackie Walker’s parents are a Black American civil rights activist, and Russian Orthodox Jew, who met during a civil rights rally. But now it seems that Israel’s supporters have turned their back on such genuine anti-racism. Over here it seems that support from the official Jewish establishment towards such anti-racism was always somewhat lukewarm. David Rosenberg has said on his blog that the Board of Deputies tried to stop young Jews from attending Rock Against Racism events, because they were afraid this would expose them to SWP anti-Zionist propaganda. Now it seems the Zionist establishment is actively allying with real racists and Islamophobes.

And so long as this alliance continues, the ultra-Zionist organisations have no business lecturing anyone about racism.

Where Are All These Communists the Tories Claim Are Threatening Britain?

February 22, 2021

Okay, I might be a bit slow here, but I am starting to wonder what planet Nigel Farage, Priti Patel and the Tory party and press are on when they start screaming that British society is under threat from a resurgent, but covert Marxism? About a week or so ago now Zelo Street posted a piece about the McCarthyism that now seemed set to grip the nation. The smirking, odious, racist Priti Patel had announced that MI5 were looking into renewed threats from the Fascist far right and the Marxist left. According to her, the Socialist Party, or the Socialist Workers’ Party as it used to be known, might be infiltrating Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion. Yup, as in the days of the Cold War, the Commies and Trots are at it again, trying to infiltrate other left-wing groups and take them over.

In fairness, this was a tactic of the Socialist Workers Party, which practised something called ‘revolutionary entryism’. The idea was to infiltrate other left-wing organisations and try to turn them into front organisations for the party in an attempt to make Trotskyite Marxism something like a popular mass movement. They did it in the 1970s/80s to Rock Against Racism, which had been set up to challenge the rise of the NF, BNP and other Fascist scumbags. All that it achieved, however, was the collapse of the organisation as the majority of its membership left. They weren’t interested in Trotskyite Marxism. They simply wanted to hear some great bands while combating Fascism and racial hatred. It’s because of its antics attempting to infiltrate and take over every vaguely left-wing organisation, or capitalise on every left-wing issue at the expense of other organisations, that many on the left, from the moderate, reformist Labour Party to various anarchist groups, don’t trust the SWP.

Besides this is the fact that Black Lives Matter, or at least its American parent, is already a Marxist organisation. If the Socialist Workers were trying to infiltrate it, it would be a case of one Marxist group trying to take over another. It’s possible, but seems unlikely. It sounds like something from the Illuminatus! books by Robert Anton Wilson and O’Shea, about warring secret societies plotting against and trying to infiltrate each other.

As for Extinction Rebellion, from what little I’ve seen of its broader political content – and this comes from idly looking at one of the organisation’s posters put up on a wall while waiting for a taxi – it does seem to be a radical left organisation. It’s very anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-capitalist. But it seems to me that this comes from the very radical programme adopted by parts of the Green movement. When it first emerged in the 1980s or so, the German Green Party – Die Gruenen – included as one of its leading members the lawyer for the Bader-Meinhof gang. There’s a section of the anarchist movement that is also very ecologically aware. The American anarchist intellectual, Murray Bookchin, was advocating a green, eco-friendly anarchism back in the 1980s and in the 1990s there was a British anarchist mag called Green Anarchist, I believe. You don’t need to invoke the Trotskyites of the SWP to explain Extinction Rebellion’s socially radical, anti-capitalist programme.

Would the SWP be interested in infiltrating Extinction Rebellion? I don’t know. Possibly. But they aren’t nearly as strong as they were. I think Marxism as a whole suffered a loss of credibility with the fall of Communism, which might be why radical anti-capitalists seemed to switch to anarchism or else an undefined ‘anti-capitalism’ that could take in a range of socialist and radical left views. The Socialist Workers, now renamed as the Socialist Party, are still about. You can find their videos on YouTube. But even before the lockdown they didn’t seem to be the visible presence on the streets they used to be.

The Tories and their press need to scare people with a threat from the radical left. I remember that in the late ’80s and ’90s they switched from trying to frighten people with the bogeyman of Communist infiltration – although they’d done that with the Labour Party in the 1987 election – to anarchism with the rise of Class War. Now that Class War has also gone the way of many radical movements and fizzled out, the Tories in Britain and the Republicans in America have turned once again to invoking the spectre of Communism.

And because of the very anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro-LGBTQ+ policies adopted by some universities, they’re now trying to claim that western education is under threat from Marxist infiltration. Nigel Farage apparently was in the pages of the Depress a few days ago, writing that the Marxist takeover of our education system was nearly complete. Really? I must have missed all that. There are Marxists in the universities, and have been for a very long time. And some of them are excellent scholars. I got a feeling that Vere Gordon Childe, the Australian archaeologist who first devised the notion of the Neolithic Revolution – the idea that agriculture and the rise of the first settled societies were linked and constituted a radical break with the hunter-gatherer societies of the Paleo- and Mesolithic – was a Communist. He was, however, a brilliant archaeologist and highly influential, even if recent excavations in Turkey have demonstrated that people were settling down into villages before the invention of agriculture. And yes, there are and have always been academics with very pronounced left-wing views. I can think of a number from my own experience as a student. But many others, probably the vast majority, aren’t. And some academics, who privately hold left-wing views, are very careful to keep them separate from their teaching. And whatever their political views, I think the main concern of all teaching staff, from university academics to school teachers, is simply to teach, not to indoctrinate students.

In any case, there are laws against political or religious indoctrination anyway. I think it was introduced by Blair. Teachers are not supposed to teach their political or religious opinions as fact. They are to avoid this as much as possible. If they can’t, then they are supposed to make clear that this is just their opinion. This legislation has been around since at least the middle of the last decade, if not earlier. It should provide sufficient protection already from attempts by the politically motivated to indoctrinate their students.

All these claims of a surreptitious takeover of the education system by Marxists seems to be a return to the days of Maggie Thatcher, when rags like the Depress, the Heil and the local paper for Bristol, the Evening Post, ran stories about Communist teachers indoctrinating their students. The Scum attempted to titillate and scare its readers with a tale about children in various London boroughs – possibly Brent – being taught to sing ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’ as an anti-racist version of ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’. This is supposed to have been invented by the wretched rag, but I’ve talked to people, who’ve claimed that it was done in their former school, so who knows? At the same time, I’ve heard that Thatcher also introduced legislation with the intention of purging Marxists from the education system. In fact the Marxists got round it by claiming to be ‘Marxian’. They were only Marxists in culture. It was a fine distinction, but it allowed them to retain their jobs.

But apart from this, university is supposed to be a place for the formulation and discussion of a wide range of views. A vital part of the university experience is the exposure to different opinions and encouragement to form their own views. The current scaremongering about the Marxists trying to takeover the education system is the opposite of this. It’s an attempt to limit free speech and discussion, as Zelo Street pointed out, only the approved Tory views will be heard. Hence the appointment of a ‘free speech tsar’.

Now I will concede that some student bodies are intolerant with protests against talks by visiting personalities they believe hold unacceptable views. Gender critical feminists and their allies, for example, have found themselves blocked from speaking at some universities because their views are held to be bigoted against the transgendered. But there’s also a cancel culture on the right. The estimable Tony Greenstein put up a piece last week about attempts by the Board of Deputies and Bristol University’s Union of Jewish Students to have one of the lecturers, David Miller, banned as an anti-Semite. This is not because of anything Miller has said against Jews. His cardinal sin is saying that Zionism must be destroyed. As we’ve seen, the Board and the other, establishment Jewish organisations are fanatically pro-Israel and conflate opposition to that nation, or simply criticism of its barbaric treatment of the indigenous Palestinians, with real Jew hatred. But Zionism has never been synonymous with Judaism. For many Jews, it’s diametrically opposed, as the graffiti on a wall in Jerusalem had it. Zionism is an ideology, not a people. Stating that Zionism needs to be destroyed is a contentious viewpoint, but it does not mean that the speaker wishes harm to the Jewish people.

Who is the free speech tsar, who will defend lecturers like David Miller? I think it would be a very brave politician who would risk damaging his or her career by doing so in the present political climate. Even if they had the inclination to do so, which the political establishment doesn’t.

I do find some of the radical policies now being implemented in some universities alarming, like the reports that students in some places of learning will be required to take compulsory anti-racism training in order to combat anti-Black racism on campus. It’s obviously very well intentioned, but as I’ve said, racism really isn’t simply a case of White on Black, and I am afraid such mandatory courses are based on a very simplistic view of Whites that sees White culture as innately racist, or inclined to racism. But I see absolutely no evidence that Marxists are behind it.

All this nonsense by Patel and the Tory press about Marxist infiltration is just another Red Scare in order to whip up support for legislation designed to purge the universities of anything that contradicts received Tory ideology. They are trying to destroy free speech, not defend it, and the appointment of a ‘free speech tsar’ is in many ways dangerous and hypocritical.

For further information, see:

Zelo Street: Free Speech Champion WON’T BE (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Zelo Street: War On Woke = Government Censorship (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Defend Bristol University’s Professor David Miller – Defend Academic Freedom – Defend Free Speech – Tony Greenstein

If you wish to defend Dr Miller from these outrageous allegations, you can sign a petition at Change.org here, as I have done.

http://chng.it/rTqY9r2FgM

Time Team Creator Tim Taylor Attempting to Bring Back Show through Patreon on YouTube

December 14, 2020

Remember Time Team? That was the popular archaeology show on Channel 4 that ran from the late 1980s to the early part of this century. Presented by Tony Robinson, who played Baldrick in the Blackadder series, the show broadcast each week a short archaeological investigation of a different site. These investigations only lasted three days and attempted to solve a particular historical or archaeological. It would begin with the questions raised by the site they were excavating that week. Was it really the location for a Roman villa, lost Norman castle, or medieval manor house, for example? Robinson would lay out what has been found so far, stating what they hoped to find and saying a bit more about the excavation and who would be taking part, before finishing, ‘And, as usual, we’ve got three days to find out’.

It was immensely popular, at least for Channel 4 shows and archaeology programmes. It spawned a number of tie-in book and publications. Some of the programmes were written up as pamphlets in a series of Time Team Site Reports. In the spring/summer of 2004 or 5 the show also embarked on their Big Dig. This was a piece of mass archaeology involving the general public. The goal was to get the British public digging test pits up and down the country in their back gardens or other premises, and see what they found. And the British public joined in with enthusiasm. Some of the excavations were carried out, not just by the fit and able, but also by people with learning difficulties and/or physical disabilities. It was part of the show’s ethos to get everyone involved. They were also keen to demonstrate that archaeology wasn’t just about the rich, kings, princes and the nobility, but also about ordinary people. Hence there were a number of shows devoted to excavating industrial sites, such as a very early, pioneering factory in Birmingham dating from the industrial revolution. This was important not just for its role in the country’s industrialisation, but as a place where ordinary peeps worked. The Team also excavated further abroad. In one edition, they went to St. Kitt’s to dig on a former sugar plantation. This dated from the period of British transatlantic slavery. The show therefore discussed Caribbean plantation slavery and its horrors, and also excavated the site of the quarters of the estate’s enslaved workers. In another edition, Robinson also described the horrendous living condition of the urban working class in the 19th century, as recorded by the inspectors. This described people living in cellars mouldy with damp and with rags stuffed into the cracks in windows. One of these hovels also had a dead baby on the floor. He also described how factory owners would also purchase children from the workhouses to labour in the factories. Robinson’s a member of the Labour Party, and there was real anger in his voice when describing these horrors.

Time Team sort of fizzled out a few years after the death of one of its founders, Dr. Mick Aston, and a row over choice of presenters. One of the Team had been dropped, and replaced by a model. The new presenter had actually done a degree in archaeology, but this caused a nasty background argument. I believe the lady at the centre of row chivalrously offered to step down.

Now it seems the show might be coming back, though on YouTube rather than television. Tim Taylor, the show’s creator, posted a video on YouTube on the 11th December 2020 giving an update on how the attempts were progressing so far, and what remained to be done. The show’s being financed through subscriptions on Patreon, and the video’s partly an appeal for more people to join. The show also has its own Patreon Channel, on which videos will appear over the next few days of Helen Geake, Carenza Lewis and Phil Harding discussing the plans for Stage 1. They’ve started looking at sites and contacting key team members. Stages 2 & 3 will involve more research, site mapping on their new digital database, collecting key paperwork for each site, assembling potential experts, talking to local communities, and then creating a PD – Project Design, the archaeological strategy. They will also be auditioning new field archaeologists for Stage 3, with the possibility of a ‘dig off’. That will be when they really build the Team. They managed to get 1,000 patrons in 3 days, but in order to get Stages 2 & 3 underway they need to have 3,000 patrons by the end of January 2021. When 2 & 3 are complete, they’ll share the list of sites, so that people can choose which sites go forward to stage 4, where they visit those locations. Taylor states that the show depends on people supporting them on Patreon and appeals for more people to become members and patrons. He tells the viewers that they’re posting an old Time Team episode on their Time Team Classic YouTube channel on Sunday – yesterday, 13th December 2020. The show ends with a message of support from Robinson.

Time Team ANNOUNCEMENT Next steps and news from Tony Robinson! – YouTube

This is really interesting, and I’d like to see the show come back, but have mixed feelings about it. While the programme has been immensely influential and has doubtless got people interested in archaeology, it has not been without its detractors. The criticisms I’ve heard are that the Team never wrote up their findings and didn’t fill in the sites after they’d finished. This is only what I’ve heard, and so I couldn’t swear it was true, though I did hear about them not filling in their digs from two different sources. This has led to accusations that they have been trashing sites. That said, the Team were professional archaeologists with the exception of Tony Robinson, and some of the TV presenters brought in for the specials, such as Sandi Toksvig when they were digging up Viking York. She was obviously chosen because she’s Danish. They also had the support of some very senior British archaeologists, such as Francis Pyor, who was the head of one of one of the major British archaeological societies. Mick Aston, a founding member of the Team, was a lecturer at Bristol University, as was Dr. Mark Horton, who appeared on several of the shows before going off to front Coast. Raksha Dave, another member of the Team, has also subsequently appeared on various history/ archaeology shows. Although nothing is said about her ethnicity, Dave’s Asian, and I think her presence on the programmes wasn’t just due to her skills as an archaeologist, but also to try and widen the discipline’s appeal and include people from ethnic minorities. Like very many other academic subjects, there’s a concern in archaeology to recruit more people of colour. Mark Horton is particularly keen to see more people in general take up archaeology. When Bristol University launched its exhibition on the city’s involvement in the Slave Trade, ‘A Respectable Trade’, back in the ’90s the Uni also launched a scheme to interest young people, in which a prospective future archaeologist would be sent to work on an excavation in the Caribbean. Again, nothing was said, but it’s the kind of project, which I think they devised in the hope that it would appeal particularly to Black youngsters.

It’ll be very interesting to see if Taylor’s successful, and show comes back, if only YouTube. And there’s clearly a space there for more people from ethnic minorities to enter the subject and, perhaps, join the show as presenters.

Hopefully, if it does get off the ground, it will inspire more people, of all colours, to get involved in archaeology. The future’s yours, folks! Get those trowels ready!

A Trlingual Dictionary of an Ancient Arabic Language

December 11, 2020

A.F.L. Beeston, M.A. Ghul, W.W. Muller, J. Ryckmans, Sabaic Dictionary (English-French-Arabic)/ Dictionnaire Sabeen (anglais-francaise-arabe) (Beyrouth: Lbrairie du Liban; Louvain-la-Neuve: Editions Peeters; University of Sanaa, Yemen, 1982).

Sabaic is the ancient Arabic language of Sheba, whose present, Arabic name is, I believe, Marib. It’s located in what is now Yemen, and its Queen famously visited King Solomon. Fabulously wealthy, it flourished in the 10th century BC on the profits of the spice and perfume trades, and conquered Abyssinia, now Ethiopia. The Ethiopian languages Amharic, Tigray and Tigrina are Semitic languages descended from the South Arabic language spoken by these ancient settlers.

The book’s the product of a Colloquium on Yemeni Civilisation, which requested the four authors to compile this dictionary. It appears to be of the terms found on inscriptions in the Yemen, and possibly one or two other places. It is just a dictionary, and doesn’t include any texts or inscriptions although it does give the alphabet in which they were written. I picked it up really as a curiosity in one of the secondhand bookstalls in Bristol through my interest in archaeology and the Ancient Near East. The book’s really of use only to archaeologists, linguists and historians working in Yemen, and it’s another language that I haven’t learned. Nevertheless it’s a reminder of just how ancient and advanced civilisation has been in the Middle East. I don’t know if there are any books specifically on the archaeology of Yemen, but I found a book a few years ago on the archaeology of Arabia, which I think contained a chapter or two on Yemen.

And these nations’ antiquities are seriously threatened by the region’s wars. When I was doing the doctorate at Bristol Uni, one of the speakers at an archaeological seminar said that much of the archaeological heritage of Syria had been trashed by the fighting. We’ve seen ISIS destroy precious mosques, churches and other shrines, as well as an ancient sculptures from the ancient Mesopotamian civilisations like Babylon and Akkad. It therefore wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Yemen’s archaeological heritage, including that of an Sheba, isn’t also seriously endangered and damaged by the current war between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia. And I am afraid that Iran’s similarly ancient and precious archaeological heritage won’t also suffer catastrophic losses if Trump and the Neocons have their way and launch an invasion of that country.

We need to stop these wars, because the cost in human lives and to the nations’ cultural heritage has been immense. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, millions forced to flee and priceless objects and monuments destroyed. And so our knowledge of the past is diminished.

But books like this help preserve and stimulate an interest in the preservation and exploration of these ancient treasures, if only among those few scholars able to read the ancient languages.

Archaeologists Discover Bronze Agent Musical Instrument Made of Human Bone

September 4, 2020

This is an interesting piece of archaeological news from Tuesday’s edition of the I for 1 September 2020. The article ‘Bronze Age people turned human thigh bone into musical instrument’ by Nina Massey reported that archaeologists from Bristol University had discovered the instrument buried with other fragments of bone and tusk and axes buried as grave goods with a man near Stonehenge. The article reads

Researchers have uncovered evidence of a Bronze Age tradition that saw human remains retained and curated as relics over several generations.

The findings indicate a tangible way of honouring and remembering individuals some 4,500 years ago, experts say.

Led by the University of Bristol and published in the journal Antiquity, the study used radio-carbon dating and CT scanning.

Lead author Dr Thomas Booth said: “Even in modern secular societies, human remains are seen as particularly powerful objects, and this seems to hold true for people of the Bronze Age. However, they treated and and interacted with the dead in ways which are inconceivably macabre to us today.

“After radiocarbon dating Bronze Age human remains alongside other material buried with them, we found many had been buried a significant time after the person had died, suggesting a tradition of retaining and curating human remains.”

He added: “People seem to have curated the remains of people who had lived within living or cultural memory, and who likely played an important role in their life or their communities, or with whom they had a well-defined relationship, whether that was direct family, a tradesperson, a friend or even an enemy.

In one example from Wiltshire, a human thigh bone, crafted into a musical instrument was included as grave goods with the burial of a man found near Stonehenge.

The carved and polished artefact was found with other items including axes, a bone plate and a tusk. Radio-carbon dating of the thigh bone suggests it belonged to someone this person had known.

Professor Joanna Bruck, principal investigator on the project, and visiting professor at the University of Bristol’s department of anthropology and archaeology, said: “Although fragments of human bone were included as grave goods, they were also kept in the homes of the living, buried under house floors and even placed on display.”

Dr Booth said: “This study really highlights the strangeness and perhaps the unknowable nature of the distant past from a present-day perspective.”

He is also quoted as saying, “Bronze Age people did not view human remains with the sense of horror or disgust that we might feel today.”

This is the first time I’ve read about human remains being turned into a musical instruments in ancient Britain, but I’m not surprised. There are many cultures all over the world that preserve the skulls of dead ancestors and enemies. They included the Mandan and other tribes in the US, some indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea and the ancient Celts. There’s a carving from an ancient Celtic temple from southern Gaul of a monster, whose two front claws rest on severed heads. Around the statue are depressions carved into its base, possibly to hold the real thing. Nigel Barley in one of his books on death around the world notes that in the traditional culture of one of the Pacific peoples, the skeletons of dead relatives are handled and taken apart, so that their descendants can carry bits of it about of them as an act of respect and remembrance.

And there are also cultures that turn human remains into musical instruments. There’s the Chod ceremony in Tibetan Buddhism, in which the priests wear aprons made out of human skin and play drums made of human skulls and, I believe, flutes from bone. Something similar may well have been done here with this instrument.

The Stonehenge connection is interesting and possibly relevant. One of the theories about the standing stones is that they were originally put up as monuments to the ancestors in a process involving secondary burial. This followed the suggestion of a Madagascan archaeologist, who said that they reminded him of the practice among his people. There the remains are interred for a period after death while they decay. After a certain time, they’re taken out, prepared and then re-buried in another set of ceremonies during which a stone or a wooden pole is set up as a monument. It may well be that this instrument was created as part of such a burial rite.

The British Class Room War and the Tory and Elite Feminist Promotion of Private Education

August 15, 2020

There’s massive outrage at the way the education authorities in England, Wales and Scotland have downgraded pupils’ marks according to a set a algorithms. This has unfairly affected the mass of these children, damaging the hopes of all-too many for a university education. In the poorer areas, according to an I headline yesterday, 36 per cent of students have been affected. This is despite the hard work, time and effort these children and their teachers have put in despite the lockdown and necessary school closures. Teachers are angry, students and their parents are angry, and the schools are protesting. The Scots are trying to correct their errors, but there’s been precious little from the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, except excuses and bluster. And only the mildest criticism from the useless Blairite leader of the Labour party, Keir Starmer.

Private Schools and the British Class System

But strangely, none of this downgrading has affected students at the elite private schools, like the Eton from which our clownish, mass-murdering prime minister Boris Alexander, DePfeffel Johnson and so many of his cronies and cabinet have attended. Mike has published a couple of excellent articles pointing out the class dimension to this marking down of the hoi polloi on their schools.

And he’s right. This isn’t accidental. The elite private schools are an intrinsic part of the British class system. They supply and educate this country’s elite, who heartily despise not just those below them, but the state schools that educate them.

Britain is one of the few country’s in Europe that has this devotion and the attendant promotion of elite private schools. It simply doesn’t exist in France and Germany, where most children, I believe, attend state schools. Private schools exist, but there isn’t the same cult surrounding them. There have at times been attempts to introduce it in Germany, but it’s failed. And a Fabian pamphlet on education I read in the 1980s stated that in France many pupils at private schools were there because, er, they were less intelligent than those at the state schools.

Some of this difference in attitude comes from the different history of education on the continent. In France following the French Revolution, there was a bitter conflict over schooling between the Church and the liberal, secularist authorities. This has been decided in favour of the latter, so that French republican society has an official policy of laicism – secularism. Germany also had its Kulturkampf with the Roman Catholic church in the 19th century over the Roman Catholic schools. But I think both countries, as well as Italy, had a very strong tradition of state support for schools and state or parish school provision. There was mass illiteracy in these countries in the 19th century, but I got the general impression that after the Napoleonic invasions where education was provided, it was through local school boards. In Britain education tended to remain a matter of private industry and provision. I’d also argue that the attitude that Eton and the rest of the private schools represent the acme of the British education system is actually only quite recent. Well into the 19th century wealthy children had a broader education at the grammar schools – the public schools were criticised for their narrow specialisation on the Classics – and bullying and brutality by the teachers was rife. The diet was also so poor that the pupils boarding there sometimes died of starvation. This changed after Matthew Arnold became the visionary headmaster at Rugby, and his massive improvement in the standards there and influence across elite private education.

There is, apparently, also a class divide in France in their secular, state education system. The children of the technocratic elite attend a set of similarly exclusive, but state-run schools, which are very difficult for someone outside that class to get into. This was part of the argument the Daily Heil advanced in favour of the British public school system in article back in the 1990s, when Eton and its fellows were coming under attack again as bastions of class privilege. According to this article, British public schools were superior because they developed in their pupils an independence of thought impossible in the French state system. This was roughly at the same time the journo Danny Danziger was interviewing old Etonians in his book, Eton Voices, who droned on about how wonder the old school was, praising it for its tolerance. How ideologically independent private school education is, is a highly questionable point. I’ve met a number of ex-public schoolboys who have rebelled against their upbringing and affected a very working class persona. But for the most part, since Arnold there has been a definite emphasis on moulding character – no bad thing in itself – and the existence of these schools and their very narrow class background is responsible for the maintenance of the British class system and all its attitudes against those further down the British social hierarchy.

Tory Hatred of State Education

And the Tories themselves hate state education. Some of us can still remember how they tried to part-privatise it in the 1980s by encouraging schools to leave the Local Education Authorities to become City Academies. That failed, and was quietly wound up. Until it was revived and expanded again by Blair and New Labour. And the Tories have continued, expanding the academy chains and even trying to bring back grammar schools to absolutely zero enthusiasm. I also remember the ignorant pronouncements of some Tory businessmen in the 1980s, who showed their own contempt for education. Pupils, according to these ignorant blowhards, should just be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Nothing else was necessary, and they should then be sent out to work. But although it wasn’t said, they probably didn’t mean children from the upper and upper middle classes.

Elite Feminist Attacks on State Education

And part of the defence and promotion of elite private schools has come from ex-private schoolgirls arguing from feminism. There’s a reasonable point there, but it’s mixed up with much elite class ideology. And it includes the liberal, Blairite elite as well as Tories. Way back in the 1980s there were articles in the paper during the debate about girls’ education which pointed out that girls in single-sex schools had better grades than their sisters in mixed schools. Girls tended to be pushed into the background in school performance by boys. I don’t know if this has changed, but since then there has been a reversal in academic performance between the sexes. Girls have been outperforming boys for several years now, and the worse performing demographic are White working class boys. Despite this reversal, feminist arguments are still being used to defend what it basically class privilege. Single-sex schools are centres of female excellence, and away from boys, more girls take STEM subjects. So said an article by one of the female hacks in the I. I don’t doubt she’s right.

But this does create some very skewed attitude towards state education in ex-private schoolgirls. I came across about a decade ago when I studying for my Ph.D. at Bristol Uni. Passing through campus one day, I overhead two former private school inmates, who I think I had just met, who were overjoyed to find that they both had the same educational background. They were glad to find another you woman, who went to the same type of school. Which, one of them declared, was better than ‘the little woman thing they teach in state schools.’

What!

Not in my experience, nor my mother’s. I went to the local primary school, and my mother was a teacher in one of the other primary schools in Bristol. Mike and I were also lucky to get into a church school. This had been a grammar school, but was now a state-assisted comprehensive. And in none of them was there any teaching about the ‘little woman thing’. Now there was a debate within the education system at the time about gender and schooling. There was an article in an edition of Child Education about whether girls should be allowed to play with traditionally boys toys in school, like Meccano sets. But this debate, I think, has been settled a very long time ago. And I do remember that there was a positive attitude towards feminism amongst some of the staff at the Church school. I was in our house master’s office one day – I honestly can’t remember why, but I don’t think it was as a punishment for anything – when one of the women teachers came in. She had some materials on the Suffragettes she wanted to show him. ‘Ah, excellent!’ said the housemaster, ‘a bit of feminism!’

By  contrast, I’ve also come across teachers of both sexes, who in my opinion couldn’t teach boys. One of them was a male teacher, who gave sneers and put downs to the boys if they couldn’t answer questions or gave the wrong one, but was extremely encouraging to the girls. He clearly thought that girls needed gentle encouragement, while boys needed to be kept in line by shaming and humiliation. But it gave the impression he didn’t like teaching them. I’ve also come across some horror stories about the way girls have been treated in schools as well. Another story I heard back in the ’80s was about the headmaster of a London school, who immediately decided to divide the pupils into two classes, an ‘A’ and ‘B’. And all the boys ended up in ‘A’, and the girls in ‘B’. The headmaster, apparently, was Turkish, and this looks like the product of a traditionally Islamic cultural attitude to education. It was mostly definitely not common throughout the British state system and there were very loud complaints.

Blairite Feminism and Class Snobbery

My guess is that these skewed ideas about the sexism of state education are shared not just by Tories, but by Blairite liberals. The hacks writing in newspapers like the Groaniad and the I, although that’s technically non-aligned politically, seem to come from the same wealthy, privately educated class. And I think they share the same attitudes towards social class as the Tories, but argue for it from a liberal, feminist perspective. A few years ago the I carried a piece about a female Labour MP or activist, who was very definitely a Blairite. She commented on how male-dominated the old, trade union dominated Labour movement had been. And so we see the same attitude directed towards state education, by people, who have never once set foot in a state school except perhaps on an official visit.

Conclusion

Boris Johnson famously declared that every school should be like Eton. Well, every school could if it had the money spent on it Eton has. As for the academies, ditto. Once you account for the masses of money they have had spent on them, far in excess of the state sector, and the way they skew their results by excluding difficult and underperforming pupils, they are very definitely not better than state schools. See the book The great Academy Fraud for a very detailed discussion of their failings.

But ‘failing state schools’ is a nice mantra to justify the privatisation of the education system, even though one academy chain has gone down the toilet after the other. The Tories hate state education, and, in my opinion, will do anything to sabotage it. As will the Blairites.

And that includes deliberately marking down state school pupils, while awarding high marks and grades to the privately educated children of the elite.

 

‘I’ Newspaper: England Could Run Out Of Water in 20 Years

July 11, 2020

Yesterday’s I for 10th July 2020 carried an article by Madeleine Cuff, ‘England ‘at risk of running out of water’, which reported that MPs had criticized the water authorities for the state of the country’s water supply. The article ran

MPs have issued a stinging rebuke to England’s water authorities, warning the country is at “serious risk” of running out water within 20 years unless “urgent action” is taken to shore up supplies.

“It is very hard to imagine, in this country, turning the tap and not having enough clean, drinkable water come out – but that is exactly what we now face,” said Public Accounts Committee chair Mog Hillier.

In a report published today, it accused the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environment Agency, and the water regulator Ofwat of having “taken their eyes off the ball” in the race to secure a sustainable long-term supply of fresh water. It follows similarly stark warnings from the national Audit Office in March.

England is already extracting groundwater at unsustainable rates, and as climate change brings hotter, drier weather, water supply will come under more intense pressure.

Yet every day more than three billion litres of fresh drinking water is lost through leakages, a fifth of the total volume used. Urgent action must be taken to reduce this “wholly unacceptable” level of leakages.

Meanwhile, industry action to persuade the public to use less water has “failed”, the MPs added.

The water crisis has been going on a long time, and doesn’t only affect England. It’s all over the world. Viewers of Stacy Dooley’s documentary a few months ago into the massive environmental impact of the ‘fast fashion’ industry will remember the scenes of the dried-up wastes of what used to be the Caspian Sea, caused by Uzbekistan diverting the water to irrigate the fields for its cotton industry. Way back in the 1990s the Financial Times covered the emerging water crisis in arid countries in Africa and the Middle East, and predicted that in this century conflict over water would become the major cause of war.

The I and other papers also published reports years ago about the declining state of Britain’s own water supply. Even at the time water extraction, including that for industrial purposes, was exceeding the supply. And when I was at Bristol University studying for the archaeology doctorate nearly a decade ago, we had a visiting archaeologist tell us in a seminar about the effects of climate change on civilizations across the world down through time that we needed to save water.

It is not, however, just the water authorities’ fault. The real responsibility lies with the water companies and their privatisation. They were sold to mostly foreign companies with the promise that this would bring extra investment. It hasn’t. The foreigners who own our water supply simply regard it as a profit-stream, rather than a vital utility. The profits have gone out of the country, while they themselves have done precious little to maintain the water supply to an acceptable standard.

And if the water authorities haven’t done much about this, it’s because they were deliberately prevented from doing so by the Tories when the water industry was privatized. There were a series of reports in Private Eye about how the Tories had cut back the scope and regulatory powers of Defra, Ofwat and their predecessors, so that their ability to interfere in the running of the new, privatized companies was severely limited.

The crisis has been going on for a long time. And it is partly due to Margaret Thatcher and her insistence on the primacy of private industry. But private industry has shown itself incompetent to run the water supply. It’s one of the reasons its renationalisation was in the 2019 Labour manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn.

But Corbyn was massively smeared and reviled by the establishment right and their poodle media. Which is why we now have a parliament, who will do nothing about this, adding drought and thirst to the misery they are inflicting on the poor.