Tag Archives: History

If you could go back in time, where would you go (and why) #Backtothefutureday @History_hit

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This post is inspired by the following #backtothefutureday – what do you mean you haven’t seen Back to the Future? That pinnacle off 1980s film making – by Dan Snow on Twitter (@History_hit):


As soon as I read it, I knew exactly the places and times that I would go. Before I take you on a short tour of the history that I would visit, a quick note on time travel.

A lot of the responses Dan got were along the lines of: ‘I’d warn voters about the oil price crash following the Scottish Independence Referendum’; ‘I’d prevent the Great Wars’ (always amuses me describing them as ‘Great’, my Grandad fought in the Second and it wasn’t that great); ‘I’d kill Pol Pot.’ All tempting prospects, I will grant you, I’ve lost track of the number of times my wife and I have thought ‘If we could go back in time, get to the hospital sooner, would Tristan be with us today?’ Recent theories in theoretical physics have something to say about this.

In the Standard Model of Physics, Time Travel is allowed, at least in theory, if you create enough gravity you can force SpaceTime to bend back on itself and travel backwards in time along a Closed Time Curve (CTC), but inevitably you are going to run a high risk of creating paradoxes: banging your own Mum, killing your Dad etc these paradoxes, it is theorized, would lead to unfortunate things like the unmaking of the very universe, so not cool. For this reason it has always been suggested that Time Travel will always be impossible, even if technically possible. Stephen Hawkings famously threw a welcome party for time travellers on June 28, 2009, no one attended.

Last year, University of Queensland physicist Tim Ralph and PHD Student Martin Ringbauer proposed a new theory, that they partially tested suggesting that – as much as I understand it – Time has a built in anti-paradox mechanism born of Quantum Mechanics meaning you could go back in time, irrevocably change the past but return to the present to find nothing has changed. Any changes that you made, any paradoxes you create, may or may not endure in the multiverse but the present you will return to is the present you left. So there’s no killing Hitler (or your Dad), no banging your Mum to create the paradox of fathering yourself and, closer to home for me, no way to save Tristan’s life.

Kinda cool, huh? If you want to read more on that, here’s some further reading:

Nature: Communication – Experimentations in Closed Time Link Curves
Huffpo: New Time Travel Simulation May Resolve ‘Grandfather Paradox’

Anyway that’s not at all what this post is about, I just find it interesting. Here is, in Chronological order, the points of history that I would visit and why:

The Mystery of Potbelly Hill

In my earliest visit, I would take our time machine to the Southeastern Anatolia Region Turkey and the
rough period of 9130 BCE (Pre-pottery Neolithic A). On a mountain ridge rising out of a flat valley a group of Hunter-Gatherers are quarrying stone, huge quantities of stone. Why they are quarrying stone, what they used to quarry and why they began are not clear to us in 2015, but these hunter-gatherers will soon be using this stone to build a series of 20 stone circles consisting of at least 200 megaliths. I will drop in on these pioneers at 100 year intervals and watch the site become the first of religious sanctuary on the planet with successive generations continuing to build upon this site for 1000 years, until it is abandoned quite suddenly.

12 000 years after my first visit, the remains of this once mighty site will be uncovered by Klaus Schmidt and given the name Göbekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill). Since its discovery, the site has totally rewritten our understandings of when humanity moved from a more primitive hunter-gatherer existence towards society in a form that we can understand today. Excavations continue at the site and create far more questions than we have answers about its builders and the purpose of their building. You can read more about Göbekli Tepe here.

A meeting with the rubber people

Having left Turkey and the mysterious ruins of Göbekli Tepe, now buried by the very people who built and inhabited it for 1000 years, I would take our time machine to Central Mexico and the states that are now called Veracruz and Tabasco. Here, we find another culture closely related to the early hunter-gatherers that first established themselves in the region around 5000 BCE. We do not know what they called themselves but history has named them The Olmec, meaning Rubber People.

Often referred to as the mother culture of Pre-Columbian Central American peoples, everything you probably think came from the Maya – the concept of Zero; the Mesoamerican writing system; the Mesoamerican Ball Game; the Long Count Calendar (of 2012 conspiracy theory fame); and even the very building of pyramids – all originated with The Olmec.

It’s the pyramids that I’ve brought our time machine here to see, you see they simply don’t exist anymore, with the notable exception of La Venta in Tabasco. In the early 20th Century, oil was found in both states and our modern hunger for black gold would lead to the destruction of priceless archaeology and forever rob us of a more complete understanding of Olmec Culture.

I would walk the paths betweeen the first pyramids ever to be built in Central and South America and marvel at some of the finest artisans the world has ever known work their wares in precious Jades, Amethysts and Obsidians; take in a match of their insanely violent ballgame in one of the first stadia ever built for sport and follow them as drought and environmental change would force them to move from capital to capital abandoning their previous monuments, often ritually sacrifing the stone back to the earth in the process.

Finally, around 500 BCE, in the last days of the Olmec Culture, I would follow in the wake of their emissaries from the Olmec Heartland along their well trodden trade routes across Central and South America. Here I would bear witness as they continue to teach their advancements to the Maya, the Aztecs and cultures too numerous to name from Southern Mexico all the way through to the Brazilian Amazon.

Paying my respects to ‘Oriens’

Next for our travel through time, I would like to bring our time machine back to the UK and a Villa close to the Roman town of Mancetter about 1600 years ago. This one is different, closer to home, I’ve brought us here to pay my respects. We are here for the funeral of a Roman child.Couirtesy of Archaeology Warwickshire

A little girl, her name lost to history, embalmed using Frankincense and buried with the wealth of a noble lady. Laid to rest in a beautifully worked, lead-lined, coffin with jet bangles on her wrists beside the family villa where she had spent her short life. Her parents grieve beside her graveside, 1600 years separate us, their tears fall from my eyes. Their pain, is now my pain. Her name is Oriens.

I was there when Warwickshire County Council’s in-house Archaeology Team, Archaeology Warwickshire, opened the lead lining of her coffin for the first time in 1600 years. Filled with silt, all that remained of a child so loved: two jet bangles, a few teeth and some bone fragments, everything else lost to the acidic soil she was buried in. I remain very proud to have been involved in giving her the name Oriens and being able to help tell her story to the world.

I wonder if her parents would take some solace knowing that in 1600 years time their daughter would be remembered, that she would have a legacy stretching far beyond their own.

We won’t linger too long by the graveside, we have more to see…

Not all romance with Byron and the Shelleys in Switzerland and Italy

Next, I take our time machine to 1816 and the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. where we are going to hang out with one of my favourite poets, Lord Byron, and some very notable friends.

To say we are joining ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ Byron at an interesting time in his life would be an understatement and a half. Having been the darling of English literary scene since the publication of the first two parts of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812, Byron’s excessive lifestyle had finally caught up with him.

In the previous 6 months, He left/fled England following the rather public breakdown of his personal life. His wife Annabella had quite openly left him, taking away their daughter and was filing for a formal separation on the grounds that Byron was a lunatic who was involved in an incestuous relationship with his half sister Augusta Leigh with whom he was obsessed and that he had the unfortunate propensity for sticking his cock in anything that moved…all largely true. This is not even mentioning the fact he once tried to buy a 12 year old girl for £500. All these things came to a head, with his life imploding and debtors beating a path to his door, Byron decided a change of scenery was in order.

It was only a few months into his stay at Lake Geneva that Byron would meet and befriend fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – another one of my favorites – and Mary Godwin who would be soon to marry Shelley. At the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in June, Byron, the Shelley and Godwin with 2 companions were kept indoors across 3 whole days where they would entertain each other by reading out loud German ghost stories and composed their own. From this literary play, Mary Shelley would form the basis of her magnus opus, Frankenstein – A Modern Prometheus.

Byron rarely stopped still for long and I would follow him from Lake Geneva to Italy, where he would stay until 1823, fall in love with Armenian culture and write prolifically both poetry and none-fiction whilst having numerous affairs with married women in various cities across the country. I would be there when he founded the Liberal Newspaper with Leigh Hunt and Shelley and present at his debauched dinner parties before the dream ended with the death of Shelley in a boating accident in 1822. Two short years later Byron would also die.

This is one of my favorite Byron poems:

WHEN we two parted

In silence and tears,

Half broken-hearted

To sever for years,

Pale grew thy cheek and cold,

Colder thy kiss;

Truly that hour foretold

Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning

Sunk chill on my brow–

It felt like the warning

Of what I feel now.

Thy vows are all broken,

And light is thy fame:

I hear thy name spoken,

And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,

A knell to mine ear;

A shudder comes o’er me–

Why wert thou so dear?

They know not I knew thee,

Who knew thee too well:

Lond, long shall I rue thee,

Too deeply to tell.

I secret we met–

I silence I grieve,

That thy heart could forget,

Thy spirit deceive.

If I should meet thee

After long years,

How should I greet thee?

With silence and tears.

Sir Richard Francis Burton and the Hajj to Medina

From one legendary 19th Century shagger to another and now we take our time machine just a short jump forward to 1851 to join the company of one of my personal heroes: Sir Richard Francis Burton.

If there is ever want to feel like you haven’t perhaps done quite as much as you could with your life, take a look at what Sir Rich was known for: he was an explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. He was known for his travels and explorations as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. According to some, he spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages. Yep, I definitely need to spend less time on social media.

I would join Burton on his most celebrated expedition, completing the Hajj to Mecca and Medina. Although Burton had spent 7 years in India and possessed a highly evolved and intricate knowledge of Muslim culture, this journey was best described as ‘batshit crazy’ even for him. At the time, few Westerners had ever completed the journey largely because if you were caught attempting to do so, even if by some miracle you could convince your captors that you were a devout Muslim they would, in all likelihood, kill you. Burton was an avowed atheist and despite being attacked by bandits en route, managed to complete the Hajj (affording him the right to bear the title Hajji) using a variety of disguises that would not have seemed out of place in a Baldrick ‘cunning plan’.

It is often noted by his biographers that on return from his Hajj and on rejoining the British Army, Burton took the examination to be an Arab Linguist…and failed.

I can highly recommend reading more about Sir Richard Burton and the wiki page is a decent start: Sir Richard Francis Burton  it reads like someone who just got carried away making things up about themselves, only the vast majority of facts about his life are all 100% verified by contemporaries and if anything Burton was known for understating his achievements – presumably just to avoid all other humans feeling inferior.

So I hope you enjoyed my little jaunt through history.

What about you? Where would you go in history and why?

Remember: If you don’t like these thoughts, stick around, I have others…


What I believe: On Religion

14 Jul

I will not pull any punches with this post nor will I apologise if it causes offence. I often find myself amused by how angry religious people get about their religion being criticised and how little such people actually understand the concept of faith.

What do I mean?

If you believe in something , have faith that it exists and someone tells you that you’re wrong, you won’t get angry, right? Because you know they’re wrong. If any part of this post angers you, perhaps you should question the strength of your faith and if your anger stems from that little voice in your head that is hidden beneath all the dogma, that whispers doubt. I would never seek to take away a person’s right to believe whatever they want to believe and if your faith is strong enough then not a single word I write should be able to take that away.

I was raised Church of England by my parents and used to attend Church. From quite an early age, I remember worship left me cold, I felt nothing but a guilt that I was doing something wrong. I’d look round our old, beautiful village Church to see the faces of people enthralled with faith and I was envious. I’m not envious any more and I’m certainly not Church of England.

Then What am I? Muslim? Hindu? Atheist? Agnostic? The truth is: I just don’t know. I think it’s okay not to know. I do know that I believe in science and I believe in people, their capacity to make links with others in ways that we are only just coming to understand and I believe in a connectedness with the natural world around us. I’m not an atheist I don’t think, at least not by most definitions, I guess if forced at gunpoint to pick something to believe in (should you ever find yourself in this situation, here’s a handy flowchart to Pick a Religion), it would be an adapted form of Paganism.

But organised religion has long fascinated me.

Religion is insane

There’s no getting away from it.

Religion is insane.

If ever there was a task with zero return on the amount of time invested in it, it’s religious observance. But not only that, in order to fully utilise this zero return on investment, you have to accept things, that you know are categorically not true, are actually truths. Oh and you can’t pretend, you truly have to believe the lot, because otherwise the unseen bearded sky fairy will judge you harshly…it’s called faith, it allows you to do and say stupid things and treat other people with a heady mix of condescension, contempt and, often, just good old fashioned violence. Here are some crazy things you have to believe (and do) to have a faith:

  • God(s) exist (Religions mostly rely on some form of bearded sky fairy…In my honest opinion, of those religions widely practiced, Hinduism has the best Gods.)
  • Homophobia is not only acceptable it’s to be encouraged (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism etc)
  • Women should be subservient to men (largely all Western Religions)
  • The earth is only a fraction (14 000 years old based on the Bible) of it’s actual age (Most creator myths have flawed timescales, none more so than the Bible).
  • There are minor God’s who reign over things like household chores (Hinduism).
  • The souls of vaporised Thetans, who once inhabited our planet, are bound to the souls of all humans living (Church of Scientology)
  • Joseph Smith is a prophet (Mormons – Seriously, watch the South Park episode on the Mormons, it’s a work of genius. Jo Smith gives us all hope that anyone can end up getting revered as a prophet.)

Irony car haz ironyz

Religious people do not get irony. I recently witnessed people with strong Catholic beliefs criticising the beliefs of Scientology because they were ‘crazy and far-fetched’ and, best yet, that ‘Scientology causes more harm than it does good’…I’m not sure another better definition of irony exists than either of those statements. Simply because your particular brand of crazy has a longer history than  another, doesn’t make it any the less batshit crazy. Let’s not even get started on the numerous vile abuses by the Catholic Church over centuries that make most of the quite-frankly sinister goings on in the church of Scientology seem like high-jinx.

Religions biggest crime

I’m not going to claim that religion starts all wars, it contributes to many, sure, but we’ve never needed much help. Take away religion and war will remain, the study of history is the study of a species constantly evolving new and varied ways of bashing the shit out of itself and every thing else around.  No, for me religion’s biggest crime is keeping people stupid. Though it claims to provide answers religion offers nothing in the way of truth. Richard Dawkins refers to a reliance upon a ‘God of Gaps.’ For the religious mind, God, their great deity, exists in the gaps in our current understanding of the universe, but those gaps are closing.

It’s totally impossible to write this post without mentioning Richard Dawkins’ most controversial work, The God Delusion. It;s heavy-handed and patronising in parts, but remains a work of brilliance in explaining, in eye-searingly exhaustive length, why religion is dumb and God almost certainly does not exist. Richard Dawkins is almost definitely right, I find him an objectionable little man,  but he is right. His writing style has always struck me as being much like the Big Labowski’s Walter:

“Am I wrong, am I wrong?”

“No Walter, you’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole!”

So, I highly recommend reading The God Delusion and many of Dawkins’ other works, being a bit of a dick doesn’t necessarily make you wrong. I find commonality with him in the belief that the natural world, evolution and biology are wondrous enough to not require bearded sky fairy God to add extra wonder to my life. Go outside and look at the intricacies of a flower; think about the complex social interactions that make up our daily life; the way a squirrel walks across a razor thin fence; the giant cock of a Sperm Whale; the hive minds of ants and bees…Wonders and there’s no need for God.

In slight defence of religion

I’ll never allow myself to be fully critical of religion, I’ve seen it’s power at work, first hand I’ve seen a benefit. My Mum faced death and was empowered by her religion, was not afraid. My Mum truly believed her God had designs for her and her illness and passing were part of his plan. Now, I might have my opinions about that, in fact I entirely disagree, but I could not have taken that belief away from her, it goes back to that point I made at the beginning: if your faith is strong enough, then it is armour to protect you from my words. But if I could have taken her faith away, I truly believe she would not have faced her death with such humour and grace.

We probably need religion

It’s always been with us since the earliest Hunter Gatherers started forming complex societies, Göbekli Tepe, built in Northern Turkey, some 11, 000 years ago was largely built for ritual and religious use and on to the present day. So often throughout history,  the temples come before the city; religion, worship and bearded sky fairies of one brand or another have been here a long, it’s unlikely they’re going anywhere soon. Perhaps it is true as some have argued, we have a need for religion, as a species, not because it gives us senses of ethics or morality, but because it does something else. Logic dictates it must have a benefit to us as a species otherwise it would be unlikely so many would have devoted so much of their time to it, whilst ignoring a lot of serious flaws in the dogma.

Many writers on futurism don’t see a future without religion or belief, in fact many see a return to more Paganistic or even Shamanistic belief as a response to the increased reliance on technology, including the widespread genetic and technological augmentations that is predicted. So while belief in, broadly-defined, greater powers may not go away, most futurists seem to agree the future for oppressive bearded sky fairies is unlikely the last, in anything more than small pockets, for more than the next 100 years.

I’m going to write two more posts similar to this On Science and On Magic.

If nothing else take away this final thought from my post:

You know the drill, if you don’t like these Thoughts, stick around, I’ve got plenty of others. x

Further Reading

Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins – The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.

Alaine De Botton – Religion for Atheists

Christian Post – Atheist Alain de Botton Insists Society Needs Guidance From Religion

Scott Adams – God’s Debris (Free PDF copy)

Learning to read stone

20 Nov

It is around 4am, I am 19. seeking a moments peace in a night of excess, I stumble from the beach party on Newquay’s Towan beach and around to the next cove and sit beside a large rock, my back against it. I stare out to sea. I enjoy a cigarette, spend a few minutes trying to send myself a text saying: ‘You’re awesome! numsaying?’ (yes, that’s true!) and assess an enjoyable evening. I don’t know how long I’m sat there before I’m joined by someone else nor how long after that before his hand brushes me the first time, then again and then again, I look over. My new companion is gently running his hands over the stone, he has his ear pressed against it and his face is a mix of concentration and elation. I ask him what he is doing, he says: ‘trying to learn to read.’ I make plans in my head to leave soon, he carries on telling me that rocks have been around longer than anything and they’d been watching and storing their memories so they are not lost, ‘it’s all there for us to read, we just need to learn how to unlock  it’. I diplomatically ask if he’s worried about never learning to read stone and he smiles, ‘I probably won’t, but I’d still like to try, should we stop trying things because we may fail?’ I’ve never forgot that.

I’ve written every day for as long as I can remember, these days I write on a laptop, but once upon a time I wrote on paper, a lot of paper and I saved it all. I’ve recently been reading through some of my old writings, stuff going back to my early teens and it’s been both interesting and insightful. I’ve remembered lots, discovered one or two gems of phrasing, pretty much proved the words of a friend that, the only time adult men will experience the thought patterns of a teenager is if they ever suffer serious bouts of mental illness, more interesting than this though I’ve noticed trends. There are certain themes that influence my writing today that have been fairly constant and the earliest theme I found was around the evocation of earth.

Throughout the writing, whether prose or poetry frequently there is support from imagery of the earth: a short story about a man who finds he’s dying and sets about engraving so the stones won’t forget him; a poem about an  man making a book of sand, stones whispering secrets to the night, soliliquys of stones and it goes on. It appears to me an entirely subconscious decision from an early age, I certainly didn’t make the decision to go all earthy, but earthy it seems I am. In terms of the elements: Air, Wind, Water, Fire I have always felt a greater enjoyment and deeper sense of connection with Water, but imagery of water is infrequent throughout my writing.

Sometimes the things that we resent most growing up are the things we end up being most grateful for when we’re older. My parents used to take us to a range of stately homes, archaeological and heritage sites across the UK when we were growing us, sometimes I thought they were boring, but mum loved history and felt it important we see such places. I remember how much my mum loved stately homes, her usual, worry-frowned expression replaced with wonder, awe and excitement, she’d smile. I remember she would walk slowly around making sure to take everything in, read every exhibit, sign and notice, see every artefact and touch as much history as she could. Like my companion on the beach at 19 my Mum was trying to read history from the objects that were there and that saw.

It’s funny how wrong we can be, child me sometimes found it boring visiting those homes and 19 year old me thought trying to learn to read stone was a futile exercise. One of my favourite things as I’ve got older is visiting archaeological sites and I always try and touch as much as I can, searching for that deeper link to objects brimming with stories to tell. Wht not try this: next time you visit a historical site, touch as much as you can, maybe if enough of us do it, we’ll learn to read.


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