The Dark Man of Cheddar

Cimmerians. These people were descendants of the ancient Atlanteans, though they themselves were unaware of their descent, having evolved by their own efforts from the ape-men to which their ancient ancestors had sunk. They were a tall powerful race, averaging six feet in height. They were black haired, and grey or blue eyed. They were dolichocephalic, and dark skinned, though not so dark as either the Zingarans, Zamorians or Picts.
– Robert E. Howard, “Notes on Various Peoples,” The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, p348-349

Then when I was about twelve I spent a short time in New Orleans and found in a Canal Street library, a book detailing the pageant of British history, from prehistoric times up to – I believe – the Norman conquest. It was written for school-boys and told in an interesting and romantic style, probably with many historical inaccuracies. But there I first learned of the small dark people which first settled Britain, and they were referred to as Picts. I had always felt a strange interest in the term and the people, and now I felt a driving absorption regarding them.
– Robert E. Howard, letter to Harold Preece, 20th October 1928*

Prof Mark Thomas and Dr Yoan Diekmann at University College London analysed the sequences generated at the Natural History Museum to establish what Cheddar Man looked like. It was previously assumed that Europeans developed paler skin many thousands of years before Cheddar Man, so he was thought to have had reduced skin pigmentation and fair hair. The results however, indicate that whilst Cheddar Man had blue eyes, he also had dark coloured curly hair and ‘dark to black’ skin pigmentation. This means that the lighter pigmentation now considered to be a defining feature of northern Europe, is a far more recent phenomenon.
– The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man Press Pack 

The recent news about Cheddar Man will come as no surprise to people with an interest in anthropology, or even ancient history. Britons with dark skin & black, curly hair have been recorded since the Roman period, with early 20th Century folklorists such as Margaret Alice Murray, David MacRitchie, and G.F. Scott Elliot detailing stories of the early inhabitants of the British Isles.

What is perhaps more surprising is the reaction to that news.

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Top of the Year, 2017

Thanks for all the well-wishes from everyone: I never like to jinx things, but I have been getting a bit better over the season.

So I don’t go all of December without a post, I thought it would be nice to have an end-of-year review of the Wilderness.

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Remember In Your Own Way

1 ‘Be careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven.
2 So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win human admiration. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward.
3 But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing;
4 your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
5 ‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward.
6 But when you pray, go to your private room, shut yourself in, and so pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
7 ‘In your prayers do not babble as the gentiles do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard.
8 Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

– The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6

Every 23rd of August, I commemorate the death of William Wallace. Sometimes it’s something public, be it a simple post on social media, or an article. Others, I simply take a moment to reflect, read a section of The Scottish Chiefs, or one of David Ross’s books. I have a broad enough sense of humour to laugh and make jokes about Wallace, but not on that day, and not about his death. I don’t expect all Scottish nationalists, independence supporters, republicans, or whatever mast of the ship with which you align, to do this; nor do I think it should be mandatory. Freedom includes the freedom not to observe or commemorate anniversaries: I’m only interested in how I mark the occasion.

Similarly, I do commemorate the deaths of all those who lost their lives in war – all deaths, be they soldiers or civilians, human or animal, in the immediate carnage of battle or in the aftermath of sarvation and disease and ruin. But I do not wear a poppy; I do not watch the Cenotaph processions; I do not listen to politicians and civic leaders and celebrities pontificate. I remember in my own way.

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The Pit and the Pendulum

The irony is that Stranger Things (which also takes place in a little town in Indiana) is set before Eerie Indiana, but Eerie Indiana was made before Stranger Things. Only a matter of time before the 90s Kids have their day, mark my words…

I’d like to share a post-Hallowe’en Horror story with you. It’s a scrying, a divination, of one possible future. I don’t want it to happen. It needn’t. We can stop it. But for the purposes of a thought experiment, let’s gaze into Galadriel’s mirror at what a future happens when we let it. I’ve embellished it with some science fiction, horror, and fantastical elements.

Dare you ponder that which is story, and that which is real?

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The Tao of Independence

The leader who was elected 3rd in a 3-member ward, leading a council that lost the popular vote, who runs a minority council as if it was a majority.

Those 6 election results:
1992 (Clune Brae): 855 (47.4%). Elected (pre-STV system).
1999 (Inverclyde Six): 885 (56.3%). Elected (pre-STV system).
2003 (Inverclyde Six): 661 (51.3%). Elected (pre-STV system).
2007 (Inverclyde East): 2,122 (30.1%). Elected 1st round. 1st seat.
2012 (Inverclyde East): 1,607 (28.7%). Elected 1st round. 1st seat.
2017 (Inverclyde East): 953 (21.56%). Elected 2nd round. 3rd seat.

I try to be magnanimous. Really, I do. But there are times I wonder: do the people who campaigned for Scotland to stay in the UK truly have any conception of what we independence campaigners felt this time three years ago?

I’m sure some simply view it as another electoral victory, just like an election. Others may have an understanding, but don’t care: as long as they won, it’s ok. There are probably others who know all too well, and actually enjoy the fact 1.7 million Scots were utterly, completely heartbroken on the 19th of September 2017. Thus, even when they went from 53 pro-UK MPs to 3 less than a year later, the SNP have resoundingly & convincingly won the largest percentage of the vote in every election since 2014, they insist on reminding us: don’t forget, you’re still British.

Yet what of the people who truly made that possible – those ordinary Scots who voted against independence?

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The Country on the Edge of Forever

If you map it, it will come?

“My stories try to seduce the reader by disguising themselves as sensational entertainment, but are propaganda for democratic welfare-state Socialism and an independent Scottish parliament.”
Alasdair Gray

How many stories have you heard where the Axis won the Second World War?

Even before the war was over, stories of the Thousand Year Reich were published: Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night, written in 1937, started the trend which has almost become a subgenre in itself. Some of the foremost science fiction authors of the age, such as Isaac Asimov, David Brin, Fritz Leiber, & Norman Spinrad, wrote tales on this theme; some books, like Robert Harris’ Fatherland, were adapted to film; one of Star Trek’s most celebrated episodes (written by Harlan Ellison) featured this as a poignant dilemma. This has lasted into the new millennium: Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle was adapted into a hit series, as was Len Deighton’s SS-GB. It is understandable for so much fiction to revolve around this supermassive gravity well in our planetary history given the way the conflict shaped so much of humanity’s consciousness decades later.

What if we go to a Point of Divergence further back in time: what if the Confederacy won the American Civil War? Again, there are dozens of books on that subject, a mockumentary, and a recently-announced television series from the showrunners behind A Game of Thrones. Naturally, it’s more an American phenomenon, but it remains the deadliest war in United States history, and all the more bitter for its internecine nature.

How about further than even that – what if the Roman Empire never fell? Going on the alternative history database Uchronia, searching for “Roman”  yields 116 results (& another 77 for “Rome”) – that means 116 books, essays, or stories involving the Roman Empire or Ancient Rome. What if Elizabeth of England failed/was killed & the Spanish Armada triumphed?  Searching for “English” or “England” yields 94/129 results; “British” or “Britain” 189 /153 results.

What about Scotland?

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Lost Histories

I sometimes fear that
people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress
worn by grotesques and monsters
as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis.

Fascism arrives as your friend.
It will restore your honour,
make you feel proud,
protect your house,
give you a job,
clean up the neighbourhood,
remind you of how great you once were,
clear out the venal and the corrupt,
remove anything you feel is unlike you…

It doesn’t walk in saying,
“Our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations, war and persecution.”
– Michael Rosen, “I Sometimes Fear…

I volunteer with a local heritage & arts group in Gourock: a wee forum where people who are interested in our Burgh of Barony’s past can discuss our history, culture, and future. This can range from the not-too-distant past of the 20th Century, all the way back to prehistoric times, and even the geological composition of the very rocks. Little stories abound, from the innovation of the original Red Herring, to the diabolical warlock Auld Dunrod, and the thing buried under St. Ninian’s football pitch featured on an episode of Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World.

There are stories that aren’t quite so delightful: the death of Mary Lamont and others in the “witch-mania of Scotland”; the sectarian violence which cropped up again and again; the expulsion of Rev. Macrae by the Synod. One of the many hazards historians must navigate in the sea of history is that dark side of humanity: no town is without its sorrows, its hatreds, its evils. It can be very easy to repurpose shame or horror from your past into denial and outrage towards others.

I was struck by this facet of the events in Charlottesville: it’s illustrative in showing how easy it is for things to go wrong.

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