Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood

Dr A and I recently got our hands on an episode of the Stones of Blood – part of the Keys to Time series of Doctor Who featuring Tom Baker (broadcast 1978).

This has a cracking archaeology-themed storyline, which proves beyond doubt the animacy of archaeological remains.

The first two episodes are especially enjoyable. Filmed on location at the Rollright Stones, they feature a Druidic cult, a Celtic goddess, menacing corvids and two female prehistorians. What’s not to like?

I hate to give away a whole plotline, but it doesn’t take long to guess from their tendency to glow in the dark and their thirst for human blood, that there’s more to these standing stones than simple calcium carbonate.

While there’s a good deal of silliness in the episodes, there’s a good dose of atmosphere and horror too. The outfits and rituals are pretty effective and the sequence where two campers encounter the stones would have given me nightmares for days if I’d seen it when I was a child. Archaeologists – think twice before you pitch your tent too close to that stone circle…

The episodes draw on folklore relating to standing stones, name drops several genuine archaeologists and presumably draws inspiration from the pinnacle of archaeological TV drama Children of the Stones, which aired in 1977 and was filmed on location at Avebury.

Animism and animacy are topics archaeologists (including Dr A) have explored in recent years. The stones and rocks in the landscape around you now may not be randomly glowing or craving your blood, but people have recently been bombarded by beach pebbles, flung at their streets and houses by stormy seas. As the storms in SW England have demonstrated, the world around us is far from passive.

Dr H

Read more about archaeology and science fiction on the blog here.

Noggin the Nog

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Drawing the Deskford Carnyx sent me off to hunt for two picture books – Noggin and the Ice Dragon, and Noggin and the Moon mouse by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin. At a very young age I had seen the animated TV show, but my love of Noggin the Nog was confirmed by the picture books on our bookshelves (presumably bought in the 1960s for my older sister).

Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin are most famous for Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine and the soon to be revived Clangers. However, the Saga of Noggin the Nog, with its northern setting, its mountains and dragons and Viking ships, shields and helmets (as well as a liberal sprinkling of magic) really fired my imagination.

The stories were inspired by the Lewis Chessmen (on display in the British Museum). Thor Nogson, captain of the Guard, bears most similarity to these Norse carvings which date to c. AD 1200.

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Peter Firmin’s wonderful drawings show a wealth of research into Norse archaeology and imagery. The book cover art and the opening  titles on the animated films are decorated in the knots and swirls of Viking art with rune-style writing. In King of the Nogs we see a boat being built in the Viking clinker tradition. And (here’s the link with the Deskford Carnyx) the heralds in Noggin’s court play an instrument that is a relative of the carnyx – the lur.

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There are (knowing) anachronisms too. The clinker built Viking ship is loaded up with boiled eggs and cocoa from the village store (which looks like a 1960s grocers). The Nogs are also keen on a good cup of tea and a nice slice of hot buttered toast.

If you haven’t ever encountered Noggin the Nog I urge you to head over to the Dragons’ Friendly Society and the Smallfilms Treasury to find out more.

Top of my book wish list at the moment is Isabel Greenberg’s Encyclopedia of Early Earth. I can’t help thinking that my interest in this book is linked to my childhood love of Noggin, Nooka, Graculus the green bird and the strange northern landscapes of The Northlands.

The Dangers of Time Travel

The recent film Start Trek: Into Darkness has sent Dr A and Dr H back to the original series.

It’s many, many years since I watched some of these episodes, so the turn of events in All Our Yesterdays (Series 3, Episode 23) took me by surprise.

Spoiler alert! I’m about to give away the plot, so don’t read on if you’re currently working your way through a Star Trek box set and don’t want to know the twist in the story!

On travelling down to a planet threatened by immanent destruction from a supernova (all in a day’s work) Kirk, Spock and Bones accidentally travel in time, becoming trapped in the planet’s past (Kirk in a period akin to the 17th century and Spock and Bones in a forbidding Ice Age).

During their stay in the past, Spock starts to display some unusual behaviour.

The vegetarian, unemotional, non-violent Vulcan engages in the following activities:

Eating meat

Kissing beautiful women

Attacking his shipmate

Bones saves his skin, however, by pointing out to Spock that by travelling back 5,000 years, Spock has in fact devolved to become like the Vulcans of the time – meat-eating, violent, uninhibited “Barbarians”.

This is an aspect of time travel (already riddled with dangers) that I hadn’t previously considered. The whole idea of cultural evolution/ devolution is highly problematic, but what if you devolved physically as you travelled back in time? Imagine travelling back 2 million years and finding yourself transformed into Homo habilis. How would you manage the technology to travel back to the future? Would you, in your new state of being, want to?

Spock, faced with leaving the beautiful stranded Zarabeth (who will die if she leaves her icy prison), only returns to his own time because Bones cannot leave without him. The Vulcans have become a lot more civilised over 5000 years, but they certainly have a lot less fun.

Dr H

Screencaps from Trek Core

Thanks also to Fresca of l’astronave for reminding me of all the reasons to love Star Trek.

Buried Treasure

In addition to the Chronicle broadcast of excavations at Silbury Hill, the BBC archive also boasts an array of other archaeological treasures from another age. The BBC 4 archaeology site showcases more episodes of Chronicle, alongside highlights from Buried Treasure, Armchair Voyager and three glorious episodes of Animal, Vegetable, Mineral.

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Glyn Daniel gets his hands on the Gundestrop Cauldron

Prominent among these recordings are archaeologists Mortimer Wheeler and Glyn Daniel, both popular presenters of their day.

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Mortimer Wheeler pontificating on the subject of Tolland Man.

Dr A and Dr H recently enjoyed an episode of Buried TreasureThe Peat Bog Murder Mystery. This broadcast proves that even in 1954 viewers were seen to have relatively short attention spans. The archaeological discussions (hosted by Mortimer Wheeler and Glyn Daniel) are interspersed with frivolous sections on cookery (Tolland Man’s last meal) and prehistoric fashion.

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These sections are hosted by actor Noelle Middleton, as presumably neither of the men were willing to cook up a batch of barley porridge.

Still, the sight of the presenters wearing chequered napkins sampling prehistoric gruel and mead (served in horn goblets) is a sight to be savoured.

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If you want to catch up with these buried treasures you can find them here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/collections/p018818x/archaeology-at-the-bbc

Enjoy!

Dr A and Dr H

Ghosts and Daemons

This week I have been lucky enough to encounter two great TV show from the 1970s featuring archaeological references

The first is from The Stone Tape, a TV drama from 1972, in which a group of scientists and computer specialists encounter a powerful haunting in an old house (being renovated to form their new headquarters).

The team, who are working on a new recording device, discover that the building itself has recorded the death of a servant in the nineteenth century. But has this “stone tape” also retained traces of something far more ancient?

Strange noises (perfectly orchestrated by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop) and glowing lights evoke menacing prehistoric spirits.

Coincidentally, The Stone Tape was referenced in this week’s Doctor Who (Hide), which mentioned keeping supplies of spam to keep the ghost at bay – in The Stone Tape, US soilders based in the house during WWII feed spam to the ghost in order to placate it.

This leads me on to my second 70s experience – Doctor Who and the Daemons (Jon Pertwee period – 1971).

Drawing on the Chronicle broadcast of the excavation of Silbury Hill, this Doctor Who story starts with TV coverage of the excavation of a prehistoric mound near the village of Devil’s End (in reality the village of Aldbourne, Wiltshire).

When the mound is opened, it all goes wrong. The pompous archaeologist is frozen to death, and a demon-like alien escapes – only to be harnessed by the Master, who is masquerading as a local vicar. It’s well worth watching. One of my favourite scenes is this, in which the UNIT team approaching the site get a view strange hoof prints leaving the excavation site.

If you see any of these in your aerial photos be afraid, be very afraid…

Dr H