Tag Archives: extinction

The difficult Latin of Renaissance Natural History

 

himantopus

In my last blog post I announced I had found funding to start a research project looking at a seventeenth century Latin Natural History text. I am now well underway, kindly sponsored by the Antiquaries of London and the Alice McCosh Trust.
Robert Sibbald’s (1684) Scotia Illustrata is a really important text. One of the reasons for this is that it gives a full catalogue of wildlife found in seventeenth century Scotland. Most naturalists of the time period wanted to just write down every species of wildlife known at the time. Sibbald however, restricted himself to just writing about the species he had observed or had had people write to him about. That makes it a really important work for trying to reconstruct Scotland’s pre-industrial fauna. That includes some quite surprising species, and I’m planning to publish my findings next year.

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Scotia Illustrata: pre-industrial Scotland

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Scotia Illustrata: pre-industrial Scotland, is a postdoctoral research project run by recent Cardiff University postgraduate Lee Raye, starting on July 1st 2016.

This will be the first ever project to fully translate and comment upon a pre-Linnean Natural History from Britain.

Robert Sibbald’s Scotia Illustrata (1684) provides a full record of Scotland’s natural resources in the years before the Industrial Revolution.

The first phase of the project has been generously funded by the Society of Antiquaries of London, and the Alice McCosh Trust.

Interested parties can find out more about the work, author and text by visiting the project website: www.robert-sibbald.co.uk.

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The Early Extinction Date of the Beaver (Castor fiber) in Britain: paper now available

Species: Beaver (Castor fiber)

Source: My paper looks at an exhaustive list of reliable historical documents, selected depending on their reference to other wild species of mammal.

Date: The texts range from  c.1200-1607 in south Britain and 1526-1684 in Scotland. Beavers are only found in those at the start of each period.

Highlights: If beavers were still around in south Britain after 1300 and Scotland after 1600 they must have suddenly started hiding-out.

beaver by river

Photograph of European beaver by Harald Olsen, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

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When Arthur met an Eagle

Species: One woodland-adapted sea-eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla).

Source: ‘Ymddiddan Arthur a’r Eryr’ (the Conversation between Arthur and the Eagle), a teaching text on Christian theology with an Arthurian frame story.

Date: Most probably original to the Jesus 20 manuscript: 1300-1350 A.D.

Highlights: Once Arthur found an eagle laughing at him. He was annoyed until he found out it was his dead nephew, Eliwlad. At that point he hinted he could make war on God if it would help…

sea eagle

Sea Eagle photographed by GerardM, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0. Sea eagles (=white-tailed eagles; fish-eagles) often nest in lowland trees.

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Guest Blog Post – Vote for Bobbe!

Species: Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris); oak (Quercus robur); crow (Corvus corone) ; tawny owl (Strix aluco); wild cat (Felis sylvestris).

Source: ‘Coed Marchan’ by Robin Clidro.

Date: Around 1580 A.D.

Highlights: After Marchan Wood was cut down, a delegation of red squirrels went to Parliament in London to request no more deforestation. They begged this on behalf of the wild animals mentioned above, but also mentioned the poor domestic stock and humans that were suffering. Sadly they weren’t listened to.

This week's blog post is on the RSPB web site, see it here. Image from British Library Additional Manuscript 18852, a red squirrel from c.1500 AD. Image in the public domain.

This week’s blog post is on the RSPB web site. Click here to see it.
Image from British Library Additional Manuscript 18852, a red squirrel from c.1500 AD. Image in the public domain.

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Pine trees and DEATH

Strand of Scots Pine

Strand of Scots Pine photographed by Gwen and James Anderson and licensed under CC-AT-SA. This photo is missing DEATH.

Species: ‘pin’, usually thought to be (Pinus sylvestris) but could be yew (Taxus Baccata) or generic term for conifers.

Source: The ‘Song of Roland’, a piece of Crusades propaganda.

Date: Most probably c.1098-1100 A.D.

Highlights: If you believe the ‘Song of Roland’, every soldier rushes to the nearest pine tree whenever they are either (i) meeting a rich person or (ii) about to die. Pretty cool, eh?

The only trouble is, pine trees are supposed to have been extinct in England and northern France when the text was written…

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Is medieval British artwork naturalistic or derivative? : Lions in Insular British Manuscripts

The portrait of St. Mark in the Lichfield (St Chad) Gospel.

The portrait of St. Mark in the Lichfield (St Chad) Gospel.

In 2013 I had an academic paper accepted by the Journal of Late Antique Religion and Culture (JLARC). The journal is open access and you can read it here (link to pdf in the right hand column). I found that the manuscript animals were copied from manuscript to manuscript by closeted scribes, and were not based on real animals (e.g. lynxes, cats, wolves).

Species: The manuscript images were all derivative and made up a coherent, although unrealistic tradition of depicting lions (Panthera leo) not lynxes (Lynx lynx), wolves (Canis lupus) or cats (Felis catus; Felis sylvestris).

Source: Some of the oldest manuscripts in Britain: The illuminated gospels.

Date: 650-1000 A.D.

Highlights: One lion, that from the Lichfield (St Chad) Gospel (above) provoked a great deal of interest. It only had the stub of a tail and the scribe’s style made its body looked speckled. However in every other respect the lion was drawn in a derivative way to the mainstream tradition, and the answer is probably that the scribe simply forgot to paint the rest of the lion’s tail.

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