Tag Archives: history text

Leatherback turtles in the Orkney Islands

Species: Some cold turtles, seen off the coast of the Orkney Islands, probably leatherbacks (Demochelys coriacea), also some chilled-out pet tortoises (sp. unclear).

Source: Scotia Illustrata (Scotland Illustrated), a complete geography of Scotland written in early enlightenment Scotland by Robert Sibbald.

Date: First published 1684 CE.

Highlights: This blog post introduces, translates and comments what I believe to be the earliest record of a marine turtle (most probably a leatherback) from Britain. This record, from Robert Sibbald’s Scotia Illustrata has been overlooked by previous scholars because the book is only available in difficult Latin. It is a decade older, and more certain than the previous oldest record.

leatherback turtle bigger than himan

Photograph of leatherback turtle with Marian Garvie and other, unknown, taken by Steve Garvie, licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0.
You too can grow up this big and strong on a diet of Natural History and jellyfish.


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Source: My paper looks at an exhaustive list of reliable historical documents, selected depending on their reference to other wild species of mammal.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

Species: Semi-domestic wild sow (Sus scrofa).

Source: ‘De Antiquitate Glastone Ecclesie’ (The Early History of Glastonbury), originally by William of Malmesbury but heavily edited by monks at Glastonbury Abbey.

Date: Originally composed c.1129 A.D., but earliest extant version mid twelfth century.

Highlights: One day an old pig was so fed up it went exploring in a marsh, and sat under an apple tree on an island. When Farmer Glateing found it, he liked the place so much he named it Glastonbury. Aww, cute.

If you believe that, it’s because you aren’t used to the politically cut-throat, properganda-filled world of the medieval church!

Wild boar (Sus scrofa, probably male) from Additional 42130  f. 19v. Public domain from age of work.

Wild boar (Sus scrofa, probably male) from Additional 42130 f. 19v. Public domain from age of work.

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Medieval snakes are not always so bad…

Three boys with spotty green snakes coiled around their necks

Part of the Vaughan coat-of-arms at Tretower Court, Brecon Beacons, south-east Wales.

Species: Generic snakey-snake, called an adder (Vipera berus) but has prey constricting habit like smooth snake (Coronella austriaca).

Source: The Vaughan family coat-of-arms and its descriptions (not as boring as it sounds, I promise!)

Date: c.1450 A.D.

Highlights: The Vaughan coat-of-arms shows three boys being strangled by snakes. This was inspired by the legend of a family member being born with a snake around his neck. Boring folklorists  c.1900 interpreted this as an #IHateSnakes moment. They are wrong, it was originally the opposite. The writings of Lewis Glyn Cothi suggest comparing someone to a snake was a compliment. Continue reading

GUEST BLOG POST – Celts and Sheep (Ovis aries) in AoE II (Age of Empires 2)

Age of Empires

This week’s blog post is on the Age of Empires blog. Click here to go there now.

We have a special sort of text to look at this week… a 21st century one!

This week’s entry, hosted on the Age of Empires blog looks at how accurately sheep are depicted in the computer game.

Species mentioned: Several but most interestingly sheep, (Ovis aries) which are the most frequently exploited animal in Age of Empires.

Source: Age of Empires II, one of the most influential RTS games of all time.

Date of Source: Age of Empires II is a 21st century game, but it’s based on the vague “middle ages”. For the Celts that’s c.550-1650.

Highlights: Although the developers of AoE II seem to have no idea what a medieval sheep looked like, they knew exactly what they were doing when they gave the medieval Celts a bonus with livestock. “Celts” ranging from the heroes of ‘Táin Bó Cúailnge’ to the ballads of the Borderers have specialised in being able to steal livestock from anywhere, no matter how isolated and well-guarded.

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