Tag Archives: native status

Scotia Illustrata: pre-industrial Scotland

IMG_0085 - Copy

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.

Continue reading


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.


Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Sir Balyn of the Stabby-stab

Species: Imported garden laurel tree (?Laurus nobilis ; Prunus Laurocerasus?)

Source: ‘Balyn & Balan’ in Le Morte Darthur.

Date: Complete by 1469-70, first printed 1485 A.D.

Highlights: Sir Balyn is the least subtle knight that’s ever lived. Once Balyn brought a sad, jilted knight to visit his lover. She was otherwise engaged. Balyn snuck his friend in anyway. Balyn can’t be held responsible for EVERY murder right?

Well-maintained laurel tree (Laurus nobilis) in Westbury Court Gardens. Photograph by Pauline Eccles.

Well-maintained laurel tree (Laurus nobilis) in Westbury Court Gardens. CC-BY-SA 2.0. Photograph by Pauline Eccles.

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

What is a Beowulf?

Bear vs. Woodpecker

Brown bear photographed by Makeen Osman, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0. Great spotted woodpecker photographed by Maarten Visser and licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0. Compilation created by Lee Raye, and hereby released under CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Species Mentioned: Possibly one bee-wolf (?Ursus Arctos? Dendrocopus Major?)

Source: ‘Beowulf’ the most famous Old English story.

Date: Uh-oh, best not to ask. The version we have probably somewhere c.700-1050.

Highlights: Beowulf is the all-star hero of his story, so his name must mean something, right? It quite nicely breaks down to beo-wulf (=bee-wolf). But what could a bee-wolf be?

Continue reading

The Bear (Ursus arctos) in ‘Y Naw Helwriaeth’ (The Nine Huntings)

brown bear

Photograph of a brown bear taken by Malene Thyssen, Licensed under CC-AT-SA.

Species mentioned: Eleven, but most importantly the BEAR (U. arctos).

Source: ‘Naw Helwriaeth’ (the Nine Huntings). A secret book written by a gentleman to explain to other gentlemen which wild animals are the most fun to hunt down and/or eat if you’re bored.

Date of source: Sixteenth-seventeenth century Welsh text, and therefore NOT a good insight into pre-Conquest times.

Highlights: Even though a grizzly is mentioned among all the other animals in this text, this doesn’t mean that brown bears managed to survive in hiding until 1600, or even 1000 AD.

Continue reading