Badger (Meles meles) photographed by Mark Robinson, CC-BY 2.0. Colour analysis is mine.
I’m currently working on translating and analysing a seventeenth century natural history text called Scotia Illustrata by Robert Sibbald. It’s lots of fun but there are occasional bits I have trouble with. This week I looked at how sophisticated his colour terminology is, and found something very surprising…
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.
Posted in Amphibians and Reptiles, Birds, Invertebrates, Latin, Mammals, Plants (incl. Trees), Special Feature
Tagged 17th century, extinction, historical approach, linguistic approach, native status, natural history, nature is amazing, rise of scientific method, robert sibbald, Scientific Revolution, Scotia Illustrata
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.
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.
Posted in Amphibians and Reptiles, Latin, Scots
Tagged Britain, coastland, ecosensitive approach, harmony with nature, historical approach, history text, leatherback turtle, native status, natural history, nature is amazing, rise of scientific method, robert sibbald, scotland, tortoise, turtle, wildlife history
Species: Pests, game, scavengers and royal beasts.
Source: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, The Acts for the Preservation of Grain, The Values of Wild and Tame.
Date: Medieval to Early Modern, c.1100-1566.
This week’s blog post is a guest post at the Academy for Distance Learning, where I have been challenged to provide a summary of Britain’s strangest laws in 500 words or less
The Academy for Distance Learning is a UK institution where you can take courses up to higher diploma level online or by correspondence. They have just started a (modern) Wildlife Law course which I will be teaching this year.
You can read the full blog post here.
Posted in Anglo-Norman, Birds, English, Mammals, Special Feature, Welsh
Tagged environmental management, exploitation, farmland, harmony with nature, historical approach, home, human-environment conflict, hunting, legal, nature is a pest, nature is amazing, persecution
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.
Photograph of European beaver by Harald Olsen, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.
Posted in British, English, Latin, Mammals, Scots, Special Feature, Welsh
Tagged beaver, beavers, Bryony Coles, ecosensitive approach, exploitation, extinction, historical approach, historical biology, history text, hunting, linguistic drift, low profile species, nature is amazing, persecution, re-introduction, wetland
Species: ‘Swallow’ (Hirunda sp.); ‘Sea-swallow’ (=tern, Sterna sp.)
Source: ‘Culhwch ac Olwen’, the earliest Welsh prose tale.
Date: c.1100 A.D., but from the oldest-seeing part of a story with a known ninth century version.
Highlights: Our story pauses mid-way through to admire the figure of Culhwch, boy-hero. He’s so fly, even the mud off his horse’s hooves come out like swallows, and his hounds are as agile as terns.
Posted in Birds, Welsh
Tagged arthurian, Culhwch, Culhwch ac Olwen, ecosensitive approach, figurative, heroic age, linguistic approach, literary approach, mabinogion, marxist approach, medieval welsh, nature is amazing, rosc, runs, Welsh, wetland
In the seventeenth century people still believed in phoenixes, based partially on indisputable pictorial evidence like this.
Picture from the Aberdeen Bestiary is a photographic representation of a 2d public domain image.
Source: Pseudodoxia Epidemica (the ‘Plague of Pseudoscience’), by Thomas Browne.
Date: 1646 A.D.
Highlights: It turns out that in the seventeenth century, belief in phoenixes, griffins and unicorns was still a thing.
To stop you feeling too proud of ‘how far we’ve come’ I should point out that we still have one or two irrational beliefs today. Continue reading
Posted in English, Invertebrates, Monsters
Tagged 17th century, crane fly, folkloric approach, griffin, home, natural history, nature is a pest, nature is amazing, phoenix, rise of scientific method, tainct, thomas browne, unicorn