Archive for February, 2014

Views of York (6)

Posted: February 28, 2014 in History, Roman History, UK, York
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Roamn legion building mark - IX Hispania stationed at York after conquest of North

Roamn legion building mark – IX Hispania stationed at York after conquest of North

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carving from exterior of York Minster

carving from exterior of York Minster

York Minster

York Minster

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Ashurbanipal is regarded by many historians as the last of the great Kings of the Assyrian Empire. He was the son of Esarhaddon and the grandson of Sennacherib, who had between them expanded the Assyrian Empire to its greatest ever size.

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Ashurbanipal from the Lion Hunt Reliefs (British Museum)

Ashurbanipal had elder brothers and was not expected to succeed his father as King of the Empire. As a result, he turned his mind to more scholarly pursuits. In a unique surviving autobiographical statement he tells of his studies in divination, mathematics reading and writing. Tradition tells us that he was in fact the only Assyrian king who knew how to read and write .
Sometime prior to 672 BCE Ashurbanipal’s older brothers died or were killed and he found himself unexpectedly in the position of Crown Prince. Three years later, his father Esarhaddon was killed while campaigning in Egypt and Ashurbanipal acceded to the throne in his place. Aware of the already difficult problems that were occurring with the government of such a large empire, Ashurbanipal installed his brother Shamash-shum-ukin as the King in the eastern part of the Empire, the region of Babylon.
To get the impression that this scholarly King was in anyway not made in the mold of his father or grandfather would be a mistake. He finally put Egypt under Assyrian control in 667 when he defeated the Nubian king Tarhaqa in a battle near Memphis with the aid of his Egyptian ally, Necho I , whom he then installed as client King of Egypt. In 652 Shamash-shum-ukin rebelled against his brother and Civil War ensued. It took four years for Ashurbanipal to re-establish Assyrian control in the east. His brother died just before the city of Babylon surrendered to the Assyrian troops -whether he was killed or committed suicide is unclear . Ashurbanipal’s response was to kill anyone who was associated with the rebellion and to abolish the kingship of Babylon and replace him with the governor.
So in many respects Ashurbanipal was indeed a typical member of his family. Yet there is clearly another side to this fascinating figure . It seems clear that he was proud of his education.

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The autobiography of Ashurbanipal (British Museum)

One inscription reads ‘I Ashurbanipal took care of the wisdom of Nebo [the Assyrian God of Knowledge], the whole of the inscribed tablets of all the clay tablets the whole of them their mysteries and difficulties I solved’. This inscription gives an insight into the nature of the scholar. During his kingship he collected together cuneiform texts from all over the Empire so that he could study them and in order to house them, he created a library in his palace at Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. This collection of material is regarded by many as one of the most important discoveries in our understanding of the ancient near East. Many types of documents were included – financial, administrative, literary and prophetic texts have been identified which is given us an insight into the running and religion of the Assyrian Empire at its height.
We’re not absolutely sure when Ashurbanipal’s rule came to an end but it is likely to have been some time between 631 and 627 . His death was followed by a number of Civil Wars and regional revolts which began to cripple the Assyrian Empire. The period also saw the rise of independent Kings in the Babylonian region of the Empire. This was the foundation of the neo-Babylonian Empire, which in due course would consume the entire Assyrian Empire all the way to the borders of Egypt.

Spring Flowers

Posted: February 26, 2014 in Natural History
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Some pictures taken at the Tarn and Fairy Hill on Monday.

Maybe spring is finally coming!

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A lovely sunny morning and a chance to get out and catch up with the winter Thrush survey for the area. The number of Redwing have been noticeably lower over the past few weeks although I had a party of 6 just outside the garden one day a couple of weeks ago but this was the only sighting for the last 3 or 4 weeks,

My walk took me up past Eltham Palace and down King Johns Walk.

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The sun was shining and the birds were busy advertising their territories from the tree tops. Dunnock, House sparrow and lots of Robins were singing their hearts out and together with the warm sunny weather (a rarity here in recent months) it really made me feel that Spring was on its way.

From King John’s walk I went to the Tarn and then onto Fairy Hill, where more evidence of the recent storms was visible.

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Ring-necked Parakeet

Ring-necked Parakeet

Greylag goose, apparently asleep. In fact it was keeping its eye firmly on me as I went past

Greylag goose, apparently asleep. In fact it was keeping its eye firmly on me as I went past

The Spring flowers in both these places were begining to show and bring their vibrant colours to the view.

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As for the Thrushes, there were good numbers of Blackbirds and a few Starlings. The only Redwing was alone bird I found was in the garden when I got back from the survey.

In the evening (about 1730) as I waited for the train to go into central London I counted around 350 Ring-necked Parakeets in 10 minutes flying towards the roost at Hither Green.

Greylag Goose [sp] (Anser anser)
Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Common Pigeon [sp] (Columba livia)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Rose-ringed Parakeet [sp] (Psittacula krameri)
European Green Woodpecker [sp] (Picus viridis)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Western Jackdaw [sp] (Coloeus monedula)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Eurasian Wren [sp] (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
Redwing [sp] (Turdus iliacus)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)
Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
Pied Wagtail [sp] (Motacilla alba)
European Greenfinch [sp] (Carduelis chloris)

Sue and I were down in Somerset for the weekend for a family party. Apart from birding on the journey we did manage to spend an hour at the RSPB reserve at Swell Wood on Sunday morning. This was the first time I had visited this reserve which contains the largest Heronry in the South West England. There were no Little Egrets to be seen although they too have begun to share the heronry. I understand they dont start to return to the nests till some weeks after the Grey Herons arrive back.

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Apart from the Heronry the Wood was fairly quiet due to the cold, wet windy weather but the feeder station attracted a large number of Blue and Great Tits plus Common Chaffinches on the ground.

Great Tit

Great Tit

Common Chaffinch

Common Chaffinch

The best birds of the morning were 2 Coal Tits which came to the feeders, although they never stayed long, just taking a peck and then flying back into the undergrowth.

Coal Tit

Coal Tit

On the return drive we spotted a Red Kite at Thruxton in Hampshire, showing how far south they have spread from the Cotswolds.

Common Pheasant [sp] (Phasianus colchicus)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Red Kite [sp] (Milvus milvus)
Common Buzzard [sp] (Buteo buteo)
Common Kestrel [sp] (Falco tinnunculus)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Common Pigeon [sp] (Columba livia)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Western Jackdaw [sp] (Coloeus monedula)
Rook [sp] (Corvus frugilegus)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Coal Tit [sp] (Periparus ater)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)

The Floods

Posted: February 24, 2014 in Landscape, UK
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Sue and I traveled down to Somerset for a family party this weekend and it gave us the opportunity to see for ourselves the level of flooding around the town of Langport. Locals assure me that this is the picture after the waters have gone down some way from the peak.

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Spare a moment today to remember those in the flooded areas who lives and livelihoods have been affected in so many ways by the flooding

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The god Sol, here carved in the fashion of a Celtic Sun God or a classical Gorgon. The Romans often incorporated local gods or interpretations into the Roman pantheon as a way of binding the peoples of the Empire together.

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The god Mithras, a favourite of the Roman soldiers. The cult of Mithras was for men only and they met in temples which resembled caves.

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A statue of Animanes, the devil who fought with Mithras. His lion head is unfortunately missing. This was commissioned by Volusius Iraenaeus after Animanes had aided him in some unspecified venture.

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This is an altar to Serapis, an Egyptian god who was a favourite of the Emperor Septimus Severus. This alter indicates the flexibility of the Roman religious system which allowed for God’s from all over the Empire to be incorporated, and worshipped. This alter was set up by Claudius Hieronymianus, the legate (commanding officer) of the sixth legion

These tombstones can all be seen in the Museum of Yorkshire.

Views of York (5)

Posted: February 22, 2014 in History, Roman History, UK, York
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Column from Roman headquarters building (4th century AD)

Column from Roman headquarters building (4th century AD)

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The birthplace of Guy Fawkes

The birthplace of Guy Fawkes

York Minster

York Minster

York Minster close

York Minster close

My friend Keith came up to London from Kent and we spent the day at the London Wetland Centre.

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Our first target was a Brambling that had been seen around the feeder area. But this was to elude us all day despite 4 visits. On then to the Peacock Tower hide to try and find a Bittern. We were successful fairly quickly but although we could make out enough to identify the bird hiding in the reed-bed it was not a very good view. We walked back to the reserve centre via the Lagoon path and were rewarded with sightings of both Lesser and Mealy Redpoll, this latter a first ever sighting for me.

"Mealy Redpoll" (Acanthis flammea)
Mealy Redpoll
Photo by Ron Knight (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sussexbirder/)

Lesser Redpoll    (Carduelis cabaret)
Lesser Redpoll
Photo by Crotach (http://www.flickr.com/photos/crotach/)

We decided that rather than walk around the north side of the reserve we would retrace our steps stopping off again at the feeder area again where we saw Greater Spotted Woodpecker, but still no Brambling, and end up again at the Tower hide to finish off the afternoon. This turned out to be a good decision as we were rewarded with sightings of common Snipe and excellent views of Bittern and Green Woodpecker.

Bittern

Bittern

Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker

An excellent days birding. Good views of Bittern and a good list of species seen, but the highlight for me was the Mealy Redpoll.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Greylag Goose [sp] (Anser anser)
Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Eurasian Teal [sp] (Anas crecca)
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Little Grebe [sp] (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Great Crested Grebe [sp] (Podiceps cristatus)
Eurasian Bittern [sp] (Botaurus stellaris)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk [sp] (Accipiter nisus)
Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Common Snipe [sp] (Gallinago gallinago)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Lesser Black-backed Gull [sp] (Larus fuscus)
Common Pigeon [sp] (Columba livia)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Rose-ringed Parakeet [sp] (Psittacula krameri)
Great Spotted Woodpecker [sp] (Dendrocopos major)
European Green Woodpecker [sp] (Picus viridis)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Western Jackdaw [sp] (Coloeus monedula)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Eurasian Wren [sp] (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Common Starling [sp] (Sturnus vulgaris)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
Redwing [sp] (Turdus iliacus)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)
Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis flammea cabaret)
Mealy Redpoll (Carduelis flammea flammea)

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This is the tombstone of Cornelia Optata. She was only 13 years old when she died. This tombstone was set up by her distraught father. We can gain some insight into his distress in the inscription ‘following the brief light of life, sire of an innocent daughter, I, a pitiable victim of unfair hope, bewail her final end’

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The tombstone of Simplicia Florentina, a 10-month-old daughter of a Roman soldier serving in the garrison at York

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The tombstone of Lucius Duccius Rufinus, a 28-year-old soldier from France. He held the honoured position of standard-bearer of the ninth Legion.

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The tombstone of Aelia Aeliana. This tombstone is rather unusual as it is rare or such to display a scene of love and tenderness between a couple.

These examples can all be seen in the Museum of Yorkshire.