Monthly Archives: September 2018
Peat bogs, which cover 3% of the world’s land surface, are special places. While historically often considered as worthless morasses, today they are recognised as beautiful habitats providing environmental benefits from biodiversity to climate regulation. However, they are threatened by drainage, land reclamation for agriculture and peat cutting for fuel, which has significantly reduced the extent and condition of these ecosystems on a global scale. Bogs are fragile and sensitive to change, whether by human hands or by processes such as climate change.
A less well known aspect of bogs is their remarkable archaeological potential. In their undisturbed state at least, bogs are anoxic (oxygen-free) environments due to their saturation. These conditions are hostile to the microbes and fungi that would normally decay organic material such as the remains of plants, which are the principal constituents of the peat. The same anoxic conditions also offer protection from decay for organic archaeological remains. The vast majority of objects and structures used by our ancestors were made from organic materials (in particular wood). These are normally lost on dryland archaeological sites but can be preserved in peatlands.
The saturated conditions mean that even soft tissue can survive, including both skin and internal organs. Probably the best known archaeological finds are the remains of “bog bodies” such as the famous prehistoric Tollund Man in Denmark, Lindow Man in the UK, or the more recent Irish discoveries of Clonycavan Man, Old Croghan Man and Ireland’s oldest known bog body, Cashel Man, dated to the Bronze Age.
Seeing hidden landscapes
But archaeology is only part of the story these environments have to tell. They are important archives of the past in other ways: the layers of moss and other vegetation that make up peat are themselves immensely valuable as archives of past environments (palaeoenvironments). The manner in which peat accumulates means that the deposits have stratigraphic integrity, meaning that contained within each layer can be found macroscopic and microscopic remains of plants and other organisms that shed light on landscape change and biodiversity on timescales ranging from centuries to millennia. The high organic content of peat means that these records can be dated using the radiocarbon method.
The best known such records are probably pollen grains which provide evidence of past vegetation change. But evidence from other organic material can be used to reconstruct other past environmental processes. For example, single-celled organisms called testate amoebae, preserved in sub-fossil form, are highly sensitive to peatland hydrology and have been extensively used in recent years to reconstruct a history of climatic changes. Meanwhile, fossil beetles can tell us how the biodiversity and nutrient status of a peatland has altered over time.
The potential of bogs to preserve both environmental and archaeological records means that they can be regarded as archives of “hidden landscapes”. The accumulating peat literally seals and protects evidence of human activity ranging from the macroscopic (in the form of archaeological sites, artefacts and larger plant and animal remains) through to the microscopic (pollen, testate amoebae and other remains) material that provides contextual evidence of environmental processes.
Through detailed integrated analyses these records can provide evidence of past human activity ranging from the everyday exploitation of economic resources of peatlands, through to the ceremonies associated with prehistoric human sacrifice and the deposition of the so-called bog bodies. The associated palaeoenvironmental record can be used to situate these cultural processes within long term patterns of environmental changes.
Taming the wild
There has been extensive study of the palaeoenvironmental record from bogs and notable archaeological excavations of sites and artefacts, but there have been relatively few concerted attempts to integrate these approaches. In part this is because generating sufficient data to model the development of a bog in four dimensions (the fourth being time) is a formidable research challenge. But some peatlands have seen relatively extensive archaeological and palaeoenvironmental research over the last few decades, providing an excellent starting point. Hatfield and Thorne Moors, situated primarily in South Yorkshire, are two such peatlands.
These two largest surviving areas of lowland bog in England are located within a wider lowland region known as the Humberhead Levels. After decades of industrial peat extraction, these bogs are now nature reserves managed by Natural England, and are becoming the “wild” bogs they once were. We are attempting to reconstruct the wildscape and bring the complex histories of this vast and dynamic boggy landscape to life.
These moors are just two surviving parts of a once rich mosaic of wetland landscapes. In the past, this landscape was famed for its wildness – a remnant of an extensive complex of mires, rivers, meres and extensive floodplain wetlands. Antiquarians such as John Leland visited the area in the 16th century, and his descriptions provide a “window onto what must have been a truly fabulous ‘everglades-like’ landscape”, as described by local historian Colin Howes.
Now largely drained, tamed and converted to farmland, it’s hard to imagine the vast wetland landscapes that once characterised these areas. Following large-scale land reclamation in the 17th century, many of the traditional practises such as fishing, fowling, grazing and peat-cutting (turbary) rights were no longer available to commoners. Consequently, the connections between people and place became increasingly defined by a new, dryland landscape and disconnected from its former wetlands that were once so central to people’s lives.
We are investigating and reconstructing this dynamic and changing wildscape throughout its history, reconnecting communities to these wetland landscapes. Drawing together previous research alongside targeted archaeological fieldwork and palaeoenvironmental analyses, we are combining these with newly available digital data and sophisticated modelling techniques to reconstruct their interwoven landscape and human histories. Together, for the first time, we are beginning to see the complexity of the dynamic and changing landscape that once characterised the Humberhead Levels.
Henry Chapman, Professor of Archaeology, University of Birmingham; Ben Gearey, Lecturer in Environmental Archaeology, University College Cork; Jane Bunting, Reader in Geography, University of Hull; Kimberley Davies, Research Assistant, Wildscape Project, Plymouth University, and Nicola Whitehouse, Associate Professor (Reader) in Physical Geography, Plymouth University
Like sport or hate it, it’s hard to deny the role that sporting lingo plays in our daily lives.
Corporate language everywhere groans with references of people leveling playing fields, getting balls rolling, moving goal posts, lighting fires under their teams, blocking and tackling, even touching base offline – and of course it’s all done by the playbook and at close of play.
Perhaps it’s just not cricket, but politics is also rife with sporting lingo. Shirtfronting has escaped the on-field aggression of the AFL to cover diplomatic spats. Both the captain’s pick and captain’s call have slipped out of sporting jargon and onto the political football field. Political parties have even been accused of ball-tampering.
And so, we say to you, tenez! (“take, receive”), as a 14th century tennis player is believed to have called out before serving a ball (a French cry that reputedly gave tennis its name).
Allow us to bandy around (a tennis term) a few ideas here as we run with (a football term) a brief review of sporting lingo inside the bloody arena and throughout our daily lives.
Tickets and etiquette in ‘disport’
The word sport is a shortening of an earlier term disport, which from the 14th century broadly encompassed any form of relaxation or diversion.
In fact, from the 15th century, one meaning of sport was a playful reference to romance and lovemaking. This died off in the 18th century, but another 15th century meaning, “activity of skill and exertion with set rules or customs”, has withstood the test of time.
At sports events, you might see the reverse side of your ticket setting out rules of etiquette for spectators. Both derive from an Old French word estiquette meaning “note or label”. The word etiquette emerged in late 17th century French as a note detailing the rules and customs for engaging with the Spanish court.
But etiquette in modern sporting contests includes being nice to umpires. Sure, they make some tough calls, but so do we as English speakers.
After all, the word umpire actually derives from the Norman French noumpere, corresponding to “non-peer”, the one who stood out among peers. (Linguistic boundary lines have been problematic for some time — but that, as the saying goes, is a whole nother story.)
Umpires try to keep the peace, but more than a few words derive from the punishing and warlike nature of sport. Melbourne Demons coach Simon Goodwin said his team would learn from the “drubbing” they received from West Coast.
We can only hope he intended the modern meaning of drub (“beat badly in a sporting contest”), and not the meaning associated with drub‘s 17th century Arabic origins (“the flogging of feet”).
Sporting language in everyday speech
We’re surrounded by sporting language, much of it from sports to which we no longer pay much heed — some forgotten entirely.
Archery has been quiet contributor over the years. The verb to rove “wander about with no purpose in mind”, for instance, comes from a 15th century archery term meaning “shoot arrows randomly at an arbitrarily selected target”.
The original upshot was the final shot in a match (a closing or parting shot). The first bolt was a crossbow projectile.
Even those disapproving of the “sport” of hunting have to admire its contributions to language. A tryst, now “an assignation with a lover”, was originally “an appointed station in hunting”. A ruse, these days a general term for “deception”, was the detour hunted animals made to elude the hounds.
These sagacious “acute-smelling” hounds would occasionally run riot “follow the scent of animals other than the intended prey”. Retrieving was flushing out their re-found quarry and worry “seize by the throat” was what they did to it once they got it.
Hawking or falconry must have once played a central role in our lives for this sport has donated a number of expressions. Haggard was originally used to describe wild hawks, and to pounce derives from their pounces or fore-claws.
And reclaim or rebate referred to calling the hawk “back from flight”. It was carried out by a special pipe known as a lure, which is now a general word meaning “magnetism” or “attraction”.
Some sports have completely disappeared but have left behind relics in some common expressions. Pall-mall (probably from Middle French pale-mail “ball-mallet”) was a croquet-like lawn game in the 16th and 17th centuries. It gave its name to straight roads or promenades (such as Pall Mall in London), before it then morphed into the shopping malls of modern times.
Even the medieval jousting tournament is the source of a few current expressions like break a lance, tilt at and at full tilt, meaning “at full speed”. (The tilt was originally the barrier separating the combatants and later was applied to the sport itself.)
These days, jousting refers generally to any sort of banter or sparring between individuals who might have thrown down or taken up the gauntlet, meaning “challenged” or “accepted a challenge”. (The gauntlet refers to the knight’s mailed glove).
Unlucky players might end up being thrilled (originally pronounced “thirled”), which doesn’t mean ecstatic, but rather pierced by a lance or spear.
Up there Cazaly!: on with the ‘people’s tournament’
And spare a final thought for the “people’s tournament” — the medieval game that gave us the word football. As Heiner Gillmeister points out, there is evidence this game was also opened by the cry tenez!
Whether it was played in the monastery cloisters (the arches forming the original goals) or in an open space (so-called “mob football” played between two villages — a tough gig for the boundary umpire), it was a bloody and riotous affair getting that ball full of wynde to the target area.
As Sir Thomas Elyot put it in The Boke Named the Governour (1531):
Nothinge but beastly furie, and exstreme violence
Like sport or hate it, we hope you’ve found our linguistic shirtfronting here gentle, fun and appropriate as far as captain’s calls go.
125 years ago today Aotearoa New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant all women the right to vote.
The event was part of an ongoing international movement for women to exit from an inferior position in society and to enjoy equal rights with men.
But why did this global first happen in a small and isolated corner of the South Pacific?
Setting the stage
In the late 19th century, Aotearoa New Zealand was a volatile and rapidly changing contact zone where British settlers confidently introduced systematic colonisation, often at the expense of the indigenous Māori population. Settlers were keen to create a new world society that adapted the best of Britain and left behind behind the negative aspects of the industrial revolution – Britain’s dark satanic mills.
Many supported universal male suffrage and a less rigid class structure, enlightened race relations and humanitarianism that also extended to improving women’s lives. These liberal aspirations towards societal equality contributed to the 1893 women’s suffrage victory.
At the end of the 19th century, feminists in New Zealand had a long list of demands. It included equal pay, prevention of violence against women, economic independence for women, old age pensions and reform of marriage, divorce, health and education – and peace and justice for all.
The women’s suffrage cause captured widespread support and emerged as the uniting right for women’s equality in society. As suffragist Christina Henderson later summed up, 1893 captured “the mental and spiritual uplift” women experienced upon release “from their age-long inferiority complex”.
Two other factors assisted New Zealand’s global first for women: a relatively small size and population and the lack of an entrenched conservative tradition. In Britain, John Stuart Mill presented a first petition for women’s suffrage to the British Parliament in 1866, but it took until wartime 1918 for limited women’s suffrage there.
Women as moral citizens
As a “colonial frontier”, New Zealand had a surplus of men, especially in resource towns. Pragmatically, this placed a premium on women for their part as wives, mothers and moral compasses.
There was a fear of a chaotic frontier full of marauding single men. This colonial context saw conservative men who supported family values supporting suffrage. During the 1880s, depression and its accompanying poverty, sexual licence and drunken disorder further enhanced women’s value as settling maternal figures. Women voters promised a stabilising effect on society.
New Zealand gained much strength from an international feminist movement. Women were riding a first feminist wave that, most often grounded in their biological difference as life givers and carers, cast them as moral citizens.
Local feminists eagerly drew upon and circulated the best knowledge from Britain, America and Europe. When Mary Leavitt, the leader of the US-based Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) visited New Zealand in 1885, her goal was to set up local branches. This had a direct impact, leading to the country’s first national women’s organisation and providing a platform for women to secure the vote in order to affect their colonial feminist concerns.
Other places early to grant women’s suffrage shared the presence of liberal and egalitarian beliefs, a surplus of men over women, and less entrenched conservatism. The four frontier US western mountain states led the way with Wyoming (1869), Utah (1870), Colorado (1893) and Idaho (1895). South Australia (1894) and Western Australia (1899) made the 19th century and, before the first world war, were joined by other western US states, Australia, Finland and Scandinavia.
New Zealand was fortunate to have many effective women leaders. Most prominent among them was Kate Sheppard. In 1887, Sheppard became head of the WCTU’s Christchurch branch and led the campaign for the vote.
The campaign leaders were well organised and hard working. Their tactics were petitions, pamphlets, letters, public talks and lobbying politicians – this was a peaceful era before the suffragette militancy during the early 20th century elsewhere.
The women were persistent and overcame setbacks. It took multiple attempts in parliament before the Electoral Act 1893 was passed. Importantly, the suffragists got public opinion behind the cause. Mass support was demonstrated through petitions between 1891 and 1893, in total garnering 31,872 signatures, amounting to a quarter of Aotearoa’s adult women.
Pragmatically, the women worked in allegiance with men in parliament who could introduce the bills. In particular, veteran conservative Sir John Hall viewed women’s suffrage as a way to a more moral and civil society.
The Suffrage 125 celebratory slogan “whakatū wāhine – women stand up!” captures the intention of continuing progressive and egalitarian traditions. Recognising diverse cultural backgrounds is now important. With hindsight, the feminist movement can be implicated as an agent of colonisation, but it did support votes for Māori women. Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia presented a motion to the newly formed Māori parliament to allow women to vote and sit in it.
New Zealand remains a small country that can experience rapid social and economic change. Evoking its colonial past, however, it retains both a reputation as a tough and masculine place of beer-swilling, rugby-playing blokes and a tradition of staunch, tea drinking, domesticated women.
Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury and current Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi James Cook Research Fellow