The Treasures of Thames

A medieval clothes pin, or a piece of bent wire?

London: a 2000-year-old thriving port in a tidal range of a major river. As far as I know, that’s a unique combination in Europe. The waters of the English Channel had been flowing into and out of the city day after day for countless millennia and, with every wave, they had been bringing more debris and flotsam to the river shores, creating beaches formed of detritus of London’s entire history.

When the tide ebbs, these beaches become a playground for amateur archaeologists, scavengers of shards and old nails. They are called by an ancient moniker of Mudlarks – a name once reserved for poor urchins diving into mud to recover lost coal lumps or coins.

We – me and my wife – have discovered mudlarking by pure chance, a few weeks ago on a trip to Greenwich. The tide was out and we were sitting among gravel, old bricks and roof tiles, enjoying the rare sun, when one of us found a bit of china, painted in what seemed like tiny blue flowers. Moments later we had a handful of such unidentified potsherds. It was obvious these were not just bits of crockery thrown out of a nearby Starbucks, but something much older and much more interesting.

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Standing Stones of the British Isles

We went to Salisbury Plain a few days after the Solstice, and this reminded me of the many other standing stones we’ve seen throughout the British Isles over the years.

This was our second visit to Stonehenge – even more people this time of the year, and the weather was much milder.

Further north of the Stonehenge area is the Avebury area, which has, to me, much more spectacular features than its better known neighbour, though not as iconic.
This here is the Silbury Hill – greatest man-made mound in Europe, the size and age of some of the older pyramids in Egypt. Its purpose is unknown, as there doesn’t seem to be anything inside or on top of it.

Just across the road from Silbury Hill is one of the two Kennet Long Barrows

At 100m, it is one of the largest barrows in Britain
The Avebury Circle – what’s left of it – is huge. It encompasses part of the village, including the pub, and is probably the largest in the world. This photo shows just a tiny part of it.
The locals over the ages have removed many stones for construction. Still, what’s left gives a good impression of how the entire thing must have looked like back in the day

‘The Cove’ – a triple formation of stones in the middle of what was one of the smaller concentric circles forming the Avebury complex
Way, way up north from Salisbury, on the wind-swept Orkney there is a set of megalithic monuments rivalling that of the Wiltshire plain. All through the islands the stones are scattered in lesser and greater formation – the Standing Stones of Stenness being one of the most iconic ones

The Maeshowe Barrow is built like the famous Newgrange in Ireland – its entrance pointing at the Winter Solstice sunrise
The Ring of Brodgar, not far from the Stenness Stones, this is the third largest stone circle after Avebury and Stanton Drew, and perhaps one with the best views – sweeping across the Scapa Flow


Dwarfie Stane of Hoy – not many tourists even notice the giant slab of rock cast on a hillside, but inside there are tomb chambers carved in solid red sandstone

We now go to Wales – Anglesey. Plenty to see there, from iron age forts to megalithic monuments.
The Bodowyr Dolmen

And the entrance to the Bryn Celli Ddu barrow mound

I have not yet been to Newgrange, so this is the best I’ve got for Ireland. The Poulnabrone Dolmen in the middle of Burren. Hard to notice among all the other naturally strewn boulders.

Beachcombing made us what we are

This brilliantly instructive website shows the journey of mankind from its origins in the Horn of Africa to world-wide domination. Browse through it all, it’s all a very interesting read.
One of the most striking things happens around 85-75000 years mark, when humanity crosses the Red Sea for the first time and in a pre-historical blink of an eye spreads through Arabia, Indian Subcontinent, Indochina, Indonesia, all the way into southern China. 
It will take further 25000 years to move further from this first frontier. Obviously, some dramatic breakthrough had happened to enable this remarkable journey.
According to some of the latest theories, this breakthrough was the advent of beach combing. This food revolution, possibly the greatest human invention apart from fire and wheel, enabled humans to travel any distance along the coast line. 
There are great advantages of the beachcombing lifestyle over life in the savannahs and jungles. The food is always there, and in plenty. Wherever you go in the world, by the sea there will be always seashells and seaweed, great source of proteins and minerals. You don’t have to learn which are poisonous and which aren’t – as long as they are fresh and clean, almost anything out of the sea can be eaten. You don’t have to prepare the food in any way – it’s delicious and nutritious raw. You don’t have to waste energy hunting – it’s just lying there, waiting. 85000 years ago, a man could walk around the world eating just what he found by the sea – and he did.
According to geneticists, all non-African humans are descended from these intrepid pioneers. That means humanity got to where it is today because it had learned to eat oysters and clams. 
So next time you shuck an oyster, think carefully about what you’re doing. Because this is exactly what the first explorers did. The same gesture, a hundred thousand years ago, began humanity’s incredible journey.