The name  "Scotland" means the land of or belonging to the Scots. There's little disagreement that the "Scots" are a people who came to Scotland from Ireland and eventually took over the Pictish kingdom that much is clear, but who were these Scots? And what truth is there (if any) in the various legends connecting the Scots to Scota supposedly a princess of Egypt?

Scota appears in the Irish chronicle Book of Leinster. The 12th-century sources state that Scota was the daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh, a contemporary of Moses, who married Geytholos (Goídel Glas) and became the eponymous founders of the Scots and Gaels after being exiled from Egypt

However this connection with Moses and Pharaoh doesn't sound credible because it is just too convenient, that the origin of the Scots should be linked to such a well known expulsion story of Moses story and the expulsion of the Jews from Egypt. It is one of the best known stories and an obvious source if making up an origin for a people. In the same way that anyone re-incarnated is always a king/queen, when even a seconds thought will tell us most people in the past were humble farm-workers, so any origin story mentioning one of the few well known "founders" (Moses), or even one of the well known countries in that region (Egypt) is highly likely to be fabricated in those details.

Because, when making up a story we always tend to draw on other similar stories to make it sound more credible (i.e. the bible), whereas real history tends to be full of incidental detail which we would not expect. So, the more it sounds like a made up story from common sources, the more likely it is just a made up story based on these sources.

When we use this sceptical lens, we find we have a story with very little which isn't easily made up: "Scota" which could easily have been back-formed from "Scot", that she was Royalty (like re-incarnation "experiences", every important person is assumed to have been important in their homeland), and Moses plus Pharaoh (clearly from the bible). So, almost all the details are clearly based on the bible leaving us nothing substantial.

However, a more credible source is given in the second paragraph of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, where the elite of Scotland make clear that they believe the claim of Scythia as the former homeland of Scots.

"Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since."

Add a comment

After watching episode 5 of 10,000BC on channel 5, the extinction of the tribe is now an inevitability given their lack of condition and the type of "work ethic" of those remaining (which I add might be how they personally respond to a situation of starvation and entirely different in normal life). So, I've decided to write my "lessons learnt" up. This was originally posted on Britarch. I hoping to generate some informed discussion. However the largely academic archaeologists on Britarch have been dismissive of the "low-brow" program from the start. So rather than flogging that dead horse I am posting this here.

The series was filmed in late 2013 in a Bulgarian Game reserve. The group were adults from a mixture of backgrounds up to the age of 65. They were initially given some food, shelter, flint and various animal skins. They were however 21st century people without the knowledge or experience of our ancestors in Mesolithic clothing. And unlike Mesolithic people, the Mesolithic, the camera crew would have been a constant reminder that their way out of their situation was just to give up whereas the only way out for Mesolithic people would have been to move to a better area or die.

Add a comment

I've recently been going through some old family photos using face recognition software and two things have struck me:

  1. Even the unbiased software says that relatives look alike
  2. Everyone has a different face.

The first is "obvious" the second is not. Because why should everyone have a different face?

Let's change the subject slightly. I was looking at the photos and trying to date them using the style of clothing. At first I thought I would be lucky to get the decade, but eventually I realised that many fashions were only being worn within one year. One example was the female tie. This came in around 1913, a few years after men started wearing ties and it only exists in a very few examples which all appear to be in a very short period (judging by other elements of the fashion).

It was even possible to date an agricultural crofting family from the 1890s to within a few years. Before doing this I would have assumed that being the "Sunday best", it was bought once and had to last a lifetime. The reality seems to be that even the poorest in society (at least of those that could afford photos) wore clothes that were changing rapidly.

Perhaps they hired the clothes from the photographer? Perhaps they were just as fashionable as women today, but did it with less clothes? But the fact remains that fashion, and particularly women's fashion, is a very good indicator of the year when photos were taken.

So what is this human compulsion to change one's look?

Back to the faces. If as many have suggested, there was such a thing as "beauty", then all other things being equal one would expect the "beautiful" to be favoured ... the slave girl favoured by the master, the sibling selected above the others to be the new wife. As such, "beauty" would be highly selected for, and if there were one such thing as "beauty" very soon all people would tend to look more and more and more like this template of "beauty".

Ugly people are attractive

Add a comment

Were the clearances or the improvements more significant in the creation of the deserted upland landscapes which exist all over Scotland? What are the most important benefits of the study of deserted settlements? By Mike Haseler as part of Glasgow University Archaeology course

(Note this is long: on A4 it is 20 pages long)


Fig 1: Cadet George Armstrong "Autie" Custer, c1859
Fig 1: Cadet George Armstrong
"Autie" Custer, c1859

The Battle of Little Bighorn or Custer's Last Stand is an iconic battle between the Europeans and native Americans. It was fought in June 1876 between the Sioux nation “Indians” or “native Americans” and the 7th Cavalry: a veteran organisation created after the American Civil war. General Custer was of immigrant German and English stock. (Wert 1996).

In 1887 Buffalo Bill took his wild west show to Great Britain in celebration of the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria. Performers re-enacted the riding of the Pony Express, Indian attacks on wagon trains, and stagecoach robberies. The show was said to end with a re-enactment of Custer's Last Stand, in which Cody portrayed General Custer. 21 years later a group of boys went to a camp on Brownsea island under a famous veteran of the Boer War Named "Baden Powell". He enhanced and honed his military scouting skills amidst the native Zulu in the early 1880s in the Natal province of South Africa. It was this native “Scouting” which so attracted the boys and the group became known as the “Boy Scouts” - a name earlier used in 1899 to describe Harry White, Buffalo Bill's assistant. A couple of decades after BP led to the foundation in 1926 of the “Hitler Jugend Bund der deutschen Arbeiterjugend”, (Hitler Youth League of German Worker Youth), along similar lines to the Boy Scouts but viewed as providing a future "Aryan supermen" indoctrinated in racist anti-Semitism. As soon as Hitler took power in 1933, the persecution and exodus of Germany's 525,000 Jews began followed by their mass murder.

In his paper “Agents of Dispossession and Acculturation. Edinburgh Accountants and the Highland Clearances”, Stephen Walker (2003) summed up the the clearances thus:

The mass clearance of people from the Highlands and Islands remains one of the most emotive episodes in the history of Scotland. The attempts by Highland landowners to forcibly evict whole rural communities and encourage their migration in order to make way for large sheep farms and deer forests “is one of the sorest, most painful, themes in modern Scottish history” (Richards, 2000, p. 3). In his comprehensive history of the region, Hunter asserts that the clearances were “the absolute nadir of the entire Highlands and Islands experience” (1999, pp. 13–14). The eviction of crofters and cottars from the late 18th to the late 19th century continues to fuel sentiments of anti-landlordism and revulsion against the principal perpetrators: they “rank with Glencoe and Culloden in the literature of condemnation. It is a subject which regularly raises the chant of ‘genocide’ ” (Richards, 2000, p. 4).

Add a comment

I’ve written three articles suggesting how ancient monument could have been used to calibrate a calendar:

But some key data is missing: how often can we see the sun?

Campbell–Stokes recorder measures sunshine

Campbell–Stokes recorder measures sunshine

Midday sun

There are two separate figures I need. The first is one to work out the probability of seeing an observation when the sun is high in the sky during the middle of the day. The reason this is important, is that if solar observations are being of “the equinox”, then unless it is almost certain the sun can be seen each and every day, then you would build an instrument that could calibrate a calendar with the sun’s position on several days. And the number of sun calibration alignments would increase as the probability of getting a good observation decreased.

So, I simply need to know what is the probability within say an hour of midday of seeing any sunshine. I assume that if you build a massive monument like Stonehenge using 100s or even 100s of people, that it would not be a problem having a person continuously watching the henge waiting for sunshine. So, even a minute’s sunshine would be enough.

This ought to be an easy figure to obtain. This is regularly measured using a Campbell–Stokes recording device and “shining” is recorded by marking of the paper.

Ideally I would like the figure for Salisbury in the UK. But, because I know the UK sees the sun about 30% of the possible time it could, if I had this figure for any location together with the same figure for total sunshine viewing, I could get a rough estimate.

Add a comment