Camelot’s Round Table found

Telegraph News: Historians locate King Arthur’s Round Table.

Researchers exploring the legend of Britain’s most famous Knight believe his stronghold of Camelot was built on the site of a recently discovered Roman amphitheatre in Chester. Legend has it that his Knights would gather before battle at a round table where they would receive instructions from their King. But rather than it being a piece of furniture, historians believe it would have been a vast wood and stone structure which would have allowed more than 1,000 of his followers to gather.

Historians believe regional noblemen would have sat in the front row of a circular meeting place, with lower ranked subjects on stone benches grouped around the outside. They claim rather than Camelot being a purpose built castle, it would have been housed in a structure already built and left over by the Romans.

According to Google Maps, Chester has two Roman amphitheatres, Camelot could be either of them.

The article has a picture of a Tudor Rose, which is odd because the War of the Roses wasn’t until 1455, and Camelot is first referenced in 12th century documents. Still, it’s a nice picture.

Newton and the Apple

BBC News: Newton’s apple story goes online.

The original version of the story of Sir Isaac Newton and the falling apple has been made available online. Newton recounted the story that inspired his theory of gravitation to scholar William Stukeley. It then appeared in Stukeley’s 1752 biography, Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life. The UK’s Royal Society converted the fragile manuscript into an electronic book, which anybody with internet access will now be able to read.

There’s a few other historical manuscripts on that page worth seeing. You need to download an app, or use Silverlight to see them.

Treasure from Mercia

BBC News: Huge Anglo-Saxon gold hoard found.

The UK’s largest haul of Anglo-Saxon treasure has been discovered buried beneath a field in Staffordshire. Experts said the collection of 1,500 gold and silver pieces, which may date back to the 7th Century, was unparalleled in size. It has been declared treasure by South Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh, meaning it belongs to the Crown. Terry Herbert, who found it on farmland using a metal detector, said it "was what metal detectorists dream of". It may take more than a year for it to be valued.

Five kilograms of gold and 2.5kg of silver, 1500 pieces in total and far more than the 1.5kg of gold found at Sutton Hoo in 1939. It’s going to be valued and the money passed on to the finder and the landowner, who are friends. The hoard includes sword pommel caps and hilt shields inlaid with gems. It is almost all weapon fittings, and no jewellry, and they’re guessing its value is in the seven figures.

A second article in the BBC News talks more about what was found: Hoard shines light on Dark Ages, including a map of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms. The treasure was found in what would have been Mercia, though the region is named differently in Modern Britain. The kingdom of Wessex only exists as a pseudonym for Dorset in Thomas Hardy’s novels, but East Anglia, Northumbria and Kent are still in use.

Bells of St Lawrence

BBC News: Oldest ring of bells played again.

For the first time in almost 25 years, Ipswich is waking up to a unique medieval sound. The Suffolk town’s St Lawrence Church houses the oldest circle of church bells in the world. The five bells have been silent since the 1980s, but now they are ringing out over the rooftops once again. The restoration of the church, its tower and the five bells, which date back to the 15th century, has cost more than £100,000.

The oldest were cast in the 1440s. For hundreds of years they rang out from the church’s distinctive tower in the heart of Ipswich town centre. But when the parish at St Lawrence dwindled away the building fell into disuse, then disrepair. The tower was declared too unstable for the bells to be rung, and they have been quiet since 1985.

You can see a photo of St Lawrence’s church on the Wikipedia page. I’ve probably heard those bells, we moved to Ipswich in 1981. (Horrible age-related wibble: I heard those bells twenty five years ago, so I’m older than 25. Who let THAT happen?)

In nearby East Bergholt there is a set of bells on the ground, in a "temporary" wooden bell cage, that’s a few hundred years old. They are deafening when rung. The church tower of St Mary’s is small, and the bells seem huge when you get close to them. Watch where you stand around bell ringing times.

Vulture bone flutes

BBC News: ‘Oldest musical instrument’ found.

Scientists in Germany have published details of flutes dating back to the time that modern humans began colonising Europe, 35,000 years ago. The flutes are the oldest musical instruments found to date. The researchers say in the Journal Nature that music was widespread in pre-historic times.

The team from Tubingen University have published details of three flutes found in the Hohle Fels cavern in southwest Germany.

The most well-preserved of the flutes is made from a vulture’s wing bone, measuring 20cm long with five finger holes and two "V"-shaped notches on one end of the instrument into which the researchers assume the player blew. The archaeologists also found fragments of two other flutes carved from ivory that they believe was taken from the tusks of mammoths.

I play a solid silver Gemeinhardt flute, and my first thought on reading this was "how do they sound?" The vulture bone flute is curved, and it looks to be a vertical instrument instead of the modern transverse flutes, more like a tin whistle than my own flute. It has four visible holes on one side, probably a thumb hole on the back. The article includes a sound clip of a reconstruction of the vulture bone flute and it is surprisingly tuneful.

There was a noticeable difference in tone between my original silver-plated Elkhart flute, and the solid silver Gemeinhardt, the new flute made the old one sound like a cheap penny whistle. Rumour has it there is a similar difference in tone when you go up to a solid gold flute like the one played by James Galway.

Wooden instruments have a very different sound to metal ones, they are warmer, less precise, and more breathy. The curve of the vulture bone would affect the sound, flutes generate standing sound waves of varying lengths depending on the keys pressed, and you need a straight tube for a good standing wave.

Navy cannon of the 1590s

BBC News: ‘Superguns’ of Elizabeth I’s navy.

The English navy at around the time of the Armada was evolving revolutionary new tactics, according to new research. Tests on cannon recovered from an Elizabethan warship suggest she carried powerful cast iron guns, of uniform size, firing standard ammunition. "This marked the beginning of a kind of mechanisation of war," says naval historian Professor Eric Grove of Salford University. "The ship is now a gun platform in a way that it wasn’t before."

Where her father’s ship, the Mary Rose, had a variety of guns, all taking different ammunition, the ship found had twelve guns, two of which have been recovered. It was found off Alderney in the Channel Islands, probably sunk around 1592, four years after the Spanish Armada failed to invade England. Replica guns were created and fired, they could have holed a galleon from a fighting distance of 100 yards. Despite being a relatively small gun, a battery all firing at once would do more damage than a smaller number of big guns.

The English Navy was regarded as a force to be reckoned with, but no-one knew quite why it was so fearsome. This could be it, standardised guns and ammunition.

(I have a soft spot for the Mary Rose, I remember watching the reports on Newsround as they raised her and restored her. Henry VIII’s favourite warship was sunk by the French in 1545, discovered in the late 1960s in the Solent, and raised in 1982.)

Typhoid Mary

I’m trying not to be Typhoid Mary.

Mary Mallon (September 23, 1869 – November 11, 1938), also known as Typhoid Mary, was the first person in the United States to be identified as a healthy carrier of typhoid fever. Over the course of her career as a cook, she infected 47 people, three of whom died from the disease. Her notoriety is in part due to her vehement denial of her own role in spreading the disease, together with her refusal to cease working as a cook. She was forcibly quarantined twice by public health authorities and died in quarantine. It is possible that she was born with the disease, as her mother had typhoid fever during her pregnancy.

I believe I have the flu. Went home early on Thursday, spent most of the weekend asleep and on cold medicine, and had an interesting discussion about aliens who like pineapples on Sunday that was probably medication-induced.

Mary Mallon’s first stay in quarantine was three years in isolation, you can understand the poor woman thinking she was being persecuted. But when they let her out, she changed her name and got another job as a cook after promising not to prepare food. Her autopsy showed live typhoid bacteria, she was still a carrier at age 69. She was the first healthy carrier of typhoid identified, and the authorities had little idea of what to do with her.

Injustice in 1605?

BBC News: Free the Gunpowder Plot One.

Was one of the Gunpowder Plotters an innocent victim of circumstance? As effigies of Guy Fawkes again go up in flames, is it time to rectify a 400-year-old miscarriage of justice?

After the failed attempt to blow up Parliament in November 1605, Henry Garnet, a Jesuit priest, was hanged, drawn and quartered, and his parboiled head displayed on London Bridge.

A 17th Century book describing the execution of this "barbarous traitor" sold at auction last year, with the unique selling point that its cover was allegedly made from the executed man’s skin. But was the subject of this text really guilty? On the day when the UK marks the anniversary of its most famous attempted coup, a historian is asking some awkward questions about one of those executed for his role in the Gunpowder Plot.

We will never truly know whether Garnet was innocent or not. The Gunpowder Plot Society isn’t convinced. They say that Garnet knew of the plot and did nothing to prevent it, making him culpable. Garnet was not one of the thirteen plotters but the Gunpower Plot Society has a profile of him, along with everyone else involved or touched by the plot and an excellent overview of the plot itself.

I’m not convinced Garnet was innocent.

Early Computing

BBC News: Celebrating the UK’s computer pioneers

"The layman when asked about the introduction of steam power will usually reel off Newcomen, Watt and Trevithick," said Chris Burton, of the Computer Conservation Society.

"But when it comes to computer pioneers they are absolutely baffled," he said. "They have no idea." When pushed, he said, they might be able to remember the name of Alan Turing but few know of any others beyond that.

Turing established the conceptual and philosophical basis for the rise of computers in a seminal 1936 paper called "On Computable Numbers". But it took a large cast of engineers and scientists to solve the real world problems that arise when those ideas are turned into whirring, clicking reality. At Bletchley Park forerunners of modern computers were built to help the Allies crack German codes.

Interesting article about the early machines. Baking and catering company Lyons had one of the early number crunchers, Edsac, and used it for calculating what the Lyons tearoom people should be paid. The Bletchley Park website is worth a visit.

Sounds of Doctor Who

BBC News: Lost tapes of the Dr Who composer.

A hidden hoard of recordings made by the electronic music pioneer behind the Doctor Who theme has been revealed – including a dance track 20 years ahead of its time. Delia Derbyshire was working in the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop in 1963 when she was given the score for a theme tune to a new science fiction series. She turned those dots on a page into the swirling, shimmering Doctor Who title music – although it is the score’s author, Ron Grainer, who is credited as the composer. Now David Butler, of Manchester University’s School of Arts, Histories and Cultures has revealed for the first time the existence of 267 tapes found in Ms Derbyshire’s attic when she died in 2001. They were, until last March, in the safekeeping of Mark Ayres, archivist for the Radiophonic Workshop – and have lain unheard for more than 30 years.

There are five sound samples to hear on the article, including the original Doctor Who theme. Fascinating!