Going home to Doggerland

History banner

If you are of Western European descent, there’s a strong possibility that you once had ancestors who lived in an area of Europe called Doggerland. If you’re sitting there thinking to yourself that you’ve never heard of Doggerland and haven’t the faintest idea where it is, I can help you.

Doggerland was a stretch of land which now lies submerged beneath the North Sea between the United Kingdom and continental Europe. During the Ice Age, this area of land was exposed and was likely a fertile area for growing crops and raising livestock. As the ice began to melt, rising sea levels eventually turned Doggerland into a few scattered island before it would eventually disappear beneath the Black Sea in its entirety.  Here’s a map of what the area might have once looked like.

Doggerland map
Doggerland” by Max NaylorOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

As you can see, one of the interesting features of this map is that the Thames and the Rhine once both shared the same outlet into what is now the English Channel before Doggerland was submerged by the rising waters from the melting ice.

Over the years, trawling fishing vessels have dredged up interesting prehistoric finds from the area of Doggerland in the Black Sea such as the remains of animals, plants, and humans as well as many tools and weapons contemporary with the time period in which Doggerland would have been inhabited.

However, truly exploring Doggerland and creating accurate maps of the area has been nearly impossible because of the simple fact that it lies submerged.  However, new technology is changing this.

Just this September, the University of Bradford announced plans to take detailed readings of Doggerland and use that to construct a three dimensional map of the area. The team of archeologists, biologists, and computer scientists also plan to collect deep sea core samples from various parts of Doggerland in the hopes of being able to learn more about this area using DNA testing to learn about the plants and animals that would have once inhabited Doggerland.

As for your ancestors, when the water started creeping into Doggerland, it’s likely they left for less soggy pastures in either the modern United Kingdom or continental Europe.

A Slow Return to Normalcy

Writing banner

As many people who know me in real life know, about the time I was getting started on creating and writing for this new blog, my family life took an unexpected turn for the complicated that slowly grew much, much more complex during the months leading into the new year.  While some of these problems persist, my life has begun to right itself rather like a ship coming out of particularly vicious gale, and I am tentatively stepping back up to bat with my writing and artwork.

Two nights ago, I reopened a piece of artwork I had worked on in Photoshop before the chaos really struck, and I was overwhelmed as I sat there staring at it.  It’s a piece that has somewhere upwards of 100 layers. I haven’t actually counted…

Elf Portrait In Progress
The number of layers I was using to create this piece was astronomical. It was even more daunting coming back to it nearly 9 months later after life pretty much blew up in my face….

That single moment of staring down a project that I could barely remember my thought process on encapsulated the entire experience of piecing my life back together over the past month.  Let me break it down for you.

  1. For a period of time (days, weeks, or whatever it might be) you sit around and think about how you really do need to get back to that project, activity, thing that you were trying to do before things got crazy, but you don’t leap on it because you’re honestly feeling overwhelmed by all the other things that also were dropped about the same time. Which one is most important? What shattered piece of your life to pick up first? Let the wallowing in indecision commence!
  2. One day a fateful moment arrives.  Perhaps a friend, a client, some other outside source, or even your inner self finally prompts you to take the step.  To sit down, brush the dust from whatever it was you were working on, and get back to it.  You take the plunge.  You open the file or the drawer, or the garage.
  3. Then there’s that moment. That utter moment of panic when you look at this thing you abandoned in a moment of crises, and you can’t even remember what you were thinking. How did you do this technique?  Why did you do it this way? Surely it was done with some semblance of logic! Right? Right?!
  4. You take a deep breath, step away, maybe eat some lunch and think about it.  You’ve opened this bag of worms – so what now? In my case, I knew the only answer was to move forward and start working again. I fumbled around feebly until the controls and the memory of using them began to came back like riding a bicycle awkwardly for the first time in years.  Slowly, ever so slowly, the project began to move forward again, and another piece of life returned to its proper alignment.

And, so, as with my long abandoned Photoshop file, the same thing is happening today on this blog. It might only be weekly updates for some time yet, but the only way I can move forward with life right now is one fumbling baby step at a time. I hope that those who are following this blog will find at least some interest and enjoyment in that.

As a parting note to all of you, no matter what season in life you are in, remember that you can only go forwards, not backwards. So step forwards. It may not be bravely. It may not be with any grace, but step forward nonetheless.  Even if you fall flat on your face, skin both your knees, and need help getting up after your epic nose dive, you’re still further ahead than if you had sat on your duff and not moved at all.

The Malleability of History

Ballroom banner

“A morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable.”

– Thomas Jefferson, September 8, 1817


Historia by Nikolaos Gysis (1892)
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

As a society, we often nurse the belief that history is a definite thing that can never be changed. We teach in our schools and classrooms that this is ‘how it happened’ in the past, and other possibilities are unlikely at best and impossible at worst.

However, what happens when something tangible is found that throws our firmly held beliefs of the past into question? Last week I wrote about the Antikythera Mechanism and how it’s changed our perspective on the science and technology of not only Greek culture but also our beliefs on when precision gear technology and even computing were first invented and utilized by modern man.

Bottom line: History is not always truth, and history is not infallible.

So what is history?

“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”

– Napoleon Bonaparte


That is all history is. What we study when we study history is simply an interpretation of the past that we have agreed upon. These interpretations are written by men and women, fallible as all humans are, who are each influenced by their own unique social and cultural perspectives of the world. It goes without saying that two histories of the world written by two individuals: one from Western cultural and one from Eastern cultural would be markedly different, but these differences play out in more subtle ways even within a single culture.

Note the topics that are hot in popular history right now. For example, there has been a lot of concentration on gays and lesbians in history. Have they always been there in the past? Yes. Has their role, perhaps, been exaggerated? Almost certainly. Why? It’s because this is a popular and controversial social issue of our time which has begun to shape and change our current agreed upon version of past events. No doubt in a few decades our cultural lens will shift and this process will start all over again as we once more reinterpret history through our culture’s newest viewpoint.

“History is written by the victors.”

– Winston Churchill

History is written by those who win, and then it is rewritten and re-framed by the next set of winners. Over and over and over again history changes. Sometimes it changes for the better when truth is revealed anew, but more often than not we fail to interpret history in an objective manner.  Instead, our government, our cultural, and groups with their own individual agendas (social, religious, or otherwise) skew the truth because at this present moment they are the victors.

Evolving into the Pinback

Pinback banner

Recently I was at an anime convention with some friends, and, having gone to more than my fair share of conventions over the years, I ended up spending less time in panels and more time perusing the Artist’s Alley. Basically, I ended up doing research for the part of my business that involves handcrafts and art prints even though I was supposed to be on a mini vacation.

I clearly can’t separate my work out of my life. Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. Oh well….

Happily, I was rather inspired by what I found there. All manner of plushies, beautiful art prints, and a mind blowing multitude of pinback buttons. It was like I had discovered all this again.

Granted, none of this is new at any convention, but I had never looked at it from the viewpoint of a seller of handcrafted goods before. In the midst of all this what really captured my interest was the pinback buttons. Now, I’ll freely admit that I’ve never been much of a pinback wearing kind of girl. Reality is that I maybe have 4 or 5 pins to my name, and I pretty much never use them. However, this isn’t a reflection on the pins but on me.

You see… I always forget to wear them.

Just like how I forget to wear all the other jewelry I own.

Frankly, I’m lucky that I remember to eat some days. Three square meals in a day is a major accomplishment, let me tell you. So, personal adornment is pretty far down the ‘daily-concern-o-meter’.

In spite of my personal fails in this area, the pinbacks inspired me. I hadn’t even made it to Sunday at the convention before I was getting all sorts of ideas for unique pinbacks I could make. By the time I made it home from the convention late on Sunday night, I had a list a notebook page long and growing. The very next day I sat down and bought a professional button maker, and the madness began.

So now, I have an ever expanding collection of button designs available at my Etsy store. I’ve started off with the holidays because that time of year is pretty darn imminent, but soon there will be more button designs that will have pop culture and nerd themes. I’m super excited.

For those of you keeping up with my antics on Etsy, I would love to hear from you about what kind of button designs you’d like to see from me in the future. Do you want to see more vintage inspired, pop culture designs, or both?

Ancient Mysteries: The Antikythera Mechanism

History banner

Antikythera’s harbour Potamos” by Jimmyoneill at English Wikipedia
Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
One of the most mysterious finds to ever come out of Ancient Greece was the Antikythera Mechanism. (If you’re wondering how to pronounce it, the answer is: an”ti-ki-thēr’u.) This device was found in the wreckage of an Ancient Greek sailing vessel found somewhere between 1900-1901 just off the cost of Antikythera, a small island lying between Crete and Peloponnese.

One can never fault archeologists for being too creative with their naming decisions. On the bright side, at least no one dubbed it the Ancient Greek doohickey.

Dated to somewhere between 150 to 100 BC, for decades the Antikythera Mechanism was considered to be nothing more than a particularly interesting astrolabe. Astrolabes were inventions from the Hellenistic period that were used largely for telling time and determining latitude. At the time, more than a hundred years ago, it was a logical but cautious conclusion.

However, other researches had long been convinced that the Antikythera Mechanism was far too complex to just be a simple astrolabe. The problem to convincing anyone that this was not an astrolabe was simply this: as of the early 1900’s there had never been any prior evidence found of people widely using precisely and scientifically accurate gears to create a device until the time of the fourteen century. That’s a 1400 year gap.

Of course, this isn’t the first time technology from the ancient world has gone inexplicably missing. The Romans had their own version of concrete, opus signinum Some in the modern era believe they have cracked the secret of how it was made, but the technology did exist more than 2000 years ago. How about Damascus steel? That spent ages lost and has been, debatably, rediscovered as well, and that’s just the tip of the lost technology iceberg…

The point is that we cannot assume with any reasonable certainty that we ‘know’ anything about the past for certain. We sometimes mistakenly believe our ancestors were more primitive than they actually were. Let’s give our ancestors some props here, guys. In reality, all we can do is make best guesses based on the evidence at hand. Some of those guesses are more certain than others, and at any time you may be proven wrong.

Antikythera Mechanism - Fragment A
Antikythera Mechanism – Fragment A” Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Which brings us back to the Antikythera Mechanism, and the fact that it’s not an astrolabe in the slightest. In the last ten years, this remarkable device has gone through countless rounds of new studies and tests thanks to imaging and x-ray technologies that allow researchers to literally see through the corrosion.

With these technologies, they have been able to enumerate the number of teeth on various gear wheels and read long obscured Greek text engraved on the device’s components. There is a very detailed breakdown of the device’s schematics, the math behind it, and the Greek text available on Wikipedia for the truly curious.

Knowing these kind of details proved invaluable to deciphering that the Antikythera Mechanism is not a astrolabe but an early complex gear mechanism and, arguably, the world’s first known computer. The Antikythera Mechanism’s intended purpose was as a sort of solar clock which was capable of predicting astronomical positions and eclipses.

Even more amazing in my mind is that this was probably not the only one of its kind. Why? Because it’s nearly perfect in the context of Greek knowledge regarding astronomy (which was imperfect compared to what we know now). The precision and skill it would take to craft such a device hints that this was probably not the first or last of its kind. It’s nearly certain that there were other such devices like this in antiquity that simply did not survive to the present for one reason or another.

From the perspective of computer programming, this also raises an interesting question. Who originally created the formulas and equations for the number of gears and teeth to make this device work?

Some scholars suggest that the device or at least its predecessors could have connections to Archimedes or the school of thought and astronomy he birthed during his lifetime. Archimedes certainly is a viable candidate as he has been credited in history already as one of the finest inventors of Ancient Greece.

So what do you think?  Could this device have some other use beyond what we’ve already discovered? Do you think other such devices might have existed in Greece or Rome? If so – could they have been purposed to other ends beyond simply astronomy? Could Ada Lovelace be dethroned by Archimedes? (Most importantly, why am I out of coffee?)