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  • From the Mahogany Ship to Mons Badonicus: An Archaeological Fantasia October 17, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback

    Inspired by thoughts of Nag Hammadi, Howard Carter and Leslie Alcock at Cadbury Beachcombing spent an  evening wondering about archaeological fantasias, discoveries that he hopes will be made before he  himself becomes an archaeological subject and is put into the ground.

    Boudica’s grave. Boudica was, of course, the queen of the Iceni who gave Nero and Roman settlers in Britain nightmares. After being defeated in the field by the Romans in 61 AD, we are told by Tacitus that she poisoned herself and by Cassius Dio (62, 12) that she fell sick and died, the Britons giving her a ‘costly burial’. Imagine the treasures that were thrown into the secret place, the burning torches, the sacrificial victims with hazel wrapped around their necks and mistletoe berries smeared on their lips. Perhaps some day a bulldozer working on a bypass in Norfolk will send a stream of gold from out of the roots of a dying oak. (Note that there is a very curious legend that Boudica was buried under King’s Cross Station. Beachcombing has been unable to trace the origins of this. It seems about the least likely place any self respecting rebel would have left their warrior queen, especially given what she had done to  Londinium.)

    The Mahogany Ship. Beach doubts very much that the early Portuguese ever made it to Australia. He has always been intrigued though by legends of a possibly Portuguese mahogany ship, which stood off the coast in the province of Victoria. It is the holy grail of those who search for proof of early European contacts with the deep Pacific, but regrettably it was never seen after the mid nineteenth-century, when of course interest in such things was starting to pick up. That there was a large shipwreck is beyond question: there were many reliable witnesses. Beach – and he is not alone – would love to see this hulk dug out of the dunes or lifted from its watery grave so that its origins can finally and definitively be established. For what it is worth, we are betting on an eighteenth-century whaler…

    The Fortifications of Badon. Sometimes in the fifth or more probably the sixth century the British-Celts defeated the Saxons at the Siege of Mount Badon, a battle often associated, though probably wrongly, with ‘King Arthur’. Historians have argued over which of a half million British hill-tops was Mount Badon since the times of Milton. There have even been rather bizarre attempts to sketch out British cavalry strategy and put units on maps, all this on the basis of a dozen words in Latin in Gildas about the ‘last victory of the fatherland’. Beach isn’t asking for much here. He doesn’t want precious stones or King Arthur’s crown. He just wants some war graves, a couple of late Roman belt buckles and a Roman road marker with the words Mons Badonicus scratched upon it for the literate passerby.

    The Vanished Legion. The three legions lost in the Varus Revolt have now been found. The Ninth Legion never vanished at all, pace the great Rosemary Sutcliff. But there is still some mystery in the world. Herodotus describes how  Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, sent 50,000 soldiers in 525 BC to do some wrecking at Thebes. After more than a week in the desert they simply disappeared, presumably in the mother of all sandstorms. There have been claims that the army has been found, but Beachcombing doesn’t believe a word of it. Again, let him be clear. He doesn’t want 50, 000 men lain out end to end, but he is asking for some striking friezes carved out by the archaeologist’s trowel.

    The Honour Rings Cave. A frisson of evil to finish off. As Hitler took down the Reich stone by stone he took care to hide his own ill-gotten gains from posterity and not a few Nazi treasures too. It would certainly be more noble on Beachcombing’s part to ask for the recovery of the Amber Room (which was almost certainly burnt) or some of the world’s masterpieces that disappeared at that date, for example, Van Gogh’s Painter on the Road (also probably burnt). However, he has to confess to being more fascinated by the search for the Honour Rings. The Honour Rings, made of silver, were a crucial piece of SS paraphernalia. When as SS soldier fell or died they were removed from hacked off hands and shrapnelled bodies and then taken back to Wewelsburg, the Nazi Grail Castle. Those that returned though, and the number 9000 is often given, never appeared at the end of the war. Legend has it that a member of the SS high command was entrusted with putting these objects in a cave and blowing up the entrance as the Allies were getting close. One day someone is going to stumble on this particular nest of vipers… and Beachcombing wouldn’t mind being there when they do. Imagine the glint of torchlight off several thousand silver skulls.

    Any other archaeological fantasias gratefully received: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    PS And then there’s the one that we couldn’t track down. This Beach read about in his tender years and he just spent the last hour tracking through little Miss B’s bookshelves, where most of his infancy books are kept. An African chieftain brings away various sub-chieftains to hide a great treasure from a colonial power (presumably the British). He kills all but one of the chieftains to keep the treasure secret and by the time a treasure hunter has arrived at the house of the last surviving witness, half a century later, that man has lost his mind.


    24 October 2011: Irish Archaeologist wants an Irish codex or something recognisably Irish from either Iceland or Greenland ‘but don’t hold your breath’. Jimmy wants to find the brass plate that Drake left in his Californian New England, possibly in the bay of San Franciso and no, he writes, the present brass plate is NOT genuine. Invisible writes: Your post on archaeological fantasias made me want to dig out Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels, with its tales of treasure lost and found. Although it can’t be classed as a discovery, since the site is known, I would like to live to see the actual tomb mound of the First Emperor excavated at last. According to Ssu-ma Chi’en/ Sima Qian, the tomb included a clay model of the “world” including lakes and flowing rivers of mercury. Above, the ceiling was moulded with a map of the heavens with stars represented by jewels and oil lamps fed by a reservoir of oil so they would burn eternally. Apparently archaeologists have found high levels of mercury in the soil around the tomb so I am hoping the maps are real. The historian also says that the tomb was guarded from robbers by booby traps including poisoned arrows from automatic crossbows. If the emperor’s body was surrounded by layers of coffins or sealed with clay (supposedly ground-penetrating radar shows a large, sealed section within the mound), perhaps he would be as well-preserved as the Marquise of Tai and we could look upon the actual face of the First Emperor, not just a skeleton. Failing that, I would settle for the lost treasure of the Inca, including a garden of gold and silver flowers, hidden from the Spaniards in some remote cave in the Andes. Or the grave of Sir John Franklin. Or the Chinese junk rumoured to have been found in the sands of Sacramento , California . I don’t really care if the Chinese discovered America or not, but it would be delightful to have such an unlikely story be true. Open Sesame does not believe in trans-Atlantic crossings in ancient times but he would like to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Bay of Jars in Brazil, where allegedly a Roman ship ran ashore in ancient times. Thanks to Irish Archaeologist, Jimmy, Invisible and Open Sesame.

    27 Oct 2011: The great Ancient Digger writes in with one of her own. ‘One of the most elusive of mysteries is the location of Alexander the Great’s tomb.  Alexander was a champion of Near Eastern and Middle Eastern culture, art, and literature, so if his body was ever discovered in a geographical area associated with the cultures he touched, would it not make sense that a temple or sculpture be erected in his honor?  In 330, when Alexander marched into Pakistan and into the northwestern area of India where the Battle of Hydaspes River was brutally fought and won, he turned back to Babylon. We know what happened next…or do we? Did he ever turn back? Or did he stay right where he was? The history books tell us that he returned to Babylon and died shortly thereafter. Where is the tomb? A great conquest for a great man should render a monument of great proportions. It doesn’t exist.’ Beachcombing is tempted to add YET! Thanks Ancient!!

    25 Mar 2016: Lanark writes in on Mons Badonicus, ‘There have been a few jewels, weapons, coins and gravestones found a few miles West of the terminus of the Antonine Wall just beyond Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde.  I refer of course to the seat of power of Alcluid, Ystrad Clud (or as it became Strathclyde) and the most sensible venue for Mons Badonicus… Dumbarton, Dun Breatann or Dun Breattainn (“the fort of the Britons”). With the South (what later became England) over-run with Saxons and all sorts, the only place which held any kinda vestige of power was the land between the Walls (Hadrian and Antonine) bounded by their massive defensive works and strings of Roman Roads and still-standing forts. The homelands of the Damnonii (in Dumbarton) in the West and  the Gododdin (still surviving as genteel Duddingston in Edinburgh) in the East. Dunragit on the Galloway Coast near to Loch Ryan was the capital of Rheged which was eventually absorbed into Saxon Northumbria around the mid 7th Century. What later became England was already loving the Angles, helping Saxons ashore, munching Sauerkraut, talking German and wearing leiderhosen when Mons Badonicus kicked off up here.  Cadbury Castle…. aye right! All the real action was up North.  PS. The mountain known as the Cobbler above Arrochar not far inland from Dumbarton has an older name – it is Ben Arthur.