This is pure genius. Over at The Megalithic Portal, they are having a competition. Between now and May 31st, they are asking megalithomaniacs around the world to help them locate henges, barrows, mounds and the like on Google Streetview. There’s a lot of turf to cover. Two weeks ago, Google rolled out a deluxe version of Streetview in the U.K., encompassing 95% of the roads.
And the organizers aren’t just limiting the competition to good old Albion. “There are thousands of obscure and unloved standing stones, earthworks etc in roadside locations all over the world,” say the organizers. With a little crowdsourcing and a few prizes to the sharpest eyes, they hope to locate these sites for all of us on Google Earth.
What a brilliant scheme! A few months ago, I posted on the immense fun I had toodling around Pompeii for hours on Google Streetview. An astute reader then put me on to the Google views of Stonehenge, and there went another good hour as I moved around inside this wonder –something I’ve never been able to do in the real world. So the folks at Megalithic Portal hope to do us all a big favor by mapping thousands of other sites, and I think the least we can do is return the favor, by sinking a little spare time in hunting for megaliths.
I have to say, though, that I’m both touched and a little dismayed by some examples they have posted to date. At 7 Ravenswood Avenue, Edinburgh (my father’s home town), there’s a standing stone piercing the sidewalk in front of what looks to be an apartment block. It’s completely encircled by a black iron fence. I suppose the iron bars are there to protect the stone from vandals or careless parkers. But the fence reminds me a little of a miniature prison, dividing the past from the present, the mystery from the mundane, the ritual world from the real one.
Who’s really in prison here?
Every once in a while, an archaeological discovery comes along that makes me feel as if I should leap out of my chair, cartwheel across the room, and turn pirouettes in the street. I had one of those days yesterday, when I read the British newspaper accounts of an absolutely stunning underwater discovery off the coast of South Devon. The South West Maritime Archaeological Group has discovered the debris field of a Bronze-Age trading vessel, dating back to 1300 B.C.
This is one of the oldest known shipwrecks in the world. And what makes me so very, very happy about it is that this immensely important find is in the hands of serious archaeologists whose sole objective is to advance scientific knowledge –not corporate treasure hunters driven by the bottom line. Hallelujah!
I have long worried about ancient underwater sites such as this in British waters. The British government, I am sorry to report, has failed miserably to step up to the plate when it comes to protecting shipwreckl sites. Although the Britannia long ruled the waves as a great maritime power, the British government has so far refused to sign the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, a vital piece of international law protecting prehistoric and historic wrecks from the clutches of treasure hunters. Thirty-one other nations, however, have taken the much-needed plunge.
So the discovery of the South Devon site and its astonishing cargo of gold bracelets, rapiers, sling shots, tin ingots and the like by devoted avocational underwater archaeologists is cause for real rejoicing. Ben Roberts, an archaeometallurgist and curator at the British Museum, couldn’t be happier. “The Salcombe site,” he notes, “is now one of the most important Bronze Age sites currently being investigated in Britain.”
Those interested in learning more about this amazing discovery can read about the work up until 2006 here, and can then follow the story to the present here.