Celtic Conferences

The 24 Annual University of California Celtic Conference is this week, at UCLA. You can see the schedule here. Some of the papers from the 22nd conference are available here, in .pdf format. The 22nd (yes that’s right, UCLA was first) Harvard Celtic Colloquium is scheduled for Oct. 11, 12, and 13. The Vernam Hull speaker this year will be Professor John Waddell, head of the
Dept. of Archaeology, NUI Galway.

Vellum beats Silicon

Back in 1986, as a celebration of the 900th anniversary of the Domesday book, the census ordered by William the Bastard (that’s William the Conqueror to Sasenachs), Britain spent millions to compile text, images and, maps, audio and video recordings, as a snap shot of Britain, and stored them on laser discs as part of the Domesday Book project.

They created discs that are almost unreadable today, not because of laser rot, but because of obsolete equipment. The irony of this, as the article points out, is that the medieval manuscript is quite readable today, if you know the language and the script. There’s even an expensive archive-quality facsimile, not to mention the Bayeux tapestry.

At my old job I used to hoard working but old hardware—I knew where to get access to an old IBM Display writer, old 5 1/2 inch floppy disc drives, I had an SE under my desk to help faculty with old 3 1/2 inch Mac 800 and 400K disks, and my spouse and I have carefully archived docs and installers for a variety of old programs with proprietary data formats, not to mention things like Syquest and DAT drives.

There’s a sick irony in that cuneiform and manuscripts are more durable than digital media. But digital decay and technical obsolescence are real problems, problems we’ve known about for years.

A Circle of Stones

According to AP, by way of Yahoo, Professor Judith S. Young, Department of Astronomy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has built a sun circle, a celestial computer along the lines of Stonehenge, or Avebury. I’ve taken pains to point out elsewhere that Stonehenge, like Avebury, or the passage tomb at Brugh Na Boine (that’s Newgrange, Ireland to you), wasn’t built by the Celts (its earliest stage predates their arrival in Britain by over a thousand years) but Stonehenge and other megalithic monuments are too deeply entrenched with things druidic and Celtic in the popular imagination to ever be disassociated.

Stonehenge looms large in our imaginations—even though Averbury—the largest such circle in Europe, is physically much larger, and Woodhenge, one of several circles at Stanton Drew, is older. Folklore names Stonehenge the “Giants Dance,” and credits Merlin as the chief architect, but those myths are comparatively recent. The circle has had a surprisingly small role in British myth, given its age and magnitude. The passage tomb at Brugh Na Boine, constructed to mark the solstice, plays a much larger role in Irish myth, and is featured in several of the tales that preface the Táin.

Galations: The Biblical Celts

Yes, that’s right, Galatia in Turkey. Those people in Paul’s New Testament Epistle to the Galations were Celts, from Gaul. These Continental Celts eventually arrived in Macedonia in 279 B.E., where they gathered under a tribal leader named Brennus. They intended to raid the rich temple of Delphi. Like their insular brethren, these Gauls were independent of thought, and the host split into two groups, one, under Brennus, marching south on Delphi: the other group, under Leonorius and Luterius, turned eastward and pillaged Thrace. They were joined by the small remnants of the army of Brennus, who was repulsed by the Greeks, and killed himself in despair. In 278 B.C.E., 20,000 Gauls, under Leonorius, Luterius, and fifteen other chieftains, crossed over to Asia Minor, in two divisions. The two groups joined, and hired out as mercenaries to Nicomedes I, King of Bithynia, to defeat his younger brother. Nicomedes rewarded them with land in the heart of Asia Minor, now known as Galatia. You’ll notice their territory includes the section of Turkey formerly known as Phrygia.

The Galations frequently worked as mercenaries in subsequent years, and were hired by Pompey in 64 B.C.E. Rome pretty much absorbed them politically after that; the Galatians’ last king, Amyntas, fought at Actium, 31 B.C.E., on the side of Mark Antony but at the last he supported Augustus. After the death of Amyntas, Augustus proclaimed the land of the exported Gauls the Roman province of Galatia. About 75 years later St. Paul wrote his Epistle the Galatians. If you want the gory details, you can read the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Gordian Project is a series of excavations at Gordian, in the Phyria region of Galatia. Gordian is the city associated with King Midas. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology is one of the participants in thse excavations. Recently, an article in Archaeology magazine suggested that Celtic descendent of the Gaulish settlers, were, in good Celtic traditions, engaging in human sacrifice. I’m not all that persuaded by the article, it’s a little too full of unsupported assertions, but as yet I’ve not seen anything in the academic press.

Celtic Tribal Maps

I’ve noticed several sites with maps of Celtic tribes’ locations, like this one of the Celtic tribes of Britain, or this, tribes of Britain and the Continent, or even the tribes of Wales. There are also some specialized maps, like this one, of the Celtic Tribes and Caesar’s Campaigns in Gaul (58-50 BC) . If you look at the area the Celts covered, from Ireland all the way to Egypt, it’s less surprising that Galatia is Celtic.

Birth of a Blog

This is by way of an experiment for me; I’m new to blogging. Nicholas Urfé’s inexplicably fancy trash and my friend Paul’s iPaulo got me thinking about blogs as ways of creating communities, and that led me to think about blogs in instructional technology, serious and otherwise.

I’ve had my digitalmedievalist site for years, but I find I’m not keeping it updated the way I’d like. So I thought I’d try blogging as a quick way to do small updates. For instance, I’d like to point out that the Dublin Institute, famous for physics and Irish scholarship, has put high quality scanned images of Lebor na hUidre/The Book of the Dun Cow on line. This is really cool, and it joins the “other” major Irish manuscript, Lebar Na Núachongbála/The Book of Leinster, both digitized as part of the ISOS or Irish Script On Screen project.

Happy Cotton Library Day

Professor Scott Nokes, over at Unlocked Wordhoard, has announced Happy Cotton Library Day, in celebration of those manuscripts that didn’t burn in the fire of 1731, and solicited our responses regarding our favorite Cotton MS.

It’s a hard question, actually. There are a lot of really important, and really famous ms. in the British Library’s Cotton collection. You can see a complete list here, and a list of the “stars” here, a list which includes the unique-but-burned-in-the-fire ms. of Vitellius A.xv Nowell Codex, containing Beowulf and Judith, or the mss. of the major Aelfrich texts, and the only copy of the Gawain Poet’s works.

I’d have to say I can’t really decide between Nero A.x, which contains Pearl, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as well as the less well known works of the same poet, Patience, and Purity/Cleanness, and Nero D.iv Lindisfarne Gospels.