1000-year-old toy boat unearthed in Norway

Have you read anything about the Ørland Main Air Station dig? Ancient Origins describes it in this article: “a pre-Viking Iron Age settlement dating back around 1,500 years ago on the Trondheim Fjord on Norway’s coast.” That is certainly worth a read.

Today an update on the dig comes from Science Daily: The toy boat that sailed the seas of time.

A thousand years ago, for reasons we will never know, the residents of a tiny farmstead on the coast of central Norway filled an old well with dirt.

Maybe the water dried up, or maybe it became foul. But when archaeologists found the old well and dug it up in the summer of 2016, they discovered an unexpected surprise: a carefully carved toy, a wooden boat with a raised prow like a proud Viking ship, and a hole in the middle where a mast could have been stepped.

“This toy boat says something about the people who lived here,” said Ulf Fransson, an archaeologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) University Museum and one of two field leaders for the Ørland Main Air Station dig, where the well and the boat were found.

“First of all, it is not so very common that you find something that probably had to do with a child. But it also shows that the children at this farm could play, that they had permission to do something other than work in the fields or help around the farm.”
[continue]

38,000 year-old engravings confirm ancient origins of technique used by Seurat, Van Gogh

From phys.org: 38,000 year-old engravings confirm ancient origins of technique used by Seurat, Van Gogh.

A newly discovered trove of 16 engraved and otherwise modified limestone blocks, created 38,000 years ago, confirms the ancient origins of the pointillist techniques later adopted by 19th and 20th century artists such as Georges Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, Camille Pissarro, and Roy Lichtenstein.

“We’re quite familiar with the techniques of these modern artists,” observes New York University anthropologist Randall White, who led the excavation in France’s Vézère Valley. “But now we can confirm this form of image-making was already being practiced by Europe’s earliest human culture, the Aurignacian.”

Pointillism, a painting technique in which small dots are used to create the illusion of a larger image, was developed in the 1880s. However, archaeologists have now found evidence of this technique thousands of years earlier—dating back more than 35,000 years. [continue]

Why did Greenland’s Vikings vanish?

You need something good to read, and Smithsonian Magazine has come to the rescue, with this: Why Did Greenland’s Vikings Vanish? It begins:

On the grassy slope of a fjord near the southernmost tip of Greenland stand the ruins of a church built by Viking settlers more than a century before Columbus sailed to the Americas. The thick granite-block walls remain intact, as do the 20-foot-high gables. The wooden roof, rafters and doors collapsed and rotted away long ago. Now sheep come and go at will, munching wild thyme where devout Norse Christian converts once knelt in prayer.

The Vikings called this fjord Hvalsey, which means “Whale Island” in Old Norse. It was here that Sigrid Bjornsdottir wed Thorstein Olafsson on Sunday, September 16, 1408. The couple had been sailing from Norway to Iceland when they were blown off course; they ended up settling in Greenland, which by then had been a Viking colony for some 400 years. Their marriage was mentioned in three letters written between 1409 and 1424, and was then recorded for posterity by medieval Icelandic scribes. Another record from the period noted that one person had been burned at the stake at Hvalsey for witchcraft.

But the documents are most remarkable—and baffling—for what they don’t contain: any hint of hardship or imminent catastrophe for the Viking settlers in Greenland, who’d been living at the very edge of the known world ever since a renegade Icelander named Erik the Red arrived in a fleet of 14 longships in 985. For those letters were the last anyone ever heard from the Norse Greenlanders. [continue]

Excavation reveals secrets of Tudor Life

From Heritage Daily: MOLA excavations at Crossrail Farringdon site reveal secrets of Tudor Life.

Excavations carried out by MOLA at the Crossrail site at Farringdon have revealed fascinating insights into daily life in Tudor London in recently published findings.

The site in the heart of the capital has already provided remarkable information about the Black Death in London, but now analysis of artefacts extracted from the re-discovered Faggeswell brook, that flowed past Charterhouse Square, revealed more about the people living in the area during the 16th and 17th Centuries.

Due to the wet ground conditions in the area of the brook, MOLA archaeologists were able to recover rarely found Tudor textiles, leather and plant remains all preserved in excellent condition. It is very rare that textiles and leather survive in the ground, and it is only because of the damp conditions which stopped oxygen form decaying the organic materials that there is such an invaluable insight into the lives of ordinary Londoners and the gentry.

Highlights include:

Tudor leather shoes: 22 shoes made of thick cattle leather range from unisex slip-on shoes, similar to modern-day shoes, to styles [continue]

Ha! There’s the most interesting bit, at least for me. I’ve been somewhat obsessed with minimalist / handmade / historical footwear ever since 2008 when I pointed you to an article about how shoes hurt our feet.

Anyway, the Heritage Daily article has a good photo of one of the shoes they found.

Medieval burials on Yamal peninsula may have been ritualistic sacrifices

From the Siberian Times: Medieval burials on Yamal peninsula may have been ritualistic sacrifices.

The find of four graves from the 11th century site Yur-Yakha III are unlike anything else seen from this era in Yamal, say scientists. Two of the dead were young women aged around 18 to 20 and all had ‘serious diseases’.

The burials were in a crouched position and there are suggestions that rituals, perhaps even sacrifices, were involved in the deaths of these nomads with significant health problems.

For sure there are no similar medieval burials,’ said senior researcher Andrey Plekhanov, of the archaeology department, Arctic Research Centre of the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region. [continue]

Feral hogs root through history

From Inside Science: Feral Hogs Root Through History.

Feral swine, first introduced by some of the earliest European explorers to America, have been roaming Florida for the past 500 years, and are now present in at least 35 states. The invasive pigs are well-known as a destructive environmental menace, tearing up sensitive habitats and endangered plants and animals in their search for food. But the hogs can also dig up important archaeological sites, destroying an irreplaceable historical record.

“The damage feral pigs do to everything else — crops, wetlands, endangered species — it can all grow back,” said Richard Engeman, a biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “But once you move artifacts around, that doesn’t grow back.”

When rooting for food, the pigs regularly dig several inches or more below the surface, potentially moving or destroying artifacts. The trails they make also speed up erosion. [continue]

Archaeogenomic evidence reveals prehistoric matrilineal dynasty

Here’s an article that Nature published today: Archaeogenomic evidence reveals prehistoric matrilineal dynasty. The abstract:

For societies with writing systems, hereditary leadership is documented as one of the hallmarks of early political complexity and governance. In contrast, it is unknown whether hereditary succession played a role in the early formation of prehistoric complex societies that lacked writing. Here we use an archaeogenomic approach to identify an elite matriline that persisted between 800 and 1130 CE in Chaco Canyon, the centre of an expansive prehistoric complex society in the Southwestern United States. We show that nine individuals buried in an elite crypt at Pueblo Bonito, the largest structure in the canyon, have identical mitochondrial genomes. Analyses of nuclear genome data from six samples with the highest DNA preservation demonstrate mother–daughter and grandmother–grandson relationships, evidence for a multigenerational matrilineal descent group. Together, these results demonstrate the persistence of an elite matriline in Chaco for ∼330 years. [continue]

The full article is online, complete with maps and photos.

New study reignites debate over Viking settlements in England

From Science Nordic: New study reignites debate over Viking settlements in England.

The Vikings plundered, raided, and eventually reigned over a large part of what is modern day England. But exactly how many Danish Vikings migrated west and settled down in the British Isles?

In 2015, a large DNA study sparked a row between DNA scientists and archaeologists after concluding that the Danish Vikings had a “relatively limited” influence on the British—a direct contradiction to archaeological remains and historical documents.

“We see no clear genetic evidence of the Danish Viking occupation and control of a large part of England,” write DNA scientists in a study published in the scientific journal Nature in 2015.

A new study has reignited the debate by claiming that somewhere between 20,000 and 35,000 Vikings relocated to England. [continue]

Re-tracing the Fram’s 1893 polar voyage

Now here’s a research trip I’d love to join: a re-tracing of the Fram’s 1893 voyage. Wow. It’s going to happen in 2019, so there’s plenty of time for the organizers to send me an invitation.

Do you know about the Fram? I’ve been on it, and that was a highly memorable visit. Here’s a bit about the ship from the Fram Museum website:

The Fram was the first ship specially built in Norway for polar research. She was used on three important expeditions: with Fridtjof Nansen on a drift over the Arctic Ocean 1893-96, with Otto Sverdrup to the arctic archipelago west of Greenland – now the Nunavut region of Canada – 1898-1902, and with Roald Amundsen to Antarctica for his South Pole expedition 1910-12. The Fram is now housed and exhibited in the Fram Museum at Bygdøynes, Oslo. [continue]

Wikipedia has more about the Fram.

Anyway, the Guardian tells us a bit about the 1893 voyage, and notes that scientists will repeat the Fram’s crossing of polar ice cap:

In 1893 the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen embarked on a mission of extraordinary boldness and ingenuity. He planned to become the first person to reach the north pole by allowing his wooden vessel, the Fram, to be engulfed by sea ice and pulled across the polar cap on an ice current.

Ultimately, Nansen ended up abandoning the Fram and skiing hundreds of miles to a British base after he realised he was not on course to hit the pole, but the ship made it across the ice cap intact and the expedition resulted in groundbreaking scientific discoveries about the Arctic and weather patterns.

Now, more than a century on, scientists are planning to retrace this epic voyage for the first time, in the most ambitious Arctic research expedition to date. [continue]

Doesn’t that sound amazing?

(Photo credit: Thanks to Ealdgyth for sharing the photo of the Fram at Wikimedia Commons.)

Collapse of Aztec society linked to salmonella outbreak

From Nature: Collapse of Aztec society linked to catastrophic salmonella outbreak.

One of the worst epidemics in human history, a sixteenth-century pestilence that devastated Mexico’s native population, may have been caused by a deadly form of salmonella from Europe, a pair of studies suggest.

In one study, researchers say they have recovered DNA of the stomach bacterium from burials in Mexico linked to a 1540s epidemic that killed up to 80% of the country’s native inhabitants. [continue]

Technology helps tourists to visualize ancient Rome

Touring ancient sites in Rome? Maybe a virtual reality headset will help you imagine things as they were thousands of years ago. From CBS News: Cutting-edge technology is helping bring ancient Rome back to life.

The cavernous space was once above ground, the grand home of Emperor Nero, and considered one of the most magnificent palaces ever built. Its name, “Domus Aurea,” means “golden house.” It’s hard to believe it was once colorful and flooded with light. But now, modern technology is letting tourists peek into the past.

Two thousand years ago, this labyrinth, now underneath the city of Rome, was the sprawling home of Emperor Nero, stretching the size of three football fields. Today, tourists can explore it, but the colors, light and opulence of this ancient Roman villa were unimaginable until this month, when visitors could start using virtual reality headsets.

“You always try to imagine in your mind what it must’ve been like, and this helps tremendously,” said Tom Papa, a tourist from New York.

Virtual reality brings to life this important piece of history. Alessandro D’Alessio, the chief archaeologist here, explained how this place was buried following Emperor Nero’s death. [continue]

The history of red

I am inordinately fond of red, so I did take notice when I found that somebody has written a history of the colour. The somebody is Michel Pastoureau, and the book is Red: The History of a Color.

The Paris Review has given us an excerpt: The Red of Painters. And here is an excerpt of the excerpt!

The late Middle Ages and the modern period have left us works by great painters that are particularly remarkable for their range of reds. Let us mention Van Eyck, Uccello, Carpaccio, Raphael, and later, Rubens and Georges de La Tour. But all artists seemed to love this color and tried to draw various tonalities from it. Accordingly they chose their pigments, taking into account not only their physicochemical properties, their ability to cover or make opaque, their resistance to light, and how easily they could be worked or combined with other pigments but also their price, availability, and—what is most disconcerting to us—the name they went by. Indeed we can observe in the laboratory that in panel paintings from the late Middle Ages, symbolically “negative” reds—those coloring the fires of hell, the face of the Devil, the coat or feathers of infernal creatures, and all impure blood of one kind or another—were often painted with the same pigment: sandarac, a resin lacquer more commonly called “cinnabar of the Indies” or “dragon’s blood.” Various legends circulated in workshops regarding this pigment, a relatively expensive one because it had to be imported from far away. It was believed to come not from a plant resin but from the blood of a dragon, gored by its mortal enemy, the elephant. According to medieval bestiaries, which followed Pliny and the ancient authors here, the inside of the dragon’s body was filled with blood and fire; after a fierce struggle, when the elephant had punctured the dragon’s belly with its tusks, out flowed a thick, foul, red liquid, from which was made a pigment used to paint all the shades of red considered evil. Legend won out over knowledge in this case, and painters’ choices gave priority to the symbolism of the name over the chemical properties of the pigment.

Unlike the dyers, the painters of the modern period hardly profited at all from the discovery of the New World or the settling of Europeans in the Americas. No truly new colorants resulted from these events. But Mexican cochineal, transformed into lacquer, allowed them to perfect a subtle, delicate pigment in the range of reds, superior to earlier lacquers from brazilwood or kermes for fixing a glaze over vermilion. Beginning in the sixteenth century, vermilion experienced a steady rise in popularity and its production became something of an industry, first in Venice, the European capital of color, and then in the Netherlands and Germany. It was sold in apothecaries, hardware shops, and paint stores, and even though it was more expensive and less stable than minium, it eventually contributed to that pigment’s decline. [continue]

Did Stone Age people build a large labyrinth in Denmark?

From Science Nordic: Did Stone Age people build a large labyrinth in Denmark?

A series of Stone Age palisade enclosures have been discovered in Denmark in recent years and archaeologists are still wondering what they were used for.

One of the latest additions is a huge construction, discovered by archaeologists from the Museum Southeast Denmark. The fence dates from the Neolithic period and seems to frame an oval area of nearly 18,000 square meters.

“It was actually somewhat overwhelming to experience that it is possible to reveal the traces of such a huge building from the Neolithic period. There are many suggestions for what they could’ve been used for, but to put it simply, we just don’t know,” says archaeologist Pernille Rohde Sloth who leads the excavation.

One of the most remarkable things about the fencing at Stevns is the way the entrances have been constructed. The fence is in fact built in five rows that extend outwards, and the opening in each row appears to be offset from the others. [continue]

The church that transformed Norway

If you didn’t already have Trondheim on your ‘must visit’ list, perhaps this discovery will change your mind. From archaeology.org: The Church that Transformed Norway.

When King Olaf Haraldsson gave up the old Viking gods to become Norway’s first Christian ruler, he fundamentally changed his society. Part of that legacy is the church he built in his capital city of Nidaros (now known as Trondheim), which was recently discovered at the construction site of a new office building. The church’s stone foundation is remarkably intact. According to Anna Petersén of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, the nave, choir, entrances, and foundation of the altar are still in place. The church was dedicated to Saint Clements the patron of slaves and seafarers and a popular figure among observant Norse raiders. A series of radiocarbon dates shows that the church was built in the early eleventh century, which affirms historical descriptions. [continue, see photo of dig]

What we can learn from traditional arctic diets

From good.is: What We Can Learn From Traditional Arctic Diets.

Up in the arctic, life struggles to thrive. A rocky and frigid landscape supporting little more than meager shrubs, grasses, and some berries in the summer, it’s proven too hostile for more than a few animal species that have specially evolved to polar environs. Yet despite the harsh conditions, thousands of years ago human beings managed to etch out a life for themselves in the snows. These peoples’ ability to live in these regions is mostly due to a diet that to most of us seems narrow and anemic, but in truth has proven itself one of the most robust and healthy in the world.

Arctic diets vary vastly from region to region, according to the local environment’s flora and fauna. But at their most extreme, they consist of almost nothing but meat and fish, often from animals rich in fat (think polar bears, seabirds, and whales). For those of us who grew up learning the American Food Pyramid, or even the unholy devilcraft that is the new “My Plate” system, such a meat-heavy diet sounds borderline suicidal. But when eaten raw, these animals’ organs provide ample nutrients, including the vitamins we temperate-zoners draw mostly from plants. Blubber is also surprisingly rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated omega-3 fats and natural fermentation provides arctic diets with the benefits of probiotic foods. The result is a food regimen that provides everything a human needs, as well as one of the greatest natural defenses against diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and perhaps even seasonal effective disorder, illustrating that in any diet, there are no essential food groups, just essential nutrients. [continue].

How fascinating is that? I love reading about traditional diets, and have, over the years, changed my own diet quite a bit in order to cut out all processed food. These days I try to eat the sort of foods that humans ate before industrialization and nutritional stupidity. Are any of you doing that, too?

I ate reindeer meat in Norway, though I haven’t tried reindeer blood. Perhaps on another visit I will see if there are any Sami communities that welcome visitors like me.

BTW, I found the good.is article through a link in Weekend Link Love – Edition 439 at Mark’s Daily Apple. That Weekend Link Love post is the one thing I read every single week at Mark’s Daily Apple, as there is always at least one really interesting thing there.

Searching for California’s lost Viking ship

From Newsweek: Searching for California’s Lost Viking Treasure Ship.

In the rugged Colorado Desert of California, there lies buried a treasure ship sailed there hundreds of years ago by either Viking or Spanish explorers. Some say this is legend; others insist it is fact. A few have even claimed to have seen the ship, its wooden remains poking through the sand like the skeleton of a prehistoric beast.

Among those who say they’ve come close to the ship is small-town librarian Myrtle Botts. In 1933, she was hiking with her husband in the Anza-Borrego Desert, not far from the border with Mexico. It was early March, so the desert would have been in bloom, its washed-out yellows and grays beaten back by the riotous invasion of wildflowers. Those wildflowers were what brought the Bottses to the desert, and they ended up near a tiny settlement called Agua Caliente. Surrounding place names reflected the strangeness and severity of the land: Moonlight Canyon, Hellhole Canyon, Indian Gorge.

To enter the desert is to succumb to the unknowable. One morning, a prospector appeared in the couple’s camp with news far more astonishing than a new species of desert flora: He’d found a ship lodged in the rocky face of Canebrake Canyon. The vessel was made of wood, and there was a serpentine figure carved into its prow. There were also impressions on its flanks where shields had been attached—all the hallmarks of a Viking craft. Recounting the episode later, Botts said she and her husband saw the ship but couldn’t reach it, so they vowed to return the following day, better prepared for a rugged hike. [continue]

Medieval heating system lives on in Spain

Did you get up and light the fire this morning? Is there snow all about? You might like to read No Tech Magazine’s article on a medieval heating system that lives on in Spain.

In the early middle ages, the Castillians developed a subterranean heating system that’s a descendent of the Roman hypocaust: the “gloria”. Due to its slow rate of combustion, the gloria allowed people to use smaller fuels such as hay and twigs instead of firewood.

Remarkably, the gloria is alive and kicking. Several villages, especially in the wider region around Burgos, still have houses with subterranean fireplaces of which some are in working order.

In January, my friend Pedro took me to his uncle’s house in Hontangas, a tiny village at some 100 km from Burgos. The uncle, now in his late sixties, fires the gloria once every morning during the “nine months of winter”. [continue]

Russian millionaire plans for Romanov empire on Pacific islands

OK, this is the strangest bit of news I’ve seen in a while. From the Guardian: Russian millionaire details plans for new Romanov empire on Pacific islands.

A Russian millionaire is in advanced talks with the Kiribati government to lease three uninhabited islands and establish an alternative Russia and revive the monarchy.

Russian Anton Bakov and his wife Maria are planning to re-establish the Romanov Empire on three remote islands in the south Pacific nation of Kiribati, and invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the impoverished island’s economy.

The Russian monarchy was overthrown by the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and Bakov, a businessman and former Russian MP, has devoted himself to reviving it – which over the years has included exploring options for a base in Montenegro and the Cook Islands. [continue]

The mind boggles.

Against willpower

From Nautilus: Against Willpower.

Ignoring the idea of willpower will sound absurd to most patients and therapists, but, as a practicing addiction psychiatrist and an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry, I’ve become increasingly skeptical about the very concept of willpower, and concerned by the self-help obsession that surrounds it. Countless books and blogs offer ways to “boost self-control,” or even to “meditate your way to more willpower,” but what’s not widely recognized is that new research has shown some of the ideas underlying these messages to be inaccurate.

More fundamentally, the common, monolithic definition of willpower distracts us from finer-grained dimensions of self-control and runs the danger of magnifying harmful myths—like the idea that willpower is finite and exhaustible. To borrow a phrase from the philosopher Ned Block, willpower is a mongrel concept, one that connotes a wide and often inconsistent range of cognitive functions. The closer we look, the more it appears to unravel. It’s time to get rid of it altogether. [continue]

Secret room in UK mansion tied to King James I assassination attempt

From Live Science: Secret Room in UK Mansion Tied to King James I Assassination Attempt.

Agile scientists equipped with 3D laser scanners have revealed the secrets of a hidden room, known as a “priest hole,” in the tower of an English Tudor mansion linked to the failed “Gunpowder Plot” to assassinate King James I in 1605.

A new study reveals how the secret double room was constructed in the tower of a gatehouse at Coughton Court in Warwickshire, as a hiding place for priests during the anti-Catholic persecutions of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Catholic priests faced execution as traitors under the English laws of the time, and they were often tortured to reveal their accomplices, according to Christopher King, an assistant professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, and one of the lead researchers of the study. [See More Photos of the Secret “Priest Hole” at Coughton Court]

Despite being outlawed, many priests chose to [continue]

Thanks to Floccinaucical for pointing out this article in the Elsewhere for February 5, 2017 post. That’s where I spotted it.

Want more? The National Trust has info on their Coughton Court site. The most interesting of those pages, I think, is One house, one family, one faith…. It gives an overview of the house’s history, and features a photo of the priest hole.

For more on priest holes in general, see:

Iceman Oetzi’s last meal was ‘stone age bacon’

From phys.org: Iceman Oetzi’s last meal was ‘Stone Age bacon’.

Oetzi the famous “iceman” mummy of the Alps appears to have enjoyed a fine slice or two of Stone Age bacon before he was killed by an arrow some 5,300 years ago.

His last meal was most likely dried goat meat, according to scientists who recently managed to dissect the contents of Oetzi’s stomach.

“We’ve analysed the meat’s nanostructure and it looks like he ate very fatty, dried meat, most likely bacon,” German mummy expert Albert Zink said at a talk in Vienna late Wednesday. [continue]

The discovery of medieval Trellech and the plucky amateurs of archaeology

From The Conversation: The discovery of medieval Trellech and the plucky amateurs of archaeology .

The tale of how an amateur archaeologist’s hunch led him to uncover a lost medieval town and spend £32,000 of his own money to buy the land, would stand to be the archaeological discovery of any year. On the border between England and Wales, the site of the medieval town of Trellech reveals much about a tumultuous period of history – and how the town came to be lost.

The story begins in 2004, when archaeology graduate Stuart Wilson began his search for this lost medieval town in Monmouthshire, south-east Wales, near where now only a small village bears the name. In the face of scepticism from academic archaeologists, Wilson’s years of work have been vindicated with the discovery of a moated manor house, a round stone tower, ancillary buildings, and a wealth of smaller finds including pottery from the 1200s. [continue]

What fun!

The caves that prove Neanderthals were cannibals

From phys.org: The caves that prove Neanderthals were cannibals.

Deep in the caves of Goyet in Belgium researchers have found the grisly evidence that the Neanderthals did not just feast on horses or reindeer, but also on each other.

Human bones from a newborn, a child and four adults or teenagers who lived around 40,000 years ago show clear signs of cutting and of fractures to extract the marrow within, they say.

“It is irrefutable, cannibalism was practised here,” says Belgian archaeologist Christian Casseyas as he looks inside a cave halfway up a valley in this site in the Ardennes forest.

The bones in Goyet date from when Neanderthals were nearing the end of their time on earth before being replaced by Homo sapiens, with whom they also interbred. [continue]

We are Canadians — but we were nearly Cabotians, Tuponians or Hochelaganders

From the CBC: We are Canadians — but we were nearly Cabotians, Tuponians or Hochelaganders.

No one will say “Happy Efisga Day” next July 1.

But as we look ahead to Canada’s 150th year, we are reminded that we are Canadians because — as the story goes — Jacques Cartier coined the term in 1534 from a lost-in-translation conversation during his first meeting with the Iroquois.

We could have been Cabotians, Tuponians or Hochelaganders.

Here are some of the other names that were considered when this country was just a fledgling dominion. [continue]

Queen Elizabeth I’s vast spy network was the first surveillance state

From Atlas Obscura: Queen Elizabeth I’s vast spy network was the first surveillance state.

In a lowly tavern in an English town in the 1580s, a group of men met to organize the assassination of their monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. The head of the operation, Anthony Babington, planned to rescue and crown Mary of Scotland, an alternative heir to the English throne who had been imprisoned in the castle dungeon for 20 years. He detailed the plan to Mary as a cipher—a secret note in code— and snuck it to her in a shipment of beer. But Mary had no idea that his note had been opened and then resealed by a double agent posed as a courier, who was waiting for her reply. When Mary wrote back, the agent exposed the plot, and both she and Babington were executed.

Long before NSA surveillance, Queen Elizabeth had her own “Watchers,” a network of agents who intercepted letters, cracked codes, and captured possible dissenters to protect the crown in secret. The queen’s network of spies formed the original surveillance state in the U.K., and she started it for good reason. [continue]

Wouldn’t she be envious of the state’s spying apparatus now! So much easier when you can just snoop up on all electronic communication.