3 October – Today I learned:
- About Avebury, “the most impressive” ancient stone monument on the British Isles: “the spectacular complex of rings, megaliths, and earthworks surrounding the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, where, from around 1320, until a final dynamiting in 1829, close to six hundred stones were burned, broken, or buried. Seventy-six survive; the location of others are marked by small concrete pyramids.” (This quote and most that follow are from Hugh Raffles’ fascinating The Book of Unconformities: Speculations on Lost Time, which I am reading and which will undoubtedly be the source for more TIL posts.)
When John Aubrey, a passionate antiquarian whom I knew before only for his controversial Brief Lives, “discovered” the Avebury henge in 1649 (the first of several “discoverers”), “the scale and unity of the site were camouflaged by fields, hedges, trees, and the bustling village that sprawled from its center, but he immediately recognized what he saw. … The stones Aubrey encountered were sarsens, impressive remnants of the sandstone deposits that formed in the warm sea that covered the Marlborough Downs fifty million years before. … The giant slabs washed down into the Wiltshire valleys as the chalk that underlay them softened in the stubborn wetness of the last ice age, until, around forty-three hundred years ago, the Neolithic masons of Avebury and Stonehenge must have encountered them, too, and begun an extractive industry that continued for millennia.”
The English Heritage website — which charmingly lists the Avebury site’s open hours as “any reasonable time during daylight hours” — says that the site “was built and altered over many centuries from about 2850 BC until about 2200 BC and is one of the largest, and undoubtedly the most complex, of Britain’s surviving Neolithic henge monuments.”
The Avebury henge is very close to the massive monolith at Silbury Hill — “the largest artificial mound in Europe,” built around 2400 BC and comparable “in height and volume to the roughly contemporary Egyptian pyramids — and only 30km from its much more well-known sister, Stonehenge, which originally comprised 80 stones. Avebury is larger and older, while Stonehenge is said to be more sophisticated. All are in Wiltshire, England.
This is a reconstruction of what it might have looked like when it was in use:
And this is what it looks like today:
- That the Amanita muscaria, common here in New England where conifers grow, is also called Yellow Orange Fly Agaric, and that it derived its name “from the custom of placing little pieces of the mushroom in milk to attract flies. The flies supposedly become inebriated and crash into walls and die.” (Source: Mary Holland’s daily post) There are several varieties of Amanita muscaria called fly agaric, including var. formosa (a Eurasian version), var. guessowii (common here), var. alba, var. regalis, var. muscaria, var. persicina, var. flavivolvata. (Source: Shroomery) It’s apparently the ibotenic acid in the fungus that both attracts and kills flies, though some sources say it’s 1,3-diolein that attracts the flies and ibotenic acid that kills them. (Sources: Bionity.com and The House Fly Attractants in Mushrooms) Sidenote: If you live in New England, the 13-pp PDF Toxic Mushrooms and Confusing Edibles in New England, at Mainely Mushrooms, is very useful.
Featured image is Amanita muscaria (var. guessowii, I think) seen here recently.