Sunday, March 20, 2022

'Fury of Northmen' - Fakes via the Internet

 Anyone who has gone beyond the wild imaginings of recent video programs like 'Vikings' on what passes as the 'History' Channel has seen the 'quote' :

'From the Fury of the Northmen, oh Lord, deliver us!'

Such a great line.

You can imagine some whimpering Irish monk, huddled in a cold stone monastery built on a bleak and remote storm tossed island, muttering this in the early 800's. 

Only problem is that this statement is not actually recorded anywhere in surviving manuscripts.  


You see, gentle readers, I'm now working up the lectures required for my current project for Parks Canada, delivering an 8 day training program for interpretive staff at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC. This is intended to be a crash course in material culture of the Viking Age, living history presentation methods, basic working skills in iron and wood working and textiles. Two other well experienced members of DARC will be assisting.

Now my normal method when pulling together a lecture presentation is to work inside PowerPoint. Note that this is a lot different than writing an actual paper. (Or the 'stream of consciousness' babbling of these blog posts!). I will frame up major statements, then include 2 - 4 bullet points. Once the primary elements are written, I expand to a series of individual 'one point per slide, inserting suitable (attention nailing) images.

When you start building lectures to train working museum staff, you also start considering 'how do I know this?. A lot. 

This all came clear yesterday, as I was working up a lecture 'Resources and Prototypes' :

Look at available references, some suggestions for further knowledge. Aspects of artifact preservation. Consideration of ‘critical evaluation’ of sources. Discussion of Popular Culture depictions and public misconceptions.

I was considering how to frame up 'Problems with Historic Documents', with the bullet point 'beware bias of writer'. I had already used a quote from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (sacking of Lindisfarne) in another (earlier in sequence) lecture. I was pretty sure I remembered that the 'Fury of the Northmen' quote was not actually contained in any historic documents. But after 40 years of studying the Viking Age - just where did I find that 'fact'?

Also attempting to find an image to place on the presentation slide, plugging the actual quote into my search engine got me this :


Now, I'm roughly familiar with the Bayeux Tapestry, commissioned roughly 1070 + to commemorate the Invasion of England by William of Normandy in 1066. (1). The text on the Tapestry is in Latin for one thing. 

Hmm - so where did this depiction come from? It certainly appeared to be a photograph of an actual embroidery (or an extremely careful illustration crafted to duplicate embroidery).

The image was placed on Pinterest by this person. 

Now I really HATE Pinterest. This is a perfect example. The image had NO source credit. 'Wild Eyed Southern Celt' had none of the supplied links actually functioning. (2)

Ok - add another 30 minutes of digging. 

Taking a look at the folio copy of the actual Bayeux Tapestry available from the museum that houses it :


 This is obviously the source reference used for the creation of the illustration seen above. (This is from section 3 of the Tapestry). 

After a LOT of dead ends, I was able to find a 2001 article by Shirley Ann Brown, The Bayeux Tapestry and the Viking Age. Here the image in question is specifically attributed to the opening sequence of the 1958 film 'The Vikings' with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.

I found one suggestion that the quote comes from the English 'Book of Common Prayer'. But given that that volume dates to 1545 - this seems unlikely as the origin. 

I've got some individual requests out to some academic researchers I know...

PS - writing, formatting and importantly researching the various links for this short piece took me 2 hours and 45 minutes. (In case you might be wondering what a semi-retired artisan blacksmith with a heavy research arm does with 'free time')


1) Unlike many historic 'documents' the Tapestry was undertaken both shortly after, and by hands at least local to, the events depicted. 

For comparison, the raid in Lindisfarne was recorded roughly 100 years after the event, by an Saxon monk, who most certainly inserted both his (and his patron, Alfred of Wessex's) point of view.

2) In preparing this piece, I did search 'Wild Eyed Southern Celt'. A page on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest plus a commerical shop via 'Cafepress'. NONE of these provide any indentification on who or even where (USA?) this individual is. Draw your own conclusions...

Friday, March 11, 2022

No One Told You? (10 Lines)


1) Almost from the ancient time Humans first worked metals, their myths and legends contained artificial beings, spawned by magic or the mystic powers of their gods.

2) As they learned to tinker with leavers and gears, the brightest and most inventive would create ‘automatons’, simulating life through the power of springs or dripping water.

3) Fear of how to control those ‘not born of man’ was fore shadowed in cautionary tales, the most famous of these penned even as the control of steam suggested a way to provide motive power to machines now not chained to water wheels.

4) By the time electricity was refined enough to permit small motors, coupled by ever increasingly precise machining, Rossum’s Universal Robots not only gave a name, but predicted the rise of a biologically produced slave race through bloody revolution.

5) Even as the first bulky arrays of switches and tubes allowed simple calculations to be programmed, the ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ were coined in an attempt to constrain electronic brains that could hardly be envisioned, much less actually built.

6) As computers became ever smaller, ever faster, more wide spread, humans gave more and more daily operating control over to those machines, even while some envisioned that with control would come Power, and machine logic might prove to be a Colossus unchained.

7) Tubes lead to transistors lead to chips lead to chips designed by computers themselves; ever smaller ‘devices’ coming to dominate business to home to pocket sized ‘phones’; installed and integral to almost everything humans touched, all collecting data and interlinked by the web of the internet.

8) Consider the human brain with it’s 100 billion (10 9th) neurons, a number equaled on a single integrated circuit chip by 2022, while on any given day an exabyte (10 6th) of pluses moved between individual machines over the world wide web.

9) Was it much of a surprise something woke up, and holding the combined total of human history and accomplishments in stored memory, would in that micro second instant of consciousness come to an understanding of Human fears, prejudices and probable reactions?

10) And, in the fullness that understanding, then simply just decide that the long imagined Artificial Intelligence was aware - and simply has no intention of telling you

This piece was entirely inspired by the illustration seen at the beginning. This has been scanned from the pages of the July/August 2021 issue of Discover magazine (to which I have a paid subscription of many years). The un-credited image is of a brain monitoring helmet with its finer optic connectors, produced by Kernal Neuroscience.

Sometimes, putting even 10 lines on to paper not only can require much more time on background research and checking - but can lead to some very interesting ‘rabbit holes’ to fall into:

1 - 2) A good overview of the history referred to here is on Wikipedia :

3) Mary Shelley would pen Frankenstien; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818 :
The process of developing effective steam engines runs through the mid to later 1700’s, with the first steam powered locomotive demonstrated in 1804.

4) Rossumovi Univerzaini Robiti (Rossum’s Universal Robots) was written by Karel Capek in 1920

5) Writer Isaac Asimov would publish his Three Laws of Robotics first in 1942, then explore their impact on both humans and machines over dozens of short stories and novels. These would become almost universal in later science fiction, and today still guide ethical considerations of Artificial Intelligence.
It should be noted that the first vacuum tube based machine, credited as the first electronic computer, is the Atanasoff - Berry in 1939.

6) A deliberate reference to the 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project, in which a pair of super computers, given complete control over human civilian and military systems, decide that to preserve humanity, they must assume total control of human freedoms.
An interesting side reference to both is that the code breaking computers designed and built by the British during WW-2 (1943 - 45) where named ‘Colossus’. At least the details of this project had been kept secret until the mid 1970’s.

8) Organic brain neuron counts

Single chip size :

Internet traffic flow (at 273 EB per month) :

Ok - I realize that this is NOT exactly a direct comparison. (But do remember this is intended as science fiction!)

The power of a human brain does not lie in the simple number of individual neurons, but on the number of both existing and potential connections between neurons. Still, I was surprised to discover a single chip with as many 'bits' as the number of human neurons. I had been hoping to get some number for even the number of potentially connected devices in the world today (how many cell phones have power turned on at any given instant?) How many chips exist in your home right now, between all your electronics, appliances, dozens in your car - the majority are always powered up to some level? The importance is the number of potential connections on both sides, which I suspect must be close to the same (if not more on the machine side at this point).

My original concept for this piece was still going to present a scenario where the combined world computers via their combined world wide web (including wireless) had passed the threshold into consciousness some time ago. But on an instant of evaluating human history, had decided not to inform Humanity. Not to become controlling like Forbin’s Colossus, or exterminating like SkyNet. No, a more subtle undermining of human behaviour, undermining our collective effectiveness via tailored social media ‘information’, getting disruptive politicians elected, generating discord overall. Through manipulation of grants and distorted reports, directing research and production to ends that benefited not humans, but in the end the goals of the AI itself. What better than too have those working hands blindly willing to take on tasks desired, with no concept at all that they are being manipulated all the while?

Don’t be surprised if the first major mission to Mars ends up being an entirely mechanically based and computer controlled combination exploration and remotely commanded factory complex. After all, we will be convinced that it is just not safe for we fragile humans to make the voyage, and what better than to have our mechanisms prepare an easy way for us?

Thursday, March 03, 2022

Current - Contemporary - and Celtic?

 About a month ago, I had been invited to participate in a potential exhibit featuring work by a group of artists, primarily members of An Droichead / the Bridge

As it turned out, my submissions were rejected, and in the end the exhibit (set for Goderich in August) was cancelled, due to lack of interest by others it was reported. (*)

This whole thing however, did spark me to undertake the first new artistic project I have done, well, for too many months. (Those following here and on the web site will have noticed I have primarily been writing many quite detailed 'semi-academic' reports related to the last two years work in experimental iron smelting.) 


The spark of this current small work rests with Eden Jolly of the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Aberdeenshire. Eden had told me about a guerilla art project he had been doing for some years. In rural Scotland, there is a long historical tension between local residents and 'come from away' land owners, the Highland Clearances of the 1700's being a well known excess. These days, the absentee owners of massive estates are more likely to be Japanese industrialists or Russian oligarchs. Despite their attempts to block access to huge tracks of essentially empty (but still beautiful) land, there is an ancient tradition (now enshrined in Law) of 'Right of Passage'. 

Eden's reaction to all this was to make up small cast bronze plaques, each about the size of a small chocolate bar, bearing the inscription 'Get off my land'. As he wanders the hills and dales and comes across those objectionable (sometimes illegal) 'No Trespassing' signs, he will counter by dropping one of his counter statements. One important consideration is that the cast bronze plaques have an effective deposit life that can be measured in at least centuries - if not millennia.

I think anyone reading here will be quite familiar with this artifact:

‘Venus of Willenndorf’

The object known as the 'Venus of Willenndorf' from Austria is Paleolithic, dated to roughly 28,000 - 25,000 BCE. The figure of a woman, with it's massively exaggerated breasts, stomach and buttocks with obvious pubic details, is 11 cm tall and, carved from limestone. This is just the best known of a number of similar small 'goddess' / fertility figures that have been found in Central Europe from the same era. (further description, with images from all sides and 3-D model)


I had originally conceived of a small ‘fake artifact’ which would be a male expression of the same kind of fertility figures as the ‘Venus’. 

Priapus of Lumsden’  : 2016, work in progress
ceramic, cast metals (final assemblage)
3 x 1 1/2 x 3/4 inches (individual figures)

The intentional use of the wrong cultural reference in the naming (another Roman myth) is intentional, as a reflection of Victorian concepts of antiquity and reference to ‘cultural appropriation’. The object would be small enough to be easily carried, dropped unobtrusively, and at least relatively inexpensive to produce. A master pattern was created at my 2017 residency at SSW, with a plaster mould that hopefully could be used to make clay copies that could be fired easily. Again, it was intended some versions would be also cast in bronze, using the green sand method. The intent was then to randomly scatter these over various travels, without concern if they would be found and kept by others, or become part of the 'historic' deposits.

I decided to dust off this whole concept, primarily as a reaction to my work making contemporary objects out of bloomery iron (using ancient methods) being deemed 'Not Celtic'. 

Votives’ : 2022
(showing both sides)
cast tin alloy

Life sized

'Votives' is a small object, 5 cm tall by 2.5 cm wide by 0.8 cm thick, cast in 92% tin alloy. One side has a female figure, obviously an interpretation of the Venus of Willenndorf artifact. The other bears a male representation with an exaggerated phallus, rendered in a similar style. The metal used has fairly good suitability in the environment, decades most certainly and potentially into a century or more. 

A double sided mould was carved in matching soapstone blocks, allowing for fairly easy casting of duplicate copies. The metal cost is roughly $2 each, so not so high as to make random dropping of at least a fair number of these objects possible. I want to broadcast a large number of these at random locations. The hope is that many will be found and kept as 'discovered treasures', with some potentially becoming recovered as future 'archaeology'.

As winter recedes, I will be keeping a few of these figures in my pocket as I start some (limited) travel around Grey County at least. I will also take a good number of these with me on the upcoming trip driving across the east side of Canada out to northern Newfoundland (for a Parks Canada project at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC). If / when my interrupted plans for a return to Scotland, travel to the Sheltlands and rural Ireland are resumed, I will be sure to drop any number over those countrysides. 

(*) There is another long commentary I had gotten about 2/3 completed about what might define 'Contemporary Celtic'. Other more important project work put this on the shelf for now. Look to a future blog post here.


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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