Exploring the World of Wallace at the Dorset County Museum’s Craft Academy

Alfred Russel Wallace © Dorset County Museum 2017

Looking for something to do with the kids over the summer holidays? Come and join us for a morning of messy fun at Dorset County Museum’s Craft Academy on Wednesday 2 August 10.30am – 12.30pm

Taking inspiration from the museum’s collection of exotic birds collected by Victorian naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace. Children will have a chance to learn about Wallace’s ideas and achievements.

craft-academy-dorset-county-museumWe’ll provide the materials and the inspiration – you’ll create a wonderful piece to take home with you. Even better, it’s absolutely FREE thanks to sponsorship from Battens Solicitors.

Each time you create a masterpiece at one of our sessions, we will stamp your Craft Academy passport. If you collect three stamps we’ll give you a special certificate.

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Related Links:

Advertisements

The Chickerell Plesiosaur – Cimoliosaurus richardsonii

Plesiosaur

Plesiosaur

From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 10, 1889, an article written by by John Clavell Mansel-Pleydell, Esq., F.L.S, F.G.S. entitled ‘Cimoliosaurus richarsoni , Lydekker (n. sp.) 

Towards the end of the Mesozoic age a remarkable diminution of the huge reptiles which swarmed in the seas of that period commenced, and at the beginningof the succeeding age, Tertiary their annihilation was nearly complete, occasioned by great physical changes, especially affecting the relative positions of land and sea, the sea predominating largely “over the land in Europe. We pass from strata of considerable uniformity and of immense thickness over large and extensive areas to beds of a great variety of structure, from deep to shallow seas, estuaries, and rivers. With one or two doubtful exceptions, not a single Mesozoic species passed up into the Tertiary strata; the numbers of the new genera and species, greatly exceeding those of the previous age. Western Europe at this period had four considerable seas instead of one as now — the Anglo-Parisian, the Pyrennean, the Mediterranean, and one which covered the western parts of France from Normandy to Nantes.

As the chalk rose above the sea and underwent extensive denudation, a material diminution of temperature resulted, mainly through alterations of the ocean currents, which occasioned a disastrous result upon reptile life. During the deposition of the oolitic beds there was a complete uniformity, for, although occasional subsidences occurred, as shewn by the Oxford and Kimmeridge clays, with evidences of tide-level and shore conditions, no great or important break occurred. At the commencement of the Cretaceous age, on the other hand, there was a gradual submergence of land, accompanied by a considerable extension of the sea-area.

The marine beds of Punfield, near Swanage, which rest upon the great fresh-water deposits of the Hastings sands, are a good illustration of this initiatory change. Its effects are remarkably shown in the Yale of Blackmore, where, there is a great overlap or covering over of the upper oolitic beds by the chalk. The Hastings sands, Purbeck beds, and Portland strata are hidden, causing an apparent unconformity of the beds, as if the Lower Greensand had succeeded the Kimmeridge clay directly, without first covering over the intervening beds. Another subsidence and consequent invasion of the sea occurred during the deposition of the Upper Greensand, which spread itself over the oolitic formations as it passed on westwards, finally resting on the Trias of East Devon.

These changes materially affected the climate and temperature of those parts which came under their influence, especially through the alteration of ocean-currents. What would the climate of the greater part of Europe be, if the Gulf Stream was stopped or deflected? The Atlantic would be deprived of one-fifth of the amount of heat it is now receiving in addition to what it has in virtue of the temperature of space. The temperature would be lowered to a condition of climate as severe as that of North Greenland at the present day. If, again, the warm currents of the North Pacific were to be stopped, the northern hemisphere would be subjected to an entire glaciation. The fossils of the Palaeozoic age seem to indicate a uniform mild or temperate condition of climate, but not so in the succeeding Carboniferous age, which shows signs of reaction.

The late Mr. Godwin Austin found large angular blocks in the carboniferous strata of France, which could only be accounted for by referring their inclusion to the agency of ice-carriage, by glacier or iceberg. Large blocks of granite are met with in Scotland in the detrital beds of the coal-basins, which Professor Geikie and other eminent geologists attribute to glacial action. A large block of crystalline rock resembling granite was found embedded in a pit of white chalk near Croydon, and with it were other smaller boulders, all water-worn and composed of a different kind of rock, together with a compact mass of silicious sand derived from the waste of coast line of crystalline rocks, of which there are none in the neighbourhood of Croydon.

All had sunk together without separating, and must have been firmly held together both during the time that they were floating, and whilst sinking to the bottom of the cretaceous sea. Independent of seasonal changes, circulation between the surface and thesea-depths is aided by the co-operation of heat and gravitation. The Gulf of Mexico, which is not exposed to any cold supply of water from the North Pole, is a perfect reservoir of heat; further north, close to the shore of Massachusetts, is a cold current running southwards 60 or 80 miles wide. There are thus two currents of different temperatures running side by side in opposite directions and only mingling, where their edges impinge upon each other. Again, the Gulf Stream divides itself into several channels, the water of which is warm where the channels are deep, and cold in the shallower channels, occasioned by the water, low in temperature, rising from considerable depths over submarine elevated ridges.

We can now see the influence ocean-currents had, as they have now, upon determining the temperature of the globe, and the consequent disastrous effect upon cold-blooded reptiles when suddenly lowered. We have not time to dwell further upon this part of the subject, nor to show that Europe had not at the commencement of the Tertiary age its present continental character) but an insular one, giving free access to the polar currents without the counteracting exchange of warm equatorial currents.

The nearly complete fossil before us belongs to that section of the extinct reptilian class included in the Order Enaliasaurian or sea-lizards, but subsequently divided by Sir Richard Owen, G.C.B., F.R.S., into the Iclitliyopterygia and Sauropterygia; the former represented by the genera Baptanodon, Opthalmosaurus and Ichthyosaurus, the latter by several genera. Until the year 1841 Plesiosaurus was the only representative of this order in Great Britain.

At that date Sir Richard Owen removed from it two species, Plesiosaurus grandis and Plesiosaurus troclianterius, under a new genus Pliosaurus. The fossils of this genus were first founded upon two limbs, one of which is preserved in the British Museum, ,the other in our County Museum. It had an enormous head, supported by a short neck, in which it approached the great freshwater Saurians of the present day, with characteristic vertebrae, having a tubercular rising in the centre of the centrum, and resembling Plesiosaurus in its fin-bones and elongated phalanges. Their vertical range was restricted to the middle and upper oolites, whereas Plesiosaurus extended from the Rhætic beds right through to the chalk. Plesiosaurus is characterised by a very long neck and a short tail. The vertebrae are deeper and more solid than those of Ichthyosaurus; the neural arches are ancliylosed with strong outstretched transverse blades to strengthen the spinal column and to sustain the strain upon it in shallow water ; coast-lines, estuaries, and rivers probably being the usual resorts of these monsters.

Their remains have been found in the Wealden freshwater deposits. Ichthyosaurus, on the other hand, lived in. the deep seas, visiting the land only occasionally. It has a weak spinal column : the two faces of the centrum nearly meet in the centre, and the neural arches are unanchy-losed, in which respect it differs from Plesiosaurus. The Immerus and femur of some Plesiosauri — e.g., Plesiosaurus Manselii have a third bone in addition to the ulna and radius, and to the tibia and fibula, which T. W. Hulke, Esq., F.R.S., names the os intermedium and places it between the ulna and radius, tibia and .fibula, the homologue of which is found in the front and hind limbs of some living Saurians. A very interesting morphological question arises as to the possibility of tracing the homology of these bones and their relation to the carpal and tarsal elements of the higher vertebrates.

I have already referred to this splendid Plesiosaurian specimen in my paper on the fossil reptiles of Dorset, and expressed my opinion that it might possibly turn out to be Plesiosaurus plicatus of Phillips. I am now inclined to change my mind and to call it Murcenosaurus Leedsii Seeley, a subgeiius of Plesiosaurus characterised by its shoulder and pelvic girdles having only one coraco-scapula and one obturator foramen, and by a difference in the union of the neural arches, as well as by distinct forms of the ulna and radius, tibia, and fibula. Possibly these differences will not be held sufficient by Mr. Lydekker to justify Professor Seeley’s separation. This palaeontologist is now engaged in tabulating and arranging the fossil reptilian remains in the British Museum ; the result of his labours on the Crocodilia and Deinosauria will soon be before the public, as the volume is now in the printer’s hands, and will be doubtless as invaluable an addition to Paleontological literature as are his five volumes upon the Fossil Mammalia of our National Museum.

Cimoliosaurus richardsoniidiscovered at Chickerell, near Weymouth by Nelson and Helen Richardson in 1889

Cimoliosaurus richardsonii discovered at Chickerell, near Weymouth by Nelson and Helen Richardson in 1889 DCM © 2015

The remains of this Plesiosaur were found in a bed of Oxford clay in the neighbourhood of Weymouth last winter, and through the indefatigable and intelligent industry of Mr. and Mrs. Richardson, of  ‘Montevideo,’ they have been built up in their present satisfactory condition. The head is missing, which is not surprising, as having only one articulation with the neck, and that an exceedingly small one, it possibly became detached before the carcase settled down in its grave of clay ; that a considerable time elapsed previous to its being finally covered over may be inferred by the aggregations of oyster shells upon the vertebrae and bones, which could only have been attached when the body was uncovered. The spinal column consists of 71 vertebras, of which 31 are cervicals, 19 dorsals, 2 sacrals, and 19 caudals. The shoulder-girdle is nearly complete, consisting of coracoids,- scapulas, and pre-scapulse, two fore and one hind limb (humerus and femur), small portions only of the pubes, the ischia and ilia, radius, ulna, tibia, fibula, carpal, and metacarpal bones, several phalanges, and ribs.

Cimoliosaurus richardsonii

Cimoliosaurus richardsonii DCM © 2015

VERTEBRAE. — The dorsal vertebras resemble the last two cervicals, the centrum is rough, its height and length about equal, and both shorter than the breadth. In the fore part of the dorsal region the neural spines are inclined backwards, they then become vertical, and afterwards incline forwards. The neural-arches are not well preserved, only a few retaining their transverse processes. The centra are altered in form to allow the ribs to be raised, on the neural arch; their sides are compressed with a foramen near the middle of some ; the neural spines widen and are extremely compressed from side to side ; the position of the transverse processes remain the same throughout. The cervical and caudal vertebrse are characteristics of this long-necked, short-tailed family, by the non-attachment of the ribs to the shoulder-girdle of the former, and by the long chevron bones of the latter.

PECTORAL GIRDLE. — The coracoids have a short median symphysis five inches long; and diverge from their posterior border, taking an outward diagonal direction, and terminating hy a convex sweep outwards into an extremely thin dilated plate. The bones are thickest where the scapula and humerus articulate, forming a transverse ridge or keel. This ridge is equally marked on the dorsal as well as the ventral surface. Their width immediately behind the articulation is 15 inches, the least width across is 20 inches. The length of the scapular-articulation is three inches, looking obliquely and forward, and lies in front of the ridge. The scapula consists of a plate which is anchylosed to the coracoid, and from which a bone rises and ascends towards the dorsal surface, making an angle of about 50° with the central plate. This plate is 6in. long and 4in. broad. The inner margin, which is thin and concave at the base, is a continuation of the curve of the front border of the coracoid bone. There is 110 indication of clavicle or inter-clavicle bones. The inner margin of the ascending plate is concave, the outer straight. The coraco-scapular foramen,(It appears from a complete restoration now made by Mr. Richardson of the pectoral girdle that the coraco-scapular foramen was divided by a median bony bar as is now known to be the case in C. plicatus (Leedsii), of which the original restoration was erroneous.) one of the differences upon which Professor Seeley forms his genus Murcenosaurus, is not subdivided into two foramina, as is the case with many of this family. This continuous foramen is bounded laterally by the concave inner border of the scapula and posteriorly by the anterior margin of the coracoid. It is 14in. wide from side to side and 4in. from the anterior to the posterior margins.

PELVIC BONES. — The pubes are thin, a small portion only of them is preserved, and there is no indication of the syinphysis, this part of the bone being unfortunately lost. The outer margins are compressed from side to side, and are not so deep as those of the coracoid. The length is 18¾ in. Both the ischia are well preserved. Their length from the median line to the femoral margin is 8in. ; breadth at distal end, 5⅛in.; at proximal end, 8¼in.; at the narrowest part, 2¼|in. The iliac bones are expanded at both extremities, so as to extend over the upper part of the head of the femur.

HUMERUS. — The third part of the proximal end of the humerus is cylyndrical and thick ; it then widens into a broad distal end, shewing an articulate surface.

Cimoliosaurus richarsoniCimoliosaurus richardsoni. — Ventral aspect of part of the right pectoral limb ⅛ nat. size; h humerus ; tr, trochanter of ditto; r, radius; u, ulna ; r’, radiale; i, intermedium; u’, ulnare.
The ulna and radius are short, the radial portion concave ; two of the carpal bones are trigonal, the rest are polygonal.

FEMUR. — The articular surface of the femur is deeply pitted and tuberculate. The proximal end is constricted below the head before it begins to expand. Both margins are nearly straight and gradually flatten out into a broad distal end. Length 1⅝in., breadth 8in., 3¾in. at the narrowest part of the shaft. The tibia and fibula, and several of the carpal and phalangal bones, are well preserved.

Since this paper was read last autumn before the members of the Club, the Plesiosauridœ have undergone a complete revision under the experienced and critical eye of Mr. Lydekker, F.G.S., to whom I am indebted for his valuable assistance in the classification of this saurian. He refers Mr. Richardson’s saurian to the genus Cimoliosaurus which he distinguishes from Plesiosaurus on account of structural differences, especially in the shoulder-girdle, which are of so marked a character as to require a generic distinction.

He restricts Plesiosaurus proper to those whose scapulae do not meet in the median line throughout their whole extent from the upper to the lower margin, hut diverge anteriorly about half-way down. The scapulae are rod-like, small, and narrow, and widely separated from each other, resting diagonally upon a long plate (omosternum) which is wedged into the coracoid at its summit, taking the place of the clavicle of mammalia and of some reptiles. The anterior portion of each scapula lies at right angles to the dorsal portion, which has a long projection. Cimoliosaurus, on the other hand, has large, broad scapulae, which meet at the median line throughout, and are in the same plane with the coracoids, forming with these one shield-like plate. The size and strength of the scapulae do not require the supporting bone omosternum of Plesiosaurus. The dorsal plates, as with the Plesiosaurus are at right angles to the ventral, but differ in being short and narrow. Mr. Lydekker, finding the fossil possesses all the characters referable to Cimoliosaurus, gives it a place in that genus.

It is, however, specifically distinct from C. phcatus, Phil., the only other known Oxford clay member of the family, and to which I referred it in vol. ix. of “The Proceedings.” Among the other distinctive characters already described, the cervical vertebrae are shorter with flatter, terminal faces, and about 31 in number instead of 44 as in plicatus. Mr. Lydekker names it Cimoliosaurus richardsoni after its fortunate discoverer. Plesiosaurus proper is restricted to the Rhæustic and Liassic beds, while Cimoliosaurus extends vertically from the Inferior Oolite to the Upper Chalk inclusive.

Related Link:

170 years of Museum Life celebrated in 170 days…

#DorsetMuseum170This year, 2015 welcomes the 170th anniversary of the founding of Dorset County Museum.

It is 170 years ago when the concept of building a museum to house all of the treasures of Dorset’s rich history was conceived by a group of forward-thinking individuals. On the 15th October, 1845 it was a group, including the Dorset poet, William Barnes; the vicar of Fordington, Rev. Henry Moule and Rev. C. W. Bingham, which decided that in light of the development of the railways, and the subsequent discovery of specimens and artefacts within the disturbance, that it was ‘advisable to take immediate steps for the establishment of an Institution in this Town, containing a Museum and Library for the County of Dorset.’ It was at this moment, Dorset County Museum was born.

First Dorset County Museum Second Dorset County Museum Present Dorset County MuseumDorset-County-Museum_003
Judge Jeffreys Lodgings
1st home of the Museum,
1846 – 1851
No. 3 Trinity Street
2nd home of the Museum,
1851 – 1883
Dorset County Museum
1833 – Present

Originally, two rooms in what is now Judge Jeffreys restaurant were dedicated to the museum project. Quickly, this space became too small and the museum was subsequently moved to No. 3 Trinity Street. It was here that Thomas Hardy famously described the museum in his novel the Mayor of Casterbridge as:

‘It is an old house in a back street- I forget where- but you’ll find out- and there are crowds of interesting things- skeletons, teeth, old pots and pans, ancient boots and shoes, birds’ eggs- all charmingly instructive. You’ll be sure to stay till you get quite hungry.’

The museum remained in this ‘house in a back street’ until 1883 when the present building in High West Street was designed by architect Mr G. R. Crickmay. It wasn’t until several years later that the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club was founded in 1875 and co-operated closely with the museum. The two organisations officially amalgamated in 1928 under the name Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, becoming the new owners, and current owners to this day, of Dorset County Museum.

To celebrate this momentous anniversary, Dorset County Museum will be teasing its Twitter followers with 170 days’ worth of birthday related tweets. So make sure you follow @DorsetMuseum for the start of our special 170th birthday celebrations. There will be a celebratory #DorsetMuseum170 twitter campaign kicking off, 29th April, where Dorset County Museum’s twitter will be conducting an exclusive 170 days countdown to the Museum’s official birthday on 15th October.

For further information about the Museum, telephone 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

Gabriella Crouch

Apple Tree Wassail – Survival of a Tree Cult

Apple Tree WassailFrom the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 42 1922, an article written by the W. O. Beament, M.A. entitled ‘Apple Tree Wassail: Survival of a Tree Cult’

I propose for the purpose of this paper to consider firstly the ceremonies accompanying the Apple Tree Wassail which are, or were until lately, observed in the South West of England,and secondly to consider certain parallels to the rite which may be found at various stages of the civilisation of Western Europe.

It may then be possible to indicate some connection between the two, and to suggest a theory which accounts for what I believe to be a genuine pre-historic survival on English Soil. At the outset, I ought to explain that the theory which I shall outline at the conclusion of this paper is not intended to be the result of any research. It is simply an indication of the lines along which I believe a possible solution of the problems presented by the Apple Tree Wassail may be found.

At the present day the custom of wassailing the apple trees does not appear to be observed in Dorset; and when I first commenced collecting material for this paper I was not aware that it had been practised in our own county in recent times. However, our Vice- President, Judge Udal, has very kindly forwarded to me an extract from the manuscript of his forthcoming book on Dorset Folklore with permission to make use of it for the purposes of this paper. Judge Udal refers to an article in Folklore for 1918 from which it appears that the ceremony observed in Dorset did not differ in any important particular from those still to be found in the sister county of Somerset. When we turn to the latter county, there is an abundance of material for consideration ; and I propose to take as a representative account, and one which forms an excellent basis for discussion, the description of the ceremony given by Mr. Cecil Sharp in his note to Song 128, Folk Songs, from Somerset, 5th Series.

The rite appears to have been observed at Bratton on the 17th January, and the procedure as described by several witnesses is roughly as follows:

Meeting about seven in the evening, the wassailers proceed to the orchard which is to be the scene of their first celebration, and, forming a ring round one of the oldest of the trees, dance round, singing a particular song, to the words of which I will presently revert. Cider, sometimes warmed, is then thrown upon the tree or poured over the roots to the accompaniment of much shouting, stamping of feet, and firing of guns. Before leaving the tree a piece of toast soaked in cider is placed in the fork of the branches. Mr. Sharp states that, on enquiry of one of the revellers as to what became of the toast, he was informed that ” some say that the birds eat it, but I don’t know.”

There are five points in this ceremony which are worth considering :

  1. The Tree.
  2. The Song and Dance.
  3. The Libation of Cider.
  4. The Noise.
  5. The Offering of Toast

It may be interesting to consider them briefly in detail as they appear to-day.

1. SONG AND DANCE. I cannot obtain any very clear idea of the dance itself. Whatever it may have been in the past, it does not seem to-day to be a set figure; it rather has the nature of a wild gambol round a tree by a number of men joining hands in a ring. Probably the fact that they have already wassailed each other in cider before setting out has some effect upon their gyrations. The words of the song are at the present day more or less doggerel. As given by Mr. Sharp they run as follows:

Old Apple Tree we’ll wassail thee
And hoping thou wilt bear
The Lord doth know where we shall be
To be merry another year:
So blow well and bear well
And so merry let us be
Let every man drink up his can
And health to the old Apple Tree.

Then follows a spoken piece, cheering, shouting, stamping and gun-firing. I have come to the conclusion, as a result of comparison between this and similar ceremonies, that the words have in comparatively modern times been substituted for more ancient formula having practically the same meaning.It is perfectly clear that the wish expressed is for a good crop of apples in the ensuing year. It is rather curious that, in the Sedgemoor district, verses of the New Year Wassail Song are added to the Apple Tree Wassail.

2. SHOUTING, GUN-FIRING, ETC. The use of gunpowder, a comparatively modern invention, has led certain correspondents on this subject to suggest that we have a survival of a primitive method of pruning. The theory is that in early clays pruning was accomplished by beating the tree with a stick; and subsequently the firing of shot into the branches was used to obtain the same result. I am inclined myself to think that the gun-firing is merely a method of making a noise. Lieut. Latrobe-Bateman in describing his Congo Explorations in the middle of the last century has noted that natives belonging to the Mohammedan faith fire off guns at certain religious celebrations. In this case he knows that the object is simply that of making a noise. It seems rather more likely that the idea of noise-making should be predominant in a rustic ceremony such as wassailing, rather than that it should be necessary to prc-suppose a primitive method of pruning,for which not only does no evidence exist, but which is more over rather insulting to the intelligence of our ancestors.

3. THE LIBATION. This as it survives scarcely requires any comment. It can best be considered in the next section of the paper.

4. OFFERING OF TOAST. This is undoubtedly a real offering. Mr. Sharp’s informant was clearly of the opinion that it was not eaten by the birds, although twentieth century materialism had made him rather shy of expressing this belief openly.

None of the participants in the ceremony, however, appear to have any very clear idea as to whom the offering was made. It seems that we have here a case in which folk-memory is rapidly failing. Toast is still placed in the branches because it is remembered that once the offering was made to someone or something.

But in a few years, if the ceremony lasts as long, the reason will have been entirely forgotten; and I think this particular part of the rite will disappear entirely or we shall be definitely told that it is intended as an offering to the birds, probably in the hope that they will not attack the crop during the year.

In considering one or two interesting parallels to the Apple Tree Wassail, I should like to begin with a reminder that tree worship still survives in twentieth century England in other forms. The simplest, and the one which comes most readily to mind, is the Maypole dance. The Maypole is usually a dry pole perhaps with a sprig of green at the top, but was once, as Sir James Frazer has pointed out in the Golden Bough, a living tree freshly cut from the forest. It was also not so long ago that the “Jack in the Green” was a well-known figure in village festivities. It is rather curious that, while Sir James Frazer lays great stress upon these two survivals, he does not in the Golden Bough refer to the Apple Tree Wassail.

Bearing in mind then that ceremonies, which at the present time appear to have a value only as burlesque, are none the less religious survivals, we shall he less surprised to find that our West Country Apple Tree Wassail has behind it a long and honourable history. I must apologise for proceeding to state one or two facts which are probably well known to most of those present to-day, but my excuse is that their clue remembrance is essential to the considerations I wish to advance.

It must be kept in mind that religions, and especially primitive religions as distinct from magical cults, fall generally speaking into one of two classes they are connected with earth spirits or with sky gods. Without being irreverent, it may be stated that Christianity, following its predecessor Judaism, falls into the latter class; but this class is, at any rate in Western Europe, by no means the older. Men worshipped spirits of the earth before they worshipped spirits of the sky.

If one may make an extremely rough generalisation of the work of archaeologists in the classical lands of the Mediterranean, it may be laid down that the first peoples of that region of whom we have knowledge were agriculturists who worshipped earth deities, and buried their dead ; while, at a later date, they were encroached upon by, and ultimately fused with, pastoral invaders from the north, a taller fairer race who worshipped sky and storm deities and practised cremation. If in the light of some of these researches we consider the various points of the Apple Tree Wassail we shall begin to see some connection between our folk custom and the religions of the ancient world.

The ritual song and the ritual dance are both expressions of the same idea. The dance expresses the result in action, the song is an expression of the wish in words. Thus the first men to dance round the tree, in the hope that a crop might be secured to them, were performing in their early world a species of primitive ballet, endeavouring to depict in action and to sing in words the ideas of life and fertility; they imitated the desired result by showing themselves in possession of health, vigour, strength and agility.

The problem that presents itself at this point is: why they should dance round the tree ? The answer is that, just as gods have been made in the form of men and in the form of animals, so we are beginning to learn they have also been made in the form of plants. The tree is, if it may be so expressed, a kind  of super-plant. It has an intimate connection with the earth. It towers in the air and it is strong and, generally speaking, has a long life. It is extremely likely that originally the ceremony which we are considering was not performed round an Apple Tree at all, but round some forest tree, in all likelihood an Oak. This is perfectly easy to understand if it be remembered that primitive man has connected the idea of life, as expressed in plant or animal, not merely with the plants which he eats or the animal which he uses for food, but with those which are not good for this purpose. Thus we have Snake Tribes and Rat

Tribes when, generally speaking, the snake or rat is not a common article of diet. Totemism is far older and has exercised far more influence in religious developement than any idea of prayer for actual food. Thus assuming that originally our tree was a forest tree, that the religious idea grew weaker and weaker, and that people began to query why they did this thing, the ceremony, to make it appear more rational, would be transferred to a tree whose crop was actually of value as food, and in such a district as South-west England the natural tree to select would be the apple tree.

In the libation of cider we have an obvious magical survival. The cider is simply apple-juice, the blood of the tree, drawn from it last year. It may be assumed still to contain the life of the tree and is, therefore, poured back upon the roots or upon the trunk during the dead season of the winter in order that the tree may once more blossom and bear fruit. It carries from one season to another life and growth.

In this connection it may be interesting to note that the sacred tree and the sacred pillar are considered to be merely two aspects of the same thing. The tree is a living sacred pillar, a pillar is a petrified tree. Each is the house of a god or spirit, the place of its indwelling, a central point between the spiritual and material worlds.

Jacob, when he set up the Stone of Bethel, poured on it .wine and oil in consecration and named it the “House of God,” thereby indicating that for him at least it w r as the dwelling-place of the God of his fathers whom he proposed to serve.

The cider poured on the tree is not a drink for the spirit dwelling there. It is a rather more magical rite, indicating that the celebrant is trying to bring about a desired result by assuming it done. He pours cider because he wants cider next year.

In the sacred dance we have imitated the desired result; in the song we have expressed our wishes and hopes in words; by pouring cider we have done our best by physical means to secure that a comparatively dead tree will come to life. All this belongs to a very .early stage in religious thought, when gods and spirits are scarcely as yet conceived as such. Primitive man thinks not so much of deities as of divinities vague, half understood forces at work something like that which the natives of Melanesia call ” mana.” And this word is so expressive that it has passed into current anthropological jargon. Thus we have hitherto dealt only with forces which are more or less impersonal and can be controlled by magic, spirits not requiring to be sought in prayer because they are not regarded as possessing definite personal wills. It is the great distinction between magic and religion as we know it. With the former it is a matter of knowing how to do the right thing, while the latter is a question of personal relationship with a being. Now the noise brings us to the stage in which a being is introduced.

The shouting, stamping, and gun-firing, while they may in some measure express the joy of life, yet none the less are intended to awaken the spirit in the tree who has fallen asleep during the winter and must be aroused in good time if he is to do his work in the coming spring. Elijah’s taunt to the prophets of Baal was not merely sarcastic : to those w r ho heard it meant something real. They were used to shouting to wake up their god when they had any particularly heavy work on hand for him to do. So the Wassailers shout to arouse the spirit of the tree.

The toast in the branches takes us one step further. Toast which is intended to disappear is obviously of no use unless it is consumed by somebody or something, and we have here an instance of the actual offering made to a god or spirit. It is rather interesting to query whether it is given in order that the god may do something in return, or as a bribe to induce him to refrain from doing harm. As a matter of fact in early religion God and the Devil are very  much one and the same. It might be noticed in this connection that the vegetation spirit in Syrian mythology is Adonis, and his connection with Aphrodite is a matter of common knowledge. Aphrodite is always accompanied by birds her doves have become a proverb. Is it then too fantastic to suggest that here in

Central Somerset we have a direct survival of rites which in the golden days of Greece centred round the worship of the Maiden of the Sea-Foam?

I have already hinted at what is possibly an explanation of the survival of such rites as tree-cults in Britain. There seems very little doubt that such cults were originally the property of a people who were agriculturists, whose religion was the worship of earth divinities and who buried their dead. We know as a matter of certainty that this was the case in pre-historic times in Greece and other lands around the Mediterranean.

The early culture of Crete, of Mycenae and of the traditional site of Troy has afforded abundant evidence of the fact that the phenomena which I have just mentioned occurred together. Moreover from the same sources we know that at some time a pastoral people worshipping Olympian deities came down upon the Mediterranean from the North and were fused with the original inhabitants of the basin, the result of which fusion can be seen in the strangely assorted collection of gods and goddesses which make up the Hellenic and Latin Pantheons.

Now it is a well-known fact that, even when one race is conquered by another, the ideas and institutions of the conquered survive with strange persistence.

Thus there will be no cause for surprise if it be suggested that vegetation cults have persisted from very early times, and through various stages of civilisation, down to the modern world. It remains for us now to endeavour to connect the known facts of the Mediterranean area with the survivals which we find in our own country. I would suggest as a basis for further investigation a theory somewhat on these lines:

Tradition and modern research alike lead us to believe that, when the Mediterranean race was squeezed between the mountains and the sea by the increasing pressure of the northern invaders, an outlet of escape was found in the far west, along the Spanish shores and into Gaul. The peculiar religious observances of an agricultural people can be traced along this route and into Britain. The traces of Neolithic culture in this country show that we are dealing with a people whose physical features, as far as can be ascertained, resemble those which Sergi has ascribed to the Mediterranean race; a people whose religious observances, so far as any evidence remains to us, were akin to those of primitive dwellers in the Mediterranean basin, and whose belief in future life and survival after death was connected with the under-world rather than with a heaven in the sky. I would suggest then that, in common with other survivals of tree-worship and vegetation cult, the Apple Tree Wassail is a survival of that common stock of religious experience possessed by those early inhabitants of Southern and Western Europe whom tradition has called in various places by the names of Pelasgians, Ligurians and Iberians.

These people, whom we know to have contributed to later Greek religion those elements dealing with the under-world, the gods of the sea, the vegetation demons and those divine or semi-divine beings who possess the power of appearing in the form of beasts such as Dionysus would, as long as they remain agriculturists, practise their particular cults; and that these would, moreover, be learnt by any races who came into contact with them who wished to change from the wandering pastoral life to the more settled occupation of agriculture. Primitive man knew very well that it was useless to carry on an occupation until he had first of all put himself right with the spirits whose special concern that occupation was. This fact alone would explain how the ceremony could survive through various changes of civilisation and religion, and would also explain why so many of these customs have been able to make honourable terms even with triumphant Christianity.

The Apple Tree Wassail is one of the more obscure of these ancient rites, but it is none the less interesting, and I have endeavoured to put forward an analysis of its elements and a suggestion as to the lines on which further investigation may be pursued.

Note.  An article in Folk-lore, Volume XXXI, page 307, by Miss M. A. Berkeley, in commenting on some of the conclusions reached by Miss J. L. Weston in her work From Ritual to Romance, points out that Avalon in Afalon has the traditional interpretation of the ” Isle of Apples,” and that Mr. Cook has in the “European Sky and Tree God ” connected the ” Apple tree of Avallach ” the “god” of Avalon with magic trees of Irish legends and with the grove of Nemi. After shewing the connection of the Holy Thorn with sacred trees in general Miss Berkeley proceeds to set out evidence for the existence of an important and widely-known cult of the life principle at Glastonbury in early, and even in historic, times. The whole of the article is most suggestive in connection with the persistence of the apple cult in Somerset in modern times.

A Century Ago

Poole High Street Project

It was November 1913, a year before the outbreak of a devastating war. The East Dorset Herald was reporting the ‘Death of Dr. Russel Wallace – The Grand Old Man of Science’ at his residence, Old Orchard, Broadstone. From an unpromising childhood with poor schooling and no scientific training to speak of, he rose to become ‘a stimulating and original thinker, a finely trained observer, a naturalist of world-wide reputation, a vigorous conversationalist, a notable explorer and great traveller’. ‘His supreme achievement was his discovery of the process of Natural Selection simultaneously with Darwin’. During his adventurous career he travelled in the Amazon (being shipwrecked on the return voyage) and later journeyed around the Malay Archipelago, observing and collecting specimens of the flora and fauna. It was here, while suffering from a bout of fever, that he conceived the theory of natural selection. Back in England, he wrote a…

View original post 642 more words

Wallace: The Greatest Tropical Naturalist of the 19th Century by David Croman

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace, O.M., L.L.D., D.C.L., F.R.S.

Dorset County Museum is pleased to present a talk on the subject of one of Charles Darwin’s major contemporaries.  The event forms part of the celebrations marking the centenary of the death of the great naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace.

David Croman, former Head of Department at Salisbury College, Principal Examiner and teacher, will be speaking about the adventures, triumphs and failures of Wallace as an explorer, biologist, anthropologist and geographer and will reveal why he is now thought of as the greatest tropical naturalist of the nineteenth century.

The talk is free of charge but a donation of £3.00 is encouraged to cover costs.  The event takes place on Friday 29th November. Doors open at 7.00pm and the talk will commence at 7.30pm.

For further information please see www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or telephone 01305 262735.

Related Links:

Am feeling quite jolly!

Darkened not dormant

This lovely example of Alfred Russel Wallace’s beautiful handwriting and cheerful nature was written to chemist and Wallace’s good friend Raphael Meldola. He wrote it on his 90th (and sadly last) birthday. It is particular favourite of Annette Lord, who has scanned and transcribed the Museum’s collection of 300+ Wallace documents.

Today marks 100 years since Wallace’s death and provides a good opportunity to reflect on his achievements. We’ve set up a display in the Museum to mark the occasion and show some of the most impressive Wallace specimens in our collection. Wallace travelled to remote, dangerous parts of the world in search of new and fascinating species. He was a meticulous and careful collector; you can’t help but marvel at how the incredibly long antennae of these beetles survived the journey back to Britain!

Wallace is now credited by many as co-author of the theory of evolution through natural selection, so it is very exciting to…

View original post 109 more words

Wallace in his own words

Darkened not dormant

Here in the Museum of Natural History’s archives, we proudly house over 300 of Alfred Russel Wallace’s documents. Letters, notes and postcards written by the great naturalist himself. Here you can see Sir David Attenborough holding one of his favourites.

Over the past two years, all of the Wallace paper items in our collection have been scanned, transcribed and uploaded to Wallace Letters Online, a worldwide documentation project that’s part of the Wallace 100 celebrations. But the most remarkable thing is that all this work was done by one woman!

Annette Lord has been a volunteer at the Museum for 3 years and has helped with many family friendly activities, but one day she popped up to the Entomology Department to ask about Wallace’s letters. Her curiosity was piqued and she soon set to work on the enormous task of making them accessible to Wallace fans across the world.

The…

View original post 273 more words

What’s on the van? – Wallace’s giant bee

Darkened not dormant

Wallace_photo

This Thursday, 7th November, marks 100 years since the death of the famous Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace was an intrepid explorer and prolific collector and is hugely important in our understanding of the natural world. He co-discovered evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin and we are fortunate to have several hundred of his specimens and letters in our collections here at the Museum of Natural History. 

To celebrate the life of such an important scientific figure, we’re dedicating this week on the blog to all things Wallace. We’ll be sharing some hidden gems, little known facts about the great man and stories of Museum staff walking in the footsteps of Wallace.
So here begins Wallace Week, with a description of one of his fantastic specimens…

_Megachile

This week’s What’s on the van? comes from Sally-Ann Spence of Minibeast Mayhem and the Bug Club.

A single female bee stands…

View original post 371 more words

Alfred Russel Wallace and Natural Selection by Dr. Peter Raby

Wallace100Alfred Russel Wallace was one of the late nineteenth century’s most outstanding scientific thinkers. He is probably best known as the co-discoverer (with Charles Darwin) of the principle of natural selection but he also made significant contributions in many other fields and founded the discipline of biogeography.  Followers of Wallace still regard him as the pre-eminent field biologist, collector and naturalist of tropical regions – he collected over 125,000 natural history specimens in South East Asia alone.

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace, O.M., L.L.D., D.C.L., F.R.S.

However, his work in many areas is not well-known even today and his significant achievements remain poorly recognised.  In his talk, Dr. Peter Raby of Homerton College, Cambridge, who wrote a biography of Wallace in 2001, will seek to redress the balance.  He will describe how Wallace wrote to Charles Darwin excitedly outlining his new theory of natural selection, throwing Darwin into a panic.  Just two weeks later Darwin’s outline and Wallace’s paper were jointly presented in London. The following year Darwin, using much of the material from Wallace’s meticulous research, published ‘On the Origin of Species’ to wide acclaim.  Wallace, meanwhile, was still on the other side of the world – his crucial contribution to the work largely overlooked.

Dr. Raby’s talk, The Man who Selected Darwin,  complements the Museum’s current exhibition Alfred Russel Wallace: A Centenary Celebration which provides a rare opportunity to see its entire collection of brightly coloured bird skins from Wallace’s Malay Archipelago trip in 1854-1855.  Dr. Raby has also written widely on drama
and the theatre and is the editor of the Cambridge Companions to Oscar Wilde and
Harold Pinter.

The lecture takes place at 7.30pm on Wednesday 23th October 2013. Entry is FREE and the doors are open from 7.00pm.

For further information contact the Museum on 01305 262735 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

Related Links: