Archaeologists Looking At Stonehenge In A New Light

StonehengeStonehenge is the world’s most iconic prehistoric monument. Scientists have argued about its significance for generations, but few have been allowed to excavate there. Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson is one of those lucky few, and he’s documented his finds in a new book.

Stonehenge: A New Understanding chronicles a seven-year excavation of Stonehenge and the surrounding countryside.

Pearson and his team took an innovative approach and came up with some innovative interpretations. Instead of looking at Stonehenge as an isolated monument, they studied the landscape and other prehistoric monuments around it. This led them to determine that Stonehenge was part of a ritualistic network of monuments and natural features.

But what was it all for? Pearson believes that despite the astronomical alignments and the regular meetings of people at Stonehenge, it was not a monument to nature or the seasons or fertility as many archaeologists have concluded, but rather a monument to the dead, similar to other enclosed cremations burial grounds in the British Isles. Other constructions nearby were symbols of life and were intimately connected to Stonehenge just as the concepts of life and death are intimately connected with each other.

The main connection is with a site called Durrington Walls, two miles away from Stonehenge. Both had avenues leading to a nearby river. Durrington Walls, however, had a settlement while Stonehenge only had burials. Natural features in the landscape aligned with important astronomical events, making the location of Stonehenge perfect for any monument concerned with the heavens.

Weighing in at 350 dense pages, this is not for the casually interested reader. Luckily Pearson has a clear writing style, avoids getting overly technical, and the book is richly illustrated with maps and photographs that help the reader follow the text. I would suggest this to anyone with a serious interest in archaeology and science.

I had the good fortune to hear Dr. Pearson talk a few years ago to a packed auditorium at Oxford University. Once he was done, Oxford professors gathered around in their self-important way to talk with this leading scientist. Before they could start posturing, a twelve-year-old girl came up to him and chirped, “I want to be an archaeologist!”

Dr. Pearson could have patted her on the head, replied, “That’s nice darling” and gone on to speak with the professors, but he didn’t. Instead he sat her down and spoke with her for a good five minutes about what she needed to do to become an archaeologist and all the fun she could have in that career.

The professors looked ruffled and impatient. The girl left glowing with enthusiasm.

That’s my kind of scientist.

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London’s Courtauld Gallery Shows Off German Miniature Bibles

London
The Courtauld Gallery in London has opened a new exhibition of two of the smallest Bibles you’ll ever see.

“Dess Alten Testaments Mittler” and “Dess Neuen Testaments Mittler” are tiny illustrated Bibles produced by two sisters from Augsburg, Germany, in the late 17th century. It was a time of increased private devotion, when people looked for more from religion than the rituals in the church. Personal Bibles and images hung in the home became popular for those who could afford them and were used as the individual’s way to reach the Divine.

Tiny Bibles like these were generally for children, but the fine quality of the engravings on these examples hint that they were for adults. If you won’t make it to London this summer, you can turn the pages of one of the Bibles and admire the detailed yet miniscule artwork at this webpage.

The exhibit is part of the “Illuminating Objects” series, prepared by postgraduate students on their area of study. “Dess Alten Testaments Mittler: Dess Neuen Testaments Mittler” runs from May 1 to July 22.
London

World’s Biggest Book Fair Coming To London

book fairLove books? You’ll want to be in London this June when seven book fairs will all take place over a nine-day period.

Billed as the world’s largest book fair in a press release by the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, it runs June 8-16 and features not only rare books and first editions but also maps, photographs and ephemera.

London has several annual and monthly fairs, but this is the first time seven of the biggest have decided to run in the same two weeks. Participants include the huge London International Antiquarian Book Fair at Olympia, the PBFA London International Summer Antiquarian Book Fair down the road at Earl’s Court and the London Map Fair at the Royal Geographical Society. The literary neighborhood of Bloomsbury will have the most events, including the Ephemera Society London Fair, the Bloomsbury Summer Book Fair both, the Bloomsbury Summer Ephemera Fair and the London Photograph Fair.

A free shuttle bus service connects some of the fairs and one ticket allows entry into most events. You can see the entire schedule and buy tickets here.

[Photo courtesy Liam Quin]

Book Review: ‘The Food Traveler’s Handbook’

food traveler's handbookFull disclosure: I know Jodi Ettenberg, author of “The Food Traveler’s Handbook.” I’ve eaten with Jodi and explored cities with her; she’s even inspected the spices in my Istanbul sublet apartment. Rather than let my friendship with her just guarantee a great review of her book, I will use it to vouch for the fact that she’s the perfect person to write a food guide for travelers: intrepid, resourceful, curious and (of course) always hungry.

On the road full time since 2008, Jodi has explored the world through food on her blog Legal Nomads. To keep costs down and her palate happy, Jodi strives to eat as locally as possible, chasing down the best street eats, cab driver hangouts and mom-and-pop restaurants. With this handbook, she shares her tips and resources for eating well, cheaply, and safely anywhere in the world. The guide is peppered (pardon the pun) with anecdotes from Jodi and other travelers (blogger Nicola Twilley recommends revisiting a market at different times of the day for different experiences), quirky facts (how about a 1742 recipe for ketchup that will keep for 20 years?!) and guidelines for local dining culture (you’ll keep getting your coffee refilled in Jordan until you learn the proper way to shake the cup and signal you’ve had enough). The book is infused with an enthusiasm and passion for food that’s contagious, and you may quickly find that planning a tour of the world through dumplings seems like a must.Jodi’s travel style may not be for everyone – some people crave familiarity and easy comfort, especially when traveling, and the prospect of eating a mysterious dish at a tiny food stall might be daunting. But for those looking to expand their horizons through food, connect with locals while traveling or just get a good meal without risking food poisoning, “The Food Traveler’s Handbook” is worth tucking into. Just be wary of reading it on an empty stomach, or you might find yourself, as I did, propelled out of bed at 8 a.m. with a strong craving for soup.

The Food Traveler’s Handbook” is available in paperback and as an e-book for Kindle. Additional books in the Traveler’s Handbooks series include guides for Career Breaks, Solo Travel, Luxury Travel and Volunteer Travel. Additional resources for food travelers can also be found on Jodi’s blog here.

[Photo credit: Jodi Ettenberg]

Beautiful And Bizarre Bookstores Of The World

bookstores
Wherever I travel, I always find myself drawn to bookstores. They’re a pleasant comfort zone when far from home. I love hunting for local authors and books of local interest while chatting with the people who frequent these places. I’ve found that bibliophiles are pretty much the same whether they’re American, Ethiopian, Arab, Tibetan or whatever.

One bookstore I haven’t shopped in (but would love to) is the Shah Mohammed Book Company, the subject of the famous “Bookseller of Kabul.” Yes, books and adventure travel go together, as Peretz Partensky showed when he took this photo. I’ve been to plenty of other bookstores in out of the way places, though, and enjoyed them all, like the dusty bookshop in Harar that saved me with some timely Tolstoy when I’d run out of things to read, or the Tibetan bookshop in McLeod Ganj where the owner holds forth on Asian politics. Whenever I’m in a bookstore, I feel at home.

Of course, I also frequent bookstores when I really am home. One favorite here in Santander in northern Spain is Librería Gil. Like all good indie bookshops, it has a knowledgeable staff and a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. The kids’ section is well stocked and as soon as we enter my son grabs a book and plops down in the little red plastic chair in the corner, only to emerge when we tell him we’re leaving. The bookstore hosts lots of readings and even had a guest appearance by Geronimo Stilton, a time-traveling mouse detective who is hugely popular with Spanish kids.

Upstairs is a large exhibition space filled with customers’ photos of bookstores around the world. Some are old, some are ultra-modern, and then there’s that one in Indonesia that’s floating on a barge. The best of the ever-growing collection are being turned into posters and make for a fun viewing. You can see the world of readers all in one room. It inspired me to scour the web to bring you a gallery of beautiful and odd bookstores from all around the world.

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Do you have a favorite bookstore I missed? Tell us about it in the comments section. To navigate the world of books, there’s a handy online Bookstore Guide that has plenty of good, detailed reviews of stores in more than a hundred cities, mostly in Europe. They’re always looking for new additions, so tell them too!
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[Photos by Sean McLachlan featuring some of the posters in the exhibition]