Dating the past

Dating the past. When was 1066?

27th april 2017

The battle of Hastings took place on 14th October 1066. Just saying that seems to imbue the date with the quality of being an incontestable fact. I will go on to show that dating the past is not always as simple as it might seem.

But first. Let us recall some things that are known about the battle – which actually took place near to the bay of Pevensey, in what is today the county of East Sussex. The battle was fought between the king of England Harold Godwinson and William, Duke of Normandy. A few days earlier Harold had won a battle against invading Danes under the leadership of Harald Sigurdsson of Norway, known as Hardrada. This was the battle of Stamford Bridge. Harald was killed, along with Earl Tostig Godwinson, brother of the English king in a conflict that saw Harold Godwinson victorious.

William of Normandy’s fleet of ships landed at the bay of Pevensey, which is between the modern day towns of Eastbourne and Hastings. During the battle, Harold’s younger brother Gyrth Godwinson and his other brother Leofwine were killed. The battle was fought close to the place now called Battle – about eight miles from modern day Hastings; an abbey was erected to mark the conflict near to the site where it had traditionally been said to have been fought. The town of Hastings was first mentioned in the late 8th century when it was known as Hastingas. Clearly there was a settlement there during Anglo-Saxon times. Battle Abbey was built in 1095.

The earliest account of the battle is found in the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, written in the 11th century. Only a copy of it, from the early 12th century, still survives.

Following the battle at Pevensey, where Harold Godwinson was killed, the English nobles surrendered to William at Berkhamstead in December, after which William rode into London and was crowned, at Westminster Abbey, on Christmas day.

My interest in this event was kindled by watching the series on BBC2 television: 1066 – a year to conquer England.

So how certain can we be that dates given in historical accounts are accurate? Clearly, medieval writers know dates and could record any date on which an event took place. Our problem is in counting backwards and saying that an event took place x or y hundred years ago.

This problem stems from changes to the calendar that has been used over time. The calendar we use today, at least in the West, is the Gregorian Calendar which was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century, in October 1582. That calendar was introduced because errors were discovered in the previous calendar – the Julian – which was based on an even earlier one – the Roman calendar. The Julian calendar introduced a very small correction to the length of the year. Not all European countries adopted the Gregorian calendar straight away – Greece did not adopt it until 1923. The Gregorian calendar was used to calculate the date of Easter, a very important festival for the Christian church. According to Wikipedia, ‘Since the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, the difference between Gregorian and Julian calendar dates has increased by three days every four centuries.’ This article goes on to explain variations between the two calendars in some detail. A table shows that the differences in days can vary between 10 and 14 days.

Great Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. The Wikipedia article (see below for references) provides an example of the problems that can occur when dating important events: ‘So, for example, the Parliamentary record lists the execution of Charles I on 30 January as occurring in 1648 (as the year did not end until 24 March), although later histories adjust the start of the year to 1 January and record the execution as occurring in 1649.

So, when the scribes – who wrote about the Battle that took place in Southern England – gave the date as 14th October 1066, they would have been using the Julian calender.

Even today, various other calendars exist. The Islamic faith has its own calendar, which differs from that of the Christian church. There is a calendar for the Chinese which is based astronomical observations of the sun’s longitude and the phases of the moon.

Going back to the Norman invasion, how long did it take them, to fully conquer the whole country? In particular, when did they take over Leicester? William died in 1087. That marked a milestone in Norman Britain. He was succeeded by his third son, William who was crowned William II in 1087. He has become known as ‘William Rufus.’ The years of William’s reign were marked by sporadic insurgencies and the odd rebellion and by threats of invasion from mainland Europe. There was an uprising by the Northumbrians who captured Durham and lay siege to York. The 21 years of William’s rule were peppered with revolts and uprisings. After conquering England, William ousted the old aristocracy replacing it with his system of Earls and nobles. Although the Normans introduced a powerful aristocracy to the country they preserved some of the established Anglo-Saxon posts and positions of the local administrations, much as the Roman had done several centuries earlier. Just as Roman rule did not extend fully into Scotland, so too the Normans failed to subdue the Scottish tribes.

When did the Normans take over Leicester?

Robert de Beaumont was created the 1st Earl of Leicester (born sometime between 1040 and 1050, died 5 June 1118). He was a close associate of William. He fought at Hastings. He had four descendants all of whom were called Robert and they all became Earl of Leicester. Leicester castle was built around 1070 under the governorship of Hugh de Grandmesnil. It was constructed on the site of a much earlier Roman fortification. The castle still exists today and the mound of the Motte can be visited. It had remained in continuous use since it began though for several years it fell into a state of poor repair. The great hall was given a brick frontage in the style of Queen Anne. Before the coming of the Normans, Leicester had been a thriving Anglo-Saxon town. The town was mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086, when it was called Ledecestre. It was described as a small walled town surrounded by farms, fields and agricultural plots. There were four gates in the walls. William’s army had taken over nearly the whole of England prior to his being crowed, in London, on Christmas day 1066. Before the times of the Anglo-Saxons, the town was an important centre for the Romans, when it was called Ratae Corieltauvorum.

References

Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest: the battle of Hastings and the fall of Anglo-Saxon England, 2012. Random House.

Difference between Gregorian and Julian calendar dates, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar#Difference_between_Gregorian_and_Julian_calendar_dates

Dating the past, article in Science Learning Hub, https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1478-dating-the-past-introduction

Dating the past, chapter 4, in Archaeology an introduction, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, 2002, https://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/kevin.greene/wintro/chap4.htm

Chronological dating in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronological_dating

Dating the Past: An Introduction to Geochronology. FREDERICK E. ZEUNER. (xx, 495 pp.,
103 figures, 24 plates, $8.00. Third revised edition. Methuen & Co., Ltd., London
and Longmans, Green & Co., Inc., New York, 1952.)

Language and Evolution introduced

An Introduction to Language and Evolution

In this article Trevor Locke looks at how language played a key role in the evolution of human species and in determining which species became extinct and which were successful.

A topic that is of fundamental importance to both anthropology and archaeology is the relationship between language and human evolution. The evolution of mankind – a social animal – is marked by the increasing size of the brain. If the size of a brain increases we assume that mental powers also grow. This is, however, an assumption about which we must be careful, as I go on to discuss below. Many groups of animals and insects communicate, some in quite sophisticated ways, such as oceanic mammals. Birds and bees are known to use a variety of methods to communicate with each other and with the group as a whole. Where the hominin (early humans) is concerned, it is likely that communication evolved into language as various groups and species developed. That transition from simple communication (largely non-verbal) to language was very likely to have been driven by changes in climatic conditions, migration to new and more challenging environments and by increasing sophistication in the fabrication and use of tools and artefacts.

Once spoken language became established, we can speculate that writing followed as well as art and ritual. The development of culture in hominid groups required language as a way of expressing and passing on cultural forms. The problem for palaeopathologists and archaeologists is that language leaves little or no evidence in the fossil record or in deposits and strata that provide us with our understanding of early hominin lifestyles. It is only when writing developed that archaeologists were able to find artefacts that confirmed that early people could inscribe symbols and icons on to wood, stone, bone or antler. Some examples of early ‘written language’ come from paintings made in caves, symbols carved into artefacts and the first creation of icons and totems on pieces of material.

Could the very earliest hominid species ‘talk’? Scientists have analysed human bones to see if they could detect whether such remains indicated the ability to speak. In humans, most of the mechanisms used for communication are soft tissues and cartilage and these are not preserved in the fossil record. The skulls and bones of the spinal chord might suggest the size and shape and where the soft tissues of the voice box might have been and the shape of the mouth, suggested by the jaw bones, and the nasal air passages within the skull are thought to provide clues about whether speech – as we know it – was possible in these early hominids. Looking at the bones and skulls of primates might give some clues as to what kind of sounds they made but not as to what gestures they made, posturing or hand and arm movements.

Talking about survival

We can also look at the way that modern apes and chimpanzees communicate and that provides more pointers to how early hominids communicated. Some communication would have involved gesture (including signing), facial expression and possibly touch as well as vocal sounds. Early hominid species, such as Neanderthals – Homo neanderthalensis – appear to have limited verbal capabilities, suggested by the bones and skulls that have been found. Some scientists think that Neanderthals were capable of language but this of course not clear whether this was a mixture of complex signing and vocalisations. The language in this case could be fairly advanced (compared to previous species) and (possibly) the larger brain capacity would have made it possible for there to be a proto-language and this would have supported both increasing technological capability and extensive migration into new environments. Survival in new lands would require early peoples to be able to share effective indications about where food can be found, what is edible and what is not and to give warnings about the approach of predators. Huntings parties would need to communicate in order to track and kill prey.

Once hominids had developed the ability to use words – as opposed to simply making calls or vocal alerts – the number of ‘words’ used in a group would increase and that led to establishing rules about how individual ‘words’ should be combined to communicate understandable thoughts. This requires rudimentary grammar and syntax. Bear in mind that this process probably took thousands of years. The origins of verbal words might have lay in increasingly complex gestures. In evolutionary terms, the species that were most adept at gestures and then verbal communications tended to survive and their communities prospered. It is possible that some hominid groups became communities of speakers. Some groups might have worked up a proto-language which they used amongst themselves. The spread of languages in areas like Africa, Europe or Asia would have required large numbers of people to engage in talking as a means of communication. Using language and talking went hand in hand with the gradual development of thought and culture; as some people thought using words and sentences and gradually developed the capacity to have abstract thoughts rather than just uttering names or directions. Words have meaning; just as gestures mean something to those that see them. It was grammatical speech that allowed abstract thought to emerge.

Talking for generations

For this to happen successfully the brain had to have the capacity to recognise meaning and to retrieve it from memory. That requires members of a language community to have been together over successive generations. Once a group had developed the capacity to share words and the syntax for combining them, the capacity is handed on from one generation to the next and the ability to use language becomes both cultural and genetic. Speaking a language over many generations led to changes in the skeletal and muscular morphology of the body. Language implies the ability to store knowledge and to have collective understandings of the environment and to share things of significance between contemporary members of a group and to pass this knowledge from one generation to the next. Once groups had to the ability to talk to each other, they could transmit their collective knowledge down the generations.

Talking fluently involves speaking words – in the right order and in the right way – and emphasising them with gestures or vocal tones. Modern speakers use spoken words amplified by facial expressions and hand movements and emphasise words or phrases with intonations of the voice. This could well have been true for early hominids making the transition, from communication that was very visually mediated, to proto-language with a more extensive repertoire of calls and signs. As brain power increased, so did the ability to organise sounds and gestures into rules that would enable a more complex level of communication. Groups that shared a common system of communication could speak to each other in more varied ways and share increasingly sophisticated ideas. Giving directions, making warnings and alerts, indicating where good food supplies were located, reacting to good and bad behaviour – all these could be shared among the members of group or tribe as well as taught by adults to their children.

Words and gestures are symbols; they mean something when they are used. They can be simple signals or they can indicate more complex thoughts. One of the key factors in the development of language was very possibly the ability to ask questions. ‘Have you seen any antelopes? Where can I go to collect ripe berries?’ Being able to give detailed and specific replies to such questions requires a more complex ability to communicate than simply pointing in a general direction and giving a sign for antelopes. Migratory groups had to learn what was good to eat and what was poisonous in a new habitat. The group needed to collect, store and share knowledge of the environment in order to live in it. Those that developed enhanced language skills stood more chance of survival than those who did not.

How can we study the evolution of language? Recent advances in the analysis of DNA has thrown light on the spread and distribution of Homo sapiens in various continents. Linguists have looked at modern languages in order to trace their roots in ancient tongues. It is not until we begin to find artefacts, artworks and carved iconographs and cave paintings that we can date anything. Pre-history can only be inferred from the fossil record and remains left in datable strata. There is a growing body of knowledge from studies of DNA about how early man spread out across the world from African origins.

Palaeopathologists have mapped the dispersion of hominids from Africa into Europe and Asia. This pattern of dispersion and migration would be roughly the same for the distribution of languages. Hominid groups that talked to each other had to have some process through which older members could teach verbal skills to children. Groups that broke away from their main migratory community would have settled in a place and their language would have changed to reflect the circumstances and ecology of their new local area. Clearly, even by the bronze age, many different languages were being spoken in various parts of the world. Over many thousands of years, humans would have developed genes for language. That went in tandem with changing skeletal and muscular morphology of the skull, lungs and nervous system that aided the ability to talk. Hominids evolved into talking man.

Passing on skills

Many early hominids made tools from stone, wood, bone and antler. The skills for making these implements were passed from one generation to another. This activity of ‘training’ in skills used to make things either involved fairly elaborate communication or led to the emergence of language. Some skill transmission was simply through imitation – this occurs in modern animals that watch a parent or other adult animal doing something and then copying what they see. No communication is involved in this. The Cro-Magnons tool kit was complex, varied and innovative. This reflects intentional design and planning which are the basis of complex mental processes and can be associated with language. The physical features associated with spoken language, such as the vocal tract, the structure of the brain and the size of the spinal cord, are identical between Cro-Magnon people and humans living today. This means that Cro-Magnon people would have been capable of producing the same sounds we use in speech.¹ Some scientists use the phrase ‘proto-language’ to signify the transition from sophisticated non-verbal communication to the beginnings of language as we know it. Any enhanced verbal communication requires breathing muscles to be controlled in order to vary pitch and tone with the voice box.

It is when we find symbolic artefacts in the archaeology that we can be confident that Homo sapiens had developed language. The existence of artefacts that had no obvious use suggests that they were works of art – connected possibly with the emergence of ritual or expressions of thoughts and feelings about the natural world. ARTefacts are created when people start to think in a abstract way about death, the existence of spiritual forces that control the world, the afterlife and shared reverence for ancestors. The development of symbolism requires sophisticated mental processes and any objects found that unambiguously portray symbols or icons and have no obvious use (as tools) strongly suggests that language has been established. Evidence of art prior to 40,000 years ago is limited and solid evidence of symbolism only occurs after this time. Artefacts were part of an increasing awareness of how the world and life could be interpreted, understood and explained. Art works, physical icons and totems played a part in handing on beliefs from one generation to the next.

This calls into question the meaning of the word ‘language.’ What is the difference between non-verbal communication and speaking using a language? We know from observations of animal communication that fairly complex patterns of communication exist, in some insects, oceanic mammals and the higher apes. Some have gone so far as claim that animals have a language. So, at what point does communication become language? The transition from complex communication to a fully-formed language did not have a clear threshold; the gradual development of verbal language took thousands of years and many generations and required a continuity of community capable to allowing successive generations to hand on language, beliefs and complex ideas used in interpreting the world in which they lived.

Life, death, natural forces, afterlife and ancestors are all highly abstract concepts and require language in order to be thought. Very early man might have had some emotions and intuitions about life and death and these inchoate impressions would have led to the emergence of more sophisticated beliefs, values and concepts; in this process there would have been a mutual interaction between thought and words. As people began to use a word for death, they could then begin to build icons for death and as they began to bury or burn dead bodies, rituals grew around this activity and that led to people using sentences about these things. This suggests that a group of people shared beliefs about death in common with each other and were able to pass on those beliefs from one generation to the next; the sharing of beliefs was not just for one group at one period but was inter-generational and language allowed belief systems to be shared both by the group and its heirs and successors.

When does complex communication become language?

Studies of gorillas’ and chimpanzees’ behaviours has revealed that a variety of methods are used in their communication. One writer used the term ‘the unfolding dance’ to characterise communications in great apes.³ Monkeys use a range of visual and auditory signals to communicate with others either individually or to the group as a whole. Calls are made to warn of danger, gestures are made with hands and arms, a gorilla might beat its chest as a signal, postures and facial expressions are all part of the varied armoury of signals that the great apes can use in communicating with others. Studies of marine mammals indicate that some – such as the Orca – give out calls which are specific to an individual – they call out another animals ‘name.’ A pod of killer whales uses a complex system of communications, particularly when hunting.

Here’s an interesting thought: can we think without words? I wrote recently that most of my thinking is done with language – I hear myself talking, silently, inside my head. I guess this is common for writers who are always figuring out sentences. Poets on the other hand probably think with symbols, images, feelings that occur to them in a non-verbal way. Eventually they have to capture that in the written word but a lot of the mental activity begins non-verbally. Painters probably spend a lot of time thinking with images, colours, scenes, layouts, shapes. Musicians might spend time thinking with sounds, tunes, melodies, notes, riffs, harmonies and rhythms. Artists have to use intuition. Without non-verbal thought our minds would not be agile enough to compose art. This leads me to wonder if animals think what they are to communicate before they do the communication or is what they do – calls, gestures, facial expressions, postures – simply reactive, in response to something they get from another animal or an event in their environment. I guess that is an unanswerable question, although some research on neural activity might throw light on it. A human walking through the jungle or across the plain, would have to feel the landscape intuitively. Some archaeologists believe that early man ‘felt’ the surrounding environment and that a bronze age man would see the landscape very differently to a modern human would see it. Visual recognition works sub-verbally; if we walk through a landscape where there is no written signage – a wood, a field, a lakeside – we ‘see’ trees, grass, water, catch sight of living creatures and we need to know and react to what we are seeing intuitively. Hunter-gatherers would have to react quickly to perceived risks and opportunities in their environment; they did not have time to think verbally, they have to go for it immediately. Otherwise they go home empty handed or become a meal for predator.

Do animals think about what they are about to communicate before they communicate? I think this is unlikely. Humans, on the other hand, with their large and more sophisticated mental apparatus, can premeditate what they are about to say. Premeditation is important to being successful when it comes to survival-related language and communication; issuing warnings and alerts, giving directions to food sources, indicating what is edible and what is not, giving instructions about how to male tools, teaching how to prepare foods – all require communication to be clear and unambiguous. If someone misunderstands what is being said to them, the consequences can be disastrous. Communities that can communicate clearly are more likely to survive and prosper than those than cannot.

The other thing that fascinates me is how people in China and Japan think; these are cultures that use a different, more visual and symbolic, language and writing set, to us in the West. Do Chinese people think differently to users of English? If your written language uses pictograms, does that make you think differently? Words, pictograms, icons, hieroglyphs and other visual representations of thoughts either promote or inhibit the development of culture and belief systems; those that allow sophisticated and complex thoughts are more likely to encourage beliefs and more fluid and flexible interpretations of the world than those that are limited and simplistic. How writing influenced the evolution of technology, culture and civilisation is clearly a very interesting topic but one for another time.

Pictures tell the story

Some of the earliest cave paintings were pictograms. In very ancient times, people would paint very stylised images of themselves or animals on the walls of caves. This might have led, over thousands of years, to the earliest forms of writing, such as cuneiform and hieroglyphs. These early pictograms represented an idea; they were usually mostly used to represent or signify things in the real world. It was much later that icons were drawn to represent an abstract idea – something that did not exist in the real world. That was some 9,000 years BC. Series of symbols that were the earliest methods of writing came into existence about 5,000 years BC. Carvings found on an obelisk in southern Turkey in the city of Göbekli Tepe, are thought to be around 12,000 years old. They could be the oldest ‘written’ language yet discovered. The carvings were pictographs – a series of pictorial images rather than writings that used an alphabet. It can be argued that the use of pictographs is an early form of writing. Written language, as it is known it today, probably appeared several thousands years later; Sumerian writing is known from 3,100 BC. In its earliest phrase it was a system of pictograms; these gradually became simplified into the system of wedge-shaped characters that we know as cuneiform script. Proto-writing (which preceded fully-fledged written language) employed ideographs and symbols. These were representations of things in the real world and did not relate to spoken words. These early pictograms and pictographs could be understood but not spoken. The correlation between written symbols and spoken words developed much later.

It is not yet clear why paintings were made in caves. They were sometimes left very deep inside the caves, where very few people would have seen them. This has led some archaeologists to suggest that cave art was ritualistic, possibly related to beliefs about death, ancestors or the spirit world. Early man was very visual; our ancient ancestors needed to be acutely aware of their surroundings; their safety depended on it as did their ability to hunt. Hunter-gatherers needed to figure out why some hunting expeditions worked well and others did not. Tribes in the Amazon jungle today say prayers or make offerings before going on a hunting expedition. It is possible that our early ancestors began to think that hunting was governed by supernatural forces. The act of painting an animal or a hunting scene on the wall of the cave might have a ritualistic significance, it has been suggested. Early people would have had a much more elaborate set of images than we do; images of their surrounding habitat, images that have significance for them when they see their environment. Psychoanalysts have suggested that dreams play a part in the formation of imagery. Aboriginal people understand a ‘dream world’ that interprets the real world for them. As our ancestors evolved they developed beliefs and this came with the introduction of abstract thought. Over thousands of years beliefs and rituals became religious systems. That happened when human societies became larger and more complex and power systems grew up through which communities were organised by the few to control the activities of the many. Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

How words are made

When I was at Manchester University I did a course in ethnomethodology. What I remember about that course was the way they broke words down into pieces – I think they called them phonemes – the units of sound that words are made from. The way phonemes are made depends on the shape of the mouth, lips, tongue and larynx and vary from one language to another. Language requires speakers to learn phonemes in order to make words; then it is a question of how to arrange words into phrases. When we listen to someone speaking we hear the phonemes and these allow us to distinguish one word from another. There are 44 phonemes in English. The are 26 letters in the alphabet and so some letters have to be combined together to form a sound – ‘ch’ for example. However, ‘ch’ can be spoken in different ways to make different sounds depending on which word is used. Chef, Choir and Cheese all contain ‘ch’ but are said differently. English can be a difficult language to learn because the way it is spoken and the way it is written do not always marry up. The way words are spelt is not always phonetic. English has it roots in many early European languages including Latin, French, Danish, German and now even Asiatic languages. In the Xhosa language of South Africa, a variety of sounds are made with the mouth, that do not occur in European languages, such as click consonants and different meanings that flow from using rising or falling intonation. The clicks are known as dental clicks, lateral clicks and post-alveolar clicks (made with the tip of the tongue at the roof of the mouth, and sound somewhat like a cork pulled from a bottle.)

Despite the many complexities in the way that English is spoken, it is possible for people to understand what each other is saying even if they come from widely different areas of the country. Providing they use standard English (and not regional dialect words) someone from Cornwall should be understand someone from Glasgow speaking in English. Not always the case of course. Almost every language has its regional dialects. There are however some phonemes that occur in other languages that are not present at all in English. Modern standard Arabic has 28 consonant phonemes and 6 vowel phonemes. Moreover, the way that these are pronounced can change in meaning. Some syllables can be given stress that would make them different in meaning those from that are not given stress but then that is true of many European languages. If we learn Latin we have to know how to emphasise or put stress on a syllable – we have to know if the last, penultimate or third to last syllable is stressed in order to speak a language correctly. Some speakers are clear in the way they pronounce words – they are articulate. Others have more sloppy and lazy approach to speaking, using words that are slurred or truncated. This is true of some dialects. English has changed a lot since it was first spoken. When I was doing my A-Level in English Literature I had to learn to speak middle English in order to read the works of Chaucer aloud in class. The English of Chaucer sounded very different to modern English but you could just make out some of it in the written text.

To make sense of the way that spoken language influences human evolution we need to use techniques such as phonemics and the tools provided by ethnomethodology. The way in which a language is spoken changes over time in response to cultural, political and religious trends and the variations in power between different indigenous and migrant groups. Changes in spoken language can itself lead to changes in power relationships and cause conflict within communities of speakers. It is not difficult to observe that process happening in medieval Britain; it might therefore be to safe to assume that similar processes went on in early ancestral tribal societies.

Brain size and hominin language development

As part of my course in the study of Homo floresiensis (human fossils discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia), I posed this question:

A big, unanswered question is “how big was the brain of the hominin that founded the Flores colony?” We don’t really know what happened but with 700,000 year old tools we urgently need an early skull. This would help us to know how much the brain “shrunk” over a period of over half a million years. The point is that if the brain shrunk over a period of well over half a million years how did the nature of the stone tools vary over the same period. Were later tool-makers with smaller brains better tool-makers than their bigger brained ancestors? It raises an interesting question of the relationship between brain size and intelligence in hominins.

In response to this, a fellow student contributed his own thoughts on the matter; my reply to him was

I liked Christopher’s point until I came to the word ‘intelligence’. I am not convinced that brain size = enhanced intelligence. Because (a) I am not clear what is meant by ‘intelligence’ and (b) there are a lot of other mental activities going on inside the brain other than the kind of things measured by intelligence. The key question for me is whether there is any co-relation between brain size and the development of any kind of language. So far, I have not seen anything on this course which suggests that H.f. had developed language (as we know it.) There is no evidence of ritual or rudimentary religion, two things that go hand in hand with the emergence of language in early hominids.

My fellow student responded by adding:

Perhaps I should have put the word intelligence in quotes, as I quite often do. It is easiest to think in terms of a basic brain functionality, which we have in common with animals at a biological level, and cultural information which is exchanged between individuals. A number of animals apart from human share some cultural information (the great apes, orca, elephants) but we differ in that we use language to “speed learn” cultural information. I think all early hominins had a primitive language to handle social interactions, which developed very slowly over millions of years. There was a critical tipping point (perhaps about 150,000 years ago) when one group discovered how to use language to speed up the teaching of how to make better tools – and significantly you could use language to teach your children how to use language – and the cultural knowledge explosion began with no biological modifications being needed. While H.f. almost certainly did not use language as we know it, if it was alive today I suspect that we could teach it to use language!

This dialogue raises the interesting issue of the relationship between brain size and intelligence (if by that we mean mental capacities including reasoning and abstract thought.) The fossil record shows changes in the size of human brains as evidenced by the skulls that have been found. Simply increasing the size of the brain – as evidence by the capacity of the cranium – does not allow us to infer that the owner’s were smarter. There is no convincing evidence that there is a direct correlation between the total size of a brain and its capacity to think; too many other variables are at play.

My fellow course member went to say

I believe some early hominins developed a highly vocal communication language for use in hunting. It then started to be used to discuss the results of the hunt round the camp fire and young children started to learn about hunting without being put at risk. The language then morphed into a “speed-learning” tool for passing information rapidly from generation to generation. The more efficient the language became the more that could be taught … and human knowledge started to expand exponentially.

Imaginative thinking but it does pose challenging and important questions for palaeoanthropology. It suggests that language developed from life-style, from what early people needed to do to survive in their habitat and what they needed to do in order to survive and meet the challenges of the new environments into which they were migrating. Those species that did not die out and become extinct, were successful in coping with changes in climate, the need to settle in new locations and the demands brought about by slowly moving into new territories that were markedly different from where they had been living before. This process of adaption requires high levels of communication and communal co-operation. Human communication had to become more complex in order to meet the challenges facing the early humans as they migrated into new regions.

I concluded the dialogue by saying

‘we now know the modern humans were migrating through South-east Asia on their way to Australia ‘ Interesting enough but evidence that modern humans settled in Flores would be more important in conjecturing about possible interaction between H.f. and other humans. I speculate that prolonged interaction between species has consequences for both groups and that would leave behind evidence in the strata. Two things would stand out for me (1) evidence of transfer of skills in making artefacts and (2) cultural influences particularly those relating to language. Such evidence already exists from cross-fertilisation discoveries in other parts of the world for pre-historic communities. One last thing is whether species interaction spreads disease. We known from modern interaction between people from different continents that disease has catastrophic consequences for isolated tribal groups. Evidence of disease should be available from bone samples and teeth.

What are the timescales for all this?

By the time we get to the early bronze-age we get the picture of man (Homo sapiens) that indicates the existence of fully-fledged language. Bronze-age people disposed of their dead in a way that suggests they had symbolic concepts of life and death and practised rituals around the remains of the dead. People at this time had developed attitudes to death and attitudes are cultural and that means they must have had language. Intentional burial of human remains appears to have started in the Middle Palaeolithic period (250,000 to 40,000 years ago). Excavations indicate burial practices in Neanderthal and modern humans. In the Upper Palaeolithic period, Cro-Magnons were interring their dead sometimes also placing in the grave objects such as animal bones or ochre powder, tools and jewellery such as bracelets.² By the Bronze age, man had developed a full capability for spoken language, the fabrication of sophisticated tools and jewellery, had started to make clothing, had a variety of cooking methods and had developed conceptual thought to the extent that they could dispose of their dead using ritual, ceremony and the beginnings of religious belief.

People gradually changed from the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers to a settled way of life that permitted farming and agriculture. Human settlements took on long-term timescales in their activities and we see the emergence of buildings and other forms of construction that required high levels of co-operation and crowd endeavour. The construction of monuments and henges required the collaboration of hundreds of people over a long period of time. Art and craft became increasingly sophisticated and we see the emergence of trading, warfare, culture and religion. There is evidence that early communities had a knowledge of astronomy and could tell that changes would occur in the seasons, tides and the weather by observations of the moon. That required abstract thought.

That picture is the end point of the evolutionary process from very early hominids to modern Homo sapiens.

Evolution revisited.

If we look at the work of Charles Darwen and others writing at the time, we get some basic concepts about human evolution. One of the most widely known concepts in early theories of evolution is ‘survival of the fittest.’ Darwen did not have access to the vast array of scientific discoveries of the 20th and 21st centuries that have thrown light on our early ancestors. Our knowledge of the evolution of human species in pre-history has created much more evidence as to why some species became extinct and other survived. If the notion that the fittest humans survived if valid, then we have to ask why we mean by ‘fittest.’ Darwen’s writings focus on the evidence that he could observe, that of physical survival in the world of predators and the ability to hunt or to access natural resources. Those that were successful could multiply; those that failed to protect themselves or to eat well became extinct. Being fit to inhabit an environment, being able to transmit knowledge from one generation to the next, being able to interpret the landscape – these are all skills that relate to survival in early hominid communities. Changes in climate, the intrusion of immigrant groups, the disappearance of food sources, changing sea levels, territories becoming drier and arid, rivers drying up – are all changes that would kill off some communities but which could be survived by those that were adaptable. The capacity to adapt to fundamental change can be seen as being closely related to language, culture and the ability to modify belief systems.

The approach of this article is to try to work out the role played by language in the process of human evolution. I have considered what language is in order to begin to analyse the part it could have played in evolution. Not an easy task; we are dealing with something that does not survive in the fossil record and clues are few until we get to artefacts that represent linguistic behaviour. Much of this is guesswork and assumption. Trying to imagine how language shaped human behaviour is useful in as much as it gives some direction to how remains may be analysed. By looking at artefacts we can arrive at some understanding of the emergence of belief systems, culture and religion. If we make assumptions (in the absence of hard evidence) then they must be credible, accurate and verifiable by observations and data that are available.

Language gave early man the ability to communicate ideas and this aided survival and gave him an advantage over other species that were limited to complex but non-verbal communication. Being able to work with a toolkit of words increased early man’s conceptual powers. He began to think more clearly, use abstract ideas and employ a wider and more sophisticated battery of mental processes.

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896 to 1934) was a Soviet psychologist, the founder of a theory of human cultural and bio-social development commonly referred to as cultural-historical psychology, and leader of the Vygotsky Circle. Vygotsky worked on the relationship between language and thought; that is what I know him for most of all. His books – such as Thought and language, Mind in society, Thinking and speech – establishes the explicit and profound connection between speech (both silent inner speech and oral language), and the development of mental concepts and cognitive awareness. Since Vygotsky, many have worked on the relationship between language and evolution. As new and fresh findings have become available from archaeology and the fossil record, from studies plotting DNA dispersion from Africa, results from linguistics showing how modern language might relate to those of our ancestors, and many other sources, we are becoming aware of how much has been discovered and how much more remains to be discovered about this challenging relationship.

Feeding bigger brains

Life before the bronze age saw people living in small groups that moved around the landscape searching for food. For early man, life was an endless round of finding food, shelter and safety. The development of language gave people the ability to communicate knowledge of their environment and aided the process of passing on skills in the fabrication of tools and artefacts. At some point early man learned how to harness fire and the main use to which he put this was cooking. When our ancestors learned how to make fire and to cook food they gained a further advantage which took them another step up the evolutionary ladder. Being able to eat cooked food improved diet and nutrition and, some have claimed, aided the growth of the brain.

The evidence suggests that as our species learnt to make fire, rather than to just escape from it, we gradually ate more and more food that we had cooked. Over hundreds of thousands of year, the digestive system of Homo sapiens adapted so that it became efficient at extracting energy from food that had been cooked, more so than from food which was raw. Scientific papers have suggested that cooked food provides a higher level of energy, when digested, and this aided the evolution of a larger brain. As an organ, the brain and its activities uses high levels of energy. It was only through the development of cooked food that such large brains could evolve.

There is no evidence, as far as I know, of any other animal species using fire. Several species use tools of various kinds but it is only our species that had learnt how to start fires and then use them. Cooking food using fire goes back many thousands of years in the archaeological record. The remains of cooking appear in nearly all excavations of human settlements in modern times and also occur widely in the fossil record for early hominins. Having more energy meant that early man could think more and that aided the develop of both language and of conceptual capacity. Man being to have abstract thoughts. That led to the construction of ritual and religion to the creation of culture and art. By the time we get to the bronze age we see how far this whole process had come.

It could be said that what characterises modern humans is their ability to cook food before eating it. No other species can do that. The implications are profound. Recent studies found that people who chose to eat only raw food, either meats or vegetables, had a lower body mass than those who lived on a normal (cooked) diet and often became malnourished. Our digestive systems have adapted over tens of thousands of years to eating cooked food. A consequence of this is that we are more able to turn food into energy by cooking it and this provides an ample supply of energy to our brains. Cooking is such a fundamentally important aspect of archaeology and history. We cannot fully understand the lifestyles of human communities without making reference to the way they get their food – either by hunting, scavenging or by farming – and the way they prepared it before eating it. Food preparation gives rise to many cultural characteristics and in some cases to religious rituals. Whether we are studying the fossil record or digging in the period of recorded history, looking at farming, agriculture, food distribution and cooking is completely necessary to understanding the life of any community.

Death – finding the right words

As human species developed, towards the bronze age, their life styles became increasingly complex. Their technologies were becoming ever more sophisticated and varied, they had an increasing awareness of their environment and they began to treat death differently. By the time of the bronze age, people were burying their dead and placing ritual objects in the graves. It is likely therefore, I would argue, that they developed words and thoughts that represented how they felt and thought about the processes of funerals and how the present generation of people related to those who had gone before. Language was being more sophisticated and that created a further element in the advance of their evolution. Funerary arrangements had become increasingly complex by the bronze age and the practice of mummification had become established in Egypt and the British Isles. [Mike Parker Pearson, 2005]

The technology of making bronze would have required new words, I think. It was an activity that had few parallels in anything else that people were doing at the time. Being able to extract ore, smelt it and work it into tools is a fairly complex process and this suggests, I would argue, that people had language and could talk to each other about this process. It would have been very much harder, if not impossible, had they not had language. This would have been between 2150 BC and 1700 BC. [Stockhammer, 2015]

The ability to start and use fire was a major factor in the evolution of early man and is seen as a major adaptive advantage to people in the late neolithic period. [Wrangham, 2010] Newspaper reports on the discovery of a bronze age settlement near Peterborough

Almost 3,000 years after being destroyed by fire, the astonishingly well preserved remains of two bronze age houses and their contents have been discovered at a quarry site in Peterborough. The artefacts include a collection of everyday domestic objects unprecedented from any site in Britain, including jewellery, spears, daggers, giant food storage jars and delicate drinking cups, glass beads, textiles and a copper spindle with thread still wound around it. [Kennedy, 2016]

The site was in use 3,000 years ago. Excavations of the site produced examples of cooking pots and well-preserved metal artefacts. By this time the evidence suggests that these people were farmers. I have already argued that the life style of hunting and gathering required knowledge of the habitats that people moved in. The transition to the kind of settled existence required for farming demanded increasing knowledge, skills and technology and that would have led to a larger number of words and increasingly sophisticated language.
Notes and references

¹ The description of a Neanderthal hyoid from Kebara Cave (Israel) in 1989 fuelled scientific debate on the evolution of speech and complex language. Gross anatomy of the Kebara 2 hyoid differs little from that of modern humans. However, whether Homo neanderthalensis could use speech or complex language remains controversial. Similarity in overall shape does not necessarily demonstrate that the Kebara 2 hyoid was used in the same way as that of Homo sapiens. The mechanical performance of whole bones is partly controlled by internal trabecular geometries, regulated by bone-remodelling in response to the forces applied. Here we show that the Neanderthal and modern human hyoids also present very similar internal architectures and micro-biomechanical behaviours. Our study incorporates detailed analysis of histology, meticulous reconstruction of musculature, and computational biomechanical analysis with models incorporating internal micro-geometry. Because internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected, our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals. [from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0082261%5D

² Mesolithic (10,000-6000 years ago). At this period, there was still a hunter-gatherer culture, but a change in technology can be seen in the archaeological record. A different tool kit was now in use compared with that of the later Palaeolithic. For example, the bow and arrow were increasingly used. This is related to a change in the environment to a more temperate climate with increased woodland and disappearance of large grazing herds. Increases in the exploitation of aquatic resources and small game are also evident. Seasonal camp sites such as Star Carr (NE England) and Kelling Heath (Norfolk) have been excavated. Local adaptations to climate can be seen. Burial in the Mesolithic is characterized by a shift from single or small groups of burials to larger cemeteries in the open. No British examples of Mesolithic burials have been identified, with one possible exception. A disarticulated burial in a partially burnt log boat found at St. Albans has been dated to c.4,700 BC, so this could be late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic. … Burial practices in this period, although in open air flat cemeteries rather than caves, seem to continue the later Palaeolithic traditions of burial with the apparent importance of red ochre, ornaments of shell and teeth, and provision of tools and food. Does this mean that spiritual traditions also remained unchanged despite a change of lifestyle? [From http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/burial.htm%5D

³ Alan Fogel referred to in The Dynamic Dance: nonvocal communication in African great apes By Barbara J. KING, Harvard University Press, 30 Jun 2009

References

Mike Parker Pearson, Andrew Chamberlain, Oliver Craig, Peter Marshall, Jacqui Mulville, Helen Smith, Carolyn Chenery, Matthew Collins, Gordon Cook, Geoffrey Craig, Jane Evans, Jen Hiller, Janet Montgomery, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Gillian Taylor and Timothy Wess (2005). Evidence for mummification in Bronze Age Britain. Antiquity, 79, pp 529-546.
Stockhammer PW, Massy K, Knipper C, Friedrich R, Kromer B, Lindauer S, et al. (2015) Rewriting the Central European Early Bronze Age Chronology: Evidence from Large-Scale Radiocarbon Dating.

Wrangham, R. & Carmody, R. Human adaptation to the control of fire. Evol. Anthropol. 19(5), 187–199 (2010).

Maev Kennedy, The Guardian,  A bronze age Pompeii’: archaeologists hail discovery of Peterborough site, 12th January 2016.

John Novembre, Nature 522, 164–165 (11 June 2015), Human evolution: Ancient DNA steps into the language debate.

Kendra Lechtenberg (2014) writing in Stanford Neurosciences Institute, https://neuroscience.stanford.edu/news/ask-neuroscientist-does-bigger-brain-make-you-smarter

Alexandra Horowitz, 2013, Smithsonian Magazine, Why Brain Size Doesn’t Correlate With Intelligence – We can nurture growth, but never really control it. [from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-brain-size-doesnt-correlate-with-intelligence-180947627/#KbJqgMbq8G7W60cK.99

Viatcheslav Wlassoff, 2015, Is There an Association Between Brain Size and Intelligence?  from http://brainblogger.com/2015/11/22/is-there-an-association-between-brain-size-and-intelligence/

Christopher Bergland, June 2016, Superfluidity: Fluid Intelligence Goes Beyond Brain Size  – Fluid intelligence has two facets that rely on brain size and energy production –  Psychology Today. From https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201606/superfluidity-fluid-intelligence-goes-beyond-brain-size

See William S-Y Wang, Language and the Evolution of Modern Humans, City University of Hong Kong,  from  http://www.ee.cuhk.edu.hk/~wsywang/publications/lang_evo_mhuman.pdf

Subjects

Articles I have written

ordered by subject

I have written about a lot of different things. In this list I have created a number of subjects under which I have placed links to pieces that are available on this blog.

This list is work in progress – further items will be added soon

Art

Lord of the Flies, Golding, play review

Business

Working with the web-o-sphere

See also ‘Internet and Web’ below

Economics

The economics of ageing

Films

Reviews of films

Brighton Rock

Finding Richard (2014)

The Black Swan

The Martian

Writing a character profile for a filmscript

History and archaeology

Brain size and evolution

Food in the 21st century

History of music in Leicester

Local music:  does it matter?

Housing

A place to live: a place to work

Buy-to-let schemes

Homelessness

Housing policy

Housing: approaches to policy (book)

What is a home?

Internet and web

Digital democracy re-visited

A place to live, a place to work.

Music

American Idiot (Green Day musical) review

An X-Factor for bands?

Band promotion

Bands and singers

Editorial bias in music journalism

Music education

New bands starting up

Thoughts on singing

What makes a good band?

Politics and policy

Referendum on the EU

Work in the 21st Century

Housing policy

Transport

Transport and cars

Urban transport

See also:

Contents listed alphabetically.

Brain Size

Size does not matter

it’s what you do with it that counts

Brain size, language and evolution

This article forms part of a large work on which I am currently engaged (August 2016). ‘Language and  Evolution’ is a subject that flowed from a course I took that studied the discovery of the remains of an extinct hominid called Homo floresiensis, in the Ling Bua cave on the island of Flores in Indonesia.  I tried to discover if this species could talk using a language. It is not possible to know from the archaeological evidence. I will be posting more from my studies of the development of human language through evolution, as sections are completed.

Scientific studies of early hominid skulls and other skeletal parts have provided some understanding of the sizes of brains of early humans, compared to those of modern people and some animals, including modern great apes.

What we do not yet understand, I would say, is the relationship between brain size and capabilities.  The brain governs what animals can do, how they can do it and how much they can learn in order to ‘know’ what to do. The brain is the repository of behavioural characteristics. Just having a small brain does not always indicate lack of behavioural characteristics. Species with smaller brains could still make some tools. Complex communication skills might also have been possible in hominids with relatively smaller brains. The skeletal remains can reveal quite a lot but not what the brain inside the bones could do. It seems fairly reasonable to conclude that Homo sapiens had a large brain, comparatively, and that he also could talk in a language.

Neanderthals left very little in the way of artistic artefacts and this suggests that symbolic thought was limited to a few individuals and not widespread in the species. Scientific work on how Neanderthals spoke suggests a more limited range of voiced sounds that we find in modern man.¹ The size of a brain is not the most important indicator of intelligence. The functionality of a brain comes from various elements including the spinal cord and brain stem; it also involves the nervous system and the extent to which the animal can see, hear and sense its surroundings (its cognitive abilities.) The behaviour of an animal will reflect its ability to learn from experience; the survival of a species, it can be said, is a function of its ability to learn quickly and to adapt to changes in its environment. I will discuss (below) how the acquisition of language increases the functionality of the brain and enhances a range of behaviours that stem from the brain’s capabilities.

But be careful –  brain size it not what you think.  Kendra Lechtenberg makes this point

The relationship between brain size and intelligence, both amongst humans and between different species, has never been particularly well-defined. Humans like to believe that our exceptional cognitive abilities must indicate that we are the kings of the animal kingdom in terms of brain size, or at least that we have the largest brains relative to our body size. As nature would have it, both of these common assumptions are incorrect. Whales and elephants have much bigger brains than humans, and we have about the same brain-to-body mass ratio as mice. Since it would be against human nature to admit defeat, scientists have crafted a third measure of brain size called the encephalization quotient, which is the ratio of actual brain mass relative to the predicted brain mass for an animal’s size (based off the assumption that larger animals require slightly less brain matter relative to their size compared to very small animals). By this metric, at least, humans come out on top, with an EQ of 7.5 far surpassing the dolphin’s 5.3 and the mouse’s measly 0.5.

As Kendra goes on to say ‘there is more to intelligence than brain size.’  The concept of intelligence is difficult; it is both controversial and troublesome. Many have challenged the credibility and accuracy of testing to provide a ‘intelligence quotient.’ What intelligence test measure is not the be all and end all of cognitive ability. When we are trying to analyse and discover how the brain has affected human evolution, we need to look at the whole picture of human functioning. Measuring the internal capacity of a cranium in litres is not really going to tell us all that much. As Alexandra Horowitz pointed out (Alexandra Horowitz, 2013) some animals appear to be smarter because they live in human environments but this is not always the case. As babies grow to adulthood, the size of their brain increases. But this does not give the whole picture; growth and development involve processes going on inside the brain with the growth of synapses. She writes

Consider, though, the strange case of that growing child. Every infant’s brain develops through a period of synaptogenesis—wanton proliferation of synapses, which are the connections between neurons—in the first year or so of life. But one could argue that it is when this intense brain growth ends that the real growth of the child qua individual begins. The next phase of brain development occurs in large part through an increase in synaptic pruning: paring of those connections that are not useful for perceiving, considering or understanding the world the child is facing. In this sense, it’s by downsizing that an individual’s brain is born.

It is possible to compare the mass of a brain with the mass of a body and to see if, on average, some animals – including humans – have a higher score than others. This itself does not answer the question about whether larger brain size co-relates with effective functioning. Many other factors come into play, not least, culture, social integration and knowledge. The intelligence of an individual is a product of how the brain cells work, how neural pathways are connected and many other factors that affect the level of function of the mind. If we want to consider how social groups function, mentally, we have to look at sociocultural factors alongside any analysis of the neurological functioning of the brain and its associated nervous system and cognitive behaviour. The individual Homo floresiensis might have had a comparatively small skull but we cannot conclude from that they were unintelligent. Simply measuring the capacity of its cranium is not going to tell us much. Viatcheslav Wlassoff (2015) commented

There are no doubts that the size of the human brain has increased tremendously in the last couple of million years, from around 600 cm3 in Homo habilis to an average of 1200 cm3 in Homo sapiens. The rise of our intelligence was most certainly linked with this increase of brain size… It is of great interest that the brain size of Neanderthals (1600 cm3) was much larger than in modern humans. We don’t know how Neanderthals would have performed in the IQ test, but we know that they were out-competed by Homo sapiens, even though Neanderthals were physically superior to our ancestors. It is quite likely that our higher level of intelligence played some role in this event.

A new insight into thinking (rather than just brains) comes from Christopher Bergland, (June 2016) who wrote

Fluid intelligence is the ability to think creatively, adapt to new situations, and solve problems you’ve often never encountered before in novel situations. Fluid intelligence generally involves the ability to use critical thinking—along with explicit and implicit knowledge—to identify patterns and connect-the-dots in a personal and original way. As Albert Szent-Györgyi once said, “Thus, the task is not to see what nobody has seen, but to think what nobody has thought, about what everybody sees.”

When it comes to the survival of the fittest and the evolution of human species, this idea of ‘fluid intelligence’ does seem to suggest how some individuals stepped up the ladder and became innovators and then made an impact on the life chances of the group as a whole. To take that iconic example, it was the man who discovered how to make fire that changed the course of human evolution.

This subject is also discussed in my feature article on Language and Evolution.

Notes and references

¹ The description of a Neanderthal hyoid from Kebara Cave (Israel) in 1989 fuelled scientific debate on the evolution of speech and complex language. Gross anatomy of the Kebara 2 hyoid differs little from that of modern humans. However, whether Homo neanderthalensis could use speech or complex language remains controversial. Similarity in overall shape does not necessarily demonstrate that the Kebara 2 hyoid was used in the same way as that of Homo sapiens. The mechanical performance of whole bones is partly controlled by internal trabecular geometries, regulated by bone-remodelling in response to the forces applied. Here we show that the Neanderthal and modern human hyoids also present very similar internal architectures and micro-biomechanical behaviours. Our study incorporates detailed analysis of histology, meticulous reconstruction of musculature, and computational biomechanical analysis with models incorporating internal micro-geometry. Because internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected, our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals. [from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0082261%5D

also

It is possible to work out how Neanderthals may have spoken by reconstructing their vocal tracts and then comparing them with those of modern apes and modern humans.

The vocal tract’s structure is revealed in the base of the skull. Modern apes, such as chimpanzees, have a flat skull base and a high larynx whereas modern humans have an arched skull base and a low larynx. Our low larynx allows room for an extended pharynx and this structure enables us to produce the wide range of sounds we use in speech. Neanderthal skull bases appear to be less arched than those of modern humans but more arched than those of modern apes. This suggests that the Neanderthals would have been capable of some speech but probably not the complete range of sounds that modern humans produce.

and

Researchers studying Neanderthal genes discovered that they shared the same version of a gene FOXP2 with modern humans. FOXP2 is the only gene known so far that plays a key role in language. When mutated, it primarily affects language without affecting other
abilities. This gene appears in different forms in other vertebrates where it performs a slightly different function. This suggests the gene mutated not long before the split between the Neanderthals and modern human lines. However, there are plenty of genes involved in language so it takes more than the FOXP2 gene to prove a language ability.

and

The 90,000 year-old double burial from Jebel Qafzeh, Israel is one of the earliest that shows careful placement of the deceased. Burials of modern humans become increasingly complex over time, and Cro-Magnon burials usually include grave goods and other evidence of ritual activity. This pattern of behaviour is also seen at burial sites of other modern human cultures throughout the world.

[from Fran Dorey , Exhibition Project Coordinator http://australianmuseum.net.au/how-do-we-know-if-they-could-speak%5D

² Mesolithic (10,000-6000 years ago). At this period, there was still a hunter-gatherer culture, but a change in technology can be seen in the archaeological record. A different tool kit was now in use compared with that of the later Palaeolithic. For example, the bow and arrow were increasingly used. This is related to a change in the environment to a more temperate climate with increased woodland and disappearance of large grazing herds. Increases in the exploitation of aquatic resources and small game are also evident. Seasonal camp sites such as Star Carr (NE England) and Kelling Heath (Norfolk) have been excavated. Local adaptations to climate can be seen. Burial in the Mesolithic is characterized by a shift from single or small groups of burials to larger cemeteries in the open. No British examples of Mesolithic burials have been identified, with one possible exception. A disarticulated burial in a partially burnt log boat found at St. Albans has been dated to c.4,700 BC, so this could be late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic. … Burial practices in this period, although in open air flat cemeteries rather than caves, seem to continue the later Palaeolithic traditions of burial with the apparent importance of red ochre, ornaments of shell and teeth, and provision of tools and food. Does this mean that spiritual traditions also remained unchanged despite a change of lifestyle? [From http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/burial.htm%5D

³ Alan Fogel referred to in The Dynamic Dance: nonvocal communication in African great apes By Barbara J. KING, Barbara J King.

References

Mike Parker Pearson, Andrew Chamberlain, Oliver Craig, Peter Marshall, Jacqui Mulville, Helen Smith, Carolyn Chenery, Matthew Collins, Gordon Cook, Geoffrey Craig, Jane Evans, Jen Hiller, Janet Montgomery, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Gillian Taylor and Timothy Wess (2005). Evidence for mummification in Bronze Age Britain. Antiquity, 79, pp 529-546.

Stockhammer PW, Massy K, Knipper C, Friedrich R, Kromer B, Lindauer S, et al. (2015) Rewriting the Central European Early Bronze Age Chronology: Evidence from Large-Scale Radiocarbon Dating.

Wrangham, R. & Carmody, R. Human adaptation to the control of fire. Evol. Anthropol. 19(5), 187–199 (2010).

Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, ‘A bronze age Pompeii’: archaeologists hail discovery of Peterborough site, 12th January 2016.

John Novembre, Nature 522, 164–165 (11 June 2015), Human evolution: Ancient DNA steps into the language debate.

Kendra Lechtenberg (2014) writing in Stanford Neurosciences Institute, https://neuroscience.stanford.edu/news/ask-neuroscientist-does-bigger-brain-make-you-smarter

Alexandra Horowitz, 2013, Smithsonian Magazine, Why Brain Size Doesn’t Correlate With Intelligence – We can nurture growth, but never really control it. [from:  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-brain-size-doesnt-correlate-with-intelligence-180947627/#KbJqgMbq8G7W60cK.99

Viatcheslav Wlassoff, 2015, Is There an Association Between Brain Size and Intelligence? from http://brainblogger.com/2015/11/22/is-there-an-association-between-brain-size-and-intelligence/

Christopher Bergland, June 2016, Superfluidity: Fluid Intelligence Goes Beyond Brain Size, Psychology Today.  From https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201606/superfluidity-fluid-intelligence-goes-beyond-brain-size

Food in Leicester

A short history of food

in Leicester

by Trevor Locke

In this series of article, published in 2016, we look at food and how its production, cooking and consumption has defined Leicester from the earliest times to the present day.

Food is important. Understanding how people cook and eat is important for historians. In order to appreciate the history and heritage of a community you must look at how they grow, prepare and consume their food.

The beginnings of farming in Leicester

I would argue that Leicester became the city that it is now because of food. Leicester was not put where it is randomly; Leicester is where it is because of two important factors: first it is positioned with good road links to outlying areas and  secondly, it lies on the banks of a river which would have been a source of food and which is surrounded by fertile land. The bronze age settlement that was founded where the city of Leicester now stands was not then called Leicester; that name was introduced much later, in Roman times, but for convenience I refer to Leicester as the place considered in this article.

You could say the same  about most cities anywhere in the world but it is a concept that is often neglected in the writings of those who have looked at the birth and origins of Leicester.

Rivers have been, of course, prime resources for early people: they provided water, a means of transport and a source of fish. The River Soar existed in pre-historic times, when people first settled around here. When people first made settlements and ceased to be nomadic hunter-gatherers they frequently chose  places on the banks of  rivers and built homes there. They fished, gathered wood and domesticated animals. Access to water for farming and transport was a vital element in choosing where to place settlements.

Rivers often provide fertility to the land; framers chose locations close to rivers where they could find the best soils and a supply of fresh water for their crops. In times before roads were built, rivers provided the best available means of transporting goods for trade both the other local settlements and to the sea where ships could take produce to other countries.

The introduction of farming was the biggest change to the lifestyle of common people and represented a fundamental change in the way of life of early people. In order to grow crops and keep animals, people had to change from being nomadic hunter-gathers to living in settlements. In took about two thousand years for farming to spread right across the British Isles. Instead of hunting wild animals, such as cattle and goats, people kept them in enclosures and domesticated them. Wild boar, living in the forests, were also domesticated and bred to become pigs that could be kept in enclosures, fed and slaughtered for their meat.

It was during the bronze age that people built domestic houses and began to live in settlements. This was a widespread trend on the continent of Europe and in the British Isles.

Farming in the Iron age.

The Iron age lasted from about 750 BC to the period of the Romans, starting in 43 AD. During this period food production was organised into many small farmsteads. Life in what we now call England revolved around farming and agriculture. These small communities were able to produce enough for their own subsistence and some for trade and exchange in good years.

Crops such as barley, rye, oats and emmer wheat (a variety that was common in the ancient world) would have been grown. Sheep and cattle were kept as well as pigs that had been domesticated from wild boar. Cattle were used to pull ploughs and provided manure and hide. Horses were also kept and used to pull wagons and carts and domesticated dogs were used to help herd animals. Cows would also provide milk at the time of calving. Cattle were not eaten until they had served their life as working farm animals.

Iron age houses often hard garden plots in which vegetables were grown. These dwelling houses were largely round in shape and has conical roofs made of thatch. Inside the round house a fire would have burnt continuously provided heat for cooking and warmth for the occupants. Sometimes food was cooked in a cauldron suspended over the fire. Pots were made from clay or sometimes traded if people visited from communities where pot making was a specialist craft.

Bread was made from wheat and barley and baked in an oven. Barley would have been made into a kind of porridge. It could also be fermented to make beer. In addition to vegetables grown in the round house garden, people would have gathered wild berries, nuts and roots. In communities near to the sea or fresh water lakes or rivers, fish would be caught to add to the diet. Occasionally wild birds might have been caught for food. People at this time would have obtained honey from the nests of bees and they also used the wax for a variety of purposes. Beeswax was used in bronze casting. The archaeological evidence suggests that the Iron Age countryside was well stocked with animals, the rivers provided a plentiful supply of fish and, if the weather was good, the farmsteads and gardens produced more than enough for the local community. This abundance of food allowed people to build houses and other structures, such as barrows and hill forts. Being well fed allowed the development of rituals and ceremonies. Having a sufficient and reliable source of food allowed people to engage in religious activities and hone their hunting or building skills. Some individuals became specialists in the working of wood or metal and could do this only if there was enough surplus food to sustain them. Evidence that people of this time were making clothes, engaging in leisure pursuits, constructing structures such as henges and barrows and becoming specialist craftsmen, indicates that food production was able to support these activities.

Excavations have shown that people made looms on which to weave cloth. Thread was made from wool, which was used to make garments as well as animal hides and pelts. According to the Romans, Britons were fairly well dressed. They were able to dye their woven garments, giving them bright colours. They also had brooches, pins and other accessories and these would have been buried with them when they died. People would have also spent much of the day grinding grains with quern stones. Animals had to be fed, herded or protected if they were away from the settlements. Some evidence of gaming pieces has been found during archaeological digs.

Food and drink in the middle ages.

If we want to know the life of a group of people, there is no better way to do this than by looking at what they eat and drink. Food tells us about the identity and status of people. You are what you eat. What you eat tells us something about who you are and your place in the culture of an area. The consumption of food was governed by religious beliefs and the year was divided into days on which feasts occurred and religious rituals were observed.

Medieval-dishes
Medieval dishes courtsey of KingRichardIII website

After buildings to provide shelter, food is the next most important thing to everybody. What people ate, the way in which food was produced, distributed, cooked and eaten, and the drinks that went with it, tells us a great deal about the community and the individuals that were part of it.

Food production provided the largest sector employment for the medieval town of Leicester. Corn would have been ground by the Lords’ millers. The town had several lords who were appointed to protect it and to administer justice. They also controlled key activities, such as the milling of corn by wind and water mills. The earl of Leicester maintained communal ovens and bakehouses from which he derived an income. Tenants were obliged to use them. These were in use up to 1399. Those who wanted to bake bread needed a licence to do so. In 1488 Henry VII ordered the mayor and bailiffs to have removed the ‘divers and many ovens’ which were ‘drawing away our own tenants that ought to bake at our common oven’. There is mention of a bread market in the fifteenth century.

Butchers shops were also found in medieval Leicester. There were 13 butchers shops in 1376. They also sold meat in the Saturday Market, which had developed in the fifteenth century. In 1279 butchers were ordered not to sell meat before noon and not to sell it after three days. Certain kinds of meat could be sold when cooked but not as raw meat. Bakers sold hens in bread and hens in paste (presumably this means pies.)

As the production and distribution of food changed in Medieval times, Leicester would have seen the emergence of markets. In fact, markets would have been a feature of life in the time of the Romans. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a macellum or market hall which now lies beneath today’s Travel Lodge. Initially produce was sold from stalls in the street and these became permanent shops. Highcross Street was a major thoroughfare in medieval Leicester. Archaeological digs have uncovered narrow buildings, some of which may have been ale houses.

How food is grown, manufactured sold, prepared and consumed tells us a lot about the social organisation, economy and culture of any community of people. If we want to get inside the life of the middle ages then we have to find out what people ate and drank.
In early medieval times, Britain was a largely agricultural society. Most of the population worked on farms and toiled the land. After the black death and the plagues, many aspects of life changed a lot and the economic, political and social life of England was fundamentally altered. By the late middle ages, there were more people who worked for wages, less of the serfdom of previous times, a growth in markets and new ways of organising labour and the productions of goods and services. Britain was still a very stratified society – there were still wide divides between the rich and powerful and the poor and weak. Within this structure, The Church, in particular monasteries and abbeys, played a role that was as powerful as it had been for centuries, following the establishment of Christianity in this country.

Leicestershire was a largely agricultural economy in the middle ages. In the city, more and more people were engaging in specific crafts and skills and, as a result, needed to buy food and drink. The era of self-sufficiency had drawn to a close for a large section of the population, most notably those living in the growing urban areas.

In medieval times, markets existed in Leicester where food and drink would have been on sale. One was held on Saturdays, close to the ‘corn wall‘ according to a map of Leicester in the middle ages.

What people ate in the middle ages was very different to the diet we are familiar with today. There were no potatoes. They did not arrive in Europe until 1536. Fish was consumed in large quantities than meat. Items such as eels, herrings (which were pickled) and salmon (which was plentiful and not the luxury we know today) were often stored and transported in barrels, sometimes preserved with salt. Ordinary people would have eaten herrings, eels or, in some places, shell-fish such as Oysters. Beef was a luxury item available only to the wealthy, who might have consumed more venison. Cattle were used to pull ploughs and carts, rather than horses. People would have eaten chicken and eggs and in some areas ducks.

The main mode of transport for food products in Anglo-Saxon times was water – by sea or rivers. Leicester is situated inland and the river Soar was described as being a slow-moving waterway choked with reeds. It was however, a town situated on the Fosse Way. Food production was largely localised.

Drinking

Beer and ale would have been consumed in large quantities, rather than water. The supply of fresh, clean water to the people of Leicester would not be available until Victorian times. Water from wells or streams was unsafe to drink and people did not then understand anything about germs and microbes; there was a need to wash clothes and people but when it came to drinking the population was dependent on brewed liquids for its refreshment. This was long before tea and coffee, of course.

romans_kitchen
Recreation of a Roman kitchen at the Jewry Wall Museum, Leicester

Beer was drunk in preference to water because the process of fermentation killed much of the bacteria and other infestations that would have been present in springs and streams. Beer required supplies of grain and hops and this was an important element of medieval agriculture.

In the middle ages, the normal, daily drink of the working classes was beer or ale, much of which would have been weaker than the beverages known today. Beer and ale were fermented from malted barley, or a mixture of barley and oats or rye. Hops began to be used in the late medieval period and had been known since the time of the Anglo-Saxons. During the sixteenth century, people began to have more leisure time, especially in the urban areas. Taverns offered an alternative venue for social life (alternative to the church that is.) Apart from ale drinking, taverns also were placed where games could be played. Inns provided accommodation for travellers. They were often purpose-built premises, providing accommodation for travellers. From the fourteenth century, inns and ale houses would have a pictorial sign hanging outside (since many could not read.) Before the Battle of Bosworth, it is said that King Richard stayed at the Blue Boar Inn in Leicester. Ale houses began as ordinary dwellings, particularly where the householder made ale or beer at home.

In the fifteenth century, ale houses began to appear in both rural and urban communities. There were taverns in Roman Leicester and they were also in use in Anglo-Saxon times.

High-status people could drink wine as well but this was largely imported from Europe and would have been too expensive for the average man in the street. Grapes were grown in southern England since Roman times. Most of the wine drunk in England would have been imported from Europe, since the Roman conquest and into the middles ages, just as it is today. Wine was transported in barrels or casks. Glass bottles did not appear until the seventeenth century.

Wine would have been drunk by the aristocracy, high-status people in monasteries and wealthy merchants. In some areas cider and mead would have been available. There were vineyards in England, some mentioned in the Doomsday book, but these were largely in the south of the country. Some might have had access to mead, a drink made by fermenting honey with water. This required a plentiful supply of honey at a price that was less than barley or hops. The keeping of bees was widespread but we should not think that England was a land flowing with milk and honey.

Today, Leicester is the destination for the world’s foods, drinks and cuisines. Continental markets are held in the city centre, offering products from many European countries and in the covered market there are stalls offering fruits, vegetables and spices from around the world. some of the herbs and spices found in today’s kitchen cupboards were introduced by the Romans from 43 AD onwards. Spices were imported from the middle east, particularly caraway, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and pepper. It was during the crusades that knights and soldiers from England would have encountered spices whilst in the middle east. With the discovery of the new world, the Americas in particular, during Tudor times, even more herbs and spices started to appear in this country, although they were often things can be afforded only by the very rich. Take sugar for example. Sugar was available to wealthy kitchens. The Romans used sugar as a medicine. It was available in the 14th and 15th centuries, though it was very expensive. The Crusaders brought sugar home with them from the Holy Land. The first record of sugar in England was made in the late 13th century. The trade in sugar lay at the root of British slavery. Plantations opened up in the Caribbean islands by the traders and merchants of the colonial era. Slaves were put to work on these plantations and countless thousands were uprooted from their homelands in Africa to be taken to the new world and a large proportion of them died on the way Sugar and spices were key products in trade from Tudor times and into the colonisation of Indian during Victorian times. These spices were very expensive and would have been kept under lock and key in medieval houses. Spicy foods were popular in the royal courts and represented one way in which the nobility displayed their wealth and ostentation.

When chocolate first came to in Britain it was consumed in the form of a drink (from 16th century.) The first cocoa beans arrived here in 1585. Coffee was introduced into England by The East Indian Company, in the 16th century. By 1675 there were more than 3,000 coffee houses in England. ( Samuel Pepys frequented the Coffee Houses of London, mentioning them in his entry of 1661). The number of coffee houses in Leicester grew in Victorian times.

Tea began to drunk in the 17th century. In 1662 chests of tea were imported by the wife of Charles II. Queen Anne popularised the drinking of tea at breakfast. England was one of the last countries in Europe to adapt tea as a drink. Tea was imported by the East India Company. Herbal teas for example were very rarely found in Leicester homes, until supermarkets began to stock them as demand increased for new things to drink, healthier options and the general trend to a more varied lifestyle.

Wine became an increasingly popular drink amongst the middle classes of England. The Romans might have been the first to established vineyards in England, though most of the wine they drank was imported from Europe. Wine, Sherry and other continental beverages increasingly became popular from the middle ages onwards as more and more people could afford them.

Lager began to replace beer in our public houses and bars.
An increasing concern with health led to the establishment of a range of foods and drinks.

Fast food has always been around in Leicester – since the Roman began to build their towns and cities and a lot of people moved in with them. The Roman centre of Leicester had a range of fast-food outlets, catering for people who needed to eat out or who could not cook food in their own accommodation. Fast food continued to be a familiar part of street life in Leicester during the middle ages.
As Leicester’s population became increasingly diversified, in the post-war era, fast food outlets began to appear offering an alternative to the long-established fish and chips shops. We saw the rise of the pizza takeaway and restaurants offering Indian and Chinese take-outs.

Today’s home kitchens have seen the staple potato increasingly supplemented by or replaced by other carbohydrate ingredients such as rice and pasta. The potato was a staple in Leicester for many centuries. Only in recent times has it been replaced by rice or pasta.
The other great staple was bread. In the middle ages bread was eaten by all classes of people, although in those times the finer variety of white bread was reserved for the tables of the rich while the loaves eaten by the poor and the working classes were much rougher and closer to what we now know as wholemeal.

Next:  we will look at food in Leicester in the 21st century.

See also:

What did the Romans ever cook for us?

Food and farming in Roman Leicester

1990to2005part1

Chapter 2 – Music and the rise of the Internet – 1990 to 2005 – part 1

by Trevor Locke

This article forms part of a series called The History of Music in Leicester.

Chapter 1 of this series Music Today has already been published and covered the period from 2014 back to 2005.

This is part 1 of Chapter  2.

Part 2 looks at the 1990s.

In this chapter we look at the period from the early noughties (2000 to 2005) to the 1990s (taken to be the start of the Internet, roughly speaking.) As was noted in Chapter 1, all music of a particular period had its roots in the past;  the music of an era cannot be understood without looking back at the roots that nurtured it at that time. Hence, our journey back through history to see how music has changed and how people’s musical tastes have been shaped and formed by what was happening to them and the people before them. The outstanding feature of the period 1990 to 2014 was the growth of the Internet.

The Rise of the Internet

All kinds music has depended for its growth, development and distribution on the technologies available; music in pre-technological society was exclusively live and its distribution was dependent on the printing of sheet music. Before that, it was all about oral traditions being handed down from one generation to another. All this changed with the invention of the gramophone player, the radio, television, the CD player and then the Internet. Technological development changed the way people listened to music but it also changed the musical tastes of the majority of people by giving a broader access to music. This is covered in more detail in our article Music and Technology.  Peoples’ access to the Internet had two parts of it: email and the World Wide Web. In the early days of the Internet these were the two services that most people used.

The noughties and the ‘web – 1990 to 2005

The growth of the Internet, particularly from the late 90s onwards, brought huge changes to the way that music was distributed.  It also allowed bands to reach a wider audience, through the medium of the world wide web. This period saw a growth in music festivals and live music venues. The advent of personalised music-playing devices, from the Walkman in the 1970s through to the iPhone’s launch in 2007, allowed listening to become a personalised experience. By contrast, the rise of the big festivals, raves and the construction of high-capacity arenas, brought back a social element to the experience of music, one not seen since the demise of the music halls in the early years of the twentieth century.

One other thing, that the rise of mass Internet usage brought about, was the ability of bands, musicians and singers to publish their own music, challenging the industrial supremacy of the record labels.

Mass broadband and the popularity of first MySpace and then Facebook, enabled the rise of the DIY artists – those who could record music in their bedrooms and reach a large market, usually very cheaply. This revolutionised the means of musical production, compared to the days when the production of gramophone records was prohibitively expensive for the unsigned group or individual. YouTube, Reverbnation and Soundcloud further aided the rise of self-production of music.

In 2005, Arts in Leicestershire was founded. The domain name was registered on 22nd February; this was soon followed by the publication of the early version of the Arts in Leicestershire website, which later became a magazine. The site published content on all forms of art but half its content was about music. By its hey day, over 600 pages existed on the site (covering all genres of music) and, at the height of its popularity,  it had over 28,000 readers per month. The first gig reviews were published on it in 2007. This was made possible by the availability of inexpensive hosting services.  In 2013 the music content was transferred to a new site called Music in Leicester.  When the music content of the old Arts in Leicester website was removed from the Internet, I began making plans to re-publish the gig reviews as a book. Fortunately, I archived the whole of the Arts website to disk and then extracted all the gig reviews, hundreds of them, to a separate file and arranged them into chronological order. The resulting ‘book’ was given the working title A compendium of Leicester gig reviews; it contains a year by year account of many of the music events that took place in Leicester from 2007 through to 2013 when Music in Leicester started. The only other publication to comprehensively record live music over a period of time was The Monograph. Live music is an ephemeral phenomenon and evidence of what happened quickly disappeared. Anyone wishing to research music will find it difficult to extract material from verifiable sources.

At Leicester University, the Oral History Archive has recorded over a thousand interviews with local people and in some of them,  they talk about music, gigs and the shows they went to. Music journalism often misses an important side of life – what people remember about their experience of music events. Today, music fans post their thoughts and experiences on social media every day but this rapidly disappears and there is no easy way to gather and store it for use by the researchers of the future.

Apart from social media platforms, independent websites were set up that provided information about the Leicester music scene. In 2009 Alan Freeman published a list of Leicester rock bands on his website. Arts in Leicester maintained a listing of local rock bands for many years; this captured the names of bands that were playing and sometimes where they came from and style of music they played. Analysing this data enabled Arts in Leicester to claim that ‘Leicester had more bands per head of population than most other cities of comparable size.’

It was in the mid-noughties that Facebook began to challenge MySpace as the ‘must have’ presence on the ‘web for bands, singers, rappers and music artists, alongside countless thousands of music fans who followed them.  There were some early adopters, from Leicester,  such as the singer and songwriter Kevin Hewick who opened an account on it in 2005. Trevor Locke also joined Facebook in the same year. Val McCoy, who was the promoter of the OBS, joined Facebook in 2007. Twitter was launched in 2006 and as its presence grew in the UK, bands started to open accounts to tweet about their activities.

Bands too began to register domain names and to use them for their own websites. Kasabian was one of the earliest UK bands to register its own domain name, in 2002, as we noted in chapter 1; Leicester bands like ICTUS, Autohype and The Screening were early adopters of free-standing websites with their own tailor-made web addresses (i.e. domain names.) Maybeshewill band registered its own domain name in March 2004.

Logo of Stayfree
Logo of Stayfree

Stayfree music, then based on offices in Conduit Street, was home to a web hosting service that its own servers in the same building.  Many local bands used this service at that time.

Whilst there were a few content management platforms, a lot of websites, in those days, had to be hand-crafted using HTML code. Software, such as Dreamweaver, made the task of designing websites easier. Having been created in 1997, Dreamweaver was taken over by the Adobe corporation in 2005. Its killer function was its ability to write code whilst presenting the page in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get format. Also at that time, Microsoft provided its own proprietary software called Frontpage. There were plenty of people around who could make websites for bands and artists but some musicians were savvy enough with the Internet and computers to do it themselves. The Internet provided people with a means to communicate on a mass basis, something which, in previous periods,  was limited to the printed page and newspapers, along with the broadcast media.

Music in the noughties (2000 to 2005)

This section looks at the period we call ‘the noughties’ before moving on to the 1990s (in part 2)

The period 2000 to 2005 saw much activity on the Leicester music scene as bands formed, gigs and events took place on a regular basis and there was a high level of activity across all areas of the city’s music industry. The growth of the Internet, from 2002 onwards,  brought significant changes to the way that music was publicised and distributed; it also allowed bands to reach wider audiences, through the world wide web. This period saw a considerable growth in music festivals and live music venues. One other thing that the rise of mass Internet usage brought about was the ability of bands, musicians and singers to publish their own music, challenging the industrial supremacy of the record labels. The mass use of broadband and the popularity of first MySpace and then Facebook, enabled the rise of the  DIY artist – those who could record in their bedrooms and reach a market very cheaply via the Internet.

Leicester developed a vibrant live music economy as venues, bands and festivals began to grow. The number of live music venues increased, adding to pubs and clubs as places where live music could be performed or listened to. The small venues allowed bands and promoters to put on their own gigs, hiring the venues and selecting their own line-ups of acts. Gig promoters were usually individuals who had a passion for live music and would hire bands to play in a variety of local venues. Some of them also secured bookings for bands to play outside of Leicester.

Apart from the weekly round of gigs, several large-scale events took place in Leicester, including One Big Sunday, which was organised by the BBC’s Radio 1 and took place on Victoria Park on 20th July 2003. It attracted an audience of over 100,000 people.

One Big Sunday on Victoria Park
One Big Sunday on Victoria Park

In February 2000, a big show was held at the DeMontfort Hall ‘featuring the very best bands from Leicester’ and ran from 2 pm to 11pm.  On the advertised line-up were Saracuse (later to become Kasabian), Pendulum,  Last Man Standing, The 13twelve, Marvel, Slider, Fusion, The Incurables and several others. The first Original Bands showcase was held in 2004. The band that won that year was The Dirty Backbeats. The OBS is till going today (2015). In 2006 we saw the beginnings of the Fringe Festival with its mammoth Fringe Thursday, an event that had it’s beginnings as the Summer Sundae Warm Up party. On Fringe Thursday, buses transported music fans around all the live music venues in the city.

It can be argued that such series of shows supported the local music scene and encouraged people to see bands, who might not otherwise have bothered. The value of serial events, such as the OBS, is unclear, in a long-term perspective, but each year they have created live music opportunities for large numbers of acts and the fans who went to see them. Taking part in something like the OBS is enough reward in itself, it could be said. Leicester has not developed any kind of awards recognition institution to celebrate the best of its local music; in fact, as far as amateur local music is concerned, only a handful of cities in the UK have established annual awards ceremonies. Awarding music band and singers is something that was done at national level. This might seem odd given the large number of TV programmes devoted to singing and entertainment competitions that enjoyed massively big audiences. Perhaps local recognition is not so valued as that conferred at national level. Things like Battles of the Bands have occurred regularly in Leicester throughout the noughties and 90s. As a way of organising live music, such series of gigs attracted considerable controversy from bands and fans alike. Leicester bands participated in the national competition Surface Unsigned, often with considerable success.

Alastair, Alex and Rooster of The Heroes at Surface Unsigned in Birmingham in 2009
Alastair, Alex and Rooster of The Heroes at Surface Unsigned in Birmingham in 2009

Compact disks and vinyl records were popular in the noughties and Leicester supported a range of retail outlets for them.  Ainsleys record store, once a popular retail outlet, closed in 2004. It was situated opposite the Clock Tower. Wayne Allen was the manager of the store between 1983 and 2001.  He is credited with bringing some of the biggest names in music to the Leicester store, including Englebert Humperdinck, Radiohead, Del Amitri, St Etienne, Stereophonics, Shed Seven and Bananarama. He died in 2012.

Ainleys music shop
Ainleys music shop

We looked at record shops and stores in Chapter 1. With the growth in digital media, sales of plastic sources of media declined but many fans still value the ability to own CDs and vinyl records and bands continue to provide them for their fans.

Leicester has never been noted for its music industry agencies but in Horus Music, established in Birmingham in 2006, later moved to Leicester which is where it is now. I ran Get Your Band On from June 2005 to November 2009; it acted as an agency for rock bands, providing training, bookings, management and bookings. GYBO worked with a number of bands from Leicester as well as supporting bands and artists from all over the UK. During this period, several people became promoters, putting on gigs and events; in most cases they were individuals. Alongside those who worked with rock bands, there were several entertainment agencies that provided a range of artists for music-related clients. What Leicester lacked in modern times was band management; people or agencies specialising in providing management, bookings and publicity services have been few and far between, given the very large number of bands and artists that have existed in the city. The majority of bands and artists had to do all these things themselves.

Venues in the noughties

The year 2000 saw Darren Nockles take over the Bakers Arms in Wharf Street South, a public that had been active since the 1970s, turning it into the venue we know today as The Musician. The old Musician closed it’s doors on 31st December 2004 only to re-opened in 2005. The Donkey, a pub in Welford Road, became a music venue in 2005. In the following year Gaz Birtles began work there as a promoter. Many will have fond memories of the small venue in the city centre called The Attik. It ran from 1989 to 2006. Andy Wright, who ran The Charlotte remembers that on “16th January 2009, the police shut the doors to stop anymore people getting in and shut the bar down .. was fun that night.” Concerts were held at the University of Leicester, mainly in the Queens Hall and the DeMontfort Hall continued to put on performances by rock bands and orchestras playing classical music. Several large music events were held at The Granby Halls (demolished in 2001 to make way for a car park serving the nearby Tigers Rugby Club.) The Who played there on the opening night of their 1981 tour on 25th January 1981. Churches, including the Cathedral, also provided music-lovers with concerts of music; they kept alive Leicester’s choral tradition which started in the middle ages. It was not just venues that grew over this period. Nightclubs were also popular for those who wanted to hear DJs playing recorded tracks. MOSH nightclub opened in 2003. ‘Red Leicester’ was The University of Leicester Students’ Union Wednesday official night out from 2004 – 2014.

Festivals in the noughties

The first Summer Sundae festival was held in Leicester in 2001. It became one of the most important events both for national bands and artists as well as for the many local acts that played. It attracted an audience from all parts of the country.  A festival was held in Abbey Park in 2002. The Abbey park music festivals played an seminal role in the development of Leicester’s music, from1981 until their demise about twenty years later.  In 2009, Leicester band Autohype played to a crowd of over 20,000 at Abbey park’s bonfire night. A similar-sized crowd was present in 2014 when rising pop stars The Vamps were the headline act, supported by local artists Jonezy and Curtis Clacey. Glastonbudget festival started in 2005 (as mentioned in the previous chapter) and has continued to run every year up to the present day. Strawberry Fields festival started in 2010. Quite a few small local festivals were organised, sometimes on a one-off basis. In 2009 and 2008 Arts in Leicester reported on Summer Sundae, the Big Session festival held on Victoria Park, Glastonbudget, Fristock, and regular events that included music in their programme, such as Gay Pride, Diwali, Caribbean Carnival and the Belgrave Mela. Just over the Leicestershire border, Download attracted large numbers of people from our local area and Arts in Leicester listed the bands that played there. Batfest took place on 21st August, 2010 near Ibstock and was organised by Elliot O’Brart. Batfest was an annual event held for charity in the tiny but pretty village of Battram. The festival was primarily a music festival with a couple of stalls selling home made cakes and a raffle stall [Arts in Leicester magazine] This was typical of a large number of local music events that took place in the city and county during the noughties. Other examples included Cosby Big Love, the Braunstone Carnival (which usually featured a music stage), Glastonblaby, and the Oxjam festivals.

Bands of the noughties

I cannot speak from personal experience about Leicester’s live music scene much before 2005.  My very first reporter’s notebook goes back to 2006. I did not start writing about local music much before 2001; in that year I started a website called Travel to Leicester which had a section about the entertainment which visitors to Leicester could find and which mentioned gigs, bands and venues. During the 1990s I wasn’t living in Leicester; my home was outside the city in Blaby district and in those days we didn’t come into the city at night – unless we had to. It was not until November 2002 that I went to The Shed for the first time. Hence, I missed out on music, as far as Leicester was concerned, in the ’90s. I did, however, attend One Big Sunday, on Victoria Park in July 2003.

It was in 2005 that I started Arts in Leicestershire, a website that took over the content about the arts, including music from the Travel to Leicester website. I have written about the history of this Arts website, now called a magazine [Arts in Leicester] and have covered its history [Arts in Leicester]

Skam playing at The Shed in 2005
Skam playing at The Shed in 2005

From 2005, I really got to know the local bands. Under a heading ‘2007’ I noted many of the bands that were popular at the time. In May 2007, an extensive listing of gigs was well under way. This page showed some of the promoters that were active at the time, such as 101 Promotions which was run by Paul Matts (who previously managed the Attik live music venue.) As far as I know I wrote my first gig review in 2006, the same year that I joined Facebook; in just ten years the Internet had gone from being a fairly limited system to one that offered an array of services, many of them multimedia, and new platforms were coming on stream on a regular basis. I started to write gig reviews for Arts in Leicester magazine, together with collaborators such as Kevin Gaughan; at one time there were as many as 600 amateur bands based in the city and the county. ‘Leicester is home to over 400 working bands, playing all styles of music. Here we give a guide to our pages that are about bands in 2012’ [Arts in Leicester magazine, 2012]

The magazine also featured local bands in its Band of the Month, pages and listed of all known bands in the East Midlands from 2011 to 2013. Here is the list of bands that were given featured (band of the month) status:

The Manhattan Project, Backline, Messini Assault, Beat Club, The Utopians, Breek, Subdude, Full Circle, Forty More Autumns, Razmataz, Smoking the Profit, The Heroes, The Truth, The Chairmen (Oct 08), Kids in Cars (Nov 08), Formal Warning (Dec 08), The Steptoos (January 09), The Pennyhangers (February 09), Project Notion (March 09), Skam# (April 09), Shortwave Fade (May 09), The Waits (June 09), Kill The Batman (July 09), The Fazed (August 09), Autohype (Sept 09), Weekend Schemers (Oct 09), AstroManiacs (Nov 09), Azidify (Dec 2009), Kicking Habits (Jan 2010), Drive By Disco (early Feb 2010), The Stiggz (late Feb 2010), Iziggy (Mar 2010), Third Time Lucky (May 2010), Neon Sarcastic (June 2010), Silent Resistance (Jul 2010), Ashdowne (Aug 2010), Go Primitive (Sep 2010), The Black Tears (Oct 2010), Us Wolves (Nov 2010), Maybeshewill (Dec 2010), Skam# (Feb 2011), Glassfoot (Mar 2011), Aphtershock (April 2011), The Boobytraps (May 2011), SuperEvolver (June 2011), Rassoodocks (July 2011), The Chairmen (August 2011), Midnight Wire (September 2011), Muleta Smiles (October 2011), By The Rivers (November 2011), Arms of Atlas (January 2012), Raptusound (February 2012), Resin (March 2012) No band of the month in April, May and June 2012. Vengeance (July 2012). Smokin’ The Profit (August 2012), Axis Mundi (September 2012)

Skam playing at The Firefly in 2005
Skam playing at The Firefly in 2005

The very early Band Of The Month entries have been lost but were very limited (just a highlighted mention and not much more). Covers and commercial bands were listed separately. The magazine also published pages about new bands that had started and young bands. The news sections reported on local bands, venues and music events. Two sections specialised in coverage of African and Asian music (the latter being edited by the late Harjinder Ohbi.) There was also a page about underground and alternative music. The old website – Travel to Leicester – included details of where karaoke evenings took place. In those days these frequently featured high quality singers who attended them and sang for fun; some of them were professional artists and others were simply very good vocalists. Rock was not the only type of music to be covered; the website also had a page about jazz in Leicester and this content was carried across to the new Arts in Leicester web site when it was created in 2005. Bands mentioned in 2007 included The Eaves, Tommy’s heroes, My Amour, Taste The Chase, Ictus, Quaternary Limit, The Iconics, The Jack of Hearts band, The Beat Club, M48, Drumlins, Screwloose, The Chairmen, NG26 (from Nottingham), Proud to have met you, Manhattan Project, The Utopians, 1000 Scars, Killquicks, Sub-Rosa, Firstwave, Kid Vicious, The Codes, Ailse 13, The Elite, Backline, Silent Devices, September Flaw, Messini Assault, Half of Nothing, Rise as one, Black River Project, Internal Conflict, The Authentics, Pink Strip, Blue Light District, Breek and many more. Most of these were local bands, a few were out of town bands that regularly came to play in the city.

Capture The Flag at The Shed in 2009
Capture The Flag at The Shed in 2009

In September 2004, Kasabian released their debut album.  Having started life as Saracuse, they played one of their first gigs at The Shed, in 2009. The name Kasabian became associated with Leicester,  in much the same way as Arctic Monkeys was associated with Sheffield and Oasis was associated with Manchester. Engelbert Humperdinck said ‘It’s so wonderful to know that we have another up and coming big name on the horizon from Leicester.  I am proud to be from  Leicester.’ [Shooman, 2008] Five musicians, most of them from Blaby and Countesthorpe, formed a band called Saracuse which made an early appearance at The Shed in September 1997. The band also played at the Three Nuns pub in Loughborough and later performed at the town’s University. They also played at the Princess Charlotte in Leicester, in 1999, the same year went back to play again at The Shed. In 2005 the band performed at Glastonbury festival on the ‘other stage.’ It was Kasabian’s third single Club Foot that brought them chart success in 2004. The band won the best live act award at the 2007 NME ceremony. The band became signed to Sony Music. [Shooman, 2008]

Dan White the singer in 2009
Dan White the singer in 2009

Leicester band Roxum formed in 2005 and went on to become a very popular act on the local scene. The year 2008 saw the formation of a clutch of local bands including Neon Sarcastic, Little Night Terrors, The Chairmen, Axis Mundi, The Boobytraps, and many others. In 2009 we saw the emergence of Formal Warning, The Furies, Arms of Atlas, The Weekend Schemers – all of these bands went on to become popular on the local scene and had active careers in music.  Because Arts in Leicester was an arts magazine, it could cover a much wider scope of music than rock and pop; concerts of classical music, opera, ballet and musicals were also reviewed and it made some attempt to report on music from ethnic communities, such as the Indian community. Several local bands achieved national notoriety and success. Among these we would include By The Rivers, The Displacements, Midnight Wire and These Furrows. Many other acts achieved notable successes. For example, The Heroes played at the Glastonbury festival in 2009. Other Leicester bands to play at the coveted Glastonbury festival included By The Rivers.

In July 2008, The Heroes won a competition to be opening band on the main stage at the Summer Sundae festival. ‘Thousands of you voted and the results are in… The winners are… Leicester band The Heroes are to open The Weekender in Leicester.’ Guitarist Alex Van Roose went on to form Midnight Wire and lead vocalist Alex Totman went on to form Selby Court band. [Locke, 2015]

Rehearsal rooms and recording studios in the noughties

Several recording studios have come and gone and some are still open today. Deadline Studios, in Aylestone Road, started in 2001; others include Quad Studios, in Friday Street, Yellow Bean Studios (from 2010), in Western Road, (another studio Western Studios, operated in the same premises in around the year 2006). HQ in Charles Street opened in 2012, providing a small recording room. Some Leicester bands went to Nottingham to record their music and some even to London and places further afield. In 2011 Flat Five Records was set up by the Potts brothers, in honour of their father the legendary jazz trumpeter Mick Potts. They published the work of many important bands of this period, such as Kenworthy.

Trevor Locke

References

References are given on a separate page.

See also

Introduction to the series History of Music in Leicester

Chapter 1 – Music in modern times

Music and technology

 

References

References

to the articles of the History of Music in Leicester series

Introduction

Chapter 1 : Music of Today

Chapter 2 –

Chapter 2 Part 2 – The 1990s

Chapter 2 Part 1 – 1990 to 2005

These references are referred to in the articles of  The History of Music in Leicester

Berners-Lee, Tim, 1999, Weaving the web, The past, present and future of the world wide web by its inventor, Texere.

Jones, Rhian, 2015, Small venues are under threat, but what does it mean for the music industry?, iMusician web site.

Locke, Trevor, 2015, The Heroes… in golden times. The story of a band. Book. ArtsIn Publishing, Leicester.

Miller, Colin, 2012, A degree of swing – lessons in the facts of life; Leicester 1958-64, Derby Books.

The Music Venue Trust, March 2015, Understanding Small Music Venues, a report published by the MVT, London.

Shooman, Joe, 2008, Kasabian: sound, movement & Empire, Independent Music Press.

Spellman, Peter, 2002, The Musician’s Internet: on-line strategies for success in the music industry, Berkless Press.

Recommended background reading

Freeman, Alan, 2009, Local Band and Artists, blog article.

Harris, John, February 2013, Can the UK’s ‘toilet circuit’ of small venues survive?, The Guardian.

Music and Technology, 2015, Arts in Leicester magazine

 

History Music in Leicester

The History of music in Leicester

a series of articles by Trevor Locke

See below for links to the articles in this series.

Introduction

This series of articles traces the music that was heard and played in Leicester from contemporary times backwards. These articles are to be published in the magazine Arts in Leicester. The articles are concerned mainly with popular music; although classical music is not ignored, the focus is on the music of the people.

The Splitters at the Charlotte, October 2003. Photo: Harjinder Ohbi
The Splitters at the Charlotte, October 2003.
Photo: Harjinder Ohbi

All music is a reflection of the time in which it was made; it is part of the community; it is a cultural manifestation of the values, preoccupations and tastes of the people in whose time is was performed. Hence, we have to described the life and times of a period to fully understand its music.

The Delis Mix at The Exchange in 2012
The Delis Mix at The Exchange in 2012

The articles therefore annotate the life and times of the city of Leicester through the lense of its musical activities. It is both a contribution to local history and a timeline of the development of music.

Quaternery Limit at The shed in 2007
Quaternery Limit at The shed in 2007

My plan is to work backwards from the starting point of 2014. How far backwards? Well, in my original plan I go back to the time of the Romans; that being pretty much the start of written history. Anything before that period would require the results of archaeology because we would then be talking about pre-history, about which not a lot is known.

Kasabian in Leicester, August 2004 Photography by Harjinder Ohbi
Kasabian in Leicester, August 2004
Photography by Harjinder Ohbi

Articles already published

The music of today (2005 to 2014)

1990 to 2005

Part 1 – the noughties (2000 to 2005)

Part 2 – the 1990s music and the rise of the Internet (1990 to 2005)

Articles in preparation

The era of radio and records (1940 to 1990)

At some point in the future, my plan is to published a book about the history of music in Leicester. This will include a much fuller and more details account that the brief annotations in these articles.
My hope is that, by publishing the brief articles, people will offer details and contributions to the final book.

See also:

Chapter 1 – Music in modern times

Chapter 2 – part 1 – The 2000s

Chapter 2 – part 2 – The 1990s

Music and technology

References (referred to in the articles)

News just in

News about arts and heritage

A look at our sizable in-tray of press releases and announcements.

22nd January 2016

Moon Song at Curve

Leicester’s Curve theatre have partnered with Remploy to fund three performances of Bamboozle Theatre Company’s Moon Song, to be performed in its Studio at no cost to the audience on Mon 1 Feb. The intention behind these free performances is to offer assistance to young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) who are making the often difficult transition from childhood to adulthood.

Moon Song is an enchanting, space themed Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) production telling the story of Megan, who falls asleep and dreams of travelling to the moon. This production is carefully designed to accommodate the wide range of abilities within the autistic spectrum, through Bamboozle’s trademark interactive style.

The performances are part of a series of activities hosted at Curve and leading up to the Local Offer Live event which takes place at Curve on Wed 3 Feb.

Curve’s Chief Executive, Chris Stafford, said:

“Following the success of our recent Relaxed and Dementia Friendly performances of Oliver! our commitment to making theatre accessible to all is stronger than ever. We are thrilled to be working with Remploy to stage these performances of Bamboozle’s Moon Song for young people with SEND. It’s really important to us that Curve is renowned as a theatre where everyone can engage with the arts, and we look forward to welcoming special needs schools and SEND practitioners from across Leicester to these performances.

26th October

Comedy

Organisers of the annual Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival are launching their search for the best Silver Stand Up Comedians. The Silver Stand Up Competition, organised in partnership with Silver Comedy and supported by Jasper Carrot, Arthur Smith and Sir Bruce Forsyth, will take place on Thursday 18th February as part of the annual Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival. Comedians aged over 55 are encouraged to enter for the chance to win the 2016 title. The deadline for the competition is Friday 8th January 2016 and further details are available by contacting aya@bigdifferencecompany.co.uk
Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival set up the competition in 2012 to provide a showcase for older comedians. The first competition was won by Shelley Bridgman who continues to gig regularly across the UK and has helped launch the BBC search for the best script that promotes a positive portrayal of transgender characters. The 2013 winner was Marc Lucero, who regularly gigs across London and has appeared on BBC Breakfast News. On winning the competition, Marc said “I want to change the perceptions people have of the elderly and by winning this award I have proved that humour transcends age. Now we need to convince audiences that silver comedy is just as edgy and exciting as seeing the young bucks. Winning the Silver Silver Stand Up Award also proves it is never too late to start a new career.” The 2014 competition was won by comedian Peter Callaghan, who recently returned from performing as part of Old Folks Telling Jokes at the Edinburgh Fringe, and in 2015 the competition was won by Ed de Cantor. Ed had given up performing stand up aged 40, thinking he was “too old”. On winning the competition in 2015, he said “I am completely over the moon. Winning this competition is a dream come true.”

17th September 2015

Proposals set to transform Leicester’s Market

LEICESTER’s outdoor market could be set for a stunning transformation if new proposals are given the go-ahead.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby is considering major investment in the 800 year-old market, to ensure it is fit for the future and to complement the ongoing redevelopment work in the area.

The improvements would follow the construction of a new public square on the site of the old indoor market, and the repaving of the roads surrounding it, but would take priority over an extension to the Corn Exchange building.

Initial proposals for the outdoor market are to give it a fresh new look, with improved stalls, better lighting and new signage.

The revamp could include changes to the roof to make it more transparent, and the installation of LED lighting, which would save energy and reduce costs.

Shoppers and traders will be consulted on the proposals as part of the detailed design process, and it’s expected that final designs will go to the City Mayor for approval early next year.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “It’s clear that the work we’ve already done at the market has made a huge difference, with the new food hall providing customers with the attractive shopping environment they want.

“The creation of a new public square and improvements to the roads and pavements around the market will really transform the area, but they will also highlight the poor quality of the outdoor market.

“I am therefore proposing that improvements to the market should take precedence over the Corn Exchange extension, which is something we could look at again in the future when we have seen how the new public square is being used.

“The market has been a significant feature of the city for hundreds of years, and we need to ensure it retains that position for many more years to come.”

Consultation on the proposals for the outdoor market will begin in the next few weeks.

Project manager Mike Dalzell said: “We have a lot of preparation work to do to move utilities and carry out necessary changes to the highways, but our aim is for construction of the new square to begin in the new year and finish by autumn 2016.”

The first phase of the market redevelopment was completed in May 2014, with the opening of the bright and airy new food hall.

The food hall has already won several awards, including Best Food Market from the National Markets Association (NABMA) and Best New Building from the Leicester Civic Society.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

28th August 2015

Everybody’s Reading

Everybody’s Reading- September 26th – October 4th

This annual festival is packed with over 140 events in 60 venues over nine days. Libraries around Leicester will be taking part, hosting numerous events – these include: local author Bali Rai will be at New Parks Library to talk about his passion for football and books; listen to scary stories and get creative with book illustration workshops at Fosse Library; at Beaumont Leys Library we have Toddler Tales with stories for younger library visitors all about Autumn Animals, and at Evington Library we have Under The Sea where fishy tales will come to life.  Watching the Detectives and John Martin (Leicester’s ‘Mr Crime’) are two of the events at Central and Hamilton Libraries for crime readers out there.

Booster Cushion Theatre for Children will also be at Fosse, Westcotes, Pork Pie and Brite Centre libraries with their show for young children and parents – Big Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

This year also sees the welcome return of BLAM!, our promotion of all things comic-related. The event at Central Library on Wednesday 30th September is a slight change to the one advertised in the brochure in that we are excited to be hosting a talk by comic-writer, Jamie Delano.

Jamie has written for 2000AD and DC Comics, as well as titles such as Dr Who, Captain Britain and Hellblazer. If you have an interest in comics, either as a reader or a writer then this event is for you.

For more events and details on how to book plus ticket prices pick up a festival guide or download it at www.everybodysreading.co.uk

28th July 2015

New film about Children’s Comedy

Sceene from Kenton Hall's film A Dozen Summers
Scene from Kenton Hall’s film A Dozen Summers

Leicester’s writer and director Kenton Hall is behind a new film. As the website asks:

Are you 12 years old? Have you ever been 12 years old? Are you planning to be 12 years old at some point in the future? If so, then this is the film for you. “A Dozen Summers” is a comedy about what it’s really like to grow up in the 21st century. Get ready to enter the world of Maisie and Daisy McCormack, twin sisters who have just hijacked a children’s film in order to tell their own story. Or possibly one about a ghost girl who eats teachers. They haven’t decided yet.

See the website for A Dozen Summers

The film will be screened at Phoenix from 21st August

6th July 2015

Plans for riverside Development

PLANS for a major programme of work to improve access to Leicester’s riverside have been announced.

Leicester City Council has teamed up with the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust to help enhance the river corridor through the city, as part of a wider programme of work to reduce flood risk.

The programme of improvements has been awarded up to £1.5million from the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) Local Growth Fund, with £850,000 of this earmarked for a first phase of projects along the River Soar and Grand Union Canal due to begin over the next year.

The improvements are being match-funded by the Environment Agency, which has been awarded £33milllion of Government funding for a five-year programme of flood risk management in the city.

The Canal & River Trust has also allocated £500,000 towards the project, which will fund important maintenance, including ongoing dredging works, to help ensure the waterways are accessible, attractive and welcoming.

A new cycle link along the river between Loughborough Road and Thurcaston Road will be created, and plans are being drawn up to improve and extend the cycleway between the river and the Great Central Railway.

The Environment Agency will also undertake a five-year, £6million programme of flood relief in the Abbey Meadows area from next year. This will include culverts under Thurcaston Road and Loughborough Road, new cycle links, creation of new wetland and woodland areas, and other environmental improvements.

The Canal and River Trust will improve the existing towpath along the Grand Union Canal from the city centre to Watermead Park.

The programme also includes creating better access to the riverside at Sock Island, environmental improvements around Willow Brook, restoration of the old, redundant mill race at Frog Island, and new boat mooring alongside Friars Mill.

Read more about this

3rd July

Festival of Archaeology

Jewry Wall Museum will be hosting a series of special events as part of the city’s two-week Festival of Archaeology.

The museum will be helping to celebrate the city’s rich archaeological heritage with guided walks, talks, displays and family-friendly activities.

The 2015 Festival of Archaeology runs from 11-26 July, but kicks off with a preview event at the University of Leicester on Saturday (4 July). Staff from the city council’s museums service and volunteers from the Friends of Jewry Wall Museum will be on hand at the event, offering activities including coin striking and marching drills with a Roman soldier.

On Sunday 12 July, visitors to Jewry Wall Museum can join in with a free ‘Romans and Barbarians’ day. It will include the chance to watch a Roman army on parade, see demonstrations of Roman arms and armour and strike your very own Roman coin.

There will also be craft activities, family games and an exciting finale to the event when a Barbarian warrior queen arrives on her war chariot to defy the might of Rome.

Daily from 12-26 July, the museum will run tours of Leicester’s Roman bath house, with replica objects to handle. Tours take place from 12-12.50pm each day.

On 18 July, at 2pm, there will be an illustrated talk and book-signing from Gareth Williams, curator at the British Museum, on the topic of Viking warfare in the light of new discoveries. Tickets are £5 and can be booked on 0116 225 4971.

And as a finale to the festival, the museum will host a Viking warfare day on Sunday 26 July. A full Viking encampment will be set up amidst the Roman ruins of Leicester, just as it might have looked in the 9th century, when these lands fell under Viking rule. Admission is £2 for adults, £1 for children.

Cllr Piara Singh Clair, assistant city mayor responsible for culture, heritage, leisure and sport, said: “I’m really pleased that our staff are able to work so closely with the dedicated volunteers from the Friends of Jewry Wall Museum to put on so many great events for the Festival of Archaeology.

“These family-friendly events mean everyone can get involved in celebrating Leicester’s rich archaeological heritage.”

Find out more about the Festival of Archaeology 2015

Find out what to do at Leicester’s museums

1st July

St. Nicholas Circle gets revamp

improve pedestrian and cycling routes around Leicester’s St Nicholas Circle will enter its final phase next week.

The ambitious £1.7milllion scheme has already seen improvements completed on the south side of the busy junction. Wider pavements and a new cycleway have been constructed from Peacock Lane to St Augustine Road, where a lane of traffic has been removed.

A new cycle lane has also been created on the Southgates northbound slip road, and work to create a new entrance into the award-winning Castle Gardens is almost complete.

The project will now move on to the Jewry Wall side of St Nicholas Circle from Monday (6 July).

Existing footpaths will be widened and re-laid with high-quality block paving to create a joint-use footpath and cycleway. The number of traffic lanes will be unchanged on this side of the roundabout.
This stage of the project will also see the Harvey Walk footbridge, which spans the roundabout passing between the NCP car park and Holiday Inn, taken down. Work to create a new surface-level footpath in its place will take place next year.

The scheme is part of the Connecting Leicester programme and will create more attractive routes from the city centre to attractions like Castle Gardens, the Roman Jewry Wall and St Mary de Castro Church, which all lie outside the 1960s ring road.

22nd June

Reading for everyone

The programme for Everybody’s Reading festival is very, very close to being finalised. With a multitude of events taking place all over the city, there is definitely going to be something for everyone to enjoy. There are plenty of free events taking place in libraries, cafes, community centres and many more.

Highlights of this year’s festival include an exclusive schools only performance from Countryfile and Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton at one lucky school in Leicester, as well as children’s book-themed days at Gorse Hill City Farm, smelly perfume poetry workshop from the people who brought Lush to the High Street, crime writers, story tellers, poets and so many more workshops, exhibitions and readings.  There will be loads of opportunity to get involved with something to do with reading!

Everybody’s Reading 2015 runs from Saturday 26th September until Sunday 4th October 2015. Everybody’s Reading is a nine day festival taking place in over 80 venues across Leicester City including community centres, schools, cafes, bars, arts venues, libraries and museums.

The festival, now in its fifth year, is organised by the School Development Support Agency (SDSA) and is an off-shoot of the ‘Whatever it Takes’ initiative (see separate bullet point for more information on this initiative). The aim of the festival is to get Leicester reading by encouraging people to hear and attend spoken word, poets, authors and community writers.

Find out more from the Everybody’s Reading website

23rd June

The Damask Rose

A CENTURIES-old local tradition as kept alive when the Lord Mayor of Leicester attended the Damask Rose ceremony on 24th June.

The Lord Mayor, Cllr Ted Cassidy,  marked the annual custom when he received the symbolic peppercorn rent of a Damask Rose and four old pennies from the landlord of O’Neill’s, a pub in  in Loseby Lane.

The Lord Mayor said: “This is a local custom that dates back hundreds of years and I am delighted that we are continuing and protecting the tradition.”

Steve Thorn, landlord of O’Neill’s Leicester, said: “We here at O’Neill’s are happy to keep up this long-standing tradition and hope we can build on it in the future.”

Dating back to the 1600s, the Damask Rose ceremony survived until 2001 when the O’Neill’s chain took over the pub. The former Lord Mayor, Colin Hall, was instrumental in re-instating the ceremony in 2010.

In keeping with tradition, the Damask Rose ceremony takes place to coincide with the Feast of St John the Baptist and representatives from the Gild of Freemen of the City of Leicester will also be present.

11th June

Magna Carter celebrated

THE 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta was marked in Leicester with a packed programme of events. From Saturday, 13th June, people were able to find out how the medieval charter helped lay the foundations for the democracy we know today – and could learn how a baron with links to Leicester helped ensure the Magna Carta was sealed in 1215.

A an exhibition at the Guildhall – featuring a reproduction of the British Library’s copy of the Magna Carta – revealed the origins and impact of the charter, while an event at Leicester Market, on Saturday 13 June,  included medieval butter-making, traditional sweet-making and an appearance by the medieval rat-catcher.

The medieval Guildhall  – Leicester’s first town hall – hosted a Magna Carta day on Sunday, 14th June, when the Lord Mayor of Leicester talked to visitors about his role and local democracy, after musical performances from comedian Anthony King.

On Monday 15th June there was an opportunity to meet Baron Saer de Quincy – the rebel Leicester baron who helped ensure that King John accepted the terms of the Magna Carta. Baron de Quincy was joined by musicians from the Medieval Music Wagon at the special event at Leicester Market on Monday – the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta.

The event also celebrated the standardisation of weights and measures – enshrined in the Magna Carta – with a selection of old Leicester weights, measures and scales on display in the window of the market’s customer service centre.

“The Magna Carta enshrines many of the things we take for granted today, particularly the rule of law and the principle that nobody can act above the law,” said City Mayor Peter Soulsby.

More news updates will follow in due course.

 

What a stroke of luck

23rd March 2015

What a stroke of Luck

The story of how King Richard III came to be buried in Leicester

Editor Trevor Locke looks at the life of Richard III and how his remains came to be discovered under a car park in Leicester.

Richard's statue with white roses placed by the public
Richard’s statue with white roses placed by the public

The bones of the mediaeval king, Richard III, were unearthed in the city of Leicester. If we ask ourselves why that happened, a remarkable story unfolds.

The week of 22nd to 27th March 2015 witnessed a series of events in Leicester that were of interest around the world. Tens of thousands of people converged on the city to see one of the biggest tourist attractions of the year; certainly for Leicester, if not for England.

The link between Richard and Leicester.

Part of the facade of Leicester Castle
Part of the facade of Leicester Castle

Richard III visited Leicester in 1483 when he stayed at Leicester Castle. Richard stayed at the castle in 1483 and wrote to the King of France, signing the letter ‘from my castle of Leicester.’  [Arts in Leicester]

During his short reign, Richard was continually on the move. He rarely stayed in the same place for long. He was either rushing round the country from one battle to another or attending meetings with nobles. These were turbulent times and there was continuing friction between the houses of York and Lancaster.

Why did the battle take place?

Richard was killed at the battle of Bosworth in 1485 at the age of 32. His life had been full of activities of one kind or another.  He was born into the House of York and to the Plantagenet dynasty – during the reign of Henry VI – in 1452, at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire. The period was marked by troubles and conflicts of interests – not uncommon in mediaeval times. When Henry VI died in 1471, the crown passed to Edward IV.  Likewise, when Edward IV died, his eldest son Edward was due to inherit the throne. Before that could happen, both Edward and his brother Richard were declared illegitimate. Under the law of time, this put paid to either one of them inheriting the crown. As the next person in line, with the strongest claim, Richard took the crown in 1483. Richard III might have been crowned King but there were many in the House of Lancaster who would like to depose him. Richard had close relatives who felt they too had a claim to the royal blood line.

In 1483, he became the Lord Protector of the realm, charged with looking after the affairs of the 12 year old King Edward V. Not only did he shoulder the complicated affairs of state but he also had to tackle rebellions by powerful nobles.  In July 1472, he married Anne Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick.  A couple of months earlier, in May, the Yorkists had defeated the Lancastrians at the battle of Tewkesbury. Even Richard’s marriage gained him enemies and he forced to give up part of his lands. The Pope even declared that his marriage was unlawful. When he was only nine years old, Richard was made Duke of Gloucester, a high status title in the ranks of the nobility. His lifetime saw many changes of land holdings and titles in the constant struggles between the houses of York and Lancaster.

Richard’s life was in a state of constant turmoil with battles, rebellions and power struggles  surrounding him throughout his life.

Why did the battle take place near to the small town of Market Bosworth?

Henry Tudor was so aggrieved about what Richard had done, by taking the crown in 1483,  that he raised an army with the intention of seizing the English throne and claiming it for himself. Henry and his army left France and landed in Wales. Richard’s scouts were sent out to report the movements of the Lancastrian army. When word of Henry’s invasion reached Richard III, he raised an army and headed out to fight Henry Tudor.  In August 1485, Richard III was at Nottingham when we heard of Henry’s invasion; Richard used Nottingham Castle as the headquarters of his army.

Richard’s army started to muster in Leicester on 16th August. Richard reached Leicester on 20th August; his aim was to prevent Henry Tudor from reaching London. The paths taken by the various armies lead them towards the Leicestershire town of Market Bosworth and it was near there they decided to pitch camp and prepare for battle the following day.

The site of the battle has become known as ‘Bosworth field’ but historians came to believe that it was actually fought on Ambion Hill, following writings in the 19th century. Archaeologists later decided on an alternative location, following detailed research of the area. This was close to the villages of Dadlington and Stoke Golding, to the south west of Market Bosworth. The area was a watery marshland.  By late afternoon, on the 20th August, Richard learnt from his scouts that the army of Lord Stanley was at Stoke Golding while William Stanley was at Shenton. Henry Tudor and his men were at Atherstone. The battle took place on 22nd of August; it lasted for about two hours and was over by noon.

During the battle, the 32 year old Richard was killed by two severe blows to the head. His body was stripped naked, thrown over the back of a horse and taken to Leicester.

After the king was killed, why was his body taken to Leicester?

Leicester was the largest big town; it was nearer to the scene of the battle than Nottingham. The victorious Henry, having been crowned king at Bosworth, wanted to reach London as soon as possible. Richard was buried in Leicester; but why not in London, where his wife Anne Neville was buried, after her death in March 1485, when she was interred in Westminster Abbey in an unmarked grave. Henry had to act quickly to keep ahead of the Yorkists who were all over the country.

King Henry feared that news of Richard’s death could cause civil unrest.  He decided that he needed to show people that Richard was dead. The corpse was taken to Leicester (rather than to Nottingham) and paraded through the streets.  His body was put on public display in the Church of the Annunciation, in The Newark, a Lancastrian collegiate foundation with which Henry Tudor had connections.

Leicester was known to be a place in which many people supported the House of York. Richard’s two visits to the town might have won him some friends and supporters there.  Henry Tudor knew that he would have to convince them that the king was in fact dead, if he was to avoid an uprising.

Richard was buried in the chancel of the priory church of the Grey Friars – a Franciscan priory that had stood in the centre of Leicester since 1230. The priory church had probably been built in around 1255. History writer Polydore Vergil records that the dead king was buried two days later without pomp or a solemn funeral.

He was buried by the Franciscan monks from Grey Friars  Priory. They dug his grave in the choir of their church, an appropriate position for someone of very high status. The choir was just in front of the high altar. Even the original stone commemorating Richard, was placed between the two sets of choir stalls in Leicester cathedral.  King Henry erected a tomb over the grave in 1495. We know very little what this tomb looked like, other than it was constructed from either alabaster or marble. After the dissolution of the Monasteries, the tomb disappeared and the site of Richard’s burial was lost for 500 years.

It is clear from the archaeological analysis of the skeleton and the earth in which it was found, that the king had been buried in a hurry. There was no detectable sign of a coffin, or even a shroud and the skeleton was lying in an odd position. Some believe that the body was still naked when the Friars placed it in the hole they had dug. It was however common practice to bury bodies naked but usually the dead were wrapped in a burial shroud or winding sheets.

Bear in mind that at this time, England was a catholic country; it would be nearly another fifty years before Henry VIII separated England from the church of Rome. After some years, Richard’s tomb was lost. During the reign of Henry VIII, the monasteries were dissolved and Grey Friars was dissolved in 1543.  Much of the stonework used in the building of the church was robbed away, some of it being used to repair the nearby church of St. Martins (at the time a parish church and now the cathedral.)

Richard III lies in repose
Richard III lies in repose

A story was told by the father of the architect Sir Christopher Wren, that whilst he walking in the garden that was once part of the Grey Friars Priory, accompanied by Robert Herrick,  they came across a pillar on which were inscribed the words ‘Here lies the body of Richard III sometime king of England.’

Why did they dig for the bones in a car park?

The Richard III Society had been bringing together people with an interest, in this enigmatic English king,  since 1924. With its numerous branches, located in various parts of the world, the Society’s aim had been to find the truth about a king who was surrounded by myth and legend. For more than 88 years the society tirelessly sought to find the monarch’s remains. The Society had plaques erected in various places to draw attention to Richard; they also had a stone, commemorating his death, placed in front of the altar of Leicester Cathedral.

In 1986, historian David Baldwin published an article about Richard’s grave in which he examined the historical evidence for where the king was buried and concluded that it probably lay underneath the St. Martin’s end of Greyfriars Street – almost exactly where it was in fact found 26 years later.

Leicester had the right experts to both conduct the dig and then to examine and analyse the finds. The excavation took place only a couple of miles from the University of Leicester. At the time that people were pointing their fingers at the car park in Leicester, prior to the commence of the dig,  the University was already acclaimed for two important areas of knowledge and expertise:  one was archaeology and history and the other was DNA. Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys discovered the technique for ‘genetic finger printing.’ He was the first person to produce a genetic finger print, in September 1984. Sir Alec’s work led to the development of this technique and it went on to be used in a variety of problem-solving fields. The  University of Leicester Archaeological Services team, an independent professional unit of archaeologists, embedded in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History,  was a prestigious outfit with a fine record for archaeological research . The existence of these two fields of expertise meant that the skills and knowledge required to dig for the remains of the long-dead king were available in the same city in which he was buried. Once the bones had been discovered, scientists at the local University where then able to apply their techniques to verify that he was in fact the long-lost monarch and to use mitochondrial DNA analysis to establish that these were in fact the remains of Richard III.

Had the car park site not been dug in 2012, it is possible that it would have been sold to developers and the site damaged by building work, the remains being either left undiscovered and built over or worse still disturbed by excavation for building foundations.

So, Leicester became the last resting place of a mediaeval monarch. A local university had all the technical skills and resources to both excavate his remains and to verify that the bones were in fact those of the long lost Plantagenet king.

That strikes me as being several strokes of luck.

Portrait of King Richard III
Portrait of King Richard III

See also:

Our article giving the background to the life and times of Richard III

The king’s remains arrive at Leicester Cathedral

Places of interest along the route of the procession

News about the reinterment

Our feature article on Richard III