Touring Stonehenge with an Archeologist #1

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Friday, June 7

It is Stonehenge visit day of our two-week London vacation.  At home on the internet, Ed and I  purchased tickets for a tour of the major prehistoric sites of the Salisbury Plain, from Tours From Antiquity.  At 7 a.m., we board the 16-passenger coach on the Cromwell Road, across the street from the Natural History Museum.  We have backpacks with coat, hats, and snacks.  After a week of pleasant June weather in London, today it is raining.

Our archeologist introduces himself as the coach proceeds out of London, as Dr. Edward Shepherd of the University of York.  The other tour patrons are a couple of families —  parents with older children – and other couples like ourselves.  We fill the coach.  The driver’s name is Trevor.

Dr. Shepherd ventures that it might be better weather out on Salisbury Plain, since we may drive under the weather front.

An hour and a half later we arrive at Woodhenge, not far from Amesbury.  As the coach approaches the site, Dr. Shepherd – Edward – takes the microphone and tells us more about what we will see.  We arrive at a broad flat grassy plot inside a fence, next to a small car park, surrounded by farmland.  There is a pattern of short, round concrete pylons sticking out of the ground, marking where the postholes were located.  In spattering rain, we walk among the markers, trying to image that here stands a forest of wooden posts – perhaps decorated?  Then Edward points to the pastures around us and describes the huge circular structure we are standing in, Durrington Walls.  Almost eradicated due to long years of weather, the bank is still discernible.  My husband Ed starts with his questions.  Has anyone dug within the circle, and if so what was found? Were any artifacts found when Woodhenge was investigated?

A field with concrete posts in it.

Woodhenge, near Amesbury, Wiltshire

Edward answers, and begins to look at us with more interest.  He realizes he has a couple of people on his tour who are intensely interested, already have some knowledge, and want to know more.

Next stop, Stonehenge.  Again, an orientation from Edward at the microphone as we approach the site.  Trevor slides the coach into a slot in the small car park, which is already full of cars and some tour buses.  Edward is an active young man and he heads straight in to the ticket kiosk to arrange entry for his tour.  The rest of us are in need of a toilet break.

DrEdwardShepherdAfter an orientation at the map showing what the stone circle looked like at its most complete, we pass under the road and up the sloped path, and look left.  There is the henge, hulking in the field like forgotten project of building blocks mislaid by a giant.  We must walk around the circle on a tarmac path, outside a rope boundary.  No one is permitted to walk among the stones any longer.

Ed and I stay with Edward as we walk around the circle, gazing at the stones.  Edward pauses periodically to talk to members of his group about something underfoot or about the stones.  At the far end of the path, we have almost but not quite circumnavigated Stonehenge.  He points out the pasture where an ancient  wide route marked by stones, called an avenue, once led from the Avon River to Stonehenge.  If it were not raining, he says, we would go out there and walk on the avenue.  I am so sad, I wanted to walk on the avenue, but I did not bring Wellington boots.  And there is nothing to see in the field.  Edward had an archeological season here, in one of the many recent investigations of Stonehenge that continues to shed light on what occurred at the henge four thousand years ago.

In the other direction, at the far side of the grassy sward that surrounds Stonehenge, I see a small cluster of travel trailers parked on a dirt road near a lone tree. I ask Edward, “Is that a group of archeologists conducting a dig?”  He smiles ruefully.  “No, that’s the Druids.  They stick around and keep an eye on the site.  There is no proven connection between the people who built Stonehenge and Druid beliefs.”  But the site has been adopted by modern Druids, who gain full access to the site on the summer stolstice.

A field with some large gray standing stones

Stonehenge, near Amesbury, Wiltshire

In heavy rain, we return to the coach, which becomes steamy inside.  Trevor drives west down the road, and we start to see heavy construction machinery along the road.  Edward tells us some astonishing news.  British Heritage is building a large new visitor’s center a mile from Stonehenge.  When it is complete, they will tear out the A360 that goes so close to the site.  Visitors will be ferried to the circle in battery-powered coaches.  No more diesel trucks roaring past the stones.  They will stand alone in a field again, except for the visitors.  I cheer.

Tours From Antiquity was founded by Dr. Edward Shepherd in 2011.  In seeking additional archeologist-guides in addition to himself, he wrote in the University of York Department of Archeology newsletter, “The USP [unique selling proposition] of the tours is the opportunity to visit these landscapes, the whole landscape, as we walk between many of the key monuments … guided by an archaeologist, offering hopefully a more detailed, passionate guiding experience.” He added, “The job itself is lots of fun, visiting famous archaeological sites, talking to small groups of people who are interested in the subject, and the daily pay is great … at least compared with the daily wage of many heritage-based jobs: I should know!”

I will return to the next portion of the tour in my next blog post.

Recommended!  Tours From Antiquity

Cook with the Sun

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A solar oven with reflectors open.

Photo: A Sun Scoop – Solar Cookers International

On a sweltering morning in his Sacramento, California kitchen, my stepfather, Don, places a raw chicken in a dark blue oval enameled roasting pan.  He adds a little oil to the bottom of the pan to keep the chicken from sticking, puts the lid on the pan, and carries it into his back yard.  He is not going to barbeque.

His solar oven is on a table in the middle of the lawn, its shiny silver reflectors unfurled like the petals of a modernist flower sculpture.  The unit is angled toward the brilliant mid-morning sun.  It has been there for more than half an hour gathering warmth into the central chamber, which has a glass lid.  The temperate inside is 350 degrees.  The whole thing, when its reflectors are folded down, is the size of a large suitcase.  He lifts the glass lid and places the roasting pan inside, lowers the glass, then makes a final adjustment of the oven in relation to the angle of the sun.  He goes back in the house and washes some salad greens, then takes a nap.

Two hours later, he opens the solar oven and brings the pan into the kitchen.  The chicken is nicely roasted, tender and moist. We enjoy a lunch of salad and roasted chicken – preparing and cooking it did not add a penny to the bill for natural gas and did not raise the internal temperature of the house on this 100 degree day.

Why does Don cook with solar power when he has a perfectly good stove and oven in his kitchen, and a microwave on the counter?  Because he wants to use resources responsibly and live lightly on the planet.  He uses a Solar Oven, a commercial item made in America.

In 1987, retired from a job with the state, Don was one of the first two volunteers for the fledgling Solar Cookers International, a non-profit organization formed in Sacramento, California.  He began to volunteer regularly with the organization, and he constructed numerous solar ovens out of recycled materials, and taught others how to do so in the US and in Central America.  He and my mother attended the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janiero as members of a solar cooking demonstration group.  At the conference, they joined people from several countries in showing the official  delegates various methods of cooking food and purifying water for drinking, using the heat of the sun.

Now Solar Cookers International Network has a global reach.  It is a league of organizations around the world that is promoting cooking with the energy of the sun to save lives, save forests, and benefit the environment.

Solar cooking is happening in more places than most people think.  Look in California backyards, Australian bungalow patios, in Kenyan open-air village kitchens, refugee camps in Uganda, Afghan communal kitchens, parks in India, villages in Mexico.  In my garden.

It is not difficult to cook with the free energy of the sun. All it takes is a little planning, and some equipment that a person can make or purchase.  Solar Cookers International Network

Lessons from Steve Rubel, EVP Edelman, on Social Media

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In 2011, I attended a seminar by Steve Rubel on social networking.  Here are my notes.

  1. Learn about Attentionomics – realize the value of attention, not just the number of friends.
  2. Be a digital curator – separate the “good stuff” from the junk.  In a business, curation needs to be collaborative and social.
  3. Develop engagement – make information about user needs accessible to those who develop apps and content.
  4. Use transmedia storytelling – “People crave stories.”  Stories need to be more visual; the classic beginning-middle-end is no longer the best model for a corporate story.  Equip employees or users to tell their own stories.
  5. Engage thought leadership – in a business setting, use the right people to engage in the social media space.  Educate them and fan them out in media areas.
  6. Integration – in business, social media needs to be everyone’s job.  Learn how to be a social media-engaged business or organization. Build a social media command center. Integrate and share intelligence.
  7. Ubiquitous social computing – social media is going to be everywhere.
  8. Content is no longer going to be consumed the way you “designed” it.  For example, what does your website look like on a smartphone.  Do your social media channels link to each other?
  9. Blend local, social, photo, mobile, tablet.
  10. Deal with social media overload – people begin to choose only certain channels because they are overwhelmed by too many choices.
  11. Make social participation effortless.  An example: Google will (or as of this writing already has) engineered their way to index Facebook and other social media content.  To leverage this, you need to change your headline to what you think people are searching for.
  12. Make your website more elegant and integrated with social media.
  13. ROI = Reach (how many)+Engage (how long)+Sentiment (what do users say to others about you)+Participation (do they sign up)

Earth Day Project

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How I spent 3 hours on a chilly April day – volunteer gardening at Earth Day project organized at work: habitat remediation at Madrona Woods. In this town that means hand-planting native plants in mucky soil on steep, spring-fed slopes. What fun! My boots are on the right, a co-worker’s trail shoes on the left.Image

Earth Day Advice

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I posted on Facebook April 20:

Make Earth Day April 22 the day you add an activity to the things you do to be green – recycle everything that is recycleable in your area, carpool with someone and reduce the C02 of a car trip, put those “vampire” phone chargers on a power strip and turn off the power strip when not actively charging a phone to save electricity. Every action makes a difference to the planet.