Saturday, 28 May 2011

Book examines a wide range of Tolkien’s published scholarly work and fiction

Tolkien and Wales: Language Literature and Identity

by Carl Phelpstead

Wales…and especially the Welsh language". Now, a Cardiff University academic has explored Wales’ influence on Tolkien in the first book-length study of his debts to Welsh language and literature.

Tolkien and Wales: Language, Literature and Identity traces the Welsh influences in Tolkien’s scholarly and creative work.

The study’s author, Dr Carl Phelpstead, Reader at the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, said: "The book examines a wide range of Tolkien’s published scholarly work and fiction, but I also draw on unpublished manuscripts and on Tolkien’s own collection of Welsh books in order to evaluate the influence of Wales and Welsh on both his writings and on his sense of national identity.

"One of the things that has interested me most in the unpublished material has been the small bits of evidence uncovered about Tolkien’s understanding of spoken – as opposed to written – Welsh."

Relevant material has been taken from some of Tolkien’s unpublished manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, including drafts of his O’Donnell Lecture on ‘English and Welsh’ containing material not in the published version.

Dr Phelpstead also examines annotations handwritten by Tolkien in books on Welsh topics or in Welsh. He said: "These books are now in the English Faculty Library, Oxford. The marginal comments, corrections and other notes provide interesting evidence of the depth of Tolkien’s knowledge of medieval and modern Welsh."

The book will be launched on Saturday 21 May at a special event at Cardiff University’s Bute Building. Dr Phelpstead said: "Books are often launched with a party or drinks reception, but I thought that, given the wide interest in Tolkien’s work, it would be worth combining the book launch with some talks explaining and celebrating the influences of Wales and Welsh on his fiction and scholarship."

Dimitra Fimi of Cardiff University has studied how author JRR Tolkien drew on Welsh as he crafted the language of elves. His lifelong interest in Welsh began in childhood when he saw Welsh words on coal trucks arriving from Wales.

Dr Fimi said: “It was fascinating for him. It was something out of the ancient pasts of Britain from the west.”

As a writer he cherished the ancient history of Britain. In the Welsh language – and in his heavily annotated copies of The Mabinogion – he found inspiration to create his own mythology.

In a 1955 lecture Tolkien described his love of Welsh, saying: “For many of us it rings a bell, or rather it stirs deep harp-strings in our linguistic nature. It is the native language to which in unexplored desire we would still go home.”

She believes Tolkien’s passion for language was at the heart of his literary work. “It opens a different door to the author’s mind. For me, I cannot separate The Lord of the Rings from the languages that are spoken there.” Although many fans regard the invented languages as “a bit of an accessory,” for Tolkien these were essential elements. He was baffled by the global success of the sagas, his passion was for the The Silmarillion.

Dr Fimi said: “It has made me look at The Silmarillion as a work closer to Tolkien’s heart than The Lord of the Rings ever was.

“When Tolkien was writing the first Elvish language there was Esperanto, but at the time there were at least 150 other projects. It was all very idealistic... Then World War I comes and shatters all these ideas.”

He was attracted to Welsh as a language of intrinsic beauty, “something ancient that had to be preserved and passed on.”

Sources: Cardiff University, Western Mail

Friday, 6 May 2011

Viking 'shipyard' found on Isle of Skye

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) and marine archaeologists are investigating a 12th century Norse shipbuilding site on the Isle of Skye

Investigations at Loch na h-Airde on Skye’s Rubh an Dunain peninsula have uncovered the remains of a possible medieval shipyard, including boat timbers dating from the 1100s, a stone-built quay, a man-made entrance canal, and a blockage system designed to keep a constant water level in the Loch.

Loch na h-Airde, Rubh an Dunain, Isle of Skye

Loch na h-Airde, Rubh an Dunain, Isle of Skye

In the bottom right of the image is Loch na h-Airde on Skye's Rubh an Dunain pennisula. The Loch - with a man-made canal linking it to the sea - is now believed to be the site of a 12th century Viking 'shipyard'. (c) Edward Martin

* More about this site

Archaeologists now believe that the site has been a focus for maritime activity for many centuries, from the Vikings to the MacAskill and Macleod clans of Skye. The loch and canal would likely have been used for the secure wintering of boats, along with their construction and maintenance.

Colin Martin, a marine archaeologist specialising in ship wrecks who is investigating Loch na h-Airde said, “This site has enormous potential to tell us about how boats were built, serviced and sailed on Scotland’s western seaboard in the medieval period – and perhaps during the early historic and prehistoric eras as well. There is no other site quite like this in Scotland.”

RCAHMS aerial survey team have been assisting in the investigation with reconnaissance flights photographing the loch and the surrounding area. As well as providing a context for the site in the landscape – helping to explain where and how 12th century mariners lived and worked – the imagery will also be used at high resolution by ground surveyors to identify possible dive sites for ship and other remains.

RCAHMS Aerial Survey Manager Dave Cowley said, “We are now so used to thinking about travelling round Scotland by roads, that it is difficult to visualise how our ancestors might have used the sea as a highway, connecting communities across these maritime landscapes. The aerial perspective gives us an excellent sense of this, showing the inter-relations of land and sea, and helping us to understand how people may have travelled, traded – and fought – on the waters around Scotland’s western isles.”

The ongoing aim of the investigation is to build up the most accurate possible picture of the site’s historical significance to Scotland’s western seaboard, allowing landowners and other heritage bodies to map out a plan for its future conservation and preservation.

Source: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Viking Woman's face has been reconstructed

image shows the reconstructed face from a female skeleton

Academics at the University of Dundee have helped recreate the most accurate picture of Viking life yet as part of a £150k investment at York’s JORVIK Viking Centre.

York Archaeological Trust, owner of JORVIK, has used the most advanced scientific and archaeological research techniques to bring York’s Vikings to life and allow the public to come face to face with the most accurate picture of Vikings at two new exciting exhibitions at the Centre, launched this week.

The Trust has enlisted the skills of academics at the University of Dundee to produce a facial reconstruction of a female skeleton – one of four excavated at Coppergate in York over 30 years ago.

Says Caroline Erolin, Lecturer at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, “We laser scanned the skull to create a 3D digital model onto which we could produce the reconstruction. The reconstruction process is carried out utilising specialist computer equipment which allows the user to 'feel' what they are modelling on screen. The anatomy of the face is modelled in 'virtual clay' from the deep muscles to the superficial.

“I was pleased to be involved in this project as 10 year previous as a medical art student I produced 2D reconstruction artwork of an individual from Fishergate in York as a part of my Masters research project, which ended up on display at JORVIK. It was good to be involved with the attraction again, this time through my post as a medical artist at the University of Dundee.”

Janice Aitken, Lecturer & Researcher at the University of Dundee, took Caroline’s digital reconstruction and added the lifelike finishing touches. Says Janice, “I use the same sort of software as is used to create 3D animations in the film industry. I digitally created realistic eyes, hair and bonnet and added lighting to create a natural look. It is very satisfying knowing that the work we create at Dundee University will be seen by thousands of visitors to JORVIK and being part of a process which can so vividly help people to identify with their ancestors.”

York Archaeological Trust’s new Investigate Coppergate exhibition examines the Vikings’ diet, displays the Viking facial reconstruction and also investigates the diseases from which the Vikings suffered. The concluding The end of the Vikings exhibition looks at the final battles of Viking-age in York that heralded the end of the Viking era and the coming of the Normans. It features skeletal remains showing battle wounds and a full skeleton with evidence of severe trauma, alongside discussion about how they died.

Says Sarah Maltby, York Archaeological Trust Director of Attractions, “Archaeological research capabilities have moved on considerably since the original Coppergate excavations which took place over 30 years ago. The new exhibition areas mark a shift in how archaeological finds are analysed and the techniques available to researchers. We now have a much more accurate and physical image of what Viking life was like, what they ate, what they wore and even what they looked like thanks to Dundee University – all of which is now on display at JORVIK.”

Visit or call 01904 543400 for more information on the new exhibitions at JORVIK Viking Centre.

For more information or interview opportunities please contact Hannah Trinder or Karen Nixon at Partners PR on 01904 610077 / /

Click here to go the JORVIK website

Source: University of Dundee

Monday, 2 May 2011

Beli Mawr

Beli Mawr or Beli ‘the Great’ is Apollo Belenos, Apollo the Bright or Shining One. The earliest Welsh genealogies make his father one Afallach, who as we have seen can be equated with the Irish Ablach of Emain Ablach, the Apple Orchard Otherworld. His mother was ‘Anna’, i.e. the goddess Anu.

In Arthurian romance Beli Mawr is called Pellinore. In the 12th century, Johannes Cornubiensis identified Caer Beli or the Fort of Beli with Ashbury Camp near Week St. Mary in Cornwall. This fort he also termed the ‘Fatale Castrum’ or Deadly Castle. However, this is an error, as Ashbury Camp is an unremarkable hill-fort. Instead, Ashbury, Oxfordshire is the actual site of the original Cair Beli. This is where we find the famous Neolithic chambered tomb now known as Wayland’s Smithy. Wayland was the smith-god of the invading Saxons. The Smithy is near the Uffington White Horse and one of the primary symbols of Belenos in Gaul is the horse.

Beli as Apollo is associated with Stonehenge, as Geoffrey of Monmouth has the Britons slain by the Saxons at this great ritual centre on May 1st or Beltane, the day of ‘Beli’s Fire’. Stonehenge, of course, is just a little south of the Wayland’s Smithy chambered tomb and the Uffington White Horse.

As Stonehenge was a great astronomical observatory concerned primarily with the motion of the sun through the year, a motion which defines our measurement of time, Beli should be invoked for any matter that is time sensitive or requires calculations and computations. He is the horse that unfailingly gallops across the sky 365 days a year. As such, he is also useful for purposes of steadfastness and determination or single-mindedness of purpose. He is a prophet in the sense that like the future, the course of the sun is always predictable. Finally, he is the god of resurrection, as the sun is reborn every Winter Solstice. Archaeo-astronomers have confirmed that the Winter Solstice was observed annually at Stonehenge.

Excerpt from the book The Secrets of Avalon by August Hunt.

See: for details.