Thursday, April 30, 2009

New theory of Dinosaurus extincion

The popular theory that dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid 65million years ago has been challenged.

It was believed the Chicxulub crater in Mexico was the 'smoking gun' of the mass extinction event.

Molten droplets from the ancient asteroid impact were found just below the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary - a geological layer of sediment linked with the extinction.

But soil samples from the 112-mile wide crater show the impact predates the disappearance of the dinosaurs by about 300,000 years.

The latest research has been published in the Journal of the Geological Society.

Study author Professor Gerta Keller from Princeton University suggested that the massive volcanic eruptions at the Deccan Traps in India may be responsible for the extinction, releasing huge amounts of dust and gases that could have blocked out sunlight and brought about a significant greenhouse effect.

Supporters of the Chicxulub impact theory suggest the impact crater and the mass extinction event only appear far apart in the sedimentary record because of earthquake or tsunami disturbance that resulted from the impact of the asteroid.

But Professor Keller said: 'The problem with the tsunami interpretation is that this sandstone complex was not deposited over hours or days by a tsunami.

'Deposition occurred over a very long time period.'

The scientists also found evidence that the Chicxulub impact didn't have the dramatic impact on species diversity that has been suggested.

At one site at El Penon, the researchers found 52 species present in sediments below the impact spherule layer, and counted all 52 still present in layers above the molten droplets or spherules.

'We found that not a single species went extinct as a result of the Chicxulub impact,' said Professor Keller.

This conclusion should not come as too great a surprise, she says.

None of the other great mass extinctions are associated with an impact, and no other large craters are known to have caused a significant extinction event.

The Channel Creature


‘Association of Maritime Research’ was created in 1901 in order to promote a better understanding of deep-sea life and the curious and unknown phenomena that occur in the depth of the oceans and on the sea- bed. Their approach to research is to gather testimonials and question scientists specialising in marine research in an attempt to find a scientific explanation for the various sightings.

The AMR’s intention is to communicate their findings to the general public and enable them to participate interactively in the continuing research.

Sightings

On 20th April 2009 Thierry and Sophie were enjoying a walk at the Boulogne Harbour. They are both passionate about boats and sea-life and intended filming the variety of boats sailing out of the harbour. As Thierry was filming, his eye glued to the lens, he suddenly became aware of a large shape which appeared on the horizon. Intrigued, he zoomed the camera in to focus more clearly and saw a huge, dark, rapidly moving object, which disappeared within a matter of seconds. Something of an amateur expert about the sea and marine life, he knew this was not simply the outline of a whale or any similar creature and was convinced that he had sighted some phenomenon as yet unseen by man. He decided to contact the AMR who are pursuing further investigations.

Subsequently the AMR has collected a substantial number of testimonials from different areas. The strong similarities between the descriptions seem to confirm the existence of a ‘gigantic’ and extremely ‘fast-moving’ creature off our shores.

Calling for Witnesses

The AMR’s success in identifying this marine phenomenon is dependent upon the participation of the general public. As the first report came from Dover they have put in place a multimedia campaign calling for witnesses to come forward. This will include the distribution of flyers, radio, press and online communications.

We are calling for all witnesses of sightings of any strange phenomena in the English Channel to contact the AMR immediately via our website

http://www.thechannelcreature.com/

A reward is being offered for evidence leading directly to proof of this creature’s existence.

www.thechannelcreature.com/what-is-the-amr/ video

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

2012 - The Year of Apocalypse

For scary speculation about the end of civilization in 2012, people usually turn to followers of cryptic Mayan prophecy, not scientists. But that’s exactly what a group of NASA-assembled researchers described in a chilling report issued earlier this year on the destructive potential of solar storms.

Entitled "Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts," it describes the consequences of solar flares unleashing waves of energy that could disrupt Earth’s magnetic field, overwhelming high-voltage transformers with vast electrical currents and short-circuiting energy grids. Such a catastrophe would cost the United States "$1 trillion to $2 trillion in the first year," concluded the panel, and "full recovery could take 4 to 10 years." That would, of course, be just a fraction of global damages.

Good-bye, civilization.

Worse yet, the next period of intense solar activity is expected in 2012, and coincides with the presence of an unusually large hole in Earth’s geomagnetic shield. But the report received relatively little attention, perhaps because of 2012’s supernatural connotations. Mayan astronomers supposedly predicted that 2012 would mark the calamitous "birth of a new era."

Whether the Mayans were on to something, or this is all just a chilling coincidence, won’t be known for several years. But according to Lawrence Joseph, author of "Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation into Civilization’s End," "I’ve been following this topic for almost five years, and it wasn’t until the report came out that this really began to freak me out."

Ancestor of T rex

Fossils found in China may give clues to the evolution of Tyrannosaurus rex.

Uncovered near the city of Jiayuguan, the fossil finds come from a novel tyrannosaur dubbed Xiongguanlong baimoensis.

The fossils date from the middle of the Cretaceous period, and may be a "missing link", tying the familiar big T rex to its much smaller ancestors.

The fossils show early signs of the features that became pronounced with later tyrannosaurs.

Paleontological knowledge about the family of dinosaurs known as tyrannosaurs is based around two distinct groups of fossils from different parts of the Cretaceous period, which ran from approximately 145 to 65 million years ago.

One group dates from an early part of the period, the Barremian, and the other is from tens of millions of years later.

Physical form

Before now it has been hard for palaeontologists to trace the lineage from one group to the other.

"We've got a 40-50 million year gap in which we have very little fossil record," said Peter Makovicky, associate curator at the Field Museum in Chicago, who helped to lead the US/Chinese team that uncovered the fossil.


But, he said, X baimoensis was a "nice link" between those two groups.

"We're filling in that part of the fossil record," he said.

Writing in the Royal Society's journal Proceedings B, Dr Makovicky and colleagues suggest that X baimoensis is a "phylogenetic, morphological, and temporal link" between the two distinct groups of tyrannosaurs.

The fossil has some hallmarks of large tyrannosaurs such as a boxy skull, reinforced temple bones to support large jaw muscles, modified front nipping teeth and a stronger spine to support a large head.

But it also shows features absent from older tyrannosaurs, such as a long thin snout.

An adult would have stood about 1.5m tall at the hip and weighed about 270kg. By contrast, an adult T rex was about 4m tall at the hip and weighed more than 5 tonnes.

Wider net

The same edition of Proceedings B features papers about two other sets of dinosaur fossils.

One discovery was made in China by many of the palaeontologists who found the tyrannosaur. The samples found in the Yujingzi Basin came from a dinosaur that resembled the modern ostrich.

While many of these ornithomimosaurs have been found before, analysis of the bones of the new species, dubbed Beishanlong grandis, suggest it was one of the biggest.

The specimen found by the palaeontologists was thought to be 6m tall and weigh about 626kg.

Alongside in Proceedings B was work on the remains of a duck-billed dinosaur found in Uzbekistan called Levnesovia transoxiana.

Analysis of the fossils, by Hans-Dieter Sues of the Smithsonian in Washington and Alexander Averianov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, may shed light on the waves of expansion hadrosaurs undertook during the late Cretaceous.

Did Dinosaurs Lived in the Arctic?

You know the scenario: 65 million years ago, a big meteor crash sets off volcanoes galore, dust and smoke fill the air, dinosaurs go belly up.

One theory holds that cold, brought on by the Sun's concealment, is what did them in, but a team of paleontologists led by Pascal Godefroit, of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, argues otherwise. Some dinosaurs (warm-blooded, perhaps) were surprisingly good at withstanding near-freezing temperatures, they say.

Witness the team's latest find, a diverse stash of dinosaur fossils laid down just a few million years before the big impact, along what's now the Kakanaut River of northeastern Russia. Even accounting for continental drift, the dinos lived at more than 70 degrees of latitude north, well above the Arctic Circle.

And they weren't lost wanderers, either. The fossils include dinosaur eggshells — a first at high latitudes, and evidence of a settled, breeding population.

It's true the Arctic was much warmer back then, but it wasn't any picnic. The size and shape of fossilized leaves found with the bones enabled Godefroit's team to estimate a mean annual temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, with wintertime lows at freezing.

Yet there is more than one way to skin a dino. All that dust in the atmosphere must have curtailed photosynthesis everywhere, weakening the base of the food chain and inflicting starvation, and finally extinction, upon the dinosaurs.

The Trojan War

Minerva was the goddess of wisdom, but on one occasion she did a
very foolish thing; she entered into competition with Juno and
Venus for the prize of beauty. It happened thus. At the
nuptials of Peleus and Thetis all the gods were invited with the
exception of Eris, or Discord. Enraged at her exclusion, the
goddess threw a golden apple among the guests with the
inscription, "For the most beautiful." Thereupon Juno, Venus,
and Minerva, each claimed the apple. Jupiter not willing to
decide in so delicate a matter, sent the goddesses to Mount Ida,
where the beautiful shepherd Paris was tending his flocks, and to
him was committed the decision. The goddesses accordingly
appeared before him. Juno promised him power and riches, Minerva
glory and renown in war, and Venus the fairest of women for his
wife, each attempting to bias his decision in her own favor.
Paris decided in favor of Venus and gave her the golden apple,
thus making the two other goddesses his enemies. Under the
protection of Venus, Paris sailed to Greece, and was hospitably
received by Menelaus, king of Sparta. Now Helen, the wife of
Menelaus, was the very woman whom Venus had destined for Paris,
the fairest of her sex. She had been sought as a bride by
numerous suitors, and before her decision was made known, they
all, at the suggestion of Ulysses, one of their number, took an
oath that they would defend her from all injury and avenge her
cause if necessary. She chose Menelaus, and was living with him
happily when Paris became their guest. Paris, aided by Venus,
persuaded her to slope with him, and carried her to Troy, whence
arose the famous Trojan war, the theme of the greatest poems of
antiquity, those of Homer and Virgil.

Menelaus called upon his brother chieftains of Greece to fulfil
their pledge, and join him in his efforts to recover his wife.
They generally came forward, but Ulysses, who had married
Penelope and was very happy in his wife and child, had no
disposition to embark in such a troublesome affair. He therefore
hung back and Palamedes was sent to urge him. When Palamedes
arrived at Ithaca, Ulysses pretended to be mad. He yoked an ass
and an ox together to the plough and began to sow salt.
Palamedes, to try him, placed the infant Telemachus before the
plough, whereupon the father turned the plough aside, showing
plainly that he was no madman, and after that could no longer
refuse to fulfil his promise. Being now himself gained for the
undertaking, he lent his aid to bring in other reluctant chiefs,
especially Achilles. This hero was the son of that Thetis at
whose marriage the apple of Discord had been thrown among the
goddesses. Thetis was herself one of the immortals, a sea-nymph,
and knowing that her son was fated to perish before Troy if he
went on the expedition, she endeavored to prevent his going. She
sent him away to the court of king Lycomedes, and induced him to
conceal himself in the disguise of a maiden among the daughters
of the king. Ulysses, hearing he was there, went disguised as a
merchant to the palace and offered for sale female ornaments,
among which he had placed some arms. While the king's daughters
were engrossed with the other contents of the merchant's pack,
Achilles handled the weapons and thereby betrayed himself to the
keen eye of Ulysses, who found no great difficulty in persuading
him to disregard his mother's prudent counsels and join his
countrymen in the war.

Priam was king of Troy, and Paris, the shepherd and seducer of
Helen, was his son. Paris had been brought up in obscurity,
because there were certain ominous forebodings connected with him
from his infancy that he would be the ruin of the state. These
forebodings seemed at length likely to be realized, for the
Grecian armament now in preparation was the greatest that had
ever been fitted out. Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and brother of
the injured Menelaus, was chosen commander-in-chief. Achilles
was their most illustrious warrior. After him ranked Ajax,
gigantic in size and of great courage, but dull of intellect,
Diomedes, second only to Achilles in all the qualities of a hero,
Ulysses, famous for his sagacity, and Nestor, the oldest of the
Grecian chiefs, and one to whom they all looked up for counsel.
But Troy was no feeble enemy. Priam, the king, was now old, but
he had been a wise prince and had strengthened his state by good
government at home and numerous alliances with his neighbors.
But the principal stay and support of his throne was his son
Hector, one of the noblest characters painted by heathen
antiquity. Hector felt, from the first, a presentiment of the
fall of his country, but still persevered in his heroic
resistance, yet by no means justified the wrong which brought
this danger upon her. He was united in marriage with Andromache,
and as a husband and father his character was not less admirable
than as a warrior. The principal leaders on the side of the
Trojans, besides Hector, were Aeneas and Deiphobus, Glaucus and
Sarpedon.

After two years of preparation the Greek fleet and army assembled
in the port of Aulis in Boeotia. Here Agamemnon in hunting
killed a stag which was sacred to Diana, and the goddess in
return visited the army with pestilence, and produced a calm
which prevented the ships from leaving the port. Calchas the
soothsayer thereupon announced that the wrath of the virgin
goddess could only be appeased by the sacrifice of a virgin on
her altar, and that none other but the daughter of the offender
would be acceptable. Agamemnon, however reluctant, yielded his
consent, and the maiden Iphigenia was sent for under the pretence
that she was to be married to Achilles. When she was about to be
sacrificed the goddess relented and snatched her away, leaving a
hind in her place, and Iphigenia enveloped in a cloud was carried
to Tauris, where Diana made her priestess of her temple.

Tennyson, in his Dream of Fair women, makes Iphigenia thus
describe her feelings at the moment of sacrifice, the moment
represented in our engraving:

"I was cut off from hope in that sad place,
Which yet to name my spirit loathes and fears;
My father held his hand upon his face;
I, blinded by my tears,

"Still strove to speak; my voice was thick with sighs,
As in a dream. Dimly I could descry
The stern black-bearded kings, with wolfish eyes,
Waiting to see me die.

"The tall masts quivered as they lay afloat,
The temples and the people and the shore;
One drew a sharp knife through my tender throat
Slowly, and nothing more."

The wind now proving fair the fleet made sail and brought the
forces to the coast of Troy. The Trojans came to oppose their
landing, and at the first onset Protesilaus fell by the hand of
Hector. Protesilaus had left at home his wife Laodamia, who was
most tenderly attached to him. When the news of his death
reached her she implored the gods to be allowed to converse with
him only three hours. The request was granted. Mercury led
Protesilaus back to the upper world, and when he died a second
time Laodamia died with him. There was a story that the nymphs
panted elm trees round his grave which grew very well till they
were high enough to command a view of Troy, and then withered
away, while fresh branches sprang from the roots.

Wordsworth has taken the story of Protesilaus and Laodamia for
the subject of a poem. It seems the oracle had declared that
victory should be the lot of that party from which should fall
the first victim to the war. The poet represents Protesilaus, on
his brief return to earth, as relating to Laodamia the story of
his fate:

"The wished-for wind was given; I then revolved
The oracle, upon the silent sea;
And if no worthier led the way, resolved
That of a thousand vessels mine should be
The foremost prow impressing to the strand,
Mine the first blood that tinged the Trojan sand.

"Yet bitter, ofttimes bitter was the pang
When of thy loss I thought, beloved wife!
On thee too fondly did my memory hang,
And on the joys we shared in mortal life,
The paths which we had trod, these fountains, flowers;
My new planned cities and unfinished towers.

"But should suspense permit the foe to cry,
'Behold they tremble! Haughty their array,
Yet of their number no one dares to die!'"
In soul I swept the indignity away;
Old frailties then recurred; but lofty thought
In act embodied my deliverance wrought.
. . . . . .. . . . . . . . . .
Upon the side
Of Hellespont (such faith was entertained)
A knot of spiry trees for ages grew
>From out the tomb of him for whom she died;
And ever when such stature they had gained
That Ilium's walls were subject to their view,
The trees' tall summits withered at the sight,
A constant interchange of growth and blight!"

Apollo and Daphne

Daphne was Apollo's first love. It was not brought about by
accident, but by the malice of Cupid. Apollo saw the boy playing
with his bow and arrows; and being himself elated with his recent
victory over Python, he said to him, "What have you to do with
warlike weapons, saucy boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them.
Behold the conquest I have won by means of them over the vast
serpent who stretched his poisonous body over acres of the plain!
Be content with your torch, child, and kindle up your flames, as
you call them, where you will, but presume not to meddle with my
weapons."

Venus's boy heard these words, and rejoined, ":Your arrows may
strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you.:" So
saying, he took his stand on a rock of Parnassus, and drew from
his quiver two arrows of different workmanship, one to excite
love, the other to repel it. The former was of gold and sharp-
pointed, the latter blunt and tipped with lead. With the leaden
shaft he struck the nymph Daphne, the daughter of the river god
Peneus, and with the golden one Apollo, through the heart.
Forthwith the god was seized with love for the maiden, and she
abhorred the thought of loving. Her delight was in woodland
sports and in the spoils of the chase. Many lovers sought her,
but she spurned them all, ranging the woods, and taking thought
neither of Cupid nor of Hymen. Her father often said to her,
"Daughter, you owe me a son-in-law; you owe me grandchildren."
She, hating the thought of marriage as a crime, with her
beautiful face tinged all over with blushes, threw her arms
around her father's neck, and said, "Dearest father, grant me
this favor, that I may always remain unmarried, like Diana." He
consented, but at the same time said, "Your own face will forbid
it."

Apollo loved her, and longed to obtain her; and he who gives
oracles to all in the world was not wise enough to look into his
own fortunes. He saw her hair flung loose over her shoulders,
and said, "If so charming in disorder, what would it be if
arranged?" He saw her eyes bright as stars; he saw her lips, and
was not satisfied with only seeing them. He admired her hands
and arms bared to the shoulder, and whatever was hidden from view
he imagined more beautiful still. He followed her; she fled,
swifter than the wind, and delayed not a moment at his
entreaties. "Stay," said he, "daughter of Peneus; I am not a
foe. Do not fly me as a lamb flies the wolf, or a dove the hawk.
It is for love I pursue you. You make me miserable, for fear you
should fall and hurt yourself on these stones, and I should be
the cause. Pray run slower, and I will follow slower. I am no
clown, no rude peasant. Jupiter is my father, and I am lord of
Delphos and Tenedos, and know all things, present and future. I
am the god of song and the lyre. My arrows fly true to the mark;
but alas! An arrow more fatal than mine has pierced my heart! I
am the god of medicine, and know the virtues of all healing
plants. Alas! I suffer a malady that no balm can cure!"

The nymph continued her flight, and left his plea half uttered.
And even as she fled she charmed him. The wind blew her
garments, and her unbound hair streamed loose behind her. The
god grew impatient to find his wooings thrown away, and, sped by
Cupid, gained upon her in the race. It was like a hound pursuing
a hare, with open jaws ready to seize, while the feebler animal
darts forward, slipping from the very grasp. So flew the god and
the virgin he on the wings of love, and she on those of fear.
The pursuer is the more rapid, however, and gains upon her, and
his panting breath blows upon her hair. Now her strength begins
to fail, and, ready to sink, she calls upon her father, the river
god: "Help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change
my form, which has brought me into this danger!"

Scarcely had she spoken, when a stiffness seized all her limbs;
her bosom began to be enclosed in a tender bark; her hair became
leaves; her arms became branches; her feet stuck fast in the
ground, as roots; her face became a tree-top, retaining nothing
of its former self but its beauty. Apollo stood amazed. He
touched the stem, and felt the flesh tremble under the new bark.
He embraced the branches, and lavished kisses on the wood. The
branches shrank from his lips. "Since you cannot be my wife,"
said he, "you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my
crown. With you I will decorate my harp and my quiver; and when
the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the
Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And,
as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and
your leaf know no decay." The nymph, now changed into a laurel
tree, bowed its head in grateful acknowledgment.

Apollo was god of music and of poetry and also of medicine. For,
as the poet Armstrong says, himself a physician:--

"Music exalts each joy, allays each grief,
Expels disease, softens every pain;
And hence the wise of ancient days adored
One power of physic, melody, and song."

The story of Apollo and Daphne is often alluded to by the poets.
Waller applies it to the case of one whose amatory verses, though
they did not soften the heart of his mistress, yet won for the
poet wide-spread fame.

"Yet what he sung in his immortal strain,
Though unsuccessful, was not sung in vain.
All but the nymph that should redress his wrong,
Attend his passion and approve his song.
Like Phoebus thus, acquiring unsought praise,
He caught at love and filled his arms with bays."

The following stanza from Shelley's Adonais alludes to Byron's
early quarrel with the reviewers:--

"The herded wolves, bold only to pursue;
The obscene ravens, clamorous o'er the dead;
The vultures, to the conqueror's banner true,
Who feed where Desolation first has fed.
And whose wings rain contagion; how they fled,
When like Apollo, from his golden bow,
The Pythian of the age one arrow sped
And smiled! The spoilers tempt no second blow;
They fawn on the proud feet that spurn them as they go."

Ibycus

In order to understand the story of Ibycus which follows, it isnecessary to remember, first, that the theatres of the ancients were immense buildings providing seats for from ten to thirty thousand spectators, and as they were used only on festal occasions, and admission was free to all, they were usually filled. They were without roofs and open to the sky, and the performances were in the daytime. Secondly, the appalling representation of the Furies is not exaggerated in the story. It is recorded that AEschylus, the tragic poet, having on one occasion represented the Furies in a chorus of fifty performers, the terror of the spectators was such that many fainted and were thrown into convulsions, and the magistrates forbade a like representation for the future.

Ibycus, the pious poet, was on his way to the chariot races and musical competitions held at the Isthmus of Corinth, which attracted all of Grecian lineage. Apollo had bestowed on him the gift of song, the honeyed lips of the poet, and he pursued his way with lightsome step, full of the god. Already the towers of Corinth crowning the height appeared in view, and he had entered with pious awe the sacred grove of Neptune. No living object wasn sight, only a flock of cranes flew overhead, taking the same course as himself in their migration to a southern clime. "Good luck to you, ye friendly squadrons," he exclaimed, "my companions from across the sea. I take your company for a good omen. We come from far, and fly in search of hospitality. May both of us meet that kind reception which shields the stranger guest from harm!"

He paced briskly on, and soon was in the middle of the wood. There suddenly, at a narrow pass, two robbers stepped forth and barred his way. He must yield or fight. But his hand, accustomed to the lyre and not to the strife of arms, sank powerless. He called for help on men and gods, but his cry reached no defender's ear. "Then here must I die," said he, "in a strange land, unlamented, cut off by the hand of outlaws, and see none to avenge my cause." Sore wounded he sank to the earth, when hoarse screamed the cranes overhead. "Take up my cause, ye cranes," he said, "since no voice but yours answers to my cry." So saying, he closed his eyes in death.

The body, despoiled and mangled, was found, and though disfigured with wounds, was recognized by the friend in Corinth who had expected him as a guest. "Is it thus I find you restored to me?" he exclaimed; "I who hoped to entwine your temples with the
wreath of triumph in the strife of song!"

The guests assembled at the festival heard the tidings with dismay. All Greece felt the wound, every heart owned its loss. They crowded round the tribunal of the magistrates, and demanded vengeance on the murderers and expiation with their blood.

But what trace or mark shall point out the perpetrator from amidst the vast multitude attracted by the splendor of the feat? Did he fall by the hands of robbers, or did some private enemy slay him? The all-discerning sun alone can tell, for no other eye beheld it. Yet not improbably the murderer even now walks in the midst of the throng, and enjoys the fruits of his crime, while vengeance seeks for him in vain. Perhaps in their own temple's enclosure he defies the gods, mingling freely in this throng of men that now presses into the ampitheatre.

For now crowded together, row on row, the multitude fill the seats till it seems as if the very fabric would give way. The murmur of voices sounds like the roar of the sea, while the circles widening in their ascent rise, tier on tier, as if they would reach the sky.

And now the vast assemblage listens to the awful voice of the chorus personating the Furies, which in solemn guise advances with measured step, and moves around the circuit of the theatre. Can they be mortal women who compose that awful group, and can
that vast concourse of silent forms be living beings!

The choristers, clad in black, bore in their fleshless hands torches blazing with a pitchy flame. Their cheeks were bloodless, and in place of hair, writing and swelling serpents curled around their brows. Forming a circle, these awful beings sang their hymn, rending the hearts of the guilty, and enchaining all their faculties. It rose and swelled, overpowering the sound of the instruments, stealing the judgment, palsying the heart, curdling the blood.

"Happy the man who keeps his heart pure from guilt and crime! Him we avengers touch not; he treads the path of life secure from us. But woe! Woe! To him who has done the deed of secret murder. We, the fearful family of Night, fasten ourselves upon his whole being. Thinks he by flight to escape us? We fly still faster in pursuit, twine our snakes around his feet and bring him to the ground. Unwearied we pursue; no pity checks our course; still on and on to the end of life, we give him no peace nor rest." Thus the Eumenides sang, and moved in solemn cadence, while stillness like the stillness of death sat over the whole assembly as if in the presence of superhuman beings; and then in solemn march completing the circuit of the theatre, they passed
out at the back of the stage.

Every heart fluttered between illusion and reality, and every breast panted with undefined terror, quailing before the awful power that watches secret crimes and winds unseen the skein of
destiny. At that moment a cry burst forth from one of the uppermost benches "Look! Look! Comrade, yonder are the cranes of Ibycus!" And suddenly there appeared sailing across the sky a dark object which a moment's inspection showed to be a flock of cranes flying directly over the theatre. "Of Ibycus! did he say?" The beloved name revived the sorrow in every breast. As wave follows wave over the face of the sea, so ran from mouth to mouth the words, "Of Ibycus! Him whom we all lament, with some murderer's hand laid low! What have the cranes to do with him?" And louder grew the swell of voices, while like a lightning's flash the thought sped through every heart, "Observe the power of the Eumenides! The pious poet shall be avenged! The murderer has informed against himself. Seize the man who uttered that cry and the other to whom he spoke!"

The culprit would gladly have recalled his words, but it was too late. The faces of the murderers pale with terror betrayed their guilt. The people took them before the judge, they confessed their crime and suffered the punishment they deserved.

Friday, April 17, 2009

King Midas

Bacchus, on a certain occasion, found his old school master and foster father, Silenus, missing. The old man had been drinking, and in that state had wandered away, and was found by some peasants, who carried him to their king, Midas. Midas recognized him, and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with an unceasing round of jollity. On the eleventh day he brought Silenus back, and restored him in safety to his pupil. Whereupon Bacchus offered Midas his choice of whatever reward he might wish. He asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into GOLD. Bacchus consented, though sorry that he had not made a better choice. Midas went his way, rejoicing in his newly acquired power, which he hastened to put to the test. He could scarce believe his eyes when he found that a twig of an oak, which he plucked from the branch, became gold in his hand. He took up a stone it changed to gold. He touched a sod it did the same. He took an apple from the tree you would have thought he had robbed the garden of the Hesperides. His joy knew no bounds, and as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to set a splendid repast on the table.
Then he found to his dismay that whether he touched bread, it hardened in his hand; or put a morsel to his lips, it defied his teeth. He took a glass of wine, but it flowed down his throat like melted gold.

In consternation at the unprecedented affliction, he strove to divest himself of his power; he hated the gift he had lately coveted. But all in vain; starvation seemed to await him. He raised his arms, all shining with gold, in prayer to Bacchus, begging to be delivered from his glittering destruction.
Bacchus, merciful deity, heard and consented. "Go," said he, "to the river Pactolus, trace the stream to its fountain-head, there plunge in your head and body and wash away your fault and its punishment." He did so, and scarce had he touched the waters before the gold-creating power passed into them, and the river sands became changed into GOLD, as they remain to this day.

Thenceforth Midas, hating wealth and splendor, dwelt in the country, and became a worshipper of Pan, the god of the fields. On a certain occasion Pan had the temerity to compare his music with that of Apollo, and to challenge the god of the lyre to a
trial of skill. The challenge was accepted, and Tmolus, the mountain-god, was chosen umpire. Tmolus took his seat and cleared away the trees from his ears to listen. At a given signal Pan blew on his pipes, and with his rustic melody gave great satisfaction to himself and his faithful follower, Midas, who happened to be present. Then Tmolus turned his head toward the sun-god, and all his trees turned with him. Apollo rose, his brow wreathed with Parnassian laurel, while his robe of Tyrian purple swept the ground. In his left hand he held the lyre, and with his right hand struck the strings. Ravished with the harmony, Tmolus at once awarded the victory to the god of the lyre, and all but Midas acquiesced in the judgment. He dissented, and questioned the justice of the award. Apollo would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer to wear the human form, but caused them to increase in length, grow hairy, within and without, and to become movable, on their roots; in short, to be on the perfect pattern of those of an ass.

Mortified enough was King Midas at this mishap; but he consoled himself with the thought that it was possible to hide his misfortune, which he attempted to do by means of an ample turban or headdress. But his hairdresser of course knew the secret. He was charged not to mention it, and threatened with dire punishment if he presumed to disobey. But he found it too much for his discretion to keep such a secret; so he went out into the meadow, dug a hole in the ground, and stooping down, whispered the story, and covered it up. Before long a thick bed of reeds sprang up in the meadow, and as soon as it had gained its growth, began whispering the story, and has continued to do so, from that
day to this, with every breeze which passes over the place.

The story of King Midas has been told by others with some variations. Dryden, in the Wife of Bath's Tale, makes Midas' queen the betrayer of the secret.

"This Midas knew, and durst communicate
To none but to his wife his ears of state."

Midas was king of Phrygia. He was the son of Gordius, a poor countryman, who was taken by the people and made king, in obedience to the command of the oracle, which had said that their future king should come in a wagon. While the people were deliberating, Gordius with his wife and son came driving his wagon into the public square.

Gordius, being made king, dedicated his wagon to the deity of the oracle, and tied it up in its place with a fast knot. This was the celebrated GORDIAN KNOT, of which, in after times it was said, that whoever should untie it should become lord of all Asia. Many tried to untie it, but none succeeded, till Alexander the Great, in his career of conquest, came to Phrygia. He tried his skill with as ill success as the others, till growing impatient he drew his sword and cut the knot. When he afterwards succeeded in subjecting all Asia to his sway, people began to think that he had complied with the terms of the oracle according to its true meaning.

Antigone

The poems and histories of legendary Greece often relate, as has been seen, to women and their lives. Antigone was as bright an example of filial and sisterly fidelity as was Alcestis of connubial devotion. She was the daughter of OEdipus and Jocasta, who, with all their descendants, were the victims of an unrelenting fate, dooming them to destruction. Edipus in his madness had torn out his eyes, and was driven forth from his kingdom Thebes, dreaded and abandoned by all men, as an object of divine vengeance. Antigone, his daughter, alone shared his wanderings, and remained with him till he died, and then returned to Thebes.

Her brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, had agreed to share the kingdom between them, and reign alternately year by year. The first year fell to the lot of Eteocles, who, when his time expired, refused to surrender the kingdom to his brother. Polynices fled to Adrastus, king of Argos, who gave him his daughter in marriage, and aided him with an army to enforce his claim to the kingdom. This led to the celebrated expedition of the "Seven against Thebes," which furnished ample materials for the epic and tragic poets of Greece.

Amphiaraus, the brother-in-law of Adrastus, opposed the enterprise, for he was a soothsayer, and knew by his art that no one of the leaders except Adrastus would live to return. But Amphiaraus, on his marriage to Eriphyle, the king's sister, had agreed that whenever he and Adrastus should differ in opinion, the decision should be left to Eriphyle. Polynices, knowing this, gave Eriphyle the collar of Harmonia, and thereby gained her to his interest. This collar or necklace was a present which Vulcan had given to Harmonia on her marriage with Cadmus, and Polynices had taken it with him on his flight from Thebes.
Eriphyle could not resist so tempting a bribe, and by her decision the war was resolved on, and Amphiaraus went to his certain fate. He bore his part bravely in the contest, but could not avert his destiny. Pursued by the enemy he fled along the river, when a thunderbolt launched by Jupiter opened the ground, and he, his chariot, and his charioteer, were swallowed up.

It would not be in place here to detail all the acts of heroism or atrocity which marked the contest; but we must not omit to record the fidelity of Evadne as an offset to the weakness of Eriphyle. Capaneus, the husband of Evadne, in the ardor of the fight, declared that he would force his way into the city in spite of Jove himself. Placing a ladder against the wall, he mounted, but Jupiter, offended at his impious language, struck him with a thunderbolt. When his obsequies were celebrated, Evadne cast herself on his funeral pile and perished.

Early in the contest Eteocles consulted the soothsayer Tiresias as to the issue. Tiresias, in his youth, had by chance seen Minerva bathing. The goddess in her wrath deprived him of his sight, but afterwards relenting gave him in compensation the knowledge of future events. When consulted by Eteocles, he declared that victory should fall to Thebes if Menoeceus, the son of Creon, gave himself a voluntary victim. The heroic youth, learning the response, threw away his life in the first encounter.

The siege continued long, with various success. At length both hosts agreed that the brothers should decide their quarrel by single combat. They fought and fell by each other's hands. The armies then renewed the fight, and at last the invaders were forced to yield, and fled, leaving their dead unburied. Creon, the uncle of the fallen princes, now become king, caused Eteocles to be buried with distinguished honor, but suffered the body of Polynices to lie where it fell, forbidding every one, on pain of death, to give it burial.

Antigone, the sister of Polynices, heard with indignation the revolting edict which consigned her brother's body to the dogs and vultures, depriving it of those rites which were considered essential to the repose of the dead. Unmoved by the dissuading counsel of an affectionate but timid sister, and unable to procure assistance, she determined to brave the hazard and to bury the body with her own hands. She was detected in the act, and Creon gave orders that she should be buried alive, as having deliberately set at nought the solemn edict of the city. Her love, Haemon, the son of Creon, unable to avert her fate, would not survive her, and fell by his own hand.

Antigone forms the subject of two fine tragedies of the Grecian poet Sophocles. Mrs. Jameson, in her Characteristics of Women, has compared her character with that of Cordelia, in Shakespeare's King Lear. The perusal of her remarks cannot fail to gratify our readers.

The following is the lamentation of Antigone over OEdipus, when death has at last relieved him from his sufferings:

"Alas! I only wished I might have died
With my poor father; wherefore should I ask
For longer life?
Oh, I was fond of misery with him;
E'en what was most unlovely grew beloved
When he was with me. Oh, my dearest father,
Beneath the earth now in deep darkness hid,
Worn as thou wert with age, to me thou still
Wast dear, and shalt be ever."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Anzu - the first Dragon in Mythology

Have you ever been curious about the first Dragon in history? Where it was from, did it have a name? I know I was. I also realized that I would have to settle on the first Dragon in recorded history. Since time travel still eludes me. That is when I decided to do a little surfing, well, a lot of surfing and a lot of reading, as it turned out. Yes, I even hit the hard copy.

At first I was instantly gratified, as I'm sure many have been before me. A lot of web sites that I went to all told me the same... my quest was over...it was Anzu of Babylon, a.k.a Zu, c.1st Millennium B.C. From "Ninurta vs. Anzu" or "The Myth of Anzu". I read the descriptions, and with the exception of a few minor variations, it was this: Body and head of a lion, wings of an eagle (I didn't realize they had eagles in Babylon), razor sharp talons, the beak of a bird with teeth, and an armor-plated breast. It to me was a bit of a let down. I don't know about you, but to me Anzu sounds more like a griffin than a dragon. As I'm sure you will agree from the Babylonian depiction to the right. I also noticed a lot of copy and paste activity between a lot of the sites. So I decided to take a closer look, and actually read the original story as translated from the Babylonian clay tablets. At no time is Anzu referred to as a dragon. In other Babylonian text it is actual referred to as the Anzu Bird. In Sumerian text of the 3rd Millennium BC, Anzu was known as, the Zu-bird, a mythological creature which at times wrought mischief. From - Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the nether world - (Sumerian) : "In its branches, the Anzu bird settled its young." So, as far as the Babylonians and I are concerned, not only is Anzu not the first dragon, but not a dragon at all, and deserves no further mention. I did feel I was on the right trail though, so I pushed on into deeper study of Babylonian text.

My Reading and the views in other web sites brought me to an older "Dragon" in Babylonian and Assyrian text, Tiamat, creator of the gods and earth. c.2nd Millennium B.C. From the "Enuma Elish" or "The Seven Tablets of Creation". The fact that Tiamat was a dragon is not clear. In fact she has about as many detractors as she does supporters. She is often described as a Serpent type Water Dragon. Except for that fact that she was said to have given birth to dragons, along with a host of other creatures:

"She set up vipers and dragons, and the monster Lahamu,

And hurricanes, and raging hounds, and scorpion-men,

And mighty tempests, and fish-men, and rams;

They bore cruel weapons, without fear of the fight.

Her commands were mighty, none could resist them;

After this fashion, huge of stature, she made eleven [kinds of] monsters."

The descriptive evidence in the tale leaves one wondering to the fact of her being a dragon. She is in fact called a woman in the text, and mention is made of her lips. The following are all the pieces of description contained in the text of the Enuma Elish for Tiamat:

First: (Tablet 1)

unto Tiamut, the glistening one

Next: (Tablet 2)

Tiamat, who is a woman, is armed and attacketh thee.

... rejoice and be glad;

The neck of Tiamat shalt thou swiftly trample under foot.

... rejoice and be glad;

Next: (Tablet 4)

But Tiamat... , she turned not her neck,

With lips that failed not she uttered rebellious words:

Next: (Tablet 4)

Tiamat opened her mouth to its full extent,

Next: (Tablet 4)

He seized the spear and burst her belly,

Next: (Tablet 4)

And the lord stood upon Tiamat's hinder parts

Tiamat a dragon? I leave that to you. I myself do not find enough evidence in the old text to support the fact, but likewise I do not find enough to dismiss her. But, as for being the first dragon, that I can dismiss. (For those of you who enjoy Creation Myths though, her story is the first Creation Myth in recorded history!)

I was scratching my head. Here I was deep in the world that the Greeks called Mesopotamia, home of the Babylonians and Assyrian, the birth place of civilization, and writing, but where was my dragon! That's when I smacked myself in the head. The region may have been the birth place of writing, but it wasn't the Babylonians or the Assyrian that were the parents, they were but meir students...of the Sumerians! Mesopotamia, was originally Sumeria for over two thousand years! So I head for Sumeria!

And that's where I found it! The First Dragon written of, and the first dragon slayer story, and in the first written language Cuneiform!

KUR

Sumeria 3rd Millennium B.C.

"Since the dragon-slaying theme was an important motif in the Sumerian mythology of the third millennium B. C., it is not unreasonable to assume that many a thread in the texture of the Greek and early Christian dragon tales winds back to Sumerian sources."

Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 1944

"Samuel Noah Kramer spent most of his life studying this literature, by piecing together clay tablets in far-flung museums."

Sumerian Mythology, 1944, revised 1961

We find mention of Kur in three myths from the 4th - 3rd Millennium B.C., (more than a millennium before Tiamat!), In the introductory prologue to the epic tale "Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Nether World,"( written on eight tablets - seven excavated in Nippur and one in Ur), Where Enki, the water-god, fights Kur after he learns that The goddess Ereshkigal was carried off violently into the nether world, by Kur. Enki fought Kur from a boat, and Kur fought back savagely with stones of all sizes, and attacked Enki's boat with the primeval waters which it controlled. Unfortunately for us, the author of this tale is so anxious to proceed with the Gilgamesh tale that he doesn't finish the dragon part, and leaves us hanging. It is certain that Enki wins though because he is in the rest of the poem, Kur is not.

See anything familiar; Damsel in distress, knight comes to the rescue and slays the dragon.

The second version of the slaying-of-the-dragon myth can be found in "The Feats and Exploits of Ninurta." (49 tablets) A significant version, due to the fact that it is evident that it was utilized by the Semitic redactors in the creation of the Babylonian Creation Myth featuring Tiamat.

In this version, Ninurta, the warrior-god, is the hero of the story. His personified weapon, Sharur, kisses up to him in a drawn out speech extolling the heroic qualities and deeds of Ninurta to convince him to go after Kur, and attach and destroy him. What Sharur has against Kur is not written in the text that is available. Ninurta leaves to do as asked, but finds himself lacking and "flees like a bird". Sharur though, won't let it go and speaks, reassuring and encouraging Ninurta with his words. "Ninurta now attacks Kur fiercely with all the weapons at his command, and Kur is completely destroyed."

Things fall apart after that. The primeval waters of the nether world which Kur had been in control of rise to the surface so violently that no fresh water can reach the fields and gardens. The gods of the land in charge of irrigation and cultivation, are desperate. The Tigris does not flood as usual, and the river water is unfit for use.

"Famine was severe, nothing was produced,

The small rivers were not cleaned, the dirt was not carried off,

On the steadfast fields no water was sprinkled, there was no digging of ditches,

In all the lands there were no crops, only weeds grew.

Thereupon the lord sets his lofty mind,

Ninurta, the son of Enlil, brings great things into being."

Ninurta then piled up stones over the dead body of Kur, and kept piling them until he had a great wall in front of the land. The wall blocked and held back the raging primeval waters (mighty waters) stopping the waters of the lower regions (nether world) from rising to the surface of the earth. Ninurta gathered up the waters that had already flooded the land and lead them into the Tigris. Which can now over flow and water the fields.

"What had been scattered, he gathered,

What by Kur had been dissipated,He guided and hurled into the Tigris,

The high waters it pours over the farmland."

The third version of the slaying-of-the-dragon myth can be found in "Inanna and Ebih." A one hundred and ninety line poem. (12 tablets)

The dragon-slayer in this version of the story is a goddess, Inanna, curiously known as both the goddess of love and also as the goddess of battle and strife, (She must have been married), and is also referred to in many Sumerian hymns as "The Destroyer of Kur." Kur, is also referred to as The 'mountain,' in the Poem. Did I mention that Kur was also the first fire breathing dragon?

It, the poem, begins with a long passage that extolls the virtues of Inanna. It is followed by a long speech by Inanna to An (the leading deity of the Sumerian pantheon.) (by the third millennium. B. C. though, Enlil, the air-god, had already taken Ans place. Placing this in the forth millennium B.C.) The meaning of her speech is sometimes hard to understand, her attitude is clear though; Either Kur, who appears unaware of, or perhaps is oblivious to, her power, glorifies her virtues, and becomes submissive, she will do violence to the monster. This is part of her threat:

"The long spear I shall hurl upon it,

The throw-stick, the weapon, I shall direct against it,

At its neighboring forests I shall strike up fire,

At its . . . I shall set up the bronze ax,

All its waters like Gibil (the fire-god) the purifier I shall dry up,

Like the mountain Aratta, I shall remove its dread,

Like a city cursed by An, it will not be restored,

Like (a city) on which Enlil frowns, it shall not rise up."

An responds by giving her a detailed account of all of Kurs mischief that he has wrought against the gods:

"Against the standing place of the gods it has directed its terror,

In the sitting place of the Anunnaki it has led forth fearfulness,

Its dreadful fear it has hurled upon the land,

The 'mountain,' its dreadful rays of fire it has directed against all the lands."

An continues with a description of Kurs power and wealth, and warns Inanna against attacking it. But Inanna doesn't listen to Ans discouraging speech. Filled with anger and wrath she opens the "house of battle" she leads her weapons and aids and attacks and destroys Kur. She then stations herself upon Kur, and utters a paean of self-glorification.

So there you have it, the first dragon in recorded history, given to us by the sumerians.

From the book Sumerian Mythology:

"The Sumerians were a non-Semitic, non-Indo-European people who lived in southern Babylonia from 4000-3000 B.C.E. They invented cuneiform writing, and their spiritual beliefs influenced all successive Near Eastern religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam."

In closing let me say that the Sumerians gave us writing, they gave us culture, but most of all they gave us dragons. We should give them a moment of silence.


Wondjina

In Aboriginal mythology, the Wondjina (or wandjina) were cloud and rain spirits who, during the Dream time, painted their images (as humans but without mouths) on cave walls. It has been said if they had mouths, the rain would never cease. They also lacked limbs and had a skull-like face. Their ghosts still exist in small ponds. Walaganda, one of the Wondjina, became the Milky Way. Paintings of this style that represent the mythological beings involved in the creation of the world are called "Wondjina style".

The Aboriginal people are part of a hunting-gathering society, located in the outback of Australia. Objects found on geographical sites may suggest that this area had been inhabited as long ago as 174,000 B.C. Imagery and myth were a big part of this culture. They believed that "dreamtime" is cosmological time and is the order of the universe from beginning to end. There were ritualistic acts performed during dreamtime, which included the making of rock art. The Wandjinas have common colors of black, red and yellow on a white background. Wandjinas are believed to have made the sea, the earth and all its inhabitants. The existing rock art found, has depicted them as having huge upper bodies and large heads. Their faces show eyes and nose, but typically lack mouths. Around the heads of Wandjinas there appears to be lightning and feathers. The Wandjina is thought to have special powers and if offended, can cause flooding and intense lightning. The paintings are still believed to have special powers and therefore are to be approached cautiously.


In the culture of the Worora, Ngarinyin, and Wunumbul tribes, which make up the Mowanjum community outside Derby, Western Australia, the Wandjina is the supreme spirit being.

The tribes came together early this century at the Kunmunya Presbyterian mission and the government settlement at Munja. Since 1950, they have endured many forced moves, first to Wotjulum, then to the old Mowanjum site and, finally, to the present day Mowanjum site about 15 kilometres outside Derby.

As with most complex cultures, opinions about creation can differ. According to David Mowaljarlai (dec), a highly respected Mowanjum elder, the Worora, Ngarinyin and Wunumbul people are the three Wandjina tribes. Only these three tribes see the Wandjinas as the true creators of the land. Many other Australian Aboriginal tribes believe that the Dreamtime snake or Rainbow Serpent was the main creative force.

According to Mowanjum artist Mabel King, during Lai Lai (the creation time), Wallungunder, the "big boss" Wandjina, came from the Milky Way to create the earth and all the people. These first people were the Gyorn Gyorn – what some gudiya (white) people call Bradshaw figures, named after the gudiya to first see them in 1891. The Gyorn Gyorn had no laws or kinship and wandered around lost.

Wallungunder saw that he could do good with these people, so he went back to the Milky Way and brought many other Wandjinas with the power of the Dreamtime snake to help him bring laws and kinship to the Gyorn Gyorn people. The Dreamtime snake represents Mother Earth and is called ungud. Each of the artists has his or her own ungud birthplace or dreaming place.
The Wandjinas created the animals and the baby spirits that reside in the rock pools or sacred ungud places throughout the Kimberley, and continue to control everything that happens on the land and in the sky and sea.

Sam Woolagoodja (dec), a distinguished and eminent Worora leader and law man, described the Wandjina image by saying 'their power is so great that they don't need to speak, so they have no mouth. Their eyes are powerful and black, like the eye of a cyclone. The lines around a Wandjina's head can mean lots of things – clouds, rain, lightning. The Wandjinas, he said, painted their own images on the cave walls before they returned to the spirit world.'
In addition to being the sole holder of many sacred laws, one of Sam's most important responsibilities (and one that now belongs to his son, Donny) was the upkeep and repainting of hundreds of Wandjina cave images along the Kimberley coast. This ensures that the Wandjinas' power remains strong.
Almost 20 years ago, David Mowaljarlai told local Derby District High School art teacher Mark Norval that the elders were very worried about the young people forgetting about the Wandjinas and their true homelands. "They should build a big place out of rocks, like a cave, at Mowanjum and we should do paintings all over those rocks to teach all the kids about our culture," he said.
Today, through the efforts of the Mowanjum elders and artists and many dedicated local people and businesses, the Wandjina culture is not being lost. Rather, as the artists continue to paint and the Mowanjum children begin to rediscover their own beliefs and heritage, the culture is evolving.

Thanks to the generosity of the Mowanjum people, the world now has the opportunity to learn about one of the oldest and most powerful images in Aboriginal art and the stories that have been passed on for more than 100 centuries.


source 1 2

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Carnac Stones

A dramatic battle is raging over the future - and the soul - of the conglomeration of neolithic standing stones at Carnac in Brittany, the largest site of its kind in the world. A coalition of amateur archaeologists, small farmers, environmentalists and Breton nationalists, led by a folk musician and a round-the-world yachtsman, has seized control of the central group of Carnac menhirs, or standing stones.

The 3,000 hunks of granite, erected 6,000 years ago (or more) in rows spread over two and a half miles, form a vast monument to the mysteries of early humanity, comparable in importance to Stonehenge. The protestors fear that the site's owner - the French state - plans to turn them into a theme park, or what they call a "Menhirland". The state accuses the protesters of having desecrated the place they love.

Since 1991, the principal groups of Carnac stones have been fenced in by ugly, green-mesh enclosures, similar to the controversial barrier erected around Stonehenge. Three weeks ago, the protesters stormed the main visitor centre, found the keys to the fences and threw all the stone alignments open to the public for free (to the delight of tourists).

French government officials have now recaptured and padlocked two of the three main groups of stones. But they say that the protesters have already caused permanent damage to the site by allowing tourists to wander among the menhirs at will.

Nonsense, say the demonstrators, who still hold the visitor centre and access to Kermario, the most central group of neolithic alignments. They say that it was the state that damaged the site by its misguided management in the 1980s (including using bulldozers to move stones around).

If Paris cares about the menhirs, they asked, why has it allowed scores of other groups of stones in the Carnac area - there are 80 sites and over 14,000 stones within a 10-mile radius - to fall into ruin? Why has the state changed its zoning rules to permit development near the main alignments, while trying to evict small farmers who have co-existed with the stones for years?

"They have plans, only half-disclosed, to commercialise the stones," said Eugène Riguidel, 62, a round-the-world yachtsman and environmental activist, who is vice-president of Menhirs Libres, the group leading the protest.

"They want to clear residents away from the site, make it antiseptic, build a large, paying car park and visitor centre and then probably hotels. We want the stones - all the stones - to be cherished, to be protected, but not to be fenced in with enclosures which destroy the beauty and atmosphere of this magical place."

The French government says that "Menhirland" is a myth. The site was fenced because unrestricted access by one million visitors a year was destroying vegetation and threatening to destabilise the stones. Officials say the government's plan, published in 1996 (and rejected by 87 per cent of local people) aims to restore the site's grandeur, not to turn it into a theme park.

Christian Obeltz, 40, a folk musician and amateur archaeologist, who is the other vice-president of Menhirs Libres, retorted: "If they really cherish the stones, why is there such a tiny sum in their plans [£15,000] for archaeological exploration to try to understand who built the alignments and why?"

Astonishingly, there has been little thorough exploration of Carnac since the pioneering work of the Scottish archaeologist James Miln in the 1860s, who carried out extensive excavations in the area.

At that time, fewer than 700 of the nearly 3,000 stones at the main Carnac sites were still standing. Early photographs and drawings suggest that parts of today's neat alignments may be incorrect. They were originally more haphazard. Also, it appears that some of the stones were re-erected upside down.

Others were quarried in the 1930s to fill gaps in the lines. Some were shifted to make way for roads. A few, scandalously, were shoved into new positions, to make way for the ugly fences in 1991.

"There is a huge amount of work that needs to be done to understand the site and restore its integrity," Mr Obeltz said. "Otherwise, we will just be selling the tourists myths and legends and a simplified, regularised Carnac, something which fails to comprehend the real immensity and mystery of the place."

The battle of Carnac has settled, for the time being, into a typically French stand-off. The French authorities show no willingness to evict the protesters from the site. Nor have they shown any intention to listen to their criticism.