Brian Haughton, Interview
By Michelle Pillow, www.michellepillow.com
European Archaeologist, Brian Haughton spends his time between playing guitar in a band, The Electric Rays, and exploring his passion for ancient history. An author and researcher, he’s written about prehistoric megalithic sites, ancient sacred places and supernatural folklore. A self-defined critical thinker, he approaches the supernatural as a skeptic, looking for facts within the folklore and myths.
I had a chance to read his latest popular archaeology title, History’s Mysteries: People, Places and Oddities Lost in the Sands of Time. This book explores the latest archaeological evidence to some of the oldest mysteries of the ancient world, addressing everything from what happened to the Neanderthals to controversial ancient artefacts like the Iron Pillar of Delhi, mysterious places like the Newport Tower of Rhode Island to the questions surrounding some of history’s most infamous people.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in various aspects of ancient history. Each chapter examines a different mystery from around the world, exploring it fully by outlining the known facts, including the latest in archeological findings, while giving the reader plenty to think on as they draw their own conclusions.
I would like to thank the author, Brian Haughton, for joining me.
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Q: Brian, how did you get into archaeology, and more specially studying ancient history, the supernatural and the mysteries of our past?
Brian:I long ago fell for the lure of the ancient world and tales of the supernatural, initially inspired by visiting the Neolithic chambered tombs of the Cotswold Hills in England, the Minoan site of Knossos on the island of Crete and by reading the ghost stories of Sheridan Le Fanu and M.R. James.
Q: What inspired you to write your newest book, History’s Mysteries?
Brian:The constant new archaeological discoveries being made throughout the world on an almost daily basis. For example a new stone circle near Stonehenge, and the remains of previously unknown hedges which once surrounded Stonehenge keeping the ceremonies that took place inside the monument secret from those outside.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the book?
Brian:History’s Mysteries is an investigation into 35 archaeological mysteries from across the globe, organized by geographical region. As with my previous book Hidden History, this work separates its collection of enthralling ancient riddles into three sections: Mysterious Places, Unexplained Artefacts, and Enigmatic People. The choice of subjects was made to include a wide range of cultures and a mixture of both the well known and the relatively obscure. Consequently you will read about India’s celebrated Taj Mahal and the biblical Temple of Solomon, as well as the little known Royston Cave, in the UK, the infamous Rennes-le-Château, in France, and the forgotten site of Great Zimbabwe, in South Africa. In the book I have tried to present a summary of the current level of knowledge for a small selection of archaeological mysteries, I leave it to my readers to pursue in more detail these riddles left to us by our ancient ancestors.
Q: What do you feel are some of the book’s most fascinating historical highlights?
Brian:The chapter on Boudica – a queen of the Iceni tribe of Eastern Britain in the 1st century AD. She is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest heroines for her brave rebellion against the tyranny of Roman rule. Despite her brutal excesses in battle, Boudica is still a heroic figure, one who was after all fighting to defend her entire culture. If her revolt had been successful the Romans may have been driven out of Britain forever, and the culture, language and subsequent history of Britain, Europe and even perhaps the world, may have been very different.
Q: Did Cleopatra really kill her sister?
Brian:The BBC seem to think so, there was a BBC documentary, sensationally (and unnecessarily) entitled Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer. But they are probably right that Cleopatra asked her lover Anthony that her sister Arsinoë, still living in protection at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (modern Turkey), be executed to prevent any future attempts on her throne. However, the situation was complicated. Years earlier, around 49 BC, Cleopatra’s brother Ptolemy XIII allied himself with his and Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoë in an attempt to depose Cleopatra. After Ptolemy was captured Arsinoë escaped and joined the Egyptian army under Achillas, who gave her the title of pharaoh in opposition to her sister Cleopatra. She was later captured by Caesar’s army and transported to Rome. So Arsinoë was a constant threat to Cleopatra, who probably would have had her killed had the roles been reversed.
Q: What can the Uluburun shipwreck tell us about contacts between ancient cultures?
Brian:The Uluburun Wreck was discovered off the southern coast of Turkey in the 1980s, and is the oldest known shipwreck in the world. Dating back around 3,300 years, the ship carried a cargo of incredible richness and diversity which included Egyptian scarabs, copper ingots from Cyprus, Mycenaean pottery from Greece, Canaanite jars, lamps, and bowls, ebony logs from Egypt, an Italian sword, elephant tusks, gold, silver, faience, and amber from Northern Europe. There have been suggestions that this wealthy cargo was a gift or offering from Egypt’s Queen Nefertiti, wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaton, or that it was a Phoenician trading ship or even, because of the amount of raw material found aboard, some kind of itinerant smithy or tinker. What this ship with its vast array of goods originating in so many different ancient cultures tells us is that more than 3,300 years ago these cultures were mixing commercially and probably socially also. May represent royal gifts or tribute, perhaps involving Egyptian pharaohs.
Q: How recently did the Neanderthals die out?
Brian:Between roughly 45,000 and 30,000 years ago Neanderthals shared Europe and parts of western and central Asia with anatomically modern humans. The question of why a large-brained intelligent hominid, in many respects so similar to us, who had dominated Europe for so long vanished completely may never be resolved satisfactorily. It is more than likely that there is not a single cause for the Neanderthal’s extinction – they did not disappear overnight in one huge group. Neanderthals covered a vast area of Europe and western Asia and there were probably localized factors affecting their disappearance in different regions at various times between 45,000 and 25,000 years ago. Perhaps the question should not be why Neanderthals became extinct, but why did they disappear and we survive?
Q: What are Venus figurines and when were they made?
Brian:Venus Figurines are a class of distinctive portable artifacts dating back to the Upper Paleolithic Period (roughly between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago). The most notable and common type of Venus Figurines are small three-dimensional sculptures of usually voluptuous women, ranging in height from 1.2 inches to more than 15 inches and carved from a wide range of materials including serpentine, schist, limestone, hematite, lignite, calcite, steatite, fired clay, ivory, bone and antler. The fact that Venus Figurines are found over such a wide geographical area indicates that there was a shared understanding amongst the Palaeolithic hunter gatherer tribes of Europe and western Asia of a particular aspect of womanhood or a certain type of woman.
Q: Where was Lyonesse and what happened to it?
Brian: Story of drowned land of Lyonesse, often referred to as the ‘English Atlantis’, is told in medieval Arthurian tales and may also be connected to older Celtic legends of cataclysmic floods. The country of Lyonesse is said to have had many towns, woods and fields, and 140 churches, but all this was all lost underneath the waves in one catastrophic inundation. According to local tradition only one person escaped the flood, the hero Trevilian, who rode a white horse to the safety of high ground. Lyonesse is most commonly located between the English county of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, 28 miles to the south west of the United Kingdom. Celtic legends of overflowing wells seem to be the source of much of the material contained in British, Irish and French stories of Lyonesse and other drowned lands. It is such ancient tales, combined with glimpses of submerged parts of the former coast at low tides off Land’s End, the Isles of Scilly, and the Bay of Douarnenez, that probably constitute the origins of the tale of Lyonesse.
Q: Looking at your backlist titles, I’ve noticed you’ve written a lot about ancient history and supernatural folklore. Tell us a little bit about your other works.
Brian:My first book Hidden History, is really History’s Mysteries Part 1. The 49 short chapters of the book are fact-based, accounts of mysterious places, curious and unexplainable artifacts and unusual historical people from across the world.
My book Lore of the Ghost is an exploration of the numerous categories of ghosts and hauntings throughout the world. It discusses the possible motives for each type of haunting—from phantom white ladies and spectral black dogs to haunted highways and ghostly vehicles—what they represent, why they occur, and their possible functions. Unlike the vast majority of books on the subject, Lore of the Ghost is not a gazetteer of ghost sightings or a ghost hunter’s manual, but an investigation into human belief in the supernatural and its effect on the nature of ghosts worldwide. The book attempts to delve deeply into the roots of supernatural folklore and urban legends, the very same tales that are often the foundation of modern sightings of ghosts.
Q: In Haunted Spaces, Sacred Places: A Field Guide to Stone Circles, Crop Circles, Ancient Tombs, and Supernatural Landscapes, you talk about ghosts and unexplained phenomena. What do you find to be some of the more fascinating stories in the book?
Brian:The vast Neolithic tomb / temple of Newgrange, north of Dublin. This was one of the greatest architectural achievements of prehistory, and one of the earliest roofed buildings in the world. Newgrange was probably built around 3200 BC, and consists of a passage running for 62 feet and a 20 foot high chamber with a corbelled roof, constructed of large stone slabs without mortar. The passage and chamber are covered by a huge stone and turf mound about 262 feet in diameter and around 44 feet high, surrounded at its base by 97 large stones known as kerbstones, some of which are elaborately ornamented with megalithic art.
The entrance to the Newgrange passage tomb consists of a doorway composed of two standing stones and a horizontal lintel. Above the doorway is an aperture known as the ‘roof box’ or ‘light box’. Every year, shortly after 9 am, on the morning of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the sun begins its ascent across the Boyne Valley over a hill known locally as Red Mountain, the name possibly originating from the color of the sunrise on this day. The newly-risen sun then sends a shaft of sunlight directly through the Newgrange light box, which penetrates down the passageway as a narrow beam of light illuminating the central chamber at the back of the tomb. After just 17 minutes the ray of light narrows and the chamber is once more left in darkness. This spectacular event was not rediscovered until 1967 by professor Michael J. O’Kelly, though it had been known about in local folklore before that time, in fact the monument was known locally as Uaimh na Gréine (the ‘Cave of the Sun’). The Newgrange light box reveals in spectacular fashion the knowledge of surveying and basic astronomy possessed by the Neolithic inhabitants of the area. It also illustrates that for the people who aligned their monument with the winter solstice, the sun must have formed an important part of their religious beliefs.
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, begun around 2900 BC, has always fascinated me, particularly the folklore surrounding it. There is a tantalizing glimpse of what may be a memory of the transportation of the bluestones to the site over a great distance to Salisbury Plain in the most famous legend connected with Stonehenge. The story is found in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (c. 1136), and describes how Aurelius Ambrosius, King of the Britons, desired to have a monument constructed to commemorate the massacre of 460 British nobles by the troops of Hengist the Saxon. On the advice of prophet and magician Merlin, the King sent his brother Uther Pendragon (the father of King Arthur), with an army of fifteen thousand men to bring back a stone structure called the ‘Giants’ Dance’ from a mountain called Killare (possibly Kildare) in Ireland. Merlin describes the Giants’ Dance as a “structure of stones there, which none of this age could raise, without a profound knowledge of the mechanical arts”. Uther Pendragon’s army was unable to budge the huge stones and so turned to Merlin, who using “his own engines” dismantled the stones which were then transported to Britain by ship. Whether or not this tale is a distorted memory of the actual journey of the bluestones from somewhere in ‘the west’ is much debated, though the mention of ‘engines’ is certainly intriguing. Nevertheless, it would be an inordinately long time for even a fragment of the event to have survived orally.
Q: Why are strange phenomena often connected with these ancient places? Do sacred sites somehow generate or attract the paranormal?
Brian:There is no evidence for this, but mysterious ancient places, especially those of unknown origin, attract and generate strange tales / urban legends / folklore, mainly because no-one is sure exactly why they were built and what went on there.
Q: What can the legends and folklore of ancient places reveal to us about the beliefs and ideas of our ancestors?
Brian:Because we are talking about an age of over 2,000 years, sometimes a lot more, for prehistoric sites, the legends and folklore of ancient places tell us more about how these places have been seen and interpreted by people over the last few hundred years (which is when most of the folklore dates back to) rather than anything about the beliefs of the actual builders of the monuments.
Q: What is the truth behind the mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in China, home of the Terracotta Warriors?
Brian:The monumental tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang is located 22 miles east of Xian, the capital of the Shensi province of modern China. The tomb itself, which according to traditional Chinese geomancy represented the eye of a huge dragon in the landscape, is underneath a huge vegetation covered earthen mound, 154 feet high, and measuring 1690 feet from north to south and 1590 feet from east to west. The mound has eroded considerably in its 2000 year history; it is believed that it once soared up to a height of 330 feet. though they estimate there are as many as 7,000 magnificently crafted warriors, 130 chariots with horses, and 110 cavalry horses, buried to guard China’s First Emperor more than 2,000 years ago.
The Terracotta Army are a vast army of soldiers discovered three quarters of a mile from Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in three huge subterranean pits supported by wooden frameworks, and are spread over an area measuring 135,630 square feet. Each pit is separated by a number of partitioning walls, which divide the army up into columns. The soldiers are all arranged in battle formation, with crouching crossbowmen, archers, infantry, chariots and cavalry all in their appropriate positions. Perhaps a tradition of the terracotta crossbowmen may have lingered on to become the legend that the Emperor’s tomb was guarded against intruders by automatic cross bows? Every soldier in the Emperor’s army is unique, with its individual face, hairstyle, height, uniform and weapons, all in accordance with his rank. Archaeologists have excavated over 1000 of these soldiers, though they estimate there are as many as 7,000 magnificently crafted warriors, 130 chariots with horses, and 110 cavalry horses, buried to guard China’s First Emperor more than 2,000 years ago.
Q: Why are there modern encounters with ghosts, UFOs, spooklights, Bigfoot and phantom dogs at many sacred places?
Brian:My research for the book Haunted Spaces, Sacred Places showed that supernatural stories are often connected with liminal places (old roads, ponds, ancient monuments) which were often seen as dangerous places, boundary areas between the living and the dead. Reports of paranormal phenomena at such places are an extension of such folk beliefs.
Q: Why do you think readers, and society in general, are fascinated by the paranormal?
Brian:People love a mystery, and want desperately to believe in something. As Mulder says in the X-Files “I want to believe”.
Q: Do you believe in the supernatural? Or are you a skeptic?
Brian:I believe most supernatural tales are folklore or urban legend, I’m a critical thinker.
Q: What period throughout history do you wish you could visit? Anyone in particular you’d like to meet and interview?
Brian:I would have like to have visited Stonehenge when it was being constructed (c2800 BC). I would love to have met Cleopatra.
Q: What are you currently working on?
Brian:I’m researching a book on the conspiracy theories surrounding the Manson Family. Scary people.
Thanks for joining us, Brian!
Brian’s latest book, History’s Mysteries: People, Places and Oddities Lost in the Sands of Time, released March 2010 and is available at Amazon.com. You can learn more about Brian and his books at his website, www.Brian-Haughton.com. Interview by Michelle Pillow, www.michellepillow.com