Feb 10

Beached whales were Orkney bonanza

Volunteers attend to some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales still alive. (REUTERS/Anthony Phelps

Volunteers attend to some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales still alive. (REUTERS/Anthony Phelps)

We are all mortified, not to say mystified, by the stranded pilot whales in New Zealand.  But in Orkney some four thousand years ago, the people would have regarded such a beaching not as a tragedy but as a bounty from the sea.

No-one knows how whales manage to get themselves beached in the shallows.  It is a mystery.  One theory is that the lack of depth plays havoc with their sonar.

It is certainly a sad sight when great living creatures find themselves in such difficulties and we are powerless to help them.

One would have thought X (insert favoured figure) ‘millions of years of evolution’ would have sorted the problem out, but no.  Still the whales come.

Orkney – cradle of British civilisation

Neil Oliver with the foundations of A stone age temple on Orkney

Neil Oliver with the foundations of a stone age temple at Ness of Brodgar on Orkney

Last night (Thursday 9th Feb 2017) on BBC4, the TV archeologist Neil Oliver led a team uncovering Orkney’s neolithic past.  The programme was part of the series Britain’s Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney.  The first rule of archeology is this:  ‘Remember, these were people like us’.  Dr Oliver in particular pays great respect to the people of the past.  (He pays less deference to politicians of the present, particularly those of the SNP.  But let that pass.)

The Orcadians were pagans.  They worshipped the signs of the heavens and quite probably deified anything which was important to them, such as the sea and the weather.  They also kept large herds of cattle.  It is probable they viewed their cattle as a store of wealth, like African nomadic tribesmen today.

The foundations of their temples at the Ness of Brodgar were built over sacrifices of their cattle.  As a confirmation of the practice, building sacrifices into foundations is spoken of in the Bible.  Joshua prophesied that whoever would rebuild Jericho would bury two of his children in the foundations:

Joshua 6:26 And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the LORD, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it.  (KJV)

Stone Age Orkney highly civilised

The Orcadians were not on the evidence found so far as depraved as Hiel the Bethelite, the Iron Age king who fulfilled the curse of Joshua in 1Kings 16:34 probably around 860 BC.

We have an image of Stone Age people grunting and shivering as they struggled to build a fire.  Secrets of Orkney has laid this canard to rest.  They were highly civilised people, wealthy, delighting in art, skilled shipbuilders and navigators, trading across the world, exchanging ideas.  The excavations on Orkney give us confidence in accounts of trade and technological advance in the Bible.  Bible people too really were people like us.

The programme last night also explained how the people of Orkney would have taken advantage of regular strandings of whales.  They took the meat and rendered the blubber.  The evidence shows they used the bones to make everything from needles to the internal structure of their boats.  The BBC iPlayer link is here if you want to watch on catch-up.

The whales’ contribution to the ancient Orkney economy may be scant consolation to those mourning the pilot whales in New Zealand.  Nevertheless, it might just add a tiny bit of perspective.  Perhaps the whales and their sad, mysterious death wish are there for our benefit.  Perhaps the good Lord graciously designed them like that.  We may be horrified at the thought of the Orcadians rushing to the sea shore to slaughter beached whales. But then again, Stone Age people might well view some of the things we take for granted in our civilisation today as barbarous.

Genesis 1:21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Gen 9:3  Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.



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  1. JohnAllman.UK

    Has there ever been a Stone Age, either the Old Stone Age, or the New Stone Age also talked about? What the dickens is the “Bronze Age” anyway? And how is the so-called Iron Age not simply *today*? (Take my car, for instance!)

    As a child, the idea seemed to me questionable, of dating ancient artifacts excavated from the ruins of the villages, towns, cities, farms, retail parks, tourist traps, battlefields and industrial estates of former civilizations, on the basis of what materials and trouble and skill were apparently used in manufacturing the objects dug up.

    The idea was peddled, at school, in my school days, that the “Ages” system for dating objects dug up on digs, was calibrated, by observing (it was asserted) that the deeper buried artifacts tended to include (say) more blunt flint knives, whilst the shallow artifacts tended more often to be sharp iron knives, etc. QED, provided I also assumed that there was precipitation of dust from the sky that was gradually burying, deeper and deeper, everything I dropped on the ground in the wilderness, or abandoned in my back garden. But we were never shown anything resembling data, or calculations, either to show that things people dropped slowly sank deeper and deeper underground over the centuries as we were indoctrinated to believe, or to show that a correlation really had been found, between depth and the hypothesis about the different so-called “Ages”.

    The correlation our teachers said the Ages model predicted, and told us had been observed, but didn’t enable us to check, would be predicted by a hypothesis tailor-made to ridicule the bible’s account of male genital mutilation for religious ritual purposes having been performed on adults using “flint knives”, many centuries after mankind had learnt to do all kinds of intricate work with metals, such as iron, copper and tin.

    1. Stephen

      It is all to do with the materials they made their tools out of. There was also overlap. People did not stop using bronze tools because iron could now be smelted. Flint knives remained in use and were very sharp, make no mistake about that. Archeology appears to be a lot more sophisticated now and as more is discovered they can date civilisations better. Interestingly, nothing seems to go back more than about five or six thousand years. Funny, that.

      1. Rox

        “Nothing” is not the same as “no civilisation” !
        Civilisation is when relatively disorganised tribes of hunter gatherers start to live in cities (Latin “civitates”), their nutritional needs met by agriculture. Under these conditions, all kinds of technological and cultural specialities can flourish.

        But before that, there was “something”, not “nothing”. Archaeologists find large numbers of artefacts all the way back to 50,000 years ago, but more rarely, some are older still.

        Anyway, there was a kind of early civilisation in Palestine and Syria as long as 14,000 years ago, without bronze it’s true.

        1. Rox

          Welcome to the World of Rox, where the outdated theories of Archbishop Ussher are not allowed to stand in the way of archaeological evidence.

          1. Rox

            For example :

            ” The ancient capital of the Babylonian Empire covers nearly 3,000 acres and is about 55 miles south of current-day city of Baghdad in Iraq. These discovered ruins include the famous ziggurat structures, the Tower of Babel, and the Palace of King Nebuchadnezzar. The ruins describe what is written in the Old Testament, exactly as it was found in archaeological finds. ”

            This doesn’t exactly “confirm the Bible”, or even really “support the Bible”, as it claims. Nobody doubts that the Bible Story was played out against the background of the civilisations described by historians and archaeologists (whom Mark will of course trust, so long as they don’t overstep the line of pre-dating a date he believes in). Nobody doubts that there was a king whose name resembled Nebuchadnezzar who had a palace. I’m not sure that “the famous ziggurat structures” are mentioned in the Bible, but you could speculate with the eye of Faith that one of them was the Tower of Babel, the same way as “Holy Sites” are identified in Jerusalem (despite it having been destroyed by the Romans). I was always surprised that Americans weren’t more aware of the Biblical nature of Iraq when they were smashing it up. Perhaps Christian Voice could organise a pilgrimage to the Tower of Babel.

            I could give you more striking examples than the website. For example, the royal steward’s inscription referred to in Isaiah 22:15-16
            “Thus saith the Lord God of hosts, Go, get thee unto this treasurer, even unto Shebna, which is over the house, and say,
            What hast thou here? and whom hast thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here, as he that heweth him out a sepulchre on high, and that graveth an habitation for himself in a rock? ” AV
            (Easier to understand in this easy-to-read version).
            “The Lord God All-Powerful told me to go to Shebna, the palace manager, and say this: “What are you doing here? None of your relatives are buried here, are they? Then what right do you have to prepare a tomb for yourself in this high place? Why are you cutting a tomb out of this rock?”
            THIS VERY SAME HEWN INSCRIPTION (or so it would seem) has ended up in room 57 of the British Museum, which is full of artifacts from all these civilisations. There is no dispute that they existed.

          2. Rox

            Some discerning readers may have found neither the Authorised Version nor the easy-to-read version entirely satisfactory here, and it’s true that an inscription is not actually mentioned, but is implied (because the owner of the new tomb would need to be identified). I should have written:
            “The carved inscription from the very same tomb”.

            As so often, the Revised English Bible (Oxford University Press, 1989) combines clarity with dignity :

            “These were the words of the Lord, the Lord of Hosts :
            Go to the steward,
            this Shebna, comptroller of the household, and say:
            What have you here, or whom have you here,
            that you have hewn out a tomb here for yourself ?
            Why should he hew his tomb in an eminent place,
            and carve for himself a resting place in the rock ?”
            Isaiah 22: 15-16.
            It continues in 22: 17-19 as follows:
            “The Lord is about to shake you out, as a garment is shaken to rid it of lice;
            he will roll you up tightly
            and throw you like a ball
            into a land of vast expanses.
            There you will die.
            …..I shall remove you from your office
            and pluck you from your post.”
            Exactly why the Lord of Hosts should spend his time punishing people who go for the wrong part of the cemetery isn’t very clear.

            The Revised English Bible is, of course, a revision of the New English Bible (1970 OUP and others). This passage is surprisingly different !
            “Go to this steward,
            to Shebna, comptroller of the household, and say:
            What right, what business, have you here,
            that you have dug yourself a grave here,
            cutting out your grave on a height
            and carving yourself a resting-place in the rock ?”
            (The rest essentially the same).

            One wonders how it is rendered in Zulu or Mandarin.

          3. Stephen

            Shebna was the king’s right-hand man, but was using his position to advance himself instead of to bring about repentance.
            There is a good analysis both HERE and HERE.

          4. Rox

            But don’t lots of people do that, without the Lord of Hosts intervening ?

            Being shaken out as a garment is shaken to rid it of lice seems a bit drastic.

            The object in the British Museum is illustrated and described in detail here :

            I am intrigued that he was buried with his maidservant. Would she have been a chattel, or particularly close to him ?
            Would she have died before him ? Would she have agreed to it first ? It opens up all kinds of questions about their practices.

            If we assume that he DID die in a distant land of vast expanses, he would hardly have been brought back to the offending sepulchre. So the burial with the maid must have been planned in advance …..

            I suppose this was the kind of maidservant that must not be coveted.

          5. Rox

            Your links seem reluctant to take the AV’s “What hast thou here, or whom hast thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here ?” at face value.
            I think it does mean ” What have you here, or whom have you here,
            that you have hewn out a tomb here for yourself ?” (REB)
            In other words, you are an important official, but not part of the land-owning nobility buried in this posh place. You wouldn’t bury David Cameron at Windsor, nor probably in Westminster Abbey.

            As for “He thought he was ‘a big shot’ ” , well, he was a big shot ! The king’s right-hand man, you said. One is reminded of a Grand Vizier in countries like Turkey. They were grand !
            Wazir is still the Arabic word used for a government minister. They are not poor people usually, and they don’t have paupers’ funerals unless they are very unfortunate.

            Your American links exaggerate the splendor of the sepulcher, however, though, without knowing a lot about it. It was probably just a rough cave in the cliff, with the carved inscription which still exists in the British Musum, although they don’t refer to it. All too keen to find the remains of the Ark, some of them, but ignore something real !

            This has been a “World of Rox Special” rather far removed from the whales in New Zealand .

          6. Rox

            The British Museum calls the item “much damaged”, but actually what is missing is principally the name “Shebna” (while still describing him as the royal steward).
            I can’t help wondering if it might have been deliberately defaced to disgrace him ? One is reminded of statues in English churches literally defaced by Protestants.
            If this is so, the missing name tends to back up the story, rather than the contrary.

        2. Mark Jones


          “Anyway, there was a kind of early civilisation in Palestine and Syria as long as 14,000 years ago, without bronze it’s true.”

          Probably based on the same flawed dating techniques answered in my earlier post, but here is an article giving the evidence for a 6,000 year old earth https://answersingenesis.org/age-of-the-earth/how-old-is-the-earth/

          1. Rox

            Of course, if you consult Genesis and the estimates of people who knew no better, and people who are determined to oppose orthodox science with every argument they can think of, you will come up with the wrong answer. Archaeologists and cosmologists are completely wasting their time when these people know better.

            It’s rather like the host of natural healers and unqualified “nutritionists” who know so much better than real doctors, usually only until somebody is actually seriously ill.

            In adding up various time periods in the Old Testament to come up with these very late dates, you have to believe that geology and the variety of animals and plants were all created in a few days, which seems so unlikely; but on the other hand, it depends very much on adding up the ages of obscure characters who each lived for hundreds of years.

            Welcome to the World of Mark. And of Bodie Hodge.

            Coming back to the subject, he would no doubt have us believe that a man can live inside a whale and emerge unharmed. Wouldn’t it have amazed the pagan Orcadians if such a man had stepped out of a whale onto their shores ?

          2. Rox

            Warning : Mark’s link to the Deccan Chronicle led to my computer displaying pornography while left unattended !

            Also, if you click on its prayer icon top right, you will be reminded of these amongst others:
            Varjaya: 1.37 pm to 3.21 pm
            Durmuhurtam: 12.06 pm to 12.52 pm
            Rahukalam: 12 noon to 1.30 pm

          3. Rox

            Marx’ Deccan Chronicle is very reliable.

            Of course, it’s like everything with Mark. It it says what he wants, it’s true, but if it says what he doesn’t want, it just isn’t true.
            There is really no point in quoting it as a source.

    2. Rox

      ” dating ancient artifacts ….. on the basis of what materials and trouble and skill were apparently used in manufacturing the objects dug up.”

      This is a bit simplistic. Take a well-made bronze coin. It could be Roman, mediæval, Renaissance, 19th century, or modern, or anything in between. Many very beautiful silver coins were made in ancient Greece; and in parts of Greece (now in Turkey) and India (independently) silver coins were produced as long ago as several thousand years BC. But silver coins continued in general use up until the First World War, and later than that in many countries. Rather similarly with gold coins. So it is obviously impossible to date them without further knowledge than the material bronze, silver, or gold, but quite easy to date them with a little knowledge. The same must be true of many other artefacts, with specialist knowledge necessary.

      Things were not actually going deeper down (except in marshy areas perhaps). The general level of the surface was rising upwards, surprisingly fast in some places. The material which contributes to this is RUBBISH ! Now it goes off to serve as “landfill”, a bit of a clue as to its powers. In cities until recently, rubbish and the rubble of demolished houses raised levels, especially in the more sparsely populated areas outside the walls where it tended to be dumped (but inside the walls, rubble had a great effect, particularly if the city was periodically “razed to the ground”, or even burnt down, as they tended to be). Sometimes, rubbish would be deliberately dumped in one area liable to flooding to make it more habitable when the level was raised (monks were good at organising this). In the country, roads tended to get worn down, leading to “sunken lanes” in some places, but in towns they were repeatedly repaired (as they still are) and the level tended to rise. When you step DOWN into an old house, it was probably not always like that. There used to be a step up from the pavement onto my own front path, but now the two are level, and if I live long enough, I may be stepping down !

      So archaeologists quickly establish a number of levels to an ancient settlement, and do their best to date each one (coins are ideal if available). The best known example is Troy. There were more than six definite levels of ancient civilisation, and the exotic gold items thought at first to date back to the time of the famous Trojan War were in fact some thousand years older. With modern techniques, the mistake would not have been made.

      Australian aborigines were in the Stone Age when they were discovered by white men, and they were elaborately circumcised with stone knives. On remote Pacific islands, there often then emerged what you might call a “Glass Age”, when stray pieces of glass were eagerly sought after for making into valuable superior knives (for all manner of purposes).

      This has been another glimpse at the World of Rox. Scorn it and disbelieve it if you will.

  2. Rox

    I can’t but agree on two points in this interesting article.

    1) It’s difficult to show why whales would EVOLVE to end up on beaches being carved by hungry barbarians and Japanese folk. But then, would fish evolve to be fished ? Or plankton to be eaten by both ?

    2) In 860 BC, everybody would necessarily have been “pagan”, except the better behaved Jews.

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