The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kotoku-in, Japan

I spoke too soon - between the Thanksgiving Holiday, a friend visiting from Korea, a niece being born, and my own birthday...well, it's been busier than I had anticipated when last I said that I was going to start keeping the blog routinely. Hopefully this coming week will be less eventful.

In the meantime, another photo blog of a historic site, this one is in the city of Kamakura, Japan.

Located to the south of Tokyo, on a bay, the city of Kamakura is gorgeous. It's a popular tourist destination within Japan, and I can vouch from personal experience that the place bears a strong physical resemblance to Santa Barbara, California.

Kamakura has a fascinating role in Japanese history, but I would like to focus on a specific place, the Kotoku-in, and more specifically the Great Buddha within the temple grounds.

The Kotoku-in is a Buddhist shrine/temple located a 20-minute walk from the beach. The Great Buddha within it is an Amida Buddha, the principle Buddha of the Pure Land sect.

This statue was built around 1252, to replace a wooden statue that had been built in the 1240s but had been damaged in 1248. The bronze statue that now stands was expensive, but funds were raised, and the statue built.

The statue was originally covered in gold plating, but that has long since gone. It remains an impressive statue, though, standing 13.35 meters (approximately 40 feet) in height. And, interestingly, you can enter the statue.

However, you have to move through the statue quickly, and photos don't come out so well when you're using a cheap point-and-click camera.

I loved the irony of the atheist (me) and the western Pagan (Kay) walking through a giant statue of an eastern divinity.

Though the statue is the main draw, the rest of the grounds are quite impressive as well.

The statue is one of the better-known symbols of Japan, and it was an impressive site to see.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Abney Park Cemetery

Okay, finally done with most of the moving, and I finished edits to a paper so that it is prepared for publication (I'll update when it finally gets published). So, I'll soon be back on my normal bloggy schedule (three times a week, as time allows).

However, in the meantime, here's some more photos of a historic/archaeological spot. This one is Abney Park Cemetery in London.

Abney Park was laid out in the first half of the 18th century by Lady Mary Abney from lands that she held in the Stoke Newington area. The area was the home of Dr. Isaac Watts, a well-known writer of English hymns.

Grave of Isaac Watts

During the early 19th century, the park became the location of a Quaker school for girls. During the 1840s, it became the location of a non-denominational garden cemetery, allowing the burial of a larger swath of London's citizens than the sectarian cemeteries. It also contained an impressive arboretum, unsurprising given the popularity of botany during the 19th century.

The cemetery also contained a non-sectarian chapel, allowing anyone who wished to come worship, a radical idea in the 19th century. The chapel stood as a monument to religious tolerance, also a radical idea in the 19th century, but today is decaying and looks more like the set of a horror movie.

The trust cemetery was sold to a private company in 1880, who continued to run the cemetery until the company became insolvent in 1978. During this time, burials were packed tight in the cemetery, in it is clear from a casual stroll through the grounds that graves had begun to overlap each other.

This aspect, that material from one time is plopped right on top of and even mixed in with that from another, is one of the things that I find most fascinating about this place. It is what archaeologists refer to as a palimpsest* - a place where material from a wide range of time is deposited in one place, resulting in something that looks like a simple site but which is really a complex amalgam of many different uses of the same location over a long period of time.

In some cases, this includes finding new uses for old items.

Today, the park is preserved as an open space, and is a quiet, peaceful place to visit. Unfortunately, many visitors are not as good as they should be about taking their trash with them when they leave. However, this adds yet another layer to the palimpsest site that is the park.

*The term comes from medieval scholarship, where the term palimpsest referred to a scroll that had been written, the ink scraped away, and new writing placed on it. Sometimes the original writing could still be seen via depressions on the material where the pen had made its mark.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Knapp Castle

Still moving, so it's another photo blog. This one is for a legitimate archaeological site, one that is open to the public so this is not a breach of confidentiality, the ruins of a building in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, CA.

The parcel was purchased in 1916 by George Owen Knapp, and a large, impressive house was built there. In 1940 Frances Holden bought the property and invited his friend, opera singer Lotte Lehmann to live there.

Within two months, the house burned down during a forest fire, leaving the ruins that have come to be known as "Knapp Castle."

Now it's a great place to walk to, just a short hike from the main road. It's also a place where a lot of annoying pseudo-hippies like to go on nights with full moons in order to sit in a circle and drum without a sense of rhythm.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fort Point

So, I am in the middle of packing, and as such can't write too much, but I get alot of positive feedback on my photo entries, so here's a few to keep y'all entertained. In keeping with the general theme of the blog, these are of a historic spot that is also currently a park - Fort Point, a Civil War-era site in San Francisco.

This fort lies underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, in fact the Golden Gate Bridge was re-designed by its engineer in order to prevent damage to the fort, which he considered a historic treasure (I can't argue with him there).

However, as you can see in these photos, the ginourmous bridge does interfere with the appearance of the fort.

The fort has been well-preserved, and maintenance work has been done in a manner that maintains the general feel of what the fort had been like during the 19th century (sans the giant bridge overhead, that is).

This place is fantastic. It is a well-preserved bit o' history that I highly recommend visiting. It's also creepy as hell under the right conditions, and I expect that I will be posting some stories on my other blog.

Really, I don't know why this place hasn't been the subject of a horror movie.

It is worth noting that a fair amount of the historic archaeology done in North America is done on facilities that bear a resemblance to this place. So, while it isn't an archaeological site, it's worth visiting if you are an archaeology enthusiast.

Some of the strange angles and weird lighting int he place made for some great photographic opportunities, and some of these things look like something out of a steampunk fairy tale.