Viking Ships Unearthed

This Norwegian funerary warship was the grave of two women, one aged about 75 and the other 50. The women’s identities still present a mystery.  They died in A D 834 and had a magnificent burial, judging by the treasures they left behind.  Possibly Queen Åsa, the grandmother of Harald I (A.D. 860–940), the first king of united Norway, or maybe a sorceress.    

Reading this discovery of the Norwegian Oseberg oak longship in a farm near Tønsberg, Norway, reminded me of the historical novel “The Dig”  by John Preston and the subsequent film of the same name. 

On farmland in Sutton Hoo overlooking the river Debden in the UK,  the landowner Edith Petty wanted to discover what were the mysterious barrows on her land.  Ipswich museum introduced the landowner to Basil Brown, a Suffolk  labourer, insurance agent  and self taught astronomer and archeologist.  His finds did not sit nicely with men from the British Museum and Cambridge University who muscled in to take over. Brown’s discovery caused history books to be rewritten, but his name was only recently associated with the discovery.  But although his crucial contribution is now acknowledged, there is much that remains uncertain about the ship burial. Who was it honouring? The lead candidate is Raedwald, a powerful regional leader who died around 624, and who was part of a dynasty that claimed descent from the Norse god Woden. He was the first English king to convert to Christianity, while also being cannily careful not to upset the pagan gods.

The book, The Dig is a gripping and interesting read.

John Preston is also the author of A Very English Scandal, about the disgraced British politician Jeremy Thorpe.  After discovering that his aunt, Peggy Piggott, an archaeologist, prehistorian, and finds specialist, had been one of the key participants in the actual dig, Preston wrote the book The Dig, as a novelised account.

The film received five BAFTA awards. It is available on Netflix and in DVD form.

Tainted Peaches

Tainted Harvest by E. Denise Billups.

Her teaser : ”She escaped servitude for a worse fate. Now she wants everyone to know what happened. Travel writer Simone Doucet is searching for a meaningful life, but she hasn’t found a purpose yet. But after she accepts an assignment that takes her to Magnolia Sunrise – a historical bed-and-breakfast on the bluffs of Natchez, Mississippi – strange events begin to take place.”

I settled down for a comfortable read of this book and mystery but after the first few pages I was wide awake, sitting up, intriqued and living Simone’s nightmare.  The author had a way of writing such that you were immersed in the horrors and emotions of the characters.  I couldn’t put this down until the last few ‘happy’ pages.

This was a heart breaking story well written. It described some of the cruelties, hardships and conditions of the slaves at the end of the Civil War. Full credit to the author that the slavery appeared to be a sub plot, but in fact was the main one.

This story left me curious to find out more. Was there any truth behind the story? I discovered that The Devil’s Punchbowl is remembered as post American atrocity in Black history which took place in Natchez, (Adams County) Mississippi. In the book “Natchez” dedicated to Louise and Mary by Nola Nance Oliver describes the derivation of the name and describes the area. Although the inroads of the river have washed away the streets, and only a few buildings remain, one very interesting home, “Magnolia Vale”, has been preserved and is presented in her book.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile recreational road and scenic drive through three states. It roughly follows the “Old Natchez Trace” a historic travel corridor used by American Indians, “Kaintucks,” European settlers, slave traders, soldiers, and future presidents.

The Devil’s Punchbowl is remembered as post American atrocity in Black history which took place in Natchez, (Adams County) Mississippi. 

After the American Civil War, a massive exodus of former slaves from Southern plantations trekked northwards to freedom. The town of Natchez quickly went from a population of 10,000 to near 100,000 people. In order to deal with the population influx of recent freedmen (formerly enslaved persons who have been released from slavery), a concentration camp was established by Union soldiers to essentially eradicate the slaves.  Don Estes, former director of the Natchez City Cemetery, said. “So, they decided to build an encampment for ’em at Devil’s Punchbowl which they walled off and wouldn’t let ’em out,”

The camp was called the Devil’s Punchbowl because of the way the area is shaped. The camp was located at the bottom of a cavernous pit with trees located on the bluffs above.  The women and children were locked behind the concrete walls of the camp and left to die from starvation. Many also died from the smallpox disease. In total, over 20,000 freed slaves were killed in one year, inside of this American concentration camp. However this number is contested.

Devils Punchbowl
Devils Punchbowl study area
Devil's Punchbowl by Greg Iles

Researcher Paula Westbrook adds that “The union army did not allow them to remove the bodies from the camp. They just gave ’em shovels and said bury ’em where they drop.”   Today the bluffs are known for the wild peach grooves, but the locals will not eat any of the fruit because some are aware of what has fertilized the trees. Also reported as “An American Concentration Camp so horrific it was erased from history.

The Jackson Free Press profiled Paula Westbrook. It said that she coordinates the Southern Paranormal and Anomaly Research Society, a society for ghost hunters. She supports herself through her Ghost Hunting Academy and her work at K-Mart.

The book quotes a poem with a line “For whose story was never told”  by William Edward Burghardt Du Bois. He was an American sociologist, historian and a Pan-Africanist civil rights activist. He became the first African American to earn a doctorate and was one of the founders of the (NAACO) National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.