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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

"The Ancient Paths" by Graham Robb

This is one of those books that uncovers ancient mysteries .

Before the Romans came the Celts. They were a migratory people who lived in tribes. Their heartland was Gaul although there were lots of them in Britain and Spain and Northern Italy and Eastern Europe but they definitely weren't the Germanic tribes. The Romans portray the Celts as being barbaric (and the human sacrifice bit of their religions is a little uncomfortable) but they had roads and chariots and metalwork and jewellery and clearly a reasonably coherent society.

So far so good.

They built long roads that were aligned with lines of longitude and latitude and along the directions of the summer and winter solstices. These roads were immensely long but incredibly precise. They built sacred centres, many of which later became centres of population all along these roads but particularly where two roads crossed. These crossings had such sacred significance that when they came to do battle with the Romans they insisted on battling them on sacred sites despite sacrificing many advantages. Presumably they thought that the immense advantage of having god on your side would do the trick. They were wrong. They lost heavily and were conquered; tens of thousands were massacred and sold into slavery.

Lots of maps accompany this fascinating thesis and the straight lines join many historic sites. One line, for example, goes from the site of the last Celtic resistance in Gaul through Milan to Delphi. Another, parallel to this one, goes through three towns named Mediolanum (also the original name of Milan), Bratislava, Budapest and Ankara.

But there are a lot of these lines and you might expect that some would travel through a few cities. After all, you can draw an infinity of lines that travel from south west to north east along the solstice line, or north-south for longitude or east-west for latitude.

A key east-west meridian is that which passes through a French town once called, you guessed it, Mediolanum. This is at a latitude that has a longest day length of 15 hours and 54 minutes. This is exactly one hour longer than the longest day at the latitude of Delphi. Delphi was believed to be the centre of the Greek world therefore this Gallic town is the centre of the Celtic world. Robb is asking me to believe not only that the druids could measure in minutes, which he explicitly suggests they couldn't, but also that 15h54m is somehow significant.

This is a reasonably well written book and Robb does his best to put real science and real archaeology into it and to keep mystics, hippies and ley line hunters out of it. But in the end it doesn't wuite convince.

March 2015; 298 pages

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