kim biddulph

Archaeology History Museums Schools Writing Consultancy


January 2016

Sports history

I’m writing about cricket history at the moment for a topic on sports history and tournaments for the Hamilton Trust. I came across a very interesting article on several newspaper websites, including reputable ones, suggesting that the earliest reference to cricket may not have been in England as once thought, but in France.

Apparently an agent of the throne, a young man called Estiavannet, wrote to King Louis XI of France in October 1478 about being shouted at by a group of men in Liettres in northern France for staring at their game of ‘criquet’. Apparently, it might be ‘croquet’, in which case, the English still have it.

Despite all this detailed information with names, dates and locations, I have not been able to find a primary source at all. I found out it resides in the Archives Nationales in Paris and contacted them, scoured their online collection database, but to no avail. If anyone has any leads, please let me know!

Trace fossils

I volunteered for the Oxford University Museum of Natural History yesterday on one of their Dino Days that they do for Year 7s. I wanted to remind myself what secondary school students were like, plus I’m fond of dinosaurs. It was a great day.

I was helping with casting dinosaur footprints and other fossil casts with plaster of paris. One of the conservators had made silicon moulds for the job, and the kids had to follow instructions to mix the plaster and pour it into the moulds. While it hardened, they found out a bit more about trace and true form fossils.

I’m particularly fond of trace fossils, from coprolites (fossilised faeces) to footprints to skin impressions. I wrote a block of work on trace fossils, the study of which is called ichnology, for the Hamilton Trust. While the conditions for fossilisation for both true form and trace fossils are similar, there is so much more potential for greater numbers of trace fossils than true form, since every single dinosaur could have left thousands of footprints or specimens of faeces behind, but only one body.


A large coprolite (fossilized feces or dinosaur poop) from South Carolina, USA..jpg
A large coprolite (fossilized feces or dinosaur poop) from South Carolina, USA.” by PoozeumOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons.

One of my favourite finds for the block I wrote was a quarry in Bolivia where thousands of dinosaur footprints have been found. Due to the movement of the earth’s crust since the time of the dinosaurs, these now appear to be walking vertically up the wall.

Dinosaur tracks in Bolivia 1.jpg
Dinosaur tracks in Bolivia 1” by Jerry Daykin from Cambridge, United KingdomFlickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

I also like this one where the dinosaur had clearly sat down and then moved away again, found at a farm in Utah.

Squatting dinosaur tracks at Johnson’s Farm in St George, by Nancy Carruthers, Utah Geological Survey

Early and modern humans have also left tracks (though not in the same strata as dinosaurs as some would have you believe) like the famous ones at Laetoli in Tanzania (probably 3.7 million years old and belonging to Australopithecus afarensis), but also at Happisburgh in the UK (about 800,000 years old and possibly Homo antecessor) and modern humans, Homo sapiens, around 7000 years ago at Monte Hermoso in Argentina. What better way to get children to engage with what these footprints can tell us (height, gait, speed) than by getting them to make dinosaur feet, dip them in paint and run across paper with them, or make their own footprints in wet sand and fill them in with casting material?

Ötzi’s tattoos, my tattoos

Last year I finally decided to get the tattoos I had wanted for ages. It’s a big step, to commit to letting someone permanently mark your skin, but as I nervously brushed my teeth that morning I caught sight of the little crossed scars that I bear on my stomach from a couple of laparoscopies. I had not particularly wanted those marks on my body, but they were there. It was time I chose what was emblazoned into my skin.

It was Ötzi who sealed my fate as an archaeologist when he was discovered in 1991. At the same time as I was enthralled with Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, I was amazed by the incredible preservation of this man from the Alps, down to his tattoos and even pubic hair. Now, Ötzi has 61 separate tattoos, apparently, and I was never going to recreate them all, particularly as many would be on areas of my body that never see the light of day. So I chose three sets that I could most easily show to people.

There are two rough lines on his right wrist that some have suggested are not tattoos at all but the marks of a tight band wound round his wrist, but if that’s the case, why are they just on the upper surface of the arm? Then I chose a cross on the outside edge of my knee joint and three circles on my ankle. Ötzi actually has two but I decided on one circle for every member of my immediate family.

One of the most fascinating things about Ötzi’s tattoos is that many of them fall on acupuncture points that are used to relieve joint pain. Sure enough, from x-rays of his bones, the tattooed joints seem to suffer from osteoarthritis. So the tattoos were medicinal. This is how I interpret my tattoos to children and adults alike when I dress as a prehistoric person. I am my own replica object.


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