By Chris Turney (auth.)
What is the Turin Shroud? while have been the Pyramids outfitted? Why did the dinosaurs die out? How did the Earth take form? With questions like those, says Chris Turney, time is of the essence. And knowing how we pinpoint the earlier, he cautions, is important to placing the current in viewpoint and making plans for the future.
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Gildas wrote the closest thing to a contemporary account of this period in Britain, De Excidio Britannia (The Ruin of Britain), but this was not a history, nor a celebration of his country or philosophy. No, this was a long tirade against the British leaders of his time. Gildas seemed to need to complain about almost everything, including the loss of Roman life and the poor leadership among the Britons. He doesn't say when he is writing but he refers to one leader that 24 BONES, ROCKS AND STARS we know died in a national plague in AD 549.
The dates for Aetius's third consulship must mean that the plea from the Britons was sent during the reign of the second Vortigern. So where are we at? During the late AD 440s, Britain was facing repeated attacks from Picts and Scots. What was left of the Western Roman Empire was fighting a hopeless rearguard action on mainland Europe against barbarian hordes. Officially, Britain had been independent since AD 418 and Aetius, the Roman commander of Gaul, couldn't or wouldn't help. The Britons, under the second Vortigern, resorted to what they had done before: they invited Saxon mercenaries to help them combat the marauding Picts and Scots.
We know what problems the Romans had. A key part of linking the king-lists to today is through astronomical observations that can be independently dated. Crucial for this is the star Sirius, also called the Dog Star: this was known to the Egyptians as Sopdet and was one of the brightest lights in the night sky. Originally, for the Egyptians, its rise on the horizon just before sunrise coincided with the start of the Nile flood and marked the beginning of the calendar year. Even as early as 3000 BC, the goddess Sopdet is shown in an inscription as a seated cow with a plant between her horns; a symbol used in hieroglyphics to mean 'year'.
Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened by Chris Turney (auth.)