Saturday, December 31, 2016

When to when?

Imagine a world without effective medicine, surgery, or anaesthetics. A world devoid of plastics or synthetic fabrics. A world in which agricultural productivity was so low that animal products were a luxury to many. This was a brutal world of entrenched social inequality, almost devoid of labour-saving devices. A world in which even dim lighting was expensive during long, cold, winter nights.

Welcome to the Middle Ages.

"Scholars have advocated many different termini for our period, and there seems to be little agreement and indeed little basis for reasoned argument on these points. The Middle Ages begin, we are told, with the death of Theodosius in 395, or with the settlement of Germanic tribes in the Roman Empire, or with the sack of Rome in 410, or with the fall of the Western Roman Empire (usually dated A.D. 476), or even as late as the Moslem occupation of the Mediterranean. It ends … with the fall of Constantinople, or with the invention of printing, or with the discovery of America, or with the beginning of the Italian wars (1494), or with the Lutheran Reformation (1517), or with the election of Charles V (1519). Several reference works I have consulted simply assert that the Middle Ages ended in 1500, presumably on New Year's Eve. Yet another terminus often given for the Middle Ages is the so-called “Revival of Learning,” that marvelous era when Humanist scholars “discovered” classical texts and restored them to mankind after the long Gothic night. Medievalists must always smile a little over these “discoveries,” for we know where the Humanists discovered those classical texts—namely, in medieval manuscripts, where medieval scribes had been carefully preserving them for mankind over the centuries. … In view of all this disagreement over the duration of the Middle Ages, perhaps we should content ourselves with saying that our period extends from the close of the classical period to the beginning of the Renaissance. If classicists and Renaissance scholars don't know when their periods begin and end, then that is their problem."

Robinson, Fred. C. [1984]. “Medieval: the Middle Ages.” Speculum 59, pp. 745–56. (Presidential address to the annual meeting of the Medieval Academy of America, 1984.)
Cited here : Spade, Paul Vincent, "Medieval Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Walnuts for Brains

The internet is a revelation. Where else could one encounter abundant evidence that, despite the Enlightenment and expensive educational systems, ignorance is not merely pervasive, but lauded?

A case in point—New Age embrace of the long-discredited Doctrine of Signatures.

The Doctrine of Signatures dates from the time of Dioscurides (c. 40 – 90 AD) and Galen (AD 129 – c.200/c.216). According to proponents of the doctrine, herbalists could use the vague resemblance between the appearance of herbs and body parts to treat ailments attributed, often wrongly, to those organs. The later Christian theological justification was that God would have wanted to direct men to useful plants.

Eyebright, used for eye infections
Hedge woundwort, thought to have antiseptic qualities
Liverwort, either Marchantiophyta or Hepatica - used to treat the liver
Lungwort – Lobelia pulmonaria (and others) - used for pulmonary infections
Spleenwort, Asplenium - used to treat the spleen
Toothwort, Dentaria - used for tooth ailments

In its innocuous form, this belief is embodied in the naming—both popular and Linnaean—of plants.

Unfortunately, because the doctrine has no basis in fact, the practice has proved invariably ineffective, often harmful, and too often fatal.

Examples (discussed in the playlist below):
Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane, for toothache
Aristolochia clematitis, birthwort, in midwifery
Mandragora officinarum, mandrake, as aphrodisiac

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tree Hay - former fodder

Given a choice, which they rarely are in modern agriculture, many livestock prefer to browse on trees rather than graze on grass. The table below illustrates both the reason for their preference, and part of the reason that those living in the Iron Age began to carefully manage the remaining woodland. The forestry practices, on which they relied for fuel, wood, timber, fodder (leaves, nuts, mast), and specialized supplies (oak galls for ink, tannin-rich barks for tanning, etc) continued beyond the Middle Ages, but have been abandoned since the rise of alternate sources.

Abstract from Tree pollarding in western Norway, by Ingvild Austad in The Cultural Landscape: Past, Present, and Future
"The practice of collecting twigs and leaves for fodder for domestic animals is a very old form for fodder harvesting. Leaf fodder can be collected efficiently with small iron tools and the practice has a history at least back to the Iron Age. Almost all species of deciduous trees were used for animal fodder, also some conifers. Although the harvesting of trees for collecting fodder was widely practised all over Norway, the choice of species, techniques and utilization varied from area to area, as did the names given to tree management. 

Pollarding (“styving”) refers to the process of topping trees, i.e. cutting back branches at a height of 2 -3 m, above reach of grazing animals. Lopping (“lauving”) is the actual fodder-collecting. The branches were cut into smaller pieces (approx. 1 m), bunched and tied together. The bunches of twigs (“kjerv”) were dried, and later stored in barns or stacked together (“rauk”). Young shoots were sometimes cut directly from the tree bases or as suckers (coppicing). Some farmers set aside areas that were cut frequently. In some areas, leaves were collected for fodder by plucking them (“rispelauv”). Raking up autumn leaf-fall (“rakelauv”) was practised mostly for the use as bedding in stalls. 

Branches especially from Ulmus glabra (wych elm, Scots elm) and Fraxinus excelsior (European ash) were sometimes collected during the winter for twigs (“ris”) and bark (“skav”) and later fed to animals. Bark from Ulmus glabra was peeled, cut into small pieces, mixed with water and given especially to dairy cows during the winter and early spring. Bark of Ulmus glabra was also valuable for its use in human nutrition (bread, “barkebrød”). 

A wide range of landscape elements and biotopes have been formed and maintained by farming techniques including leaf-collection. Most of the human-influenced and human-dependent vegetation types are under great pressure from extensive disuse, overgrowing and encroachment, vanishing due to inexperience with maintaining and preserving them." 
Playlist: Tree Hay & Mast - Fodder, Pannage .

Table of leaf nutrition. Percentage of constituents in tree species compared to hay and red clover. 

Ulmus glabra  12.6 9.9 2.9 49.2 13.2 12.3
Sorbus aucuparia 11.9 5.9 6.5 50.4 9.9 15.4
Salix caprea 11.5 6.1 3.8 50.3 11.6 16.7
Populus tremula 10.8 8.5 6 43.5 13.3 20.9
Fraxinus excelsior 11.6 6.3 3 50.4 12 16.7
Alnus incana 11.9 3.9 5.9 43.6 17.6 17.4
Betula spp. 11.7 3.9 7 49.2 12 16.2
regular hay 14.96 5.42 2.2 44.43 8.51 24.56
Trifolium pratense 15.65 5.17 1.88 36.76 10.98 28.56

Adapted from The Cultural Landscape: Past, Present, and Future, Birks et al, Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Ulmus glabra  wych elm
Sorbus aucuparia rowan
Salix caprea goat willow
Populus tremula European aspen
Fraxinus excelsior European ash
Alnus incana grey alder
Betula spp. birch
regular hay grass, legumes, herbaceous plants
Trifolium pratense red clover

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mechanical Power


Power - Mechanical:

Power - Animal - treadwheel crane, ox, horse, goat.


Power - Water:


Power - Wind: