The Amazing Medieval “Hobbit” Stone Houses of Staffordshire
Welcome to Holy Austin Rock in Staffordshire, England. These medieval cave houses carved from sandstone were abandoned by the last residents in the 1960s, but people were living happily inside them for over three centuries before that, possibly even earlier. Today the National Trust has faithfully restored the houses belonging to the last near dozen families that lived in the community, using early photographs, postcards and records to re-create what the houses would have been like in the late Victorian era.
The first official records of the Rock Houses appear in an 18th century book, Letters on the Beauties of Hagley, Envil and the Leasowes with Critical Remarks and Observations on the Modern Taste in Gardening by Joseph Healey. In the book, Healey gets caught in a thunderstorm when he finds the cave homes and asks to take shelter. He describes the homes as well-furnished, ”curious, warm and commodious and the garden extremely pretty”. Healey also notes that the residents had access to water and were extremely welcoming and proud of their homes, delighted even to recount the stories of their ancestors who had built them.
With stunning views over the woodland from the rosy sandstone ridge, these white-washed houses are something out of a storybook. In fact, many people believe that they are featured in a very well-known book published in 1937, The Hobbit. The opening line of J. R. R. Tolkien’s book states, “The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with paneled walls and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats – the hobbit was fond of visitors.” Tolkien was famously reluctant to name the places that inspired his stories. In fact, there are so many similarities between the 18th century Holy Austin Rock Houses and Tolkien’s description of the Hobbit holes that it becomes an obvious assumption that he must have seen or read about these remarkable dwellings.
Being the last occupied troglodyte dwellings in Britain, Holy Austin Rock has been an off-beat tourist attraction since Edwardian times. Residents would welcome visitors and serve refreshments right in their living room or in their front gardens taking in the views of the English countryside. Sadly, there are no cave dwellers to welcome tourists today. A single cafe remained open until 1967, by which time all other families had moved away and their homes had already begun to decay. The majority of residents left their homes between 1900 and 1935 to find work in cities following an economic crises in the area which halted the local ironworks production.
Graffiti taggers and local teens made their mark on the empty caves until 1968. At this point they were sealed off, deemed a safety hazard and seemingly forgotten by England. Over 20 years later funds were made available by the National Trust to embark on an ambitious restoration project, as the caves were declared a national treasure.
The Remarkable Dinosaur Footprint Wall
Located 3 miles (5 km) from Sucre, Bolivia is Cal Orko, an imposing limestone slab 0.9 miles (1.5 km) long and over 328 feet (100 m) high. On this steep face with an inclination of 72 degrees, visitors can look back in time to when dinosaurs roamed the Earth over 68 million years ago.
At Cal Orko you will find 462 distinct dinosaur tracks from at least 8 different species, totaling an incredible 5,055 dinosaur footprints. So how do thousands of dinosaur footprints come to be, on a seemingly vertical rock face hundreds of feet high? The location used to be the shore of a former lake, that attracted large numbers of dinosaurs.
The creatures’ feet sank into the shoreline in damp weather, leaving marks that were solidified by later periods of drought. Wet weather then returned, sealing the prints below mud and sediment. The wet-dry pattern was repeated several times, preserving multiple layers of prints. Tectonic upheaval then pushed the flat ground up to the brilliant viewing angle that it is today.
World’s Largest Stone Buddha
An ominous colored statue, this gigantic Buddha is the largest in the world. Called the Leshan Giant Buddha, the construction of this enormous carved deity began during the Tang Dynasty between 618AD and 907AD. What’s truly fascinating about this statue, aside from its size, is that it was sculpted directly out of the face of a cliff.
At the deity’s feet is the confluence of three rivers, the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi, located in the southern part of the Sichuan province near the city of Leshan in China. This incredible Buddha is also the tallest pre-modern statue in the world. The statue’s home is the Mount Emei Scenic Area which has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.
There are two ways to get a close-up view of this impressive sight. One is to take the perilous path down the cliff face, walk in front of the Buddha and climb up the other side, as the people in the picture are doing. A more relaxing method is to take a tour boat and sail down the river. He’ll be waiting for you.
Amazing Ancient Ruins of the Pueblo People
Ancient Pueblo people were an ancient Native American culture centered on the present-day Four Corners area of the United States, comprising southern Utah, northeastern Arizona, northern New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado. Archaeologists still debate when this distinct culture emerged but the current consensus is around 12th century BC.
They lived in a range of structures, including pit houses, pueblos, and cliff dwellings designed so that they could lift entry ladders during enemy attacks, which provided security. The pictures above feature some of the amazing pueblos and cliff dwellings of these people. The most photographed ruin is the “House on Fire” (picture 1). This ruin, when captured at certain times of the day, resembles a dwelling on fire and is a favorite among photographers.
- "House on Fire" ruin in Mule Canyon, South Fork, Utah
- Petroglyph with the prehistoric symbol, flute player Kokopelli
- Multistory dwellings at Bandelier. Rock wall foundations and beam holes and “cavates” carved into volcanic tuff remain from upper floors
- Laguna Pueblo dwellers posing for a picture
- Doorways, Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
- Casa Rinconada, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
- Ancestral Pueblo ruins in Dark Canyon Wilderness, Utah
- Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Angkor Wat - The Largest Religious Monument in the World
Angkor Wat is an ancient Hindu, then subsequently Buddhist, temple complex built in the early 12th century by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in Yasodharapura (present-day Angkor) in Siem Reap Province of Cambodia. It is the largest religious monument in the world. It was the capital of the Khmer Empire and the king’s eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaivism tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious center since its foundation – first Hindu, then Buddhist. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country’s prime attraction for visitors.
The Archaeological Survey of India carried out restoration work on the temple between 1986 and 1992. Since the 1990s, Angkor Wat has seen continued conservation efforts and a massive increase in tourism. The temple is part of the Angkor World Heritage Site, established in 1992, which has provided some funding and has encouraged the Cambodian government to protect the site. The German Apsara Conservation Project (GACP) is working to protect the devatas and other bas-reliefs (examples: pictures 4 & 5) which decorate the temple from damage.
The Gallery of Bas-reliefs, surrounding the first level of Angkor Wat, contains 1,200 square meters (12,917 square feet) of sandstone carvings. The relief covers most of the inner wall of all four sides of the gallery and extend for two meters (seven feet) from top to bottom.
The Škocjan Caves - A Unique Natural Phenomena
An ancient cave system considered one of the largest discovered underground chambers with the most famous underground features in the world.
Due to their exceptional significance, the Škocjan Caves in Slovenia were entered on UNESCO’s list of natural and cultural world heritage sites in 1986. International scientific circles have acknowledged the importance of the Caves as one of the natural treasures of the planet.
The Škocjan Caves are a unique natural phenomenon ranking among the most important caves in the world. They represent the most significant underground phenomena in both the Karst region and Slovenia. Above the caves lies the village of Škocjan, now famous for its archaeological treasure below.
Research has shown that people have lived in the caves and the surrounding area in prehistoric times up to the present – totaling more than 5,000 years of history. The first written sources on the Škocjan Caves date back as early as the 2nd century B.C. and were marked on the oldest published maps of that part of the world.
Nearly 100 years after the discovery of Dead Lake within the cave system, the last important event took place in 1990 when Slovenian divers discovered over 200 meters of new cave passages. It is still believed there is even more to be discovered in the extraordinary
Glowing Dawn - The World’s Favorite Metal
Its Latin name, aurum, means “glowing dawn.” Though extremely rare, it is found on nearly every continent. It is prized above all other metals. It is gold.
With its distinctive combination of qualities, gold (Autumn naturae), may well have been the first metal worked by humans. It was easily visible in stream and riverbeds; it was easily shaped because it is soft; its alluring luster never grew dull. Over thousands of years, the pursuit of gold launched explorers, built empires and inspired artists. Gold itself became a symbol of wealth, beauty, purity, spirituality and the afterlife.
Gold, by any standard, is unusual. It resists chemical corrosion and tarnish-attack by acids and oxygen. It is highly reflective and an excellent conductor of electricity. Gold is dense but soft; it can be readily stretched, beaten and molded. It is prized for its rich color, luster and rarity; it is the only yellow-colored native metal. But what makes gold truly unique is that it combines all of these properties.
Most crystalline gold (pictures 1&3) comes from hydrothermal fluid, extremely hot water rising from deep in the Earth. As the fluid moves through openings in Earth’s rocky crust, tiny amounts of gold dissolve into it. Then, as the fluid flows through cooler rocks near the surface, the gold precipitates, or is drawn out of the fluid, and settles in cracks to form veins or lodes.
Gold nuggets are solid lumps of gold. The term “nugget” was first used for gold in 1852 during Australia’s gold rush. Nuggets are often named for their appearance. The variety of names reflects the many possible shapes of native gold. Nuggets are rare, making up less than 2 percent of all native gold ever mined.
"The Boot of Cortez" nugget (picture 2) is the largest placer nugget found in the Western hemisphere. Discovered by a prospector with a metal detector (from Radio Shack!) in 1989, it weighs 12 kilograms (32.4 troy pounds).
Gold jewelry making using animal shapes became widely popular during this Hellenistic period (late 4th to 2nd century BC). Jewelry similar to this pair of gold earrings (picture 4) is frequently depicted in scenes of everyday life on Greek vases and sculptures. Gold has continued throughout history to make everything from dishware to statues. A Tiffany baby rattle (picture 7) with a mother-of-pearl handle, manufactured around 1890, features 18-karat “chased” gold, a technique that involves pushing and pulling the metal with chisels and hammers to create a high-relief decoration.
Today, gold is increasingly difficult to mine, but the demand for gold continues to grow. Gold’s high status and value are unsurpassed around the world, its pivotal role in human history unending.