“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Monday 29 April 2013

Suffolk’s Green Children

In Suffolk, 9 miles west along the A14 from Bury St Edmunds, there is a village called Woolpit. The village possibly got its name from a nearby pit that was used to trap wolves (a wolf pit), and it was near to this pit sometime in the 12th century where two weird visitors were reported to have been found. The visitors in question were a pair of children (a brother and sister) who looked like normal children except that their skin had a green colour to it and they seemed to speak in a strange language.

As the legend goes the children were looked after by the villagers, however it seems that the boy was ill and did not survive for very long. The girl seems to have adjusted to her new life and over the course of time eventually learned to speak English. The girl claimed that she and her brother came from a place called St Martin's Land, which she explained was an underground world where the inhabitants were green. It is believed that the girl eventually married a man from King's Lynn and may have eventually been buried in the town.

It is unclear whether the legend is based on some form of historical event or if it is just pure folklore. The legend is a staple for Forteans and numerous possible explanations for the legend have been proposed over the years. A very good in-depth summary of the tale can be found over at Karl Shuker's Eclectarium.

The below photos show some of the prominent features of the village including the village sign which depicts the fabled green children. Some of these photos have also previously featured on Andrew May's Forteana Blog.

The Woolpit village sign - with green children and a wolf.
Village sign - close up. 
Woolpit church.
Woolpit church.
Village information board.
Pictures, Suffolk (January 2012).

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Sunday 21 April 2013

Sotheby's Lioness Warrior Goddess

If you every happen to walk past the London auction firm of Sotheby's in New Bond Street be sure to take a look at the black basalt statue that sits above the entrance. The statue is a bust of the lioness warrior goddess Sekhmet and is believed to have been carved in ancient Egypt around 1320 B.C. The Sotheby's Sekhmet is supposedly the oldest privately owned statue on outdoor display in London (for comparison Cleopatra's Needle is dated from around 1460 BC). The statue apparently came to Sotheby's in the 1800s as part of a collection of Egyptian artifacts, which were subsequently sold for £40. However, the statue's buyer never appeared to collect it, and as such Sotheby's retained the Sekhmet.

Pictures, London (May 2012).

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Friday 12 April 2013

Major Oak and Simulacrum

The tree pictured below is the “Major Oak”, which is a large and ancient English Oak tree that can be found in Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire. According to Robin Hood lore, the oak was a place of shelter for Robin Hood and his associates. The tree is estimated to be around 800 to 1000 years old, have a mass of 23 tons and its trunk is 10 meters in circumference.

Due to the tree’s immense size, its limbs have had to be supported by a system of scaffolding, which was erected during the Victorian era. It is not known how the tree became so huge, but two potential theories include: the tree may in fact be several trees that were fused together when saplings; or that the tree was possibly pollarded (a system of pruning aimed at stimulating continuous new growth of wood), which caused the trunk to grow large and thick.

The Major Oak is one of fifty “Great British Trees”, the rest of which I shall look out for on my travels.

Major Oak. 
Major Oak.
While wandering Sherwood Forest I also came across the below Simulacrum, that reminded me of some form of cartoon character. While probably not good enough for the Fortean Times Simulacra Corner, it certainly caught my eye!

Can you see the face?

Pictures, Nottingham (January 2013).

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Friday 5 April 2013

Hunting for Alien Life in California

Pictured below is Mono Lake, which is a highly saline lake near the town of Lee Vining in California (about 75 miles by road from Yosemite National Park and 35 miles from the Ghost Town of Bodie).

Mono Lake is believed to have formed at least 760,000 years ago and is thought to be a remnant of a much larger and older lake that once covered a large part of Nevada and Utah. It is estimated that at its peak (during the most recent ice age) the lake may have been around 270 m deep. Old shore lines which show the previous extent of the lake (known as strandlines) can be seen above the town of Lee Vining and along the hills to the northeast of the current lake.

Because Mono Lake now has no outlet to the sea, high levels of salt have become dissolved in the water over time and this has resulted in the lake becoming highly alkaline. Depending on the water level, the lake is typically seen to be two to three times more salty than the sea. Despite this high alkalinity the lake is still home to life and the most complex creature that resides within the lake is a form a brine shrimp.

Mono lake is of particular interest to astrobiologists as the extreme conditions in the lake give them the opportunity to study how life could potentially evolve and exist on other planets. In 2010 a study claimed that a form of bacteria had been found in Mono Lake that could use arsenic as one of its building blocks, in place of phosphorus - the current understanding of biochemistry being that all life comprises of at least the six elements carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus. If this claim was indeed true then the implication was that life could have potentially formed on earth (and other planets) in a radically different way to what is currently accepted.

These claims were unfortunately short lived however, with two further studies suggesting that the bacteria in question still needed to use phosphorus to grow, and that they did not break the current accepted model of biochemistry.

So it seems that Mono Lake may not be a home to “alien life” on Earth, but the search for a “shadow biosphere” will no doubt continue and the focus is likely to remain on extreme environments (like that of Mono Lake) where unknown forms of life may have carved out a niche for themselves.

Pictures of Mono Lake have also featured on Andrew May’s Forteana Blog

Pictures, California (2008).

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