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21 September 2017

At www.theguardian.com/science/2017/sep/19/medieval-porpoise-grave-on-chann… … archaeologists digging on Chapelle Dom Hue off the coast of Guernsey found a grave – of a porpoise. The island was used by monks and archaeologists were looking for evidence of a monastery and its inhabitants in the medieval period (including the burial of devotees). The porpoise was buried in a grave amongst the graves of deceased monks – the question is why?

The Guardian then ends with a begging request for donations. As they have a lot of wealthy champagne socialists amongst their readership you would have thought some monies would have come their way as they have had the begging bowl out for months, coming on years. Are its wealthy patrons too tight to put their hands in their pockets?

The next day The Guardian has another article which may add to the mystery. At www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/20/channel-islands-buried-porpo… … which tells us that in the 1950s a hoard was discovered by a schoolboy in the Shetlands, at the church of St Ninians – in an area last inhabited in 1796. Here, under a slab marked with a cross he found the contents of what had been a wooden box, containing 26 pieces of cast and chased silver – jewellery, bowls, and other precious objects from the 9th century and each bearing Pictish designs of strange beasts. Interred with the treasure, buried because of Viking raids, was the jawbone of a porpoise. No one could explain the inclusion of this fragment of a marine animal bone amongst highly valuable pieces of silver. The porpoise, it was speculated, had an ecclesiastical connection. As Scotland is a land of islands and lochs it may have had a special relationship with stranded cetaceans. These ideas would have been inherited from the Picts – but how do islands north of Scotland have an affinity with a medieval monastery in the English Channel, hundreds of miles to the south. St Cuthbert is said to have been cast ashore on a Scottish bay where he found three porpoises or dolphins lying dead on the beach, as if presented there for his sustenance. Porpoise and dolphins were regarded as heavenly sent food – and classified as fish they could be eaten on a friday. This might account for the ecclesiastical connection – but what about the Picts?

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