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the same, only that the cloud was seen at midnight.* These lights, it seems, were seen all over England, and lasted till very late in the night; that at first it was one body of light, nubes, but changed its colour from red to white, or rather fire-colour, afterwards was disparted into rays or streainers of various colours, just as the aurora borealis is known very often to do.
Mr. Whiston would insinuate, in his Memoirs, p. 608, that the northern lights are much more frequent since 1715, than they were before, and are intended to foreshew the grand event of the restoration of the Jews, and the commencement of the millenium. But all I can allow is, that since those very remarkable lights in 1715, the generation then living, and still going on, have observed them the more; that before, a brightness more than common in the north was disregarded, unless when now and then it arose to any great degree; and that otherwise in reality and truth of fact, they have not been more frequent since the date he mentions than before, it. That so far north as Greenland, it is known they happen almost every night, are copious, and very useful to the inhabitants; (see Egede's account of Greenland, p. 56, 162,) and I have been informed they are not much less frequent in the remoter parts of Scotland. From all which I must infer, against Mr. Whiston, that there is nothing of a predictive nature in these appearances, since they have at all times been seen, and that the occasion of their being taking notice of more at one time than another, is entirely owing to men's greater or less attention to them, on account of some interesting conjuncture in human affairs, in concurrence with natural causes, such as a peculiar constitution of the air at such times when they are most glaringly conspicuous; for it is well known how very different the disposition of the air is, in these respects, at one time, from what it is at another. These lights are seen all over the north, and in some countries almost perpetually, how then can it be known to what state or kingdom they predict the impending evil? or when the said evil is to happen? Are those nations where they are so constant, to be visited as constantly? Are they always visited when these signs appear? The fact is quite otherwise, and that not only now, but even at such times as the lights have been so extraordinary as to merit the regard of our historians, for nothing tragical followed them in the years 555 and 776, at least, historians are silent therein, and
* Flor. Vig p. 608.
consequently could find no public calamity whereunto to apply them. In short, there are few of those arguments which Monsieur Bayle has urged against the predictive nature of comets, in his elaborate treatise on that subject, but what will bear as hard, and even much harder, against any such interpretation, which so many of the vulgar incline to put upon these northern lights. No longer then let us be misled by men of warm heads and enthusiastic minds, to imagine, that these appearances are signs from heaven, (Luke xxi. 11.) or any certain tokens of the divine displeasure; but regard them as, what they really are, the ordinary and unmeaning phenomena of nature, to be ranked with comets, meteors, and mock suns,
Sic veteres avias tibi de pulmone revellas.
Pers. Sat. v. 92.
XXII. Curious Discoveries in making new Roads in Northampton,
MR. URBAN, Northamptonshire, Sep. 10, 1756. As
many things of great antiquity have been lately disco yered in making the turnpike roads in this county, it will, we presume, be an agreeable entertainment to the curious, if a still more particular account be given of them, than that which we venture to relate
credible testimony: The ancient custom of burning human bodies after their decease, before Christianity was planted in this island, is visible to the eye of every traveller, on each side of the turnpike road, betwixt the north end of Higham Ferrers, and the windmill, where the earth appears to have been dug in several places for the reception of the ashes of human bodies, which had been burned there, wherein bits of coals are yet to be seen, mixed with ashes and common mould, which, by length of time, differ very little in colour from the natural ground. On the west side of the said road, there is only one of these places of interment at present discernable, wherein some stones at the depth of about one foot appear
discoloured by fire; it was from this place we took a small • fragment of a Roman urn, wherein the heathens commonly
put the relics of the deceased after they had been consumed by fire.
We can hardly suppose that the persons, whose ashes have , been interred in any of these receptacles, were persons of any great note or distinction, because it does not yet appear that the bodies of any brute creatures had been burned with them; for had they been persons of distinguished fortune or fame, such company would not have been wanting here, any more than in other places of the like kind, as particularly in that very remarkable burying place of the ancient Romans lately discovered in digging for gravel on the west side of the lordship of Tichmarsh, at a small distance from the river Nine, where the surface of a large tract of ground appeared much discoloured by the great number of funeral piles, which have been lighted there; here we found the bones of various cattle, as oxen, goats, swine, &c. which had been burned with human bodies, agreeable to the account Virgil has left us of the manner of burning the bodies of the deceased in the Trojan army.
Whole herds of offered bulls about the fire,
In the aforesaid place have been discovered several pieces of Roman coin, which bear the image of different emperors, one whole urn containing a few small bones and ashes, and the fragments of urns without number, several of which were made of red earth, resembling coral, with inscriptions and hieroglyphics upon them.
But leaving these extraordinary relics for the farther remarks of curious beholders, we will proceed to our observations made in and near the turnpike road leading from Thrapston to Market Harborough.
At the opening of a gravel pit on the south side of the said road, in Islip field, were discovered three or four collections of human bones, thrown into heaps without any order; amongst some of them were found some small bits of Roman
Betwist a place called Peter's Cabin, and Twywell Field, was found, on the north side of the said road, an entire human skeleton, with an iron helmet and spear.
In digging materials in a scaly ground the upper end of Twywell Field, near a footway leading to Cranford, were discovered several round boles in the shape of a cone, which
were partly filled up with the same kind of rubbish which had been taken out of them; most of them were about three or four yards diameter near the surface, and near two deep; at the depth of about one foot and a half from the surface of each, appeared a dark mould impregnated with small bits of coals and some bones of hogs and other beasts. From one of these receptacles, (even yet to be seen on the edge of a stone pit in the place abovementioned) we took a small piece of stag's horn, with a fragment of a heathen urn, which plainly shew that these receptacles, like those near Higham Ferrers, were the burying places of the ancient heathens.
In forming the said road on the east side of the parish of Cranford St. John, at the distance of about one furlong, in a scaly ground, we discovered some ashes and bones of a beast consumed, it is supposed, with some human body: near this place was also found a piece of coin, bearing the image of Constantine.
Weare assured, from sacred and profane history, that it was a general custom to bury human bodies, not within the walls of any city or town, but in fields adjacent; but this custom was not always observed by persons of high rank and fortune, who, according to Servius, buried in their houses. This remark was verified a few years ago in digging some rubbish from the floor of a great and ancient dwelling house in the county of Bedford, where the workmen discovered a large heathen urn with bones and ashes, which they put into the hands of the rector of the place.
As to the pieces of money we find scattered among the ashes of the dead, we are much inclined to believe that they were the halfpennies called Naulum Charonis, which the Romans superstitiously put into the mouths of the deceased, for the payment of Charon, the supposed ferryman of hell, who was to carry men's souls in his boat over the Stygian Lake after their decease.
But leaving these things for a while; we will proceed to some other kind of remarks we made in a large gravel pit, lately opened on the south side of Kettering field, where we discovered things of much greater antiquity, and more worthy the notice of all men, than any thing relating to the Romans, who were the invaders of our properties, and the cut-throats of mankind; for here we discovered a tooth, vertebra, and jaw-bone of some animal of an enormous size, and of a species different from any creature that is now bred and supported in our climate; these, with the thigh-bone of a beast of a more moderate size, were found in the
aforesaid gravel pit, at the depth of about seven feet, in places which never before had been opened, the strata lying in their natural order; from whence we infer, that the animals to which these relics did belong, were living before the fountains of the great deep were broken up, when the whole earth and its inhabitants perished by water.
We find nothing remarkable in our progress froin this place, till we come to a gravel pit, opened for the benefit of the turnpike, on the north side of the parish of Desborough, where, at the depth of about two feet, were discovered several entire human skeletons, with several amber and glass beads lying near the breast-bones of one of them; as likewise one iron ring, with several brass clasps, which, we suppose, connected the garments in which the deceased had been buried. In the same pit were found two urns, with bones and ashes in them.
In a gravel pit lately opened, near a place called the Hermitage, at the depth of about 14 feet, we found a piece of petrified wood resembling oak, about 10 inches long and 6 wide, the strata also lying in their natural order.
In the gravel pit on the north east side of little Bowden field, near the river Welland, we found several fragments of urns, with four or five pieces of copper coin not legible; as also some little bits of brass of an uncommon form, used, we suppose, about the garments of the deceased.
Many of the aforementioned antiquities are now in the hands of Mr. M. Day, late surveyor of the aforesaid turnpike road.
We haye been the more inclined to give this short account of the aforementioned antiquities, discovered in or near the turnpike road leading from Thrapston to Market Harborough, because, we imagine, the like occasion will not again be given for such discoveries in that part of our kingdom.
XXIII. Places in England where Natural Curiosities abound.
MR. URBAN, IT
may be of use to many of your ingenious readers, who have occasion to travel during the ensuing summer, to be informed where natural curiosities are to be found; I have therefore pointed out some remarkable places where curious