Lunar eclipse observed from the mountainside above Gordon’s Bay

Monday the 28th of September 2015

The first question was where to go to get the best view if the weather was going to allow us any kind of view at all. Auke quickly determined that the best spot would be the parking area in front of the entrance to the Steenbras Water Filtration Plant on the mountainside above Gordon’s Bay.  The position at 290 m above sea level and 34° 10’29.17”S, 18° 50’51.96”E would give us a clear view across the waters of False Bay to where the Moon would set behind the mountains of the Southern section of the Cape Peninsula. So we had the place and now we began watching the weather anxiously. As we drew closer to the weekend the weather forecast became more and more favourable for that crucial period between Monday 02:00 and 07:00. Eventually it was almost certain that we would get a clear view of most of the eclipse so.

The most direct route for Lynnette and I would be the R300 and N2. Although the traffic reports said all was quiet along this route we were still concerned in view of the many incidents of stone throwing and other acts of violence, robbery and traffic disruption that had taken place on these two roads over the past months. We decided not to risk it and took a longer but safer route, arriving at the parking area shortly after 02:00. The weather was almost windless and beautifully clear but quite nippy. Next to arrive was Paul Kruger and shortly after him Wendy Vermeulen. Auke Slotegraaf and Johan Brink eventually arrived and, as we started setting were dismayed to see that there were clouds rolling in. They were ragged lot and we managed to get the start of the eclipse through the gaps and then, to our great relief the clouds dissipated leaving us with an unimpeded view of the eclipse.

Lynnette and I with Lorenzo. as you can see by our clothing it was pretty nippy up there. I had the Nikon D5100 attached to Lorenzo at prime focus.
Lynnette and I with Lorenzo. as you can see by our clothing it was pretty nippy up there. I had the Nikon D5100 attached to Lorenzo at prime focus.

I had the Nikon D5100 attached directly to Lorenzo the 10′ inch Dobby. so it was a question of push and shove all the way through the eclipse.  Lynnette operated the timer so that the photographs would be more or less evenly spaced, A couple of times during the course of the eclipse the wind freshened and then died down again and shortly after totality a bank of clouds and haze began to build up to the west over the Peninsula. It soon became clear that the last stages of the eclipse and the setting of the Moon were going to be lost in those clouds and the haze that was slowly climbing higher.

The centre photograph was take at maximum, well more or less. The others from the top left going around clockwise follow the eclipse till the clouds messed theings up and the photos became so hazy that they were not worth posting.
The centre photograph was take at maximum, well, more or less. The others from the top left going around clockwise follow the eclipse till the clouds messed things up and the photos became so hazy that they were not worth posting.

Despite the loss of the last bit of the eclipse and the actual setting of the Moon it was a very successful outing. We all got good photographs and shortly after sunrise we packed up and headed home. Getting home was not a quick drive, because we had to contend with the very heavy, Monday morning, peak hour traffic but eventually we made it and then it we could go to bed for some well earned rest.

The Moon one night after InOMN

Taken from our home in Brackenfell on day after our disastrous International Observe the Moon Night expedition.

Nikon D5100 attached to a 2xBarlow at prime focus on a 10″ Skywatcher Dobsonian.

ISO 400 and shutter speed 0.01 seconds.

15 photographs stitched with Image Composite Editor.

DSC_2094_Maan_stitch

National Science Week 2015

It is the little ones that require more attention
It is the little ones that require more attention

National Science Week in 2015 took place from the 01st to the 08th of August. After 2014’s hectic outing we opted for what we hoped would be an easier event this year. We approached the Iziko South African Museum to find out if they would allow us to set up every day in the amphitheatre in front of the Museum. Theo Ferreira and Elsabe Uys were very helpful in arranging all the logistics of the event and without their able and willing assistance I doubt if everything would have run quite as smoothly as it did.

In the run-up to National Science Week there was the usual rush to fix last minute glitches and, of course, our house looked decidedly scruffy with all the piles of posters and handouts.

The first consignment of posters and handouts
The first consignment of posters and handouts
The second consignment of goodies from SAASTA
The second consignment of goodies from SAASTA
The third consignment of hand-outs from up north
The third consignment of hand-outs from up north

On Saturday 01st left home early, so as not to be caught in the traffic. We had roped Jaco Wiese in to help out as an extra pair of hands because we expected a fair number of people. Alan and Rose Cassels were also on site as Alan had to man the table with his absolutely superb model of the Southern African large Telescope (SALT). As part of our program the Iziko planetarium agreed to administer a competition for us. After each planetarium show the name of an entrant in the competition was drawn and the first person drawn that had answered the question correctly received a prize from us. The weather was superb for outdoor activities like ours and drew many Capetonians to the Company Gardens, so we had a constant stream of visitors wanting to view the sun through our telescope, which was equipped with special filters to safeguard their eyes.

A collection of images from day one of National Science Week.
A collection of images from day one of National Science Week.

Sunday the 02nd was pretty much a repeat of the Saturday.

Some scenes from day two of National Science Week
Some scenes from day two of National Science Week
Some images of Alan's magnificent model of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT)
Some images of Alan’s magnificent model of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT)

Unlike 2014 when we worked the crowds every day we took a break on the Monday and Tuesday but on Wednesday the 05th we were back at the Museum but, being a weekday we had to start much earlier to beat the traffic. It was also a tough day because neither Jaco nor Alan and Rose were available so Auke, Lynnette and I had to really know our stuff to cope with everything and we were very glad when closing time rolled around. The trip home was not a picnic either, because we were right in the thick of the dreaded 5 o’clock traffic.

Day three and as you can see we had to contend with the early morning and late afternoon traffic
Day three and as you can see we had to contend with the early morning and late afternoon traffic

We had planned it so that we would have Thursday free but on Friday 07th we were back on site after a very early start from home. Mercifully Alan and Rose had put in leave so they were also there to assist. The day was very successful with a particularly large number of schools showing up. Going home was a bit of a nightmare because, not only was it Friday, it was also the start of a long weekend. We had a long drive home.

Friday before the long weekend and was the traffic hectic
Friday before the long weekend and was the traffic hectic

On Saturday 08th we could leave home a bit later and the traffic was definitely easier. The day was surprisingly busy, considering the fact that many people had probably gone away for the long weekend, so we were very glad to have Alan and Rose on site again. For the first time that week the weather played up and we had bigger and bigger patches of cloud to contend with as well as an appreciable drop in temperature and a brisk breeze.

Images from our last day of a very pleasant and successful National Science Week
Images from our last day of a very pleasant and successful National Science Week
Our UV-beads worked well. Top left to bottom right you can follow the very fast colour change when exposed to sunlight
Our UV-beads worked well. Top left to bottom right you can follow the very fast colour change when exposed to sunlight

All round it was a very successful National Science Week.  We were well over our target figures and it was definitely less stressful then a road trip and the idea of having days off in between was a brilliant one. Having Jac and especially Alan and Rose on hand was also a huge help. Next year we plan to hit the Museum again but for eight consecutive days. Okay, so we are suckers for punishment!

Over and above our activities at the Iziko South African Museum we advertised in a number of newspapers, I spoke on one of the local radio stations and we had two static exhibitions at the Bellville and Brackenfell Public Libraries. Our media coverage reached a staggering 518 223 during National Science Week and at the Museum we had direct contact with another 16 430 people. So Star People brought National Science Week to the attention of more than half a million people that week; not bad at all!

The front pages of the newspapers we advertised in
The front pages of the newspapers we advertised in

For Auke, Lynnette and I there remained the site report to be written and submitted as well as the dreaded financial report. As usual the financial report gobbled up many, many hours of Lynnette’s time, but eventually that was done and dusted too and the 195 page document was in the courier’s hands and off to SAASTA in Pretoria.

International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) in Gordon’s Bay

InOMN: Saturday the 19th of September 2015

I wish I could say we had a blast, but actually we were blasted out of business by the infamous Gordon’s Bay wind. The outing started off quite pleasantly with Auke, Lynnette, Richard, Wendy and I having a late lunch at Zest in Beach Road, Gordon’s Bay with a gentle breeze hardly ruffling the waters of False Bay.

We started setting up on the strip of grass next to the parking area just west of the Sunset Spur on the Gordon’s Bay beachfront at about 16:15. By then the breeze had gone from “gentle” to “stiff” and showed signs of converting from “breeze” to “wind” judging by the wisps of cloud just beginning to peep over the mountains.

Top left: Richard and his 12"ready for action Top centre: Wendy and her 8" wait for the first viewers Top right: This young viewer had her priorities right - "" first the lollipop and then I'll look Bottom left: These two want to look at the mountain too, so Wendy obliged Bottom centre: Lynnette holding onto certificates and attendance registers Bottom right: One of the handful of visitors that braved the wind and ignored the Rugby

Top left: Richard and his 12″ready for action
Top centre: Wendy and her 8″ wait for the first viewers
Top right: This young viewer had her priorities right – “first the lollipop and then I’ll look at the Moon”
Bottom left: These two wanted to look at the mountain too, so Wendy obliged
Bottom centre: Lynnette holding onto certificates and attendance registers in the wind
Bottom right: One of the handful of visitors that braved the wind and ignored the rugby

We started setting up on the strip of grass next to the parking area just west of the Sunset Spur on the Gordon’s Bay beachfront at about 16:15. By then the breeze had gone from “gentle” to “stiff” and showed signs of converting from “breeze” to “wind” judging by the wisps of cloud just beginning to peep over the mountains.

In the meantime we had also figured out that the absence of people, on the normally busy beach front, was not due to the weather at all. The Rugby World Cup was on in England and South Africa’s Pride & Joy were due to take on the underdogs, Japan, later in the afternoon.  People were probably all gathered indoors getting into the spirit of things for what most people, so I am led to believe, considered a walk in the park for our Men in Green. It seems, however, that the Cherry Blossoms had other ideas and eventually served our lads up as Sprinkbok sushi.

As they say in Dutch, “Hoe zijn de helden niet gevallen!”.

I did not watch the game, but it almost sounds as if the chaps from the Land of The Rising Sun fulfilled Sir Sagramore’s boast to Guenevere “I’ll serve him to your highness en brochette!”.

Top left: Richard and two visitors who braved the wind to look at the moon Top centre: Wendy on the left all wrapped up by this stage Top right: Poor Lynnette wrapped herself in a blanket to combat the wind and the cold Bottom left: Even the birds were leaving for some place downwind Bottom centre: The wind literally blew the telescopes of target unless you held onto them Bottom right: We did actually see the moon as this cellphone photograph shows
Top left: Richard and two visitors who braved the wind to look at the moon
Top centre: Wendy on the left all wrapped up by this stage
Top right: Poor Lynnette wrapped herself in a blanket to combat the wind and the cold
Bottom left: Even the birds were leaving for some place downwind
Bottom centre: The wind literally blew the telescopes off target
Bottom right: We did actually see the moon as this cellphone photograph shows

In the meantime we saw the Moon and the Sun and a beautiful sunset and, to use an Afrikaans expression, “ons het ons gat gesien”. The wind went from a stiff breeze to strong wind to a gale as the afternoon wore on into the early evening.  It blew over tables and chairs, overturned plastic crates and scattered their contents and even rocked the poor telescopes. Lynnette had her work cut out trying to keep the certificates and attendance registers from leaving us and going flyabout over False Bay. As is to be expected, once the sun set it also became colder and the wind’s chill factor maliciously dropped the temperature even further, sending us all scurrying for anoraks, windbreakers and coats.

A collection of photographs to try and show the spectacular sunset. Somehow my photographs just never seem to capture how amazing this sort of scene really was. Sigh!
A collection of photographs to try and show the spectacular sunset. Somehow my photographs just never seem to capture how amazing this sort of scene really was. Sigh!

By about 19:30 we decided that, despite the beautiful sunset, enough was enough so we packed up and headed for the Indigo Spur in Somerset West’s Waterstone Village Centre. Why not the Spur right next to where we were? Because we wanted to get as far away from the infernal wind as possible.

Of course when we arrived at the Waterstone Village Center, it was a lovely balmy, windless evening!

Not Devil's Peak and Table Mountain but the sleeping Olympian giant Adamastor. Look closely and you will see hus forehead shoulde of Devil's Peak, His nose is the peak itself, his torso is Table Mountain itself and his toes are down near Constantia Neck.
Not Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain, but the sleeping Olympian giant Adamastor.
Look closely and you will see his forehead is the shoulder of Devil’s Peak, his nose is the peak itself, his torso is Table Mountain and his toes are down near Constantia Neck.

Despite the very windy conditions we were treated to a splendid sunset and a spectacular view of the sleeping mythological figure Adamastor. Camões describes this terrifying figure in the verse below.

“Even as I spoke, an immense shape
Materialised in the night air,
Grotesque and enormous stature
With heavy jowls, and an unkempt beard
Scowling from shrunken, hollow eyes
Its complexion earthy and pale,
Its hair grizzled and matted with clay,
Its mouth coal black, teeth yellow with decay.”
—Camões, The Lusiads Canto V.

The artist, Cyril Coetzee, tells us that he used to be one of the giants of Olympus. He fell in love with a beautiful, seductive sea nymph called Thetis, but she was repulsed by his extreme size and hideous looks. Thetis’s mother, Doris, promised to arrange a tryst for him with her daughter. One, night, as Doris had sworn, Thetis appeared. The passionate giant ran towards her and took her in his arms, only to find himself embracing a rock. He was transformed into the mountains of the Cape Peninsula, where he still sleeps.  (Cyril Coetzee: Myth of Adamastor Revisited)

One day, legend has it, Adamastor will rise up, rally his fellow giants and they will shake the Earth once more, filling the air with smoke, fire and a great cacophony that will be heard by all mankind and fill them with fear and wonder.

A contemporary rendition of the Adamastor myth well worth reading, is Andre P. Brink’s short novel The First Life of Adamastor (Random House/Struik, 2000).

Visit to !Khwa ttu, the San Cultural and Education Centre

Thursday & Friday the 27th & 28th of August 2015

Snorre’s trip started with a bang.  As I was carrying him out to the Vito in his carry cage the handle broke. Snorre and the cage hit the brick paving with an almighty thump, which unclipped the top half of the cage from the bottom half. In the process the door fell off and Snorre bolted. I eventually found him under the trailer and he was definitely not a happy cat. It took a lot of coaxing to get him out of there and a plenty of convincing to get him back into the cage as well. Why did the handle break?  Obviously it must have been shoddy workmanship because it could definitely not have been overloading!

We've hit the road. Top left: Onto the N1 Top right: N7 coming up Middle left: N7 moving into open country Middle right: About to leave the N7 Bottom left: On the way to the R27 Bottom right: Did the kids buy the car or are they just tagging him?
We’ve hit the road.
Top left: Onto the N1
Top right: N7 coming up
Middle left: N7 moving into open country
Middle right: About to leave the N7
Bottom left: On the way to the R27
Bottom right: Did the kids buy the car or are they just tagging him?
On the R27 and heading West Top left: This road is a temptation for people with fast cars Top right: We aren't going that far today Bottom left: Good wine to the right but we'll give it a pass today Bottom right: Not far to go now
On the R27 and heading West
Top left: This road is a temptation for people with fast cars
Top right: We aren’t going that far today
Bottom left: Good wine to the right but we’ll give it a pass today
Bottom right: Not far to go now

This visit had been in the pipeline for a very long time. Michael Daiber, the CEO at !Khwa ttu and I met at a West Coast Tourism event in 2013.  I steered the conversation in the direction of astronomy, as I always tend to do, and from there it didn’t take long for us to agree that we ought to arrange an opportunity for Star People to meet and interact with the trainee guides. However, as often happens with best intentions, all sorts of occurrences prevented the visit from taking place.  I had a serious back operation and then Michael had to have even more drastic surgery but, eventually, life got back on even keel for both of us, so we started arranging again.  Actually that is not quite correct, because somewhere along the line Ri Vermooten, the Programme Manager and Facilitator at !Khwa ttu, got involved and she set the ball rolling again. Go here to brush up your background on !Khwa ttu

Here are two more links with more information on the activities at !Khwa ttu.  The first one is about training and the second one gives more details about the activities and persons at !Khwa ttu.

!Khwa ttu is situated on the R27, about 70 km north of Cape Town. This farm is called Grootwater in Afrikaans and the name San !Khwa ttu also means an open expanse of water, like a pan. When Lynnette, Snorre and I left on Thursday morning the weather did not look promising for the stargazing we had planned to present in the evening. I also had to give a talk after lunch in which I intended to stress the necessity of integrating traditional astronomy’s mythology with the western (Greco/Roman) mythology and factual scientific astronomy, when interacting with visitors; especially overseas visitors. We hoped that the clouds might give us a few breaks to do some star gazing and constellation hopping that evening but the chances seemed slim.

We were met, welcomed and shown to our very cosy accommodation in the guest house by Magdalena Lucas. Magdalena is a ᵵKhomani from the small southern Kgalagadi settlement of Rietfontein.  She came to !Khwa ttu to attend the guiding course, completed it successfully and stayed on to become one of their two trainee curators. Her fellow trainee curator at !Khwa ttu is Jobe Gabototwe, a Xhaikwe from Kedia near Mopipi in Botswana.

Top left: The entrance to !Khwa ttu and the buildings up on the hill Top right: The training centre with our poster display on the stoep Bottom left: Introductions being made Bottom right: Star Wheel instruction
Top left: The entrance to !Khwa ttu and the buildings up on the hill
Top right: The training centre with our poster display on the stoep
Bottom left: Introductions being made
Bottom right: Star Wheel instruction
The group from left to right Joubert Kamamba (!Kung), Edward Foster, Martin Joseph (!Kung), Nathan Friedburg (‡Khomani), Omphile Motshabi (Naro), Anton Kana (!Xun), Magdalena Lucas (Admin), Ri Vermooten (Training Manager), Richard van der Byl (‡Khomani), Jostina Amutenya (!Kung), André Antonio (!Xun), André Vaalbooi (‡Khomani)
The group, from left to right are Joubert Kamamba (Khwe), Edward Foster, Martin Joseph (!Kung), Nathan Friedburg (‡Khomani), Omphile Motshabi (Naro), Anton Kana (!Xun), Magdalena Lucas (Admin), Ri Vermooten (Training Manager), Richard van der Byl (‡Khomani), Jostina Amutenya (!Kung), André Antonio (!Xun), André Vaalbooi (‡Khomani)

After lunch I set up a selection of our A-frame poster displays on the stoep of the training building. We were then introduced to the trainees and they introduced themselves to us after which we spent the rest of the afternoon interacting with them. We also introduced Snorre to the group, much to their amusement. We discussed the value of indigenous knowledge and specifically indigenous astronomy knowledge. I drove the point home that this knowledge had great value as a cultural possession and that it should never be seen as inferior to modern scientific astronomy interpretations. The ancient astronomy knowledge worldwide is the basis on which later knowledge was able to develop. It is imperative that they remember that overseas guests come to Southern Africa for an African Experience. Their unique cultural astronomy narratives are an intrinsic part of such an experience.

During the coffee break we were able to generate some interesting discussions around the poster display and after the break we discussed the problem, which the African knowledge tradition experiences in a modern world; it was an oral tradition. However, the social fabric, within which it had efficiently functioned for millennia, has all but disappeared in modern times. This means that the oral histories are disappearing too, as the last bearers of that knowledge pass away. The trainees are in the unique position that they still have access, probably only for short while, to sources of these histories; the ageing storytellers. They have an individual and collective responsibility to collect and record as many of these stories as is possible, before they all became lost.

The clouds, as is often the nature of clouds when one wants to do astronomy, were not going to go anywhere that evening. As a substitute, I spent two hours running through some basic astronomy in Stellarium and demonstrating that programme and the Virtual Moon Atlas.  I discussed the use of the Sky Guide and also showed the group how to use the Southern Star Wheel which they had each been given. I was able to use Stellarium to illustrate to the group the fact that our southern skies were completely unknown to visitors from the Northern Hemisphere and that they should capitalize on this.

Two of !Khwa ttu’s full time guides, André Vaalbooi and André Antonio as well as Magdalena Lucas and Ri Vermooten also attended the sessions. André Antonio has elected to be known as André Regopstaan to distinguish him from André Vaalbooi.

Our very nice accommodation at !Khwa ttu
Our very nice accommodation at !Khwa ttu
Panoramic view from the front of our guest house toward the Atlantic
Panoramic view from the front of our guest house toward the Atlantic
Weaver helping herself to nectar from an Aloe
Weaver helping herself to nectar from an Aloe
A very cocky mouse-bird on a very thorny perch
A very cocky mouse-bird on a very thorny perch
Panoramic view to the north behind the guest house
Panoramic view to the north behind the guest house
The "werf" of the complex, still deserted this early in the morning
The “werf” of the complex, still deserted this early in the morning
Top left: The kitchen end of our flatlet with a nice fireplace Top right: The sleeping end of the flatlet with a very good bed Middle left: Snorre wondering when breakfast is going to materialize Middle right: Lynnette and Snorre at breakfast - Snorre watching the kitchen door Bottom left: The dining room with a lovely fireplace separating it from the reception area Bottom right: How long is this breakfast going to take you guys?
Top left: The kitchen end of our flatlet with a nice fireplace
Top right: The sleeping end of the flatlet with a very good bed
Middle left: Snorre wondering when breakfast is going to materialize
Middle right: Lynnette and Snorre at breakfast – Snorre watching the kitchen door
Bottom left: The dining room with a lovely fireplace separating it from the reception area
Bottom right: How long is this breakfast going to take you guys?
Top left: The covered pathway leading from the visitors parking area Top right: The front of the reception area and restaurant entrance Middle left: The reception and restaurant from another angel Middle right: I love this notice posted on the library door Bottom row: Two very important publications on San culture that are well worth reading
Top left: The covered pathway leading from the visitors parking area
Top right: The front of the reception area and restaurant entrance
Middle left: The reception and restaurant from another angel
Middle right: I love this notice posted on the library door
Bottom row: Two very important publications on San culture that are well worth reading

After the evening session Lynnette, Snorre and I had supper and went to bed. The next morning, after breakfast in !Khwa ttu’s lovely restaurant, we said our farewells and left for home.  On the way back we passed a group of municipal workers cutting the roadside grass with weed-eaters that were not fitted with stone guards. One of these infernal machines flung up a stone that hit the Vito right side window in the sliding door and shattered it. More than R8000-00 later it has been replaced (at our expense) but the saga with the municipality is still developing. I wonder if all the flag waving is to get motorists to slow down so they can take better aim.

Top left: Just at the bottom of that hill in the right-hand background is where the weed-eater incident occurred Top centre: The window does not look damaged if you stand far enough away but look at its left edge Top right: This is where the impact was and from this close the damage is much clearer Middle left: View from the inside and now the broken window (left) is clearly different from the one on the right Middle centre: The municipal vehicle and its driver who said the foreman had gone "to fetch something" Middle right: The other end of the municipal vehicle attached to a trailer Bottom left: The hill with the two lines of weed-eater wielding workers on either side of the road in their orange overalls
Top left: Just at the bottom of that hill in the right-hand background is where the weed-eater incident occurred
Top centre: The window does not look damaged if you stand far enough away but look at its left edge
Top right: This is where the impact was and from this close the damage is much clearer
Middle left: View from the inside and now the broken window (left) is clearly different from the one on the right
Middle centre: The municipal vehicle and its driver who said the foreman had gone “to fetch something”
Middle right: The other end of the municipal vehicle attached to a trailer
Bottom left: The hill with the two lines of weed-eater wielding workers on either side of the road in their orange overalls

 

Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)

Musings on the Standard Length markers by of a would-be amateur astronomical digger.

There are five of these structures which I previously labeled North (N), North+1 (N1), North+2 (N2), North+3 (N3) and North+4 (N4) going from the most northerly to the most southerly one. Auke and Evan very carefully measured the distances between these structures and found that by using them in various combinations; it was possible to obtain very accurate lengths of between 10 to 100 English feet in any multiple of 10 feet.

We still, however, do not know what was mounted on these bases and it certainly appears as if, whatever that was, differed from mounting to mounting. This assumption is made purely on the basis of the current appearance of the remains of the Standard Length bases.

Below are images of the five objects in question.

NORTH SLM
NORTH SLM (N)
NORTH-2 SLM
NORTH-1 SLM (N-1)
NORTH-2 SLM
NORTH-2 SLM (N-2)
NORTH-3 SLM
NORTH-3 SLM (N-3)
NORTH-4 SLM
NORTH-4 SLM (N-4_

N and N-2 are similar in design but not in size. N-1 and N-4 have similar designs but their sizes differ slightly and the block with the hole in is situated to the north in N-1 and to the south in N-4. The odd one out is N-3, although it seems to have been similar to the plinth still present in N, N-2 and N-4 and presumed to have been present in N-1 judging by the markings and fragments present there. This plinth, therefore, appears to be common to all of the Standard Length bases.

N-1 and N-4 distinguish themselves from the others by the presence of the smaller block with the square hole in it and the two metal lugs on the north and south sides of that hole. In both of these structures the metal lugs seem to have been later additions.

However, closer inspection of N-1 and N-4 reveals another difference. The basic construction between the larger and smaller sections differs in both cases.  The smaller block seems, in both cases, to have a courser concrete foundation which also appears to be shallower in both cases.

I think that the smaller structure with the square hole and two metal lugs in N-1 and N-4 was added after the construction of the larger sections with the plinth. I also think that the two metal lugs were added after the construction of the base in a third operation. Something fitted into that hole which, based on the fragments found on site, was lined with wood but that something was not stable enough, so the metal lugs were added as anchor points.

If you want to read about the work leading up to this post go to

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV)

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV)

The search for the foundations of old buildings at the SAAO continues
Friday & Saturday 15/16 August 2015.

Auke has soldiered on without me, very competently assisted by Johan, Chris Vermeulen, Leslie and several other stalwarts.

The Ron Atkins Observatory (RAO) has been tidied up by Johan, the Moreas have flowered and Auke has started a programme to document everything on the site using photogrammetry techniques. It is really a fantastic technique but it means I will have to exhume the Standard Length Markers – for the third time.

More about these developments later but here are some of Auke’s photographs showing the progress in the meantime.

Chris Vermeulen and I studying the excellent publication on the history of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope by Dr Ian Glass
Chris Vermeulen and I studying the excellent publication on the history of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope by Dr Ian Glass. (Photo Auke Slotegraaf)
Me working on the final phase of cleaning up the RAO
Me working on the final phase of cleaning up the RAO. (Photo Auke Slotegraaf)
The ROA cleaned up and ready for visitors. Photo Auke Slotegraaf
The ROA cleaned up and ready for visitors. (Photo Auke Slotegraaf)
The RAo now has a proper access pathway constructed from all the bits of building rubble lying around, thanks to Johan Brink's hard work Photo Auke Slotegraaf
The RAo now has a proper access pathway constructed from all the bits of building rubble lying around, thanks to Johan Brink’s hard work. (Photo Auke Slotegraaf)

If you want to read about the work done before and after this post go to

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

AND

Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)

 

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

The search for the foundations of old buildings at the SAAO continues
Sunday 19 July 2015.

On Sunday the 19th of July a drop or two of rain was forecast for around 11:00. Auke, Evan, Johan and I decided to ignore that and carry on digging and measuring. Episode four covers my efforts to clean and measure the remains of the five Standard Length Markers (SLM). To do this I had to first exhume them, after having buried them as a protective measure, the previous week.

For my own reference I have, rather unimaginatively, called the most northerly one “North” and, working my southward, called the others “North+1”, “North+2”, “North+3” and “North+4”. I will abbreviate this even further and refer to the SLM as N, N1, N2, N3 & N4 so please remember that I am not referring to South Africa’s highway marking system. An important feature is that no two of these Standard Length Markers (SLM) are identical. They do, however, share certain features.

North (N):

The picture shows the entire North (N) SLM. Its longer dimension is orientated North-South

The picture shows the entire North (N) SLM. Its longer dimension is orientated North-South

This is a closer view of the pedestal forming the southern end of the SLM (N)
This is a closer view of the pedestal forming the southern end of the SLM (N)

This is 10,0 cm thick and seems to be common feature of all five SLMs. This seems to have been a base for a second layer, about 7,0 cm thick, but no remnants of this were found for N, although they do feature in other markers. The pedestals all seem to have had three metal pegs (P1, P2, P3 in the photo), 3,0 cm in diameter, about 8,0 cm long with a notch or groove in one end, presumably the top. The rust spots in the photo are not the remains of the actual pegs but show where they rested on this lower section. The upper section of the pedestal seems to have served the specific purpose of holding pegs in position. One such peg was found loose in the soil covering this marker.

The pedestals seem to have been encased in a wooden framework. In four of the five cases (N, N-1, N-2 & N-4) this was attached by a metal fixture on each of the pedestal’s four sides. These points are marked by a star and an arrow in the photograph. No wood or any parts of the actual metal fixture were found at N. The faint cross marked as the “Centre Point” is the point from which the distance between the markers was measured by Auke, Evan and the rest of the team.

N-1:

This is the second SLM from the northern end and, as can be seen it consis of two sections
This is the second SLM from the northern end and, as can be seen, it consists of two sections

The second SLM (N-1) consisted of two sections. The smaller, northern section had two metal fixtures on its northern and southern edges that looked as if they had been put in after the initial construction, In the centre of the northern section, centrally positioned between the two metal fixtures, is a square hole. The sides and base of the hole appear to have been lined with wood; remains of this lining were found in the hole.

 The southern portion originally had the pedestal mounted on it but all that is left is one piece of cement that might have been part of it
The southern portion originally had the pedestal mounted on it, but all that is left is one piece of cement that might have been part of it
One of the metal pegs, which we suppose were part of the pedestal, was found in the central hole of the northern section
One of the metal pegs showing the notch in what was most probably the top. This peg was found in the central hole of the northern section and we think it was one of three mounted in the pedestal
A second view of one of the peg found in the northern section of N-1
A second view of one of the peg found in the northern section of N-1
This picture shows the northern section of N-1 with the peg (A) and the two metal inserts B1 and B2
This picture shows the northern section of N-1 with the peg (A) and the two metal inserts B1 and B2
This picture shows the southern section of N-1. The scouring and chipping are common techniques used by masons when they have to add sections to existing surfaces
This picture shows the southern section of N-1. The scouring and chipping are common techniques used by masons when they have to add sections to existing surfaces
One of the two metal inserts which appear to have been an afterthought and which we assume were used as anchors. They seem to have had a hole through them so one supposes they formed part of a system used to stabilize whatever fitted into the square hole
One of the two metal inserts (on the northern side of the square hole) which appear to have been an afterthought and which we assume were used as anchors. They seem to have had a hole through them so one supposes they formed part of a system used to stabilize whatever fitted into the square hole
The metal inserts on the southern side of the square hole. These inserts appear to have been an afterthought and we assume they were used as anchors. They seem to have had a hole through them so one supposes they formed part of a system used to stabilize whatever fitted into the square hole
The metal insert on the southern side of the square hole. These inserts appear to have been an afterthought and we assume they were used as anchors. They seem to have had a hole through them so one supposes they formed part of a system used to stabilize whatever fitted into the square hole

N-2:

This structure resembles the first marker but has a shorter north-south axis (125 cm as opposed to 183 cm)
This SLM-structure (N-2)  resembles the first SLM but has a shorter north-south axis (125 cm as opposed to 183 cm)
Here the remnants of the wooden frame, which appears to have been mounted around each pedestal, can be seen
Here the remnants of the wooden frame, which appears to have been mounted around each pedestal, can be seen
This picture of the pedestal clearly shows the positions of the metal pegs (P1, P2 & P3) and the positions of the metal fasteners which appear to have held the wooden frame in place (B1, B2, B3 & B4)
This picture of the pedestal clearly shows the positions of the metal pegs (P1, P2 & P3) and the positions of the metal fasteners which appear to have held the wooden frame in place (B1, B2, B3 & B4)
Here two pieces of the 7,0 cm thick slabs, which we think formed the top of each of the pedestals is shown. One of the metal pegs, referred to previously, can be seen in the photograph
Here two pieces of the 7,0 cm thick slabs, which we think formed the top of each of the pedestals are shown. One of the metal pegs, referred to previously, can be seen in the photograph
This is a view of N-2 from the eastern side and pieces of the decayed wooden frame and the position of the metal fastener on that side of the pedestal are visible
This is a view of N-2 from the eastern side and pieces of the decayed wooden frame and the position of the metal fastener on that side of the pedestal are visible
This is the eastern side of the pedestal on N-2. The remnants of the metal fasteners that must have held the wooden frame around the pedestal in position are clearly visible
This is the eastern side of the pedestal on N-2. The remnants of the metal fasteners, that must have held the wooden frame around the pedestal in position, are clearly visible
This is the southern side of the pedestal on N-2. Here to the remnants of the metal fasteners that must have held the wooden frame around the pedestal in position are clearly visible
This is the southern side of the pedestal on N-2. Here to the remnants of the metal fasteners that must have held the wooden frame around the pedestal in position are clearly visible
The metal peg found on the pedestal at N-2 and some of the pieces of rusted fixtures that once held the wooden frame in place
The metal peg found on the pedestal at N-2 and some of the pieces of rusted fixtures that once held the wooden frame in place
A closer view of the rusty remains of the fasteners at N-2
A closer view of the rusty remains of the fasteners at N-2

N-3:

This was the smallest of the five structures. The wooden frame around the pedestal was also constructed differently.

A general view of the N-3's pedestal as we uncovered it
A general view of N-3’s pedestal as we uncovered it
N-3's pedestal after we had cleaned it up
N-3’s pedestal after we had cleaned it up

One metal peg was still in place and one was found loose but both were very badly corroded. Two holes that once held pegs can also be seen on the top slab of the pedestal. On the right hand corner there is still one bracket in place and it appears that each corner had two brackets. There are no metal fasteners on the base section of the pedestal, as in the three SLMs to the north of this one.

This is the only bracket which was still in place on the wooden frame around N-3
This is the only bracket which was still in place on the wooden frame around N-3
Photograph of three brackets and the two pieces of a broken one recovered at N-3
Photograph of three brackets and the two pieces of a broken one recovered at N-3
 A closer view of one bracket at N-3 with measurements
A closer view of one bracket at N-3 with measurements

N-4:

The most southerly SLM had many characteristics in common with N-1.

N-4's structure before we cleaned it up
N-4’s structure before we cleaned it up
N-4's pedestal situated north of the section containing the square hole. This is the opposite of N-1.
N-4’s pedestal situated north of the section containing the square hole. This is the opposite of N-1.
This is teh southern part of N-4 clearly showing the square hole and the two metal fasteners/inserts
This is the southern part of N-4 clearly showing the square hole and the two metal fasteners/inserts

There was nothing left of the wooden frame although the same metal fasteners as in SLMs N, N-1 & N-2 seem to have been used. No trace was found of the top slab or of the pegs from the pedestal. Neither was there any sign of a wooden lining for the square hole, as in N-1. The two metal anchor inserts (B1 & B2) were also similar to those in N-1 and also appear to have been added after the initial construction.

A closer look at the northern metal insert.
A closer look at the northern metal insert.
The Southern metal insert and, as in N-1, it seems that both of these were put in place after the initial construction
The Southern metal insert and, as in N-1, it seems that both of these were put in place after the initial construction

We can only hope that somewhere there is a description of how these SLM’s were used and what was mounted on them. I doubt if we will be able to deduce too much more from what we have uncovered.

If you want to read about the work done before and after this post go to

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

 

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV) 

AND

Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

The search for the foundations of old buildings at the SAAO continues
Sunday 12 July 2015

On Saturday 11th of July Auke, Evan and Johan braved the rain to expand the diggings. I had been too chicken to get wet on the Saturday so I only joined them on the Sunday. Ketchil also visited us on the Sunday, fresh from her recent overseas gallivanting and Leslie arrived later in the day. He had been delayed for three hours while becoming intimately acquainted with his new cell phone. The main digging objective was to uncover as much of the Franklin Adams Observatory (FAO) as possible.  At the same time we would take accurate measurements and photographs of everything we found.

We were also anxious to pinpoint some of the places from which photographs had been taken in the past. This was particularly tricky, because there are now trees where none had been before and there are trees on older photographs that are not there now. Buildings are also a problem because some have been demolished, or had bits added on, and other structures have sprung up where there were none on the older photographs. Evan and I were tasked with this activity and, after some deliberation we thought we had found the spot from which a specific photograph, showing the two piers and sections of the FAO, had been taken.

Wearing my archaeology uniform an suitably protected against the chilly Northwesterly wind
Wearing my archaeology uniform an suitably protected against the chilly Northwesterly wind
From left to right we have Evan, Auke, Kechil hidden behind Auke, Johan and Leslie down on his knees all on the site of the FAO
From left to right we have Evan, Auke, Kechil hidden behind Auke, Johan and Leslie down on his knees all on the site of the FAO

A Tecomaria hedge, which had not been on the photograph in question, now made it impossible to see the FAO from that point. To verify the correctness of our deductions we had to be able to see over the hedge. I climbed onto one of the Moonwatch Pillars (MWP) (number five from the northern end) on the western side of the hedge, while Evan climbed up a tree on the eastern side. Evan could see me but he could not see the position of the southern pier in the FAO. Evan stayed up the tree and I balanced a length of metal irrigation pipe against MWP number five and held a second section of pipe upright in the middle of the FAO’s southern pier. From Evan’s arboreal vantage point the two pipes lined up perfectly so we now knew exactly where the photographer had stood to take the photo. To provide hard evidence we found a rather rickety stepladder and, while I did my best to keep it steady and stop it toppling over while Evan balanced himself precariously on top of the ladder and took the photograph, clearly showing the two irrigation pipes in line. The farthest one (held in position by Auke and Johan) served as a substitute for the non-existent southern pier of the FAO.

That's me up on the MWP and Evan handing me an irrigation pipe before he runs around to the other side of the hedge to climb his tree
That’s me up on the MWP and Evan handing me an irrigation pipe before he runs around to the other side of the hedge to climb his tree

The rest of the morning was spent opening up as much of the FAO observatory as we could find and cleaning away soil from the bits we had already found, so that we could see the construction details and also take measurements.  Of note was the fact that the two piers had been constructed differently. The southern pier seems to have been a better construction, judging by the appearance of the concrete and the brickwork.  In the photographs the southern pier is also the larger (taller) of the two piers so maybe it required a bigger and sturdier base.

Auke demonstrating the latest in archaeological dance moves to Kechil
Auke demonstrating the latest in archaeological dance moves to Kechil, flanked by Leslie (left) and Johan (right) measuring and me fiddling around behind the Eucalyptus tree
Leslie seems dismayed by the fact that Auke wants him to dig down another two meters
Leslie seems dismayed by the fact that Auke wants him to dig down another two meters
The south pier of the FAO with the two additional mountings visible just left of the pier
The south pier of the FAO with the two additional mountings visible just left of the pier

We could find no trace of any foundations. Where the foundations should have been, we did find definite signs of filling in with stones, bits of brick and pieces of masonry. It appears as if trenches had been dug, filled in with pieces of stone and building rubble and probably stamped down firmly before the concrete sections were cast in boxes on top of the filling material. This observation ties in with the appearance of the beam on the site. It has three relatively smooth sides and one very uneven side with impressions that could well be from the stones in the foundation trenches. The FAO was a wooden construction so it would probably not have required conventional foundations.

Leslie and Johan hard at work clearing and cleaning the southern pier of the FAO and just in view on the left are two identical structures to those uncovered next to the southern pier
Leslie and Johan hard at work clearing and cleaning the southern pier of the FAO and just in view on the left are two identical structures to those uncovered next to the southern pier

While looking for foundations we found numerous pieces of glass, most of them in the north and north-eastern section. Most of them appear to be ordinary window glass but there was one piece of bottle, without any distinctive markings as well. In the south-eastern corner of the dig I found the base of a ceramic container which dates to the late 1800’s or very early 1900’s.  This fits in neatly with the FAO’s time frame.

Lunch on the stoep of the Auditorium
Lunch on the stoep of the Auditorium
Auke's raised hand and pointing finger say it's back to work we go!
Auke’s raised hand and pointing finger say it’s back to work we go!

After lunch there was more cleaning and measuring and then we set about trying to find the row of Standard Length Markers (SLM) between the FAO and the Ron Atkins Observatory (ROA). Evan did his thing with the tape measure after careful examining the 1911 Gill-survey. With the first prod with his garden fork he struck cement!  Some quick spade work followed to uncover the second marker from the southern end so that the cleanup and measuring team could swing into action. In short order we found the next three north of that one, and then zeroed in on the most southerly marker. Two of these markers still had the wooden frames, in which the concrete had been cast, in place.

The northern SLM, or at least as much of it as we found that day
The northern SLM, or at least as much of it as we found that day
The SLM second from the northern end and again as we thought this was all there was
The SLM second from the northern end and again as we thought this was all there was
The third SLM from the northern end but here to there was more to be uncovered
The third SLM from the northern end but here to there was more to be uncovered
Leslie working on the fourth SLM from the northern end.
Leslie working on the fourth SLM from the northern end.
The fifth and southernmost SLM which also had some hidden surprises waiting to be uncovered
The fifth and southernmost SLM which also had some hidden surprises waiting to be uncovered

There is still some uncertainty about exactly how these bases for the SLM were constructed or what had been mounted on them. They differ considerably in size and appearance and method of construction.  After the measuring had been done, we covered them in lightly to prevent them from being disturbed and marked their positions with sticks stuck into the ground. We wrapped candy tape around these sticks to make them clearly visible. While placing these sticks I discovered that there was another slab about 20 cm north of the most northerly marker, which we hadn’t detected, and this raised the question as to whether we had not perhaps missed similar sections at the other SLMs. The sun was already setting, so we decided that investigation would have to wait until the next dig.

If you want to read about the work done before and after this post go to

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV) 

AND

Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)