London on five pounds a day

Millennium Dome etc. from a station of the DLR

The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) was indeed well-lit, and offered stunning views of the Millennium Dome and the towering steel and glass centers of global finance.

Thames barrier at low tide

It was low tide on the longest day of the year. At the Thames Barrier, we saw a cormorant and a curlew. House martins fed their young in an artificial cliff above the river — a concrete apartment building.

Thames Barrier Park

And in the adjacent park, local residents strolled, played and picnicked around heaving waves of shrubbery.

Greenwich Observatory on the summer solstice

We made our way west and across the river to the Royal Observatory, although we didn’t know exactly where we were going until we got there.

Greenwich Meridian at the Royal Observatory

The observatory was closed, but the prime meridian, being arbitrary and imaginary, continued to work as well as ever. The queue to get one’s picture taken straddling it exhausted my patience, but it was fun to see just how popular such a quintessentially nerdy thing could be.

temple of Darwin

It was a pattern already familiar to me from London’s Natural History Museum, a veritable temple of science, where families line up to take pictures with the iconic statue of Charles Darwin,


or gaze in wonder at the ichthyosaur’s bony eyes.

picnic car

As in any big city, there are a lot of things to see that don’t make it into any tourist guidebook,

segregated school

and something that seems completely normal to a native might strike an outsider as outlandish.

Herlihy litter mural

Minor works of public art can have more appeal than something in a museum, especially if they have a cool back-story (canal-side art made from trash dredged from the canal),

Before I Die blackboard on the Grand Union Canal

though they might not be on anyone’s list of things to see before they die. (This was another public installation along the Grand Union Canal. Several colors of chalk were provided, but oddly, no one had yet used any other color but white.)

Iron Age skull

In another thousand years, the things our civilization has deposited in the river and canals may get their chance to be enshrined behind museum glass, as in this truly epic exhibit at the Museum of London,

Bronze Age skulls and weapons

and their relative abundance may suggest what we valued most,

Mesolithic antler mattocks

what uses we made of our fellow animals,

Dagenham Idol

and even, perhaps, what refracted images of ourselves we chose to worship.

See my photostream on Flickr for more photos from this summer in the UK, including some disturbing photos from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, which I may or may not get around to blogging.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).


  1. What do you suppose those bones with holes were used for? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like them. Looks like there is a lot of wear on them.


    1. They’re mattock heads, apparently. So presumably they were used for digging up roots and such. Early quarrying was done with bone tools, too.


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