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One day I was looking for the information about Siberia to give my friends at work, I stumbled upon a cool site named Cosmic Elk. It turned out, site was run by woman called Heather Hobden, immediately I was immersed reading everything on the site, and I couldn't stop! I am not going to divulge too much, you have to read it for yourself! The name Cosmic Elk came from Okladnikov, Heather's husband come out with the name for the web site, Okladnikov was one of the first or even first scholar to investigate origins of evenks in Baikal area.


Heather had taught astronomy, wrote many articles on the subject of history of Siberia, as well history of astronomy and history of England during Tudor regency.


Irina Alekseyeva, USA





Interview with Heather Hobden,

author of the web site Cosmic Elk



Heather in Power House, Sydney, May 2008

Heather in Power House, Sydney, May 2008




Please, tell me more about yourself. Where you were born? What do you do for living?


Born at Hampton Court Palace. The maternity hospital moved there because of the war.

Worked mostly in media - magazines, television, had just gone back to higher education (had to wait until 23) when had twins.  Soon after was commissioned to write the booklet on the Hampton Court Clock - things went on from there, continued with education, BA (hons) etc., and writing about history of astronomy and time-keeping and teaching astronomy at adult education classes, and other part-time work while bringing up family.




You told me your family has eastern European roots, could you tell us a little bit more. Why and when did your family  move to Britain?


Every one in Britain came from somewhere else, either themselves or ancestors. Mostly because of persecution, they had to escape.

Then many of them move on to somewhere with better weather. As most of my relatives have done. This is very normal for British people and why English spread around the world which is nice for those of us for whom it is our native language, and why we do not get so many opportunities to speak other languages.




Have you been to Russia before you visited Sakha-Yakutia?


Yes. Many times. Travelled when found affordable opportunities as it was the cheapest way to get to the Far East then. Was able to go further later via Bangkok when my son moved there. Also been to many other places - still more to go on my wish list.




How did you become interested in Sakha-Yakutia?

One of those places one wants to visit since a child about six, same time as became interested in astronomy. Always interested in Far East.




It seems like, you are interested in history, and of course not just of Siberia, is this interest related to your work  or it's a hobby? I have noticed, that you published quite number of books. Please tell me more about your professional background.


After writing about the Hampton Court Clock, was commissioned to write a book about early time-keeping - but the series of which this book was a part was shelved. By that time, it was all published anyway as a series of articles in Clocks Magazine. Most of my other work was also published as articles in magazines, like Clocks, the Horological Journal, Astronomy Now, the BAA Journal. When I was teaching astronomy I used to make booklets for my students. By then it was possible to have computers in our home which made "desk top publishing" possible. As I had worked in publishing I knew how to become a publisher (there are legal requirements going back to the 15th century). The name "The Cosmic Elk" was my husband's idea. It came from one of my articles.


In 1987 we helped with an exhibition for Lincolnshire's Greatest Scientist (Newton). So in 1988 we decided to have an exhibition to celebrate Lincolnshire's Second Greatest Scientist (John Harrison). I helped with the storyline, then published a booklet.  And as it sold, so I made it bigger with more information including the part on Harrison's scientific work written by my husband, Mervyn Hobden. Since was now a publisher,  published some other small academic books, also turning the material for my students and former articles into booklets. Although the costs were not really covered by the sales. By 2000 I had a qualification in Internet Technologies, and so started making my website to put on all my past work - and update it.  My website - cosmicelk.net, is still getting bigger and bigger and will never be  finished. It is a great way to keep updating things I have done in the past, including the astronomy classes I used to teach. And also communicate with others with similar interests. I also have designed and maintained small websites for some local organizations. Have never made much money out of it.




Where else have you been in Siberia and /or Russia? 


Lots of places as also went to other places (like Beijing) by way of Moscow or Leningrad, but it would take too long to put it all here. Had many trips and adventures, met many people, made friends, had new things to write about, etc. One example is when we went to Samarkand. Had so much additional information on Ulugbeg and his observatory that wrote an article for Astronomy Now. That was 1986. After the 9/11 wrote a short piece for space.com which was copied or linked all over the net. Shall have to keep more stories for another time.




What were your first impressions from Russia and Siberia? Yakutia.


Really more interested in finding out about the people who lived there (not Russians). Their way of life and way of time-keeping and traditional views of the universe were important to my research.


One thing which expected to see here but it has not happened is the traditional crafts - the beautiful tables with the horses's legs, the embroidered coats and boots, the jewrellry, silver work - and other things. It is very surprizing there has not been more exhibitions and sales of these things in Europe and other parts of the world as they are so desirable. If I had been more commercially orientated and had the funding, I would have wanted to make things part of European fashion and furnishings. 




What are your sources for your research on history of Yakutia? How do you find those resources besides what is on Internet?


There was no Internet when I did most of the original research for the book and articles and papers on early time-keeping, mostly published in 1970s and 1980s.


As well as taking advantage of the opportunity to travel to places, I could get lots of information from London, such the British Library, the Public Records Office, and so on. Academic papers, and books. Also lots of organizations, so could use their libraries, was member of the Royal Institution, Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, R.A.S library, etc. etc.


Our house filled with photocopies of old academic books and papers which we can now replace with downloaded pdf files, and reclaim the space.


A lot of information also came from people who looked up things for me in libraries, and sent me books and papers from all different places, where I did not have access. For example Tartu university - and was also sent a book on archaeo-astronomy in that region which was very useful - but had to ask them to send me an Estonian - English dictionary!


Times have changed, and no longer need to pay to belong to so many institutions just to get access to books. Have read all the old ones of use anyway. We can live in more pleasant conditions outside London, and still get the information we need without having to visit London frequently and risk the bombs. We can access new papers online. Many old books are available online free to download (so far). The interesting shops in London, like Collets, where could buy Russian books and records, and TOE which had the telescopes, and the Intourist where I kept going in to ask about a trip until in 1965 they found one I could go on - no longer exist now anyway. Things change and I am now a grandmother.




What is connection between your interest in history of astronomy and interest in Siberia?


Found links in art, iconography and ideas (about orientation, star patterns, etc.) which, and now many years later, it has now been proven by dna (Y chromosome), that the first "modern" Europeans arrived 40,000 years ago into Eastern Europe from Southern Siberia.


There is for example, links between some of the iconography of the the mammoth hunters near Baikal, which is also found in Eastern Europe and even in Lincolnshire.


Also found connected iconography, ideas, in other parts of the world, including concepts (like dragons) which must very probably have had to come from South-East Asia.


All this may have been driven by the climate change triggered off about 65,000 years ago by the eruption of Mt. Toba. The volcanic ash blew north-west and covered India. Certainly the population of Australia was significantly increased at that time - They would have taken to boats which means they must have already had the technology for sea-going craft and navigational techniques to find  land and get there safely across waters with strong currents, monsoon storms, crocodiles, sharks and jellyfish.


And Australia was already inhabited much earlier - perhaps 140,000 years ago. And they evolved into modern humans in Australia - there is no evidence for the population being totally replaced or anything like that. 


And yes some of the traditional myths and iconography is similar. Not just Asia, and the Pacific, but Europe, and America.


Early humans have been living in the north - 700,000 years ago - and so must have had enough technology by then to survive. Although evidence in Britain indicates that it was abandoned when the weather was bad and has only permanently occupied past 8,000 years. Zhoukoudian (we have been there twice) near Beijing, may date back to 700,000 and have been occupied since then. The winter is cold there now, when it is not an ice age. So Siberia could have been occupied since earliest possible times by early human species. Certainly what we think of as "modern" humans with more advanced technology, came from there. And facing survival through severe winters would appear to be an impetus to developing the technology which made it more possible.


I have probably put it better on my website...




You have mentioned that you can read in many languages, including Russian, did you learn it yourself?


Rubbish at speaking languages. Had to be able to read books and papers etc. in other languages or would not have been able to do the research properly. But reading is easier as can read things slowly with help of dictionary. But only for technical translation where I already know the terminology. Such as astronomy, anthropology, archaeology. Have translated or re-translated things for others too in the past. Even a short story (about Agrafena).


Speaking is a lot more difficult. For me anyway.  Was helped by courses in Russian at various times as well as going there. But not so good now I am older as it takes me even longer to remember the right words for things. Have just managed to get by in different countries, find food, find the ladies loo, find museums, make friends, avoid getting locked up etc.




What role having multinational (multicultural) background played in your interest in history.


 None. Everyone has mixed background as shown by DNA. (On those forms which ask you to tick your ethnic origin I put Neanderthal).


But see what you mean:


When it comes to researching and writing history, you do see things from a different perspective as an ordinary woman and mother, than the earlier interpretations normally written by academics who were themselves members of that elite class.


And also like other people today, cringe at the attitudes, that were prevalent with some anthropologists. They have traditionally regarded the people they are writing about rather in the same way that a zoologist would write about animals. Have met some who were still like that, but then that sort treat other people that way too. However this should be in the past now.


Finally, feedback, corrections, discussions are always welcome. Contact details on the website Cosmic Elk


Cosmic Elk


22 июля 2010



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