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Aug 1, 2012

Looking for Ground Truth in the High Fens

In seismology, ground truth is jargon that originated when discrimination of earthquakes and other seismic events from small nuclear blasts was a hot research field. It refers to the collection of data to verify the source or location of a seismic event other than just the seismic data available on a network. It could include satellite imagery or infrasound data, for example. That's a mouthful, but it really just means, verifying where something happened, seismically, from as many different kinds of data as are available. It's important, especially if the event places suspicion on a (possible) rogue state for testing nuclear weapons, to be able to verify the source of the event with as many kinds of data as possible.

Not as important as monitoring rogue states, I view research for fiction writing as an essential form of ground truth. These days, mostly, writers use the Internet as a primary source (more than is good for us), and when that isn't sufficient, must delve into books, scientific papers, newspaper articles, pursue conversations with experts, and watch films and documentaries. This kind of ground truth is especially important for historical fiction, but anytime you're writing fiction that takes place somewhere you don't know well or have never been to (a star system, the Jovian planets, or Des Moines, Iowa, for example), ground truth is highly desirable and sometimes fun.

Last Thursday, I did a bit of ground truth for the third book in my Schattenreich series (Double-Couple) by visiting the Hohes Venn (High Fen), part of the Ardennes and quite complicated geologically (meaning, I don't know enough about this to try and tell you about it). I think the important thing is that an impermeable layer of rock (in this case, I think it's Cambrian shale) creates the environment for the fens. I was mainly interested in the possibility that the Hohes Venn was potentially a sacred place in Iron Age times for the Celtic tribes that populated Belgium and the Rhineland and therefore had access to the moors and bogs that make up a good part of the fen.

There's not much literature - at least any I've found so far - to suggest it was a proven sacred place, but its proximity to the well-populated areas suggests that it could have been. And moors are well known for keeping their secrets - including bog bodies, valuable sacrificial items and so on (see, for example, the excellent, Dying for the Gods from Miranda Green, ISBN 978-0752425283). Well-preserved corpses and other artifacts have been discovered elsewhere in Germany when the peat bogs were mined and their contents exposed to the surface. But the Hohes Venn is a natural preserve and so is not subject to extensive peat bog mining.

Absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence, so I assumed I was safe in just making up a sacred sacrificial place in the fen that would still hold its 'power' today, two centuries after the Celts would have roamed its forests and bogs. I wanted to 'walk it' myself to get a feeling for what it would be like, all the better to add that something special to my story, and as further impetus to seek out additional information and literature (yes, research is downright addictive sometimes).

So, here's a bit of ground truth from the Hohes Venn, courtesy of my walking companion, Klaus Hinzen.

Approaching the High Fen

The journey is the way.


A bomb crater, now a vibrant biotope

The bog lake

Cotton grass

One of the many bogs with very red-tinged waters