The Fleet beneath my feet

30 Nov

‘We are treading upon our ancestors’ (Peter Ackroyd, London Under)

‘At low tide, the Fleet outfall can be seen by standing in front of the empty bridge piers, and looking down’ (Tom Bolton, London’s Lost Rivers: A walker’s guide, pg. 113)

 

London is the place to go for long walks and drink beer.

It is a city to go underground and read.

Beer and books, books and beer.

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Beer and books.

Words and tunnels.

Glass tower blocks and dark dirty corners.

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London is a city of turmoil and change.

It is topographically, topologically, geomorphologically, hydrologically dynamic.

Yet it never changes.

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In London, I walk. I always feel as if the surface of the ground is wafer thin, a membrane. I sense – I fear, I hope – that it would be the easiest thing in the world to let myself fall through, tearing myself and my temporality apart, lose myself in the quick sand of time and the seductiveness of the past. The ancient past.

I imagine as I drip through the pavement pores, feet first

that a Bronze Age archer grabs my ankle and pulls me down

that a Roman citizen tugs on my ragged trousers and cheap shoes

that hunter-gatherers, distracted from the hunt, come to gather me up

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The weight of time, the deep time of London, is a force I can barely withstand and whenever I am in London it comes for me, it hunts and gathers me, it farms me, it smelts me and it colonizes me.

Because London is a city on the edge, a lawless and fluid border zone between past and present.

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London is the gaping maw of prehistory, daring us to forget but not allowing us to, polluting and intoxicating with its weird hot breath.

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The pavements beneath my feet are almost translucent. Walking in London is to walk on a gossamer-thin reality, the certainty and hardness of the present diminished. As I walk, I feel my feet begin to sink into the concrete and tarmac, and my walking becomes laboured. I look behind me and see a line of footprints – my footprints. Footprints that I have left behind and that I cannot erase. Nor can I escape. They will be able to follow me, the dead, although I have the consolation that I have left my mark in this place. ‘We are treading upon our ancestors’.

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What more can be said about London?

What more can be written about London?

How deep can we go? How deep should we go?

How about as deep as we can and as far as we can.

Deeper than anything a guidebook can tell you.

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I write these words as I sit in a café. I look up from the page. Around me are signs. A road sign points to LUDGATE CIRCUS. An office block is called FLEET HOUSE. A pub is called THE ALBION. A side street called BRIDEWELL LANE, named for a Holy Well.

THIS IS PREHISTORY.

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How is it possible to write the histories of London and Londoners? History is only part of the story, and a very small part at that. History was brought to London by the Romans, whose ancient city walls were located near where I sat and wrote. I am acutely conscious that I am situated outside the walls of LONDINIUM. I am still in prehistory. I am one of the barbarians, the blue-bodied woad-wearers, I am indigenous, I am a native. There are people everywhere even although it is barely 8am and the sun is barely up.

Iron Age commuters.

Iron Age dispatch riders.

Iron Age cars and buses and taxis and lorries.

Yet – are we not all Homo Sapiens Sapiens? That is all I can see around me in the shadows.

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Nearby too, the Roman temple atop Ludgate Hill, now St Paul’s Cathedral, must have been a pagan, pre-Roman, pre-Christian place. Before that it was a mound by a river. It has been coveted, transformed, appropriated, converted and contested. Only last night I ate a pizza and drank wine there. This heathen hill was Romanised by the Romans and Christianised by the Christians and commodified by the capitalists – all in the name of capital in the capital.

And before that, where I sit now, supping caffeine, was under water, in the Thames.

So now I sit, tired, but elated and focused.

The Fleet beneath my feet.

 

 

 

Dig Cochno

8 Nov

Between 5th and 22nd September 2016, the Cochno Stone was revealed, recorded and reburied. For 10 days the complete surface of the stone was completely exposed and visitors were able to see the rock-art and the paint and the graffiti on this magnificent rock dome for the first time in 51 years. Analysis of the data we collected during this period is ongoing and we will continue to disseminate results and images as we go forward (follow @cochnostone and see the project outline). In the meantime, I am using my blog to publish here the summary report of the archaeological results of the work to date so that everyone who wants to find out what we were up to can find out. A brief account of the preliminary 2015 phase of excavation can be found in an earlier blog post.

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REVEALING THE COCHNO STONE

Phase 2 excavation and digital recording summary report

Summary

The Cochno Stone, West Dunbartonshire, is one of the most extensive and remarkable prehistoric rock-art panels in Britain. It was however buried by the authorities in 1965 to protect it from ‘vandalism’ associated with visitors and encroaching urbanisation. A proposal has been developed to uncover the Stone, and 3D scan it, to allow detailed study of the stone, and an exact replica to be created and placed in the landscape near where the original site is. Two seasons of excavation have now been carried out to enable an assessment of the condition of the Cochno Stone and gather high quality digital and photographic data for future analysis and replication of the Stone. This summary account is an archaeological report on the main 2016 season of excavation of the Cochno Stone, where the Stone was completely uncovered up to the edge of the modern retaining dry stone wall, recorded, and then buried once again. Key discoveries include the survival of paint on the surface of the stone from the 1930s, the extent of modern graffiti, and the recovery of very high resolution digital data and photographic imagery of the complete surface of the stone. The third phase of the project, the creation of the replica and legacy activities, will follow on from phase 2 when funding is in place.

The Cochno Stone: a brief history and background

The Cochno Stone (aka The Druid’s Stone and Whitehill 1; NMRS number NS57SW 32; NGR NS 5045 7388), West Dunbartonshire, is located at the foot of the Kilpatrick Hills on the north-western edge of Glasgow, in an urban park in Faifley, a housing estate on the north side of Clydebank (Figure 1). It is one of up to 17 panels of rock-art in this area (Morris 1981, 123-4) but by far the most extensive. Indeed, the Cochno Stone is one of the largest and most complex prehistoric rock-art sites in Britain. The zone of rock-art on this large outcrop measures some 15m by 8m, and is covered in scores of cup-marks, cup-and-rings marks, spirals and other unusual motifs. The surface is dome-like, sloping sharply to the south and west, less so to the north, and is a ‘gritstone’ or sandstone; the most concentrated zones of rock-art are on top of the dome and on the southern and western slopes of the outcrop. The stone location has extensive views to the south and over the Clyde valley and when fully exposed in prehistory would have been a localised high point.

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Figure 1: Map showing the location of the Cochno Stone

The Stone was first documented by the Rev James Harvey of Duntocher, who came across the incised outcrop in 1885. Harvey explored beneath the turf around the Cochno Stone and some other examples in the area to test their extent, and then published his results in volume 23 of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (PSAS). He included a detailed description of a profusion of classic and unusual rock-art motifs across a large sandstone block (which he called Stone A). Soon after this John Bruce produced a review of other rock-art sites in the region which was published in PSAS in 1896, and here he included a full sketch of the Cochno Stone by W. A. Donnelly (Figure 2). Donnelly’s drawing was the basis for Ronald Morris’s own sketch plan (see Figure 4) although Morris was dismissive of its reliability based on his own observations of photographs of the Stone (when Morris visited the Stone was already buried (1981, 124).)

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Figure 2: Sketch of the Cochno Stone by W A Donnelly (dated 1895), which was reproduced in Bruce 1896 – this is the only known drawing of the Cochno Stone based on direct observation

The Stone subsequently became the focus for archaeological attention in the mid-1930s when Ludovic Maclellan Mann took an interest in it, located as it was relatively close to the remarkable Knappers prehistoric site on what is now Great Western Road (Mann 1937a, 1937b). Mann infamously ‘painted’ the motifs to make them clearer, apparently for a visit of the Glasgow Archaeological Society in 1937 (Ritchie 2002, 51). Mann added his own speculative grid as well (see Figure 12) and it likely that other motifs he painted onto the rock were fanciful on his part. Some black and white photos of the Stone from this time suggest more than one colour was used. Mann believed the Cochno Stone was used to help predict eclipses and ‘celebrate the defeat of the eclipse-causing monster’ (Mann 1937b, 14, and see below).

The Cochno Stone was buried in 1965 under a thick layer of soil to protect the stone surface from being walked on by visitors and graffiti and paint being added to the stone, a decision made by the Ministry of Works and Ancient Monument Board early that year. Records held in the Scotland’s National Archives show that from the 1930s onwards the two landowners of the Cochno Stone (it is located on a historic land boundary) were becoming concerned about damage to the rock surface, a process that seems to have accelerated after the site was publicised by Ludovic Mann. A dry-stone wall with a style had already been constructed on and around the stone before the 1930s in part to discourage visitors and demarcate the stone location, and this was used as a boundary and container for the soil that was dumped on top of the stone. But this was deemed insufficient protection for the Cochno Stone and it was buried beneath up to 1m of soil.

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Figure 3: Ludovic Mann (right) on the Cochno Stone in 1937, which is covered in his paint. His companion may be George Appleby. © HES CANMORE image SC01062363

This remained the case until the current project was proposed in 2014. Revealing the Cochno Stone has as a long term the objectives the creation of an exact facsimile of the Cochno Stone to be placed near the real thing. To realise this ambition, a staged process has been adopted.

  1. Trial excavation [completed September 2015]
  2. Full-scale exposure of the Cochno Stone and 3D scanning [completed September 2016]
  3. Post-excavation analysis of data (ongoing, late 2016 into 2017)
  4. Production of a 1:1 facsimile of the stone, placement in landscape and legacy activities [funding now being sought for this phase of the project]

 

Phase 1 (2015) summary (link for full report in introduction to this blog post)

A small-scale excavation was undertaken in September 2015 to assess the current condition of the Stone, and to inform a potentially larger clearance of the surface of the Stone in the future. A small trench, 4m by 1m, was opened by hand on the northern side of the Cochno Stone location. This revealed that the Stone is buried beneath between 0.5m and 0.7m depth of clay-silt-loam, and that the dry-stone wall surrounding the Stone was partially destroyed during burial. Seven deeply incised cup-marks were recorded, three with rings around them, and the Stone was shown to be in good condition, albeit soft in character. Evidence for vandalism was also found including graffiti and melted plastic; samples were taken of the latter. At the end of the excavation, the trench was backfilled. The excavation allowed several observations and recommendations for future work to be made. These included:

  • The Cochno Stone remains in good condition despite its burial, but the stone surface is soft so care must be taken when cleaning the stone surface;
  • It is likely existing drawings of the Cochno Stone are inaccurate in terms of content and certainly in scale;
  • The surface of the stone will have extensive modern graffiti on it;
  • The wall surrounding the stone appears to have been pushed over during stone burial but its lower courses and foundations remain extant.
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Figure 4: The red box indicates the location of the Phase 1 trench (drawing from Morris 1981)

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Figure 5: Modern graffiti and a cup-mark on the exposed surface of the Cochno Stone

 

Phase 2 – Excavation and 3D scanning September 2016

The second phase of excavation of the Cochno Stone ran from 5th to 22nd September 2016. This consisted of three phases of work:

5th to 12th September Removing topsoil and cleaning the Cochno Stone by machine, water and using hand tools
13th to 19th September Laser scanning, photogrammetry, archaeological recording, hi-spy and ongoing light cleaning
20th to 22nd September Reburial of the Cochno Stone, by hand on the 20th, followed by two days of machine work

The area of the Cochno Stone bounded by the dry-stone wall was chosen as the focus of all the work: an area measuring 15.2m E-W by 8.6m N-S. The outcrop continues beyond this zone but almost no rock-art has been found on these fringes, and these zones of the rock outcrop were in any case not buried in 1965. The overburden was removed by a closely monitored mini-digger with a mini-dumper ensuring spoil was taken well clear of the site, with large stones removed by hand and placed on a separate spoil heap. Once the digger had cleared to within 10 to 15cm of the surface of the stone, the remainder of the spoil was removed by hand using plastic shovels and scoops to avoid damage to the stone surface. All large stones were also removed by hand so that the digger could not scrape them along the surface of the Cochno Stone. Once completed, the Stone was then carefully washed down by a firefighter using a hose, to ensure slow but safe cleaning. The site was also brushed with soft hand brushes and sponges after this, and it was only permissible to walk on site with socks on or specially designated clean plastic shoes. A stone conservator, Richard Salmon, was on site at all times and able to advise on these matters.

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Figure 6: Mini-digger clearing the overburden on top of the Cochno Stone

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Figure 7: A firefighter helping to clean the Cochno Stone

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Figure 8: Excavated area (in yellow) within the walled compound, and the dotted line shows the extent of the outcrop as a whole. The stone heap in the end was located to the east of the main spoil heap rather than to the south of it as initially planned.

 

Phase 2 results

The following research questions and objectives underpinned the Phase 2 full exposure of the Cochno stone: here provisional answers to these questions have also been presented, and some key findings will be discussed in more depth below.

No. Research question Provisional observation Implications / further research
1.1 What condition is the Cochno Stone in? Very good condition with no obvious decline due to burial Management – stone burial stable in short term even with no geotextile breathable layer
1.2 Has the overlying topsoil had a detrimental effect on the stone? No obvious problems associated with soil lying on the stone surface. Black areas may be staining? Investigate nature of the black areas – paint or staining?
1.3 Could any damage be reversed or stopped? Not applicable although we have no way of assessing long-term stability Geotextile laid on the stone surface before re-burial at the end of the excavation
1.4 Has the collapsed wall caused any damage to the fringe of the stone? No damage of any note was recorded although large stones were found lying on the surface No stones were laid directly on the Cochno Stone surface during backfilling
2.1 How clearly visible are the motifs? The carved symbols vary from very clear to very faint Analysis of data will reveal all visible symbols and some not apparent with the naked eye
2.2 How accurate are the old drawings we have? They appear to contain most of the symbols but there are clear issues of scale and spatial arrangement New plan to be produced using survey data

Comparison with older drawings and analysis

3.1 Can phasing be identified amidst the rock-art? Yes, some cup-and-rings marks overlay one another, and symbols had different depths and wear evident

Different methods of pecking evident

Analysis of data but also adoption of MacKie’s methodology adopted at Greenland (MacKie & Davis 1988-89)

Scan will enable analysis of pecking methods employed

4.1 Does the rock-art run beneath or continue beyond the boundary wall? Not as far as we could tell although our SMC conditions set out that we could not remove the wall. Where one section was removed for drainage, no rock-art was found Outcrop beyond dry-stone wall to be re-examined for any motifs other than those recorded by Morris
4.2 How is the wall attached to the stone? The wall was laid directly on the surface of the Cochno Stone with no binding as far as we could tell The wall remains have been left in situ as it has a historic connection to the Cochno Stone
5.1 Is there any evidence for activity contemporary with the rock-art panel being in use? Nothing was found and the surface of the stone had no cracks Future investigation of the fringes of the outcrop e.g. downslope, worth doing
6.1 Do any traces of Ludovic Mann’s paint remain? Yes, we found extensive evidence for his paint work including use of various colours: white, yellow, green, blue, red Samples taken of paint

Digital reconstruction of how the stone would have looked in 1937 to be undertaken

Research into Mann’s work

6.2 Were any objects associated with the 1965 burial of the stone found? Nothing we can directly connect to the burial, but we did find two marbles, two coins and a Red Cross medal on the stone surface / wall base Analysis of topsoil finds

Identification and conservation of coins and medal

7.1 How extensive was the graffiti on the surface of the Cochno stone? Graffiti was concentrated on the southern and western sides of the stone, and for the most part did not overlap with prehistoric rock-art. Mostly names and dates

Several possible ‘modern’ cup-and-ring marks were identified

All graffiti was photographed and logged

Attempts made to contact those who did it

Analysis of content, location, form of graffiti to be undertaken

7.2 How extensive was visitor damage to the surface of the Cochno stone? Nothing obvious on the surface of the stone

One zone near the centre of the stone may have been bleached by a fire

Data analysis should reveal wear patterns e.g. near the style into the walled area

Investigation of ‘fire’ area

7.3 Was anything found adhering to the surface of the stone? Nothing additional to what was found in 2015 Melted plastic to be analysed

 

Reburial

At the end of the fieldwork, the Cochno Stone was reburied. We covered the surface of the Stone with a breathable geotextile layer, initially weighed down with rocks carefully placed by hand. A layer some 10cm thick of soil was placed back on the Stone by hand, with care taken to ensure no large stones was amongst this material. Finally, the remainder of the overburden was placed onto the Stone by a machine, and the mini-digger landscaped the site back to its initial form.

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Figure 9: The Cochno Stone being reburied on 20th September 2016, with a layer of geotextile laid over the Stone

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Figure 10: Pagan ceremony, led by Grahame Gardner, to mark the reburial of the Cochno Stone

 

Archaeological recording

During the cleaning of the overburden, we collected a sample of the objects found within the deposits on top of the Stone. Once the surface of the Stone had been completely revealed and cleaned, detailed scale photography was undertaken of the Stone, as well as sampling of various paint deposits and other materials adhering to the surface . We did not draw the Stone as a new plan will be generated from the digital and photogrammetry data collected.

Small finds: During the cleaning of the Cochno Stone, a wide range of objects were collected, none of which had a secure context. These were mostly the kinds of material one would expect to find in agricultural topsoil, hinting at the origins if the clay-silt-loam material the Stone was buried with. These included broken ceramics, tiles and field drain pipes, glass, brick fragments and metal objects such as barbed wire and nails. Notable finds included two glass marbles, found separate from one another at the base of the Stone and wall, which we assume rolled there during play on the Stone, as well as two coins and a Red Cross medal. The small finds will all be cleaned and catalogued at the University of Glasgow, and the coins and medal conserved and analysed.

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Figure 11: Red Cross medal found in the topsoil (photo: Alison Douglas)

 

Samples: Samples were taken of the various paints found on the surface of the stone, as well as the melted plastic (initially found in 2015). These will be analysed using a portable XRF reader for chemical content and to identify their sources – in particular, it will be interesting to know what kind of paint Mann used. The location from which each sample was taken was marked on a plan of the site which will be included in the site archive.

Sample Number Material sampled
CS01 Black melted plastic [sample also taken in 2015]
CS02 Green-white paint from the largest cup-and-ring mark
CS03 Red paint
CS04 Yellow paint
CS05 Red-white paint
CS06 White paint

 

Scanning and digital recording [Ferdinand Suamarez Smith] 

The 3D scanning of the Cochno Stone represented one of the largest high-resolution digital recording projects of a cultural heritage artefact ever undertaken.

The process of digitally recording The Cochno Stone made use of several different techniques. The first method employed was aerial photogrammetry (using a DGI Phantom 4 drone) which was intended to capture the entirety of the form of the stone and provide a ‘map’ onto which higher-resolution data, capturing the detail of the surface, could be added to. Photogrammetry is a process by which 3D information is extracted from 2D photographic images. 2D images are made of the subject in a sequence, then a computer programme (in this case, Capturing Reality) recognises features from across the different images and triangulates the distance between them, placing points and building up a ‘point cloud’ of the surface (see Figure 12).

The data from the drone was better than expected and provided details of some of the graffiti, although not high enough resolution for the bench mark of what the ultimate end of the project is, the creation of a 1:1 facsimile. To achieve this end, we also gathered much higher resolution photographic data using a 50 megapixel Canon 5DS R on a horizontal linear guide with a ring flash attached. This was moved across the surface of the stone sequentially (using the same principle as described above), taking all due care to protect it using rubber feet on the tripods and foam shoes for the operators (see Figure 13).

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Figure 12: Provisional image from the Drone survey. North to the bottom © Factum Foundation

 

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Figure 13: Photogrammetry at the Cochno Stone

The final stage of the process was laser scanning undertaken by a team from the Scottish Ten, using a Leica P40. Unlike photogrammetry, laser scanning measures distances by shooting light at the surface of the object then measuring the time in which it takes to return, thereby creating a point cloud of the surface. Like the drone, this was aimed at capturing the broad form of the stone rather than the micro level of detail. However, it has an additional advantage of superior accuracy and when used in tandem with the other techniques provides a basis for making the model geometrically accurate.

 

Laser scanning (Lyn Wilson)

A laser scan of the Cochno Stone was undertaken by Historic Environment Scotland’s Digital Documentation Team who digitally surveyed the site using a Leica P40 terrestrial laser scanner. Several scans were captured at a resolution of 3.1mm @10m around the perimeter of the exposed and cleaned bedrock and at key locations on the bedrock itself. Individual scans were registered using high definition targets. High resolution data capture resulted in a very dense point cloud. Data was registered using Leica Cyclone software to create one database. The data was exported to ASCII format (.ptx) and has since been transferred to Factum Foundation for further processing and integration with photogrammetric data within Reality Capture software (see Figure 16 for an early snapshot of results).

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Figure 14: Scottish Ten team’s Laser scanning taking place, with a camera from the History Channel team set up to record the process in the foreground

 

High-spy

The Historic Environment Scotland hi-spy unit also came on site, to take photographs of the Stone from above, in order to help enhance the NMRS records for the site.

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Figure 15: HES high-spy unit on site

 

Provisional results

At the time of writing this report, very little analysis of the digital, laser and photographic data has been carried out. It is possible though to offer some observations based on the archaeological work that was carried out on site, with the proviso that our understanding of these matters will greatly benefit from integration of the digital data in the coming months. Five significant phases of activity will be discussed: prehistoric rock-art, antiquarian recording, Ludovic Mann’s painting, modern graffiti and activities, and the burial of the Stone in 1965. It is hoped that these disparate elements will come together to offer a comprehensive and unique biography of the Cochno Stone over the past 4,000 years.

(1) Prehistoric rock-art

The revealing of the Cochno Stone simply reinforced the impression that the Stone is one of the outstanding examples of a cup-and-ring marked outcrop in northern Europe. The full range of motifs expected were discovered as well as some other markings that had not previously been noted.

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Figure 16: Very early view of part of the laser scan data, where carvings not evident on previous drawings, and differential pecking styles, are both evident © HES

Hints of phasing were identified with different depths of carving, overlapping symbols and differential weathering all pointing towards extended and multiple phases of carving on this rock, presumably in the third millennium BC (however, exactly when this was done in prehistory is something we will not be able to shed light on). Different methods of creating rock-art were also evident, something that we will also be able to explore, and this may help to shed light on whether some of the carvings (the footprints, cross-marked stone and some cup-and-ring marks) were modern additions.

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Figure 17: The footprint motifs – modern or ancient? © John Devlin, photo initially published in The Scotsman newspaper, reproduced with permission

These phenomena will be investigated as the data becomes available. Perhaps of special note is simply the variety and scale of the rock-art on the surface of the Cochno Stone, something that means that this was a significant and highly visible place in prehistory, as well as of remarkable note today. We also know from a ragged NE edge of the Stone that the rock-art may once have been more extensive; part of the stone seems to have been quarried away.

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Figure 18: The sheer scale of some of the cup-and-ring marks is breathtaking. This is the motif that was sketched by Ludovic Mann (see Figure 22).

 

(2) Antiquarian recording

Only one drawing of the Cochno Stone has ever been undertaken, by Donnelly in the 1890s. This was later updated by Morris based on photography, but Morris did not actually see the Stone for himself (Figure 4). It is clear from out excavations that the scale on Morris’s drawings, which was added based on his own calculations, is flawed but also that the motifs are not arranged quite as shown on Donnelly’s drawing. The digital recording of the Cochno Stone will enable us to produce a definitive plan of the Stone, including motifs to scale and in the correct location. We will also be able to add carvings that had not previously been recognised, and rule out some that had been included by Morris and Donnelly that do not convince.

 

(3) Ludovic Mann intervention

The activities of Mann on the Cochno Stone in the 1930s are perhaps the strangest of his long and eccentric career (Ritchie 2002). Mann believed the Cochno Stone and other rock-art in the Glasgow area encoded cosmological and mathematical ideas and although he published little on the Cochno Stone itself, his activities in 1937 at the Stone were a significant and radical intervention in the story of this rock outcrop. There, he could demonstrate his theories in a dramatically tangible way on the surface of the Stone, painting everything that he regarded as an ancient symbol and adding an extensive ‘megalithic grid’ to the Stone (see Figure 3). As noted above, Mann believed that the Cochno Stone portrayed a legend associated with the prediction and ‘defeat’ of eclipses; ‘The sculpturings cover an area of 2000 sq.  ft., and represent an extraordinary diversity of symbol pictures relating to important episodes in the heavens’ (Mann 1937b, 14).

Our excavations have shown that Mann used several colours of paint – red, blue, yellow, green and white were all identified (Figures 19) – and that each colour had a specific meaning, with yellow, red and blue used for different elements of his grid for instance. Some patches of the rock were almost black, which may either have been black paint, or discolouration at the damp fringes of the rock. Grid lines were apparent across much of the stone, even when coloured paint was not evident, and these ghostly lines suggest perhaps that Mann incised his grid lightly onto the stone surface to ensure the accuracy of his work.

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Figure 19: Mann’s yellow grid paint lines clearly visible in the surface of the Cochno Stone, standing out clearly where the stone appears coloured black.

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Figure 20: Painted circle, presumable the handiwork of Ludovic Mann, found at the NW corner of the Cochno Stone.

We also know that he painted spirals and symbols that were either natural variations in the rock surface, or modern graffiti. And he appears to have drawn in at least one circle of his own making (Figure 20). Unfortunately, we were unable to find evidence (at least through visual observation) of the ‘ruler’ like markings made on the northern edge of the Stone (Figure 21). Samples were taken of the paint (see samples list above) for analysis and it is remarkable that the paint has survived, especially as it was exposed to the elements for 28 years before burial.

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Figure 21: The epicentre of Mann’s grid, located at the northern edge of the Cochno Stone. Note the ruler-like design along two grid lines. Even on this B&W image it is clear that more than one colour was used for the paintwork. © HES

Mann’s painting of the Stone could be viewed as an act of vandalism that simply encouraged further damage to the Stone. It could also be considered an incredibly creative act, that entailed a huge amount of work and craft. Perhaps we should see his work in both lights. In the next phase of the Project we intent to explore Mann’s theories about the Stone and the work he did there, with the addition of some unexpected technicolour.

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Figure 22: Mann’s sketch of the big cup-and-ring marks with a narrative associate with the Sun God and other cosmological myths (from Mann 1937b). The top motif here is the one shown being cleaned in Figure 18.

 

(4) Modern graffiti and damage

One of the main reasons that the Cochno Stone was buried in 1965 was the profusion of graffiti and we found ample examples of this across the Cochno Stone, with over 50 individual instances of graffiti found from full names, to initials. These ranged from careful, almost bookplate writing of full names, to untidily scrawled and almost illegible words. Some of these names and initials had dates associated with them, ranging from the 1930s right up to 1965. A few pieces of writing had additional flourishes, such as spirals beneath the writing (mistaken as prehistoric spirals by Mann) or boxes around the name.

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Figure 23: ROSE and assorted other graffiti written in various orientations.

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Figure 24: Graffiti. Here it is also possible to see Mann’s yellow grid line and white paint in one of the cup-and-ring marks.

The graffiti appears to be concentrated in the lower southern zones of the Cochno Stone, although some also is evident amidst rock-art towards the high point of the rock notably the DOCHERTY graffiti found in 2015 (Figure 5). Writing occurs in various orientations although strong preferences and clusters of graffiti may well relate to episodes of writing on the Stone e.g. by a group of individuals at the same time facing to the east. Dates in 1964 and 1965 are commonplace, suggesting that an upsurge in vandalism played a role in the burial of the Stone around this time. Several cup-and-ring marks are pecked in appearance and irregular, and may be modern copies; it is hoped that analysis of the data will help identify such instances (see Figure 16 for instance). We also identified an area of the Stone that appeared to have been burned perhaps by a fire set on the surface (Figure 25); this may be related to the burnt plastic we found nearby stuck to the stone (see Brophy 2015), and it is presumed this happened near the time the Stone was buried.

possible-firespot-low-res

Figure 25: Possible fire spot towards the centre of the Stone, which appears to post-date graffiti in this area.

It is hoped that some of the writers of the graffiti can be identified so we can interview them and find out their motivations and means of creating the graffiti, which will help us make sense of the social history of what was known locally as the Druid’s Stone. A study of the graffiti will be undertaken for an Undergraduate dissertation at University of Glasgow by Alison Douglas.

(5) Burial of the Stone in 1965

Little more light was shed on the burial of the Stone during the 2016 excavations. The depth of soil on the Stone varied considerably from c0.5m at the highest point of the Stone to up to 0.8m deep at the lower, southern extent of the walled zone. No damage due to the wall collapse was evident, but upper courses of the wall had clearly been thrown into the clay-soil matrix as the Stone was being buried. It may well be more can be learned about this event by continued archive research, as well as collecting the oral history of the Stone.

 

Conclusion and next phase of the project

The uncovering of the Cochno Stone for 10 days in September 2016 was a great success, with extensive media coverage but also great local interest in the project. We were also able to engage with both local schools.

slide-showing-media-stuff-for-phase-2

Figure 26: Media interest in the Cochno Stone project included three slots on Radio Scotland, two on BBC television and widespread newspaper coverage.

school-visit-low-res

Figure 27: Using the Cochno Stone to educate and inspire, in this case talking to pupils from Edinbarnet Primary School (photo: Alison Douglas)

drone-pic-of-car-park-graffiti

Figure 28: Drone view of the ‘chalkno’ stone drawn by pupils from Edinbarnet Primary School © Factum Arte

In archaeological terms, we succeeded in removing the soil from the top of the stone without causing additional damage to it, and we carried out all the recording work that we wanted to. This has given us an incredibly powerful dataset to work with going forward into the future, with the intention of raising funds to create an exact replica (or facsimile) of the Cochno Stone amongst our plans although we can also use the data to study the surface of the stone, create 3D visualisations of the Stone and create materials for information boards, exhibitions and social media. The data gathered also gives us a tremendous opportunity to engage with the local community in Faifley and Hardgate, to find out stories and memories of the Cochno Stone, many of which were shared with us during the excavations.

The Cochno Stone has been buried for the second time in 51 years, but its future remains open for debate and discussion. It is hoped the Revealing the Cochno Stone project has been a catalyst for an exciting future of the stone whether it remains buried or not.

 

Acknowledgements

The excavation would not have been possible without the permission of the landowners, Mrs Elaine Marks and her son Gary, and West Dunbartonshire Council, and we are very grateful that we could carry out this work. Our main point of contact with the Council was Donald Petrie, whose help and support throughout was very much appreciated; thanks also to David Allen. We also received permission from HES in the form of Scheduled Monument Consent (SMC) and we are grateful for their advice in navigating our way through this process successfully as well as manage what was a unique project, we would like to thank HES’s John Raven and Stephen Gordon. Richard Salmon was on site at all times to advice on working on the surface of the Cochno Stone, and this was greatly appreciated.

Revealing the Cochno Stone was funded by the Factum Foundation and the University of Glasgow.

Many people worked on the site and we would like to thank them all. The team of archaeology students from University of Glasgow was supervised by Helen Green. The team included Aurume Bockute, Liam Devlin, Alison Douglas, Hannah Dunn, Jo Edwards, Taryn Gouck, Anemay Jack (Aberdeen University), Jools Maxwell, Scott McCreadie, Joe Morrison, Katherine Price, Jennifer Rees, Elizabeth Robertson and Lauren Welsh. Alison Douglas has also carried out some initial analysis of the modern graffiti. Thanks especially to Alison, Taryn, Lauren and Jools for their help with the school visits. The Factum team would like to thank Dani Trew and Tom Don, Lucie Salmon, Jules Salmon, and Alison and Fergus Leckie for all their help. The machine work on site was carried out brilliantly by the digger driver Davie and banksman Danny; thanks also to George McKenzie of Greenlight Environmental for help and advice throughout the project.

We would also like to thank the teams from Scottish Ten and the History Channel for helping to record the stone and document the project. Figure 16 appears with permission of HES.

Many other individuals played a vital role in the project. Danny Docherty helped on site, and was also instrumental in arranging for the fire service to help us out. Cleaning of the Stone was undertaken by the Clydebank Fire Brigade and we are very grateful for their support. Friends in the media were on site frequently documenting what we were doing, notably Huw Williams and John Devlin (who kindly allowed us to reproduce Figure 17), and the media coverage was organised by Jane Chilton. Thanks also to Gil Paterson MSP for being supportive and for giving the project a positive mention in the Scottish Parliament. And many thanks to Grahame Gardner who visited us several times and was kind enough to conduct the pagan ceremony before the Stone was reburied. Thanks as well to Anne Teather who drove almost 500 miles to see us!

Finally, we would like to thank all the people who visited the Cochno Stone, and who treated the Stone with respect while it was open and exposed. Their enthusiasm, support and stories inspired us. Special mention here to Owen, May Miles Thomas who started it all, and to Stevie, the guardian of the Stone.

 

team-cochno

Some of the University of Glasgow team on site (photo: Jan Brophy)

Many people worked on the site and we would like to thank them all. The team of archaeology students from University of Glasgow was supervised by Helen Green. The team included Aurume Bockute, Liam Devlin, Alison Douglas, Hannah Dunn, Jo Edwards, Taryn Gouck, Anemay Jack, Jools Maxwell, Scott McCreadie, Joe Morrison, Katherine Price, Jennifer Rees, Elizabeth Robertson and Lauren Welsh. Alison Douglas has also carried out some initial analysis of the modern graffiti.Thanks especially to Alison, Taryn, Lauren and Jools for their help with the school visits.

Many other individuals played a vital role in the project. Danny Docherty helped out on site, and was also instrumental in arranging for the fire service to help us out. Cleaning of the Stone was undertaken by the Clydebank Fire Brigade and we are very grateful for their support. Friends in the media were on site frequently documenting what we were doing, notably Huw Williams and John Devlin, and the media coverage was organised by Jane Chilton. Cleating the bulk of the soil on top of the Cochno Stone was the machining team who did a great job. Thanks also to Gil Paterson MSP for being supportive and for giving the project a positive mention in the Scottish Parliament. And many thanks to Grahame Gardner who visited us several times and was kind enough to conduct the pagan ceremony before the Stone was reburied. Thanks as well to Anne Teather who drove almost 500 miles to see us!

Finally, we would like to thank all the people who visited the Cochno Stone, and who treated the Stone with respect while it was open and exposed. Their enthusiasm, support and stories inspired us. Special mention here to May Miles Thomas who started it all, and to Stevie, the guardian of the Stone.

stevie-low-res

Stevie

 

References

2015 Cochno Stone report (aka Brophy 2015)

Cochno Stone CANMORE entry

Bruce, J. 1896 Notice of remarkable groups of archaic sculpturings in Dumbartonshire and Stirlingshire, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 30, 205-9.

Harvey, J 1889 Notes on some undescribed cup-marked rocks at Duntocher, Dumbartonshire, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 23, 130-7.

MacKie, E. & Davis, A. 1988-89 New light on Neolithic rock carving. The petroglyphs at Greenland (Auchentorlie), Dunbartonshire. Glasgow Archaeological Journal 15, 125-55.

Mann, L M 1937a An appeal to the nation: the ‘Druids’ temple near Glasgow: a magnificent, unique and very ancient shrine in imminent danger of destruction. London & Glasgow.

Mann, L M 1937b The Druid Temple Explained. London & Glasgow. [4th edn, enlarged & illustrated, 1939.]

Morris, R W B 1981 The prehistoric rock-art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway), Oxford: BAR British Series 86.

Ritchie, G 2002 Ludovic MacLellan Mann (1869-1955): ‘the eminent archaeologist’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 132, 43-64.

 

 

Dog Barrow

2 Oct

I walked towards the hunting lodge with a sense of foreboding. Ahead of me, an impossible building crowned the horizon, its window eyes staring back at me through the autumnal fog.

the-approach-low-res

A solitary figure appeared from nowhere and I followed him, seeking safety in numbers yet also doubting the trustworthiness of this wiry phantom. He led me to my intended destination – a Gothic secret cemetery. Ahead of me, almost completely shrouded by trees and sun-fog, I was able to glimpse the mound for the first time.

the-cemetery-entrance-low-res

My guide disappeared, of course, and I was left alone in this pet cemetery. I was able to push through a curtain of greenery, and found the pathway leading to my earthen destination, which now stood in plain sight.

approaching-the-barrow-low-res

The Dog Barrow.

the-barrow-revealed-low-res

Enclosed by metal and stone, crowned by grass. This is where the Duke buried his hunting dogs. Muddy footprints on the side of the Barrow caused me to shiver – who had walked upon this mound?

cage-and-wall-low-res

It is said when the beasts went into the mound, the other dogs howled and the white cattle pawed the ground. Others say that when the Barrow was visited by a local veterinary surgeon, a ball of fire rose from the mound heating the faces of all who saw it.

the-sun-captured

The parterre gardens cannot disguise this place for what it is. It is impossible to completely hide the dark history of this places with pretty trees, ornate shrubs and immaculate lawns. This is no normal folly. Those hounds hunted and were hunted, hounded to death.

baroque-low-res

And lo – a black dog still  walks these lawns and paths, hunting still those who come to enjoy the gardens and the hunting lodge. The existence of this place today depends on the pursuit of leisure and the forgetfulness of society. And yet when I last stepped into the hunting lodge itself, I felt sick because of the unnatural angles that the steps and floors are arranged. Some things cannot be hidden.

promenade-low-res

It must be acknowledged that the architect, the creator of this place for hunting dogs, the designer of this landscape, has done his work all too well. The draughtsman’s secrets are secure, occult principles embedded in the bricks and trees and grass and bones of the land.

the-draughstman

Dog Barrow. Hidden in plain sight.

 

The Dog Barrow is a mound next to Chatelherault, near Glasgow, an ornate ‘hunting lodge’ cum folly that was designed by William Adam and built in the 1730s. As a child, on visits to the country park surrounding this fanciful building, I was told that the mysterious mound next to the stables and kennels was a barrow built over the Duke of Hamilton’s dead hunting dogs. 

 

 

 

The last days of a stone circle Part 1

22 Sep

In prehistory, occasionally, stone circles were dismantled. Perhaps they had come to the end of their useful life. Perhaps they had become taboo or problematic places. Maybe the stones were required elsewhere for another monument. The dismantlement of a stone circle would have been no small task, akin in labour requirements to the construction of such a monument, and it may have been more difficult to remove monoliths from their sockets than it was to place them there in the first place. As Mike Parker Pearson has noted in this recent post for The Conversation, the removal of standing stones was sometimes a precursor to the creation of a ‘second hand monument’ using the same stones in a different arrangement in another place. This would be no trivial task, physically or spiritually.

The discovery of a monument dubbed ‘Bluestonehenge’ by the River Avon presents one such example. Here, a 10m diameter circle or oval setting of standing stones was dismantled towards the end of the Neolithic, with the removed bluestones perhaps being moved to, and erected at, Stonehenge itself. Mike Parker Pearson (MPP) in the aforementioned blog post has suggested that megaliths in south Wales were dismantled and transported to Salisbury Plain, once again to build Stonehenge. And it’s not just about Stonehenge (it never is). Stuart Piggott identified a stone circle had once stood within the henge monument of Cairnpapple Hill, West Lothian, which was subsequently taken down, with the stones used to build a large Bronze Age burial cairn within the henge. Although others have since argued that the holes Piggott found once held timber posts, not standing stones (notable Gordon Barclay and myself in the past), it seems Piggott may well have been correct. Josh Pollard convinced me recently that the section drawings published by Piggott were indeed stone sockets, not postholes.

At my own excavations at Forteviot Henge 1 in 2008-2009 (part of the University of Glasgow’s SERF Project), Gordon Noble and I found at least one broken standing stone associated with a Late Neolithic cremation cemetery and we have argued that a stone circle was dismantled here before the henge was constructed. The stones may then have been broken up, some ending up in the henge ditch.

broken standing stone at Forteviot

Broken standing stone at Forteviot (c) SERF Project

Why go to this effort? MPP has argued at this summer’s Hay Festival, “Why dismantle an original monument? We’re wondering if it actually might have been a tomb with a surrounding stone circle which they dismantled. If that were the case they were basically carting the physical embodiment of their ancestors to re-establish somewhere else. Their idea of packing their luggage was rather more deep and meaningful than our own. They are actually moving their heritage, and these stones represent the ancestors. They are actually bringing their ancestors with them.”

We can, therefore, find physical evidence for the removal of standing stones and the staged destruction of stone circles. And we have suggestions from MPP, Alison Sheridan, Colin Richards, Gordon Noble and others that there was a mortuary element to this process. But much less ink has been spilled on the process leading up to the dismantlement of the stone circle. How would such processes have been mediated? What rituals had to be performed to ensure the safe transformation of the stone circle in such a dramatic way? How much access was granted to the process and what did people think as they saw the stones, as MPP puts it, carted away for another purpose in another place?

The Sighthill stone circle in Glasgow offers a wonderful opportunity to reflect on these questions because it was dismantled in April 2016. I was fortunate enough to be allowed access to the plans for dismantlement and invited to observe the process itself, and in the run up to dismantlement visited the stones obsessively to document their final weeks and days. This was a powerful and emotional experience, and I got a sense that most who were involved in this process took it very seriously, so much so that the dismantlement of the monument had the quality of a solemn ritual rather than a straightforward demolition job. This post and the next one tell the inside story of the last days of Glasgow’s stone circle.

[For the back story to the stone circle and its dismantlement, see one of my previous blog posts on the topic and Duncan Lunan’s excellent book The Stones and the Stars].

British Arch mag article front page

From British Archaeology magazine, July 2014

Early in 2016 it became clear that the stone circle was to be removed. Demolition and landscaping work in the Sighthill area began to increase as early as January. This prompted me to start to visit the stone circle and the surrounding, collapsing landscape, on a much more regular basis than previously. In fact, I visited nine times between 29th January and demolition day, 7th April, with a frenzy of visits in the final month of the monument’s life.

visits table

I first became aware that the long-delayed landscaping of Sighthill Park was actually happening during a regular field recording visit to the standing stones with Helen Green on 29th January, where we also bumped into dowser extraordinaire Grahame Gardner and big crane expert Martin Conlon in heavy rain. As well as muddy tire tracks cutting through the park’s sickly grass, we saw a large strip of land that had been cleared of vegetation and a foot of topsoil, creating a rough roadway from the bottom of the park up to within about 10m of the stone circle itself. This cursus-like incision into the land appeared to threaten the standing stones with its violent intent, and signaled the beginning of the end.

the stones and the road low res

road low res with annotation

Around that time Glasgow City Council began to publish information on the progress of the re-development of Sighthill and this included hints on the fate of the stone circle, such as this entry from their Spring 2016 Sighthill Regeneration Newsletter.

Extract from Spring newsletter

A ‘second-hand monument’ was to be the outcome of this megalith dismantlement, echoing prehistoric practices.

I followed this visit with another a month later, this time part of a circular walk from the city centre. This time, the sun split the sky, and it was clear that little had happened since the last visit.

view from the bridge low res

I walked up and down the machine cutting, staring at the freshly revealed materiality of this park, exposing the fact that the hills of this place were created by large-scale landscaping using industrial material and domestic rubble.

road surface looking upfill

Tiles. Bricks. Metal and plastic pipes and tubes. Aggregates. Misshapen concrete forms. Wood. String. Bones.

bricks low res

Rubber tubes emerged from the ground like intestines, or pieces of surgical equipment.

rubble and pipe

I even found fragments of granite and marble gravestones.

gravestone and tile

This industrial incision into the park and the exposure of its Glaswegian gut demonstrated that the park was made of Old Glasgow itself, the living and the dead, the factory and the tenement.

There followed more and more visits, fumbling around for some final truth related to the stone circle and the park, feverishly recording as much as I could while Sighthill fell apart around me. I visited again with Helen on 11th March, once again in the rain. The park itself was being torn apart.

the park ripped apart

Yet the stone circle endured, the Forbes’s memorial stone in the circle still clearly maintained with new offerings and attachments.

forbes stone low res

New graffiti appeared, overlapped with once dripping, now congealed, red wax. E M I T

EMIT

Fire around the circle exposed further deposition. Business as usual, but with a new urgency. More and more visitors leaving their mark on the circle, in defiance of its certain fate, because of its imminent removal. Wringing every last drop out of the megaliths and this place before its too late. Because soon it will be too late.

burning low res

This was evident when I visited again a few days later, this time to attend a meeting I had been invited to, in a series of Kafkaesque portacabins. These were the temporary offices of VHE, the company who got the contract to do the first phase of landscaping ahead of the new Sighthill development. This huge £11 million task involves removing loads of smelly industrial waste, knocking things down….and removing the Sighthill stone circle. The meeting was attended by Council and VHE staff and architects; I had no influence in matters, and was there as an observer only. All sorts of plans and big pieces of paper were laid out on the table in the meeting room, and I was given a cup of coffee. I was impressed by how seriously they took the fate of the stone circle, with one eye of course on not getting any bad publicity, but also a genuine desire to treat the standing stones and the Forbes’ family memorial element of the monument with respect.

VHE corridor low res

After the meeting I walked around Sighthill, a landscape suffering major transformation, with fences being erected all over the place, pathways closed, and buildings abandoned and demolished. In order for Sighthill to reborn, it would have to die.

Sighthill Youth Centre

sun low res

Four days later, I was back again, for the final equinoxal event to be held in the stone circle, on 2oth March. Jan and I went for a walk through the development area, and the huge and austere Sighthill cemetery, with the dust of demolition never far away, even on a Sunday.

cemetery view

demolition 20th March low res

As we approached the stone circle, it was, amazingly, a hive of activity, something I had personally never seen before. The event here was organised by the Glasgow Arts Trail, and brought together residents, friends of the stone circle and of course the man behind the standing stones, Duncan Lunan. The event focused on a series of paper pottery kilns constructed within the stone circle by artist Kevin Andrew Morris, with clay objects made by local school kids fired within the kilns.

solstice overview

solstice activity

solstice bike

I was lucky enough during the afternoon to meet Jack Forbes, the guy whose wife and mother have their ashes scattered within the stone circle and who are memorialised by the offerings placed on and around the central standing stone. It was humbling to meet him, a man who has probably been to the stone circle more than anyone else in recent years, and who was pragmatic about its removal. I also got the chance to speak once again to dowser and geomancer Grahame Gardner and recorded a short interview with him.

Later in the day, after I had gone, Duncan addressed the crowds and the story of the stones was, I am sure, told once again. Perhaps for the last time. Certainly, the last time the story of the stones would be told within the stones.

scc-20th-march-2016-by-llunan-169

Duncan addresses the crowd. Photo by Linda Lunan and sourced from http://www.duncanlunan.com/thestonesandthestars.asp

And so the final ritual played itself out with music, fire, laughter and probably some nostalgia and sadness too. Because reality had to be faced. These were now the last days of the stone circle, and the fences would be going up soon.The stone circle had 18 days, or 430 or so hours, left in its current form and location and inclination.

img_5359

A climax was being reached

dowsed in smoke and fire and music and love

smeared with urbanisation and tears and wet wet clay

hanging on by its fingertips

ready for change

to become something new

something different.

 

To be continued.

 

 

 

 

Under the flight path

19 Jun

As we drive across a motorway intersection, through the elaborately signalled landscape that seems to anticipate every possible hazard, we glimpse triangles of waste ground screened off by a steep embankment. What would happen it, by some freak mischance, we suffered a blow-out and plunged over the guard-rail onto a forgotten island of rubble and weeds, out of sight of the surveillance cameras? [JB Ballard, Introduction to Concrete Island]

dawn low res

The perceived wisdom is that it is not a good thing to always be under the flight path of an international airport.

Or adjacent to a busy motorway intersection.

Although I suspect this was a state of affairs that would have please JG Ballard with his Shepperton home.


plane and megalith low res

 

But that is the fate of one of the strangest and least understood prehistoric monuments in central Scotland – Huly Hill, located in the village of Newbridge just to the west of Edinburgh.

 general view low res

 

The monument sits right beside a busy road intersection, where the M9 and M8 motorways meets, along with the A8 and the A89. There is a small service area just to the south of the Huly Hill which includes a petrol station and a MacDonald’s. Industrial units abound. Just to the north are a series of luxury car showrooms.

Like the protagonist in Ballard’s Concrete Island, Maitland, this monument is trapped amidst the infrastructure of the car. But with added airplane noise. And the central conceit of that novel has strange parallels with Huly Hill: by stumbling off the motorway, it is possible to become marooned in a very different kind of place, an enclosure with its own rules, temporality and ruins.

 

Air photo screen grab

The close proximity of multiple roads and places for purchasing Mercedes motorcars is not the only way that Huly Hill has become entangled with cars. A much more violent encounter has been recorded in this online account, an incident in 2001 where an attempt was made to drive a vehicle across the central barrow.

vehicle damage photo

(c) Cairnpapple Archaeological Research Association (CARA)

This shocking act of violation would have, one imagines, resulted in smashed front wings, bent bumpers, a twisted bonnet and climaxed with radiator fluid spilling all over the earthy lip of the mound – a megalith-motorcar mounting.

Around the same time a burnt out vehicle was dumped beside the standing stones, a sacrifice to some insane pagan car god, cremated and melted and tagged, offered in mitigation for the scarification of the burial mound.

burnt out vehicles photo

(c) CARA

The constant hum of cars all around, and the frequent roar of steeply banking planes overhead, is a product of the gradual wrapping of the site within the trappings of modern transport infrastructure and urbanisation over the past 100 years.

Yet it was not always like this.

In fact, Huly Hill (NT17SW 8) is a remarkable monument which surprisingly little is known about consisting of a setting of three standing stones, with a circular barrow or cairn off-set within this stone setting. It was described in the Statistical Account of 1794 as ‘circular mound of earth’ with surrounding standing stones, and in the 19th century was known locally as The Heelie Hill. Crude investigations by Daniel Wilson into the centre of the cairn in 1830 apparently revealed only ‘a bronze daggerblade, a heap of animal charcoal, and small fragments of bones’. Fred Coles carried out a ‘survey’ of the monument in 1899, and was unable to ascertain the true extent or location of this excavation, or the fate of the contents found therein.

Fred Coles' 1899 survey of the standing stones

Fred Coles’ 1899 survey of the standing stones

At the time of his visit, the monument still had a rural setting, and Coles offers this detailed account of his visit:

The Heelie Hill, as this Cairn is locally called, can easily be reached by taking the first turn to the left after quitting the train at Ratho station on its north side. As one walks westwards, the first object to arrest the eye of the antiquary is a great monolith, over 9 feet in height, in a field close to Lochend farm.

He noted that the standing stones and round mound did not appear to relate to one another concentrically, and produced a very useful survey plan to make this point.

The plan of Huly Hull drawn by Fred Coles, with a section through the central cairn / barrow

The plan of Huly Hull drawn by Fred Coles, with a section through the central cairn / barrow

Coles also mentioned in his description of the mound the presence of a low wall surrounding its base, which most certainly was not prehistoric and so may have been an addition to the monument after Wilson’s poking about, or some other form of landscaping / tidying up.

Thereafter, there is little sense of any attempts by archaeologists to understand this site further, with two geophysical surveys, one in the 1970s and one in the 2000s, failing to add anything else to our knowledge of Huly Hill other than to confirm there does not appear to have been a more populous stone circle in this location or a ditch surrounding it. We do not even know what it was that Wilson found: a dagger, or spearhead have both been suggested. But it likely that this was a Bronze Age burial mound with attendant standing stones, which may have been earlier components of the complex.

Not that any of this meager information is available to local people or casual visitors. A noticeboard that introduced the site that once stood here was removed many years ago.

the missing noticeboard low ref

Missing information board. Missed opportunity.

 

It is clear is that urbanisation and modern infrastructure began to envelope this monument as the twentieth century went on. This is indicated by the gradual increase in size of Newbridge shown across the 1st and 2nd edition OS 6 inch maps. (These maps also show nearby railway lines and a main Glasgow – Edinburgh road, so this has not been a quiet place for quite some time….)

1853

1853

 

1893

1893

 

6 inch OS map from 1955

1955

A new chapter of the biography of Huly Hill was metaphorically written when it found itself under the flight path of Edinburgh airport. This airport started life as a military base in 1916 before becoming a commercial airport in 1947 although initially flights over the prehistoric monument would not have been frequent. However, located about 500 m to the WSW of the main runway at Edinburgh, Huly Hill has planes flying low over it either taking off, or landing, depending on the prevailing wind, what seems like every few minutes.

landing plane low res

As well as the airport expansion, the Newbridge junction next to Huly Hill has expanded several times in the past few decades, as a major hub in the motorway network, where the M8 and M9 meet. The junction here was first established in 1970 around the same time the motorways were opened, and underwent a massive expansion in 1997 to accommodate the sheer volume of traffic.

Edinburgh Airport viewed from the west, with the Newbridge Junction bottom centre. Huly Hill is just out of shot.

Edinburgh Airport viewed from the west, with the Newbridge Junction bottom centre. Huly Hill is just out of shot.

 

 © Copyright Thomas Nugent and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

© Copyright Thomas Nugent and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence

 

Therefore, this  ancient, prehistoric ceremonial and burial monument is being crowded out by the trappings of the modern world, in the middle of a vortex of fast-paced and loud commuters, wrapped by noise and neon lights. It seems so far removed from the rural location that this must once have been that it takes an effort of will to imagine what this monument might once have been like: a place of death and memory. Now it is place of lorries, fast food wrappers and paint.

more graffitti at Huly Hill

standing stone 2 low res

There have been other modern interactions too. Last year I visited Huly Hill to find a group of travellers had moved into the space between the central barrow and one of the standing stones. The caravans and four wheel drives made a car park of the monument, and I was threatened by one of the inhabitants when I tried to take photos of planes flying over the site. There was clearly also tension amongst the locals about this development, although when I passed a few weeks later, the site had been cleared, and another transient phase in the life of Huly Hill was over.The ebb and flow of urban life continues, regulated by the needs of our consumerist and consuming society. Yet who is consuming Haly Hill?

traveller site low res

The Visit Scotland website has this to say about Newbridge:

The settlement of Newbridge is just to west of Edinburgh Airport, offering great views of incoming aircraft and access to the M8 and M9.

No mention of the prehistoric cairn or the three standing stones that sit in a green space within this village. Only the proximity to ways and means to leave the place, or the opportunity to watch machines of mass transport go by.

In Concrete Island, all that Maitland can do with a growing sense of futility and frustration is watch cars go flying by, their drivers staring at the road ahead and paying no attention whatsoever to an increasingly dishevelled character waiving at them for help.

single standing stone low res

I don’t usually bemoan the state of urban prehistoric sites. I am all about positivity, about seeing the potential in places with deep-time regardless of the inherent rubbishness of some of them, and about accepting changes that happen to what we blithely call the archaeological record as being the normal way of things since prehistory. However, Huly Hill does trouble me.

graffiti low res

This is a monument in a prime location: thousands of drivers and passengers must see it every day from the luxurious viewing position of their cars. It has a local urban population, some of whom walk past the standing stones and barrow frequently. It is right next to a busy bus stop and clearly visible from the McDonald’s restaurant across the road. Even a casual glance up while pumping fuel will allow drivers to catch a glimpse of a standing stone or two. Airplane pilots and co-pilots see it frequently, and maybe some passengers grab a glance as well. This must be one of the most visible prehistoric monuments in Britain.

Yet as archaeologists what have we done to tell people about this monument, encourage visitors, protect it against further decline and in general used it for the common good?

Nothing.

It is a partially re-instated mound with a modern-ish wall around it. The standing stones may or may not be in their original locations. A new noticeboard and some signs would cost money. There are roads and cars and lorries and noise all around. The landscape context has been compromised. It is under the flight path….. I can hear all the excuses now.

But actually, how much time and effort would it be to raise awareness of Huly Hill and do interesting things there?

I’ll just need to do something and find out.

He had now gone beyond exhaustion and hunger to a state where the laws of physiology, the body’s economy of needs and responses, had been suspended. He listened to the traffic, his eye on the red disc of the sun sinking behind the apartment blocks. The glass curtain-walling was jewelled by the light. The roar of the traffic seemed to come from the sun (JG Ballard, Concrete Island).

Houses upon houses

30 May

There has been a lot of media and social media reaction to the new planning legislation proposed in the recent Queen’s speech, namely the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill. This Bill appears to be based on the premise that archaeological evaluations and other similar mitigatory processes which happen after planning permission has been granted are in some cases holding up development, or being exploited for financial ends, perhaps even regarded by some as frivolous. And so the idea is that this stage of the process could be by-passed in order to deliver the government’s aim to “deliver one million new homes, whilst protecting those areas that we value most including the Green Belt” – and creating lots of new jobs / apprenticeships. Blah blah blah of course they would say that, maybe even with a straight face.

Anyway, this new piece of legislation appears very much to be an attempt to bypass normal planning requirements in England such as dealing properly with any archaeological sites, the rationale I suppose being that archaeological work is expensive and thus gets in the way of money-making enterprises like house-building and economic development. The outcry from the archaeological profession has been loud, with for instance a petition against the legislation having over 15,500 signatories at the time of writing (30/05/16), and lots of angry tweeting going on. The petition has the rather hyperbolic opening line:

Britain has some of the most amazing and diverse archaeological remains in the world, however the new Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill announced today puts all of this at risk, leading to the destruction of our past for good.

In my opinion this kind of statement plays to the view that many have of archaeology as a profession, one of conservatism, complaining, protesting, often for motivations that seem closely aligned to protection for protection’s sake and knowledge gathering for knowledge’s sake. (I have tweeted sentiments to this effect previously regarding protests as varied as those against the Stonehenge tunnel and the housing development near Old Oswestry Fort.)

More balanced  and constructive responses are typified by that of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) which raised concerns for the viability of the heritage sector as a whole and the jobs that come with it, dependent as it is on developer-funded work, although this sector has diversified a lot in recent years. And recent media coverage appears to suggest that if anything the job market for archaeologists can’t keep up with demand, although whether this equates to floods of new good well-paid sustainable jobs is another matter (lets just say it probably doesn’t).

On the one hand I am worried that this legislation – which will apply only to England – will indeed mean the loss and destruction of countless archaeological sites in green belt locations and peri-urban landscapes. On the other hand, perhaps as archaeologists we sometimes fight the wrong battles. We should not necessarily see our profession being defined by developer-funded work alone (unless of course it is a news story about Stonehenge) for instance. These are real-world problems with very real implications for the historic environment and landscape change.

I think we need another strategy. We need to accept that as archaeologists we are part of an economy that thrives on eternal growth (a fictitious concept of course but that is the capitalist fantasy land we currently live in) and this includes always finding more things for the ‘construction industry’ to build. This is all the more pressing given that there is a housing crisis in the UK, with expectations of continual population rise in coming years from various different drivers.

Therefore, as archaeologists, we cannot just throw our hands up in horror about the crude weighting of value we see before us (economic growth v archaeological record) and fall back on out-dated notions of conservatism and activism. Rather, we need to make the case more strategically that heritage professionals can add so much value to developments and construction projects that the country as a whole cannot afford not to make sure archaeology is taken seriously as part of the planning process at all times. I’m afraid this doesn’t just mean: ‘please take note of the archaeology, it’s really interesting and we could really, really do with another box of Grooved Ware or Green Glaze in our museum store room, plus I don’t think we have quite enough grey literature yet’. Heritage and the past is not inherently valuable – being old does not necessarily equate with value for money or even public interest – and so we live in an age where ‘added value’ is required in our words and actions.

And so what I am suggesting is that we should not bemoan the Government’s actions or actively try to derail them with the trying to maintain the status quo and promote sensationalist petitions, but rather use this an opportunity to make the point that heritage professionals can and do work with developers of all sizes to add value to their projects rather than cost them money, hold them up and generally get in the way (which, like it or not, appears to be how Government ministers view our profession, and probably a lot of develops and businesses do too).

Developers need to be persuaded of the benefits to them (economically, reputationally, and perhaps also in terms of their own community engagement aspirations) to engage with the archaeology, deal with it adequately, and then make use of this for their own promotional purposes etc. This has worked well for instance with BAA and Framework Archaeology relating to Heathrow T5 construction, and just about the only time London’s Crossrail makes the news in positive terms is related to archaeological discoveries.

 

Cowie a walk map

I want to make this point using my own modest example. Last week, I visited a small housing estate on the edge of the Stirling village of Cowie. Here, the construction of houses in the late 1990s allowed a previously unknown Neolithic site of national importance to be discovered and fully excavated. The discovery of rare examples of houses and farming evidence (via a fine assemblage of quernstones) at Chapelfield, Cowie, has added much to our understanding of Neolithic settlement in Scotland, and the site is referred to in the literature frequently. However, I would argue that value was added to the lives of those living in this new housing estate by other means than traditional archaeological outputs, namely by the ways that the results of the excavation were used – in street names, for instance, but also in the co-production of a prehistorically themed children’s play park. Much more could have been done, but this was not just a cut and shut operation which cost the developer plenty-much cash and time with the only minor outcome a footnote in academic books and papers, and a couple of boxes in a storeroom.

General street view low res

The discovery of a Neolithic site here was a surprise. The housing development was proposed by Ogilvie Builders Ltd in the mid-1990s, and GUARD, a commercial archaeology company (at that time based within the University of Glasgow) carried out an initial evaluation. It was thought that there was an Iron Age ditch in the field where the houses were to be built, but evaluation trenches revealed something altogether different – and much, much older: ‘a series of structures defined by stake-holes and a number of pits containing Neolithic pottery’ (John Atkinson 2002, 139). So a really big excavation was carried out, paid for by the developers, Historic Scotland and the regional authority.

Oops. Source is Atkinson 2002. No offence meant.

Oops. Source of the images and information is Atkinson 2002.

 

Excavations at Cowie in 1995 (source: Atkinson 2002).

Excavations at Cowie in 1995 (source: Atkinson 2002).

The outcome was the excavation of a complex Neolithic settlement which included a range of oval and round stake-built structures (with few parallels in Northern Britain). These dated to both the Early and Late Neolithic. Associated with different phases of activity were a series of pits which contained broken quernstones, axe fragments, Arran pitchstone blades, charcoal and Neolithic Carinated Ware pottery. It could be argued that the deposits places in these pits were in part the detritus of everyday life, although these may have been deposited in line with social rules about rubbish, taboo or rituals. Whatever. I’m not getting into the whole Neolithic pit argument here. A few pits that provided Mesolithic radiocarbon dates suggests that this location was used at least in passing up to 8000-10000 years ago. Wow.

 

Today? It is a quiet suburb (if a village can have a suburb), and even on a sunny Monday afternoon, the only people I saw walking about were pushing prams. As I walked around the three streets that define this small estate, I also saw a succession of white vans going back and forth, while occasional chatter from back gardens floated in the feeble breeze. There seemed nothing exceptional about this place – except the deep time. On and off this had been a place for people to live, eat, drink, sleep, and walk around with babies, for at least 5500 years.

Neolithic village low res

These were houses upon houses. Paths upon paths. Beds upon beds. Kitchens above hearths. Dinner plates over pottery bowls. Loaves of bread over quernstone-powdered barley. Toast over carbonised wheat. An awesome example of what archaeology can tell us about the seemingly most mundane and normal of places.

houses upon houses map

It must have been decided that the prehistoric discoveries here were worthy of marking in street names (and I have reflected on the power of these in a previous blog post) and it has been done very nicely here: Flint Crescent. Ochre Crescent. Roundhouse. The latter road, the one into the estate, being afforded a single word that I could find on only two signs. This contrasts with the fate of the Neolithic timber cursus excavated during housing construction in the 1980s at Bannockburn, just 2 miles to the west: remnants of this huge monument lie beneath houses, tarmac and a bed and breakfast, but it has been completely forgotten.

Roundhouse 2 low res

Roundhouse 1 low res

Ochre low res

Flint Cres low res

These street names are quirky and nice although it doesn’t mean that the people who moved into these houses had any sense of the deeply engrained ancient use of this particular place or the significance of the unusual street names. I have suggested before that archaeological discoveries made during housing developments should be made more widely known to those seeking to buy, information included with the house schedule for example. Street names alone are probably not enough to convey this information.

During my walk, I came across a blank road sign offered a tempting opportunity for me to come up with a less ambiguously Neolithic place name, but my chalk would not make a mark on its glossy black surface.

Suggestions welcome....

Suggestions welcome….

However, after the houses had been built, a more tangible and exciting possibility emerged – the creation of a children’s play park with a prehistoric theme. The need for a park was actually prompted by the sad death of a child by drowning in a pond next to the houses. The designers of the park, Judi Legg and Mike Hyatt, drew inspiration from the Neolithic archaeology that had been found when the houses were being constructed. This led to local children being asked to actively help design the park in a prehistoric style:

Local children paid a visit to a pre-history park, Archaeolink, and many of the ideas they got from this visit as well as information about the pre-historic Cowie site itself have been built into the design of the park, which includes shelters, cooking and seating areas, and a raised beach, as well as mounds, tunnels, slides and a climbing wall. The children’s involvement in the design development has meant that the design concept which underpins the site layout contains elements which the children understand and which feel familiar to them. 

Playground photo 1

Playground photo 2

Playground photo 3

Children also helped choose and plant trees and hedgerows in and around the park, which was officially opened in 2006. It is regarded as an example of good practice by the Free Play Network because of the freedom to roam afforded to kids, although I would suggest the co-production of the park form, and the inspiration of the prehistoric archaeology found here, are also wonderful and innovative elements of this park.

Flint Crescent low res

As I said before, this is a modest example, where archaeological evaluation and intervention during the planning and development process has resulted in amazing archaeological discoveries. But there is much more to it – the very fabric of the housing estate and the identity of those who live(d) there is entangled in street (place) names, while the prehistoric discoveries here eventually helped inspire children’s play facilities and some amazing educational opportunities for local kids. Of course, I am under no illusions that most folk who live there now may well know nothing about any of the prehistoric pre-history of where they live, and I would imagine much more could be done to inform, amaze and inspire the local community. But the information is there, the work has been done, and none of this could have happened without the active collaboration of archaeologists, developer and local authority – potentially a relationship under threat in England from the Tory Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill.

If we are to be taken seriously as a sector, and want to really impact on how the planning process works, we need to be proactive and not reactive. We need to make the positive case for responsible, sustainable and meaningful engagements with the archaeological record during the planning and development process. We need to argue for the added value that heritage and deep-time depths can bring to new suburban communities. We need to make the point that the construction industry will thrive and benefit from working with heritage professionals precisely because of all that expensive and time-consuming ancient stuff that is out there under the ground waiting to be found. And we need to acknowledge that landscapes change, that society has needs, and that many aspects of the historic environment will, eventually, be swept away.

In other words there is a business case to be made for treating the past as an investment in the future – and I would argue this case will do more to ‘save our archaeology’ than any petition you care to sign.

Neolithic village fake sign low res

Sources and acknowledgements: I have mentioned and linked to my sources in the text above. For context, this post was written between 25-30th May 2016. The excavation report for Chapelfield, Cowie is freely available online – full details are: John Atkinson 2002 Excavation of a Neolithic occupation site at Chapelfield, Cowie, Stirling, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 132, 139-192. The first two playground photos were sourced from the wildside.scot website (link above) and this was also the source of the extended quotation used in my post, while the third photo was posted by the Free Play Network and attributed to Stirling Council Play Services.

The Wee Ddu

17 May

Bryn Celli Ddu (pronounced Brin Kethli Thee)

This is not a blog post about the enigmatic and complex Neolithic monument Bryn Celli Ddu – despite the fact that this Anglesey megalith has all sorts of weird and wonderful tales to tell.

bryn celli ddu general view low res

This is not a blog post about the concrete super-structure that holds together and supports the wrong-headed reconstruction of a central cairn.

concrete low res

This is not a blog post about the flowers and the coins and the bones, offerings left within the chamber and at the entrance to the passage which leads into the aforementioned wrong-headed reconstruction of a central cairn.

offerings low res

This is not a blog post about the graffiti and scrapes and scratches within the monument which have almost wholly been focused on the aforementioned concrete super-structural elements of the aforementioned wrong-headed reconstruction of the central cairn.

Nor is this a blog post about the standing stone in the chamber or the pit next to it that contained a bone from a human ear. Although now I kind of wish it was.

graffiti on concrete low res

This is not a blog post about the bizarre standing stone covered in eccentric carvings that exists on site now as a replica, located in what may be the wrong place.

standing stone low res

This is not a blog post about the small quartz pebble that someone has balanced on top of the aforementioned bizarre standing stone covered in eccentric carvings that exists on site now as a replica, located in what may be the wrong place.

quartz on standing stone low res

This is not a blog post about the landscapes and manicured platform, wall and ditch that surrounds the megalithic components of the monument including the aforementioned concrete super-structural elements of the aforementioned wrong-headed reconstruction of the central cairn and the aforementioned bizarre standing stone covered in eccentric carvings that exists on site now as a replica, located in what may be the wrong place.

platform low res

Nor is this is not a blog post about the ever-so-contemporary and annoyingly ambiguous noticeboards that now adorn the site, which celebrate the fact archaeologists know next-to-bugger-all about this mysterious monument.

new sign low res

This isn’t even a blog post about the wonderful old Ministry of Works iron sign on the roadside that advertise the existence of Bryn Celli Ddu to road users and passers by, the types of sign that was once all that was ever provided for visitors to such monuments, until it became fashionable to install the aforementioned ever-so-contemporary and annoyingly ambiguous noticeboards that now adorn the site, which celebrate the fact archaeologists know next-to-bugger-all about this mysterious monument.

old sign low res

No. This is a blog post about the car park for Bryn Celli Ddu. Because the car park has as its central focus what appears at first site to be a version of Bryn Celli Ddu – a version that may well have been built and designed in an alternative reality but a version nonetheless. I am not the first person to have blogged about this car park megalith – of course Howard Williams got there first and recognised at the time of his visit the quintessentially urban prehistoric nature of this tomb in the car park.

He called this monument ‘a miniature roofless replica of Bryn Celli Ddu itself’ – the Wee Ddu.

view from the bus low res

The alternative Bryn Celli Ddu was not there last time I was in this car park in 2002. Then, I was leading a student fieldtrip. All I can remember about the car park from that visit was that when we left the bus to head onto the site, the coach driver took the opportunity to empty his chemical toilet over a fence. (I don’t have any pictures of that ghastly event.) In fact, this monumental addition to the visitor experience here was only built in 2014.

This new monument consists of an open circular chamber with a short entrance passage on one side. The exposure of the central area of the monument gives the impression that it has undergone the megalithic equivalent of a craniectomy, with the top completely removed. The interior consists of a circular flat area some 4m in diameter, with a low wall surrounding this upon which I presume one is encouraged to sit and pause awhile before or after a long drive. While doing this one can lean back onto a circle of flat stones set into a bank that surround the interior and define the central chamber as a whole. The impression is a glorified megalithic park bench.

reconstruction low res

interior low res

Built into this round monument are three curious and rather small trilithons. The dynamic nature of this monument is illustrated by the fact that these have become noticeboards since Howard Williams visited in early 2015. At that time, these little trilithons were spaces that had been filled with dry stone walling: he noted a similarity to other modern trilithons at the ‘Druids Temple’, Masham and he’s right.

Howard photo of the trilithons

Howard Williams’s photo from 2015 showing the trilithons in their virgin state (source: his brilliant Archaeodeath blog)

Now however these trilithons have become frames for three fancy new noticeboards, adorned with wonderful Aaron Watson images and dreamy words about other archaeological sites in the vicinity such as the amazing Llyn Cerrig Bach hoard.

trilithon with noticeboard low res

The whole affair is surrounded by elements of a stone circle, which consists of big stones that actually look exactly like the kind of boulders that sit on the grassy verges of about 50% of car parks in the UK.

‘What is going on here?’ Howard asks in a different and more eloquent form of words during a moment of uncharacteristic indecision.

“Is this a sanctioned ancient monument or the creation of some rogue megalithic artist? Is this a ceremonial feature built to serve the modern Pagans who utilise Bryn Celli Ddu for their ceremonies? Is it a megalithic picnic area for visiting school groups? Is it indeed new or was it protected and cloaked by spells during my last visit? Cadw’s website conceals well this new megalithic monument. Who out there can unlock its secrets and mysteries?”

I don’t claim to be able to make sense of this addition to the rich prehistoric landscape around Bryn Celli Ddu although that won’t stop me trying (!). This seems to be part of an attempt by CADW to add depth to the visitor experience, to give the impression that as soon as you turn off the road and step out of your car that you are somewhere different in time, as well as space. This is a place where the Neolithic is mysterious but also cool, colourful and funky. A place you can crawl all over and get your hands dirty. A car park that is no longer accessible to coaches with full toilets as half of the space is now taken up by a new megalithic monument.

The car park could even be a destination in its own right – the lengthy access path to the monument precludes some with mobility problems making it, so why not stay in the car park and still have a megalithic experience? Actually, this makes sense to some, as one review of the site on Trip Advisor suggests that the black metal fence around Bryn Celli Ddu makes it look as if it is ‘trapped in a municipal car park’. Car park prehistory indeed.

An extravagant noticeboard stuck onto another standing stone appears to be another recent addition to this complex.

big map notice low res

And now it all starts to make sense. An exchange of tweets literally as I wrote this post clarified that this circular monument has a very specific role: as a ‘orientation hub for the island’s prehistoric sites’ according to archaeologist Ffion Reynolds (follow her! She is @caws_llyffant). This makes sense – it is the best-known prehistoric site in Anglesey and not far from the bridges, and so an ideal starting point for anyone doing a tour of the island’s archaeology. And it makes even more sense that the monument actually looks a lot like one of the Bronze Age stone roundhouses at Din Lligwy, also on Anglesey. This is not actually the Wee Ddu, but the Wee Anglesey.

House_at_Din_Llugwy

Bronze Age roundhouse at Din Lligwy – look familiar?

The clarification on the meaning of this monument from Ffion gives me an excuse to mention some work she has been doing with others at BCD in recent years. Since the monument was excavated and imaginatively reconstructed by WJ Hemp in 1925-29, there has been much debate about the phasing and form of the monument, as well as its chronology. This has become clearer in recent years. A definitive review of the site based on fresh dating was published in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society in 2010 by Steve Burrow. More recently survey work by amongst others Seren Griffiths, Ben Edwards and Ffion have shown through impossibly high-tech sounding technique called electrical resistance tomography (ERT) that the enclosure around the tomb may have had a bank and therefore might have been a henge, with interesting implications.

Aside from this good old interpretive work, Bryn Celli Ddu has been the focus of several community and open day events in recent years, including a renewed focus on the alignment of the tomb’s passage on the midsummer sunrise. Ben, Seren and Ffion are running a community archaeology project in and around the site next month with an open day on 18th June 2016 having started their project in 2015. And there is now even a comic based on the site, commissioned by CADW and created by John Swogger.

cover of Bryn Celli Ddu comic

Cover of John Swogger’s comic

So this really hasn’t been a blog post about Bryn Celli Ddu. It has become a blog post about how archaeologists are adapting to modern technologies and adopting new ways to engage with the public in interesting analogue and digital ways. I don’t think all of it works, such as the new noticeboards on site which lack helpful basic information for the casual visitor, but as an overall experience it holds together rather well. There is something refreshingly timeless about this site, with something for everyone, whether it be the lovable old Ministry of Works roadside sign, or the experience of clambering into a tomb (concrete superstructure or not, this is always fun), or the flowers carefully placed and left undisturbed in and around the passage grave.

There is even something for the urban prehistorian.

Sources and acknowledgements: thanks firstly must go to Seren Griffiths and Ben Edwards who were our guides over the weekend of 13-15th May when the Neolithic Studies Group visited Bryn Celli Ddu during a trip to Anglesey. Thanks also to Ffion Reynolds for clarifying the nature of the car park monument, and to Howard Williams for beating me to it! I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting from his blog and using an image for comparative purposes. The definitive modern account of the monument by Steve Burrow is Burrow, S 2010 Bryn Celli Ddu passage tomb, Anglesey, PPS 76, 249-70, from which some information in this post was derived. To find out more about the comic for Bryn Celli Ddu, go to this CADW webpage. The image of the Din Lligwy house is in the public domain.