Psychogeography in the park

15 Sep

Glasgow’s parks are deep time.

They are places of rock-art, prehistoric settlement, fortifications, battles, ancient routeways, myth, folklore and megaliths.

Does it matter how deep that time is? Or is a sense of pastness enough, a whiff of the ancient?

This was brought home to me recently when I took two large groups of primary school children on psychogeographical fieldtrips around Queen’s Park in Glasgow’s southside. These semi-structured walks were part of the Glasgow Unity Festival, a weekend of events with the objective of bringing together people from the incredibly diverse neighbourhoods around the park to consider their complex heritage, common problems and shared future. In particular, Govanhill has the most ethnically diverse population in Scotland (with over 40 languages spoken), with many refugees and newish Glaswegians in residence. By exploring the freely accessible but hidden heritage of the park, we hoped to be able to give all of the children who visited us a sense of wonder and ownership that they might be able to pass on to their parents.

Unity Festival logo

Programme for the festival Friday

Govanhill festival poster

Both walks reached the same key point towards the end, what I think of as the heart of the park, a large earthwork enclosure, with some boulders arranged towards it centre, known as Camphill. This is an old place – but how old? It could be thousands of years old, or it could be 600.

I took the view that 600 years old and 2000 years old are both really, really ancient to your average 10-year-old and so ran with the earlier and more impressive of the two. There is a time and a place for spurious accuracy and this was not it.

This was also an opportunity for me to test my ideas about the place-making power of prehistory in urban places with an even more curious and challenging audience than I am used to.

 

An enigmatic enclosure

What is Camphill? What was Camphill? When was Camphill? The honest answer is – who knows?

The enclosure is substantial. It measures some 95m by 93m in size (a survey undertaken in 1996 by ACFA revising the originally recorded dimensions of 119m NW-SE by 98m) and is defined by a single bank and external ditch (very little of the latter now remains). The bank is no more than 1.2m high in places, with a rough footpath following the top (one of many subversive paths in the park). There are at least two convincing entrances.

Bank with path on top

Within the enclosure sits a rather unconvincing and rough collection of boulders. These do not seem to be set particularly deeply into the ground, nor do they have any discernible pattern. It appears there is no record even of these having existed in the nineteenth century according to the book Archaeology around Glasgow. They are not part of a wrecked stone circle or cairn, and now these rocks are used as seats for dogwalkers and nightdrinkers, surrounding an informal firespot, and are also the target for graffiti almost apologetically scrawled onto the stone-surfaces with a pen.

The camp low res

This is an earthwork enclosure that would have had extensive views across the Clyde Valley to the north and Lanarkshire to the southeast, being located on the shoulder of a drumlin (even deeper back in time than I am prepared to go), although these views have now been obscured by leisure-amenity-trees; the woodland has also contributed to the gradual slumping of the earthworks. Despite this, the remnants of this enclosure are still impressive and surprising in this urban context, with busy allotments located only 100m to the north.

There are claims that this is possibly an Iron Age enclosure, but this has never been established although the form and location of the site means it cannot be ruled out. The Heritage Trail booklet for Queen’s Park (downloadable, here) leaves the interpretation of the site ambiguous, calling the site an ‘encampment’. It goes on, ‘…it is perhaps not surprising to find that the flat topped summit has been occupied since prehistoric times….the brow of the hill could possibly date back to the Iron Age (1000BC – AD1000)’. Now that’s what I call a long Iron Age! The booklet also notes that some argue the enclosure is Pictish or Norman, while there are also historical associations, likely bogus, with the 1568 Battle of Langside.

The name of the enclosure, and hence also the former name of this part of the park, and the nearby Camphill Avenue, derives from the perception that this monument was at one point, er, a (Roman?) camp on a hill. There are nineteenth century newspaper records of some kind of excavations taking place within Camphill in 1867, the outcome being the identification of a ‘settlement’ or a corn drying kiln (two pretty different outcomes!). These crude investigations found a paved surface, and a weird sounding ‘cake of charred oats mixed with fragments of oak’. These were once on display in the People’s Palace in Glasgow. A millstone was also found. No formal record of this investigation was ever taken however.

Excavations also took place almost a century later, in 1851, under the guidance of the reliable Jack Scott and Horace Fairhurst. They were unable to find the 1860s excavation trench.

PSAS paper title

Instead, they focused their attention on the southern entrance and boundary to the enclosure, marked on their excellent site plan. (The plan also shows a park path running all the way around the enclosure, overlying the ditch; this path is now largely lost in the vegetation, although can be seen in the old photos of the site, below.) The location of the ‘setting’ of boulders is also helpfully marked.

Fairhurst and Scott plan

Fairhurst & Scott 1953 site plan

The extent of the excavations was relatively limited which is just as well as most of the work seems to have been carried out by park employees ‘Mr Hunter and Mr Richmond’. The work took around four weeks, and the most substantial discovery was a pit containing a ‘modern cow burial’ dug into the base of the bank.

Excavation photo 1

In actuality, very little was found to shed light on when the ditches were cut and ramparts thrown up although it was confirmed that this was indeed a substantial earthwork that once had a big ditch around it. The discovery of sherds of fourteenth century pottery – a bulbous jug or flagon – in one ditch section does not in itself offer evidence that this is when the ditch was cut, although the excavators were inclined to see the deep stratification of these sherds as pointing towards later, rather than prehistoric, origins. An old routeway or road was discovered, perhaps one of the oldest found in Glasgow, passing through the entrance, suggesting visitors to the site today are tracing the footsteps of people who walked here many centuries ago.

Pottery from the excavation

The conclusions of Scott and Fairhurst were rather limp. They could not see any reason why morphologically this could not have been Iron Age in origins, but the ceramics made them doubt this. Rather, they thought the enclosure more likely to be medieval, perhaps once acting as the ramparts of a ‘clay castle’ whatever that means.

A curious footnote was added to this confusion with the discovery of boring Roman Samian ware pottery eroding from the bank in 1985. I would love to add more but I can’t and none of this makes any sense.

DES 1985 entry

The investigation by Scott and Fairhurst was, apparently, the first time an excavation in Scotland had been carried out and funded by the local authority, although I find this difficult to believe (see Lochend Loch crannog for instance). Nonetheless, the desire to find out what this enclosure was and to add value to the visitor experience is notable, and forms part of a lengthy tradition of Camphill being a site of great interest. As with many such ambiguous sites, the actual age does not matter so much as the fact that is it out of sync with the time of a Victorian Park, and this uncertainty has allowed Camphill to be whatever visitors and scholars want it to be. With interesting outcomes.

 

The heart of the park in the city

For the whole existence of Queen’s Park, established from 1857 onwards, Camphill has been an enigmatic and dominant presence, being located just off the top of the hill upon which the park sits. Maps from the nineteenth century show this site connected to the rest of the park by footpaths and planted with trees. This designed landscape was a product of architect Sir Charles Paxton, who used the influence of parks from across Europe to create grand avenues and vistas, symmetrical paths and strategically positioned plants.

OS Map 1893 Camp

OS 1893

Bartholomew Glasgow map 1895

Bartholomew 1895

OS Map 1913

OS 1913

These maps show that the Camphill enclosure was always built into the designed landscape of this park, whether through the path which circumnavigated it, or its close connection by a path to the visual focus of the park, a hexagonal plinth upon which sites a huge towering flagpole.

Old photos of the site suggest that the earthworks have not always been (a) lost in trees and (b) easily accessible.

Camphill earthwork photo undated

Undated photo, from The Glasgow Story website

1921 photo Mitchell Library GC941435REN

1921 – a fence surrounds the bank at this time.  Mitchell Library photo GC941435REN

The location of the site, on a spectacular vantage point, has lent itself to the enclosure becoming an important touchstone in various attempts to make sense of prehistoric Glasgow. In Ludovic Mann’s 1918 book Mary Queen of Scots at Langside, the discovery of an underground structure at Minard Street, Crossmyloof was recorded (although no other record of the nature of this structure exists). Mann noted that this weird underground cell, “…was situated precisely on a line leading from a prehistoric, circular, defensive earthwork in Queen’s Park to a similar … earthwork in Pollok Wood”. As I argued in a recent public lecture on Glasgow’s sacred geometry, this was the first evidence we have of someone attempting to discover an underlying logic in the location of prehistoric sites in Glasgow, although the significance of this observation was not developed any further by Mann. Camphill, a great and ancient survivor, was part of this scheme it seems.

Mann 1918 line

The point was accepted and developed to a spectacular level by Harry Bell in his book Glasgow’s Sacred Geometry (1st edition, 1984). For Bell, Camphill was fundamentally important in his Glasgow Network of Aligned Sites, a revelation stemming from his realisation that from Camphill one could clearly see ‘the verdigris-coloured roof of Glasgow Cathedral two miles away’. Camphill, in Bell’s vision of ancient Glasgow, was also central to routeways that led in five or six different directions.

Harry Bell book

Harrys-map-Devil's Plantation

Image used courtesy of The Devil’s Plantation / May Miles Thomas

I will write much more about these alignment-chasing prehistorians in the future, but suffice to say that there is an alluring quality to connecting places on maps, or standing on viewpoints like the one near Camphill to look for prominent landmarks as Bell did. This view from Queen’s Park looks towards the Cathedral precinct, the ancient heart of Glasgow as far as Mann was concerned. The Devil’s Plantation does a great job getting inside the head of Harry Bell, and contains several short films and blog posts on Queen’s Park (which, incidentally, capture the character of the place far better than I have here).

A view back in time low res

And I have become entangled in these alignments too, a spiders’ web that has me trapped. Bell identified a line that ran from Camphill that intrigued me. Recently, I plotted this line on an OS 1:25000 map of Glasgow. I grudgingly forced pins through Camphill earthwork, Govan Old Parish Church and then the Cochno Stone, only to realise, as I connected them with string, that this was indeed a straight line. A slight error in the middle location could be countered by moving the point to the Doomster Hill, Govan’s possible prehistoric barrow. Incredulous, I gathered more pins, more string. Then I stopped myself. Through my psychogeographical practices and urban prehistoric fieldwork carried out at the Cochno Stone, Camphill and Doomster Hill, I converged with Ludovic Mann, overlapped with Harry Bell.

Glasgow map Cochno to Camphill annotated version

This could not become my obsession, even although I wanted it to, and so I folded up the map and walked away. I will do my work, on the ground, walking, and not crawling on the floor with pins and string.

 

Psychogeography in the Park

I was asked by Alan Leslie of Inherit (the Institute for Heritage & Sustainable Human Development) to help with the heritage element of the Unity Festival, his crazy idea being doing psychogeography with primary school children. I pitched the following idea.

So you think you know Queen’s Park? Think again! Psychogeography in the Park is your chance to find out how see the familiar in totally new ways by deliberately getting lost. Psychogeography is all about exploring urban places and parks from a different angle, by going off the beaten paths and pavements, by using maps in different and exciting ways, and by seeing how other people have used places today but also in the past. This means that we can start to uncover some of the recent and ancient historical events that shaped this part of Glasgow, which still exist in surprising and hidden ways even today, from unusual features in the park to local street names. We’ll learn that Queen’s Park is much more than a nice green space to spend some time – it is also a living storybook. Psychogeography in the Park will allow us to go back in time to the Ice Age, the Iron Age, the Battle of Langside and Victorian Glasgow without the need for a time machine!

I had only been to Queen’s Park long ago (my own prehistory) and so I needed to go on a couple of reconnaissance visits in advance to help me get meaningfully lost on the day, if that makes sense. Walking and talking with Alan, and then Helen Green, on these walks helped me to get a sense of the internal and external logic of this park, and some of the remarkable places contained therein.

Visit with Alan low res

Unity Festival poster in the rain

Walk with Helen low res

The day of the walks was very wet. As I arrived clutching my coffee, rain hammered down in the marquee that had been set up to accommodate the showing of films about Glasgow’s southside from the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive. The grainy film footage was both alien and familiar, like much of the park still was to me.

I ran the walk (as it were) twice, once in the morning with about 15 children, and once in the afternoon with about 50 children. In each case, I prepared the kids and teachers for the walk to come with a short talk explaining about the unexpected deep time in the park. The idea was that I was going to show them how to properly look at the park, rather than just play there, as most of the children did from time to time. I also wanted them to think about how to subvert modern routeways and official paths, and encouraged then to collect found objects, all of which they took to with great enthusiasm.

I encouraged them: ‘Let’s get lost!’.

Talk before the walk low res

Each walk had the same start point: Queen’s Park arena. Both reached their conclusion at the flagpole viewpoint. Both took less than an hour, and in the morning, was undertaken in persistent and horrible precipitation. Each walk took a different route: in the morning, my aim was to reach Camphill randomly, giving the kids periodic choices as the routes and paths we took. In the afternoon, we walked back in time in a more controlled manner, largely because of the large number of kids. We moved from the twentieth century arena to the nineteenth century Victorian designed park layout, to the eighteenth century Pathhead farm which sits in the park, concluding in the ‘Iron Age’ at Camphill. We crowd-time-travelled 2000 years in 30 minutes.

Walk 1 map

Walk 2 map

At the end of the walks, I collected together bags of found objects and marked up maps of the walks, and laid them out for other festival participants to browse.

installation-low-res.jpg

The most pleasing thing about these semi-structured walks was that I learned as much from the kids as they (I hope) learned from me. At one point some girls disappeared into a bush, and came back out, saying they had found an interesting stone. Sure enough, a polished black rock lay in the undergrowth, a memorial for someone called Moira. I was shown berries and mushrooms and bricks and old walls, and when offered the choice, the children almost always ran across grass or chose the muddy rough path, ignoring the impact this was having on their trainers. On the other hand, none of the children knew so many interesting old things could be found in the park, they were unaware of the Victorian logic underlying much of the landscape, had not noticed the grass-free patch on the edge of a path that marked the location of a now-removed park bench, did not realise that the park had such amazing views across Glasgow.

Knowledge was exchanged.

Glasgowsparks.

 

Conclusion

This has been another long blog post, and yet I feel that I have only really scratched the surface of Queen’s Park and Camphill in the walking and writing of it. Like the children wandering in the rain, junior flaneurs, I am only just learning how to look and move around this place. My research into the work of Harry Bell is at an early stage. And as for what we can say archaeologically about Camphill, there are more questions than answers at this stage. These entangled histories and prehistories ensure that Queen’s Park – like many of Glasgow’s parks – is rich with potential to be more than just a dear green space.

 

Sources and acknowledgements: 

Psychogeography in the Park. Thanks to Alan Leslie for asking me to become involved, Inhouse for providing the children, and Helen Green for our walk in the park where my methodology finally became clear thanks to her insights.

Bell and Mann. Very limited and adapted extracts from a lecture I gave in Glasgow on 12th September 2017 as part of Door’s Open Day Festival have been included here. I am grateful to May Miles Thomas for allowing me to use an image from The Devil’s Plantation website. The staff at Mitchell library were very helpful in searching out their copy of Harry Bell’s book, while it was Bell himself who identified Mann’s note about Camphill. 

Camphill archaeology. The best summary I have read can be found in Susan Hothersall’s 2007 book Archaeology around Glasgow (Glasgow Museums). The excavation report is Fairhurst and Scott (1953) ‘The earthwork at Camphill in Glasgow’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 85,  146-56. This was also the source of the site plan, pottery drawings and excavation photo. You can find this paper online as a pdf by searching for the title. The Samian ware note is taken from Discovery and Excavation Scotland 1985, page 45. And yes – Samian ware is bloody boring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The suburban broch

23 Aug

As consumers of the past, we have certain requirements for our prehistory. It should be in a bit ruinous but not so knackered that we can’t make sense of it. It needs to be awesome, or dramatic, or have ‘been on a journey’, to hold our attention. And it must be in a rural location, with a green and brown setting, and a big sky overhead. It must be authentic and leave little or nothing to the imagination.

Or so wisdom would have it.

But what happens when visitors encounter prehistoric sites in an explicitly urban setting?

The results can be surprising, as I have been documenting on this blog for the past four and a half years. I have found that communities can be inspired, proud and surprised by even the most denuded of prehistoric sites in their urban midst. Merely the ghostly traces, the essence, need be present to potentially add quality to a place, a value that comes with deep time.

Maybe this holds true for residents, but what about visitors and tourists? This was brought home to me on a recent visit to Shetland, where the rural and coastal idyll that was Jarlshof was shattered the constant chainsaw buzz of a helicopter overhead, and the vacuum cleaner sucking and blowing of aircraft taking off, the multiperiod HES visitor attraction being located right on the edge of Sumburgh airport and within axe-throwing distance of one of the runways.

view of the airport

As I wandered around the perimeter of this Viking settlement I felt like the boy Jim, protagonist in JG Ballard’s book The Empire of the Sun, staring out from his prison camp near Shanghai admiringly to the neighbouring airfield, fantasising over the Japanese aircraft, idolising the pilots and kamikaze, all of which offered a vibrant mechanised counterpoint to the organic, dying camp.

Jim looking at the airfield

Such stark juxtapositions are the very essence of urban prehistory: gazing into the past, observing rituals, secretarying entropy.

Do we fail to understand the significance and story of Jarlshof because of its inauthentic setting? I would argue not, but perhaps the big seascape and even bigger skies airport-proof the archaeology. There is much less room for manoeuvre for urban prehistory – nowhere to hide, few distractions from the reality of the what is out there.

This is very much the case for another HES visitor attraction in Shetland, Clickimin Broch in the main town on the mainland, Lerwick. And I really do mean in the town, located on an island on a small loch in the suburbs, surrounded by the trappings of urbanisation.

canmore_image_DP00082251 air photo

Clickimin broch from the air (c) HES CANMORE id 1203142

The broch was excavated by JRC Hamilton in the 1950s and thus made ready for display to the public as a Ministry of Works guardianship site. Hamilton’s work at this very complex site discovered that the broch had been preceded by earlier settlement sites of late Bronze Age and earlier Iron Age date, and after the main broch phase, the structure was – as a Jarlshof – replaced by a wheelhouse. One of the key outcomes of this programme of work was that the site was made easily accessible to the public although I would argue that in doing this the site has become a little too medieval looking (and I mean this as a bad thing). This work also resulted in the publication of a guidebook by Hamilton for both Clickimin and the taller but far more rural Mousa broch, which has undergone several editions (the guidebook, not the broch).

guidebook front cover

Clickimin was recently nominated in the Dig It! 2017 Hidden Gems competition as the representative for Shetland (the Cochno Stone was the West Dunbartonshire entry) although it is hardly hidden where it stands, wrapped within a transparent urban cocoon. However, the carefully cropped photo of the broch used in that campaign manages to edit out the surrounds.

CLICKIMIN-BROCH Scotland in Six

This remarkable setting contrasts starkly with the often remote, or at least peaceful locations, that most brochs across Scotland are situated within today and yet it has advantages over examples such as Mousa, being easily accessible because of its urban location. And even Clickimin was rural once, as captured in this drawing by W St G Burke from 1875. (Although it could be argued that such big broch complexes were literally urban prehistory 2000 years ago.)

canmore_image_DP00149613 rural setting drawing

(c) HES and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland

I was curious what visitors to this broch made of its urban setting. Anyone who prepared in advance by reading the June 2017 edition of The Rough Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland would have been set up for a disappointing experience:

‘With the modern housing in the middle distance, it’s pretty hard to imagine the original setting’

And yet, this ruined setting does not really seem to be what visitors focus on. I looked at all 177 reviews of the broch on TripAdvisor (as of 17th August 2017) and it is striking that hardly any of the visitors to Clickimin view the urban setting as a problem. Very few reviewers even feel the need to mention the urban stuff, and where they do, it almost overwhelmingly is not a problem, and almost always in the context of a 4 or 5 star review. For instance, Razumovskaya: ‘This is an unusual broch in many ways, set as it is at the edge of its loch among the council houses and across the road from Tesco’ (5 star review). Bathgooner, in another 5 star review, states, ‘despite the developments the neighbourhood retains an aura of its mysterious past’. For others, the location is weird and surreal but not a problem. Amanda K, 4 star review, wrote, ‘It’s in an odd place as near supermarket and houses’, while Cameron S, also 4 star review, wrote ‘Implausibly located in the outskirts of Lerwick, this site is surprisingly atmospheric’. Or what about, ‘This is real history next to a main road and a housing estate. But do not let that put you off as it is well worth a visit’ (argosy2gb, 5 star review).

IMG_9741

In fact, it is remarkable how few visitors express negative feelings about the suburban setting – three out of 177 (1.7%) to be precise. One is relatively measured, accompanying a 3 star review. Tony239 wrote, ‘it’s close to Lerwick, and increasing surrounded by it, which robs it of some of it’s allure’. Alyson M headed her 3 star review with the statement: ‘Spoiled by suburban sprawl’. The other is the only 1 star review for the site to date and is worth quoting in full.

‘The worse thing about this is its location. There is a large Tesco to the South, ugly 80s council housing to the East, huge houses to the West, and the worst part of all, a construction site with massive cranes and other construction equipment to the North! The Broch was from over 2000 years ago and it is encircled by all these ugly modern buildings on all sides. Stonehenge is a much better place to visit. (alvinawh, 1 star review).

Mmmn, not sure about the latter point. More visitors complained about the manicured appearance of the broch and the reconstruction work done there than the urban setting, which in itself says a lot about expectations of authenticity which seem more related to the material than the environs.

tripadvisor

Anyway, the overwhelming sense that comes across from reading these scores of reviews is that the suburban setting is an advantage when it comes to visiting this broch. 16% (28 people) mention the proximity of a Tesco supermarket in either neutral or positive terms (convenience, parking). Almost a third mention that the broch is near the centre of Lerwick or within easy walking distance of town, all positive in terms of ease of access. It appears that rather than ruin the broch experience, the urban setting of this monument has made it much more accessible than most brochs such as the more famous Mousa, which is on a wee island with an irregular ferry access. The pathway to Clickimin broch could be a little more wheel-chair friendly, but this is a broch that most people can visit, regardless of mobility.

IMG_9744

One of the intriguing things about the prehistoric monument is how the stonework of the broch blurs with the surrounding suburbia. Far from being a huge time-gap between now and then, there is a sense of continuity, a flow that is quite wonderful.

Angles are created between the broch and buildings that look like timelines to me. Grey lines form an impenetrable artificial horizon that capture the essence of Shetland.

IMG_9758

IMG_9763

The urban and the prehistory bleed into one another and feed off one another, an ancient power source that has not yet run dry.

IMG_9757

IMG_9755

HES have unintentionally created a huge optical illusion, turning the broch from a panopticon to a viewpoint. From only a few places inside the monument complex can the water of the loch be seen.

IMG_9743

The overlaps between towering house and town can nowhere better be seen than in the branding of the small service station located a hundred metres or so from the broch. The Sound Service Station has a peculiar logo, which after some squinting on my behalf, revealed itself to be a stylised side-profile view of the broch and its little island.

And on special occasions the broch has been lit up in different colours at night, Shetland’s contribution to international causes, such as World Aids Day.

This is a monument that still lies at the heart of this community.

World Aids Day image Shetland Times

(c) Shetland Times

It seems to me that the urban setting is not a problem to the vast majority of visitors. Perhaps in the heritage sector we need to re-calibrate our understanding of expectation of the public – maybe they can actually handle historic and archaeological sites that are very knackered, not so awesome or in urban settings. Authenticity comes in many forms, and one reading of that word could be the facilitation of an experience that has resonance and meaning, which can transcend tangible material and landscape qualities.

Who would have thought that a prehistoric site in an urban place could be advantageous? The urban setting of Clickimin, beside a supermarket, petrol station, housing estates, walls, roads, traffic lights, roundabouts, warehouses and a leisure centre does not seem to be a problem. For some, it is a surreal bonus, while others were rather more pragmatic.

‘Seems strange to have an ancient monument in a town – but that’s what it is.’ (GertieSquirt, 4 star review)

IMG_9779

Sources and acknowledgements: thanks to Jan for accompanying me on the visit, and for taking the wonderful photos of the Broch that accompany this post (in other words, all of those with no credit in the caption).

The image of the guidebook to the site is available widely online, usually in second hand book websites.

For more on the Dig It! 2017 Hidden Gems competition, go here. This was also the source of the jazzy pic of the broch with writing superimposed on it.

The World Aids Day photo of the broch came from the website of the Shetland Times.

Crannog 2.0

30 Jun

On this blog, I often argue that a little more prehistory in our cities, towns and parks would be a good thing. Stone circles, standing stones, roundhouses, earthworks and cairns can be helpful in provoking conversations, but can also improve the quality of local environments, attract visitors and tourists, inform, educate, and help enhance a sense of place with added time depth – but perhaps most significantly they are almost always playful and fun.

This is perhaps no-where better embodied that Scotland’s newest crannog*, constructed in the first half of 2017 in Drumpellier Park, North Lanarkshire, with the primary function of this structure being a good old fashioned children’s play park.

*It probably won’t be the newest for long, at the rate they are being built.

newspic_5819

Initial stylized vision of the crannog (c) Architecture+Design Scotland

I have followed the construction of this crannog over the past few months, watching with interest as little details have emerged, such as the spread-eagled eagle atop the roof, and little boars on springs for little children to sway back and forth upon (I have no idea what the technical playground terminology for such things is).

The crannog itself is part of the ongoing development of a series of seven lochs that run from the east end of Glasgow out into Lanarkshire, with Lochend being the most easterly of these. The aspiration to create a ‘central belt nature park encompassing lochs, parks and woodland around Glasgow and North Lanarkshire’ was boosted last year with a huge HLF Grant for the Seven Lochs Wetland Park, and the crannog is just one of the new developments that this cash is funding.

Seven_lochs_logo_JPG

The aspiration? Inspired by the Iron Age crannog now hidden beneath the water of Lochend Loch in Drumpellier Country Park, our fantastic, new, crannog themed play structure is ready to be explored by the mini Celts of Drumpellier! [Seven Lochs]

This is powerful precisely because it draws directly on the deep time of this place – as we shall see, there really is an old crannog situated under the waters of the loch right next to where the new one has been constructed. In other words, this is a celebration of the prehistory of Coatbridge and the Iron Age of North Lanarkshire, and the questions that it will provoke amongst the children that see it and play on it will expand their understanding of how special the place they live and play is. This is the essence of urban prehistory.

Drumpellier_Country_Park_Map

(c) North Lanarkshire Council

 

Intermission (The archaeology bit)

Drumpellier Park includes Lochend Loch, and it is within this loch that a crannog was found in the 1930s. The loch was donated to the public by the local MP a few decades earlier, but proved poor for boating due to being shallow and weedy. A weed-removal loch-deepening exercise in 1931 revealed a crannog at the eastern end of the loch. The crannog was first spotted in the form of a mound emerging from the water by a Mr A Kennedy of Coatbridge, and the discovery confirmed by Ludovic McLellan Mann (not him again!) who also took charge of the excavations as was his wont.

Thankfully there was apparently also a magic money tree to pay for what must have been an expensive excavation.

Quote from excavation reportThe excavations, in February 1932, quickly identified wooden piles which supported the crannog, and also some ‘primitive pottery’.

Pottery

To be honest, it sounds like it was a grim excavation.

Quote about peat soup

Gradually, through muddy perseverance, the team began to find more substantial structural features including wooden beams the size of railway sleepers, as well as flooring and thatch. This all suggested a really substantial wooden building of more than one phase stood here, on a wooden platform surrounded by water.

 

Wooden beam

Floor

A wide range of objects were recovered, ranging from the rather unfairly characterised ‘crude pottery’ (as with most Iron Age pottery, it was functional and chunky, but not primitive) and some rather more wonderful lignite and jet jewellery. Quern stones were also recovered, as were thousands of burnt hazel nutshells and ‘fire-injured stones’.

Lignite

Remains of two humans were found in association with the structure, although these were incomplete bodies. In his report on the ‘osseous remains’ John Robb noted that these bones had chemically converted to Vivianite due to being underwater for so long. He also noted a nice detail related to one of these individuals, an early archaeological indication of the capacity of prehistoric people to help one another:

Human bone

This was altogether a remarkable discovery, and it was fortunate that the excavation team were afforded time, money and local labour to carry out the work, in challenging circumstances, and it was fortunate too that Mann was on hand to offer his advice. Through time, the crannog became submerged and is now no longer visible from the shore.

Amazingly, at almost exactly the same time, an even older prehistoric discovery was made public related to Woodend Loch, which lies just across the road from Lochend and Drumpellier.

Location map

The red circle marks where the crannog was found, the little cross where the lithic scatter was located.

The month before excavations commenced at the crannog, William McLean of Airdrie presented some prehistoric stone tools he had found on the bank of Woodend Loch a few decades earlier (perhaps provoked to do so by the crannog discovery). This location was subsequently monitored by J M Davidson who realised that this was a potentially significant Mesolithic site.

Davidson collected over 800 lithics, in some cases wading into the loch to pick stone tools up from under the water. The ebb and flow of the water levels, weather conditions and time of year all played their role in the efficacy of his muddy-foreshore-walking prospection. These were of sufficient interest to be shown to and approved by the great Mesolithic scholar AD Lacaille: all were agreed that this was a Mesolithic campsite, and limited poking about followed, albeit subject to the same grim conditions as met the crannog diggers in the adjacent loch, and not really amounting to a formal excavation.

Cores

Flint cores recovered at Woodend Loch (from Davidson et al 1949)

My colleague Nyree Finley has written about the significance of this site, being the first Mesolithic encampment found in West Central Scotland, although no further work was undertaken on this site and the context from which these lithics were deposited can only be speculated upon. For Mesolithic scholars like another colleague, Dene Wright, this is a site of almost mythic status, an assemblage requiring modern (re)assessment.

Woodend lithics

Woodend lithics (c) Glasgow Museums, from Finlay 2014

 

Taken together with the amazing collection of Bronze Age Food Vessels found near Drumpellier in 1852, there is a remarkable prehistoric flourishing on the fringes of Coatbridge which to date has been afforded almost no consideration by modern archaeologists.

 

Park (pre)history pre-crannog

The prehistoric remains found on the fringes of both these lochs has played a small role in the presentation of the park to the public. However, the emphasis has increasingly been on ecological matters with birds and reeds and that kind of stuff all over the place. Walking and leisure is also a big driver of activity here, and in the summer, there is a carousel ride consisting of giant tropical fruits, and a regular ice cream van.

In the small visitor centre earlier this year, I picked up a black and white photocopied leaflet entitled Drumpellier Country Park History.

History leaflet

Diagram of Drumpellier History

To be honest, the text in the leaflet is out-dated. It notes, ‘Primitive stone tools were discovered around Woodside loch. These discoveries date the first sign of man to nearly 6,000 years ago’. There is then a bit of nonsense about a Celtic invasion of Gaels from Europe (??). ‘It was a family of these Iron Age people that built the fortified loch dwelling, called a crannog, in Lochend Loch around 100 BC’. These people were allocated to the Damonii tribe. Three episodes of settlement and burning were noted, with the final family meeting a violent end (hence the two bodies) around AD 500, apparently at the hands of a ‘marauding tribe’ of Scots from Ireland. This is all a bit 1950s but I guess at least it helps inform visitors that something seriously old and vaguely important happened here.

However, this leaflet really needs to be revamped, and hopefully the construction of the crannog will generate updated information and more contemporary forms of interpretation for the public (and I believe the Seven Lochs team are working on this).

Sign outside visitor centre

There are also some indications in the visitor centre that this park has prehistoric depth, with a noticeboard about the park next to the main door briefly name-checking the Mesolithic and Iron Age. More dramatically, inside the cafe, there is a fine mural of the crannog and coracle, just behind a Peppa Pig ride.

Mural

On a visit in April 2017, I also noticed a new noticeboard that announced the imminent prehistoric upgrade that was about to hit the Park – the new crannog.

New sign

And – as if the power of coincidence had not already been demonstrated to you by my tireless blogging – the visitor centre itself was opened by a Provost Cairns.

provost cairns

 

Crannog 2.0

The first sods were cut symbolically early in 2017.

Crannog_Sod_Cutting_Drumpelier_Park

The whole scheme was ambitious from the start, with the final design for the crannog playpark produced by Jupiter Play, the source of the two uppermost images below.

Crannog-Playground-e1481206651506

Drumpellier crannog drawing NLC

Seven Lochs tweeted image

(c) Seven Lochs Wetland Park

I visited the crannog a few times during its construction, and saw it emerge, built on a peninsula on the eastern end of the loch, just to the north of the location where the real thing is located. It was fascinating to watch a prehistoric-style building being constructed almost in front of my eyes, and it was almost comforting to see the job over-run its time schedule and the site constantly to have all sorts of crap lying about and no-one ever seemed to be working.

April 2017

Crannog under construction April 1

Crannog under construction April 2

Crannog under construction April 4

Crannog under construction April 3

May 2017

May visit 1

May visit 2

June 2017

June visit photo 1

June visit photo 2

Opening Day

The crannog was opened with great ceremony on the morning of Sunday 18th June. A real event was made of this, probably as would have been the case back in the Iron Age day. Tents were set up with traditional prehistoric crafts demonstrated (aptly by the excellent Scottish Crannog Centre team) and park rangers doing their thing. Visitors were bussed in from Coatbridge. A red ribbon was draped over one of the entry points onto the crannog playpark, all the better to be cut with big ceremonial scissors at the propitious time. As with the Iron Age also, the elite and their children were afforded privileges, in this case being allowed onto the crannog first to run around like mental and have a great time.

opening day montage

N Lanarkshire council photos of crannog

(c) North Lanarkshire Council

Best of all was that for the first time the crannog was not a quiet and lifeless building site, but a living breathing place of sound, energy and people.

opening day 3

What next? That’s up to the stakeholders of course. Some interpretation will be added I’m sure, so curious users can find out where the old crannog is / was and get a sense of how long ago the sounds of children on the water were first heard in this place. The Council will bask in the happiness of their support for this innovative venture and I hope keep maintaining the site to ensure it is sustainable, safe and clean for as long as humanly possible. Moves will be made to explore the heritage of the Seven Lochs in other ways, perhaps with the re-examination of the Woodend Loch hunter-gatherer site being a good place to start (and I’ll encourage this to happen).

What will children do? They will swing, slide, rock, roll, laugh, cry, live – and learn? Maybe they will, maybe not. That isn’t the point. Prehistory can be used to improve lives without being front and centre, it is enough for it just to be there, it is more than enough for seeds to be planted, watered by the loch that laps over the muddy remains of an old prehistoric house.

The Iron Age can wait, for now.

Sources and acknowledgements: Various websites and images consulted in writing this blog post have been referenced in the post itself, and credit given beneath images for those that are not mine. I have included no links to the website for Jupiter Play as I keep getting a virus warning when I go to it [as of 30th June 2017]. I would also like to thank Dene Wright for sharing his thoughts on the Woodend Loch site.

The excavation reports consulted, quoted from and the source of most of the black and white image are:

James Monteith and John R Robb 1937 The crannog at Lochend, Coatbridge, Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society 9.1, 26-43.

JM Davidson, James Phemister and AD Lacaille 1949 A Stone Age site at Woodend Loch, near Coatbridge, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 83, 77-98.

Both papers are free to download online.

Finally, the Finlay 2014 source is Nyree’s contribution to the series of ‘Essays on the Local History and Archaeology of West Central Scotland’, commissioned for the Regional Framework for Local History and Archaeology, her chapter being on the Mesolithic, and it offers some essential context for Woodend.

 

 

 

Iron Age v Iron Works

13 Jun

Crannogs are not usually known for making dramatic entrances.

But in the nineteenth century the crannog that once stood in Kilbirnie Loch, North Ayrshire, erupted from the water due to decades of industrial dumping, in a stark illustration of what can happen when prehistory runs into the juggernaut of industrialisation.

The remarkable event that lead to the discovery and investigation of the Kilbirnie Crannog in summer of 1868 was most colourfully captured by Robert Love Esquire a few years after the event.

Love account of the site's eruptionA small stony island had been noted in this location before the slag-eruption. It was known locally as the cairn.

OS 25 inch to mile map

But nothing had prepared local people for what popped out of the water, demanding attention and re-evaluation, nothing less than a prehistoric ejaculation.

Subsequent investigation of this mound spewed forth in the southwestern corner of the loch showed it to be a crannog, an artificial island probably dating back to the Iron Age. The island measured 22 x 24 metres across and was up to 1.25m in height above the water level. It was located 60m or so from the shore of the Loch and was connected to the land by a perilously narrow causeway that dribbled from the loch shore. This may have been a more substantial bridge to the crannog in the Iron Age.

Excavations were undertaken in 1868 soon after discovery. This revealed that the island consisted of several layers (starting with the lowest, earliest phase):

  1. Chunky logs held together with wooden pins and iron nails
  2. Brushwood including branches of hazel, and ferns
  3. Gravel and sand deposit of up to 50cm thickness
  4. A stone ‘pavement’ with evidence for a hearth (a scorched sandstone flagstone)

On top was also the indication of rectangular buildings in the form of postholes and scattered animal bones. Little else was recorded of this excavation, but we can presume that this was one of many such artificial islands with a house on top found in this part of Scotland, and it would have been supported on wooden piles driven into the bottom of the loch.

Soon after, this crannog became completely engulfed by the slag and furnace waste being dumped from the nearby and ever-expanding Glengarnock Ironworks, as shown quite clearly when we compare Ordnance Survey mapping from 1858 and 1911.

OS 1st edn map

OS 2nd edition map

Industrial revolution 2 Prehistory 0

canmore_image_SC00569897 Ironworks

Glengarnock Iron Works in the twentieth century. (c) HES canmore_image_SC00569897

Occasionally, other prehistoric secrets popped out of this muddy loch foreshore, including an amazing and decently preserved wooden log boat as documented by the ubiquitous Ludovic McLellan Mann. He recounted that on Tuesday 22nd April, 1930, a Mr Thomas Miller investigated a wooden stick protruding from the muddy foreshore of the loch and found it to be a canoe made of oak. The photo below shows the industrial waste-land that this boat was found within, the massive slag heaps in the background dominating the local landscape.

Log boat from 1930

And so it came to pass that the crannog had, by the turn of the twentieth century, been engulfed and eradicated by the industrial sludge, a victim of industrial terra-forming where even the loch could not hold back the heavy metal, its southern shore gradually creeping north.

Fast forward to 2017. The ironworks, once the major employer for the towns of Glengarnock and Kilbirnie, was finally closed in 1978 and this void was filled (at least spatially) with Glengarnock Business Park. The Iron Works had gone the way of the Iron Age (overtaken by steel and then the Romans, er maybe not the last bit), to be replaced with business units, car parks, shiny new fences and corporate branding. The location of the crannog was covered with a car park, a road verge and a steel fabrication factory. So it goes.

Canmore location map

Modern map of the Glengarnock Business Park. Crannog location marked with blue circle.          (c) HES, CANMORE, OS and anyone else I have forgotten

I visited Kilbirnie for the first time ever on 5th April 2017. I had been invited by Gavin MacGregor of Northlight Heritage to come along and help lead an urban prehistory walking tour to find the crannog location. This walk was one of a series that Northlight had been leading in partnership with the recently established Garnock Connections Landscape Partnership Scheme.

Garnock connections advert for walks

We gathered in the early afternoon, after I had consumed a massive cake, in a diner in the renovated Radio City cinema, and after introductions, our small group set off on the quest for the crannog. We left the centre of town and passed an old railway platform on the now defunct Caledonian Railway, then followed a pleasant core path away from town towards the ruins of the Glengarnock Ironworks.

It really was a massive cake incidentally. One of those caramel tarts that used to be commonplace in school dining halls when I was a child, shiny with little brown vermicelli things on top, and rich with an interior cream deposit. Note to self: I am not good at describing bakery.

walk low res

We passed the ruins of a slaughterhouse and a cairn of bricks, and then a bin with a skull painted onto it. It felt, as we neared out destination, that we were slipping back in time, deep into prehistory.

walk images

skull on bin low res

Finally, we began to see the footings of buildings in the scrubby vegetation on either side of the path, ruins of the trappings and infrastructure of industry. One of our group worked in the steel works and pointed out where various offices had been located. He told stories of explosions in the night when he was a kid, the outcome of massive amounts of red hot slag being dumped into the much-abused Kilbirnie Loch. He was an old man, but not old enough to remember the crannog.

Our destination was reached, a most unpromising and placeless location, partly a car park, partly a bushy protuberance under the guise of landscaping.

crannog location low res

As a group, we stood in the location where 2,000 years ago we would have been under water, and a timber house would have stood resplendent on the loch. The encroachment of industry onto this body of water had turned this location from one of elite settlement, to corporate blandness, a Ballardian transformation and perhaps the inevitability of capitalism.

Crannog location chat

How many prehistoric sites now lie beneath, or have been found during the construction, of business parks, warehouses and industrial units?

More to the point, what can we do about it? Sure, such discoveries allow us to gain valuable information about the past (unless the site, like this crannog, had already been swallowed up) but can they be made into something more useful than just data sources? Conversation on the walk constantly turned to how we could make more of the heritage (industrial, railway, prehistoric) of Kilbirnie, to engage and educate locals about the deep time in the place they live, and to attract tourists and visitors to a town often bypassed en route to Arran. One of the locals even told me they had a longterm plan to build a crannog reconstruction in the loch, a crazy idea that floored me and inspired me at the same time. I had not thought this big, but why not?

radio city

Warehouse

The heritage of the town is gradually being foregrounded again, whether in the re purposed Radio City building, or in the recently decorated windows of an abandoned and ruinous warehouse building adjacent to the local Tesco in the town centre. These windows, covered in historical images created by local school kids, include medieval objects that have been found in Kilbirnie Loch over the years, giving up some more of its watery secrets under the relentless pressure of heavy industry.

warehouse 2

One day I hope that Kilbirnie residents and visitors will be able to walk the old and ancient paths of this town, following the railway lines that were once the arteries that connected this place to the industrial heart of Scotland. These paths may lead to a spectacular watery eminence, Scotland’s newest crannog, or at least a QR code telling you what was once here.

The best resource this town has though, is not the prehistory, or the industrial heritage, or even the amazing massive caramel tarts. The places and the things can only take us so far, and what energised me most about my visit was not the crannog beneath the steel fabrication car park but the people and their memories of the iron and steel and explosions and junior football teams and mills and slaughterhouses and railway platforms that were once stood upon. The people and their vision for the future, borrowing inspiration from but not stuck in the past.

Sources and acknowledgements: primarily, I would like to thank the local people, and team from Garvock Connections, who accompanied Gavin MacGregor and I on our urban prehistory walk to the crannog. Their enthusiasm and ambition was infectious, and I hope to work with them in the future to re-invigorate Kilbirnie’s Iron Age!

The sources for the discovery and excavation of the crannog are almost certainly repeating the same account, with the original account being that of archaeologist Cochrane-Patrick. All three of these sources can be found in full online with some careful googling:

  • Cochrane-Patrick, R W.1873 Notices of some antiquities recently discovered in North Ayrshire’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 9, 385-6.
  • Love, R.1876 Notices of the several openings of a cairn on Cuffhill; of various antiquities in the barony of Beith; and of a crannog in the Loch of Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 11, 284-8.
  • Mann, L M.1933 Some recent discoveries, Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society New Series 8, 139-42.

The maps were all sourced from Scotland’s National Map Library

 

 

 

 

 

An unexpected curio

15 May

‘……the site is not possessed of any notable features’ (Cash 1906)

‘What remains of this monument is not impressive’ (Highland Council n.d.)

General view Aviemore ring cairn low res

 

A description of a megalith in the words of others

‘Aviemore Ring Cairn (2200 BC)’ (Source 1)

‘The monument was once located in open fields….’ (3).

‘The circle is on the Seafield estate, and…is ignored by the estate officials’ (1).

Marshall 1962 photo

(c) Mae Marshall 1962

‘This cairn was built as a major landmark in the open, farming landscape of prehistoric Strathspey, though a housing estate has grown up around it recently’ (3).

‘The Aviemore stone-circle stands about half a mile north of Aviemore railway station, not more than 60 yards from the high-road, and just behind the United Free Church’ (1).

‘The circle can be found at the far end of the village, not the end that goes to Cairngorm’ (8).

‘As you head north out of Aviemore look out for a residential road called Muirton (on your right hand side). Then beyond the Ambulance and Fire Station, turn left (it is all signposted). In a little housing estate is a small circle of stones….’ (6)

Stone circle sign low res

‘Address: Scottish Ambulance Service, B1952, Grampian Rd, Aviemore, PH22 1 RT’ (google)

Location map from CANMORE

‘This is a Clava-type cairn’ (3).

A Clava-type ring cairn, as described and planned by Henshall, except that only three stones now remain of the perimeter of the chamber (4).

‘Stone circle’ (4).

‘Aviemore Ring Cairn and Stone Circle (about 2400-2200 BC) originally consisted of a rubble bank, flanked by kerbs both inside and out and surrounded by a ring of standing stones’ (8).

‘It seems evident that this circle has suffered considerable disturbance’ (1)

‘There is very little cairn material left, and the central area seems to have been disturbed. The outer kerb is almost complete, with a diameter of 42′ and slight traces of a bank against the outside; only 5 of the inner ring stones are now visible. The outer ring of monoliths now consists of 4 stones set about 17 ft. from the kerb, but there were 7 in 1877’ (2).

Plan from Cash 1906

Cash 1906

‘The second or middle circle is fairly complete. It consists of probably thirty-six stones’ (1).

‘The south stone stands 4 feet 10 inches high, and has a shape roughly suggestive of a cloaked human figure’ (1).

‘The most northerly lies close in to the second circle, and has, I am informed, probably been recently moved into its present position’ (1).

‘A cup-marked stone is said to have been found at the base of one of the monoliths, but there is no evidence of it today’ (4).

‘The cup is 3 x 1½ x 1¼ inches’ (1).

‘These ceremonial stones were placed here approximately 4000 years ago…’ (6).

‘It was probably built about 4000 years ago by farmers and herdsmen and may have had cremated human bones placed in it’ (5).

‘The Aviemore Stone Circle is now engulfed by a housing estate. it …. has been quite sensitively preserved (although a little more room round the edges would have been appreciated)’ (7).

Undated photo in the snow

Highland Council SMR

‘Although the houses encroach right up to the stones, giving the impression that the circle was nothing more than a civic monument to spice up a humdrum estate, when you actually get here you appreciate the fine qualities of the site. It is a fine circle, and surprisingly easy to imagine how things would once have been before the houses were built during Aviemore’s expansion in the 1960’s’ (9).

‘The site as it stands is in a poor state of preservation and its location is severely compromised by the close proximity of the modern, cul-de-sac housing estate. The only possible value in this is that the site serves as a shock example of how not to treat archaeological monuments, and possibly survives as an unexpected curio in this late-twentieth century, white-harled bungalow landscape’ (3).

General view Aviemore ring cairn 2 low res

‘Despite the fact that this ‘stone circle’ is within the village of Aviemore, I quite liked its semi-urban location, nestling like a village green ground suicide-grey bungalows at the back of the fire station’ (9).

‘It is nothing hugely exciting but worth a quick peek nonetheless’ (6).

 

Historically interesting but obsolete noticeboard

Noticeboard low res

AVIEMORE RING CAIRN

AND STONE CIRCLE

This circular gathering place

once consisted of a circular rubble

bank edged by kerbs inside and out,

all surrounded by a ring of standing

stones. It has been covered by soil

for its protection and the inner kerb

is not now visible.

It was probably built about 4000

years ago by farmers and herdsmen and

may have had cremated human bones

placed in it.

The monument is scheduled and in the

care of Badenoch and Strathspey

District Council. It is an offence to

damage or disfigure it*.

 

*With the exception of state-approved urbanisation.

NB ‘The existing panel should be replaced with one that makes full use of modern printing technology to produce a visually exhilarating effect’ (source 3).

‘There must be a sense here of righting the wrongs that have been done to this site’ (3)

NB Recommendation yet to be enacted. Righting of wrongs yet to be enacted.

 

 

Urban prehistory (Source 10)

Good or bad?

Better or worse?

Authentic or inauthentic?

Rural or urban?

 

Ruin or ruined?

 

Challenge or opportunity?

 

Sources for the quotations in this blog post:

Source 1: Cash, C G. 1906 Stone circles at Grenish, Aviemore, and Delfour, Strathspey, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 40, 1905-6, see pages 249-50. [Free to download online via the Society]

Source 2: Grant 1885 Stone circles and other ancient remains in Strathspey, Transactions of the Inverness Scientific Society and Field Club 1, see pages 55-6.

Source 3: Highland Council Sites and Monuments Record document. This undated document was prepared for Highland Council by Graham Robins, Community Archaeologist for Badenoch & Strathspey. [Source of the two old photos.]

Source 4: Canmore (National Monuments Record of Scotland).

Source 5: On-site noticeboard.

Source 6: Trip Advisor entry (the only one for this site, rated Average).

Source 7: Megalithic portal page for the site.

Source 8: Owen McCafferty for Scotland Guides.Org

Source 9: Modern Antiquarian forum discussing the site

Source 10: My own eyeballs.

Thanks to Jan for providing photos of the site and keeping me company in the drizzle.

 

 

The last days of a stone circle Part 2

7 Apr

One year ago, on 7th April 2016, the Sighthill stone circle in Glasgow was dismantled and buried.

Permanently closed.

Permanently closed

The first part of my story of the final months of the Sighthill stone circle can be found here. This is the second, and final part of my account, focused on the last 18 days of this remarkable urban megalith. When discussing the use of stone circles from prehistory, we at best can hope to have a resolution of a decade or generation; for Glasgow’s stone circle , which stood for little more than one generation, I was able to refine my study almost day-to-day, with a visceral immediateness. So immediate that at times the charcoal was still smoking when I recorded it and I witnessed events as they happened, the ultimate fantasy of the archaeologist.

visits table

My documentation of the Sighthill stone circle – constructed by a team lead by Duncan Lunan in 1979 – began in early 2013, with my objective to use archaeological field methods and psychogeographical activities to document the ways that the stone circle was used. This included the assessment of use-wear patterns, the collection of found objects, photographic documentation and urban wandering. During the months leading up to the removal of the stone circle from the Glasgow skyline, I visited the monument repeatedly to monitor and record activities taking place there (see table above). I also inveigled myself into the destruction process itself, attending meetings in portacabins, learning about plans, drinking powdered coffee, wearing a hard hat. This culminated in access to the demolition itself.

As previously reported, my visits in February became technical fieldwalking exercises, picking over the stuff of old industrial Glasgow that had been used to construct the artificial park that the monument was located in. I collected fragments of gravestones, constructed by other monumental sculptors for very different reasons, lead squashed onto marble in memoriam.

IMG_1452

This was a landscape imploding, undergoing the brutal process of being demolished but also de-toxified due to its industrial past, and in the final days and weeks Sighthill the housing estate and Sighthill the park became home to big machines, fences, piles of rubble and horrid smells. Outsiders looked on in wonder at the plan to remove the standing stones even as they celebrated the demise of the High Rises.

Herald 14th Feb 2016

The Herald, 14th February 2016

IMG_5375

 

21st March

On a dull and overcast morning, I visited the Sighthill stone circle for the sixth time that year, this being the morning after a final equinoxal celebration had taken place within and around the standing stones. The afternoon and evening before, people gathered amicably, fires had been set, liquids were consumed, pottery was fired, and positive but bitter-sweet words were spoken.

solstice bike

I wanted to see what archaeological traces these activities had left behind. Like a detective chasing a serial killer, this was the hottest crime scene visited yet, with the maximum chance of collecting good quality evidence before the weather and by-standers intervened and the trail, once again, went cold. This was my big chance and I was not disappointed.

IMG_5378

IMG_5379

IMG_5385

Hearths and firespots littered the stone circle, and these were photographed with scales and sketched in my notebook. Some of the megaliths had been scorched by the fires which had danced amidst the stones just 12 hours previously. Fragments of ceramic and all sorts of other bits and pieces were collected from the stone circle. The monument was sampled and narratives constructed.

IMG_1453

IMG_1455

IMG_1454

The stones themselves had been changed in other ways, marked with clay-soaked hands, caressed with slippy fingers. I could have, had I wanted, taken fingerprints. I could have, had I wanted, sampled for DNA.

IMG_5390

IMG_5407

Atop one of the stones, ashy powder was evident, although whether residue or deposit I could not tell.

IMG_5410

Weird inexplicable bits of wood were strewn around the stone circle, like props from the workshop of a serial killer; Ed Gein’s charred rocking chair?

IMG_5404

The evidence spoke of what I had witnessed the day before: fire, fun and feasting. A fitting end for this magnificent megalith.

 

 

4th April: Monday

The Final Countdown had begun and I knew the monument was to be removed in a few days’ time. Helen Green and I had been invited to the official dismantlement of the stone circle, and so now I was killing time, visiting almost aimlessly.

It was a miserable day. The park looked terrible, like a hungover clown.

IMG_5485

This green space, as a functional place of leisure, had been given days to live.

IMG_5483

As I walked up to the stone circle I passed a park bench upon which had been daubed the word: G O I N G

IMG_5424

The Sighthill stone circle itself glowed in the rain, the stones having an almost liquid quality, straining from their roots in the mud and concrete, trying to walk away from this mess, trying to escape their fate. And failing.

IMG_5488

wotrkman low res

Traces of the equinoxal fire remained, albeit reduced.

Pathetic dampness.

IMG_5495

There was a new development too – a grey fence had been erected to form a rough circular enclosure immediately to the north-west of the stone circle. Within this profane space, an enormously deep circular shaft was evident, a shaft that led down to an abandoned and forgotten railway line deep beneath the park. Two workmen with hi-vis jackets stood within looking shifty and feckless, watching me with suspicion as I recorded the stones, perhaps thinking I was secretly recording them. A thin young man dressed in a cheap black suit walked up to the stones, asked what I was doing, scuffed his shoes on the grass, and slouched off again.

Surveillance was increasing, the stones disappearing into a chaos of paranoia and misinformation. This was the beginning of the end of the beginning of the end I sagely thought to myself.

 

 

5th March: Tuesday

48 hours to go and at least the sun was out. So was Jack Forbes, the man whose mother and wife has enjoyed the stone circle so much that their ashes had been scattered in the circle, and the central megalith acted as a memorial to both women. I met Jack for the first time at the Equinox event and found him to be humorous and humble, surprised that anyone was interested in his story or that of his family. Shocked that Council plans for the demolishing of the stone circle had taken note if his circumstances. It was a privilege and great coincidence to be there at that time with Jack, as the removal of the stone circle began on this day.

As I approached from the park below, I saw that the metal fence around the railway shaft had been extended to wrap around the stone circle as well.

DSC_1725

Inside this arena, groaning crunching pawing machines could be heard, and as I reached the top of the treeless slope, having waded through sawdust and bone dry leaves, approaching the circle in the only way that was possible now that the park had largely been closed, I saw that work was afoot.

DSC_1738

A turquoise digger (a peculiar colour for such a machine I thought at the time and still do) raised its crooked arm up and down as if serving tea and biscuits, while a dumper truck say nearby, its bucket raised in supplication. One lump or two?

Monitoring the activity carefully was Lindsay Dunbar, an archaeologist, whose task it was to ensure as topsoil was stripped in advance of the removal of the stones themselves that nothing was damaged. Lindsay works for AOC Archaeology Group, and they had been contracted to do some of the archaeological work related to the Sighthill re-development, with one of their tasks being the documenting of the stone circle and monitoring of dismantlement. The day before they had carried out a laser survey of the standing stones, creating crazed images that would have made great JG Ballard book covers.

AOC scan2

Provisional data from the laser scan (c) AOC Archaeology Group.

Lindsay had also been party to implementing the mitigation strategies put into place to (as sensitively as possible) deal with Jack Forbes’ family matters. The topsoil where ashes had been scattered was scraped away carefully and would subsequently be buried with the standing stones for future resurrection. Offerings that had been laid around the base of the central standing stone for several years (as I have been documenting) were gathered up before machining started although I cannot now recall whether these would be stored for later, or returned to Jack.

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Jack was genuinely touched by these gestures, and I was pleased to see promises made by the Council and remediation specialists VHE were made good upon when it would have been just as easy to sweep all away in the quiet of a dull Tuesday morning. I had a nice chat with Jack and Lindsay, and we watched together as the fabric of the stone circle was gradually peeled away, exposing little else other than stark standing stones jutting from soil like dirty teeth in dirty gums.

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To the side of the stone circle, the railway shaft was clearer than earlier in the week, a sinister wormhole. What was down there?

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I can have a good guess. I’ve watched lots of horror films.

Everything must GO.

 

7th April – Thursday

This story has been told before, in many papers and by many observers. In a sense the very last day of this stone circle was the least interesting of its many last days because of its inevitablity and necessity. The journey had been so much better than the destination. As Jarvis Cocker once sleazily crooned: What exactly do you do for an encore? 

The day was stage-managed of course, perhaps even spun. The Council and VHE wanted to ensure nothing that looked bad would happen, and so had ensured that a stone was ready to be lifted, the effect that they were after a painless tooth extraction with minimal use of anesthetic and oral numbness fading as quickly as possible. A little film was made, and my presence at the dismantlement was viewed as an act of support for what was happening, and perhaps I was condoning all by being there.

 

 

What was I doing there? Was I a neutral and dispassionate observer, documenting a necessary (lets not say evil) sad event? Was I there to leer at the demolition porn being played out in front of me, in the thick of throbbing machines and lots of men dressed like the castoffs from the Village People? Maybe I was just a useful idiot after all. However, Helen was also there, and she is far too sensible for any of these roles, and so I assume in reflection that we were there to the bitter end to pay our respects.

The morning started hi-vis and portacabin-style.

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Everyone was shuttled up to the stone circle and we gathered together there, in a controlled members’ only space which reminded me of the UFO scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

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There was a ‘genuine sense of anticipation’ as a huge digger loomed over one of the standing stones, the chosen sacrificial victim, which had been bound in yellow straps and now mutely dangled from the digger’s grip.

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Duncan Lunan was photographed – papped in fact – along with Linda. He was interviewed. Even I was interviewed (but not photographed, except by Helen, and only because I asked her to).

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me being interviewed low res

The stone was slowly popped from its pre-broken concrete socket and hoisted into the air. The small crowd of Council and VHE staff, friends of the stone circle, journalists and vaguely interested machine drivers, looked on, er, agog.

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The stone dangled for a little while and was, after being photographed a few million times with smiling humans standing in front of it, carefully laid into the back of a truck and covered over like a corpse. It would be remiss of me not to mention that as it dangled it swayed slightly in the wind like the aforementioned hungover clown.

Cameras and notebooks were packed away, the crowd queued up to hitch a ride back to the portacabin HQ, and we all drifted away from the scene. As we left, we were aware that the remainder of the monument would be quickly dismantled away from the gaze of onlookers, and indeed within a few days the megalith was gone, and the stones buried in a huge pit a few hundred metres away, one day to rise again. As I drove past on the M8 a week later, something was missing. How quickly will this feeling dissipate? And how soon will that damned devilish shaft be filled with concrete?

 

 

The last days of a stone circle in summary

A monument impossible to reduce to photographs.

A monument impossible to reduce to memories.

A monument impossible to reduce to images with scales.

A monument impossible to reduce to spreadsheets and context numbers.

A monument impossible to reduce to sketches and plans.

A monument impossible to reduce –

A monument impossible –

A monument.

 

FOR JACK FORBES

 

Sources and acknowledgements: I would first of all like to thank VHE and Glasgow City Council for inviting Helen and I to the dismantlement of the Sighthill stone circle and to allow me to be part of conversations in the run up to this event. In particular, I would like to thank Graeme Baillie, Gareth Dillon, Jackie Harvie, Peter Patterson, Ed Smith and Muir Simpson. I would also like to thank Andy Heald for keeping me abreast of AOC Archaeology Group’s work at Sighthill, and to Lindsay Dunbar; thanks also to AOC for providing me with some of the initial laser scan images for my records, one of which is reproduced above. Thanks to Duncan and Linda for information and advice related to the stone circle, and finally thanks to Helen for giving up so much of her precious PhD time to visit Sighthill with me, always pushing me to think about the monument in new and interesting ways.

 

 

 

David Moyes Road

26 Mar

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Recently I was invited to visit an excavation that GUARD Archaeology Ltd had been undertaking for several months since September 2016 at a site with the wonderful name of David Moyes Road in Carnoustie, Angus. The site is located on the northern edge of the town, right next to the High School and across the road from a very white and very recently constructed housing development, shiny with suburban possibilities.

It was another reminder, should one be needed, that amazing (as well as mundane of course) prehistoric stuff is sometimes only ever going to be found by archaeologists because of urban expansion and development. A lack of cropmarks in this location, previously arable land, means that it is unlikely research excavations would ever have taken place here except those of the most speculative nature which frankly no-one can afford to do anymore.

So instead we await the serendipitous discovery of wonderful things not because of any archaeological research framework or a cunning plan cooked up by heritage professionals, but because of factors such as social need, economic consideration and the planning process.

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I was shown around the site by the site director, Alan Hunter Blair, and he gave me a really good insight into the discovery process of the site, what had been done on site and some provisional interpretations. With characteristic bad timing, not only did I arrive on site on the last day of the excavation, but I also came at tea break, cardinal sins for the excavation visitor but almost always the way it happens. Politely, none of this was mentioned as Blair and I wandered around the site, pointing at a hole here, pondering a hollow there, pausing over oddly arranged or unusually large stones and generally basking in a wonderful crisp late winter day beneath a broad blue sky in the midst of some truly spectacular archaeology.

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This is a remarkable site, for which there has already been a good deal of positive media coverage both locally and nationally including STV News.

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The Sun extract

The Sun headline (above) is especially impressive – discovery in a Scottish BUILDING SITE!!! Why this should be a surprise is not clear, given that nowadays building sites are precisely where many major archaeological discoveries are made.

In fact, the site was identified in advance of the construction of two football pitches (not a housing or school development as I had supposed) with my supposition being that drainage and other ancillary elements of these playing fields required the complete excavation of the site, which as it happens will prove to be beneficial not just to archaeologists, but to the local community and politicians as well – and not merely in terms of knowledge creation, useful as this can be.

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The bronze spearhead during excavation. Image (c) Katielee Arrowsmith / SWNS.com

GUARD have characterised the highest profile discovery during these excavations as a ’rare and internationally significant hoard of metalwork that is a major addition to Scottish Late Bronze Age archaeology’. This includes a spearhead with gold ornamentation, a spectacular and rare discovery, and organics associated with some of the weaponry. (GUARD have posted online a nice video of some work on the hoard being done, as we like to say, ‘back in the lab’.) This hoard was found in a pit within a settlement consisting of several Bronze Age roundhouses.

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The putative timber hall from the air (c) GUARD Archaeology Ltd.

As a Neolithic nerd, what has got me more excited about this site however (apart from the fact that is could well end up in the archaeological literature as ‘the David Moyes Road site’) is the discovery of a potential early Neolithic timber hall of massive scale. This building, defined by a combination of postholes and slot trenches could be as much as 35m in length, a third longer than any other Neolithic building ever found in Britain. A second ‘Balbridie’ size timber hall was located immediately to the south of the giant timber hall, a timber structure measuring a modest (but still bloody huge) c.20m by c.7m. The phasing of both buildings and dates will need to await post-excavation work for confirmation, but from my own experience of excavating a Neolithic timber hall at Claish, near Callander, 2001 with Gordon Barclay and Gavin MacGregor, the David Moyes site felt early Neolithic which if often how these things work for me (at least until the C14 dates come in and ruin it all!)..

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The unexpected discovery of this amazing site during the construction of a public leisure facility shows how urban expansion and social need can drive forward our understanding of prehistory. Which is great, but what I am more interested in here is how this archaeological discovery resonates with the local community and how it might benefit people other than completist academics like myself. The burden of paying for these excavations, probably costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, and delaying the development, is born by the local authority and therefore it seems to me that there has to be more benefit to the people of Angus than just knowledge generation and some expensive baubles for the National Museum of Scotland.

Thankfully, the heritage sector is now actively exploring the social, as well as archaeological, benefits of such a discovery. For instance, David Moyes Road is located right next to the local high school and so site tours and visits were an important element of GUARD’s educational outreach programme during the excavation. They have noted:

‘In tandem with the excavation, GUARD Archaeology have brought community benefits and added value to the work by providing tours and presentations for local schools, including Carnoustie High School and Monifieth High School. Work experience for two students (from Carnoustie High School and Brechin High School) was also provided. Each of the students were trained in core skills in archaeology and were provided with a bespoke training plan and an archaeology skills passport for potential future careers in archaeology’.

More broadly, politicians are keen to celebrate the discovery rather than moan about how much it is all costing which is good news. The Angus Council communities convenor, Donald Morrison, saw the discoveries as a source of local pride, stating, ‘It is clear that Carnoustie was as much a hive of activity in Neolithic and Bronze Age times as it is now’. Alliteratively named councillor Bill Bowles opportunistically used the discovery as an indication of the long term attractiveness of living in Carnoustie, musing ‘how many generations of people have been living and working this land because of the prime agricultural land?’ The local MSP, Graeme Dey, and others have expressed the hope that the local area will benefit from the discovery and excavations in the form of information being made locally in the form of something like an exhibition and that may well be in the cards in the future.

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Angus 2013 - 288

More broadly, the local media coverage emphasising the site as possibly being one of the earliest indicators of farming in Scotland plays well with a County whose ‘Welcome’ road sign includes the slogan, Scotland’s Birthplace, a phrase associated with the Pictish heritage of this region, but now being pushed back millennium by GUARD’s excavations. Cynically one could therefore argue that the Council are getting value for money after all, using the excavation results and positive publicity to market and even re-invent Angus.

This is the paradox of archaeology today: it is a game played to very different rules from when I started in the business over 20 years ago. Many of our most exciting new discoveries are being driven by the agendas of developers and policy-makers, responding to social needs such as, this the David Moyes Rd case, health and wellbeing. Excavations are taking place in a climate where accountability, transparency and ‘value for money’ are always factors, and the results of excavations are measured as much in ‘numbers of individuals impacted on’ or social media likes and re-tweets, as the quantity / quality of material recovered and the academic impact.

Nowadays, everyone has a stake to hold, and an angle to work.

As a result of this. the dissemination of excavation and post-excavation results immediately via social media, local press and business websites has become a complex mixture of self-justification, feel-good headlines, agenda setting – but the key thing is that usually there is some damn fine archaeology right in the middle of it all.

There is nothing wrong with any of this, we are simply on a different merry-go-round now. Indeed I would strongly argue that this kind of public accountability is good news for archaeology and archaeologists, as it more closely connects our discoveries to communities who might benefit from them. Inevitably the system will be gamed, and our stuff will be exploited for hard and soft gains by others. That’s the price we pay for being relevant, and these new engagements and ways of doing things are encouraging creativity and impact that would have not been possible in the 1980s and 1990s.

One final thought. The David Moyes Road episode has one other lesson to teach us. Archaeology often benefits society more through its controlled destruction via excavation techniques than it does fossilised under ground for future generations. The dance of discovery, destruction and dissemination allows people to learn amazing things about the places they live or go to school or play football.

Let development continue, let landscapes evolve, lets keep finding stuff and lets never stop sharing and celebrating it.

If the price we pay is that some of our major sites have stupid names, then so be it.

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The wrong David Moyes (source: FourFourTwo magazine)

Sources and acknowledgements: I firstly would like to thank Warren Baillie of GUARD for inviting me to visit the excavations at David Moyes Road and Adam Hunter Blair for giving me a great tour of the site and missing his tea break. The GUARD quotes in the post all come from their project website (link above) and the politician quotes come from the local press article shown above. 

 

 

 

 

 

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