Modern Stone Age family

13 Apr

We’re about to meet the Flintstones
They’re the modern Stone Age family

Fun fair

In the town of Brodick
They’re a page right out of prehistory

Flintstones 1

Let’s ride with the family down the street
Witness the arrangement of Fred’s conjoined feet

Flintstones 2

No refunds, pushing or somersaulting on the slide
Please don’t eat, smoke or drink as you glide

Flintstones 3

When you’re with the Flintstones
Have a yabba dabba doo time, a dabba doo time
We’ll have a gay old time

Flintstones 4

ooooOOOOoooo

The amazing inflatable Flintstones slide I witnessed in Brodick, Arran, during a warm spring day is indicative of perhaps the most common way that children (and drunk adults) get to engage with prehistory in urban (party) settings: the Flintstones Bouncy Castle / water slide. For the purposes of this spurious argument, let’s all just agree to ignore the fact that there were no castles (or inflatable water slides) in the Stone Age…..

Fred Flintstonesource: alibaba

This is a surprisingly commonplace phenomenon.

I now present the most comprehensive picture gallery of Flintstones bouncy castles and water slides in the world. If you see any other Flintstones big party inflatables, let me know with a comment at the end of this post, or contact me via twitter @urbanprehisto using the hashtag #Flintstonesbouncycastles. [This post should not be taken as an endorsement of any of the products shown here! I have not bounce-tested them yet.]

Bentley Hire

Rainbow Inflatables

 

BB Castles

Basil’s Bouncy Castles, Essex

ian's bouncy castles

Ian’s Bouncy Castles, Basildon

Prestige Inflatables

Prestige Inflatables, Aberdeen

toys ocean

Toys-Ocean Amusement Equipment

Portsmouth

Love to Bounce, Portsmouth

double deckers

Double Deckers Entertainments, Newcastle

AliBaba

Alibaba Inflatables

Moonwalk Houston

Texas Party Inflatables, Houston USA

dobson ferris wheel

Dobsons Ferris Wheel

Airbounce Cumbria

Airbounce Cumbria

CeeJays

CeeJays Bouncy Castles, Merseyside

abcinflatables

ABC Inflatables, Flintshire

SwanseaWild West Entertainments, Swansea

The-Flintstones-Theme-Inflatable-Bouncer-Castle-1134-

close up

Rainbow Inflatables again. “The inflatable the flintstones playground is hot for sale now. If you want to make the beautiful inflatable amusement playground, you may have a try of ours”.

hisupplier

HISupplier (Made in China)

Stolen bouncy castle

Flintstones bouncy castle, stolen from the Fox and Duck Pub in Arlesey Road, Stotfold in 2017.

Zombie parent guide blog

Spotted in Valley Garden, Harrogate (Zombie parent blog)

Pelican promotions

Pelican Promotions, somewhere in Ireland

I await reader’s photos and suggestions to expand this image gallery…..

 

 

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Hyperprehistory

31 Mar

This blog post contains selected extracts from a paper I gave at the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology (SPMA) ‘congress’ at the University of Glasgow. More details on the session, The archaeologies of now, organised by James Dixon and Sefryn Penrose, can be found at the end of the post.

My paper abstract

Me giving the paper Brian Kerr photo

Photo: Brian Kerr

Crash

For a decade now, I have been exploring various ways that my interest in prehistoric sites in urban places might intersect with a Ballardian worldview. English author JG Ballard’s fiction and non-fiction writing is often characterised as prophetic and dystopian, covering themes such as climate change, consumerism, middle class isolationism and violence, auto-erotica, hidden pathologies, and the excesses of supermodernity. These teased at my brain, something awaiting unlocking.

There is no better indication of the crashing together of prehistory and our modern urban world than roads and cars competing for the same spaces as standing stones. Sometimes this can take on a visceral form, such as a documented attempt in the 2000s to drive a car over the reconstructed Bronze Age barrow at Huly Hill near Edinburgh.

Crash montage

The images above show the outcome of a collision between a BMW and Bedd Morris standing stone in Dyfed, Wales, in October 2011. The stone was broken, and the toppled half initially removed for safe-keeping before later being reinstated. This crash resulted in a small excavation which recovered material culture from the stone socket and two C14 dates. This was not the first time this has happened, the stone being situated on a bend on a fast country road. This event is doomed to be repeated multiple times as if on a loop.

To pursue my Ballardian pathology, I purchased a copy of Simon Sellar’s book Applied Ballardianism on the mistaken belief that it was a textbook or academic treatise about the application of JG Ballard’s ideas in the humanities.

What I got was something very different and yet it unlocked something in my brain that I am still trying to come to terms with: Ballard as a way to rethink our engagements with the material outcomes and traces of the ancient past in the present. A Ballardian archaeology.

Applied Ballardianism lr

Ballard’s obsessions with gated communities, boundaries, social disorder, antisocial behaviour, subversion and urban decay are all obsessions we should have as archaeologists. His focus on urban edgelands and dystopian developments mirror the working environment of many in the heritage sector. These are our desire lines to the past.

Urban dreams

The place where the thin line between past and present is at its thinnest is in the urban environment, a point of singularity, starkly shedding light on the condition of being an archaeologist, performing as a prehistorian, rooted in the present.

I have gradually come to realize that urban prehistory is nothing if it is not Ballardian.

Ballard book titles

Ballards’ writing offers for me the clearest and most coherent means to understand the juxtaposition between past and present which dominates archaeology. All our encounters with traces of the past – material and otherwise – happen in the contemporary, the modern. The past and present meet at a stark and jagged edge, a tear, that for a moment gives the illusion of a past that still exists in a degraded form.

Sighthill crown of stones

Prehistory offers a heightened state of time-consciousness.

These points of fusion – wormholes that lead nowhere – are the places where the magic happens. The powerful intersections between the ancient and the supermodern occur in places that Ballard would recognize and frequently wrote about – motorway intersections and roundabouts, suburban gated communities, industrial estates, shopping malls, golf courses and leisure centres.

ballard_cokliss

Our encounters are here,  in the shadow on the destruction machine.

Quarry

Horton Neolithic house – Wessex Archaeology

These renegade essences of the past offer uncomfortable glimpses into the nature of our consumerist society: our prehistoric heritage is routinely damaged, or destroyed, often surgically excavated, to allow development to occur and to maintain our consumer commuter society.

Some of the most fascinating engagements – our weird rituals – with prehistory in the contemporary happen in relation to travel infrastructure projects and that is what I want to focus on here.

weird ritual

The Day Today (BBC)

Roads and the car. Railway lines and stations. Airport runways and terminal buildings.

These are all places and things that could be described as supermodern, and thus require special consideration.

Hyperprehistory

In order to apply Ballardian logic to prehistory, we must accept that we are now in the age of Hyperprehistory.

Hyperprehistory is a concept that describes the role of prehistory in the supermodern environments we live in today. Supermodernity, as defined by anthropologist Marc Auge is ‘the acceleration of history’.

gettyimages-852300790-1024x1024 Marc Auge

It is a period of what he called excesses: factual, spatial and self-reflective over-abundance. Gonzalez-Ruibal has gone further and suggests that the super (or hyper) modern includes also material abundance.

An outcome of this is an increased and dynamic world of things and places, which serves and perpetuate these excesses. It is within these processes that prehistory has become entangled.

non-places book cover

The supermodern is physically defined by non-places, parts of the landscape that are irrational, ahistorical and that have no identity. These primarily consist of places of transit and consumerism. This concept echoes the work of the geographer Edward Relph who argued that we have created urban spaces that have a sense of placelessness, bereft of emotional attachment. Our urban cityscapes consist of impersonal places where transactions are carried out and facilitate movement to another place, often another non-place.

Hyperprehistory reflects the intimate connection between urban development, the needs of our consumer society, and the material traces of prehistoric lifeways. It suggests that in the creation of non-places, we often encounter prehistory.

And hyperprehistory also contains within it the potential to place non-places, to add emotional attachments where there are none, to replace surface gloss with the depth of deep time.

Crossrail 1

Crossrail excavations

We should expect to find prehistory in urban places and in association with transport infrastructure. We should actively seek it out, rather than despair on its ruination.

I always look at roundabouts. They are a legitimate fieldwork target.

Ballard wrote that high rises constructed around his hometown of Shepperton resembled the megaliths of Stonehenge.

Shepperton images

There is no such thing as coincidence.

Terminal prehistory

How can we derive meaning from such encounters? What is the social value of hyperprehistory in a supermodern urban world?

One of the most captive audiences you will ever have (except for audiences who are literally captives) are those on public transport, whether on trains, planes, trams or omnibuses. That is why so many commuters spend much of the journey blankly staring of a window picking their nose. They have the disbenefit of having even less agency that car drivers.

More captive still are those who have to pass through and / or spend time in travel hubs, from the humble bus stop to suburban railway stations right up to massive international airports. These placeless places not only have designated waiting / lurking areas, but are also replete with connecting passages, walkways and tunnels. In other words, all sorts of spaces that become venues for consumption, as advertisers and those who own these transit hubs recognise the value of having a bored audience just where you want them.

Huly Hill

JG Ballard commonly wrote about such transactional commuter spaces. He noted in an essay on airports for instance that Shepperton was not a suburb of London, but of Heathrow Airport. He wrote:

I have learned to like the intricate network of car rental offices, air freight depots, and travel clinics, the light industrial and motel architecture that unvaryingly surrounds every major airport in the world. Together they constitute the reality of our lives, rather than a mythical domain of village greens, cathedrals, and manorial vistas.

Ballard would I suspect have been delighted that the expansion of Heathrow Airport in the 2000s created prehistoric landscapes: great primeval forests within which hunter-gatherers thrived and great beasts roamed, geometrically rigorous cursiform vistas, farming landscapes swollen with fecundity. The additional terminal building, an expansion of this sky-city (as Ballard has called it), in its construction passed from non-place to place and back to non-place again.

t5

Framework Archaeology – T5 excavations

The hiatus in the middle was the invigoration of excavation, a kind of ecstasy of data gathering.

Heathrow Airport is a place of deep time and shallow lives lived. Ballard noted: I welcome the landscape’s transience, alienation, and discontinuities.

Ballard has also noted that:

At an airport like Heathrow the individual is defined not by the tangible ground mortgaged into his soul for the next 40 years, but by the indeterminate flicker of flight numbers trembling on a screen.

A flickering screen is the medium by which the prehistoric eruptions that accompanied the construction of the terminal building are communicated to the trapped commuters. Enforcedly at leisure, numbly holding onto their travel documents to enable even the most minor of purchases in Boots and WH Smith, holidaymakers and business people offer the required captive audience.

real-time-schipholclock-maarten-baas-clock-installation_dezeen_936_0

Martin Baas, Real Time – Schiphol Airport departure lounge

The stasis of the departure lounge is used as a vehicle for the presentation of a short film about the excavations that took place in advance of the construction of Heathrow Terminal 5. This video, and associated online content, had subtitles rather than sound, a visual essay in deep time.

This short film can also be viewed on any device via youtube, where you can provide your own soundtrack.

The intercity exhibition

In 2018, I stumbled upon an explicit attempt to ‘culturally contaminate’ a ‘non-place’ while travelling from Milan to Milan Malpensa airport via train. The railway station at Terminal 2 contained a detailed exhibition on prehistoric lifeways, material culture and burials. This exhibition is located in that most placeless of places, a concourse between two travel hubs.

atrocity exhibition cover

The purpose of this bland tunnel-space would be impossible to determine should one be blindfolded and led here. The exhibition space had the qualities of a hospital and an airport waiting space, illuminated by shiny surfaces and energised by the low hum of escalators and the mechanical whirr of elevators.

Exhibition concourse lr

The material on display was discovered during excavations in advance of the construction of the railway line between Terminals 1 and 2. These objects and this information were revealed because of an infrastructural need, a direct result of supermodernity.

exhibtion low res 1

Reconstruction drawing

The exhibition has the explicit aim of making a place of this non-place.

The railway station has been chosen as the place to exhibit the finds … making them accessible 365 days a year, 24 hours a day for a very large audience. Passing through the exhibition, even the most hasty and distracted traveller will notice the presentation of a wide selection of finds … accompanied by immediately comprehensible communication.

Exhibition noticeboard

It is almost as if JG Ballard had written the text to accompany this commuter museum, this intercity exhibition.

Scar tissue

Amongst Ballard’s writings include the novel Millennium People, and the collection of essays and reviews, A user’s guide to the millennium. But I increasingly find myself wondering – what millennium was he writing about?

Book cover

If this pathology has a name, it is archaeology.

Prehistory is the scar tissue of the past.

Hyperprehistory is our framework for navigating ourselves through the coming millennium, whatever it may bring.

 

Archaeologies of Now session

A twitter moments summary of the session, posted by James Dixon, can be found here.

Session abstract 2

Session intro low res

Session notes lr

Sources and acknowledgements: I would like to thank James Dixon for inviting me to take part in this fantastic session, and for the positive feedback my paper got. Thanks to the other speakers for stimulating papers. 

I would like to thank Brian Kerr for allowing me to use his photo of me giving the paper.

Image sources, where known, are noted in captions. The first photo of JG Ballard (BBC4 still) comes from an article about Crash in The Reprobate. The second (Shepperton) was sourced from an article about Ballard in The Spectator. In both cases, I don’t think this is the original source of the photo.

The Huly Hill photo source is unknown. Sadly I don’t think it is one of my photos – it is too good!

The Ballard quotations in the post come from an essay he wrote called ‘Airports: the true cities of the 21st century’ which can be found here. His comment about Stonehenge came from a Guardian interview. 

This paper was also referred to in the post: Gonzalez-Ruibal, A 2014 Supermodernity and archaeology. In C Smith (ed) Encyclopaedia of Global Archaeology, 7125-34. New York: Springer.

My paper was also summarised in this twitter thread.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crossrail 1

 

Levallois

16 Feb

There is something Neanderthal in the suburbs of Paris. Or at least there was.

Line 3 of the Paris Metro terminates in the west at Levallois. So what?

This observation, which I can’t believe I had not thought harder about in the past, led me to an interesting story at the cusp of archaeology as a modern discipline and a new candidate for the label of the first urban prehistorian. It also made me realise that archaeologists often take for granted the familiar labels that we use, and often don’t stop to think about the historiography of these terms and from whence they came.

metro low res

Levallois is a name most archaeologists should be familiar with, as it is describes a reductive technique used by Neanderthals to make flaked stone tools back in the mists of time. There is a good deal of discussion as to the significance of this method of making tools – to what extent does this indicate the agency of Neanderthals and their ability to think ahead and in abstract terms tens of thousands of years ago? Is this a technique that was recognised, shared and duplicated across a wide geographic area (not restricted to Europe), or is this simply our characterization of a narrow aspect of the archaeological record? Such ‘types’ are the bred and butter of archaeology, for good and for ill.

levallois-technology_monnier_1_2

The Levallois technique (from Monnier 2012, (c) Nature Education)

The attribution of a site name to a type of material culture, architectural style or craft technique has a long tradition in archaeology, although not all terms have had the longetivity of Levallois and often we find modern and more boring ways to describe stuff we find in the archaeological record. My favourite example, now sadly rarely used, is the British late Neolithic pottery style Rinyo-Clacton Ware aka Grooved Ware, only really now known beyond prehistoric archaeology through the name of a Russell Hoban novel. (As another aside, one of the best future urban prehistory novels ever written is Hoban’s Riddley Walker.)

Hoban book cover

Whither Levallois?

Nathan Schlanger has noted that this Parisian suburb has gained ‘everlasting archaeological notoriety’, as if often the fate of obscure places where a technology or style of object was recognised for the first time.

However, it is not clear exactly when the first Palaeolithic stone tools were recovered from sand quarries in the Levallois-Perret area, but it was probably in the 1850s. At this time Paris was an expanding city surrounded by quarries and urban development.

Montmatre quarry

Monmartre gypsum quarry in the 19th century (source: Written in Stone blog, link below)

Matthew Pope and David Herisson via the medium of twitter suggested that Victor Commont ‘first described’ the Levallois technique, decades after these initial discoveries.

But the earliest publication of the tools themselves was by Jules Reboux. The images below appear to be from the first ever description of these lithics, which came out in 1967. (This is dated 1951 in an online source but this appears to be too early.) Here, Silex Tailles means knapped flints (thanks Becky Wragg Sykes!) and the title of the pamphlet notes the ancient, geological context from which they were found. The specific reductive preparation of the flints was noted here, but it was not yet called Levalloisian.

Cover of Reboux publication

Image courtesy of David Herrison

 

Levallois drawing from 1850s

Knapped (worked) flint from a Levallois quarry (Reboux 1867)

These initial discoveries were courtesy of excavation and fieldwork by Reboux in the 1860s and 1870s. He was a geologist and antiquarian / archaeologist who lived near the edge of Paris at the time, and Schlanger suggests his work in the likes of Levallois and Clichy was akin to proto-rescue archaeology. In fact he appears to have been the first urban prehistorian.

He wrote in 1866 (in French I assume), ‘dedicated research has for long been undertaken in distant lands, when we have under our own feet, in Paris itself, the most certain proofs of the ancient stone industry’. 

Apparently Reboux spend years visiting quarries, monitoring  building sites, and surveying railway cuttings, all around Paris and collected thousands of worked flint tools and objects.

There seems to have been a good deal of innovation around Reboux’s work at, and about, Levallois. Schlanger suggests that one of the sand quarries at Levallois was also the location of one of the earliest documented episodes of ‘comparative experimental flint-knapping’ during a fieldvisit lead by Reboux on 30th August 1867. And Reboux published, in 1873, a stratigraphic section of a quarry at Levallois, one of the first drawings of its kind in an archaeological context ever attempted.

Reboux stratigraphy

Reboux’s stratigraphic sequence, combining archaeology and geology, based on a section at Levallois-Perret. Published in 1873, reproduced in Schlanger 2013.

It isn’t clear when the objects found at the quarries at Levallois became the objects upon which all similar stone tools were compared in terms of their manufacturing process, although Victor Commont wrote about Levallois tools and debitage in the 1910s, noting differences with other Palaeolithic stone tool ‘industries’.

Victor Commont

Commont was credited with bringing the study of the Palaeolithic in northern France into the ‘scientific era’ by Tuffreau. Like Reboux, although decades later, he was an observer of discoveries in quarries, in this case near Amiens, and studied the Quaternary from his home in Edinburgh Street.

The term was further refined and given its classic modern characerisation through new discoveries and experimental flint-knapping in the early to middle twentieth century. Much of this hands-on and intellectual heavy lifting was undertaken by Francois Bordes. A significant figure in Palaeolithic archaeology in the twentieth century, Bordes was responsible for refining our concept of the flake method of Levallois in notable publications during the 1950s such as ‘Technique Levallois et Levallois ancient’ in L’Anthropologie 56 (1952), and in his 1961 book Typologie.

Typologie book cover

Lewis Binford even had a go at the Levallois in various famous studies around the same times as Bordes, and the concept, and what it tells us about Homo Neandertalensis, is still a very important aspect of Palaeolithic archaeology across the world.

Sadly I have reached the depth of my knowledge about this technique and I have little sense what the current state of play in Palaeolithic studies is with regards the Levallois so apologies to colleagues working in this field! Unless someone wants to write a fictional story called something like Monsieur Levallois comes to town I am unlikely to learn any more.

However, there is one thing left for me to do. It is clear that a visit to Levallois itself by Metro is needed to bring this narrative to a satisfactory conclusion and I’ll do this next time I’m in Paris. I’ll remember to pack a cow….

Levallois postcard

‘Man pushing a cow into a bus’ (photographer unknown)

 

Sources and acknowledgements: I’m indebted to the many Palaeolithic experts who responded to my plea for information on twitter (link in text above) and directly to emails. Thanks especially to Nathan Schlanger and Dene Wright who helped me via email, as well as the following tweeters.

  • David Herrison = @david_herisson
  • Joseba Rios-Garaizar = @jorios
  • Matt Pope = @MatthewPope
  • Becky Wragg Sykes = @LeMoustier
  • Helen Loney = @Worsted2

Apologies if I missed anyone, and these good folks cannot be held responsible for how I have mangled their responses and pointers to sources of help….and most of the quotes in this post have benefited from the translation skills of others such as Schlanger.

The following academic sources were also consulted in preparing this blog post:

  • Pettit, P. 2009 Francois Bordes. In R. Hosfield, F. Wenban-Smith & M. Pope (eds) Great prehistorians: 150 years of Palaeolithic research, 1859-2009, pages 201-212. Lithic Studies Society, London.
  • Schlanger, N. 1996 Understanding Levallois: Lithic technology and cognitive archaeology. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 6.2, 231-54.
  • Schlanger, N. 2013 One day hero. Jules Reboux at the crucible of prehistory in 1860s Paris. Complutum 24.2, 73-88.
  • Tuffreau, A. 2009 Victor Commont. In R. Hosfield, F. Wenban-Smith & M. Pope (eds) Great prehistorians: 150 years of Palaeolithic research, 1859-2009. Lithic Studies Society, London.

A sense of the mining landscape that was nineteenth century Paris can be gained by reading this fascinating blog post about Paris’s historic gypsum quarries (Written in Stone blog). This was also the source of the Montmartre quarry picture.

The source of the Levallois technique drawing is another interesting source (find it here): Monnier, G. (2012) Neanderthal Behavior. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):11

 

Illustrations (unless source given in the caption)

Hoban and Typologie book covers – widely available online

Stone tool drawing – this was reproduced in Schlanger 2013, but the original drawing was published in 1867 in the following place:

  • Reboux, J. 1867 Silex tailles associes a des ossements fossiles dans les terrains quaternaires de environs de Paris. Congres international d’archaeologie et d’anthropologie prehistorique, 2e session: 103-9.

Stratigraphic section from the quarry at Levallois – again this was reproduced in Schlanger 2013, but the original drawing was published in 1873 here:

  • Reboux, J. 1873 Des trois epoques de la pierre. Bulletin de la societe d’anthropologie de Paris 8, 523-31.

Victor Commont from Tuffreau 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources and acknowledgements: thanks to Dene Wright for information on the Levallois technique.

 

Monnier, G. (2012) Neanderthal Behavior. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):11

King Lud

2 Jan

King Lud lr1

Drink to King Lud

whose knuckle bones were

carried north

by a favoured son –

carried north

from Lud’s Gate to

Wishaw

a place that was then called  Wygateshaw

home from home

one gate to another

the Best of Caledonia

a hand of friendship

in those darker ages –

King Lud llr2

From Lud’s fortress

Fleet of foot

to Mother-well

Moderwelt

the lady’s well

water to water

border crossing

bribing Tennents with tributes

making merry

smoking area

& beer garden

at rear –

King Lud sign 2

 

Ludovic Mann wrote of Lud in Glasgow –

The moon was termed Ur, Ara, Er; and Cu, Cua, Kai, Clu, Glo, expanded to Llud, Lug, Lach, Cluth –

the richness of moon nomenclature –

the Temple of the Moon

to the north of the Clyde

drink to King Lud

whose knuckle bones were

carried north

and it is said his ribs

were

dragged

to

Hookland.

 

 

 

Notes:

This post has been written to mark the beginning of the Hookland Year of the Moon.

Mann’s quotation comes from his 1938 book Earliest Glasgow. Temple of the Moon.

The King Lud pub is located at 9 Craigneuk Street, Craigneuk, Wishaw.

The Holy Knowe

14 Dec

The Holy Known newscutting

183 West George Street, Glasgow

May 10, 1946

 

SIR, -this attractive and symmetrical

glacial mound at Lennoxtown, known for

generations as a sacred place, is threatened

with removal to make place for three tem-

porary bungalows despite their being much

open adjoining ground.

 

Elderly people tell me that as boys they

worked the field where the mound is situ-

ated, and that the tenant farmer of those

days insisted that no agricultural work was

to be allowed upon the mound-not even the

rolling of the grass. It is some 25 years

since I was first taken to see the place.

 

Nowadays the newcomers to the district

seem to know little about the site, and

apparently care nothing for it, and as

members of the controlling District Council

they favour obliteration, doubtless stirred by

the extreme urgency of the housing shortage.

 

Thus goes on the deplorable and unneces-

sary work of destruction of sites near Glas-

gow-sites which ought to be kept in pre-

petuity as a source of delight for all thought-

ful people. It is sad to think that during

the last five years in Glasgow and district

more ruthless slaughter of sites of archaeo-

logical and geological interest has been

carried out than during the whole of the the

last 100 years.-I am &c.

 

Ludovic Mann

 

a sacred place –

HK1

 

newcomers to the district – 

HK2

 

not even the rolling of the grass –

HK3

 

they favour obliteration –

HK4

 

three temporary bungalows –

HK5

 

this attractive and symmetrical glacial mound –

HK6

 

ruthless slaughter –

HK7

 

kneel before –

HK9

 

a source of delight for all thoughtful people – 

HK8

 

Fact check: the letter that forms the basis of this post and my Lennoxtown visit was published in The Scotsman newspaper. As with many other Ludovic McLellan Mann observations, there is no corroborating evidence for the presence of this Knowe, nor its folk and archaeological significance. If such a mound existed, its contours have not troubled mapmakers. And it is commonplace to find that prefabricated houses from the 1940s were not ‘temporary’, even if this mound was. The ruinous ground behind the three bungalows on a natural rise was once occupied by the Free Church of Lennoxtown, which was used as a drill hall for “D” Company, 7th battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders during the First World War, and a school also once stood upon this acclivity. 

Map 195x

Putative location of The Holy Knowe (OS map, 1956)

 

How old is a piece of stone?

3 Dec

There can’t be much left to write about the London Stone, an urban megalithic curio that The Guardian newspaper called a ‘psychogeographer’s landmark’. This strange roughly cuboid limestone block, located at 111 Cannon Street in London for at least half a millennium, may well be a solid lump of stone but it consists more of myth than molecule.

the-london-stone-at-st-swithins

There are so many legends associated with this roughed-up beige 76 kg stone block that it strikes me as weird that it has consistently been located in such an un-legendary location. Although in the past the the London Stone has by historical accounts been set into the wall of the former St Swithen’s Church, it has also in more recent times been contained by a rather crappy cage in the wall of a WH Smiths and before that a Sportec sports shop and even The Bank of China. This was after a near miss during the Blitz.

London_Stone-WHSmith

Wikipedia: creative commons, John O’London

Rex Shutterstock photo Daily Mail

Rex Shutterstock photo Guardian 2016

Above two images both Rex / Shutterstock, sourced from The Daily Mail 12022016

There is little point in rehearsing the many stories associated with the origins, meaning and biography of the London Stone. There is such a depth of lore about this object that I am sure that it deserves more than the one or two paragraphs afforded in most books about London; certainly, a lack of time permitted me researching this as rigorously as I would have liked.

For the time being, to cut to the urban prehistoric chase, let’s focus on how old the LS actually might be. Peter Ackroyd (London: the biography, 2001), suggests that it, ‘is of great antiquity’, but ‘as a perishable stone, cannot be assumed to survive from prehistoric times’. Two pages tell the story of the Stone in John Matthews and Caroline Wise’s The Secret Lore of London (2016); they describe is a ‘worn stump’ and a ‘geomantic mark-stone’ of, at oldest, Roman origin.

London Lore book illustration

Reproduced in The secret lore of London (Matthews and Wise)

In The Stones of London (2012) Lee Hollis suggests that the London Stone may be little more than a Roman gatepost that has taken on all sorts of myths and legends depending on the political needs of those who told those stories. Ed Glinert (The London Compendium, 2004) calls the Stone a ‘totem for the city’s safety’ which has prehistoric overtones, but more broadly draws on myths about the Stone not being removed from the city. And so on. Each account draws on the same pool of lore, include lots of secondary referencing, and indicate the limitations of the historical text as a source as authors attempt to peer back into the murky mists of time.

There is much that could be done from an archaeological perspective to add to the already-colourful story of the London Stone. There have been various different reliquaries that have held the LS, and this would be an interesting line of investigation both in terms of the form but also materiality of these cages and boxes, as well as telling us something about how people engaged with and interacted with the Stone, and what levels of control were exercised over that engagement.

4-London-Stone-in-Cannon-Street

From John Thomas Smith’s Antiquities of London (1791-1800)

Or perhaps a mapping exercise could be undertaken, considering the various different locations that the London Stone has been placed, on both sides of the street and with slight variation, and other possible places of repose. The location of the Stone vertically might also be traced, with pavement level and higher in the church wall just two variations. Again, how people encountered the London Stone and spatially where it was located might shed light on its social role, and this includes the bodily inclination needed to view the monolith: looking down or peering up.

london-stone-conserved-portrait

Helen Butler does some conservation work (c) Museum of London

The stone itself could (and I’m being fanciful here but what the heck) be the object of scientific study, with techniques such as XRF and Ramon Spectroscopy able to discover paint, blood, sweat, tears and semen stains (OK, maybe not the latter, that would need a CSI-style UV light source…). Use-wear analysis would be able to (theoretically) shed light on the exact metallurgical properties of the sword that was used to strike the London Stone by rebel leader Jack Cade in 1450 (but not what he had for breakfast that day).

jack-cades-rebellion

Stock image of Jack Cade waving his sword about, various sources online.

It is interesting how many old drawings of the stone focus on the detail of the container and not the stone, which more often than not seems to be a shapeless lump. This is perhaps because geometrically this thing is a shapeless lump. The Mail Online described it as looking like, ‘a large piece of leftover masonry’. So a 3D model of the stone would be nice so capture its slightly strange shape and rough surface, and might shed light in the mechanism of the breakage of the stone (it may once have been larger), as well as highlight historic damage and carvings.

London_Stone_scan

(c) Europac 3D

Indeed, after I had written these words, I found out that such a scan has indeed been undertaken by Europac 3D. This laser scan, undertaken to sub 1mm resolution, was done using Arctic Space Spider which sounds like something from a John Carpenter film but probably isn’t. Interestingly, this ‘revealed several man-made carvings, one of which is believed to have been made when Jack Cade entered London’ although I think that one was already visible with the naked eye. I think full results are yet to be published, but at last the Stone can be viewed as something other than a blurry block in a photo or as an etching of a blob in a box (see below).

Ackroyd book illustration

Reproduced in Ackroyd’s London: the biography

The London Stone, as it happens, recently spent a couple of years in the capable hands of the Museum of London’s archaeologists, and they undertook some conservation work on the Stone as well as putting the thing on display with a lovely purple background in their museum (and getting the aforementioned scan done).

John Chase photo Guardian Sep 2018

(c) Museum of London

One of the key areas of their presentation of the stone to the public was some myth-busting, and blimey there are lots of myths and stories attached to this object that they wanted to bust.

Myth number 1 that they ‘bust’ was: It has stood in London since prehistoric times and Myth number 2: It was an ancient altar used for Druidic sacrifices. Both of these centre on the suggestion that the LS is the remnant of a much larger prehistoric stone or even a broken standing stone. However, MOLA question the urban prehistory credentials of this rock, and thus by extension the legitimacy of this blog post. In fact neither myth is really busted, but rather some of the historical biography of the London Stone cited, with the underlying suggestion that there is simply no evidence that this was ever part of a prehistoric monument. They push is back possibly to Saxon or Viking times, maybe even Roman, but no earlier.

Assumed by some authors such as John Strype and William Blake to be a pagan stone, in fact this had no basis in fact and simply confirmed their own romantic proto-druid mythologizing, captured in this stansa from Blake’s Jerusalem:

Where Albion slept beneath the Fatal Tree,
And the Druids’ golden Knife
Rioted in human gore, In Offerings of Human Life…
They groan’d aloud on London Stone,
They groan’d aloud on Tyburn’s Brook…

Finally, MOLA get to the point and conclude: “There is no evidence for this, and London Stone, whatever its purpose, was certainly not erected before the Roman period.” Boo.

That’s fine, and also true. There is no evidence that the London Stone is prehistoric in origin. But does this matter? Some in the past have believed it to be the case, and some still do. The prehistoric credentials of this stone are nothing to do with reality, but perception, and this is often the way with odd megaliths and other urban prehistoric miscellany. We might as well ask: how old is a piece of stone? Because the fact that the London Stone is an oolitic limestone means that it is very old, dating to before 1,000,000 BC. It depends on how one frames the question.

London Stone launched

Source: London TimeOut 05102018

Visiting the London Stone today seems to me a legitimate exercise in prehistoric speculation now that it has been re-instated in a new shrine on the former WH Smith site, still 111 Cannon Street.

London Stone wide view low res

The Stone has only been back in its old location for a few months, although now the weird cage has been replaced with a glossy shiny glass-fronted display box. This reliquary appears to be a throwback retro design referencing older versions of the container for the Stone, some of which are pictured earlier in this post.

London Stone new setting low res

Two black plaques sit on either side, one of which explains that we know bugger all about the London Stone, while the other says the same thing in braille (I assume).

The right-hand information panel begins with a malformed tripartite sentence.

London Stone plaque low res

Above the ceremonial repository, there is a simple bookplate inscription saying LONDON STONE and this appears to be part of a limestone facade of the fancy new building, thus mimicking the materiality of old Stoney itself. Has the architectural design for this glassy building been designed with the LS in mind?

London Stone sign low res

This has replaced the crappy but endearing WH Smith context of yore, and the new mini-high rise building is rather more glassy and glamorous. The London Stone has clearly gone upmarket. This is certainly a gentrification from its earlier status, described by Ackroyd as, ‘blackened and disregarded, by the side of a busy thoroughfare‘. Nonetheless, the latter part of this statement remains true.

The London Stone obscured low res

The glassy nature of the building within which the LS is now encased affords views behind the Stone, a glimpse that was not within the gift of the stationer WH Smith. Here, disappointingly, the oolitic lump appears to be concealed behind a wall of mdf, although there is the hint of a small panel that might be removable with a smuggled screwdriver once this establishment opens for business, whatever that business might be.

Behind the London Stone low res

Observing those walking past the London Stone suggests that this is, at worst, of no interest, or at best, an over-familiar landmark, as few pedestrians paused to pay their respects. The noticeboard detained a few men with suits for a minute or two, while a woman with a pram did look at it as she perambulated past.

Road closed low res

I got the sense that this is a lonely Stone as I lurked in the area for far too long. This is perhaps why this geological curio literally engaged me in a short twitter conversation, expressing the surprising and hitherto un-expressed desire to be called Kevin. I duly obliged, walking past and affording LS this new moniker with a jolly shout of ‘hello Kevin’, although as yet this new persona has not been adopted widely.

Tweet 1

Tweet 2

Shall we ever get to the truth of it? No, of course not. And why should that matter? When we ask ‘how long is a piece of string’ we don’t expect a factual, empirical answer. The London Stone’s prehistoric credentials are not in doubt as far as I am concerned, elements of a story long told, whether that be the one about it being a broken standing stone or having served as a druid altar or some other sacred megalith of yore.

It doesn’t matter how old the London Stone is: we only need believe it to be so. This is rich narrative, a stone that does not roll but has gathered spiritual moss. As AD Cochrane has noted, ‘Down the centuries a parade of charlatans, poets, modern psychogeographic writers, alchemists, historians and eccentric clergymen have enriched the mythology of London Stone‘. If this isn’t prehistory, I don’t know what is.

There is one source that I was able to find that suggested that this misshapen hunk of rock was once part of a prehistoric monument. In a review of the former London Stone Pub (107 Cannon Street) a contributor to the website ‘Fancy a Pint.com‘ suggests that the Stone was, ‘possibly part of an ancient stone circle’. The same review also suggests that the pub contained, ‘gargoyles, cocktails in test tubes and other assorted horror ephemera’ so perhaps it is for the best that it closed a couple of years ago, to be replaced by The Cannick Taps.

London Stone pub

Photo: Fancyapint.com

Rare views inside the London Stone pub, which appears to have been a gothic extravaganza of poor taste, suggest decor that mimicked the grey metal cage that enclosed the Stone until fairly recently. Bad art imitates poor cage.

quaint-decor-in-pub

Trip Advisor – interior of the London Stone pub (deceased)

How old is this piece of stone? Who cares.

The London Stone is as the London Stone does. LS if you are into the whole brevity thing.

The London Stone abides.

 

Sources and acknowledgements: if you want to find out more about the London Stone, ask it questions on twitter via @thelondonstone – it / Kevin might answer back.