55 / 45

21 Feb

You might think that prehistoric monuments and things that happened thousands of years ago have nothing to do with contemporary political debates about identify, nationalism and borders. You may well also agree, as I do, with Niall Sharples who wrote over two decades ago that “the archaeological record of earlier periods should not normally contribute to the discussion of a nation’s identity”.

But not everyone thinks like this.

Prehistoric monuments can become the plaything, for innocent or sinister reasons, of those who wish to make claims about national boundaries, ethnic or national identities – or to influence your vote. Such appropriation of the prehistoric past is always troubling in my opinion, although it could be argued that there is a sliding scale of badness at play here. At the (far right) end of the scale we have a recent iteration of the mission statement of the British National Party (from the 2000s, now removed from their website) which stated: “We enthuse with pride at the marvels of architecture and engineering that have been completed on these islands since the construction of the great megaliths 7,000 years ago”. Papers in the book pictured below warn against such corruption of prehistory for political ends: we should always be vigilant for such occurrences and expose them.

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It is with interest then that appeals to the ancient past have become embedded in the discourse of Scottish independence, a process which concluded in 2014 with a vote of 55% to 45% to retain the status quo, but which inspired widespread political debate and continues to resonate strongly today.

I became aware of how this can manifest itself even in that most banal of places, the TV archaeology documentary. There is no doubt that nationalistic passions were released by the BBC TV programme Britain’s Ancient Capital: secrets of Orkney, broadcast on the BBC in January 2017.

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Social media responses to this show included ‘the BBC is scandalously pushing…Neil Oliver’s tendentious, ludicrous and anachronistic British unionist line’. The well-known political persuasion of lead presenter Neil Oliver (clue: it’s NO, not YES) has been taken by some viewers as a driver behind the ‘Britain – not Scotland’ narrative evident in the programme, Oliver being accused of ‘shrill British patriotism’ and of being a ‘British patriot’ (which may or may not be an insult depending on your perspective). Although I was publically critical of the content of this show, I happen not to buy this politicized critique of the show, with my reservations about this programme rooted more in its repetition of the tired old tropes of Neolithic studies in Britain.

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It came as something of a surprise to me to find out last year that a cairn had been constructed in 2014 right on the border between England and Scotland, a cairn that was an explicit rallying call for British unionism, a monument for those who did not want Scotland to become independent from the UK in the aforementioned referendum that took place in September of that year.

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This is a ‘Scottish’ cairn: it is called The Auld Acquaintance Cairn, a Rabbie Burns name, located on the Scottish side of the Border, a reconstruction of a Bronze Age Clava Cairn. But it had a ‘UK’ team of builders and cheerleaders, invited to come from all corners to help in its construction, emerging into the world through shared labour, motivations and symbols, to create a whole that was stronger than its parts, Better Together.

It is a NO monument, not a YES monument.

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NO or ON? (source: The Times (paywall))

It was built by the 55 for the other 45.

But. Despite being infused with unity and togetherness, constructed with good intentions as well as sweat and tears, I fear that its existence has, and continues to have, the potential to be divisive, festooned as it is with symbols and words that could be interpreted by some as divisive, even offensive.

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Built in the months leading up the referendum in a frenzy of fear that YES might win, it could be argued that this is a cairn that has served its purpose. But, since the conclusion of that debate, the cairn has become something of a monument to victory, a celebration of something not being lost, a vindication but perhaps also a warning from the past, literally a folly.

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The Auld Acquaintance Cairn was the brainchild of the polymathic Conservative MP Rory Stewart. The project to construct the cairn over summer 2014 was in part crowd-funded through an organisation called Hands Across the Border, whose website offers an archival (pre)history of the cairn. It is in a location that is cupped by a the gentle meander of the River Sark, the border between Scotland and England, but sits in the shadow of a placeless shopping mall.

The cairn was constructed in the period June to August 2014, and is a spectacular monument, consisting of some 130,000 stones.

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Laying the foundation stones of the cairn, summer 2014 (source: North News & Pictures)

Volunteers and visitors were encouraged to bring to the location stones from wherever they were from, thus ensuring the cairn was constructed of stones from across the UK, and beyond (with for instance a fragment of the Berlin Wall included). It is claimed over 10,000 people added a stone or helped with building the monument, with dry stone dykers doing the fiddly bits. Visitors were also encouraged to paint messages onto the stones, giving the cairn a colourful appearance which still survives several years later.

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The cairn during construction. The flagpoles in the background are now gone (souice: available in various cropped versions online, happy to update if this is your photo).

Various ‘celebrities’ spent time helping build the cairn or visiting the monument: Scotland’s only Tory MP David Mundell was there when the foundation was laid, grizzled explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes made an appearance on 28th July, and actor Joanna Lumley put in a shift three days later. “Historians Simon Schama, David Starkey, Max Hastings and Antony Beevor, the ‎philosopher AC Grayling, Field Marshal Sir Charles Guthrie, and the writer Alain de Botton have all contributed stones to the cairn” (Cumbria Crack) as has the famous mountaineer Doug Scott CBE (Cairn Builder Extraordinaire?).

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Fiennes (source: Hands Across the Border)

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Lumley (source: Sunbeam Music)

The cairn was a focus for events such as barbeques, teddy bear picnics, public shows of emotion, and a music festival called Brit Rocks! A poem – Cornerstone – was written for the cairn by Charlotte Higgins and carved onto two flat square slabs which were placed within the interior chamber. And apparently, some No voters and those who supported their campaign but who could not vote (i.e. anyone not living in Scotland) camped on the cairn overnight as the results of the referendum came in.

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Source: Hands Across the Border

A large map was erected on site where visitors could mark where they and their rocks had come from, although the map appears to have had no room for 80% of Orkney, all of Shetland or much of western Ireland. Europe’s not there, natch.

the-map

Source: Trip Advisor (link below)

As the cairn was being constructed, a short film was made about the project by The Economist. In the film, Rory Stewart described the monument as ‘a model of our country’ and the only physical manifestation of Better Together evident in the UK at that time. More emotively, he suggested that Scotland and the Rump UK were rather like a couple whose marriage was on the rocks and that one partner only needed to say ‘I love you’ to reconcile the partnership. (Was he really saying that the UK was basically just like a very unhappy marriage that neither partner should leave?) The Project Manager Angus Aitken went further, calling the cairn a ‘geological love letter to the Union’, that far into the future would stand as reminder of a time when the people of the UK came together through the medium of dry-stone walling.

Then – the referendum happened and the NO / Better Together campaign won. The border upon which the cairn sits remained softer than an egg that had been in boiling water for 60 seconds, and all inhabitants of Scotland were encouraged to pull together and move forward.

Hand Across the Border state on their website: “Now is the time for everyone to reconcile their differences and create a stronger better Britain.”

Whether this is better facilitated by the retention, or destruction, of the Auld Acquaintance cairn, depends if you are one of the 55 or the 45. Like megaliths, divisive political debates can have a long afterlife.

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Source: Cumberland News / (c) STUART WALKER

On a visit to the cairn in 2015, a year after it had been completed, Ian Jack recounted in The Guardian how the cairn was less noble in appearance than in aim. The banality of personal messages painted onto little stones was a little too much for him. He noted, “A monument intended to celebrate beautiful generalisations – political unity, friendship between peoples – has been altered (an old-fashioned aesthete would say damaged) by the intrusion of the specific and the everyday.” The solitude of the cairn was also noted (ie no one else visited while he was there), but so too was the noisy traffic flying past on the nearby M74 (the article calls it the M6, what this border zone of the motorway is known as in England). This sense of loss and disappointment is shared by a few (but by no means most) visitors to the cairn who have recorded their impressions on Trip Advisor (‘#4 of 5 things to do in Gretna’). One visitor called the monument ‘a mis-managed pile of stones’ which is actually quite a good definition of cairn.

The cairn was also vandalised that year, with Stewart saying at the time, “I respect that nationalists will continue to put forward their own arguments, but I fail to see what these vandals hoped to achieve by targeting the cairn at Gretna, other than to manifest their bitterness and resentment for the way in which the Scottish people ultimately chose to vote last year.” (Cumbria Crack). This vandalism appears to have included the daubing of ‘offensive slogans’ on the cairn, the breaking of one of the poem stones in the cairn interior, and removing the noticeboard next to the site and throwing it into the River Sark. This noticeboard floated down river, and was found on a beach a few months later by a dog walking former local MP, who returned this back on site for a photo shoot.

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Source: News and Star / (c) JENNY WOOLGAR

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Source: Daily Record (link below)

Was this a ‘nationalist stunt’? Graffiti on the cairn stones, reported on by The Daily Record, would suggest some political motivation for at least this aspect of the vandalism, with phrases added to the monument such as “Nicola Sturgeon is coming to get ye!” and “Don’t blame me a voted Yes”. In a poll, 54% of Record readers found the graffiti offensive, 46% did not (number of participants unknown) which mirrors almost exactly the result of the referendum.

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When I visited recently with Jan, I was surprised how tidy and well-maintained the cairn is, almost three years after construction started. I was also surprised that there were no signs to tell visitors where to park or how to walk to the cairn, the only indication we were in the right place being a pair of plain noticeboards beside a gate in the car park of the Old Toll Bar Café, the first or last chance for refreshments in Scotland depending on your direction of travel across the Scotland – England border located 100m to the south on the red sandstone bridge over the River Sark. The noticeboards explain briefly the history and ethos of the cairn and advertise some internet links of varying currency, and also include sketches that were prepared when the cairn was being planned.

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The noticeboard text is explicitly political. It is noted that the cairn “is a testimony to the United Kingdom”, situated right on the current border, but in a place that was once neither Scotland nor England, but rather ‘Middleland’. As far as I can tell, this is a tenuous-to-mythical historical convenience, promoted in the writing of Rory Stewart for instance on his website. Here, he argues that there is ‘nothing natural’ about a border between England and Scotland, and that the fact there is a border at all simply relates back to the Romans drawing straight lines on maps for their own convenience. (It’s amazing how some of the most potent legacies of colonialism can be traced back to the gratuitous use of such an innocent piece of stationery, the ruler.) Stewart argues that Gretna and the cairn sit in what used to be a Middleland, an ill-defined ‘upland’ zone between Edinburgh and Sheffield with heartlands in Northumberia, Cumbria and the Scottish Borders.

This frontier zone is the focus of Stewart’s most recent book The Marches (Jonathan Cape, 2016), where he recounts walking along parts of Hadrian’s Wall with his late father as well as a solo long distance walk across Cumbria. I have not read this book, only reviews, but it seems to fit well with a man who is passionate about the Borders and the borders and borders that should not be borders, restless to understand how the past, and landscapes, can help people define themselves. The Middleland theme is played out in this book too: it is an upland rural landscape (although it is far from all being upland and rural) “… a land naturally unified by geography and culture for 2,000 years, but repeatedly divided by political frontiers”. It all sounds a bit W G Hoskins to me.

the-marches

Before Scotland and England, and amidst the periodic enforcement of a border here by ruler-wielding praetorians, Stewart in his website musings suggests that this area belongs to a misty-eyed time when there was “no single English ethnicity, or Scottish language”, and people on either side of what we now see as a border “married each other…wore the same clothes, ate the same food, lived the same life…and sung the same ballads about their exploits”. And yet why chose these specific traits to suggest cultural similarity? Why select certain centuries in the past and then set them up as a norm? This Borders romanticism would be less of an issue had it not been an explicit driver for the loud cairn construction campaign, drawing on the ancient past to legitimize modern political decision-making. In fact, it could be argued that Stewart misunderstands the nature of identity, mistaking shared actions, material culture and pragmatic accommodations for shared hearts and minds. Stewart’s arguments echo long-running discussions about the Dalriadan Scots in Ulster and Argyll, where archaeological and historical evidence has been used to argue for, and against, modern political boundaries. Such claims and connections can be dangerous, contested and illogical – on both sides of the argument.

More troubling still, the cairn builders seem to suggest that the political unity that a Yes vote in the referendum threatened has its origins in prehistory. The noticeboard goes on to say: “A cairn is a traditional northern English and Scottish marker in the landscape”, going back as far as the Neolithic. (Stewart repeats this in the short film linked to above.) This is nonsensical and a dangerous argument to make: are we now to define modern identities due to shared Neolithic monument traditions? Again, this reminds me of arguments related to Ireland. Matthew Stout (1996) has written about archaeologist Emyr Esten Evans’ ‘Ulster exceptionalism’, an attempt to demonstrate that megalithic tombs in Northern Island were different from those elsewhere on that island, with obvious political motivations. And cairns are not just found in Scotland and northern England – they are found across Britain and Ireland, and if anything you could argue there is an east-west divide. Furthermore, cairns come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and dates – it could be argued they are a very human thing to do.

Most ludicrously of all, the design template for the Auld Acquaintance cairn is a Clava Cairn, a monument style that is found almost exclusively in Inverness-shire. Very regionalised traditions in prehistory were commonplace and do not lend themselves well to narratives of British or UK wide continuity. And so all we need to do is select which monument types fit our argument depending on what boundaries we want to break down, or defend.

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The design for the Auld Acquaintance cairn. Source: on site noticeboard

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A Clava cairn. Source: Visit Scotland. (c) Paul Tomkins.

Back to our visit. We went through the gate and walked the short distance to the neat and tidy cairn, which has lost the fringe of slates and stones that were evident when it was first constructed. A noticeboard was located here too, although the aforementioned map which had stood on the site in 2014 showing where the component stones had come from, had been removed. I was immediately impressed with the scale and quality of the construction: this would have taken a lot of work, supporting claims from those involved in building that this was a project that meant something personal to them.

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The cairn material consisted of many different types of rock and stone, with some of the stones brightly painted, with unsurprisingly a preponderance of red, white and blue. Personal messages with names, thanks and so on were commonplace, as were union flags.

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One of the stones was painted red and referred to a place neither Scotland nor England: Ulster. Taken together with the Butcher’s Apron graffiti shown above, this demonstrates that political gestures, no matter how well meaning, will be appropriated for all sorts of different (or tangentially related) agendas, old scores being settled, old wars being refought. If you make claims to deep time, expect others to do so as well.

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Another contained a message for our post-Brexit times: THE PEOPLE SPOKE FOREVER, the idea that a decision has been made, and everyone should now get together and make it work. A decision that cannot be overturned or even argued with. Maybe it is a warning. As with everything about this megalith, it depends on who you are: the 55 or the 45.

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Another stone was decorated with a more primeval symbol – a prehistoric cup-and-ring mark. Using the logic of this cairn we perhaps need to abandon more national boundaries, as these symbols can be found across many EU countries.

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There was evidence that some messages were becoming less focused on the ethos of the stone, with an Orcadian flag (which itself was defaced by vandals in 2015), and stones with messages written by tourists visiting the monument on holiday. There is a growing sense of the routine about this monument, and as time passes it will be more and more difficult for Hands Across the Border to retain the meaning of this cairn despite their aspiration for this to be a permanent reminder of the NO vote.

The interior of the monument was entered by a narrow corridor lined by smart red sandstone blocks, topped with stacked slates, and with gravel crunching underfoot.

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At the end of the passage was the circular central chamber with high walls, 2m tall, enclosing and restricting views of the outside borderzone. Inside, a yellow stone slab was propped up against the back wall, containing one half of Charlotte Higgins’ poem; the other stone, broken in 2015, was only partially restored. The relative peace and solitude of the interior of the cairn, surrounded by beautiful stone work, and words which spoke of wars and memorialisation, was the most impressive and sombre element of an otherwise garish monument. Powerful or exploitative? It all depends. 55 or 45?

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We wandered back out, and away from the cairn. There was a low hum caused by a tanker spewing wood chips into a metal container beside the cairn. The surrounding field was scrubby and untidy, a ghostly and abandoned camp site with electrical power fittings for caravans jutting from the ground like gravestones. These were arranged around a derelict and boarded up toilet block. Ahead, we saw a massive blue sign on the northbound side of the M74. It was a giant metal flag, the saltire, adorned with the words ‘Welcome to Scotland’ with some tiny YES stickers stuck to it. Lying twenty or so yards from this sign was a discarded and broken placard, the one quarter or one eighth remnant of a very different roadside message that once said NO THANKS. Right on the border, on the banks of the Sark, YES and NO not so far apart after all, both little more than a blur in the eyes of motorway-hypnotised drivers speeding past, even in the slow lane.

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By strange coincidence, on the day of our visit, the front cover of The National newspaper was concerned with borders too. This is a Scottish paper that describes itself as ‘The newspaper that supports an independent Scotland’. The headline read: ‘TRUMP WON’T CROSS HADRIAN’S WALL: State visit will not include Scotland’. Behind this lay a weird montage of Hadrian’s Wall with the disembodied heads of Donald Trump (no hair) and Nicola Sturgeon (with sun rays shining beatifically from her chin like a golden beard, glowing in anti-Trump hirsuteness).

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Scottish nationalists can play this game too in other words – here we have the misuse of the ancient past to make a political point about modern borders. Here, we have the common mistake of likening Hadrian’s Wall to the Scotland – England border, the straight line across Britain’s middlelands that Stewart was talking about. Here we have in one gloriously daft image the old myth that Scotland somehow repelled the Romans while England did not, and that this division is ancient and meaningful when it comes to defining modern identity. It is not and it does not, but that will not stop prehistory and our ancient past being used again and again in this ongoing debate. It was no surprise to me when I found out while researching this post that Rory Stewart was also planning a referendum-focused human chain of tens of thousands of people along Hadrian’s Wall in 2014, showing that this boundary is endlessly exploitable to people of all political beliefs.

It is almost too easy to use prehistory as a lesson from which we should learn – and yet, all we are doing is projecting our own concerns and concepts onto the mute archaeological record back to a time when these words and ideas would have made no sense. Often for the best of intentions. I have sympathy with this tweet from only a few days ago (at the time of writing) and yet there are so many assumptions at play here that just I don’t know where to start.

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In the Channel 4 TV sketch show from the 1990s, Absolutely, there was caricatured Scottish nationalist character played by Jack Docherty called McGlashan. He was a failed writer who continually pitched ideas for anti-English and pro-Scottish plays to his long suffering posh (English? Scottish?) agent. One of the plays he comes up with is called Nip Nap Shite (‘well, you’ve certainly got an eye for a title’). In this play, the SNP (then a party a million miles from government) stand a candidate called McGlashan in a general election against then Tory MP John Major. “He’s so brilliant and Scottish, right, he wins with a 50,000 majority”. In another and much shorter sketch, McGlashan cycles up to a very non-descript Scotland-England border crossing. He looks around, crosses into England, shouts some abuse and then quickly cycles back into Scotland again. The border is quiet, the road empty.

Here we have Scots comedians laughing at ourselves, our complex identity in relation to England and the UK, our fascination with borders and seeing how far we can push them, for a laugh. The same issues of identity that Rory Stewart has been wrestling with – them and us / them or us? The 55 or the 45? Or just the 100?

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The Auld Acquaintance cairn. Built on a border that is not a border. Made in a style neither local nor logical. A monument to British unionism drawing on a mythical ancient past to inform modern political identity. A place that is about uniting that can’t help but divide. Borders and boundaries that still confuse to this day – soft / hard, busy / quiet, first / last, 55 / 45. It all depends.

But one thing I am sure about – should auld acquaintance be forgot that megaliths and Roman walls should never be used to legitimize political arguments, to support the construction of walls, to make claims of identity, or to tell us how to vote.

Sources and acknowledgements: I have throughout this blog made use of information about the Auld Acquaintance cairn from the websites for Hands Across the Border and Rory Stewart (links in the text) – these have both been accessible and useful sources, and have helped document a most remarkable project.

Images used from these sources have been credited as such. I have attempted to give a source for more or less all images used above: no source means the photo is mine. The Marshes book cover is widely available online, as is the Orkney BBC TV show screengrab.

The book pictured at the top of the post was published by Cruithne Press in Glasgow in 1996 and is well worth a read. The Niall Sharples quote and Matthew Stout example both derive from papers in this book.

I did not provide a link to the BNP website. If one wishes to find the current cached source of the quotation from their old manifesto, google the phrase. I’m not doing it for you.

This post benefited from the insights of Steve Driscoll and Dene Wright, and Jan who accompanied me on the visit to the cairn.  

The language of size

5 Feb

‘Monuments orchestrate human experience. Their size is so important because it is one of the ways in which this is achieved…this particular property of monuments, what WH Auden called ‘the language of size’, also means that particular information can only be obtained in a prescribed sequence’ (Richard Bradley Altering the Earth (1993), 47).

 

Yesterday all the past. The language of size

Spreading to China along the trade-routes; the diffusion

Of the counting-frame and the cromlech;

Yesterday the shadow-reckoning in the sunny climates.

WH Auden, ‘Spain 1937’

 

I used to walk along cursus monuments and call it work. This was my PhD research, an investigation into the Neolithic past. In fact, on reflection what I was doing was encountering contemporary rural landscapes in a subversive manner, following ancient routeways that have been lost amidst the organisation of the land today and which do not appear on any maps. I thought at the time that I was revealing insights into lost Neolithic lifeways and getting inside the minds of shaman, novices and ritual travellers. What I was in fact doing was exploring alternative ways to move around the landscape, following ancient routes, cutting across the geometry of railway lines, roads, fences and field boundaries, ignoring the straight lines of the twentieth century and instead following, slavishly, straight lines that were dug into the land over 5000 years ago.

I was creating my own cartographies, a mad man walking across empty fields taking notes and photos.

There can be no middle ground, no compromise, because there is nothing in the landscape today that respects Neolithic cursus monuments. The act of walking along a cursus therefore was one that showed no respect to the way we construct our landscapes today, a provocation, but when I was walking along cursus monuments and calling it work I did not see it that way.

The thrilling cover of my PhD.

The thrilling cover of my PhD.

Recently I walked along a cursus again, the first time I had undertaken one of these selfish walks since the 1990s, although I have visited a few cursus sites in between. ‘Cursus monument’ is a category of enclosure that dates to the first millennium of the British Neolithic (c3800-3300BC). These are rectangular enclosures, defined initially by lines of timber posts, and subsequently earthworks, with internal ditches and external banks. Like many archaeological categories, the label cursus hides a good deal of variation, with monuments ranging in length from 60m to 10km, and in width from 20m to 180m. Clearly, this material and morphological variability casts doubt on these all being part of a coherent phenomenon, and it is likely these sites (over 100 are known in Britain and Ireland with a few Euro-cursus outliers) were probably expressions of religious norms and local need. The earliest sites appear to have been constructed by the first generations of farmers in eastern and southern Scotland. The sites long been considered by archaeologists as serving a processional and ceremonial role within Neolithic society, although whether they were pathways for the living or the dead is unclear.

The definitive book on cursus monuments, written by Roy 'Dr Cursus' Loveday as I call him.

The definitive book on cursus monuments, written by Roy ‘Dr Cursus’ Loveday as I call him.

The longest cursus monument in Scotland is, like almost all of these sites, known only as a cropmark. In other words, the monument has long disappeared from the visible spectrum of the landscape due to the processes of natural decay, erosion and hard core modern ploughing. 98% of cursus monuments are only known to us because they appear as cropmarks on air photos, the buried postholes and ditches transmitting themselves to us through differential crop growth rates visible from the air and light aircraft. Through this flaky and unpredictable medium, we can track the routes of cursus monuments across modern rural landscapes (cropmarks can only really reveal themselves in arable cereal crops and usually under drought conditions, no use looking for them in the turnips and rasps).

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From the I-Spy archaeology book. Because kids can are always spying cropmarks.

This is how the East Linton cursus, East Lothian, was discovered, although the true scale of the monument was not initially clear due to the monument being partly built over. The western half of the cursus (NT57NE 67) was initially recorded from air photos taken in 1981, although the presence of the cursus ditches was not identified until the early 1990s by RCAHMS and Historic Scotland staff including Rebbeca Jones and Ian Armit. The latter described the cropmarks at Drylawhill as….

“….two parallel ditches running approximately E to W some 60m apart. The ditches vary in width from 2m to 3m and follow a somewhat erratic course, giving the impression of having been constructed in discrete lengths rather than as a single unitary construction. This variability of width and segmented construction are characteristic of cursus monuments. The ditches can be traced for a length of almost 300m, and undoubtedly extend into the field to the E, although no cropmarks are visible there to enable their full extent to be assessed” (Discovery and Excavation in Scotland journal, 1993).

This spoke of an enormous enclosure, of unknown length, although entirely invisible and unknown in the modern landscape. Armit’s suggestion that the monument might continue to the east was prescient, although he might also have noted we have no idea where the western extent of this giant monument was located, and his width estimation was short, it being more like 80 to 90m across.

The Drylawhill end of the cursus, taken from the SE. (c) HES canmore_image_SC00925219

The Drylawhill end of the cursus, taken from the SE. It runs top-left to bottom-right. Note the cemetery in the foreground. (c) HES canmore_image_SC00925219

I was cataloguing aerial photos in the same vicinity, on the north side of the village of East Linton, in 1999 when I worked for RCAHMS. I noticed a set of cropmarks in the field to the east that had first been recorded in 1976 and then again in 1995, and had been classified as an ‘enclosure’ which is about as vague a cropmark interpretation that is it possible to give. This site was called Preston Mains (NT57NE 29). This looked to me as if it was on the same orientation and had the same form and width as the Drylawhill site, and some nifty ruler work on a 1:10,000 map sheet suggested that these were indeed two parts of the same enormous monument. In this case, the Preston Mains end of the cursus also had a rounded terminal, at least giving the cursus one known end. This revelation (and one of the few occasions where I was left punching the air in my role as a civil servant) meant that the Drylawhill-Preston Mains monument was, in fact, the East Linton cursus, measuring at least 1.25km in length and up to 90m in width.

The Preston Mains end of the cursus, taken from the S. (c) HES canmore_image_DP00163891

The Preston Mains end of the cursus, taken from the N. The parallel ditches of the cursus run more or less left to right, above and parallel to the road. (c) HES canmore_image_DP00163891

transcription-from-my-phd

 

A walk along a cursus in the past in the present

I visited and walked along the Drylawhill end of the cursus (before I knew about the other half) with fellow PhD student Andrew Baines on the 30th June 1996. Fragments related to this walk exist in my field notes and PhD. I undertook a Tilley-esque landscape phemomenology approach, although the only thing I can remember about it now was knocking on a door to ask permission to walk across the field, and being made a cup of coffee by a nice lady in a white fluffy dressing gown. (That can’t be right surely…..)

Field notes

Field notes

fieldwork-notes-1996

I was making my own cartographies.

Bam and I walked both east, and west, along the cursus section, at that time the only recognised fragment of this huge monument that had been mapped. My notes are perfunctory and almost illegible; the photos stuck into my PhD with cheap glue, and then badly scanned at a later date by a librarian. At least I now have a pdf of my thesis – it previously only existed on eight floppy disks and as boxes of slides, the crumbs of a research project.

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The notes are not informative. Eastbound walk: ‘ Start on low plateau and walk down slope….’ and cue some imaginative speculation about what could be seen from various parts of the cursus depending on where is actually extended too. Desperate stuff really.  The conclusion of this experience was that a hollow that the Drylawhill end of the cursus crosses may have been a meaningful element of any procession along this routeway when the monument was in its prime, but it is a detached and partial account, with no beginning and no end. The ‘bones of the land’ (as Chris Tilley would say) may have been more or less the same as those experienced in the early Neolithic, but little else about this experience was authentic or even, to be frank, of any use. This is because I was too fixated with trying to imagine away my surroundings, ignore the church to my right, the woodland plantation ahead, the houses to my left and right, none of which are mentioned in my notes. At the time these modern intrusions intensely annoyed me as they buggered up my views of the broader landscape. Little wonder that the final account was banal and added about 100 words of my 100,000 word PhD; this is one cursus walk that ended up on the cutting room floor.

 

A different walk along the same cursus in the present in the past

In January 2017, 20 and a half years after I last walked along this cursus, I returned, now the urban prehistorian, not a youthful bullshitting PhD student trying to make sense of it all. This time I was armed with a better sense of the extent of the cursus monument, but also a clearer understanding of the nature of what I was about to do. This walk would follow the entire route of the cursus despite the modern obstacles in the landscape. The stuff of the modern landscape would be part of the experience, not censored from the final account. This would mean climbing over walls, walking along tarmac, crossing roads, tenaciously staying within the boundaries of the enclosure even in the big blank space in the middle of the cropmark that has largely been destroyed. (My walk was based on the assumption that this was indeed a continuous monument: prove me wrong!)

I walked west to east, heading for the terminal of the cursus, and this time I was not in the shoes of a Neolithic shaman: I was in my own shoes, which are a far more comfortable fit.

Map

map

 

Pictures

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walk-5-to-8

walk-9-to-12

 

Words and illustrative images

The field detained me only briefly. I had been here before. Amidst tender young crops, I stepped carefully, almost tap dancing. choosing my footfall carefully, following or seeking tractor tramlines, this modern stuff already mediating my bodily engagement with the disappeared cursus and keeping me looking down, not ahead. The landscape as friction, fighting back.

I could sense ahead of me an impenetrable wall of trees, and a wall, a wall bounding a cemetery, the cemetery slipping downhill from a church on a mound. The corner of the cemetery wall jutted into the cursus interior, a geometrical assault on the organic earthwork, a point of fusion between past and present, a boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a portal between the past and present. At the base of the wall smashed vodka bottles and crushed cans had been deposited at this most powerful and liminal of locations.

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I clambered over the wall and jumped down amongst the tombs and the rotting Christmas wreaths, baubled wraiths.

I built a cairn here, a time machine.

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In the cemetery, grid-like paths sat awkwardly on my conception of what the cursus might have looked like here. These were incompatible realities. The dead had been buried on ancient ground, even on the ditch and bank, ghosts on top of ghosts.

Megalithic tombstones littered the graveyard.

megalithic-gravestone

I looked back along the cursus (never look back).

The sun dazzled me (never turn back).

Forward then, into the shadows, to the other corner of the cemetery, and a small walled off area filled with soil, a barrow made of earth dug to form fresh graves, a ramp for me to clamber up and over the wall.

Beyond, I found fake red flowers and sticky oasis at the foot of the wall, and a discarded wellington boot. Eclectic offerings.

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The cursus here cuts across a patch of dense woodland, which I pushed through. This was the wildwood of prehistory, but not prehistoric, despite the improvised wooden shacks and dens, lined with tarpaulin and willow benders that clung to a field boundary wall.

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I was in the trees for a minute at most, and then crossed a track, and a rough roadway, before passing some bollards and entering the lost section of the cursus, a place where it can no longer communicate to us via the medium of the cropmark.

I passed between the bollards and across the track which is essentially a long driveway to a garden centre, and passed along a lane, hemmed in on all sides by orange hedges punctuated by driveways with shiny cars and men in their boots removing, or stashing, boxes in their gaping rear ends. No-one looked at me as I consulted my map, took my photos, wrote my notes. As I moved from trees to tarmac, a murder of crows piped up from above, an ominous soundtrack accompanying my transition into the suburban cursus. Four or five white houses with oddly shaped gardens lie within this section of the cursus, while some straddle the ditch and bank, probably destroying these during construction.

Written on The Dean was the word slow: I took this entirely seriously and literally.

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This was a middle class zone that had the feel of being a Ballardian gated community without the gates. A sign said this is a Conservation Area although its very existence has not been efficacious to the preservation of prehistoric earthworks.

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Within this section of my walk my movements were entirely constrained and controlled by the urban infrastructure. I did not feel like trying to climb over 8-foot-high hedges or walking through gardens, and felt reluctant to tell householders of the unique situation of their property. And so I moved through the cursus in a curious zig-zag, until I emerged onto a main road – Preston Road – which broke the conspiracy of silence of the estate I had been in. This road runs obliquely across the cursus route.

I noticed on the pavement a curious blue arrow, spray painted, and pointing away from a small drain rod point. By following the arrow I came across a proper big drain on the roadside.

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I squatted and peered down into the drain, almost as if trying to look back in time, and saw myself reflected back in the dirty water below, which somehow had a rippled surface. Deep down under ground, this drain, and the system of pipes that it fed into, had been inserted right into the middle of the cursus, ripping into the monument in a way that felt much more invasive than erecting houses or laying road surfaces. The drain offered a window into the guts of the monument, maybe even beneath the cursus, a barred window back in time. The past was down there and god knows what else.

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Cars roared past, and shaken, I continued my walk, down the driveway of a National Trust for Scotland property, Preston Mill. This visitor attraction is closed to the public over the winter but I walked down the red ash track, once again cutting across the line of the cursus at an unnatural angle. At a convenient point, I climbed over another wall, and began the final stage of my walk.

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The final 500m or so of the cursus route was back in fields again, although the crop here was very different – not fresh healthy growth, but carnage – brussel sprout carnage. Two fields lay ahead of me, strewn with the carcasses of sprout plants, literally frozen in places despite the low cutting winter sun. The overall impression was of the aftermath of some apocalyptic Lovecraftian battle, with parts of Elder Ones and other unspeakable beings littering the fields, green tentacles and drooping fronds lightly crunching underfoot. Sprouting sprout stocks jutted from the frosty soil, with orange bubbles of sap spewing from their green musculature. The sprouts that were left behind were scattered around and felt like cold bullets.

sprouts-1

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I traipsed across the field, surrounded by yellowing leaves and infinite tiny cabbages, and the topography dipped ahead, until I reached a point where I could no longer see the far end of the field ahead where the cursus ends. A few steps up a steep slope and over a modern trackway raised by viewing position and once again the cursus route was clear. This kind of bodily and sensory engagement is what landscape phenomenology is all about, experiencing sensory restrictions which are not apparent on maps or air photos, and which may or may not relate to the intentions of the cursus builders. Stage-management of experience, or just one of those topographical variations one would expect to find along such a massive monument? Maybe the brassicas know but dead sprouts don’t tell tales.

blue-line

To my right loomed a sewage plant, just beyond the southern boundary of the cursus. Like the constant sound of cars roaring by, this industrial effluence treatment plant was a modern intrusion that was tough to ignore. It also reminded me again of the drain I had peered down earlier on, and that what lies beneath is invariably unrefined shit.

Finally, after 10 minutes of solid trudging east across these fields of sprouts, I reached the place where the cursus terminates per the cropmark evidence. This was an unremarkable place, overlooked by some farm buildings, and hemmed in by hedges which restricted visibility to the east. Looking back to the southwest, I saw Traprain Law, a major East Lothian landmark and a flat-topped hill that may have had sacred significance in the Neolithic. But I could play these games all day – what could I see, what couldn’t I see, what might or might not the significance of these solipsistic visibilities be?

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Terminal view

Another selfish walk concluded, I wandered back to my car which I had parked near the western end of the cursus in the cemetery car park. I mentally compared what I had just done with my walk of 21 years ago where my scope had been so limited, an experience that started and stopped in a field, never daring to venture beyond the edges of the rural. This confinement ultimately led to boring and unsatisfactory observations about what this place might have been all about in the Neolithic.

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An urban cursus walk, with the rough route of the middle 1km of the cursus monument marked on a google earth background.

The walk I had just undertaken, over soil, grass, pathways, tarmac, and clambering over three walls (two more than I would normally ever countenance), following an ancient routeway that cuts across modern urban sensibilities, was an explicitly psychogeographical journey, and allowed an extended mediation on the use of land here in the ancient past and the contemporary present. This might not help us re-think the Neolithic, but it was an experience that allowed me to further reflect on my own practice and the limits of what we can say about the world as archaeologists.

 

Footnotes: repurposing the cursus?

Could the East Linton cursus be about to make a come-back? During 2016, a series of housing developments were proposed to the north and west of East Linton, including a new estate of over 200 homes in the field that the western Drylawhill end of the cursus is located in. This has caused concern in the village with a facebook site set up to combat ‘excessive expansion’ in the area.

A report written by Wallace Land Investment and Management, who own 34 hectares of this land, made a number of recommendations about the Drylawhill development – one of which is to ensure that no building work takes place on the route of the cursus monument. Instead, this should be left as a linear and broad green space. They note:

‘East Linton is part of an archaeological landscape. This includes [the] Scheduled Monument of the Drylawhill Cursus within the site. No development will take place on the Drylawhill Cursus site. The setting of this Scheduled Monument will be taken into account with development set back creating a buffer’.

This is connected to ‘ensuring access to important archaeological remains and provision of a new park’.

development-proposal-map

Wallace Land Indicative Development Framework: urban prehistoric entanglements abound. The linear cursus green space is a striking element of the proposal.

Is it possible that the demands of a society voracious for new housing and urban expansion can also accommodate prehistoric monuments in a positive way? Could we see the establishment here of a park called ‘The Cursus’, the establishment of an archaeological walking trail and expanded information for the local community, new and old, about the ancient time depth beneath their feet? How will the presence of the cursus and other prehistoric sites here be brought to the attention of people living here? The construction of housing here offers amazing challenges and opportunities.

Watch this space. I will be trying to explore how the cursus can be remade for 21st century urban living, and how we translate into modern terminology the remarkable Neolithic language of size.

 

 

 

 

Selfish walks

21 Jan

What is the nature of the narratives that we write as archaeologists? What status do our accounts about the past have? I have long characterised my own writings about my chosen area of expertise, the Neolithic period, as being fictional accounts of an ancient past that we have no direct experience of. These fictions rely on research, evidence and facts that act as a framework for what I say about Neolithic monuments and lifeways; these in effect offer resistance to flights of fancy and nonsensical accounts of the past, although I have been accused of producing both of these in the past, my defence being that we cannot write about the past without writing about ourselves. One of the key reasons that archaeological accounts of the past have – let’s be generous – a fictional element, is that they are mediated through the present. Our archaeological engagements happen today and thus we must account for the circumstances within which we investigate remains of prehistory, although there is precious little of this kind of introspection in archaeology.

A good example of this is ‘landscape phenomenology’, which has been used to help make sense of Neolithic monuments, settlements and landscapes ever since Chris Tilley published his seminal but flawed book A phenomenology of landscape in 1994. This book offered the first comprehensive foray by Tilley into experiential fieldwork and one of the first uses of the philosophical concept of phenomenology in archaeology. Phenomenology is concerned with processing and understanding perceptual and bodily engagement, trying to make sense of phenomena by how we encounter them. So the description of our experiences of things is more meaningful and helpful than merely describing things in themselves; this should be an involved, not detached task. This is typified by an approach to Neolithic landscapes that is embodied and carried out on foot on the ground as opposed to a detached analysis based on maps, air photos and site plans.

phenomenology-of-landscape

Tilley achieved the remarkable sleight of hand of moving from ontological philosophy to archaeological fieldwork method. Thus, experiences one has today such as walking through a prehistoric enclosure, approaching a dolmen, or surveying the wider landscape from the entrance of a chambered tomb to see what can and cannot be seen, could be meaningful data in the study of how people in the Neolithic experienced and used those things and why those monuments were built where they were. This approach has many flaws and critics, but has been much imitated as a method over the past two decades in no small part because, as Jo Brück says, it is cheap and anyone can do it. To paraphrase Andrew M Jones, it is the theory that has launched a thousand student dissertations – including mine.

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Map of a phenomenological walk around the Stonehenge landscape undertaken by Tilley, Barbara Bender and a baby (Bender 1998)

Tilley argued that taking his experiences in the contemporary landscape (all of his fieldwork happens there of course unless he has a secret time machine) and transposing his own personal observation, knowledge and insights derived from these walks back 5000 years can be done because of our shared human physiology, and the consistency of the ‘bones of the landscape’. (See what I mean about archaeology-as-fiction?) Issues of historicity and trees can be overcome so it seems although archaeologists from John Barrett to Andrew Fleming have voiced serious reservations. For my own perspective, I have always been a recreational user of phenomenology, but have never hooked. My first ever published piece of writing was back in 1998 in the now defunct magazine 3rd Stone where I felt confident enough to offer some tentative misgivings about how beneficial walking along Neolithic cursus monuments was although these related more to refining the method than destroying it (in much the same way as Frankenstein kept trying to make better monsters through the Hammer film series rather than just giving up after the first one and admitting it was a pretty bad idea all along).

3rd-stone-cover

Landscape phenomenology of the kind proposed by Tilley and others has as one of its explicit aims the imaginative recreation of the Neolithic landscape (except for all those troublesome plants which we can’t say much about with any precision), and this means that somehow the contemporary landscape has to be filtered out of the equation, in the same way as an augmented reality app might do so on a smart phone. In other words, the very context within which all archaeological engagements happen – the present – is subordinated by the past in the present, which is really just the present when you stop and think about it. It’s almost as if to carry out landscape phenomenology one has to don a pair of x-ray glasses that can see through the actual AD2017 and back to a version of 3017BC. I happen to think that augmented reality in this case means diminished reality and no amount of phenomenology hats can disguise this.

stonehenge-vr-trailer-oculus

Augmented reality is diminished reality (photo source: VR Scout)

Tilley called this ‘imaginative self-transposition’ which sounds a bit like a course you could do over a weekend at a lodge in the country somewhere, but is in fact the process of imagining away the present – the roads, field boundaries, planes overhead, car noises, funny smells – to get to the past, or rather the past as imagined by the archaeologist carrying out this process. Thus, we have the emergence of the selfish walk as archaeological fieldwork method, where, as Julian Thomas has put it, ‘the investigator bases their interpretation of a place or object on their unbridled subjective experience’. I actually don’t have that much against acknowledged subjectivity in fieldwork – I am a fiction writer remember – but I do disagree with screening out the context within which archaeological engagements happen. Because we have to understand the nature of our encounters to begin to understand the significance of those encounters; how reliable what we have to say about the Neolithic is contingent upon this.

Little wonder that Tilley has also stated that ‘a megalith in an urban environment does not seem to work’ because the more urban a place is, the more sensory and physical stuff landscape phenomenology says that we must filter out. It might be more correct to say that trying to draw conclusions about Neolithic activities, movements and monuments is harder in an urban or industrial setting, but then that depends on what you are up to in the first place.

If your interest is how the past and the present intertwine, if your concern is what multifarious and denuded ways prehistory appears to us in contemporary settings, if you are passionate about exploring what we can say about contemporary prehistoric landscapes – all concerns of mine – then in a sense it is easier to do this in an urban setting, as this jars more violently with social and disciplinary preconceptions of what prehistory was like. It electro-shocks a reaction, which can be one of intrigue or horror. But here’s the thing: it isn’t really prehistory, no matter with how much determination Tilley and others might walk along, or up to it, and experience it. Prehistory has gone, it’s over, done with. The less prehistoric a place or landscape feels, the more likely that prehistoric remains in that context will tell us something meaningful about our engagements with the past in the present and the conditions within which archaeological knowledge emerges. Some humility and honesty go a long way here.

It might also tell us bugger all about the past, but I am comfortable with that, plenty of archaeologists do that shit.

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Walking along the route of a Neolithic cursus. Maps are the tools of psychogeographers, not the enemy.

In fact, a much better way to deal with prehistoric monuments in a landscape context is to use psychogeography which Guy Debord famously defined as ‘the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’. What better means could we use to explore how urbanisation has impacted on our ability to see and make sense of prehistoric monuments and activities? Psychogeography as a practice is not concerned with filtering out the present, but rather it embraces it as a necessary condition of being concerned with the past in the first place. The imposition of an urban grid replaces what went before, and thus necessitates actions that presence what went before in the present. Here, the urban change has to happen in order for the need, the want, to emerge. It goes without saying that urban prehistory demands urbanisation to have occurred.

The use of mapping in psychogeography as a means to plan or record walks and journeys accords far better with the reality of our urban encounters than vain attempts to forget maps and yet have to draw them anyway to report on our discoveries. Maps are not detachment, they are a record of the world that exist to be subverted, not ignored. Maps are the tools of psychogeographers, not the enemy. The dérive is a far more effective way to encounter prehistoric sites and monuments than knowing-a priori-assumption-laden walks between cairns and stone circles. Psychogeography can adequately allow for outlandish encounters and weird juxtapositions, celebrated as an inevitable and beautiful outcome of human palimpesting of the land, whereas landscape phenomenology can only lead us to bemoan things getting in the way, breaking up the experience, blocking views, generally ruining the megalithic aura and – well, just being annoying reminders that everything is really happening now, in the present, and not in the past. Psychogeography is not as half as visually dominated as landscape phenomenology is. And so on.

So, returning to my first point, I draw a very firm line between the two types of archaeological narratives that I write. Some are indeed fictionalised versions of the Neolithic, and are intended to offer my expert interpretation of the chaotic mass we call the archaeological record. Others are far from fictional – they are serious, factual reportage on encounters I have with prehistoric sites and monuments in the contemporary landscape. I don’t have to make that stuff up because it really happened to me. Nothing Neolithic ever happened to me, and if you have ever seen the huge polished stone axes they were knocking out and hitting one another on the heads with back then you wouldn’t want it to happen to you either. Urban prehistory can and should be a serious business because the traces of prehistoric actions are more useful to society if we understand how people encounter them today, than how they were encountered 5000 years ago.

Crap, this was supposed to be a blog post about me walking along a cursus monument in East Lothian. I’ll do that next time.

 

My thoughts in this post have greatly benefited from various conversations with Andrew Watson, although he may not agree with my conclusions!

The Stonehenge VR image came from the VR Scout Stonehenge webpage.

Academic sources referred to in the text:

  • Brűck, J 2005 Experiencing the past? The development of a phenomenological archaeology in British prehistory, Archaeological Dialogues 12, 45-72.
  • Barrett, J. and Ko, I. 2009. A phenomenology of landscape: a crisis in British landscape archaeology. Journal of Social Archaeology 9(3), 275-294.
  • Bender B 1998, Stonehenge: making space, Oxford: Berg
  • Brophy, K 1998 This is not phenomenology (or is it?): experiencing cursus monuments. 3rd Stone Magazine 30, 7-9.
  • Fleming, A 2006 Post-processual landscape archaeology: a critique, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 16, 267-80.
  • Jones, AM 2007 Review of The materiality of stone, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 17, 229-31.
  • Tilley, C 1993 Art, architecture, landscape [Neolithic Sweden], in Bender, B (ed) Landscape: politics and perspectives, Berg, 49-84.
  • Tilley, C 1994 A phenomenology of landscape, Oxford: Berg.
  • Tilley, C 2008 Phenomenological approaches to landscape archaeology, in David, B & Thomas, J (eds) Handbook of Landscape Archaeology, Leftcoast Press.

 

 

 

 

 

Shadow of the stone

27 Dec

Granny Kempock Stone (Gourock, Scotland): Top Tips Before You Go from TripAdvisor

“If you’re interested in anything historical, this is for you. 

There is something eerie about being near this stone….perhaps it’s the witchcraft that it’s suposedly linked to?!

We only stopped off at this for a matter of minutes, but worth it, if you like this type of thing.”

Andrew W, Trip Advisor

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The avenues and alleyways
Where the strong and the quick alone can survive
Look around the jungle 
See the rough and tumble

Sometimes we must creep around the avenues and alleyways to find truly ancient things, rake amongst the bins for the rubbish of the ancient past that refuses.

Sometimes we need to seek out the rough in order to make the tumble way back into the past.

But…..sometimes the stories of standing stones become more interesting when they become urban.

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Gourock, Inverclyde, is perched on the edge of the firth of Glasgow’s river, at the end of the line, and the beginning of so many journeys to the islands, doon the watter. Here, there are avenues and their are alleyways, wynds and braes, urban sandstone cliffs and serpentine staiways. Here be the Kempock Stone.

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This remarkable megalith, as so often with urban standing stones contained within a cage for whose protection it is not clear, is a well kent character locally, reflected in for instance a playful iron sign located on a roadside about 100m away.

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A sign that reveals the affectionate local name for this standing stone – Granny Kempock Stone. The stone is said to have the appearance of an old hag standing looking out to the sea, and folk myths have become attached to this stone like limpets, with the modern reference point for most stories drawing almost exclusively from an account of the Kempock Stone which appears in the Rev David MacCrae’s 1880 book Notes about Gourock, Chiefly Historical. This account tells of the mostly historical life of this prehistorical monument.

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Maccrae’s account of the Stone is almost the only source we have for the association with the eponymous granny (who might have been a witch), and a series of Lovecraftian rites that were once (and may still be) performed around this stone. It is worth reproducing key elements of that account here (and pictured is the original, above). Macrae’s lurid and tabloidesque description of the stone and its possible functions through time are at stark odds with the middle class designed garden context within which it sat even in the late nineteenth century.

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He notes upon walking up to the monument that “you behold, standing erect, a remarkable block of grey mica schist, that might (had Gourock been near Sodom) have passed for the bituminous remains of Lot’s wife.”

His feverish historical account then turns to darker matters still (at least for a man of the cloth as the author was) – the pagan activities and beliefs that this megalith provoked both in the ancient past, and the uncomfortably near past.

“It is supposed that the Kempoch Stane marks the site in Druid times of an altar to Baal; and that it was wont to gleam, more than two thousand years ago, in the light of the Baal-fire, with the blood of human sacrifices flowing round its base. [Hmm, wonder if there is potential for phosphate analysis around the base of the stone?!]

However that may be, the Kempoch Stane was for many centuries an object of superstitious awe and reverence. The very ballast for ships from Gourock Bay was judged sacred in old time for its connection with the “Kempoch Stane”. Marriages in the district were not regarded as lucky unless the wedded pair passed around the “Lang Stane” and obtained in this way Granny Kempoch’s blessing.

It was chiefly in connection with the winds and the sea that the Kempoch Stane was regarded with superstitious dread. Standing forth on the top of the rock….Granny Kempoch must have been a marked object to ships sailing up or passing down the firth; and would look like someone placed there to rule the winds and the waves, and watch the ships as they came and went.

At one time, according to tradition, a monk made money by giving his blessing to sea-going ships, on this spot. Another tradition tells of a withered hag, reputed to be a witch, who for years dwelt beside the mystic stone, dispensing favourable winds to sea-faring men, who secured her favour by suitable gifts before sailing from Gourock Bay. But long before, and long after, the witch’s day, the sailors and fishermen were wont to take a basketful of sand from the short and walk seven times round Granny Kempoch, chanting a weird song, to ensure for themselves a safe and prosperous voyage” (MacRae 1880, 5-7).

cover-of-macrae-book

This incredible account of a scandalous standing stone that was exploited for sex and money was derived from, one would imagine, local tales, with no written sources provided. Perhaps Macrae made some or most of it up, not beyond the realms of possibility for a Victorian clergyman with an interest in antiquarian matters. But it is a narrative that has endured, and a plaque located next to the corner of the cliff-top pathway that the Stone itself occupies reproduces in full generous extracts from Macrae’s account, perhaps appropriately set within a halo of rusting screws.

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This account renders Baal as Baai, but otherwise evokes the almost spell-like enchantment of Macrae’s words, a rap sheet against this misunderstood lump of rock. (Incidentally, given how close the stone sites to the edge of an old sea cliff, the act of moving around it would actually have been more perilous than it sounds especially is one were in a hurry or a drunken sailor.)

Perhaps these words were also carved on the curious cream-coloured marble plaque adhering to a stone walled structure that sits right beside the Kempock Stone, a touch which gave the whole setting a cheesy Hammer horror feel.

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I was unable to get close enough to this weird feature – which looked rather like a heavily weathered grave slab covered in tidy tiny (but inhuman?) writing – to read its surface. It added to the sense of mystery of this tiny portion of Gourock.

Archaeologists have done little to nothing to resolve any of this mystery and this is perhaps because our traditional tools – survey, excavations, careful recording, scientific analysis – are almost powerless in the face of a single standing stone. 

The National Monuments Record of Scotland has little to say about this standing stone, which has NMRS number NS27NW 5. Field notes for the stone from the 1960s record the size (6 feet tall, 2 feet across) and petrology of the monument (mica-schist) as well as repeating some of the points made by Macrae. And that is it. Nothing else of archaeological note to help someone wanting to make sense of this stone other than the vague assertion on the metal sign on-site that it was Bronze Age and erected around 2000BC which is, frankly, a stab in a millennium long bit of dark.

The NMRS fieldworker’s account adds one further detail though, another layer in this intriguing story set in stone, which adds depth and historical incident to Macrae’s biography of the Baal-stone.

In 1662, Mary Lamont, who was burned as a witch confessed to having attended a meeting when it was intended to throw the stone into the sea.

Huh? That must be the lamest confession ever made by a witch – basically attending a meeting that was convened for the discussion of the fate of an ancient monument. No doubt she appeared in the minutes of the meeting as ML and made the tea and biscuits at the end of the night.

In fact, the story of Mary Lamont, or Marie Lamont, was far more complex than the NMRS gives it credit for and, inevitably, rather tragic.. Of Innerkip (now Inverkip) near Gourock, Mary was 16 when she confessed 13 articles associated with witchcraft and consorting with the devil presumably in less than legally fair surroundings. She claimed the devil had given her his mark, and a new name – Clowts. Thus convicted, she was burned at the stake, with the locals apparently taking pity on her and throttling the young woman before the pyre was lit.

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From a nice little film about Mary Lamont, Clowts and the Serpent (embedded below)

Her confession related to the Kempock Stone was, perhaps fittingly, the thirteenth and last. That she danced around the megalith, ‘plotting to cast it into the sea in order to destroy ships and boats’ (Clowts and the Serpent).

This tragic story, the full truth is which is lost in the mists of time, is unlikely to have involved any real magic or witchcraft, nevermind the very devil himself,  but it has cast a potent spell over modern perceptions of this standing stone in a way I have rarely encountered for any other megalith. What is more, Mary’s story inspires creativity to this day. Bloggers behind the Inverclyde myth and folklore website, Tales from the Oak, have been involved in the production of graphic novels such as Identity, which was HLF funded and developed from working with local school children to celebrate their heritage. This included the tale of Mary Lamont and the Kempock Stone.

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A page from the Identity graphic novel

Perhaps a higher profile attempt to tell the story of Mary was a STV children’s TV show from 1987 called Shadow of the Stone.

screen-grab

This show was a tea-time-at-the-weekend kind of thing, and is best remembered now as the big break for actors Shirley Henderson and Alan Cumming.

henderson-and-cumming

Shirley Henderson and Alan Cumming on the set of The Shadow and the Stone. Photo believe it or not (c) Alan Cumming himself

The plot revolves around a 1980s’ school girl who, through the medium of the Kempock Stone, develops a strong and supernatural connection with Mary Lamont. The writer of the programme, Catherine Czerkawska recently described the plot:

Shadow of the Stone is a spooky tale of witchcraft, possible possession and burgeoning adolescent sexuality, all set in picturesque Gourock and Greenock on the Clyde. A young girl, Lizzie, becomes fascinated by the story of Marie Lamont, who was burnt as a witch in seventeenth century Scotland. Lizzie has a troubled family background and thwarted ambitions to sail, so when a yachtsman arrives from America, having navigated the Atlantic alone, Lizzie develops a crush, not just on him, but on his beautiful yacht. 

The power of the stone can be seen here in rather simplistic brush strokes as a conduit to the past, enabled by touching or hugging the stone, as Shirley Henderson seems to be doing here. (Note the signage for the stone, now gone.) The megalith acts as a literal touchstone with deeply encoded messages that only a kindred spirit to those who once danced around the stone can access. Forbidden knowledge, dangerous and confusing to adults (i.e. men).

shirley-henderson-at-the-stone

This programme makes the connection once again between this stone, and the sea, and women, and sexuality, and fertility, threads which run through all of the stories about Granny Kempock.

Alan Cumming, on his own website, reminisced briefly but fondly about working on this show.

Also made by Scottish Television for the ITV network,Shadow of the Stone is a six-part series about a girl and her alter ego from a century ago who had been burned at the stake as a witch. I played her boyfriend Tom, her boyfriend in both time zones. 

He notes that in every scene he was involved in, his character was said to be ‘lurking’ and this sums up nicely the role men have had in the story of the Kempock Stone – sleazy, exploitative, sadistic, judgemental. It is often said in folk myths that to be turned into stone was a common punishment for witchcraftery and covorting, and it is perhaps no surprise that the modern cutesy name for the stone derives from the apparently physical similarity between the stone and an old woman, or crone, or hag, or gran. Yet there is nothing about this stone that suggests it looks more like a man and a woman.

Mhairi Robertson's depiction of Granny Kempock, reproduced with permission

Mhairi Robertson’s depiction of Granny Kempock, reproduced with permission

 

000000OOOOOOOOOO000000

I visited the stone on a mid-December Saturday, parking down by the waterfront where the denim-grey waves pounded against megalithic sea defences, the fusion of stone and water occurring at a point that I was unable to adequately determine – in the same way as it was now almost impossible to tell where the sea began and the Clyde ended. Fusions of horizons on the horizon, creating fluid boundaries that barely exist. I turned my back to the roaring river to look inland and up to the urban horizon where past and present blurred, another fusion and confusion.

the-sea-low-res

Through the car park, up some stairs, not using a map, working from memory, I skipped across the main road – KEMPOCK STREET- and randomly turned left. Almost immediately I came across the entrance to a narrow alleyway that led to some steps. An iron sign bridged the alleyway – KEMPOCK STONE. Names pointing me in the correct direction, propitious omens for success. Over the avenue, up the the alleyway. Up the steps, to my destination.

kempock-steps-alley

kempock-steps

All the while I was climbing up a cliff face, sandstone outcrops overhanging gardens on all sides. At the top, I turned right and immediately saw….her.

kempock-stone-2-low-res

The standing stone was in a curious location, perched on the cliff edge and set within a compound of strangeness, with a stumpy stone tower with marble slab beside it, and an ornate gothic green fence around it, some upright post adorned with corrupted fleur de lis. Unsurprisingly, the megalith was caged.

caged-stone-low-res_li

A closer look at the surface of the stone showed that three sides of if were adorned with carved initials and symbols. I was unable to see the fourth, dark, side of the stone. My notes, scrawled with cold hand and blue pen, documented these markings as best I could, subsequently let down by a botched scan on the work photocopier which it is now too late to rectify.

scan-of-notes

Amidst the markings, aside the usual mixture of big initials and dates, and some bold lines and delineations, were what appear to be at least two mason’s marks.

the-symbols

Reproduced from wikipedia under a creative commons licence (see list of sources at end of post)

Reproduced from wikipedia under a creative commons licence (see list of sources at end of post)

Perhaps here we can see the hand of men in the story of the stone at last, and we can also assume that the fence around the stone and the constructions around it were likely to have been a male domain when this work was undertaken. Superficial scrapes in the deep surface of this stone, nothing more.

mason-mark-image

Around the base of the Kempock Stone was a collection of offerings (or perhaps I have been studying Neolithic pit deposition for too long, and this was just rubbish). And there was a hole in the stone, of which I can find no discussion anywhere. It was respected and perhaps even incorporated into one especially grand carving, a large ‘shield’ containing big writing and the date 1815.

hole-and-offerings-low-res

I took one last look at the stone and its bizarre mashed up contemporary setting, yards away from net curtains and tenement doors, and then wondered at the view from and past the stone, expansive and thrilling. If this is the original setting for the standing stone, it is breathtaking, and the connection with the sea, and the salty tasting air, is satisfying and obvious.

I walked out onto Bath Street where the nice iron Granny Kempock sign had been installed, defiantly beside the local church and a dog shit bin.

the-sign-from-behind-low-res

By the time I reached the bottom of the hill I had almost completed my loop back to the start of my short urban walk, when I came across a rather creepy nativity scene in a small park. Here, offerings were being placed around a crypt, but perhaps the motivations behind this story were little different to the stories of deposition and ritual at the standing stone up the road, acts with the intention of paying respect to awesome forces, whether that be god …. or the sea.

creepy-nativity-scene

KEMPOCK PLACE. THE KEMPOCK BAR. Names, names, names.

the-kempock-bar-low-res

My walk had come to an end. The Kempock Stone had been revealed to me, although I had not yet had enough, and continued to sneak up alleyways into gardens for one last look at the dark, western, side of the megalith from below. I peered between bins and through wet washing like a megalith junkie, eager for one more hit of Granny K. A clear view remained beyond my grasp, but the peculiar and spectacular location of the stone was evident.

a-last-view-from-below-low-res

Urban standing stones are rarely as accommodating, or have such rich biographies, as the Kempock Stone. The stories, myths and people who have an association with this stone, whether witch, mason, sailor, school girl or granny, give a richness of narrative that we rarely, if ever, get for the prehistoric incarnations of such monuments, and even excavation would scarce furnish us a fraction of this level of detail. It is the modern biographies of prehistoric monuments that maintain these stones, not the work of archaeologists or fence-builders or heritage managers. We should cherish and celebrate these stories, told in the Shadow of the Stone.

stone-and-fence-fluer-de-lis-the-end-low-res

Sources and acknowledgements: The lyrics that start the blog are from the song Avenues and Alleyways, written by Mitch Murray and Peter Callander, and most famously performed by Tony Christie. I would like to thank Fiona Watson for information about the stone, and Gourock-based artist Mhairi Robertson for kind permission to reproduce her wonderful and evocative drawing of Granny Kempock. The image showing the graffiti possible mason’s mark on the Kempock Stone was reproduced under a creative commons licence via Wikipedia – By Mgordon42 – Own work, CC BY 3.0, while the image showing mason’s marks was sourced from Edward D Galvin (1987) A History of Canton Junction. Finally, I have used the photo of Alan Cumming and Shirley Henderson without actually asking permission from Mr Cumming, an actor of some repute, who I am sure is far too busy to be dealing with unsolicited messages from bloggers asking for permission to use obscure photos from the collection of Mr C himself and first published on his extensive, entertaining and authentic blog. I hope that’s OK with everyone.

 

 

 

 

Cythera

11 Dec

“Thousands of motorists each day travel along the M74 motorway, to the south of Glasgow, unaware of the fascinating 1000-year history emerging from the edge of the hard shoulder.”

cythera

The town of Hamilton in South Lanarkshire is underlain by a monumental landscape – a landscape of expansive views, an extravagant burial monument, ceremonial avenues, carefully arranged trees, a folly, an enormous high status dwelling place, and an earthen barrow.

An alternative geometry, a different world.

the-draughstman

Yet much of this is actually visible from the M74 motorway, if one cares to look to the side that is not dominated by Strathclyde Park loch, itself a place of deep time, with a Roman fort and its fancy bathhouse, and the abandoned mining village of Bothwellhaugh, destroyed in the 1960s and now located beneath the waters of the loch and a theme park. And of course, the motorway has buried secrets of its own, notably the ‘lost’ medieval village of Cadzow that was rediscovered recently during excavations by GUARD Archaeology Ltd as part of the interminable roadworks that have dominated this corner of Scotland for the last 18 months.

Despite the endless development and alteration, the submersion of this landscape beneath concrete and water, traces of all these past places survive against all of the odds, sometimes revealing themselves to us, other times having to be sought out.

Buildings in the now destroyed and flooded Bothwellhaugh village (from Abandoned Communites website)

Buildings in the now destroyed and flooded Bothwellhaugh village (from Abandoned Communities website)

 

Excavations on the edge of the M74 (c) GUARD Archaeology Ltd.

Excavations on the edge of the M74 (c) GUARD Archaeology Ltd.

Deep within this place of complex and entangled timelines riven by motorways and parks both retail, leisure and theme, we have the aforementioned monumental landscape, hidden in plain sight.

But it is not, as I cunningly led you to believe, a Neolithic monumental landscape that now lies beneath an urban centre in Lanarkshire. Rather, it is the remnants of a remarkable eighteenth and nineteenth century (AD!) designed landscape that was constructed for and by the Dukes of Hamilton.

Reconstruction of the Hamilton Palace designed landscape

‘Simulated reconstruction’ of the Hamilton Palace designed landscape (source)

At the heart of this landscape was an extravagant avenue of trees, which ran for 5 km south-north from the Chatelherault folly hunting lodge and the Dog Barrow to a large meander in the River Clyde. (When I was a teenager, I helped plant a tree when part of this cursus-like avenue was re-established.) Midway along its length was the huge Hamilton Palace (not the infamous nightclub of the same name, of which more below) and an extraordinary mausoleum. The Palace, according to the National Museums of Scotland ‘the grandest stately home in Britain’ and basically a repository for all sorts of flashy and expensive baubles, was demolished in 1927 after a lengthy period of abandonment, damage and financial decline caused by an ill-conceived undermining of the structure by coal mining which was the result of decisions made under the watch of the 10th Duke of Hamilton.

Hamilton Palace (from the Douglas archives)

Hamilton Palace (from the Douglas archives)

 

Air photo from 1946 showing the site of the Palace on the far left, and remnants of the avenue of trees © Crown Copyright 1946/MOD

Air photo from 1946 showing the site of the Palace on the far left, and the truncated avenue of trees © Crown Copyright 1946/MOD

The Mausoleum (as it is known locally) however survives to this day and is a major landmark in the motorway corridor, conveniently located just behind Hamilton Service Station. This crazy building has a high domed form, a square base, and supposedly contains the longest echo of any building in the world when the big front door is slammed (15 seconds apparently). The local Council describe this building as ‘one of the finest private tombs in the country, and …. now one of the town’s most famous buildings’. It is made of sandstone with bronze and marble fittings, and carved lions stand guard outside, but was not completed upon the death in 1852 of the egotist who commissioned it for himself, the 10th Duke. There are all sorts of weird and wonderful stories associated with this place and the Duke, the best one concerning an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus and corpse-leg-chopping (perhaps of the type witnessed in the film Lisa and the Devil). To be honest when I was a kid I thought the place looked like a strange stumpy willy.

Hamilton Mausoleum (c) S Lanarkshire Council

Hamilton Mausoleum (c) South Lanarkshire Council

 

This grand landscape is of course redolent of many things, not least an obscenely wealthy family of individuals inheriting land and money and with the time and inclination to make their mark, dominate the landscape, through its restructuring. This grand design was explicitly political, not just a way to ensure one’s friends and family had nice places to promenade while carrying those lacy umbrellas and wearing stupid hats, and hunt deer in the most benign and non-challenging fashion. Aspects of the design ensured that as the nineteenth century proceeded most of this palaver was screened off from the locals who lived in altogether more modest shacks or worked in the burgeoning coal mines and quarries that were springing up on the Duke’s land. How ironic that the most blingy thingy in this landscape, the Palace, was undermined by the industrial revolution with mining pursed because of the attractiveness of New Money to Old Money.

I don’t need to tell you that these kinds of processes – monumental landscape change by an elite to maintain political prestige – is probably what Stonehenge was all about too. After all, Stonehenge itself was literally a mausoleum. But enough prehistory.

The altogether less grand Hamilton Palace nightclub

The altogether less grand Hamilton Palace nightclub

Perhaps it is fitting that the way that this spectacular landscape and building complex is best remembered today at its northern extent, as it kisses the motorway, is in the form of a retail park and a night club with a dodgy reputation.

Designed landscape of consumerism and commuterism (c) S Lanarkshire Council

The new designed landscape, of consumerism and commuterism (c) South Lanarkshire Council

retail-park

The Hamilton Palace Grounds Retail Park is at the centre of another kind of designed landscape, this one created for everyone, not just the elites, but just as underpinned by money, not inherited money, but consumerism. The Park was ‘opened in 1999 and comprised 175,000 square feet of retail space consisting of 17 units’ (source) which is all very exciting but about as distinctive as a golf ball in a big bag of golf balls that has been opened in the dark.

Thankfully, the fringes of the retail park do contain some interesting places and structures, such as the aforementioned Mausoleum which is a short walk through a nice park next to Homebase. And another gem can be found here too: a stone circle sculpture by Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006), which is an articulation in concrete of his poem Cythera. This is sandwiched between a five aside football place, McDonalds and a dual carriageway and was constructed in 2000, a year after the shops opened.

first-view-low-res

This is an organic place made of inorganic materials – paving slabs, concrete blocks, light fittings – and at the centre of a network of pathways, an island. It is surrounded by, for want of a better word, shrubberies, and some trilithon like stone benches.

2nd-view-low-res

The words of the 1965 poem are written across a series of monolithic concrete uprights set in a circle, interspersed with leaves, signifying pauses.

the-poem

Cythera

Air

in blue

leaf

blue bark

and blue leaf

a leaf

a barque

a blue leaf

a barque in leaf-blue

aire

 

words

This is a place of wonder and calm beauty amidst the car and football sounds and the whiff of beef patty in the air.

It offers a chance to pause, and reflect.

More, it is a provocation to look up and see where you really are, transported back in time to a time where there were no units, no motorways, and the only Comets were the ones that flew across the sky.

the-view-up-the-avenue

Because Cythera stands in the avenue, on the Duke’s land.

Because Cythera stands aligned with Chatelherault: the folly and the barrow.

Because Cythera sits not near the motorway, but near the river.

the-leaf

Sometimes the past intrudes.

Sometimes the geometry that structured the world once returns to the surface. Or rather that geometry cannot be hidden or will not let itself be concealed.

the-light

Cythera released –

the goddess of love reborn – 

barque in leaf-blue –

a temple to sanity amidst the cathedral of consumerism –

landscape by design.

 

Sources: the quotation that starts this blog comes from the GUARD webpage about the M74 Cadzow excavations (link above) while the cover of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s book of the poem Cythera was sourced from this website. Links to most of the images have been included in the captions, but special mention for information and imagery associated with Hamilton Palace and grounds goes to a webpage hosted by the old RCAHMS (now HES) on the history of this place – this includes the amazing simulated air photo I have included above. Finally, I would like to thank Gavin MacGregor for identifying this urban stone circle for me.

The Fleet beneath my feet

30 Nov

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

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

 

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

It is a city to go underground and read.

Beer and books, books and beer.

beer-and-book-1

Beer and books.

Words and tunnels.

Glass tower blocks and dark dirty corners.

reflections-low-res

London is a city of turmoil and change.

It is topographically, topologically, geomorphologically, hydrologically dynamic.

Yet it never changes.

double-yellow-low-res

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

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

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

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

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

grid-low-res

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

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

subway-sign-low-res

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

lower-robert-street

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

footprints-low-res

What more can be said about London?

What more can be written about London?

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

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

Deeper than anything a guidebook can tell you.

beer-and-book-2

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

THIS IS PREHISTORY.

wheeler-sign

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

Iron Age commuters.

Iron Age dispatch riders.

Iron Age cars and buses and taxis and lorries.

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

temple-station-low-res

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

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

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

The Fleet beneath my feet.

 

 

 

Dig Cochno

8 Nov

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

excavation-info-image

 

REVEALING THE COCHNO STONE

Phase 2 excavation and digital recording summary report

Summary

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

The Cochno Stone: a brief history and background

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

location-map-for-reports-rough-version

Figure 1: Map showing the location of the Cochno Stone

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

donnelly-drawing-from-bruce-1896

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

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

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

canmore_image_sc01062363

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

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

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

 

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

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

  • The Cochno Stone remains in good condition despite its burial, but the stone surface is soft so care must be taken when cleaning the stone surface;
  • It is likely existing drawings of the Cochno Stone are inaccurate in terms of content and certainly in scale;
  • The surface of the stone will have extensive modern graffiti on it;
  • The wall surrounding the stone appears to have been pushed over during stone burial but its lower courses and foundations remain extant.
trench-location-phase-1-after-2016-excavation

Figure 4: The red box indicates the location of the Phase 1 trench (drawing from Morris 1981)

graffiti-and-paint-blob-low-res

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

 

Phase 2 – Excavation and 3D scanning September 2016

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

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

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

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

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Figure 7: A firefighter helping to clean the Cochno Stone

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

 

Phase 2 results

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

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

Comparison with older drawings and analysis

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

Different methods of pecking evident

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

Scan will enable analysis of pecking methods employed

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

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

Research into Mann’s work

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

Identification and conservation of coins and medal

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

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

All graffiti was photographed and logged

Attempts made to contact those who did it

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

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

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

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

Investigation of ‘fire’ area

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

 

Reburial

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

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

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

 

Archaeological recording

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Scanning and digital recording [Ferdinand Suamarez Smith] 

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

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

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

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

 

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Figure 13: Photogrammetry at the Cochno Stone

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

 

Laser scanning (Lyn Wilson)

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

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

 

High-spy

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

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Figure 15: HES high-spy unit on site

 

Provisional results

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

(1) Prehistoric rock-art

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(2) Antiquarian recording

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

 

(3) Ludovic Mann intervention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(4) Modern graffiti and damage

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

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

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

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

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

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

(5) Burial of the Stone in 1965

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

 

Conclusion and next phase of the project

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Acknowledgements

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Stevie

 

References

2015 Cochno Stone report (aka Brophy 2015)

Cochno Stone CANMORE entry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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