Archive | September, 2015

The Cochno Stone exposed

27 Sep

Between 7th and 9th September 2015, the Cochno Stone was revealed for the first time in 51 years – albeit only for 36 hours.

The results of this small-scale excavation are simple, yet exciting.

It is important that the results of the work we did, and the recommendations I am making for future work at the Stone, are made as widely available as possible. And so my full report on the excavation can be found below in this blog post.

For other accounts of this brief, but important, excavation, there are some excellent sources online:

Devil’s Plantation blog – Dig for victory

Factum Arte blog and photogrammetry

Clydebank post story

Adventures in Dowsing podcast (Aid047) – Revealing Cochno

My previous blog post on this subject – A matter of trust

Facebook group campaigning to uncover the Cochno Stone

 

The Cochno Stone: an archaeological investigation

Phase 1 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 archaeologists in 1964 to protect it from ‘vandalism’ associated with visitors and encroaching urbanisation. A proposal has been developed to uncover the Stone, and laser scan it, to allow an exact replica to be created and placed in the landscape near where the original site is. In order to do this, it was felt that an initial trial excavation should take place (Phase 1) in order to assess the condition of the Stone and the nature of its burial. This work was undertaken in early September 2015. The Cochno Stone was found to be buried less deeply than claimed, and the wall surrounding it appears to have partially collapsed or been pushed over. The Stone itself was uncovered and rock-art, as well as 20th century graffiti and damage to the Stone, was recorded. Recommendations for the next phase of the project can now be made and the future plans for the Stone opened up for dialogue.

 

Background to the project

The Cochno Stone (aka 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. It is one of up to 17 panels of rock-art in this area (Morris 1981, 123-4) but by far the most extensive. The outcrop measures some 13m by 8m, is covered in scores of cup-marks, cup-and-rings marks, spirals and other unusual motifs. The surface is undulating, sloping sharply to the south, and is a ‘gritstone’ or sandstone. It was buried for ‘protection’ from vandalism in 1964.

Image 1: extract from Harvey's 1880s sketch (source: Harvey 1889)

Image 1: extract from Harvey’s 1880s sketch (source: Harvey 1889)

The Cochno 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). Harvey concluded his largely descriptive narrative with this hope:

Evidently the district in which these sculpturings have been found, lying as it does on the pleasant slopes of the Kilpatrick hills, and commanding an extensive view of Clydesdale, had been a favourite resort of these ancient rock-engravers; and it is my hope that, in the course of time, with a little labour, more of these mysterious hieroglyphics may be brought again to the light of day, and perhaps the veil that shrouds from us their meaning may be withdrawn (Harvey 1889, 137).

 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 new sketch of the stone by W. A. Donnelly, this time showing (apparently) all of the stone rather than one part of it. There are some notable differences here from Harvey’s depiction (above) of the triple cup-and-ring mark arrangement. Donnelly’s drawing was the basis for Ronald Morris’s own sketch plan (see image 7) although Morris was dismissive of its reliability based on his own observations (1981, 124).

Image 2: Sketch of the Cochno Stone by W A Donnelly (dated 1895), which was reproduced in slightly different format by Bruce (1896) – image 3 - then rationalised by Morris (1981) – image 7.

Image 2: Sketch of the Cochno Stone by W A Donnelly (dated 1895), which was reproduced in slightly different format by Bruce (1896) – image 3 – then rationalised by Morris (1981) – image 7.

 

Image 3: Bruce’s version of Donnelly’s sketch, reduced in detail and context (Bruce 1896)

Image 3: Bruce’s version of Donnelly’s sketch, reduced in detail and context (Bruce 1896)

Bruce did not re-tread Harvey’s account but rather focused on unusual motifs found on the Stone:

Two features which had not hitherto been observed, viz., a cross within an oval border and a sculpturing resembling two pairs of footprints, which, curiously enough, show only four toes each, both being incised in the rock, casts of which can now be inspected, prepared by Mr Adam Miller, Helensburgh (Bruce 1896, 208).

Image 4: The enigmatic four-toed petrosomatoglyphs, with ‘old penny’ for scale (Morris 1981)

Image 4: The enigmatic four-toed petrosomatoglyphs, with ‘old penny’ for scale (Morris 1981)

Some international parallels for these symbols were found and they were considered as being contemporary with the prehistoric rock-art as opposed to modern editions. However, it is as likely that the cross and petrosomatoglyphs are much more modern additions. The fate to the casts is unknown sadly.

Soon the stone became something of a tourist attraction, and a wall with at least one style was constructed around it at some point to control entry. The few photos of the Cochno Stone (such as image 9) – mostly from the 1930s – show visitors walking over the stone, usually from learned societies, and this may well have contributed to damage to the Stone which subsequently led to its burial.

The Stone became the renewed focus for archaeological attention in the mid-1930s when Ludovic 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 white 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 image 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 at this time suggest two colours were used.

Image 5: Note the carved P H (Morris 1981)

Image 5: Note the carved P H (Morris 1981)

There was clearly a growing concern from this point onwards that the Stone was under threat, from visitors walking on the Stone, but also vandalism. A hint of this is evident in the rare image (pre 1937?) above showing a carved P H on the surface of the Cochno Stone beside the remarkable triple cup-and-ring arrangement shown in Harvey’s original sketch (image 1).

And thus in 1964, the stone was buried, although the circumstances of this act remain shrouded in mystery.

Morris (1981, 124) offers this account:

Morris 1981 text

The vandals were later identified in the same book as ‘from near-by towns’. Others repeated this story over the years since, naming Glasgow University as the driving force behind the burial and suggesting up to 1m of soil covered the Stone. Euan MacKie (in MacKie and Davis 1988-89, 127) noted that the Stone has been “buried for some years for its own protection” although a recent email conversation with Euan suggests he was not privy to the act of burial itself. Therefore the details of the burial of the Stone, and potentially other rock-art panels in the vicinity, requires further research.

 

Phase 1 overview: research questions and methodology

The first phase of work was carried out in order to allow a small section of the Cochno Stone to be exposed, under conditions akin to an archaeological watching brief. This small-scale excavation was viewed as being vitally important in establishing some baseline conditions ahead of the proposed more extensive phase 2 of the project.

Research questions and objectives underlying this small-scale intervention were as follows:

  1. What condition is the Cochno Stone in? Has the overlying topsoil had a detrimental effect on the stone? Could any damage be reversed or stopped?
  2. How deep is the topsoil? What is the nature of this material (soil, turf, stone content)? How easy is it to remove from the surface of the stone?
  3. How clearly visible are the motifs and can these be matched to previous drawings and records? How accurate are the old drawings we have?
  4. How was the stone buried and what happened to the wall that has been pictured around it?

This work was undertaken over three days, 7-9th September 2015, with a small team of students from the University of Glasgow; also present were Ferdinand Saumarez Smith of Factum Arte, and Richard Salmon, stone sculptor, who was on hand to assess the condition of the stone. The process was documented by film-maker May Miles Thomas.

Image 6: The current situation of the Cochno Stone, photographed a few weeks before excavation commenced

Image 6: The current situation of the Cochno Stone, photographed a few weeks before excavation commenced

In advance of the excavation, weed and vegetation clearing was required to allow access to the site and trench location. A small trench 4m by 1m was opened by hand on the north side of the stone, with turves, and the topsoil removed by a combination of mattocks, shovels and spades. At this end of this process, the site was re-instated through the replacement of soil and turves.

 

Results

A trench 4m by 1m was opened by hand on the north side of the stone, with long axis north-south. The trench ran from the northern extent of the stone (in the form of the remnants of the boundary wall). Due to the unreliable drawings of the stone that exist, the exact location of the trench in the context of the stone remains unclear.

 

Image 7: The red box indicates the approx. location of the planned trench, and the green box may be roughly where the trench actually sat in relation to the stone, with a void in the northern half of the trench (Stone drawing is Morris 1981 version of the original Donnelly sketch).

Image 7: The red box indicates the approx. location of the planned trench, and the green box may be roughly where the trench actually sat in relation to the stone, with a void in the northern half of the trench (Stone drawing is Morris 1981 version of the original Donnelly sketch).

 

Image 8: Plan of the trench, North to the right

Image 8: Plan of the trench, North to the right

Image 9: The Stone being daubed in white ‘paint’ by Ludovic MacLellan Mann in the 1930s. Note the style in the wall on the left of the image (circle); this was partially revealed during our excavations, which may well help tie down the trench location more closely when more photos become available © RCAHMS

Image 9: The Stone being daubed in white ‘paint’ by Ludovic MacLellan Mann in the 1930s. Note the style in the wall on the left of the image (circle); this was partially revealed during our excavations, which may well help tie down the trench location more closely when more photos become available © RCAHMS

 

Image 10: General view of the trench from the north, with planning going on in the foreground

Image 10: General view of the trench from the north, with planning going on in the foreground

 

Topsoil

The topsoil that the stone was buried in was mid-brown clay silt with infrequent pebble inclusions, and for the most part had the character of re-deposited plough soil. The occurrence of brick fragments, rusted metal nails, broken ceramic and glass in this soil layer suggests that this was transferred from a field nearby rather than derived from the immediate vicinity. The soil varied in depth from 0.5m towards the top of the stone, to 0.7m at the south end of the trench, which suggests the 1m depth occasionally quoted may only apply to the southern downhill portion of the stone. No indication was found of anything placed between the stone and the soil.

Image 11: The topsoil had a high clay content and was tough to remove

Image 11: The topsoil had a high clay content and was tough to remove

The wall

It is clear that the drystone wall which surrounded the stone is still there, albeit in a ruinous state. The top of the wall had been pushed, or fallen, over, but the lower section of the wall appears to be intact. Remnants of a stone style were also discovered, some of which was visible on the ground surface before the excavation commenced (and can be seen in image 9, above). This raises concerns that the wall was pushed onto the stone during the burying process and it may be that the stone itself has been damaged by this. We did not remove the wall rubble to assess this due to time constraints. But there did not appear to be a layer of topsoil between wall rubble and stone surface, only material that had trickled beneath.

Image 12: This 1930s photo shows the wall clearly overlying the edge of the Cochno Stone (source: The Clydebank Story, a now defunct website)

Image 12: This 1930s photo shows the wall clearly overlying the edge of the Cochno Stone (source: The Clydebank Story, a now defunct website)

 

Image 13: The collapsed wall, viewed from the south, showing rubble overlying the stone. The yellow arrow indicates a worked semi-circular stone that once topped the wall

Image 13: The collapsed wall, viewed from the south, showing rubble overlying the stone. The yellow arrow indicates a worked semi-circular stone that once topped the wall

The Cochno Stone

The stone was revealed in the afternoon of the first day of work, at varying depths beneath the surface and running beneath the wall rubble in the northern end of the trench. After the surface of the Stone was reached, heavy tools were removed from the trench and we continued to clean down to the Stone surface using trowels and then soft-bristle brushes. Water was poured on the Stone to assist cleaning and a water pump was used to remove excess water. The Cochno Stone was recorded via a sketch plan (image 8) and a photographic render produced by Factum Arte (image 14) which shows most clearly the motifs that were uncovered.

Image 14: Render of the stone generated from photography © Factum Arte

Image 14: Render of the stone generated from photography © Factum Arte

Six or seven cup-marks were evident, two of which had rings around them (one two, the other possibly three) and a further faint putative ring was identified at a third cup. The marks were all deeply incised and quite coarse in quality (cups up to 25mm in depth and 50mm in diameter), and in remarkably good condition given the burial of the stone and previous exposure for several thousand years. It was possible to determine small pecking marks in and around at least one cup-mark, suggesting the means of producing the marks may be revealed through further analysis. It may also be possible to identify phasing between one cup-mark and adjacent cup-and-ring mark which appear to overlap, as was the case at nearby Greenland (Mackie & Davis 1988-89).

A number of other surface additions were noted, all presumably related to activity in the late 19th or early 20th century:

  • A short section of metal pipe was found adhered to the rock surface, leaving a stain when removed; this likely ended up on the stone during the burial process.
  • White flecks identified within one cup-mark may be remnants of Mann’s white paint, but no other sign of this was identified, suggesting an organic liquid was used rather than a chemical paint. These flecks were sampled for further analysis.
  • A small red patch, about 20mm across, was noted adhering to the surface of the stone. This had the character of a paint of some kind, and adhered closely to the stone; no sample could be collected as this was so closely bonded to the stone; this could relate to another colour of paint used on the stone by Mann, or be the remnant of some kind of vandalism.
  • A large black blob was found towards the SE corner of the trench. This had the character of pitch, tar or melted plastic, and was sampled for further analysis. The irregular pattern of this deposit suggested it melted in situ or is some kind of ‘splatter’. This overlay at least two cup-marks and edges of rings.
  • Modern graffiti scratched into the rock. This was an extensive panel of writing , contained within a crude box with irregular boundary. The visible portion measured some 250mm by 300mm, running under the eastern baulk of the trench. The letters were deeply incised and most are apparent:

E F D B

B DOCHERTY

R D

J B 1905 [1945 / 1965 also possible]

Image 15: Cup-mark containing white flecks – Mann’s paint remnants?

Image 15: Cup-mark containing white flecks – Mann’s paint remnants?

 

Image 16: Writing on the stone and the edge of the black splatter / blob. 15cm ruler for scale

Image 16: Writing on the stone and the edge of the black splatter / blob. 15cm ruler for scale

During the course of the excavation, a few marks were also made on the surface of the Stone with a mattock. This highlights the softness of the stone, and once this happened, heavy tools were abandoned. One consequence of this was that we wore no shoes in the trench , and so we have to consider that even walking across the Stone may cause damage to its surface.

Image 17: Protecting the Stone before back-filling commenced.

Image 17: Protecting the Stone before back-filling commenced.

At the end of the excavation, the stone and wall were covered in a double layer of geotex, and the trench was backfilled and re-turved by hand.

 

Preliminary recommendations for Phase 2

  1. The Cochno Stone remains in very good condition despite being buried and so a project to uncover and record the Stone is considered to be feasible and of great value.
  2. The local community should be consulted at all stages of the development of phase 2 of the project and any subsequent outcomes from the Cochno Stone project.
  3. The exposure of the Cochno Stone can be done by machine, but under very close supervision and with various mitigating factors in place e.g. plastic or rubber blade on the bucket, machine stays out with the perimeter wall.
  4. The rock is very soft and therefore hand excavation should avoid metal tools where at all possible – appropriate tools and brushes will need to be identified. Consultation with archaeologists who have worked on other rock-art panels will be imperative to share best practice.
  5. It is likely that existing drawings of the Cochno Stone are inaccurate (what we found cannot be located on Donnelly’s drawing) and therefore a full and detailed new drawing is urgently required. A suitable individual to do this should be identified.
  6. Phasing of rock-art cannot be ruled out, and we may be able to establish the means by which the rock-art was carved into the rock. Methods to deal with both areas of enquiry should be developed.
  7. Initial photogrammetry suggests high resolution recording techniques will reveal more about the Stone than observation with the naked eye and therefore techniques such as this and laser scanning will be of fundamental importance.
  8. We must consider the possibility that the perimeter wall collapse has caused some damage to the edges of the Stone; the removal of wall rubble will add to the time and cost of the final excavation.
  9. A rough sample – our trench (and the P H carving on one photo) – suggests that the Cochno Stone is heavily vandalised – and the damage to the Stone will include graffiti but also paint splatters and wear from visitors walking on the stone. The removal of chemical and other substances from the Stone (if desirable) will add to the cost of the project.
  10. Ludovic Mann’s ‘paint’ has largely disappeared; but traces may still remain and so we should not discount this from project designs. Research to connect Mann’s work at Cochno with Knappers would also be of great value.
  11. The story and circumstances of the burial of the Stone – and others in the park – need to be investigated as a matter of urgency to help inform the phase 2 excavation, find other rock-art panels and add to the modern story of the Stone.
  12. Any work on the Stone should be accompanied by research within and beyond the local community for:
    1. Memories and stories associated with the Cochno Stone and other rock-art
    2. Pictures and other images of the Stone before its burial.

 

Acknowledgements

A small team of very hard working students gave up a few days of their time to work at the Cochno Stone which was very much appreciated – Liam Devlin, Alison Douglas, Taryn Gouck, Rebecca Miller, Joe Morrison, Rory Peace and Katherine Price. Helen Green visited several times with her thoughts for phase 2 and other Glasgow PhD students – Tom Davis, Jamie Barnes and Dene Wright popped in with useful suggestions. Thanks also to project partners Ferdinand Saumarez Smith and Richard Salmon for help and advice throughout the process, and May Miles Thomas was a constant source of encouragement, and documented the process. Thanks to West Dunbartonshire council for permission to carry out the work and for ensuring access to the excavation site by strimming weeds and vegetation. John Raven of Historic Scotland has offered support and advice throughout the process and ensured permission was secured to excavate this scheduled ancient monument. And thanks too for Mrs Marks, owner of the east half of the Stone, for visiting and entering discussions with us about the future of the Stone. I would also like to thank John Reppion for drawing my attention to the word petrosomatoglyph!

Most of all, thanks to all of the local people who have kept alive memories of the Cochno Stone, many of whom of all ages came and visited our dig: this project is dedicated to all of you.

 

References

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.*

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.]

Mackie, E W and Davis, A 1988-89 New light on Neolithic rock carving. The petroglyphs at Greenland (Auchentorlie), Dumbartonshire’, Glasgow Archaeological Journal 15, 125-55.

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

Ritchie, J N G 2002 Ludovic McLellan Mann (1869–1955): ‘the eminent archaeologist’ Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 132, 43–6*

References with * are free to view online – just google the title.

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The search for Miliband’s megalith

11 Sep

This weekend the new leader of the Labour party will be announced.

This momentous occasion inevitably leads us to recall the demise of the previous leader, Ed Miliband. It seems likely regardless of all that he did during his career in politics, there will be one defining image that history has of him.

It is Ed, be-suited, standing in a powerful masculine pose, surrounded by groupies (aka staff) with a white megalithic limestone block balanced on a blue rusty trailer with words hewn upon it behind him – Miliband’s megalith, the #EdStone.

BBC photo of the monolith and Miliband

The tantalising possibility that this megalith could even have been erected in the garden of 10 Downing Street had Ed won that election in May prompted me to write a blog post on this startling turn of events earlier in the year.

But Ed lost. And the standing stone quickly went missing. It disappeared, a source of increasing embarrassment for all concerned (and some bemusement even before the election took place). What could have been the highest profile urban prehistoric landmark in the UK became an inconvenience. And Ed disappeared as quickly, and effectively.

Heaviest suicide note in history

Private Eye

That lump of stone came to encapsulate the failures and banality of Labour’s election campaign, a metaphor for vacuous sloganizing and box-ticking pledges that few took seriously anymore. Post mortem accounts of the election defeat featured the stone heavily, both as an image, but also as a symptom of a party hierarchy that was out of touch and misguided.

Guardian front cover 4th June 2015

So why re-visit this comical monolith now?

I watched with interest over the summer as Miliband’s megalith appeared again and again in media stories (although the story fizzled out in June), and it seemed to me that the #EdStone became a relic of sorts, treasure to be sought after, the material outcome of a political process, something to be found and analysed. It was a treasure hunt and mystery rolled into one.

Milistone newsclipping

Some of the key themes of the parodies, reflection and comedy searches that have been provoked by this inscribed lump of limestone are drawn from archaeology, not surprisingly given the megalithic nature of this political gimmick and Miliband’s misguided assertion he would erect the stone had he won the election, thus creating London’s newest standing stone.

Allusions to prehistory were easy to make (as I demonstrated in my blog post), and well illustrated by a bizarre poem performed by Jon Snow on Channel 4 news on 8th May 2015 (worth watching).

Labour hoped it would be a hinge stone

many thought it was a henge stone

it was quickly tagged an #EdStone

but now it’s just a headstone

What is a henge stone? Who knows, but the parallel was made by others.

General Boles twitter image

Image posted on twitter by General Boles

It was even suggested in The Daily Mail by unctuous columnist Quentin Letts that if erected in Downing Street, the stone would have become the focus for solstice rituals. With hyperbole and scattergun classical and archaeological references, he ranted:

Now the Downing Street garden would have this Mili-stone, this lump of mad masonry. The plan is said to be still not entirely certain but it will presumably go in one of those flower beds near the back gate where Samantha Cameron plants her aromatherapy herbs and where Gordon Brown’s wife Sarah used to grow vegetables. Will full-breasted Harmanite maidens and fluting-voiced New Labour press officers dance round this stone every summer solstice? Or will it one day be found covered in lichen in some back garden in Doncaster, near rusting prams, discarded lavatory bowls and boxes of never-distributed leaflets entitled ‘The Miliband Ascendancy’?

The ‘Doncaster option’ actually sounds quite realistic in light of what was to follow.

Solstice story

Daily Mail coverage of the standing stone unveiling

The search for the standing stone also had prehistoric allusions, and this had something of a Raiders of the Lost Ark feel about it, in the form of numerous parallels with the closing scene of that film where the Ark of the Covenant was deposited in an apparently infinite warehouse – assumed to be the fate of the #EdStone itself.

millibands-stone-tablet1

newshump image

raiders of the lost ark

A much reproduced image, no doctoring required, this version from The Mirror

The treatment of the stone, hidden away, was one aspect of fascination with the stone. But another was the search for the standing stone itself. This high profile campaign interested me because it had parallels with approaches archaeologists take to the study of prehistoric standing stones – there were attempts to find the source and materiality of the stone and who made it, and a strong interest in the journey it took from unveiling to its current location: where the stone was deposited. In other words, a biographical approach was taken to the #EdStone, with an apparently nationwide fascination with the story of this standing stone from birth to death and everything in between. Even I got in on the act.

letter to labour

This detective work was done by journalists, not archaeologists. The methods used in this piece of research were unorthodox in archaeological terms – multiple phone calls to stonemasons, appeals via twitter and email, interviewing Labour politicians and the establishment of a hotline and rewards for information – but the outcomes are familiar to us. A narrative emerged, clues were uncovered and interpretations made. Suggestions were even made as to how the stone could be utilised if ever found, as if it were an artefact discovered on an excavation that then had to be displayed in a museum.

And most of the time, none of this was taken particularly seriously – this was soft archaeology, tickling the underbelly of the megalith, selling newspapers and filling air time, taking the piss out of Ed and his strange idea.

Radio 4 ad

Some things were a matter of record, such as the amazingly dull location of the press launch of the stone, a car park in Hastings.

Location of the launch

Location of the launch

But much less clear was where the stone was made before it was transported to this banal location. Journalists hit the phones. ‘The Telegraph has contacted more than 50 of the largest masonry firms across UK, none of whom have admitted responsibility for its creation.’ Other newspapers phoned local stonemasons, all of whom denied having anything to do with the manufacture of Miliband’s megalith.

However, after a bit of a search, the makers of the stone were finally revealed – a monumental stone firm based in Basingstone called – believe it or not – Stone Circle.

Stone Circle makers of the EdStone

stone-circle_logoThe megalith is made of limestone, and cost around £30,00o to make (£100,000 according to The Sun). It weighs around 2 tonnes. And the man whose company made it was not revealing much other than he thought it was a stupid idea, but hey, the customer is always right.

The company’s joint director, Jeff Vanhinsbergh, said he was unable to discuss the making of the stone or its estimated £30,000 because he had signed a confidentiality clause with the Labour Party (The Telegraph)

‘I’m sure it wasn’t his [Miliband] idea and he was just doing what his strategists told him. But whoever did come up with the idea, oh dear’ (The Mirror)

The birth of the stone, and its journey to Hastings, was by now a little clearer. But where had the stone gone after its unveiling? Various media outlets reported that it had been taken to London, some arguing this was a response to the negative coverage, others that it was part of a secret post-election erection plan. The Telegraph noted:

It is believed to have been moved under cover of darkness to London, where it would have been within striking distance of Miliband’s Downing Street.

The game was afoot!

Some newspapers had a direct approach, making appeals and offering cash rewards, notably The Sun:

Where’s Ed’s special stone? The Labour party have done a spectacularly good job at hiding the 8ft PR disaster.

SunNation screen grab

Meanwhile The Daily Mail offered a crate of champagne as a reward for information on the whereabouts of this most elusive of standing stones.

In the end, the truth was rather more banal – the monolith had been taken to a grey warehouse in SE London, in an industrial estate in Woolwich. Owned by stone conservationists PAYE, it remained hidden from the sight of journalists, and this seems to have been a temporary resting place only.

Warehouse

Private Eye 1393

Intriguingly, the fate of the stone appears to have been subject to various different plans within the Labour party. An excellent retrospective assessment of the lead-up to the election and what went wrong, which appeared in The Guardian in June 2015, applied hindsight and insider information to provide this definitive overview:

The stone’s demolition, in the event of a Labour loss, had been agreed at the time it was commissioned. After the election, the party drew up two plans for its disposal: one was simply to smash the stone up and throw the rubble onto a scrap heap. The second was to break it up and sell chunks, like the Berlin Wall, to party members as a fundraising effort. The first attempts to destroy the stone had to be postponed when the media tracked its location to a south London warehouse. There are claims it has been destroyed, but even Miliband’s close advisers cannot confirm its fate.

One Edstone, no longer needed

This juicy bit of gossip hints at various possible deaths for this stone, and perhaps it has now been destroyed. This act has already been parodied in this cartoon from the Private Eye.

Private Eye 2

Clearly this could be viewed as a cathartic act for a political party in shock. It was reported in The Mail on Sunday in June that Labour MP John Woodcock pleaded for the EdStone to be taken from its place of storage and “smashed to bits in public”.

The whereabouts of this – perhaps very short-lived – standing stone remains unclear and unknown, rather like the vast amounts of pottery, stone tools and human remains uncovered by antiquarians in the 19th century which were ‘lost’ soon after discovery. Only ever on display for an hour or less, it might even be speculated as to whether Miliband’s megalith ever existed at all in any meaningful form. Because this megalith spent most of its life history being made and being hidden. This is where my clever archaeological parallels fall down, because standing stones in the Neolithic were made to create awe and to be visible to all, not concealed and a source of shame.

The resultant search for the stone came to reflect an archaeological project, with surveys, data gathering, research and digging around. The stone was given a biographical narrative, from birth to (assumed) death. It became an artefact, and multiple meanings and affordances were read into it. It became a focus for forensic attention but was treated with antiquarian disdain. And it interesting to see how often journalists fall back on archaeological tropes and prehistoric stereotypes whenever faced with anything that looks like a standing stone. (Which to be fair I do as well in this blog frequently.) In the end (is this the end?) the story of Miliband’s megalith, the #EdStone, is a warning – this idea did not fail because of the medium, but because of the preposterousness and po-faced nature of what Miliband was doing.

It was all a bit silly really, disturbing given how high the stakes actually were during that week in May – as they continue to be for us all.

matt cartoon

Sources and acknowledgements: much of the information and imagery in this blog was sourced from media outlets and online sources, summarised here (all publication dates are 2015):

Daily Telegraph quotes come from stories published on the 9th May and 16th May. These are the sources of the car park photo and warehouse photos too. The Guardian also had some very helpful stories, not least a summary of the hunt for the stone which appeared on 9th May, but also a very detailed retrospective piece on the lead up to the election, published on 4th June (this provided the Guardian front cover reproduced above). The Sun’s search  for the stone can be found here. The warehouse pic is available widely online, I sourced it from another ‘where is the EdStone’ article from The Mirror; the Indy in front of the stone image came from the News Thump webpage. The cartoons above were sourced from Private Eye (Fountain and Jamieson, Robert Thomson, Mike Williams) and The Telegraph (Matt) – I hope no-one is offended by my curation of various EdStone cartoons here in one place…

 

 

A matter of trust

5 Sep

This week I will be opening up a trial trench to examine a prehistoric site, on the fringe of Glasgow, that was buried 51 years ago beneath a 1m layer of soil and turf.

The site is called the Cochno Stone and it is one of the most spectacular and extensive panels of prehistoric rock-art in Britain. It is located in the lower reaches of the Kilpatrick Hills, in an area with dense rock-art concentrations on small outcrops and boulders.

In 1964 it was sealed, put beyond use and rendered inaccessible.

By archaeologists.

For its own good.

Ronald Morris drawing of the Cochno Stone derived from antiquarian records

Ronald Morris drawing of the Cochno Stone derived from antiquarian records

This rock-art splattered outcrop, rich with cups, cup-and-rings marks, spirals and two four-toed footprints was deemed, in the 1960s, to be under threat from the urban expansion of Glasgow. The Council-built estate of Faifley, now in West Dunbartonshire Council, encroached almost to the Cochno Stone itself. Too close apparently.

Houses were built. Infrastructure was constructed. Power towers and electricity cables were added.

Searching for rock-art beneath lines of power

Searching for rock-art beneath lines of power

The edge of the city cut through the land like a guillotine, with parkland created in the footprint of an old-style Estate, Auchnacraig. The ruins of old money and its trappings were slowly replaced with paths for dog-walkers, illicit gathering places in the trees and bridle tracks. (The location of one of the main Auchnacraig buildings is now marked by log seats, hearths and decorated tree stumps, a nice subversion.)

painted tree stump

Amidst this all lay the grand old Cochno Stone. Too close to the city for comfort, too vulnerable to the new Glaswegian overspill population armed to the teeth with knives, chalk, paint and pens, the tools of choice of the urban vandal. Academics at Glasgow University bristled, shook with fear. Fear for their stone, a scientific relic, becoming the plaything of the youth of today, the unwilling recipient of scars and scrapes in the form of initials and love hearts and dates. Expressions of love, friendship and regret carved in stone, daubed on stone, Glaswegian rock-art, Glasgow kissing the stone into submission and confusion.

We can’t have that.

Then, in 1964, a solution was reached.

The stone would be saved from itself and its new neighbours, saved for the future generations who might one day wonder why such effort was made to bury such a stunning stone. Saved from itself and its inherent wonderfulness and weirdness. Saved for a rainy day, for better weather, saved by the soil, piled high and deep, a last resort, a tidy solution.

Encase the stone in a tomb of soil.

The Cochno Stone location today

The Cochno Stone location today

Quietly, so no-one notices. In the dead of night. Furtively. Secretly. For the benefit of everyone and no-one, for the good of Glasgow but the disbenefit of Glaswegians.

A dirty secret, hidden from view, never mentioned except in secret conversations and obscure academic articles. Which are often one and the same thing.

Encased in a tomb of soil.

Decades went by and the stone fell from memory like a dream. Ronald Morris, solicitor and rock-art collector, kept the Cochno Stone alive with his field surveys, drawings and lists. Euan Mackie excavated the rock-art panel at nearby Greenhills and noted briefly the sad loss of the buried Cochno Stone. Like a video tape played too many times the story lost focus and sharpness and clarity however, a sob story that fewer and fewer people wanted to hear.

cups and cans

And even today the cup-and-ring marks of Faifley remain under threat apparently. Other rock-art panels, unburied, are located in what became designated as Auchnacraig Urban Park in the 1990s. Their location was not made public even although the public knew where they were. (Local people in fact know much more about the rock-art and where it is to be found than almost any archaeologist.) And at least one of these, shown above, has been vandalised. But other more impressive panels have been left alone.

cup and rings low res

Noticeboards were erected at the entrances to the park. Much of the information they contain (only one panel survives, the other having been removed from its plinth) concerns the modern history of the park and Estate. However, a brief paragraph concerning the prehistoric rock-art is present. A brief discussion of the nature of these sites is followed by this troubling statement regarding the rock-art outcrops in the urban park:

To provide protection from modern people their location is not publicised whilst some have had to be buried.

Similar comments appear in an online Council pdf leaflet which discusses the local history of the area with a walking tour:

Today, because of vandalism, the best of the carvings, including the Druid Stone [Cochno Stone], have been earthed over for protection by Historic Scotland.

There is no trust here (and it is a little unfair to blame HS here too!).

grotty noticeboard low res

But who can we trust?

Looking back on archaeological engagements with the stone, there is not much encouragement. In 1937 Ludovic Mann, a recurring character in this blog, took an interest in the Cochno Stone and other rock-art, located near his seminal excavations at Knappers. Mann painted the rock-art in white indelible paint, and to add to this middle class vandalism, he then daubed a grid of white lines all over the rock. It is almost impossible to find a photo where the Stone is not covered in this gaudy make-up. And it was enduring. Euan Mackie recently told me that when he visited the Cochno Stone in the early 1960s, it was still covered in Mann’s handiwork.

The Cochno Stone after its Mann make-over in 1937 (c) Crown Copyright RCAHMS

The Cochno Stone after its Mann make-over in 1937 (c) Crown Copyright RCAHMS

So who are the vandals here? The Cochno Stone is dynamic, not static. It seems possible that motifs were added in the 18th and 19th century, such as a cross, and possibly also the enigmatic four-toed footprints found on the Stone. Perhaps too my excavation will uncovered 1960s additions, and it seems probable that Mann’s paint will also be evident still. The Stone is a palimpsest, a surface upon which many individuals, for many motives, have felt the need to leave their mark over the past 5000 years.

Extract from Rev Harvey's drawing of the Cochno Stone, published in 1889

Extract from Rev Harvey’s drawing of the Cochno Stone, published in 1889

So can we trust the public? Apparently not, with recent media stories reporting vandalism at the Ring of Brodgar. There, earlier this month, the phrase AA2015 was carved into one of the standing stones. Historic Scotland plans to do some work to limit the damage, and their statement added: “Fortunately incidents such as this are rare, and we continue to work with the local community to educate people on the significance of these prehistoric sites.”

And here is the key to what might be a chance for the Cochno Stone to be rehabilitated and returned to the community from which it has been separated from by a barrier of soil for so long. My excavation is being carried out in collaboration with Spanish heritage company Factum Arte and the film-maker May Miles Thomas (director of the wonderful film The Devil’s Plantation). The plan is to make a super high resolution laser scan of the Stone once the topsoil has been removed, and then recreate an exact replica of the Stone, to sit in situ once the real Stone has been buried again. This is a very exciting project and it will be a privilege to be one of the first people to see the Stone since 1964 on Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

But might this be a missed opportunity?

chalk feet low res

Why not leave the Cochno Stone exposed, rather than cover it up again? What about engaging the local community in the project, enthusing them about the Stone, explaining the international significance of this prehistoric site in their midst. Surely the best stewards of urban prehistory are those who live with it?

To cover up the stone again, it could be argued, would once again be a case of the authorities telling local people that they are not to be trusted.

tree cup and rings low res

I am currently working with teachers and pupils at St Mungo’s Academy in Falkirk on a series of lessons based on decision-making: in this case, the kids are being challenged to answer this questions – should the Cochno Stone be left open, or covered back up, at the end of the excavations? Can we trust local people, or can they make do with the replica? I am really fascinated to see what the children come up with over the next few weeks. After all, these kinds of decisions can seem simple but can have significant ramifications.

final slide from presentation

Last year, Robert McNeil wrote in The Herald newspaper:

Can it really be true that there are nearly 90 Bronze Age (5,000-years-old) fantastic, mysterious rock carvings on a stone measuring 42ft by 26ft (55ft by 35ft on some counts) in a field on the edge of Clydebank and that these have been deliberately hidden under the soil by “the authorities”, so to speak, since 1964?

You. Are. Having. A. Laugh.

Every archaeological site that sits in the landscape, extant, does so by the combined will of society to allow this to happen. We have a set of values and make judgements about what can be changed, and what cannot. In some cases, those in power take decisions away from the people, with the addition of fences, charges and fees, warning signs, pathways and in extreme cases like Stonehenge security guards. The Cochno Stone is another extreme case – buried for its protection. But this was a decision from another time and should, in my opinion, be revisited.

 

The small-scale excavation of the Cochno Stone will happen on 7-9th September. I will be live tweeting during the excavations next week using #digcochnostone

 

Sources and acknowledgements: I must first thank Historic Scotland and West Dunbartonshire Council for permitting this 1st phase of excavation, and for Ferdinand Saumarez Smith of Factum Arte for inviting me to do the archaeology as it were. The St Mungo’s classes have been developed and mostly taught by Jan Brophy and Michelle McMullan, many thanks for their time and enthusiasm. The photo of the Cochno Stone in the 1930s is copyright RCAHMS, image number SC01062363, and reproduced under their new creative commons policy with regards their images. The Harvey extract came from his paper on the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland from 1889.