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Under the flight path

19 Jun

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

dawn low res

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

Or adjacent to a busy motorway intersection.

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


plane and megalith low res

 

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

 general view low res

 

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

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

 

Air photo screen grab

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

vehicle damage photo

(c) Cairnpapple Archaeological Research Association (CARA)

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

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

burnt out vehicles photo

(c) CARA

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

Yet it was not always like this.

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

Fred Coles' 1899 survey of the standing stones

Fred Coles’ 1899 survey of the standing stones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the missing noticeboard low ref

Missing information board. Missed opportunity.

 

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

1853

1853

 

1893

1893

 

6 inch OS map from 1955

1955

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

landing plane low res

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

more graffitti at Huly Hill

standing stone 2 low res

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

traveller site low res

The Visit Scotland website has this to say about Newbridge:

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

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

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

single standing stone low res

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

graffiti low res

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

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

Nothing.

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

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

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

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

The cemetery in the quarry

9 Nov

Fragments of a site, documented poorly, beyond living memory. The excavation of a Bronze Age cist cemetery in a sand pit on the south-west fringe of Glasgow in 1928. By Ludovic Mann, who else? Piecing together the pieces, re-telling the story, making sense of it all. All we are left with: fragments, pots, photos, rumour, myth, mystery. Only fragments of a site, material clues, things, both familiar and unfamiliar. Found in a sand pit on a ridge beside Mount Vernon: a place now a quarry and landfill site. Fragments. That’s all we have. As archaeologists, as (pre)historians of Glasgow, the voice of the past drowned out by the quarry machine, the truck, the motorway. The quarry and the cemetery. The cemetery and the quarry. The cemetery in the quarry. The quarry on the cemetery.

Green-oak-hill

Brown-sand-ridge

Mount Vernon.

Windy Edge.

Fragments of a site, documented poorly, all we are left with.

But it is – thankfully – enough.

old map extract

canmore_image_SC01332949

(c) Crown Copyright. Source: http://canmore.org.uk/file/image/1332949

Herald newsclipping

 

Complete Skeleton. Find Near Glasgow. A poem.

 

LONDON, Wednesday

Ludovic Mann –

well-known archaeologist –

discovered a complete Bronze Age skeleton in splendid condition

when carrying out excavations recently

on a sandy hillock at Mount Vernon near Glasgow

the skeleton is about 4000 years old

and it is quite possible

that a number of others may be found in the vicinity

as it was the practice of the people of that age

to have tribal burying grounds

over which they raised cairns.

 

The discovery was made

at a [sand pit] worked

by the Greenoakhill Sand Company.
Until recently

a mansion-house which was built 130 years ago stood near the spot

and it is thought [that] the cairn raised

over the tomb

was demolished when the ground was being cleared to [make] a garden for the mansion.

 

When some workmen were removing sand

from the hillock

an earthenware vessel of beautiful design

rolled out of a cavity constructed of slabs of stone

the find was at once reported to Mann

who went out and started systematic excavations.

 

Found three feet below the level of the grass a walled chamber 3 feet 3 inches by 2 feet the sides of which were built of vertical red sandstone slabs as a rule these tombs have a solid stone cover but in this case the covering consisted of about [X] rounded stones carefully packed over the skeleton.

 

Above these stones

was a handful of bones

which it is thought had been food intended for the dead

but this matter will have to be more carefully investigated.

 

When the black earth and boulders were removed

there was discovered a skeleton

carefully placed in position facing south-east

exactly along the medial line of the structure

the head was that of the brachycephalic or round-headed type

usually associated with the Bronze Age.

 

According to the fashion of the time

bodies were some[times] cremated

and the reason why

some bodies were disposed of in this way

while others were simply buried in the usual manner

puzzles archaeologists.

 

Beside the skeleton was a vessel of earthenware,

in which it was the practice to place food to sustain the spirit

on its journey to

the other world.

Food Vessel Glasgow Story webpage image

Food Vessel from Greenoakhill, held in Glasgow Museums collection, who hold the copyright for this image

Mann with suits at MV Glasgow story

Ludovic Mann and assorted suited visitors – dead and alive – antiquarians and magistrates – at Greenoakhill (c) Glasgow Museums

 

Attempt at an Inventory of the Material, Sediment and Human Deposits Excavated by Ludovic Mann at Greenoakhill in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-Eight

 

Six Food Vessels, two pottery bowls.

Five cists, one wooden coffin

One crouched inhumation of an elderly man, one crouched inhumation of a young woman, one crouched inhumation of an adolescent, one fragmentary inhumation, two skeletons, one cremation deposit.

One flint arrowhead, two flint knives, one white pebble, one hair moss garment.

Two charcoal deposits.

Oats, rye, sand.

N soils.

 

(c) Crown Copyright. Source: http://canmore.org.uk/file/image/1337792

(c) Crown Copyright. Source: http://canmore.org.uk/file/image/1337792

 

A Perambulation to Wyndy Hege

Quarry sign low res

 

A place of restricted access. A gated community. Movement within mediated by fences, signs, barriers. Specialised and highly regulated clothing needs to be worn to secure entry to the scene. For your own safety. And the safety of others.

A Bronze Age cemetery? Or a modern industrial quarry?

Both.

The cemetery and the quarry, both places of danger, of transformation, places we need protection from, locations and activities that need to be contained.

The wearing of special safety gear is compulsory. Without exception. PPE. Personal Protective Equipment.

Hard-hats / Stag frontlets / High-vis / Low-vis / Identity badge / Pendant / Steel-toed boots / Leather wraps.

The quarryman and the mourner.

Personal Protective Equipment. Sealed off from danger. Wrapped up for safety. Clearly marked out from the others. Distinctive. Safe. Because these are taboo places. The quarry and the cemetery. The cemetery and the quarry. Places where digging into the ground is an act of devotion, an act of conviction, a dangerous and troubling activity, hidden away from the others.

Things happen here that have to be taken seriously and carried out appropriately, according to the rules and regulations.

Removal. Insertion. Extraction.

Digging. Burying. Replacing. Modifying. Regenerating.

And access has to be mediated by key individuals – gatekeeper, shaman, foreman, security guards, man in a wee wooden shed.

To enter the inner sanctum.

KEEP OUT. TRESPASSERS ON SITE WILL BE PROSECUTED.

Keep Out low res

DANGER. QUARRY WORKINGS.

Quarry sign 1 low res

NO ENTRY. DANGER!! PLACE OF DEATH.

No entry

Because the quarry and the cemetery are both polluted places. They have depth, they have power, and they are repositories of value and potential energy, derived from underground. Social capital. They are connected places, entangled across and beyond the societies from within which they emerged: Pastoralism / Capitalism. Entangled in networks of meaning that expand beyond this geographical location and its enforced boundaries, beyond the knowledge of any one individual visiting a grave, laying the dead to rest, driving a truck, reading the Daily Record in a cab. Exploded places, shrunk down to just this one place, a dot on a map, a high point, a special place, a pit. The quarry and the cemetery.

During the daylight hours: the traffic in and out of this place is incessant, unrelenting, tireless. It never stops. Back and forth, in and out, a hive of activity, of noise and light. It never seems to end.

trucks low res

By night, it is silent and dead. It reeks of death, of waste, of subterranean detritus. Landfill. Burying the very things and bodies of a community. Murmurations of crows and ravens and blackbirds fly overhead. There is a miasma. A stench. The long dead and their ancient bones. The assorted containers buried and put beyond use: Food Vessels and food vessels, Beakers and beakers, skulls and rusted beer cans. Encased in a shroud of stone and earth and grass. Put in a stone box. Fenced off.

A place of restricted access. A gated community. Movement within mediated by fences, signs, barriers. Specialised and highly regulated clothing needs to be worn to secure entry to the scene. For your own safety. And the safety of others.

A Bronze Age cemetery? Or a modern industrial quarry?

The quarry and the cemetery. The cemetery and the quarry. The quarry on the cemetery. The cemetery in the quarry. The quarry on the cemetery.

Neither one nor the other. Both.

The site today low res

The location of the cemetery today

Sources and acknowledgements: each element of the tripartite structure of this post depended on different sources and inspiration. Image credits are in captions; those with Glasgow Museums copyright came from The Glasgow Story website.

Complete Skeleton. Find Near Glasgow. A poem. The entire ‘poem’ is a very slightly adapted version of a newspaper story about the excavations that appeared in the Glasgow Herald on 27th July 1928.

Attempt at an Inventory of the Material, Sediment and Human Deposits Excavated by Ludovic Mann at Greenoakhill in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-Eight. The data contained in this inventory was derived from a summary of the discoveries that can be found in the CANMORE entry for this site. The site has NMRS number NS66SE 2. The title for this short section owes much to the Georges Perec piece ‘Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four’. This first appeared (in the original French of course) in Action Poétique in 1976 and was translated and appeared in the Penguin collection of Perec writings Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (1997).

A Perambulation to Wyndy Hege. All images and words my own. The name of this section was taken from the supposed original name of Mount Vernon – Windy Edge or Wyndy Hege. According to Wikipedia.

Field notes

Field notes

Ludovic Mann’s excavations at Greenoakhill have never been published.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking Ludovic Mann

19 Oct

This is a slightly updated version of the text of a paper I gave at a conference held in the Pearce Institute, Govan, on Saturday 17th October 2015. The event was ‘EcoCultures: Glasgow’s Festival of Environmental Research, Policy and Practice’ and it was organised by Glasgow University PhD students Kirsty Strang and Alexandra Campbell. For more information on this excellent event, see the festival Facebook site and twitter feed (@EcoCultures, #EcoCultures). I believe podcasts of lectures and round tables will be made available soon; I will update the blog to include a link when this happens. I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to contribute.

My paper. Literally.

My paper. Literally.

 

Walking Ludovic Mann 

Ludovic McLellan Mann wrote the secret history of Glasgow.

He sketched out the shape of an invisible city.

He sensed the possibility of another Glasgow, beneath Glasgow.

Beneath their feet. Beneath their trams. Beneath their omnibuses.

The prehistory of Glasgow.

 

Ludovic McLellan Mann was present at the birth of this modern city.

A growing, expanding city.

A process that required the eradication of what came before.

The quarrying away of the past.

The burying of the ancient.

Building on the dead.

The price that had to be paid.

 

Ludovic McLellan Mann was busy. He was aware of opportunities. He took advantage of serendipitous discoveries. His ear was to the ground. He sniffed out the past. He called in favours. He took advantage. He seized control. He drove the agenda. He brought in his friends, the suits and the specialists. And he welcomed the glare of publicity that went with all of it.

 

Bronze Age pots and chunks of cremated human bone were extracted from graves.

Prehistoric stone coffins were dismantled in newly created back gardens.

Neolithic pits, hollows, quernstones and hearths were rescued from the quarry face.

Ancient carvings on rocks in parks and golf courses were drawn and quartered.

 He was everywhere. He was busy. He was aware of opportunities. He took advantage of serendipitous discoveries. His ear was to the ground. He sniffed out the past.

 

Ludovic McLellan Mann.

Glasgow’s gentleman archaeologist.

Accountant.

Insurance broker.

Showman.

Opportunist.

Digger.

 

Flamboyant antiquarian.

Amateur archaeologist.

 

Ludovic McLellan Mann wrote the secret history of Glasgow.

He sketched out the shape of an invisible city.

He was everywhere. He was busy. He was aware of opportunities.

He sensed the possibility of another Glasgow, beneath Glasgow.

Beneath their feet. Beneath their trams. Beneath their omnibuses.

His ear was to the ground. He sniffed out the past.

The prehistory of Glasgow.

 

Ludovic McLellan Mann (1869–1955) was a polarising figure in the world of Scottish archaeology. He was less controversial in his main trade: an insurance broker. In 1900 he patented his own system of consequential fire loss indemnity, which was widely adopted in that industry. However, in 1901 he became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, hinting at a parallel career – as an aspiring archaeologist, although was he never truly accepted by the establishment even although he spent a good deal of time cultivating his reputation as an ‘eminent archaeologist’. In the end, leading academics took to print to condemn and mock him.

Mann in 1905 (c) Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries)

Mann in 1905 ((c) Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries)

However, Mann did have a high profile within the Glasgow Archaeological Society, and for the early part of his career had broad-ranging interests, and was published widely. In 1911 he curated the Prehistoric Gallery of the Scottish Exhibition in Kelvingrove Park. This was the result of two years of work by Mann, and the exhibition space he designed was crammed full of hundreds of pots, stone tools and metal weapons, reconstructions, scale models and the walls were adorned with 16 large wall charts. Prehistoric tableaux were created using the soil of Glasgow, extracted from excavation sites. The central feature of the gallery was the ‘life-sized statue of a typical man of the late Stone Age’ sculpted by Alexander Proudfoot.

prehistory gallery

A series of decent quality excavations, eclectic collecting activities and innovative research projects maintained his profile, but by the mid-1920s his reputation and activities began to change. Archaeologist Graham Ritchie noted that by 1923: ‘Mann seems to have lost the ability to prepare coherent excavation reports, perhaps because some of his discoveries were piecemeal and because site survey was not his strong point’. Mann also had a tendency towards losing interest in projects before bringing them to a conclusion, and in time, veered towards the fantastical and eccentric in his interpretations of his prehistoric discoveries, alienating himself theoretically as well as methodologically from his peers.

Workmen helping excavate a cist cemetery in advance of construction of a school in Cambuslang (c) RCAHMS image number SC01338023

Workmen helping excavate a cist cemetery in advance of construction of a school in Cambuslang (c) RCAHMS image number SC01338023

He started to bypass mainstream academic publishing. His methods were simple. He watched out for opportunities to help with and drive forward excavations based on chance discoveries, information for which was sometimes retrieved from the news clipping services he subscribed too. Neolithic settlement traces found in a quarry. Cremation urns discovered in advance of construction of new houses. Discoveries reported to him by the public, his network of sources. He would move in, and either take over entirely from whoever had been doing the archaeology, or he took on the role of eminent archaeological overseer and site director recovering and excavating things as they were found. And all the while, he was talking to local journalists and national newspapers, disseminating his results, reporting on his work, bypassing the conventional and traditional academic publications that rarely if ever published his work in the second half of his career. His outlet was the print media: national press, local papers. The Glasgow Herald. The Scotsman. The Express. The Hamilton Advertiser. He even set up his own eponymous publishing imprint and spoke widely to local historical societies and public audiences.

Mann was born and lived most of life in Glasgow. And he did much work, both in terms of excavation and recording, in Glasgow and the surrounds of the city. He was obsessed with the past of Glasgow – the ancient, occult framework of the city, the obscure origins of roads and churches and cemeteries, folk takes and myths of gods and temples. His own excavations underpinned his beliefs in an intelligent pagan ancestry for Glasgow – fine quality pots, wonderful stone tools and well-made graves attested to this.

Pots from the Newlands excavations, found in 1905 (c) RCAHMS image number SC01331866

 

Ludovic McLellan Mann wrote the secret history of Glasgow.

He sketched out the shape of an invisible city.

He sensed the possibility of another Glasgow, beneath Glasgow.

 

He took the city apart and put it together again.

He extracted the long dead.

He painted the past.

He exploited the past for its own good.

He celebrated prehistoric Mann.

 

A Bronze Age cemetery in Newlands, near where he was brought up, in 1905

A cist cemetery at Greenoakhill, Mt Vernon, near where he lived, in 1928

Two cists and a cremation deposit found during the construction of Dalton School, Cambuslang in 1930

Knappers cemetery and Neolithic timber structure in 1933 and 1937

The Cochno Stone in 1937

 

After his excavations, like a serial killer, he kept souvenirs – tokens – trophies – to remind him of his work. The Bronze Age cinerary urns from his first prehistoric dig in Glasgow, at Langside, remained in his possession until his death 50 years later.

Mann wrote a book on prehistoric Glasgow – a pamphlet he published in 1938 called Ancient Glasgow: A temple of the moon. Here, Mann laid out the occult history of Glasgow.

 

The mounds of Glasgow

Moon sanctuaries at the Necropolis

The ancient Grummel mound where High Street and Rottenrow and meet

The sanctuary of St Enoch

The sanctity of the Molendinar Burn

 

Ancient gods, ancient places, ancient traditions, ancient mounds, ancient temples. All beneath the modern grid plan of the city. Hidden – but still there is you knew where to look, where to walk. The ancient sacred geometry of Glasgow still informing the grid. Powering the grid. Shaping the grid.

 

Occult alignments.

Sacred roadways.

Unearthly mounds.

Secret temples.

Buried cemeteries.

 

All part of a network, connections spanning time and place, subverting the straight jacket of urbanisation, defying the order of the modern city.

Mann wrote the book. He created the past, with his trowel, his pen, his chalk and his paints. He reconceptualised Glasgow as a pagan city. He held in his hands the ashes and burnt bones of the noble savages that once lived in this place. He looked upon their fine pots, and their sharp, elegant axes. His work was at the cutting edge and on the fringe: the fringe of the discipline, the fringe of the city, the edge of modernity, the cusp of science, the past in the present.

He was the first urban prehistorian.

 front_cover Earliest Glasgow

Over the past couple of years I have been visiting the locations of various sites that were excavated or studied by Ludovic Mann both within and around Glasgow.

Mann’s research into prehistoric Glasgow can helped us piece together another Glasgow, an ancient one, in the heart of the city but also in its suburbs and arterial routes. By walking these routes, and visiting these sites, I am trying to foreground once again the prehistoric within these urban contexts, piecing together a narrative that is all but lost and forgotten.

Following maps within maps, a city within a city, secret maps, secret cities.

One of the oldest roads in Glasgow is Rottenrow, which runs towards the cathedral from the city centre. But before the cathedral, according to Mann, there stood an ancient earthen mound called Grummel Knowe, at the junction of High Street and Rottenrow.

Extract from Mann's Earliest Glasgow

Extract from Mann’s Earliest Glasgow

 

An ancient geometry, just beneath the skin of the city.

Walking between locations that no longer exist.

Following routes that have been forgotten.

Visiting sites that have been altered out of all recognition.

Remembering the lost and celebrating the dead.

Walking Ludovic Mann’s Glasgow is to walk prehistoric Glasgow.

 

Glasgow’s ancient past intrudes into the present in surprising and peculiar ways. One of the most famous sites excavated by Ludovic Mann was a Neolithic complex of timber structures and pits, and Bronze Age graves, at Knappers, on Great Western Road in Clydebank. This site was taken on by Mann after initial excavations had revealed a series of prehistoric features during quarrying in 1933. In 1937 Mann excavated an extensive group of features which he interpreted as stake- and post-holes, the remnants of a spiral timber setting with accompanying earthworks. He reconstructed this monument and went on a publicity drive, proclaiming it a major discovery. Literally thousands of Glaswegians headed down to Duntocher Boulevard to witness this spectacle and see Mann in full flow, lecturing to the masses. Mann even published adverts about the dig and suggested routes and means of travel to this site.

explained_routes low res

Knappers today is a very different place.

DIGITAL CAMERA

knappers today low res

Sketch from Knappers walk

fungal ring low res

chalk rock art low res

pit location low res

This is a location where the prehistoric traces are still evident in the fabric of the grass and tarmac. The architecture of urban dwelling and the car in particular reflects the Neolithic circular structures that were found by Mann: circular bays of garages, roundabouts, towering uprights, landscaping stone blocks in playgrounds.

The relatively modern housing estate across the road was constructed in the location of another Early Bronze Age cemetery that was excavated by GUARD archaeology in advance of development in 1997 and 1998.

The living and the dead.

The living on the dead.

Also in Clydebank is another site which Mann is intrinsically connected to – the Cochno Stone (for background, see a previous post on this blog).

Ludovic Mann on the Cochno Stone in 1937 (c) RCAHMS image number SC01062363

Ludovic Mann on the Cochno Stone in 1937 (c) RCAHMS image number SC01062363

Mann’s intervention here was not typical – it wasn’t an excavation. Rather, he took an interest in the esoteric patterns he saw on this rock – spirals, weird symbols, crosses, and stars. In order for visitors to better appreciate the stone in 1937 Mann painted the symbols with a white organic mixture (and perhaps other colours too). Overlain on the prehistoric markings was a measured and complex grid system of his own devising which helped him interpret the code. Mann was by now obsessed with the mathematical and astronomical properties of such symbols and it is almost certain many of the shapes he painted on the stone were fantasies of his own construction. He began to find what he wanted to find.

And this time his publicity-seeking activities backfired. In a letter which has just come into my possession, written by a solicitor on behalf of the man who owned the Cochno Stone in 1937, it was noted:

As a result of the activities of certain antiquarians who have expended much care on the decoration of the monument, a considerable amount of public interest has recently been directed to the stone, with the result that large numbers of people from the surrounding industrial district and elsewhere are in the habit of visiting the site, particularly at week-ends, where it is the destination of an almost constant stream of sightseers. As a result considerable damage is being done by the behaviour of persons who are attracted more by curiosity than antiquarian interest.

And when I opened a small trench over the stone in early September, evidence of this damage was very clear, with graffiti, perhaps carved just before the stone was finally buried in the Spring of 1965, and black paint splattered over the surface of the rock-art.

Vandalism to the Cochno Stone (photo taken during my excavation there in September 2015)

Vandalism to the Cochno Stone (photo taken during my excavation there in September 2015)

Here, Mann had enthused the public about a prehistoric monument to the extent that the establishment had to intervene. He was too successful. He had not predicted the hunger for this kind of thing. But the wider message seemed to be that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing where the wider public was concerned. And so attacks of Mann’s abilities and theories began in archaeological circles and the press.

His prehistoric Glasgow began to fall apart. Plans were set in place to protect the Cochno Stone – from Glaswegian visitors and from Mann himself. A decade after Mann’s death the wall around the Cochno Stone was kicked over. Earth was dumped on it.

Mann started this.

Landowners and the Ministry finished it.

Buried without a trace.

 

This paper comes at an early stage in my Walking Ludovic Mann project and in the coming months and years I intend to visit – and walk between – a wide range of locations of significance to Mann’s prehistoric Glasgow. Previous blog posts have reported on work Mann did outwith the city – Ferniegair cist cemetery for instance in South Lanarkshire, and Townhead Neolithic settlement on Bute. But I now want to retreat back to the city, to retrace the work of Mann with my feet, to see what remains of his secret grid and his sacred geometry beneath the fabric of this modern city.

 

The discoveries of Ludovic Mann in essence sketched out the structure of prehistoric Glasgow.

A Glasgow before it was Glasgow.

His eccentric research and eclectic interests allowed a different way of thinking about familiar Glasgow streets, landmarks and place names.

 A map within a map. A city within a city. A secret map. A secret city.

 

His probing mind.

His dirty hands.

His obsessive measuring.

Mann’s voracious collecting.

Mann’s prehistoric fetishizing.

Mann’s insistent storytelling.

 

Mann’s underground city, Glasgow inverted, Glasgow’s past dragged back into the present, raised from the dead. Passing through wormholes. Tears in space and time.

Prehistoric Glasgow revealed – for all to see – if they care to look.

Secret geography. Sacred geometry.

Deep time.

Timeless. Effortless.

Walk and talk and chalk Ludovic McLellan Mann’s Glasgow.

 

Sources and acknowledgements: much of the biographical information in this lecture came from Graham Ritchie’s excellent paper Ludovic McLellan Mann (1869–1955): ‘the eminent archaeologist’, published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland volume 132, pages 43-64 (2002). If you google it, you can find this article freely available online. The front cover of the Mann pamphlet and the route to get to and from Knappers were sourced thanks to this really helpful webpage which has scanned and reproduced various ‘earth mysteries’ books and pamphlets. Various images, sourced from the former RCAHMS, have been reproduced under their creative commons policy with image codes in the captions.

 

 

 

Links:

EcoCultures: www.facebook.com/events/114920895512376/

Mann booklet source: http://www.cantab.net/users/michael.behrend/repubs/index.html

 

 

 

Panopticon megalith

18 May

Panopticon: ‘a building, such as a prison, hospital, library, or the like, so arranged that all parts of the interior are visible from a single point’.

Stone circle: a prehistoric panopticon.

 

This is the story of a stone circle that is trapped – stuck in concrete, cornered at the end of a dead-end. A stone circle that has suffered more than most due to the encroachment of suburbia and urban expansion, and yet despite this, still exists, albeit it in a heavily moderated and modified form. It still matters. This is the story of a stone circle that we should not give up on, even although a decade ago it seemed that everyone had. This is the story of the greystanes of New Scone, the Sandy Road stone circle.

Greystanes cul de sac low res

The stone circle is tucked away, almost out of sight, at the end of a short road, hemmed in on all sides by houses and the familiar trappings of urban furniture – cars, lamp posts, kerbs, hard core, wood chippings, generically boring plants, doors, door steps, windows, window ledges, hanging baskets, low walls, grey bricks, grey paving stones.

Greystanes in Greystanes.

Greystanes low res

The stone circle is inconspicuous, disguised as an abstract piece of landscape gardening, like a group of artfully and craftily arranged boulders, sitting amidst grey-white pebbles and bright pink, purple and yellow heathers. Ankle high vegetation and knee high stones. A process has occurred that has transformed this stone circle into a circle of stones. It has been cul-de-sacked.

Sandy Road low res

I visited this stone circle, known as Sandy Road, in Scone, Perth and Kinross (NMRS number NO12NW 28) a few months ago. I have to be honsest and say that I felt uncomfortable during my visit. The monument seems to be completely surrounded by windows, holes with eyes, viewing platforms through which to watch strangers like me armed with cameras and small photographic scales and notebooks.

Curtains twitched, dogs barked aggressively, letter boxes rattled.

Woof woof. Stranger danger. Megalithic meddler. Weirdo. What is he up to?

I am alone, but not alone, being watched by house dwellers and passers-by with their shopping bags, being sensed and sniffed by dogs. I felt that I had invaded the senses of this place and caused a disturbance.

two of the stones

The stone circle in New Scone was first documented in detail by the redoubtable Fred Coles, who wrote abou this ‘remarkable’ monument in 1909 as part of one of his wider reviews of standing stones in the county. (Gavin MacGregor has blogged about some nice work Coles did a few decades earlier in SW Scotland in relation to cup-and-ring marks.) When Coles visited the Scone area, the circle still lay outwith the boundaries of western side of the town, beside Sandy Road, and a fir tree plantation. He recorded nine stones, seven of which were in situ, in a slightly elliptical setting 22 or so feet across. As well as drawing a lovely sketch of the stones, Coles also included in his report a photograph taken by a local man, Mr William Small. (An intriguing footnote records: ‘Mr Small is interesting himself in the skilful use of his camera in connection with the megalithic remains to be found in the districts adjacent to Perth.’)

Fred Coles' sketch of the Sandy Road stone circle pre-urbanisation

Fred Coles’ sketch of the Sandy Road stone circle pre-urbanisation

William Small photo from PSAS

Coles’ insightful comments on the stone circle came when the monument was untroubled by anything other than the activities of forestry workers. This was viewed a few decades later as being the cause of the loss of an supposed second small stone setting adjacent to Sandy Road. However, no firm evidence has been found to confirm there were two stone circles, with scattered boulders on the surface likely causing mid-identification – confusingly some of these boulders are part of the current display of the monument.

The monument before excavation (c) Perth Museum and Art Gallery

The monument before excavation (c) Perth Museum and Art Gallery

By 1961, the immobile stone circle finally clashed with creeping urbanisation, with the point of fusion being a trowel and then machines of the building trade. The expansion of New Scone on its western side, growing along Sandy Road, resulted in the circle coming under serious threat. This resulted in a series of traumatic events in the life of the monument. Firstly, the site was excavated by Margaret Stewart in 1961. She discovered a cinerary urn in a pit in the centre of the circle which contained a few cremated human bones; this was subsequently radiocarbon dated but with unsatisfactory results. In 1963 the OS recorded that the stone circle sat ‘in the middle of a council housing estate in the course of construction’. And then, by 1965, an OS fieldworker noted, ‘These stones have been temporarily removed. There are seven stones, which have been numbered and are to be cemented in position.’ And so the circle went into storage, only to be returned to the cold grey grip of concrete later that year, moving in at the same time as the new residents.

What then? The circle was by now just another garden feature, a folly in a cul-de-sac which had at least been named after the monument: Greystanes. And a  noticeboard was erected at the end of the road, to explain to residents (and visitors) what this megalithic curio was.

The noticeboard in 2006, photo (c) Cosmic

The noticeboard in 2006, photo (c) Cosmic

Yet there was clearly some kind of decline, and a lack of management of the monument. The noticeboard was removed at some point (I am not sure when, but it is certainly gone now). The stone circle itself became overgrown with vegetation, at first trees, and then shrubs and weeds.

The stone circle, overgrown and sad looking, in 2006 (c) Cosmic

The stone circle, overgrown and sad looking, in 2006 (c) Cosmic

The monument has of course been substantially tidied up since then, although upon close examination, it still bears the scars of its removal, storage and replacement. Cracks and splits in some of the stones suggest that some were broken during these invasive procedures, and subsequently glued together with some kind of synthetic adhesive.

Cracked stone

Cracked stone

There are also hints at other contemporary urban interactions. On two stones, yellow paint has been daubed onto them, on one in the form of a rough square, the other no more than a casual brush stroke.

yellow paint on stone low res

yellow paint on stone low res 2

This is what happens in urban places, with graffiti evident on other structures in the nearby park, such as this skateboard ramps, bins, trees, signposts and this obscured sign, another lost Scone noticeboard.

obscured noticeboard low res

And recently, the circle has come under minor threat from a very modern source – underground wiring related to, presumably phones, cable TV or broadband. Watching briefs were carried out by archaeologists in 2009 and 2012 because of works associated with ‘repair of communication equipment’ and the ‘repair of malfunctioning communications equipment’. Nothing of archaeological significance was found, and the monument suffered no further damage.

The urn from the stone circle, on display at Perth Museum and Art Gallery (their copyright)

The urn from the stone circle, on display at Perth Museum and Art Gallery (their copyright)

This stone circle, then, has suffered much in the name of progress and suburban utility, our convenience being at its inconvenience. But this is not to say that the circle is an irrelevance. A few years ago archaeologist Mark Hall (of Perth Museum and Art Gallery) brought the urn from the museum back to the stone circle where it was discovered, in a show-and-tell session with the local residents, and there was a lot of interest. This was a fantastic thing to do, and the response shows that there is a real desire from the community to learn more about this monument – and this is likely also reflected in the much tidied and regenerated appearance of the Greystanes as opposed to a decade ago.

Mark Hall at the Sandy Road stone circle (c) Perth Museum and Art Gallery

Mark Hall at the Sandy Road stone circle (c) Perth Museum and Art Gallery

So perhaps I got my visit all wrong. It could well be that the Greystanes residents were not spying on me, but intrigued by my presence, maybe even proud that a visitor had come to their street to see their stone circle. Urban stone circles can continue to be useful to us today if we use them, look after them, make them look nice, and occasionally remember that they are indeed ancient places, despite the heather and concrete and all the other trappings of contemporary urban life.

Those who are lucky enough to live with a stone circle at their front door have ringside seats overlooking prehistory.

Sources and acknowledgements: I must firstly thank Mark Hall for letting me know about this site, explaining his activities there, and sending me – and allowing me to reproduce – some of the photos used in this post. The photo of the site before excavation, the image of the urn and the final photo, with Mark sitting on one of the stones, are all copyright Perth Museum & Art Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland and reproduced with permission. The urn is on display at the museum. The images of the overgrown circle, and the noticeboard, came from the Megalithic Portal pages for the site, and were posted there in 2006 by user ‘Cosmic’. Fred Coles’ description of his site, and his illustrations, come from his article ‘Report on stone circles surveyed in Perthshire (Southeast District), with measured plans and drawings’ published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (PSAS) volume 43 (1909) from page 127 onwards – you can find this article online for free if you google for it. Information on the recent watching briefs and the OS accounts of the circle came from the CANMORE page for the site. Margaret Stewart’s excavation report was published in 1965 in the Transactions and Proceedings of the Perthshire Society of Natural Sciences, volume 11, pages 7-23.

 

A9

21 Sep

A9 sign

There is something powerful about the A9, the lengthy road which runs from the urban central belt of Scotland through the misty mountains to the far northern shore of the mainland. It is a line of power, not just the power of access and travel, but also the power that will be carried by the newly constructed Beauly-Denny transmission line which connects the wind-generated electricity of the Highlands with the electricity-hungry consumers of the south. Then there is the power of the landscape – from the big forests of Perthshire, to the big mountains of Drumochter, to the big bridges across the firths north of Inverness.

New towers, part of the Beauly-Denny powerline alongside the A9

New towers, part of the Beauly-Denny powerline alongside the A9

But the A9 is also all about frustrating in-car experiences. Jenny Turner, in a recent piece in The Guardian, described the longest A road in Scotland in terms most drivers would be familiar with. It is ‘an odd road, both a major trunk route and a scenic byway, crammed with slow-moving lorries, coach tours and caravans’. And so the respite of dual carriageways and laybys is fundamental to a happy journey.

Layby 136 on the A9 near Aviemore

Layby 136 on the A9 near Aviemore

I drive up and down this road relatively frequently, usually heading for Caithness, each journey from home to Dunbeath some 244 miles (392.7km), of which all but the first 20 miles of so are driven on the A9.

On my most recent drive north earlier this month, I decided to visit Raigmore, a very strange Bronze Age kerb cairn with a checkered history, currently located in the shadow of a massive modern hospital in Inverness. Raigmore has been through a lot over the past few decades, from total excavation and reconstruction in a new location, to neglect and vandalism, and finally rebirth as a community resource.

This is a piece of urban prehistory that is completely entangled with the A9. It is currently located a few hundred metres from the A9 although it cannot be seen from the road. Its original location is right beneath the A9, and its excavation was prompted by the expansion of that road and its connections with the A96 road to Aberdeen.

But in order to visit this monument, I had to once again drive the A9.

Big forest. A9 near Dunkeld.

Big forest. A9 near Dunkeld.

I’ve got the A9 under my skin. I know the road almost too well. Each long journey north from Glasgow to Caithness a staccato succession of familiar junctions, recognisable signage and caravan-following. A journey to treasure but a journey to dread as well, interminable mile after mile, kilometre after kilometre.

Dragging myself north. Falling south.

Overtaking. Not overtaking. Breaking to avoid overtakers.

Parking. Not parking.

Stopping. Not stopping.

Sightseeing. Not looking.

Noticing. Not noticing.

Alert. Not alert. The very opposite of alert.

Highs and lows. Mountains and forests. Bridges and tunnels.

Glasgow. North Lanarkshire. Stirling. Perth and Kinross. Highland.

Highland. Perth and Kinross. Stirling. North Lanarkshire. Glasgow.

Tullibardine Distillery. Ebradour Distillery. Dalwhinnie Distillery. Tomatin Distillery. Dalmore Distillery. Glenmorangie Distillery. Clynelish Distillery. Old Pulteney Distillery.

All of this, time and again, over and over again, to get to archaeology. To do archaeology. To see prehistory. Up valleys and on mountainsides. In fields and on moors. Caithness. Sutherland. Ross and Cromerty. Inverness.

Brown sign for Carn Liath broch car park, Sutherland

Brown sign for Carn Liath broch car park, Sutherland

The complex Neolithic and Bronze Age Raigmore cairn (NMRS number NH64NE 6) was initially known as Stoneyfield, and antiquarian accounts described it erroneously as a stone circle (a misconception still evident today). The destruction by road development and excavation that was the ultimate fate of this monument was presaged by attempts to drill explosives into a few of the stones at some unknown time in the past; this is an unlucky megalith.

Fraser's 1884 plan and profile of Stoneyfield

Fraser’s 1884 plan and profile of Stoneyfield

For much of the 20th century however it was interpreted as some form of burial monument, the standing stones thought to be the kerb which once held together a denuded cairn some 18m in diameter but of original height unknown. Yet when the site came under threat of complete destruction to make way for the A9 upgrade in 1971-72, excavations there revealed an altogether more complex monument. The excavations were carried out by Derek Simpson, a leading prehistorian of his time, and funded by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works.

The monument was dismantled and taken apart in the knowledge the location was about to be destroyed to make way for commuters and caravans. Therefore, we have an excellent level of detail and a strong sequence, from initial pit-digging and deposition activity in the earlier Neolithic, followed by the construction of a weird rectangular timber structure which may or may not have been a roofed building with central stone hearth. It was only later in the sequence that the megalithic component of the monument was erected as the site was converted to a cairn which covered a number of cist burials.

pit and cist sections

What happened next? Simpson recounts this in his 1996 excavation report:

Finally, the stones were moved to a new site some 500m to the south-west, and were erected along with the stone cists and wooden posts to mark the position of the timber structure located during the excavation. This work was undertaken by the Inverness Burgh Planning Department under the direction of Mr W T Jack, Burgh Planning Officer. The restored monument is now open to the public.

Even before the monument was moved, it was being monkeyed about with by the locals. When describing the modern contents of a few pits found during the excavations (one being a sheep burial for instance), Simpson noted that ‘a further pit was dug by persons unknown between the 1972 and 1973 seasons’.

The movement of the monument itself was a communal, volunteer driven exercise, following on from a campaign by local people, and the work itself took place over the winter of 1974-75. The story of the migration of this monument was recorded in the April 1976 edition of The Scots Magazine. The campaign to save the ‘stone circle’ was apparently prompted by a claim from a ‘Town Council Official’ that the megalith was going to be dumped in landfill for a new industrial development. The outcry led to a proposal for the re-siting of the major elements of the monument, co-ordinated by Burgh Planner Bill Jack.

Extract from April 1976 Scots Magazine

And so the stones were moved, one by one, across the 500m distance from old site to new. The new noticeboard at the site (of more later) nicely evokes the image of the stones walking to their new location.

This is a remarkable story, and suggests that there was a real desire from the community to preserve what they saw as a valuable resource in a tangible form (rather than merely through objects in a museum and memories although of course both also still matter). The stones themselves seemed worthy of preservation, perhaps even memorialisation, even if the location where the monument stood was to be destroyed. Given the nature of the waste ground that the site originally stood on, by moving it, the stones were actually being drawn closer into the community, less peripheral, and perhaps more relevant. And the monument was reconstructed in loving detail, stone by stone.

Yet it seems that the original noble (and idealistic) objective of creating a new educational community focus did not work quite as planned.

Raigmore in 2006

Raigmore in 2006

A ‘condition report’ written in May 1993 (presumably for the council) noted that the monument was by this time in a state of disrepair. No signs or information were available to lead people to the site or explain it to them. Access routeways were unsuitable. Worse still was the condition of the monument – ‘completely overgrown with grass and small bushes’, the internal interpretive markers were gone (i.e. the wooden posts) and ‘many of the stones have been sprayed with unfortunately-worded graffiti, the majority in the same green paint’. Less than 20 years after the hopeful rebirth of this cairn, it now lay in a state of desolation and abandonment.

A series of recommendations were made in this brief report, namely to add signage and information, to keep on top of the vegetation, remove the offending green daubings and improve access.

I have no idea if these plans came into fruition at that time, but the monument is certainly now looking fine and dandy thanks to another community initiative: the site has been the focus of one of Archaeology Scotland’s excellent adopt-a-monument schemes. The idea is to encourage and empower local communities to play an active role in the protection, management and promotion of archaeological sites which are perhaps not on the radar of national designations. The Archaeology Scotland webpage notes:

Monuments of any age from anywhere in Scotland can be proposed (no matter how unusual), with the focus on helping volunteers to improve sites which they are passionate about. Taking part in the scheme will equip volunteers with new skills in archaeological fieldwork and conservation, which can be used again and again to promote the heritage of their local area. It’s also a great way to keep active, develop new skills, meet new people and achieve real results.

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And so Archaeology Scotland worked with Raigmore Community Council, and local schools, to revitalise the kerb cairn. The interior of the monument was exposed and tidied up, access improved and a fancy new information board installed, cleverly situated on the side of a standing stone. A new vegetation management plan was established, and the overall aspiration of the project was to make the kerb cairn more than just a pretty landscape garden feature. A local adult learners group did some research into the site and produced a leaflet.

Raigmore excavation poster

In May 2013 the excavation of parts of the interior of the monument took place with the aim of getting local schools involved and also uncovering what – if anything – was left of the internal features established within the monument in the 1970s. The end result is a fascinating insight into how much of the original monument was actually reconstructed, including cobbles and various minor internal features. It also demonstrates that excavation is a powerful tool to help people work together and learn, and that archaeological techniques can help shed light on the contemporary, as well as the ancient, world.

2013 excavation

2013 excavation detail

On my recent A9 roadtrip, I paid my first visit to Raigmore, and got lost in the process. Inconvenient roadworks and a housing estate that appeared to have only one entrance meant I drove about for ages until finally I worked out where the cairn was. On several occasions I thought I had spotted the monument only to realise what I was seeing was in fact some large stone boulders scattered around the hospital car park as ‘landscaping’. When I finally got to Ashton Road Park, I found the kerb cairn situated behind a community centre and play park, with a metal green fence, hospital outbuildings and a white industrial unit framing the monument. I could find no evidence of signage, although this may be in the pipeline and the access route in was certainly pleasant.

Raigmore 1

The monument itself looks spick and span, nice and tidy, shiny even, when approached from one or other of the paths that runs towards it. The stones are pinky grey, but dotted with green moss and white lichen, paradoxically both ancient and modern at the same time. This is a monument that has been erected twice, named twice, excavated twice and adopted twice after all.

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The monument is certainly being put to use, albeit it perhaps not for a function envisaged by the community. When I was there, a woman loitered within the monument making a phone call, and smoking. When she had finished, she stubbed out the fag on one of the stones and threw the butt onto the ground, where is nestled amidst a small selection of similar items. She then returned to the hospital from whence she came. The utilisation of this monument for any kind of activity is to be welcomed, and this is creating its own use-wear patterns, material culture and sense of place. Perhaps an ash tray should be provided however.

The smoker

The smoker

Contemporary deposition zone

Contemporary deposition zone

So next time you are on the A9, passing through Inverness, pause (not literally) to think when you are just south of the big A96 roundabout of the original location of this enigmatic monument of ritual and death that you are driving over at quite some speed.

And if you have time, turn off the road and make the pilgrimage to the kerb cairn in its latest iteration – it is worth getting lost to find.

'Standing stone'. Dalmore distillery, Ross and Cromerty

‘Standing stone’. Dalmore distillery, Ross and Cromerty

Sources and acknowledgements: for information on the original Raigmore monument, see James Fraser’s 1884 article ‘Descriptive notes on the stone circles of Strathnairn and neighbourhood of Inverness – with plans &c.’ in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (PSAS) volume 18. Simpson’s excavation report can be found in PSAS 126 (1996). Google them, they are freely available online. The ‘stone circle’ plan was sourced from the former, the excavation drawing from the latter. The adopt-a-monument excavation photos appear here with the kind permission of Cara Jones and Archaeology Scotland, and the poster for the excavation was sourced from the website of the Inverness Field Club. Finally, the photo of Raigmore from 2006 was posted by Tim Prevett on the megalithic.co.uk site.

Twins

1 Sep

On the edge of the Perthshire village of Comrie, sandwiched between a row of houses and a cemetery, is a rather sorry looking set of stumpy stones, one of which is still standing, which go by the rather grand name of the Roundel (one of several names this site has as we shall see). It is a monument that has obviously declined (even in the last few decades), yet like all urban prehistory it still has a story to tell, which concludes with the identification of a surprising international twin.

Bin to Comrie

But when I visited, none of this was apparent, and it didn’t even feel that welcoming. I parked beside the big out-of-town cemetery and walked along the roadside to see the stone up close. Beside the monument was a wooden stick with a board stuck to it, and taped to this was a piece of paper with the following written on it (in CAPS, which I have spared you from):

THE COURT KNOLL

Known also in Gaelic as Dunmhoid (Dunvoid) or the judgement mound, this is one of two such “four poster” monuments in the country and the only one containing a cist burial.

It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and protected under the 1979 Act, with the scheduling also including the surrounding land.

It is neither access to the private woodland nor a footpath. As it is being damaged by foot traffic, please do not use it as such.

There is a public footpath through the woods some 40 yards to the west. Please use this for access and respect and protect this unique monument and burial place.

The sign

I am not sure who the author of this rather pompous sign is, but it reveals little about the monument itself, and offers more questions than answers. For the casual visitor may well ask themselves: what on earth is a ‘four poster’? Normally, it means an extravagant bed found in fancy hotels and stately homes with curtains that both conceal the sleeping form within, but also could conspire to be a trip hazard (or a shield from ghostly visitors as in most Scrooge films). But not in prehistoric archaeology. In this very specific context, a four-poster (the hyphen is optional) means a square setting of four standing stones with each ‘post’ marking the corner of the square. In other words, square stone circles. Stone squares. Strange now I come to think of it.

I am puzzled by the assertion that there are only two such “four poster” monuments in the country – a quick search in CANMORE reveals there are 53 such monuments in Scotland, over half of which are in Perth and Kinross. A few of these are cropmarks, and may well have been timber post structures, but most are ‘four poster stone circles’ which usually means Bronze Age, certainly ceremonial, possibly burial, and definitely geometrically not a circle.

The form of the monument today makes it very difficult to make sense of, more of a one-poster than four-poster, with one angled grey monolith standing to waist height, and a few fallen stones scattered around it. The site as a whole sits on a low flat-topped mound (possibly why it also has a tradition of being called a ‘court hill’) which has a low, intermittent line of small stones around the top of the mound. But the site looked slightly more coherent even as late as the 1940s.

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The most detailed archaeological account of this monument was based on a visit on 19th August 1942 by the legendary archaeologist V Gordon Childe. What was Childe doing in this corner of Perthshire, and why was he recording this particular monument? He was working as part of a programme of Emergency Surveys carried out by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland, survey work carried out during the Second World War primarily by Childe, and Angus Graham, who was secretary of RCAHMS at the time.

Gordon Childe

Gordon Childe

The rationale for the survey is recorded in the introduction to RCAHMS’s Edinburgh Inventory (published 1951):

The war brought special risks to ancient monuments in all parts of Scotland, not only through enemy action but through field-training of troops, and we endeavored to forestall such damage by preparing emergency records. Under this programme some two thousand three hundred photographs were taken of buildings situated in counties not yet covered by Inventories, and six hundred and thirty-six monuments were visited by and recorded in military training areas. We have to thank Professor Childe, who was then a member of the Commission, for having done on the bulk of this later work himself.

Childe's 1942 photo of 'the roundel'

Childe’s 1942 photo of ‘the roundel’

Much of the survey was undertaken in areas that RCAHMS had not previously worked, for even by the middle years of the centuries full and detailed inventories had only been prepared for a fraction of the country. The survey was recognition of the vulnerability of archaeological sites and monuments to warfare, invasion and accidental damage (the monumental equivalent of friendly fire). This is at a time when people would have been forgiven for having more pressing matters to attend to, and so we should be thankful that all contingencies of the impact of total war were taken into consideration for the benefit of future generations. It also benefited future archaeological fieldworkers, because thanks to the hard work of Childe and others it was ensured that future inventories had some content already prepared, and some notable research successes were also recorded, such as Childe’s identification of Neolithic burial monuments in the Black Isle.

Childe’s description of this monument suggests it was in a better state then than now.

Childe description of the monument

Here he records that two stones were standing when he visited, and a further two fallen stones were present. And he suggests that the low mound upon which the monument is situated is ‘modern’ although exactly what this means, I’m not sure.

Earlier accounts of the monument suggest that it has had a chequered history in terms of appearance. An account in the Chronicles of Strathearn by Rev John MacPherson in the late 19th century for instance notes that three fallen stones were erected in 1876 (to make the total of standing stones three or four is unclear). Prehistoric burials are suggested by accounts of both a cist, containing a human thigh bone, as well as a cremation urn, being found ‘within living memory’.

Coles 1911 drawing

In a more fulsome account, Fred Coles wrote in 1911 that the monument was back down to two uprights and two fallen stones. Coles himself seems confused about the relatively recent story of three or four stones standing stones (‘it is assuredly a little strange’), but it is clear that the Comrie masons who did the erection work did a rubbish job. (Childe was right to record this monument as it seems a rumbling tank passing by would have been enough to topple these wobbly monoliths.) Back to Coles who noted:

Whatever inaccuracies of detail there may be [in the MacPherson account] we may at least take it that four Stones originally composed the Circle here, and that the interior was devoted to purposes of sepulture.

Little else is known about this monument, other than in the time between Childe’s emergency visit, and an Ordnance Survey map revision in 1966, one of the remaining two stones had fallen over again, perhaps struck by a falling feather.

And so when I visited the site last year, only one single standing stone remained, and it appears thankfully that no further efforts by the people of Comrie, masons or otherwise, have been made to re-erect any of the fallen stones, or even have a poke around. And now it sits in a little woodland glade, on the roadside, separated from a big cemetery by a wall, guarded by the urban furniture of the ‘Welcome to Comrie’ road sign and the rather less welcoming sign asking visitors to consider walking around the monument, not over the top of it, to get to the trees beyond.

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The day I visited, bins were set out on the roadside, presumably poised for collection. This reinforced the sense that this monument sits (literally) on the edgelands of town, a liminal zone between Comrie and not-Comrie, between life and death, on a fork in the road. No doubt in prehistory this was also a liminal place, a gateway of a different kind, perhaps an entry point to another world and a location for rites and rituals. If local people use this square circle for similar activities nowadays, presumably they deposit their materials into one of the nearby wheely bins, not specially prepared pits and stone sockets.

By way of footnote, I couldn’t resist checking out Carleton Place in Ontario, Canada, the place Comrie is ‘twinned with’. Imagine my amazement when I found out they too have a standing stone, albeit of much more recent heritage. A stocky yellowish orange megalith stands at the entrance to the Carleton Community Labyrinth. This feature is an ongoing community project, centred on a labyrinth marked out in big concentric circles on the ground, part of a community garden.

The Carleton Community Labyrinth

The Carleton Community Labyrinth

The standing stone was a later addition (erected in 2010), a striking entrance feature to the labyrinth. But what is perhaps most spooky of all is that this megalithic feature consists of a single standing stone flanked by two recumbent stones – a twin for the Comrie megalith.

A twin for the roundel?

A twin for the roundel?

It would be nice if the inhabitants of these two towns could get together and celebrate their standing stones and lying down stones – and to marvel at the coincidence generated by their twinning.

Sources and acknowledgements: the main source of information for this monument, and the Emergency Survey data, is the site’s CANMORE entry (NMRS number NN72SE 6). Cole’s account of the monument, and the line drawing, were sourced from his 1911 article ‘Report on stone circles in Perthshire, principally Strathearn; with measured plans and drawings’ in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland volume 45, pages 46-116. The photo of the monument in 1942 was taken by Gordon Childe, and held in RCAHMS collections, archive number SC 1436181. Images and information about the Carleton Community Labyrinth and standing stone came from that project’s blog, link in the post. The photo of Childe is available widely online.

The urnhouse

3 May

Our tale begins in September

Nineteen hundred and ninety six

When a gardener improving his border

Imagined he’d struck some bricks.

 

But on digging around a tree root

Which meandered across his plot

The tip of his heavy steel crowbar

Broke into an earthenware pot

 

Sometimes gardeners find the strangest things. In September 1996, in the garden of Robin and Fay Harvey in Benderloch, near Oban, in Argyll, a remarkable discovery was made – an intact and huge cinerary urn, inverted in a pit, containing cremated human bones. In this most urban of locations, between white houses and next to a fence, rooting amongst the roots, Mr Harvey discovered a family burial plot that was thousands of years old. And even today, they live in the same urnhouse, as I was to find when I visited recently. I wanted to find out the impact that making such a discovery could have on someone, to have one’s garden suddenly designated both an archaeological site and a cemetery.

My interest in this gardening incident was prompted by a colleague giving me an ancient looking copy of Historic Argyll (volume 2, 1997, original price £1.95). This is a booklet produced annually by the Lorn Archaeological & Historical Society, a compendium of local history and archaeology articles and snippets written by members and invited contributors.

historic argyll cover

In the central pages was a spread which included a photograph of a small team who had excavated in the back garden of a house in Benderloch, and this included two of my contemporaries, Gavin MacGregor and Andy Jones, looking considerably younger then than they do now. Above this was a photo of an urn filled with cremated bones, and opposite, a long poem by Robin Harvey (extracts of which are found in this post). The urn was found in the Harvey’s garden, and both Robin and Fay also appeared in the photo. On the previous page, it notes, ‘the illustration overleaf and Robin’s poem capture the excitement of the moment of discovery’ and there is a real sense of this being a significant event for all involved. After some initial exploration, experts were called in, and an excavation was carried out by GUARD, funded by Historic Scotland. (This site has NMRS number NM93NW 38).

images from historic argyll

 

Thursday dawned fine as it happened

Paul Robins of WOSAS arrived

Along with a host of neighbours and friends

All buzzing like bees ‘round a hive

 

‘We’ll have to get in the contractors’

Said Paul, “We can’t move it today

Historic Scotland will have to be told

Who knows? They might even pay!’

 

The GUARD team opened a trench measuring 1m by 2.5m in the vicinity of the hole dug by Mr Harvey with his spade and crowbar. The excavation revealed a single cremation urn, upside down (as was standard in the Bronze Age) with cremains inside; the pot had been placed on a flat slab within a pit. In order to facilitate the analysis of the discovery under lab conditions, the whole thing was lifted in one go: ‘the urn was … bandaged and supported with a polyurethane frame in order to lift it in one piece, together with the slab’ (MacGregor 1998). CSI Benderloch.

Gavin's photo taken during the excavation

Gavin’s photo taken during the excavation

All sorts of fancy and innovative analyses were then undertaken on the cremains, some of which were unusual in the mid-1990s but commonplace now. This was a mixed deposit, of a young adult female and a child aged between 16 months and 4 years. The woman suffered from iron deficiency, and the child may at one time have received a crush injury to one foot. DNA analysis was attempted, with no positive results. It is tempting to speculate that these two individuals were related to one another, and it seems clear they were cremated, and their remains gathered together, with great care.

Kilmartin Museum's reconstructed pot

Kilmartin Museum’s reconstructed pot

The vessel within which they were buried is spectacular. The photo above, of the pot reconstructed (and now on display in the Kilmartin House Museum in Argyll) has been uploaded to the BBC’s History of the World in objects webpage. It is a cordoned urn, a relatively common vessel type associated with pit cremation burials in the middle 2nd millennium BC. Before it was used to curate the human remains, the pot was used for cooking, perhaps more than once, having once held boiling fatty liquid.

Gavin who wishes to remain anonymous.

Gavin who wishes to remain anonymous.

I was intrigued by the story of this touching snapshot into Bronze Age life found in a garden in Argyll. I asked Gavin MacGregor for his memories, and these were positive, albeit he had some reservations about his 1996 haircut.

But I also wanted to visit the location myself, and I took advantage of a recent trip to Argyll to visit friends to take a chance and visit the house in question, 18 years after the burial was found. On a warm and sunny April morning, I followed the map in the excavation report, walked along a road and then up a path, and knocked on the door.

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Thankfully, the man who answered was none other than Robin Harvey, and he and Fay kindly spent some time reminiscing about the urn discovery, and indulged my bizarre request to photograph the spot where the burial was found.

The cist location today

The cist location today

In the garden, Robin pointed out the location where he made the discovery, under a bush between a fence and path. For some reason I expected the exact place to be marked in some way, but it soon became clear that no marker was required for the spot to be remembered. The story of the discovery was told as if it happened yesterday, and the Harveys were clearly still excited by what they found and the ensuing excavations.

I asked Robin if it troubled him having a Bronze Age burial ground in his garden, but he said no, he thought it was fantastic. Fay told me that she had been interviewed on Radio Scotland about the time she had been able to meet the ancestors in her garden.

The Harvey's replica pot

The Harvey’s replica pot

Back in the (as they call it) urnhouse, Robin produced from a box an amazing reconstruction of the pot that they had made after the original was removed for analysis and museum incarceration. Made by potter Susan Nuttgens, it offers a tangible sense of how spectacular these huge pots can be and it looked very heavy. Robin pointed out various features, and he noted that the hole caused by his crowbarring had been filled in on the reconstruction.

I left the house inspired by the enthusiasm of Robin and Fay for a discovery they made 18 years ago, and I reflected on the life-changing event that finding a Bronze Age burial in your back garden could be. Perhaps this experience could be rolled out to the wider population for the general wellbeing of all.

pink shop postcard

After a quick stop in the local grocers (apparently the ‘world famous pink shop’) to get some potatoes etc, I then headed to the northern end of the village to visit a standing stone in the local school playground, the kind of activity which almost seems normal to me now. Sadly the shop had no parsnips, a source of genuine disappointment.

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To be honest, this was one of the most underwhelming standing stones I have encountered. Little more than 1.5m tall, and flat and thin in shape, tapering towards a sort of pointy top, almost nothing is known about this stone (NMRS number NM93NW 3). It appears to be in its original location, beside an abandoned railway cutting, and in the midst of a grassy area of the playground of Lochnell Primary School. The stone has a rather dynamic appearance, as if about to uproot itself and run away, like a naughty school child. It sits surrounded by school structures and paraphernalia – school buildings and red railings, bins and bus shelter, fencing and pathways, tarmac and a council van.

I wonder what the children at the school make of it?

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My fieldtrip ended with a visit to one final standing stone, or rather a weird pair of standing stones, across the road from the primary school at Barcaldine, a few miles to the north of Benderloch. Here, one stone in situ has another of similar size and appearance leaning against it like a drunk twin. The latter stone is apparently not in situ, but again almost nothing else can be said about this pair of uprights (NMRS number NM94SE 3).

Barcaldine standing stones

Barcaldine standing stones

This monument sites in a rather crappy field of rushes and scrubbiness, damp underfoot and not really that inviting. As well as being near the school, the standing stone has as a backdrop a grim grey concrete building with a blue banner draped on it which says LOW PRICE MOORINGS AVAILABLE. Nice.

polaroid

I took this trip during the Easter weekend, when I also spent some time partaking in the usual seasonal frivolities, involving eggs and symbolism and children having fun. It is probably a lot stranger to spend time in the company of a person dressed as a giant white rabbit than it is to stand and gaze at a place where two young people were laid to rest in prehistory.

The past has a constant weak presence in the present, whether in the form of rituals and religions that loosely memorialise things that happened 2000 years ago, or funny looking standing stones that were erected 5000 years ago and now stand beside schools, or the cremation and internment of a parent and child 3500 years ago.

Our landscape, our activities, our memories, shaped by the past – from the past – endure today and still have the power to move, inspire, instil pride, entertain and provide an excuse to eat lots of chocolate. But sadly not, it  seems, parsnips.

Sources and acknowledgements:  I would firstly like to thank Robin and Fay Harvey for spending some time with me, and inviting me into their garden and house; their enthusiasm and fresh memories were wonderful. My thanks also to Gavin MacGregor who shared some memories with me, and it is his excavation photo that is included in the post above (copyright held by Historic Scotland, image number SC 1127050). The copy of Historic Argyll was handed to me by Steve Driscoll. All other images are my own, except the picture of the pot itself, sourced from the BBC website, uploaded there initially by Kilmartin Museum (where you can see the pot if you care to visit). Oh yes, and the postcard of the Pink Shop, creased from my pocket, was produced by Steve Eccles. The extracts from the poem were included with the kind permission of their author, Robin Harvey. For the full story of the excavation and post-excavation, see the report – Gavin MacGregor 1998 The excavation of a cordoned urn at Benderloch, Argyl, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 128, 143-59. Gavin writes the Heritagelandscapecreativity blog.