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Melancholia

18 Oct

Some urban prehistory sites are strange. Some are sad. Some are both.

There is something melancholy about a prehistoric site that has been destroyed with nothing done to compensate. We are now used to the fairly cosy arrangement that we can accept the destruction of archaeological sites in exchange for them being professionally and fully excavated. This is a deal that archaeologists – and society without most being aware of it – have made with the free market economy. We won’t interfere too much with endless development, change and economic progress and the juggernaut won’t completely flatten what is left of the past without first slowing down a bit or taking little detours. The result is jobs in the heritage sector, lots of random data we would otherwise not have, and sometimes local communities benefit from these transactions too. This might be a Faustian pact, it might even be entirely sensible, but it does mean that in 2017 one of the most important and uncontrollable ways we have of finding prehistoric sites and sucking the information out of them is driven by social need for, and the political demands of, development.

But in the nineteenth century when society was still getting to grips with the implications of massive scale urban and industrial expansion, railway line and canal building, and the requirement for the extraction of the necessary aggregates to make these things happen, no such deal existed. Archaeological sites were swept aside simply because they were literally the wrong place at the wrong time. And so inconvenient standing stones were  toppled, or ”blown with powder’ as in the case of a stone circle at St Colmac’s, Bute. To add insult to injury, whatever survived these extractions was then put to use as building materials, built into walls and barns, or broken up and utilized serendipitously and randomly e.g. in road and rail foundations. Stone cists and coffins were emptied of their contents, with much of the goodies inside ending up on the mantelpieces of the rich landowner, local vicar or an eccentric antiquarian, soon to be ‘lost’. Of course, this was all underpinned by money as well – but the power relationship was balanced differently than it is now. Archaeological sites could be swept away on a whim, facilitated by the signing of a cheque (one of those big fancy Victorian ones), and the data and information that resulted from any crude interventions that followed could be characterized as limited, selective and often rubbish.

Whoever said that no deal was better than a bad deal?

A dead megalithic monument in Clackmannanshire prompted these thoughts to be re-articulated once again. It is a sad and strange story that represent the ways that even substantial prehistoric monuments, when competing with the demands of nineteenth century economic requirements and the requirements of the landed gentry could come to a very sticky end, reduced to nothing more than an antiquity map symbol.

 

I have a Cunninghar plan

The site to which I refer was called Cunninghar in Tillicoultry. This is a monument that according to varied accounts was substantial, consisting of a circular or oval setting between 20m and 35m in diameter of standing stones three feet high at the foot of the Ochils. (A bank apparently surrounded this, suggesting to me this was a kerb cairn rather than a stone circle for what it is worth.) No record of the number of stones survives, nor any etchings or drawings of this monument. The enthusiastic recorder of prehistoric lost causes and megalithic wild goose chases, Fred Coles, tried to get to the bottom of the story of this stone circle right at the end of the nineteenth century, his sources of information patched together from conversations with an experienced local forester, an OS Name Book entry and some nifty mapwork.

His informant, the estate forester, gave a vivid description of the stone circle and the fate that it met (for the source of this quote, see the end of this post; Location A is shown on Cole’s map reproduced below):

McClaren statement from Coles 1899

The rather undignified evisceration and re-purposing of the monument by the local gentry for their own grand designs, and also perhaps with one eye on the quarrying and thus financial potential of this location to come, left the bank and one single standing stone on site, which became the focus of excavations in the 1890s when two cists, one containing a fine Food Vessel, were discovered on site as the ridge was gradually denuded for aggregate extraction. The account of these discoveries was documented fastidiously by R Robertson in a paper written slightly before Coles arrived on the scene, and in his observation that the site was situated on an ‘elevated ridge of sand intermixed with gravel’ lies the seeds its downfall at the hands of quarrying for those materials.

There is no need to rehearse the details here of the discoveries that occurred in harmony with the rhythm of the extension of the gravel quarry, surprising extractions, suffice it to say that several Bronze Age pots, and a stone marked with rock-art, were discovered.

Food Vessel from Tillicoultry Robertson paper

Rock-art photo Robertson paper

My favourite detail of these impromptu rescue excavations was the discovery by Robertson in the location within a cist that one would have expected a head to be located, ‘a quantity of a fibrous or hairy substance, of dark-red colour’. Analysis was undertaken of this mysterious material by a Professor Struthers who appears to have been something of an expert in these matters, having his own collection of ancient hairs which he sometimes exhibited to the public. He concluded, by comparison with his own reference collection, that this was not the hair of a man, ox or horse – but it might have been the ‘wool’ of a fox, dog or rabbit. (Audrey Henshall later suggested it was otter.) No further analysis of this was undertaken but I like to imagine this was the remnants of a crazy stoat hat. (It is worth noting also that the name of this site derives from something to do with rabbits suggesting this is the kind of location where a rabbit might have burrowed into a cist by accident and died in there. Just saying.)

Cist plan Tillicoultry Coles paper

Fred Coles reported on another cist found here a few years later, although had nothing to say on the matter of the ginger-haired deposit. He also noted that quarrying had not begun at the south end of this ridge by the time of the OS 1st edition mapping of the 1860s, but by then, the stone circle was already gone, for the reasons already noted above. The sand pit to the north suggests the landowner was well aware of the potential value of this location and the pesky stone circle that was on the way of his bank account being further bloated.

OS 1866

OS 1866

Later maps show the outline of the quarrying in more detail, and so show the activities that led to the discovery of Bronze Age burials here as well as completely removing the site where the stone circle / kerb cairn. In a sense the quarrying was more destructive than the standing stone removal, in the same way as extracting one’s teeth is not half as bad as losing your mouth.

This megalith was wiped off the map, and it was on maps that ironically was the only place where it continued to exist.

OS 1866

OS 1951

Gradually, this location became increasingly surrounded by housing estates and the trappings of the modern urban landscape. Using a really helpful map that Coles made of the archaeological discoveries at Cunninghar, and subsequent mapping, it is possible to roughly plot where these key discoveries were made in relation to the modern Tillicoultry – sandwiched between Dollar Road and Sandy Knowe with a fine view over a cemetery and war memorial.

Location map

It was no surprise to me when I visited on a quiet Saturday morning that there is no sense whatsoever that in this corner of Tillicoultry once stood a substantial multi-phase Bronze Age monument. The Cunninghar sand and gravel ridge that so attracted quarriers survives within the urban setting, in the form of a wide grass-covered bank that runs north-south between two housing estates. A path runs along this ridge and I mounted it, from my parking position on the appropriately named Sandy Knowe, via a set of steps. Once on the embankment I followed a rough path that lead to a broader and uneven overgrown area with a mast atop it. This metallic tower stood within a steel cage with warning signs adorning it.

The mast

Grassy knoll

The skull

Tree symbol

This area betrays little to nothing of its former purpose, other than that it is possible to imagine this as a prominent viewing point with views down to the River Devon. The ridge came to a sudden end at a wall on the fringe the A91, while an escarpment topped with a feeble fence which meandered from east – west marked the limit of the sand and gravel quarry that was once here that finally removed the remnants of this monument, the conclusion of a slow-motion series of interventions.

The quarry

As I wandered around in the faint hope of seeing something, anything, that might hint at megaliths, burials or an embankment, I noticed a large stone lying on the other side of the fence on the edge of what was once the quarry. This had previously been identified by the Northern Antiquarian as being a remnant from the stone circle, and although it seemed to me too small to have fulfilled this purpose, it did look out of place and may once have been a prehistoric something or other.

Remnant

Down I went into the quarry, now an overgrown edgeland betwixt road, mound and back gardens, nothing but weeds and rubbish strewn about. Spatially, if not physically, there had been a stone circle here once, perhaps elevated 5m above my head. But all that remained were random sad objects: a twisted child’s car seat, a hoard of charity shop sacks and the splayed and stretched out tendons of a Venetian blind.

Remnants

This made me melancholy. A stone circle had been lost – so be it. But it had been lost and not adequately compensated for. A Food Vessel, Urn and a clump of dead rabbit / otter had been added to the archaeological record, dots on a distribution map (except for the rabbit unless there is a distribution map of Bronze Age wigs), but we don’t even know how many megaliths once stood here. Tillicoultry House with its amazing standing stone lined drain was demolished around 1960, another victim of progress, while the current location of the rock-art-marked stone, visited and visible to Ronald Morris in 1966, is unknown. The Food Vessel is held in the collections of the National Museum of Scotland.

Tillicoultry House

Tillicoultry House. Drain not visible. Source: http://www.ochils.org.uk

There is nothing to let people whose houses are literally metres from where a prehistoric centre of ritual, ceremony and burial once stood know about this, no noticeboards that might inform casual passers-by, a lack of an app or virtual reality ancient version of this place to download. This monument has gone, a victim of all sorts of Victorian hoo-ha. And not only was the monument destroyed, but the place where this monument once stood was destroyed, atomically removed. Once it was removed, the megalith was split up into pieces and then it was later destroyed again, a second death. The burials that were left behind were recovered to an extent, but are now hopelessly dispersed.

There was no deal here – this was a hard extraction, and once the stones had fallen from this cliff edge there was no going back.

I have often said in the past that urban prehistory is not about a sense of loss, or sadness, and this is still the case. But for Cunninghar there have only been bad outcomes, as bad as it gets, and it seems a hopeless case, all that remains being this sad story and footnote in the National Monuments Record of Scotland.

Melancholy is not the same thing as sadness, nor is regret. What I regret about some urban prehistoric sites is that their destruction was in vain, the price paid too high.

Prehistorica melancholia.

 

Sources and acknowledgements: This post benefited from many conversations with Helen Green about heritage, development and compensatory measures (or lack thereof). 

Little has been published on Cunninghar, or the variants of spelling of that name that are out there (Cuninghar, Cunningar). Two articles were published in close succession in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland about this site, both referred to above. The first of these was Robertson’s 1895 effort, ‘Notice of the discovery of a stone cist and urns at the Cuninghar, Tillicoultry’, in volume 29; the second Cole’s 1899 ‘Notices of the discovery of a cist and urns at Juniper Green, and of a cist at the Cunninghar, Tillicoultry, and of some undescribed cup- marked stones’ (volume 33). Both can be read online for free via the Society webpage. The image of the Food Vessel came from the Robertson paper, the cist plan and rock-art ‘photo’ from Coles, and the latter also provided the quote near the start of the post.

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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).

Urn

6 Feb

If R really did mark the spot beneath the tarmac – beneath the car park – where Richard III was found….

Richard III car park photo

….then what might be find beneath the tarmac elsewhere….

urn 3

….beneath our feet and our traffic and our infrastructure?

urn 2

The ancient dead also endure…..

urn

….beneath our cities, our towns, our houses, our gardens and our car parks.

 

Note: Cremation Urn (noun): a ceramic vessel, typically dating to the Bronze Age, used for the collection and storage of cremated human remains. The cremated bones were often sealed inside these large bucket-shaped pots by a skin or hide lid. Cremation urns were generally buried in pits, often upside down. The majority of Bronze Age cremation cemeteries found in the 20th century were uncovered due to urban expansion and road building.

Source: the Richard III photo was sourced from the Bailiwick Express.

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.