Urban prehistory can be transformational, but it can also be mundane, generating little more than footnotes. When all is said and done, the discovery of ancient pots and precious bones is just another part of the relentless tireless digging in that humans have always done, extracting, replacing, destroying, creating. The ground surface is a gateway to the past but also a pointer to the future and our own bodily and material mortality.
On Wednesday 25th of March 1885, during road construction works in a field and the creation of the leafy suburb of Kylepark in the Lanarkshire town of Uddingston, two large ancient pots were found within a foot of the ground surface. “Both urns, in accordance with a not unusual practice, had been merely placed in the earth mound downwards over the bones they were intended to protect” (Duncan 1885, pg. 337).
A few days later, the then Honorary Secretary of the Glasgow Archaeological Society, J Dalrymple Duncan*, visited to take charge of the site and he carried out what must have been a fairly rudimentary investigation of the findspot, just a stone’s throw from the River Clyde. Before he arrived some human bones had also been found, and so Dalrymple “had the ground dug up for a considerable space around the spot, when after some search we were successful in discovering a few small portions of a third urn” (pg. 337).
JDD collected together the fragments of urn that had already been found, to be passed to Joseph Anderson of the National Museum of Antiquities. For one of the urns was damaged by a pick axe, the other had been squashed by a construction tramway inadvertantly laid over it. The third urn survived only as ‘trifling portion’.
The human remains were analysed by Professor Young of Glasgow University and Professor Buchanan of Anderson’s College. They could not say much with certainty but suggested that there were at least two people represented, perhaps an older short man, and a slighter younger person, “inextricably mixed together”.
And so the road was completed, and the houses constructed, what was once a riverside field, now sandstone homes, gardens, and trackways. The wheels of time moved on, with the location of this remarkable discovery – what we would now know to be a 4,000 year old burial site – settling in to its comfortable middle class future.
The interpretation of this modest discovery was associated with the Bronze Age by Dalrymple, and noteworthy as, “the first instance … of one of these having been brought to light in the immediate neighbourhood of Glasgow” (pg. 340).
In 1904, a local history book was published called By Bothwell banks: some chapters on the history, archaeology and literary associations of the Uddingston and Bothwell district, written by George Henderson and architect J Jeffrey Waddell. This documented for the most part the medieval and later history of this area, with Bothwell and Uddingston being neighbouring towns on the banks of the Clyde.
The first three pages of this narrative explore what the authors call the ‘earliest times’ and they make note of the discovery of the urns and bones at Kylepark, as well as – in a footnote to this footnote – mention of another Bronze Age discovery at Viewpark to the north in the early years of the nineteenth century. The discovery at Kylepark was loosely connected to local folk traditions.
Looking back to these ancient days, the authors cannot help fall back on colonial narratives of the uncivilised, exotic nature of these prehistoric folk. The river would have had,
“banks luxurious with vegetation of almost tropical growth, overshadowed with gigantic trees, with its waters as yet unsullied by civilisation, would be as well stocked with the lordly salmon as any river in Canada”.
They continued, “…hunting and fishing would have occupied their days, varied only by such gentle relaxation as tribal war” (pg. 2).
Such narratives recall the fantastical writing of Ludovic McLellan Mann in his 1937 book Earliest Glasgow: Temple of the Moon. Earliest man “watched with awe and eagerness the great mammalia striding across the meadows and through the woodlands” (pg. 1). Mann will appear again in our story before the end.
There is a curious conflicted view of colonialism within the Henderson and Waddell narrative, who on the one hand treat prehistoric people as if they were a lesser, different species, and on the other hand bitterly note the ‘iron foot’ of the subsequent Roman invaders of Strathclyde. There seems to be a recognition that in ‘civilising’ someone, you change them and their environment in not altogether positive ways. Yet there is also a strand of continuity from these folk, with a note that the nearby location of a church means that this ground was “hallowed … by many forms of worship”. And of course these Bronze Age dead – whose bones were picked over by Professors – were pagans.
The houses were constructed, the road established, middle classes became entrenched, people slotting into types just as surely as the pots that were found at Kylepark. The three vessels were studied at a visual level, being drawn (see above) and characterised – two urns, one of the encrusted type, and one Food Vessel. These were distributed widely, held across two museums in Glasgow and Edinburgh, where they still reside today in cardboard boxes in environmentally controlled museum stores.
X.EA 108 Encrusted pottery urn with band of raised zigzags and bosses on upper part, from Uddingston, Lanarkshire, Middle Bronze Age. Clay; band of raised zigzags and bosses on upper part (source).
This and the other vessels have from time to time been of use to archaeologists.
In 1933, Ludovic Mann addressed a fieldtrip of the Glasgow Archaeological Society and the Scottish Ecclesiological Society in Bothwell, close to the Kylepark discovery. There he outlined an outlandish argument that the current location of St Bride’s Church in Bothwell was indicative of a prehistoric sacred landscape on a par with Stonehenge. His theories were developed in story in the local newspaper The Hamilton Advertiser a week later, a story Mann was so enamoured with he had made into a pamphlet.
The detail and contextualisation of Mann’s lecture and demonstrations that day will be the subject of a more detailed examination (link to be added when this is published) but suffice to say that of course the Kylepark discovery was surely of interest to Mann’s theorising. “Bothwell must have been a very notable place in pre-Christian times…” (pg. 3) and it is probable that the urn findspot was included on a large map Mann brought for the occasion and used as the basis for an illustrated talk at the Clyde Hotel (now the Bothwell Bridge Hotel). This was a sacred landscape in ancient times, according to Mann, aligned on the solstices and organised around careful measurements of distance and time. Narratives spun on a Saturday afternoon after tea, nothing more.
There is nothing at Kylepark today that would make one know that this had been a place of death, rites, subsistence and salmon abundance. Just another sandstone suburb on the fringe of Glasgow.
There is no documentary evidence of the reaction of the workers who found these objects, or how they reacted to the arrival of a posh amateur archaeologist to take control of their site, view the pick-smashed base on one urn, dig into the field for bones and more. Just another day, another inconvenience, perhaps an anecdote to be shared with friends and family.
These are all footnotes.
* James Dalrymple Duncan as called in this paper is better know as James Dalrymple Gray of Dalrymple, founder of the Dalrymple Lecture series held annually at the University of Glasgow. He was the son of Rev Thomas Gray Duncan and Mary Dalrymple. He changed his name – Pitt-Rivers style – for family inheritance reasons. I am indebted to GAS archivist James Mearns for clarifying this. Obituary
Sources and acknowledgements: thanks to the staff of special collections at the University of Glasgow, and Jim Mearns.
The following sources were consulted and quoted above:
Duncan, J D. 1885 Note regarding cinerary urns recently discovered at Uddingston’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 19, 1884-5, 337-40. Online here
Henderson, G and Waddell, J J 1904 By Bothwell banks: some chapters on the history, archaeology and literary associations of the Uddingston and Bothwell district. Glasgow. You can see this whole book, digitised, online here.
One of the little-known pleasures of researching prehistory is excavating archives. This is because the material remains of the past can only tell us so much. Whisper it, but understanding prehistory sometimes requires an engagement with the written word. From antiquarian accounts and field notebooks, to scheduling and planning documentation, to personal archives and media repositories, there is a wealth of information out there that can tells us about the most recent history of even the most ancient of sites. Documents, photographs, sketches, and even letters can be as informative as a nicely excavated posthole or a sherd of Grooved Ware when it comes to forming our prehistoric narratives. Research into any prehistoric site must include consideration of the historic in order to fully contextualise that site.
In his recent book A Contemporary Archaeology of London’s Mega Events (UCL Press, 2022), Johnny Gardner has set out a persuasive case for the methodological toolkit of the contemporary archaeologist to include visits to archives and oral histories, as well as more traditional field skills such as excavation and survey. I would extend this to prehistoric archaeology. Making sense of how a site appears to us now and the range of tangible evidence likely to have survived can only benefit from consideration of historic engagements with these sites; the story of how the site came to be in its current incarnation did not end when the last Neolithic person trudged away at the end of a ceremony. Site formation process documentation is not just about understanding sediments, erosion, or animal burrowing. In the archaeological record nothing stays static for long and humans can’t help themselves.
This post has been prompted by the recent passing to me of some very special photos of the Cochno Stone, a rock art site in West Dunbartonshire that I have been researching since 2015. (Watch this lecture I gave in 2021 for the story so far.) This made me reflect on the journey I have been on searching archives, gathering images, and speaking to people about this site and other rock art panels next to Faifley. I’ve also been doing some writing about this and I’ll update this post with links when they come to fruition. I also did an online lecture on this theme in August 2022 for Kilmartin Trust Museum, which should be available to view here soon.
The point I want to make here is that good prehistory, like any other investigation of the past, can and should happen in libraries, collections, archives and living rooms, otherwise we risk limiting ourselves.
To help make this point I would like to look at photography and the research context for these images. So I’m going to look at two aspects of the Cochno Stone story through the lens of archival material: the painting of the stone by Ludovic Mann in 1937, and events in the years around its burial in 1965.
Material being used here includes the Ronald Morris archive; HES / RCAHMS / Glasgow Life / West Dunbartonshire Council archives; and material held by private individuals. The Ronald Morris archive was my first port of call very early on in the process. Morris was a solicitor turned rock art aficionado, the godfather of amateur rock art archaeology in the UK for many. He was active in the field between the 1960s and 1980s, but he didn’t ever see the Cochno Stone, his first visits to Faifley coming a couple of years after the 1965 burial. I was hopeful though that he might have acquired some photos of Cochno on his visits or through his network of local contacts. So I have spent a couple of sessions looking through his extensive and largely uncatalogued archive held by HES at John Sinclair House in Edinburgh.
The archive contains a series of record pockets, one for each rock art site in Scotland. The Faifley record cards are a treasure trove of information on the sites at Auchnacraig and Whitehill with photos, sketches, fieldwork notes, letters and so on, most of which did not make it into Morris’s publications. Other sources of material will be introduced below.
Clearly significant archaeological events such as those discussed in this post should be documented well, one would think. But in fact, they are not. There are many photos of the Cochno Stone – try googling it – but in fact these have rather limited scope and tend to fall into one of two categories. There are a tranche of black and white photos that probably date to the years immediately after Mann painted the stone in 1937. These photos tend to show parts of the site, which has been helpful in making sense of the detail of Mann’s paintjob although some areas of the stone have never quite been captured.
The other type of photo are from the time of our excavations at the site in 2016, when the whole stone was uncovered for 10 days. Some of these are ‘official’ photos as it were, taken by me and other team members, and then shared online. Others were taken by visitors to the site, while there is some officially sanctioned HES photography on the canmore page for the site including images taken by their high-spy piece of kit. (This has over 50 photos of the site, a great cross section and well worth checking out.)
But I have been aware for several years that there are gaps in the photographic record for this monument. There are, so far as I can tell, no photos that have come to light yet that show the Cochno Stone before Mann painted it. We only have sketches from the half century between ‘discovery’ in the late 1880s and 1937. Until recently there was only one photo I had seen of the stone actually being painted. And there is real dearth of imagery from the period in the run-up to the burial of the stone in 1965 – a time when one would presume based on our excavation observations that the stone was at least partially grown over and Mann’s paint had largely faded into memory. So we have really good photographic coverage from 1937 to 1950, and 2016, but almost nothing between 1888 and 1936 or 1950 and 1965; clearly between 1965 and today the stone has been buried and beyond the realm of photography for all but a fortnight.
There is a real research imperative to tracking down photos from these gaps in our coverage, as these would, one hopes, shed light on the, say, the process of painting, and the changing condition of the stone through time. So I have spent quite a bit of time searching in archives for photos that might fill these time gaps, and I’ve also been fortunate enough to be passed photos and slides from others who know of my research interests. This has allowed the gaps to gradually be filled albeit it slowly and in limited quantities. However when a new photo comes to light it is almost always a thrill, but often poses more questions than it answers. This also catalyses further research, whether that be returning to the excavation archive itself, or going to a library.
When I started work on the Cochno Stone, finding out more about the painting in 1937 was a primary aspiration. The painting of the stone by Ludovic Mann and with help from George Applebey is one of the defining moments in the biography of this monument. Notes in Mann’s own archive so far have revealed only circumstantial evidence for what Mann did and why he did it. Speaking to George Applebey’s son, also George, also revealed little on what happened in that summer of 1937. Mann’s work at Knappers / Druid’s Temple that summer completely overshadowed his time at Cochno, to the extent that almost no newsclippings could be found that even showed the paint never mind reported on the event. This is surprising as Mann was very much an influencer and serial media user at the time, as I have written about elsewhere. My attempts to work out what Mann was up to can be found elsewhere (Brophy 2020). Suffice it to say that this eccentric act has in its origins in Mann’s obsessions with prehistoric eclipses, cosmology and metrology.
The actual act of painting, which must have taken quite some time and been very complex, is even trickier to make sense of due to a lack of documentation. One photo in the public domain supposedly showed Mann himself painting the stone. This was published in Ronald Morris’s 1981 book The prehistoric rock art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway). The caption for Plate 111 notes, ‘L. M. Mann painting in the carvings about 1937’ and the photo was taken from the J Harrison Maxwell collection.
This doesn’t really look like Mann is painting (is it even Mann?) so this is probably a posed shot once the job has been completed and this is certainly one of the most detailed photos of this feature of the site. It reminds me of a rather better-known image, again probably posed by Harrison Maxwell, this one featuring Mann and Applebey. This digital version held by HES was scanned back to front by RCAHMS for some reason, the correct version is also included for reference.
During preparation for The Mann the Myth conference in Glasgow in 2019, Glasgow Life curator Katinka Dalglish passed me a photo she had found in the Mann archive they hold that does actually show someone painting the surface of the stone. At first I assumed this was Mann himself but his hair is not the same as the chap who is definitely Mann in the above photo. Here coloured paint is being applied (probably red, maybe blue) using a course brush and messy paint tin. The stones and white sheet / paper may relate to a rubbing being done of the stone at the same time.
Then in May 2022, I was emailed a selection of scanned photos. These photos had been sent to a Mrs Bowie of Clydebank by Ronald Morris in 1979. In turn these had been passed to committee members of the Clydebank Local History Society, Dave Carson and then Sam Gibson. It was Sam who kindly sent me the scans. One of these immediately blew me away: another paint job shot.
This remarkable photo shows another team member – a woman this time – working on the stone, probably painting a cup-and-ring white. Here, the paint tin is clearer, with some on twitter suggesting this might be Crown brand. A brush sits beside the paint, and the brush is slightly less coarse than the one branded by the unknown man above. This suggests that painting the stone was more of a team effort than I had initially presumed. But who are these members of the painting team?
One last look: 1964
The Morris archive contains a folder for the Cochno Stone (aka Whitehill 1). It is disappointingly thin (as he did not actually see the site) but did contain some fascinating photos from 1964 and perhaps 1965.
There are tantalising notes and photos regarding a 1964 excavation carried out by the University of Glasgow’s Horace Fairhurst. This is accompanied by an incredible series of photos showing four middle-aged men on a large rock surface, examining the stone and even lifting flaps of carpet-like turf expose the symbols beneath. There is some confusion in the published work of Morris and his notes as to whether this is actually the Cochno Stone or a neighbouring site that has since been ‘lost’.
What the third of these photographs clearly show is that the Cochno Stone was by 1964 apparently largely free of the paint that Mann had applied, this having weathered away after almost 30 years of exposure to the elements. This photo also shows quite clearly that the edges of the stone had begun to grass over, something we had suspected during the 2016 excavation. The stone was stained on the fringes and the paint survived, suggestive of these areas of the monument having been protected from weather to an extent.
So far I have been unable to find any written record of this piece of fieldwork or established the nature of what Morris called an excavation at this time. Horace Fairhurst (1908-1986) was a geographer cum archaeologist, and the first head of Archaeology Department at the University of Glasgow in the 1960s (a post I currently hold). His most significant research related to medieval and post-medieval settlement in Scotland and the archaeology of the island of Arran. This may well have been an opportunistic piece of work carried out at the request of Morris, and seems to have been at most ‘having a good look’ at the site.
Very recently another set of photos came into my possession that were taken around the same time, perhaps even during this fieldwork episode. My colleague Nyree Finlay found a small number of slides showing rock art sites within the archive of our now sadly deceased colleague, Alex Morrison. Two of these slides were taken of the Cochno Stone in 1964 and crucially are in colour. These photos have presumably never been seen outside the lecture theatre – until now. I am not sure if these photos were taken by Alex – he graduated in 1964 and so may have accompanied Fairhurst on a visit to the site as they shared rural settlement research interests. Unlike the black and white photos above, here the scale is a shooting stick, rather than a measuring tape.
These stunning images are very helpful in understanding what the Cochno Stone looked like in 1964, less than a year before its burial. Grass and weeds have encroached onto the fringes of the outcrop. Almost no traces of Mann’s paint survives. But perhaps most noticeably, the surface appears covered in scrapes and scratches of the kind one might associate with a lot of people walking on the stone and in some cases marking it: some letters are visible scraped into the stone surface as well as hints of the more deeply incised graffiti we found in 2016. The wall surrounding the stone seems almost ruinous in places with parts of this lying in weeds around the stone although the style survives on the north side. Finally, there is apparently a fence around the entirety of the stone, something I had previously not been aware of.
Within months the stone was buried. Perhaps this brief interlude of interest in the Cochno Stone by some archaeologists from the University of Glasgow was instrumental in the burial, or the visit occurred for the purposes of documentation before the the stone was covered over. This has yet to be established.
The Morris archive includes another significant image which seems to show the location of the Cochno Stone not long after it was buried. The triangular feature on the skyline is part of a metal fence atop the wall around the Cochno Stone and so this picture seems to have been taken from the south-south-west. Rubble or wall remnants appear in the foreground. If this photo was taken by Morris is might have been on a visit to the area in 1968; not all of the stone appears to have grassed over however at this time. Another note: this image seems to be from a proof, but was this photo ever published?
The photos and records I have been fortunate enough to consult over the past few years have been transformative in my understanding of the 20th century story of the Cochno Stone. Yet even for the recent past gaps in knowledge and understanding remain, gaps that to an extent can be filled by talking to people and learning from their memories and experiences. Taken together, these very historical means of knowledge generation – archives, files, photographs, interviews – can help us to piece together the modern biography of prehistoric sites and their study. In turn, this final piece of the biographical narrative of such sites that stretched back thousands of years can be more fully understood. And the last chapter is almost always essential reading in any book for a good reason.
There is much more to unpick here. More photos and files remain to be consulted, and there are people to speak to. Excavating this kind of knowledge will probably be more useful in helping us to understand Faifley’s rock art than anything I could do with a trowel or a microscope. These are human stories, regardless of whether they were being written in stone 5,000 years ago or in 1937, or 1964. So my plea to prehistorians is – look to history!
Sources and acknowledgements: I would like to thank the staff of the HES search room for looking out the Ronald Morris archive for me to consult. Thanks also to Katinka Dalglish, Nyree Finlay and Sam Gibson for providing me with some of the materials discussed above.Thanks very much to Michael Gannon for scanning the Morrison slides for me.
I have written a chapter on Ronald Morris’s archive in a book published to celebrate Stan Beckensall’s wonderful life and career in September 2022. The book is being edited by Kate Sharpe and Paul Frodsham and my chapter is called: Digging into the Ronald Morris archive: a Kilmartin Glen case-study. Full details as soon as I have them.
The other reference in the text relates to my own writing on Mann’s paintjob in 1937: K Brophy 2000 The Ludovic technique: the painting of the Cochno Stone, West Dunbartonshire. Scottish Archaeological Journal 42 [email me if you want a pdf of this article]
I also appreciate the invite to speak as part of the Kilmartin House Trust lecture series in summer 2022. The topic was using the Ronald Morris and Ludovic Mann archives. There was a great and well-informed audience of almost 90, and Ken McElroy created this disturbing image to market the talk. It must have worked!
I recently wrote this short blog post for a website promoting University of Glasgow School of Humanities schools activities and resources but misunderstood my brief, and what I wrote was condensed into one short paragraph. Oh well, never one to let writing (and several hours of my time) go to waste, here is a summary of schools activities around the Faifley Rocks! Project and the Cochno Stone. If any teachers would like to explore using cups and rings in the classroom please get in touch via email@example.com
Since 2015, I have been working with community members, organisations, and schools in Faifley and Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, to celebrate and tell the story of a series of prehistoric rock-art sites on their urban fringe. These are outcrops of sandstone that were carved with a range of circular markings in the Neolithic or early Bronze Age, probably between 5000 and 4000 years ago. These are known as cupmarks (hollows) and cup-and-ring marks (hollows with concentric circles carved around them).
Over a dozen such rocks are found in a park and woods near Faifley, the most famous being the Cochno Stone. This is one of the largest rock-art panels in Britain and is covered in hundreds of examples of prehistoric carved symbols and modern graffiti. As if this were not dramatic enough, in summer 1937 the Glasgow antiquarian Ludovic Mann covered much of the surface of the Cochno Stone in a painted grid of his own conception and he also painted all the prehistoric symbols. The Cochno Stone was finally buried in 1965 by the heritage authorities due to damage being done to the stone by visitors, including dozens of people carving their name into the rock’s surface.
My engagement with the community really began in earnest with the temporary uncovering of the Cochno Stone in 2016 for it to be digitally recorded for future research. This catalysed further work including workshops, public talks, exhibitions, walking tours, and several seasons of archaeological fieldwork. Right from the start I was keen to work with local schools, and this has led to some great classroom sessions and working with creative and engaged teachers at primary and secondary level. Much of this work has been improvised and most of it has not yet been tied into the curriculum. However, I hope this is a useful case-study of the range of activities that I and many helpers have been doing in the classroom and the playground around the topics of prehistoric rock-art and contested heritage.
Pop-up Rock-art Lab
During the excavation, lots of children visited the dig and came to see the Cochno Stone, and this allowed conversations about the stone and also the memories of the stone that their parents and grandparents had. Some kids even found out that a relative had carved their name onto the stone in the 1950s or 1960s! These official school visits and post-school wanders were encouraging, but I wanted to do something more formal and structured. So, we came up with what we called the Pop-up Rock-art Lab, where we provided groups of school pupils recording sheets, cameras, photographic scales, and blackboards, to allow them to work together to record the rock-art in the park at Faifley. This allowed children to spend time studying cup-and-ring marks, tracing their shape with their fingers, counting the number of cupmarks, describing the symbols in their own words, and thinking about the meaning of the symbols. This has been done with groups of children from primary and secondary levels, during my excavations, and on open days, and generally results in a lot of fun and some mixed quality photographs!
Soon after I started working at Faifley, I was invited to go into a primary school in Hamilton to talk to children about rock-art and told that I could do whatever I wanted to do. After a bit of head scratching, I came up with a concept that I now call the Chalkno Stone. To do this all one needs is some pavement chalk and a big measuring tape, a plan of the Cochno Stone, and a large flat paved or tarmac area e.g a playground. The children help me to draw out the outline of the Cochno Stone in the playground at 1:1 scale using the plan and some large 15m measuring tapes. This shows how big the stone actually is – it measured 15m by 8m and has a carved surface of some 100 square metres. The children are then let loose with chalk to decorate the playground within the boundaries of the stone with prehistoric symbols. Cup, cup-and-rings, spirals and other related symbols of all shapes and sizes and colours soon abound.
This opens up opportunities to discuss what the symbols might have meant in prehistory, and it is empowering to children of all ages to find out that archaeologists don’t know what the symbols meant. In other words, the question “what do you think the symbols might mean?” becomes one of opportunity and creativity for everyone I work with, teachers and pupils. Some of the theories that have emerged from this process have been as interesting and plausible as anything I have read in archaeology textbooks!
Beyond this we can then ask the kids to add their own symbols to the Chalkno Stone – school and house names and logos, names, initials, nicknames and so on are duly added to the stone, and then a discussion about identify can begin. What symbols do we use to describe ourselves and our culture?
I have found this an exciting and enjoyable activity that takes about an hour and works well with primary and secondary children although it does use up a lot of chalk!
In 2017 I secured funding from the Being Human festival to commission a comic book by Hannah Sackett that tells the story of the Cochno Stone and in particular the interactions of Ludovic Mann. Mann’s painting of the Cochno Stone in 1937 was an act that captured the imagination of school kids when I had spoken to them about this previously, probably because of the idea of a multi-coloured large rock surface and maybe also the inherent naughtiness in this act! Mann had a theory that the cup-and-ring marks told the story of how prehistoric people explained eclipses – that a monster ate the sun then spat it back up again – and this became the basis for comic book workshops that I have been running in schools in central Scotland ever since.
The workshops allow the pupils to learn about the story of the Cochno Stone and its problematic heritage but they are also able to get creative, drawing their own ‘eclipse monsters’ and comics telling stories that revolved around rock-art symbols and monsters. This mythmaking very much reflects the kinds of stories people have probably always told to explain cup-and-ring marks. At the end of each session, the pupils are allowed to keep their own copy of the comic book thanks to funding by Being Human and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
This session has been run in several schools and seems to work best with primary 3-7, although using the comic in secondary setting does allow discussion about the heritage management of the Cochno Stone and its burial. Teachers I have worked have been very positive about this session. One told me the “lower ability class … really do benefit from more visual learning”. Another informed me that, “the open-ended nature of the [workshop] tasks proved very effective in engaging a wide range of abilities …for those at the lower end this meant that they remained engaged and part of the lesson without being singled out with differentiated material. For those at the upper end … the comic book / graphic novel nature of the task allowed for them to make more nuanced, higher order, links between the text and images”. You can find out more about the comic book in a chapter Hannah and I wrote about it for a book which you can download here.
People and Society
The story of the Cochno Stone has become more integrated into the secondary curriculum through the People and Society course. This has been driven by a teacher based in Falkirk and I have spent a few years helping to develop this with her and colleagues. People and Society is aimed at National 3 and 4 levels. This is a course that provides opportunities for lower achieving students to study a range of social subjects together, instead of focusing on only one discipline. There are three units within People and Society, one of which is ‘making decisions’, a suitable theme for Cochno because we wanted to challenge the pupils to reach a considered decision regarding the fate of the Cochno Stone going into the future. Should it stay buried or should it be uncovered permanently?
To do this, a series of lessons were developed which included topics such as the story of the Cochno Stone, how archaeologists have studied British prehistoric abstract rock-art, and the social context of rock-art around Faifley. Where possible we have done fieldtrips and I have led a few teaching sessions, in person and more recently on Teams. This has led to really good levels of engagement and creativity with the pupils who have produced clay rock-art, posters, stories, cartoons and reports on the theme of rock-art and the social value of the Cochno Stone. Resources around this coursework are available for all secondary teachers on Scotland via Glow.
Having worked with a lot of schools and teachers over the past few years, one of the most exciting things I have found is that some of the information and resources have taken on a life of their own thanks to the creativity and enthusiasm of teachers I have worked with. In one school in Edinburgh, children have been creating Cochno Stone board games, while in a primary school where I have been running comic book workshops this led to children doing creative writing around the subject. I am constantly in awe of how teachers can take the archaeological bits and pieces I tell them about and then turn them into classroom sessions and activities. This has also led to other activities, such as getting pupils involved in survey and excavation work in and around the rock-art sites.
For this reason, I would love to work with more teachers and more schools with some or all of these resources and sessions, and where this can be connected to local archaeology so much the better. In Falkirk I have been working with teachers to develop resources around a local rock-art site that builds on teaching around Faifley’s rock-art but celebrates a place that some of the pupils I worked with were familiar with. This process is captured in an earlier blog post of mine.
There is massive potential for cup and rings to work really well in the classroom, and hopefully I can get back into schools post-pandemic with some new ideas!
Acknowledgments: I would like to thank all of the teachers I have worked with so far from schools in Faifley, Clydebank, Falkirk, Hamilton and Edinburgh. So many thanks to Jan Brophy, Michelle McMullan, Sam McKeand, Catriona Morrison, Lynne Allison, and Christine Emmett.Without your enthusiam and creativity none of this would have been possible!
I also want to thank Cochno Stone team members who helped to deliver various sessions with kids especially Alison Douglas, Lauren Welsh, Mar Roige Oliver, and Fionnuala Reilly.
Saturday 5th October 2019. 5002 years, 194 days and 19 hours after Glasgow’s ancient eclipse*, a conference was held to re-evaluate, celebrate, and contextualise the life and times of Glasgow’s antiquarian archaeologist, Ludovic Mclellan Mann. This post offers an overdue summary of the conference, and updates on what is next for the Mann-revival. More in-depth Mann stuff can be found at my dedicated blog for research into this man(n).
(* eclipse may not have happened, and almost certainly not at the precise time Mann thought it did.)
2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Glasgow’s great eccentric antiquarian and amateur archaeologist Ludovic Mclellan Mann (1869-1955). A controversial figure during his lifetime, Mann nonetheless carried out important excavations, was Scotland’s first ‘rescue archaeologist’ and lived a life committed to public archaeology and heritage education. He is well known for his colourful books on ancient measurements and Earliest Glasgow, and his excavations at the Druid Temple, Clydebank in 1937-9. But what is his legacy? How should we view his eclectic activities and ideas? What role did he play in the development and professionalisation of the archaeology in Glasgow, Scotland and beyond? And what about his non-archaeological interests?
To mark this anniversary, as part of a series of events, a conference and celebration of Mann will be held at the Glasgow University Union Debating Chamber on Saturday 5th October.
We welcome proposals for contributions to this event, whether this be a 20-minute talk or something more creative. In particular, we encourage non-academic content and so are welcome to whatever idea you want to pitch.
Then we sat back and waited to see what would come our way. We were not disappointed.
A really nice range of contributions came in, some of which in the end did not become conference papers due to clashes with other events. These came from a variety of people, from academics to geomancers, those with an ‘amateur’ interest in archaeology, to students. Speakers included early career researchers and pensioners and most things in between. The final programme looked like this:
All of these speakers freely gave up their time, energy, and resources to contribute and attend the conference, and so we are indebted to them. Not named here is Dr Stuart Jeffrey, Glasgow School of Art, who kindly agreed to act as a discussant at the end.
I wanted the venue for the conference to be fairly informal, not a stuffy lecture theatre. I also wanted to keep costs down which limited possible weekend venues in and around Glasgow University where I work. In the end we settled for the debating chamber at the Glasgow University Union, where my previous experience of a conference – the Scottish Student Archaeology Society event in January 2018 – had been a good one.
I spoke at that event, and my only quibble was that I wanted a giant screen to show slides on, not the little one shown in the photo above. Thankfully I was able to squeeze that out of the conference budget as well as an all-singing-all-dancing sound system (which of course conked out on the day of the conference for a while). Thanks to Glasgow Archaeological Society I was also able to organise catering at the venue, and kept the entrance fee down to a tenner for general entrance, fiver for GAS members and students, and free for all helpers and speakers.
Our funders and backers helped make this possible:
The conference pack
I also wanted to ensure that delegates had something tangible to take away with them, rather than just a boring old programme. With no real cash to spare to buy pens, tote bags, or other ephemera to give to those attending (the decadent trappings of the contemporary conference), I decided to design and produce a zine, and include this and some other bits of paperwork in an A4 envelope, which I could buy in cheap packs in Tesco.
The zine was on the theme of the conference of course, old Ludovic himself, and cost nothing directly to the conference attendees, although a lot of A3 paper was used and colour photocopying done at work (hope my line manager does not read this!). One of our students, Hannah Stevenson, kindly folded them all into zines which must have taken ages! In the end only about 75 were ever made so if you have one, hold on to it, one day you may be able to cash in on antiques roadshow or posh pawn brokers.
The zine was accompanied by a postcard advertising a future podcast on Mann, Mannsplaining (still a future aspiration at the time of writing!), with design by Mike Middleton, a conference programme, and some flyers.
Katinka kindly agreed to host a hands-on session with objects associated with Ludovic Mann in the collections of the Kelvingrove Museum. This was held in the Kelvin Hall across the road where much of their archaeological material is now stored. A few early bird delegates turned up the day before the conference and spent a happy hour fondling stuff found or collected by Mann, a veritable material culture menagerie.
The boxes, the writing on the objects, the little notes and labels, were as of much interest as the materials themselves. A tangible connection to the Mann himself.
The day of the conference dawned for me with a mixture of excitement and stress. I went into Glasgow, got a couple of bags of stuff, and come coffee, then went to the venue where I was met with the relaxing presence of lots of helpers ready to get going. Things were set up, even the audio-visual stuff started working after a while, then the audience began to drift in. By the time we were ready to go, there were lots of people in the room, and most of the speakers had been able to turn up!
I’m not going to go over the contents of the day in much detail. There are plans for an edited volume with some contributions which should be out before the end of 2020, and also the whole day was recorded by Tristan Boyle. I’m hoping the talks can be released as part of the Mannsplaining podsact series when it eventually gets up and running. You can also follow live tweeting from the event by checking out #theManntheMyth on the twitter.
But here are some pictures I took on the day of some of the speakers.
As well as the speakers, and others took part other than those photographed above, there was also a display of Mann archival material and some of his books (and some Harry Bell books), and Tom Davies presented a selection of marginalia by Mann in textbooks he had come across. Glasgow Archaeology Society, Glasgow University Student Archaeology Society, and Edinburgh University Press had stalls.
The day was indeed a celebration of Mann, but of course reservations were also expressed about the veracity of some of his explanations, perhaps even the sanity of some of his actions. I think there was a good balance in the room of awareness that for all of his limitations and weaknesses, Mann was a pivotal figure in the development of Scottish archaeology. This was illuminated by a very personal intervention by George Applebey, whose father with the same name was a friend of Mann’s, and did a lot of work with him. George even remembered meeting Mann, who was an uncle figure to him.
The reaction to the day seems to have been positive, with tweets like this one from film-maker Myles Painter making it all worthwhile.
In numbers, the Mann the Myth conference was also a success. 64 people came along to the conference including over 20 Glasgow Archaeology Society members. The day would not have been possible without the financial and in-kind support of our sponsors, while the time and effort given freely by speakers, student helpers, and assorted other supporters was humbling. I hope that this is only the start of my Ludovic Mann journey, not the end, and given his voluminous and mostly uncatalogued archive, that seems very likely. His legacy has yet to be truly reflected on and explored to the depths of the Palaeolithic and onwards.
Fact check: the letter that forms the basis of this post and my Lennoxtown visit was published in The Scotsman newspaper. As with many other Ludovic McLellan Mann observations, there is no corroborating evidence for the presence of this Knowe, nor its folk and archaeological significance. If such a mound existed, its contours have not troubled mapmakers. And it is commonplace to find that prefabricated houses from the 1940s were not ‘temporary’, even if this mound was. The ruinous ground behind the three bungalows on a natural rise was once occupied by the Free Church of Lennoxtown, which was used as a drill hall for “D” Company, 7th battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders during the First World War, and a school also once stood upon this acclivity.
Is art an appropriate word to describe the abstract symbols that were carved onto rock outcrops in the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Britain? I was asked this question a few times recently during a series of talks I did about the Cochno Stone and it is a question that causes us to pause and reflect on the way that contemporary discourse shapes our perceptions of the ancient past. Our vocabulary is simply insufficient to characterize activities that happened in prehistory, and inevitably we end up writing narratives about the past that are pale reflections of, or weird variants on, our own present. You do not need to be a student of archaeological theory to understand that this is both problematic and inevitable.
Art is a word that polarizes in general, and especially so in the context of prehistory (for an interesting discussion on this issue, read this). Some archaeologists see the word art in this context as useful in helping us to understand some of the complexities of pictorial and abstract carvings on rock from prehistory. Others accept that while inadequate and loaded, we are stuck with the rock-art label: it is a widely understood term that is simply a classificatory label. No classification can ever be really neutral, however, and so while rock-art cannot now be easily abandoned as a descriptor, we should use it cautiously and critically. For me, art is something that provokes creativity, stimulates critical thinking, offers a fresh perspective on the world around us, and is deeply political. For others, art is about creativity and aesthetics. Can we say the same for rock-art? Can we apply the same criteria for reading art gallery art in our readings of prehistoric rock-art? Perhaps.
We could view Neolithic rock-art such as is found across Britain as prehistoric equivalents of medieval oil paintings of kings and contemporary landscape art installations. All have the aspiration and possibility to mean many things to many people that is only partially in the control of the artist. None of these means of expression is neutral or without political, social and emotional depth, even although their context, medium, audience and reception vary hugely. On the other hand, the repetitive and ubiquitous nature of cup-and-ring marks could be viewed as restrictions on creativity, symbols of conformity and social identity carved into rocks in an almost obsessive fashion that speak more of propaganda than free-will. But looking even closer, it is in the detail that we might should we care to look find the hand of the individual, subversive riffing on the cup-and-ring mark formula, rock(art) n roll. Perhaps we might take another approach, viewing cupmarks as a prehistoric abstract movement, all weird shapes, juxtapositions and coded meaning that is meaningless. Yet we could also read rock-art as an interactive and tactile form. The landscape was no art gallery and there were no fences, glass or guards (as there are now at places like Achnabreck in Argyll (fences not guards)). The haptic qualities of rock-art speak more of sculpture than painting: sculpture that one could touch however, rather than stand back and admire as one would do with an oil painting or something hung on wall. Or……
I could go on. What I am trying to say here is that there are many ways to make sense of cup-and-ring mark rock-art, and by thinking about it as ‘art’ we open up routes to interpret such symbols in ways that make sense to us.
One thing that art is good at is inspiring more art, and in this spirit, over two posts, I want to consider artistic responses to the Cochno Stone rock-art site. In this post, I will look at art that has been applied to the surface of the stone itself, and then in the second I’ll consider art inspired by the rock-art (I’ll add a link here once this has been posted) in the form of public art, sketches, measured drawing and comics. Together I hope these posts will offer an artistic and visual history of this amazing monument but of course there is no chance I’ll settle the old ‘is rock-art art argument’…..
Part 1: Art on the surface of the stone
Let’s leave aside the prehistoric carvings on the surface of the Cochno Stone.
Whether these are art or not depends on you and ink has been spilled on these elsewhere.
These symbols were carved into the rock probably between 3000BC and 2000BC for purposes unknown, but using a huge amount of skill and expertise. These creative acts, probably spread over a period of many decades of centuries, marked this place out as somewhere special, and ever since then people have been unable to resist the temptation to add their own elements to this huge communal rock canvas, with startling different motivations and outcomes.
The images below show prehistoric symbols and twentieth century (AD) additions, almost blending seamlessly together, a palimpsest in sandstone.
The earliest artistic responses that we have to the cup-and-ring marks on the Cochno Stone were recorded by the antiquarians who first drew the complete extent of the rocky outcrop, John Donald and William Donnelly. In the 1890s they recorded two unusual symbols:
‘two new features which had not hitherto been observed, viz, a cross within an oval border, and a sculpturing resembling two pairs of footprints, which …. show only four toes each’.
Are these genuine if unusual prehistoric symbol, or were these weird feet (or hands) added at some point in the millennia since the cup-and-ring marks were carved? We may never know. The cross is not a Christian cross, and so we cannot assume this belongs to the historic period. Perhaps these are prehistoric. Such subversions of the typical rock-art forms may have been especially powerful in prehistory, perhaps as impactful and shocking as other radical new art styles and pieces that have punctuated history, the Bronze Age equivalent of Tracy Emin’s unmade bed.
Antiquarians appear to have responded to the Cochno Stone symbols in a more boring way, adding their name as was their wont. During the 2016 excavations we recorded two examples of historic graffiti that appeared to be written in bookplate text: W KERR and W CARMICHAEL, which probably date to the nineteenth century and would have been regarded as unworthy of recording by their peers.
This reminds me of extensive ‘graffiti’ left on the orthostats and lintels of Unstan Neolithic chambered tomb on Orkney, also in the nineteenth century. A different set of standards were being applied here – double standards – where it was OK to scrawl your name into an ancient megalith as long as you were well-off and educated, like Orcadian James Cursiter. (You can explore the interior of this tomb for yourself with this brilliant sketchfab model by Hugo Anderson-Whymark – all of the graffiti has been scanned for posterity.)
This photo, which I took in 2015, is complex, containing the antiquarian graffiti of the aforementioned Cursiter from 1891 but also ‘FH’ from 2000. Which, if either, have the value of creativity? Is this historic graffiti or vandalism? Is it art? (And don’t get me started on the Viking graffiti in Maes Howe…). As Hugo notes in his model, however we view this, it is now illegal to deface this monument as it is a scheduled ancient monument, so FH better keep their head down.
Similar conundrums are posed by the next major intervention on the surface of the Cochno Stone. Into the twentieth century, the symbols on the Cochno Stone inspired more intensive artistic engagements, not least the work of Ludovic McLellan Mann, whose painting of the Cochno Stone in 1937 was one of the truly transformative events in the history of this monument. Aside from offering a colour-coded translation and abstract analysis of the meaning and properties of the design, Mann’s efforts could and should be viewed as a creative act.
This oil paint job was creative in other ways, with for instance two circles added to the surface of the stone, such as the red and white symbol in the image above, another layer of depth and obscure meaning as if Cochno needed any more depth and obscurity. One of Mann’s long straight yellow lines crosses the circle, almost as if he was revising his theories as he went along. Making sense of Mann’s brushstrokes is as much an act of interpretation as is needed for any artwork where we know little of the intentions of the artist.
Having used oil paints, as recent analysis by Louisa Campbell of the HES-funded Paints and Pigments In the Past project (PPIP) has demonstrated, it seems likely that Mann’s palette was the paint shelf of a 1930s ironmongery.
Even the drawing of the Stone, based on Mann spending a lot of time (perhaps more than is healthy), has an artistic quality that transcends mere recording because it is hardly an objective rendering. This image, the only drawing that Mann published related to the Cochno Stone, in 1939, is a fictional account of the meaning of the symbols, creative writing, one page from a wonderful graphic novel that he didn’t ever get round to finishing.
The grand canvas of Mann’s work contrasts with the more private and modest acts of graffiti that occurred with increasing intensity in the years leading up to the Cochno Stone’s burial in 1965. These actions did not have the facade of academic research that Mann may have hidden behind, although even his actions were frowned upon by the owners of the stone and the ‘establishment’. The memo below was written at best a couple of months after Mann painted the stone; the stone would become a scheduled ancient monument by the end of the year.
The legal protection of the Cochno Stone did not stop people making their mark on the surface, and I suspect that no-one from the Office of Works bothered to tell local people or visitors of the change of status anyway. Thus what Mann started, only the burial of the stone could stop. And frankly, if Mann could paint the stone up a storm, why could others not make their own modest additions?
Research by University of Glasgow postgraduate student Alison Douglas has shown that over 100 modern marks were made on the surface of the stone, mostly dating to between 1940 and 1965, overwhelmingly in the form of names, dates and initials.
Individual expression seems to have taken different forms, including weak attempts to replicate the prehistoric symbols, as this image from the online Cochno Stone viewer suggests.
Other graffiti showed a desire to be inventive – spirals and swirls were added to names to give a touch of class, a set of initials were displayed inside a simple depiction of a house while some names were connected with arrows, suggesting relationships were being depicted here too, stone genealogies.
This art came at a cost. I recently spoke to someone who as a child carved his name onto the surface of the Cochno Stone with his penknife, which was broken in the process. Sacrifices have to be made to make one’s mark on the world. One wonders what personal cost Mann’s obsessions had for him. And ultimately, the creative encounters discussed above culminated in the shutting down of this site, the burial of the stone beneath tons of soil for contravention of the rules in 1965.
Maybe we should charitably view the covering of the Cochno Stone itself as a grand piece of performance art that almost no-one was fortunate enough to witness.
There is no doubt that art and creative interventions on the surface of archaeological sites can be contentious. I don’t want to make light of the potential problems in site management and interpretation that paint, carvings and worse can cause and there are some horrible examples of crude painted messages added to rock-art around the world should you wish to google.
However, in the case of the Cochno Stone, there is a rich history of additions to the surface of the stone that cannot simply be written off as mindless vandalism as some other examples clearly are. Indeed, if we view one of the roles of art to inspire creativity in others, then at this level the Cochno Stone succeeds as an open air installation that was and remains a constant source of inspiration. The examples in this blog post suggest that these interventions – both permanent and temporary – have been going on for some four or five thousand years.
I will explore alternative mediums in part 2 when I consider the history of art inspired by the Cochno Stone that is not on the surface of the monument but located elsewhere – on the sides of buildings, on the trees and pavements, in the pages of journals and newspapers, and in a wonderful little comic book.
Whether you think rock-art is art or not, art sure follows it around.
Sources and acknowledgements: I would like to thank Alison Douglas for her ongoing analysis and research into the historic graffiti on the Cochno Stone, and for the community of Faifley for their indulgence and support. Thanks also to Grahame Gardner for drawing (ha ha) my attention to the Francis Hitchings’ book Earth Magic.
The Bruce and Donnelly report can be found here (free online):
Bruce, J 1896 Notice of remarkable groups of archaic sculpturings in Dumbartonshire and Stirlingshire, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 30, 205-9.
The Mann sketch of Cochno comes from his booklet:
Mann, L M 1939 The Druid Temple Explained. London & Glasgow.
sketched out on the north face of this stone stump
mapping out the occult
crossing the cracks transcending planes
imposing acute and right angles
making connections that ignore
the topography of the megalith
inscrutable washed off by rain never repeated
photographed greyscale black and white
the last flourishing of a
that stood in this location
of the dead
The standing stone in the churchyard of Strathblane Parish Church, Stirling, is of unknown date although there is no reason to doubt that it has ancient origins. Nothing is known about the stone at all, although it was recorded in nineteenth century maps in this location and was briefly mentioned by John G Smith in his 1886 book The Parish of Strathblane. The stone itself is no more than 1m in height, with five faces, and a relatively flat top.
At some point, the archaeologist and antiquarian Ludovic Mclellan Mann drew a grid on one face of the standing stone in what looks to be white chalk. The nature and meaning of this grid, consisting of connecting and overlapping lines and circles, remains unknown. Only one photograph records that this event ever took place.
Paul Bennett, on the Northern Antiquarian webpage for this standing stone, notes:
‘The fact that it stands by the church (rebuilt around 1803 out of its more ancient fabric) suggests that the site was a heathen temple or sacred site, redesignated by the invading christian priesthood’.
The truth of this may never be known.
Sources and acknowledgements: The grid-drawn-on-the-stone photograph is copyright HES and has Canmore image number SC01331278. It was brought to my attention by Katinka Dalglish who attributed the handiwork to Mann. Supplementary information, as is easily gathered from above, comes from Paul Bennett’s Northern Antiquarian page for this site: he always gets there before me!
They are places of rock-art, prehistoric settlement, fortifications, battles, ancient routeways, myth, folklore and megaliths.
Does it matter how deep that time is? Or is a sense of pastness enough, a whiff of the ancient?
This was brought home to me recently when I took two large groups of primary school children on psychogeographical fieldtrips around Queen’s Park in Glasgow’s southside. These semi-structured walks were part of the Glasgow Unity Festival, a weekend of events with the objective of bringing together people from the incredibly diverse neighbourhoods around the park to consider their complex heritage, common problems and shared future. In particular, Govanhill has the most ethnically diverse population in Scotland (with over 40 languages spoken), with many refugees and newish Glaswegians in residence. By exploring the freely accessible but hidden heritage of the park, we hoped to be able to give all of the children who visited us a sense of wonder and ownership that they might be able to pass on to their parents.
Both walks reached the same key point towards the end, what I think of as the heart of the park, a large earthwork enclosure, with some boulders arranged towards it centre, known as Camphill. This is an old place – but how old? It could be thousands of years old, or it could be 600.
I took the view that 600 years old and 2000 years old are both really, really ancient to your average 10-year-old and so ran with the earlier and more impressive of the two. There is a time and a place for spurious accuracy and this was not it.
This was also an opportunity for me to test my ideas about the place-making power of prehistory in urban places with an even more curious and challenging audience than I am used to.
An enigmatic enclosure
What is Camphill? What was Camphill? When was Camphill? The honest answer is – who knows?
The enclosure is substantial. It measures some 95m by 93m in size (a survey undertaken in 1996 by ACFA revising the originally recorded dimensions of 119m NW-SE by 98m) and is defined by a single bank and external ditch (very little of the latter now remains). The bank is no more than 1.2m high in places, with a rough footpath following the top (one of many subversive paths in the park). There are at least two convincing entrances.
Within the enclosure sits a rather unconvincing and rough collection of boulders. These do not seem to be set particularly deeply into the ground, nor do they have any discernible pattern. It appears there is no record even of these having existed in the nineteenth century according to the book Archaeology around Glasgow. They are not part of a wrecked stone circle or cairn, and now these rocks are used as seats for dogwalkers and nightdrinkers, surrounding an informal firespot, and are also the target for graffiti almost apologetically scrawled onto the stone-surfaces with a pen.
This is an earthwork enclosure that would have had extensive views across the Clyde Valley to the north and Lanarkshire to the southeast, being located on the shoulder of a drumlin (even deeper back in time than I am prepared to go), although these views have now been obscured by leisure-amenity-trees; the woodland has also contributed to the gradual slumping of the earthworks. Despite this, the remnants of this enclosure are still impressive and surprising in this urban context, with busy allotments located only 100m to the north.
There are claims that this is possibly an Iron Age enclosure, but this has never been established although the form and location of the site means it cannot be ruled out. The Heritage Trail booklet for Queen’s Park (downloadable, here) leaves the interpretation of the site ambiguous, calling the site an ‘encampment’. It goes on, ‘…it is perhaps not surprising to find that the flat topped summit has been occupied since prehistoric times….the brow of the hill could possibly date back to the Iron Age (1000BC – AD1000)’. Now that’s what I call a long Iron Age! The booklet also notes that some argue the enclosure is Pictish or Norman, while there are also historical associations, likely bogus, with the 1568 Battle of Langside.
The name of the enclosure, and hence also the former name of this part of the park, and the nearby Camphill Avenue, derives from the perception that this monument was at one point, er, a (Roman?) camp on a hill. There are nineteenth century newspaper records of some kind of excavations taking place within Camphill in 1867, the outcome being the identification of a ‘settlement’ or a corn drying kiln (two pretty different outcomes!). These crude investigations found a paved surface, and a weird sounding ‘cake of charred oats mixed with fragments of oak’. These were once on display in the People’s Palace in Glasgow. A millstone was also found. No formal record of this investigation was ever taken however.
Excavations also took place almost a century later, in 1851, under the guidance of the reliable Jack Scott and Horace Fairhurst. They were unable to find the 1860s excavation trench.
Instead, they focused their attention on the southern entrance and boundary to the enclosure, marked on their excellent site plan. (The plan also shows a park path running all the way around the enclosure, overlying the ditch; this path is now largely lost in the vegetation, although can be seen in the old photos of the site, below.) The location of the ‘setting’ of boulders is also helpfully marked.
The extent of the excavations was relatively limited which is just as well as most of the work seems to have been carried out by park employees ‘Mr Hunter and Mr Richmond’. The work took around four weeks, and the most substantial discovery was a pit containing a ‘modern cow burial’ dug into the base of the bank.
In actuality, very little was found to shed light on when the ditches were cut and ramparts thrown up although it was confirmed that this was indeed a substantial earthwork that once had a big ditch around it. The discovery of sherds of fourteenth century pottery – a bulbous jug or flagon – in one ditch section does not in itself offer evidence that this is when the ditch was cut, although the excavators were inclined to see the deep stratification of these sherds as pointing towards later, rather than prehistoric, origins. An old routeway or road was discovered, perhaps one of the oldest found in Glasgow, passing through the entrance, suggesting visitors to the site today are tracing the footsteps of people who walked here many centuries ago.
The conclusions of Scott and Fairhurst were rather limp. They could not see any reason why morphologically this could not have been Iron Age in origins, but the ceramics made them doubt this. Rather, they thought the enclosure more likely to be medieval, perhaps once acting as the ramparts of a ‘clay castle’ whatever that means.
A curious footnote was added to this confusion with the discovery of boring Roman Samian ware pottery eroding from the bank in 1985. I would love to add more but I can’t and none of this makes any sense.
The investigation by Scott and Fairhurst was, apparently, the first time an excavation in Scotland had been carried out and funded by the local authority, although I find this difficult to believe (see Lochend Loch crannog for instance). Nonetheless, the desire to find out what this enclosure was and to add value to the visitor experience is notable, and forms part of a lengthy tradition of Camphill being a site of great interest. As with many such ambiguous sites, the actual age does not matter so much as the fact that is it out of sync with the time of a Victorian Park, and this uncertainty has allowed Camphill to be whatever visitors and scholars want it to be. With interesting outcomes.
The heart of the park in the city
For the whole existence of Queen’s Park, established from 1857 onwards, Camphill has been an enigmatic and dominant presence, being located just off the top of the hill upon which the park sits. Maps from the nineteenth century show this site connected to the rest of the park by footpaths and planted with trees. This designed landscape was a product of architect Sir Charles Paxton, who used the influence of parks from across Europe to create grand avenues and vistas, symmetrical paths and strategically positioned plants.
These maps show that the Camphill enclosure was always built into the designed landscape of this park, whether through the path which circumnavigated it, or its close connection by a path to the visual focus of the park, a hexagonal plinth upon which sites a huge towering flagpole.
Old photos of the site suggest that the earthworks have not always been (a) lost in trees and (b) easily accessible.
The location of the site, on a spectacular vantage point, has lent itself to the enclosure becoming an important touchstone in various attempts to make sense of prehistoric Glasgow. In Ludovic Mann’s 1918 book Mary Queen of Scots at Langside, the discovery of an underground structure at Minard Street, Crossmyloof was recorded (although no other record of the nature of this structure exists). Mann noted that this weird underground cell, “…was situated precisely on a line leading from a prehistoric, circular, defensive earthwork in Queen’s Park to a similar … earthwork in Pollok Wood”. As I argued in a recent public lecture on Glasgow’s sacred geometry, this was the first evidence we have of someone attempting to discover an underlying logic in the location of prehistoric sites in Glasgow, although the significance of this observation was not developed any further by Mann. Camphill, a great and ancient survivor, was part of this scheme it seems.
The point was accepted and developed to a spectacular level by Harry Bell in his book Glasgow’s Sacred Geometry (1st edition, 1984). For Bell, Camphill was fundamentally important in his Glasgow Network of Aligned Sites, a revelation stemming from his realisation that from Camphill one could clearly see ‘the verdigris-coloured roof of Glasgow Cathedral two miles away’. Camphill, in Bell’s vision of ancient Glasgow, was also central to routeways that led in five or six different directions.
I will write much more about these alignment-chasing prehistorians in the future, but suffice to say that there is an alluring quality to connecting places on maps, or standing on viewpoints like the one near Camphill to look for prominent landmarks as Bell did. This view from Queen’s Park looks towards the Cathedral precinct, the ancient heart of Glasgow as far as Mann was concerned. The Devil’s Plantation does a great job getting inside the head of Harry Bell, and contains several short films and blog posts on Queen’s Park (which, incidentally, capture the character of the place far better than I have here).
And I have become entangled in these alignments too, a spiders’ web that has me trapped. Bell identified a line that ran from Camphill that intrigued me. Recently, I plotted this line on an OS 1:25000 map of Glasgow. I grudgingly forced pins through Camphill earthwork, Govan Old Parish Church and then the Cochno Stone, only to realise, as I connected them with string, that this was indeed a straight line. A slight error in the middle location could be countered by moving the point to the Doomster Hill, Govan’s possible prehistoric barrow. Incredulous, I gathered more pins, more string. Then I stopped myself. Through my psychogeographical practices and urban prehistoric fieldwork carried out at the Cochno Stone, Camphill and Doomster Hill, I converged with Ludovic Mann, overlapped with Harry Bell.
This could not become my obsession, even although I wanted it to, and so I folded up the map and walked away. I will do my work, on the ground, walking, and not crawling on the floor with pins and string.
Psychogeography in the Park
I was asked by Alan Leslie of Inherit (the Institute for Heritage & Sustainable Human Development) to help with the heritage element of the Unity Festival, his crazy idea being doing psychogeography with primary school children. I pitched the following idea.
So you think you know Queen’s Park? Think again! Psychogeography in the Park is your chance to find out how see the familiar in totally new ways by deliberately getting lost. Psychogeography is all about exploring urban places and parks from a different angle, by going off the beaten paths and pavements, by using maps in different and exciting ways, and by seeing how other people have used places today but also in the past. This means that we can start to uncover some of the recent and ancient historical events that shaped this part of Glasgow, which still exist in surprising and hidden ways even today, from unusual features in the park to local street names. We’ll learn that Queen’s Park is much more than a nice green space to spend some time – it is also a living storybook. Psychogeography in the Park will allow us to go back in time to the Ice Age, the Iron Age, the Battle of Langside and Victorian Glasgow without the need for a time machine!
I had only been to Queen’s Park long ago (my own prehistory) and so I needed to go on a couple of reconnaissance visits in advance to help me get meaningfully lost on the day, if that makes sense. Walking and talking with Alan, and then Helen Green, on these walks helped me to get a sense of the internal and external logic of this park, and some of the remarkable places contained therein.
The day of the walks was very wet. As I arrived clutching my coffee, rain hammered down in the marquee that had been set up to accommodate the showing of films about Glasgow’s southside from the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive. The grainy film footage was both alien and familiar, like much of the park still was to me.
I ran the walk (as it were) twice, once in the morning with about 15 children, and once in the afternoon with about 50 children. In each case, I prepared the kids and teachers for the walk to come with a short talk explaining about the unexpected deep time in the park. The idea was that I was going to show them how to properly look at the park, rather than just play there, as most of the children did from time to time. I also wanted them to think about how to subvert modern routeways and official paths, and encouraged then to collect found objects, all of which they took to with great enthusiasm.
I encouraged them: ‘Let’s get lost!’.
Each walk had the same start point: Queen’s Park arena. Both reached their conclusion at the flagpole viewpoint. Both took less than an hour, and in the morning, was undertaken in persistent and horrible precipitation. Each walk took a different route: in the morning, my aim was to reach Camphill randomly, giving the kids periodic choices as the routes and paths we took. In the afternoon, we walked back in time in a more controlled manner, largely because of the large number of kids. We moved from the twentieth century arena to the nineteenth century Victorian designed park layout, to the eighteenth century Pathhead farm which sits in the park, concluding in the ‘Iron Age’ at Camphill. We crowd-time-travelled 2000 years in 30 minutes.
At the end of the walks, I collected together bags of found objects and marked up maps of the walks, and laid them out for other festival participants to browse.
The most pleasing thing about these semi-structured walks was that I learned as much from the kids as they (I hope) learned from me. At one point some girls disappeared into a bush, and came back out, saying they had found an interesting stone. Sure enough, a polished black rock lay in the undergrowth, a memorial for someone called Moira. I was shown berries and mushrooms and bricks and old walls, and when offered the choice, the children almost always ran across grass or chose the muddy rough path, ignoring the impact this was having on their trainers. On the other hand, none of the children knew so many interesting old things could be found in the park, they were unaware of the Victorian logic underlying much of the landscape, had not noticed the grass-free patch on the edge of a path that marked the location of a now-removed park bench, did not realise that the park had such amazing views across Glasgow.
Knowledge was exchanged.
This has been another long blog post, and yet I feel that I have only really scratched the surface of Queen’s Park and Camphill in the walking and writing of it. Like the children wandering in the rain, junior flaneurs, I am only just learning how to look and move around this place. My research into the work of Harry Bell is at an early stage. And as for what we can say archaeologically about Camphill, there are more questions than answers at this stage. These entangled histories and prehistories ensure that Queen’s Park – like many of Glasgow’s parks – is rich with potential to be more than just a dear green space.
Sources and acknowledgements:
Psychogeography in the Park. Thanks to Alan Leslie for asking me to become involved, Inhouse for providing the children, and Helen Green for our walk in the park where my methodology finally became clear thanks to her insights.
Bell and Mann. Very limited and adapted extracts from a lecture I gave in Glasgow on 12th September 2017 as part of Door’s Open Day Festival have been included here. I am grateful to May Miles Thomas for allowing me to use an image from The Devil’s Plantation website. The staff at Mitchell library were very helpful in searching out their copy of Harry Bell’s book, while it was Bell himself who identified Mann’s note about Camphill.
Camphill archaeology. The best summary I have read can be found in Susan Hothersall’s 2007 book Archaeology around Glasgow (Glasgow Museums). The excavation report is Fairhurst and Scott (1953) ‘The earthwork at Camphill in Glasgow’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 85, 146-56. This was also the source of the site plan, pottery drawings and excavation photo. You can find this paper online as a pdf by searching for the title. The Samian ware note is taken from Discovery and Excavation Scotland 1985, page 45. And yes – Samian ware is bloody boring.
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.
Fragments of a site, documented poorly, all we are left with.
But it is – thankfully – enough.
Complete Skeleton. Find Near Glasgow. A poem.
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.
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
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.
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.
A Perambulation to Wyndy Hege
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 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.
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.
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.
DANGER. QUARRY WORKINGS.
NO ENTRY. DANGER!! PLACE OF DEATH.
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.
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.
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.
Ludovic Mann’s excavations at Greenoakhill have never been published.