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Dynamic

8 Dec

DYNAMIC

There are a lot of standing stones outside Dynamic Earth, a geological visitor attraction, and within stone’s throw of the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh.

General view low res

This grand collection of megaliths is in reality a very expensive collection of rock samples, erected around 10 years ago, part of a grant from the Millennium Commission of £432,959 to utilise the large open ‘amphitheatre’ like space at the front of weird tent-like original building that is the visitor centre itself.

Stone row from bottom low res

The arc-shaped linear setting of eight standing stones (some actually stacks of rocks arranged into vertical cairns) are essentially a (very) quick-fire geological tour of Scotland. What was expressed at the time of their erection as “a walk through Scotland’s journey in geological time”.

stone pile low res

Each of the monoliths and stone-piles has a label appended to it, stating where each rock was formed on earth as Scotland oozed around the world carried on a tectonic plate like a huge slug.

DSC_1381

At the bottom of the steps that lead up past the stones to the entrance and ticket-desk in the tent-like visitor centre is a noticeboard that states: ‘Around us here in the amphitheatre you can see “Scotland’s Journey” from deep in the southern hemisphere to where we are today….The walk up the ramp reflects Scotland’s landscape and tracks its long geological history’

noticeboard low res

On a slope running down from the standing stones is a bit of fake bedrock, and each time I have been there I have felt an overwhelming temptation to squat and carve rock-art onto this dull landscape feature. However, the nearby policemen with guns protecting the parliament always look a bit bored and I don’t want to give them an excuse to open up on me.

Bedrock 2016 low res

I suppose it is pretty dynamic though, as some weeds have grown in the cracks, between January 2016 and December 2017.

Bedrock 2017 low res

On my most recent visit, I was cheered to notice signs of emergent vandalism on some of the standing stones, including faintly carved initials and a splat of black paint.

Paint splat low res

It’s nowhere near as good as the megalithic rock sample collection at Bournemouth University though.

Bouremouth Uni rocks 1 low res

Bouremouth Uni rocks 2 low res

Sorry Dynamic Earth.

Your megaliths are just a bit rubbish.

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The solace of deep Anthropocene time

30 Oct

Megaliths are often utilized as war memorials, usually with the memorial taking the form of ‘replica’ standing stones, precise stone settings or highly stylized megalithic tombs. These very often occur in urban contexts, and fall into my category of urban prehistoric sites that evoke ancient forms of monument rather than being genuinely ancient in themselves.

Howard Williams has explored this phenomenon in much more depth than I, for instance in relation to the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire, in a paper in the International Journal of Heritage Studies (2014). This remarkable landscape of remembrance consists of hundreds of memorial gardens, memorials and monuments, and 30,000 plus trees (many dedicated to individuals and organisations), numbers that are being added to constantly giving the place a sense of dynamism as well as stoicism. Memorials include concoctions of stones from various parts of the UK and France, mnemonics for represented organisations and memorialized events; these include ‘a cairn commemorating the Loch Class Frigates … incorporating stones from each of the Scottish lochs after which the Frigates were named’ (pg 10). Williams calls the Arboretum a ‘megalithic landscape’ noting the presence of five stone circles, including one made of rubble from Dresden. There are also numerous ‘hewn megaliths’, cairns and mounds, what Howard characterizes as ‘material citations’ of the past.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Ulster Ash Grove monument, deploying standing stones and megalithic boulders (Image source: http://www.thenma.org.uk/)

I have blogged about this phenomenon in other locations also, such as Cardiff and Glenrothes, while there are other famous examples internationally such as the replica Stonehenge at Maryhill, Washington. The latter was built in the aftermath of the First World War by Samuel Hill, ‘as a reminder of those sacrifices and the “incredible folly” of the war.’

falkland war memorial cardiff low res

glenrothes war memorial newsclipping

stonehenge1-300x225

Top to bottom: Cardiff, Glenrothes, Maryhill war memorials.

In all these cases, the enduring quality of standing stones appeals to those designing and building memorials, foregrounding timelessness, continuity and authenticity.  A crucial element of all of these kinds of megalithic memorials is their hybrid quality, an ability to mash up different architectural styles and time periods, ‘a conflation of multiple pasts’ as Williams calls it (pg 20).

Prince Charles megalith photo

Prince Charles with a memorial ‘dolmen’ behind him. Location unknown. Photo: The Guardian

I recently visited a rather unusual instance of a war memorial that might actually be utilising a genuine prehistoric megalith, or at least a stone that has been recognised as such locally. Whether this really was the case or not barely matters, but it otherwise conforms to many of the characteristics identified by Williams elsewhere.

The war memorial in the small Clackmannanshire town of Tullibody is a weird re-purposing of a monument known as the Haer Stane (or Samson’s Button). Essentially, the memorial now consists of a huge basalt boulder sunk into a depression that has had a red granite Celtic cross inserted into it, and a pair of placques with a list of names on them stuck on the side. What makes the war memorial of interest to me are antiquarian – and locally maintained – accounts that this massive shapeless lump of stone was once part of a stone circle or perhaps more likely some kind of kerb cairn. The National Monuments Record of Scotland page for this site notes:

The Haer Stane of Tullibody is a shapeless mass of basalt about 8ft high and 30ft round the base which stands on the declivity in front of Baingle Brae Villa. Within the memory of persons living in 1874, it was surrounded by a great number of rough upright stones, about 2 to 3ft high, methodically arranged. North-east of the stone, but within the enclosure, was an old well.

This suggests that in the decades before 1874, when the monument was documented in Crawford’s book Memorials of the town and parish of Alloa, a stone setting surrounded the boulder. Nothing is known about this stone circle at all, and nothing is documented on any map I could find, which must cast some doubt on its existence. The association of this tale with what is far more likely to be a glacial erratic could suggest that this was little more than a set of boulders lying about and locally misinterpreted as anthropogenic.

This boulder, perhaps of archaeological significance, certainly of local historical importance, had another layer of meaning attached in 1921 when a massive red granite standing stone was stuck on top of it upon which was carved a Celtic cross.

An intriguing note is added by an OS Antiquity mapping visit in 1973: ‘encircling the boulder are approx. 60 small loose stones giving a diameter of about 10m. These stones are not in situ due to the construction of a pond, precluding positive identification of a stone circle’. This seems to be unrelated to the antiquarian story, and old postcards of the Haer Stane show the memorial sitting in the middle of a pond with boulders defining the edge of this small body of water, many of which are clearly sitting on the surface and not deeply embedded prehistoric features. Quite why a war memorial had a pond created around it I’m not sure, but it was in a declivity I guess…..

Postcard Haer Stane ebay

Source: http://tullibody.org/history/ Date unknown

Dog in pond Angelfire

Date and dog unknown. Note the green placque on one stone, pictured below. Source: http://www.angelfire.com/sc3/tullibody/

The Haer Stane has a timeless, geological, impressive quality as I found when I visited the monument recently – although it no longer has the pond and circle of stones around it.

The memorial is accessed via the Lych Gate, a wooden gatehouse that was itself recently refurbished as it had fallen into decline. In this old postcard (date unknown) the gate can be seen in its glory before trees grew here, and the Celtic cross element of the memorial can be seen jutting into the air in the background with the Ochils as a spectacular backdrop.

Postcard Tullibody gate

Source: www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/memorial/142155

Lych Gate low res

Signs outside memorial low res

Pathways lead to the Haer Stane through trees, creating a buffer from the urban surrounds and generating a ‘peaceful’ ambiance albeit one punctured by the neighbouring school currently being a building site. Huddled in a corner was a boulder (presumably found during building works), acting as a weird megalithic table surrounded by four plastic school chairs. I wonder if this was a survivor of the kerb that once defined the pond around the Haer Stane?

Megalithic table low res

The Haer Stane came into view, a spectacular brute of a boulder, set in the centre of a circle of trees, paths and park benches. Neighbouring house windows overlooked the complex, while dog walkers patrolled at all times. I spoke to one local guy with a dog who told me that the location had become problematic with youths coming into the memorial park drinking (hence the sign at the entranceway) and he also complained about the omission of certain names from the new placque on the Stane itself, some kind of local grumble that I could make little sense of.

Haer Stane view from north low res

Haer Stane low res

Up close, the monument was more complex than I had imagined it could have been. The juxtaposed granite cross seemed to grow from the erratic beneath it, and the two stones displayed no discernible harmony with one another. The Haer Stane itself seems to have cracked in the past, with these cracks evident and filled with some kind of stone-glue. Perhaps this damage was done converting this into a war memorial, cracking it open to insert the cross-stone, enforcing this new role and identity onto the boulder against its will.

Megalith glue low res

Megalith glue.

The boulder was also coated in a thin mud-slip in places, and a few mud ball splats. It was possible to identify child-sized soil handprints around the belly of the stone. The haptic qualities of this monument has clearly been explored by local youths with dirty exuberance.

Stains on the Stane.

Handprint 1 low res

Hand print 2 low res

A green metal placque on a small stone at the base of the monument (the one that had in the past been on the edge of the pond) displayed the following information.

1921

To the memory of

the 27 men who gave their

lives for us in

The Great War 1914-1919

This memorial was raised by their

relatives and friends in

Tullibody Cambus District

Placque low res

Attached to the Haer Stane itself are two black stone squares with names carved into them; these were appended to the stone in 2013 replacing an earlier version (as reported in the local newspaper).

War memorial 626 squadron

(c) Alloa Advertiser

These too had been smeared with mud.

Black placques low res

The re-purposing of this ancient glacial boulder – by definition prehistoric in the broadest sense of this word – into a war memorial fits in well with the hybrid traditions identified by Williams. Here we have a mixture of the ancient, the early medieval and the twentieth century, shaped into an immovable and timeless focus for commemoration. But it also fits well with another tradition, that of archaeological monuments that find themselves in urban settings. The biography of this site since it emerged from the mists of time has been erratic, unpredictable, at times marked by acts of folly. It is now part of the urban landscape, surrounded by the trappings of such places, and despite increased maintenance and watchfulness from the local community, I doubt if it has reached its final form.

One thing that does seem to be a consistant aspect of this monument is the recurring and locally maintained story that the Haer Stane had prehistoric monumental origins. The local Heritage Centre webpage for instance prominently states:

Tullibody – One of the oldest villages in Scotland. We now know that the first peoples were living in this very area. Tullibody looked very different in those days as it was a peninsula, surrounded by water. The early people worshipped the sun and it is now known that Tullibody War Memorial stone formed part of a Druid Circle.

This is also the story given on war memorial websites such as this one where the site is explicitly called the Druid Stone.

Screen grab from war memorial web page

There seems to be a desire to attribute to this monument something more than just random glacial activity, I would imagine because an origin in the deep-time of human (pre)history fits better with the narratives of memorial and myth-building that mourners, descendants and the local community need this place to be. The  truth of it will probably never be known nor does it matter.

Solace has been sought in deep Anthropocene time.

 

Sources and acknowledgements: The Howard Williams paper to which this blog post is heavily indebted has the following citation: Williams, H 2014 Antiquity at the National Arboretum. International Journal of Heritage Studies 20.4., 393-414. To get information about Tullibody’s past, I made use of a few really good local sources of information and images, and these are all cited as sources of the old postcards in the post above. Most of this post was written on a train, hence its untidiness.

Crannog 2.0

30 Jun

On this blog, I often argue that a little more prehistory in our cities, towns and parks would be a good thing. Stone circles, standing stones, roundhouses, earthworks and cairns can be helpful in provoking conversations, but can also improve the quality of local environments, attract visitors and tourists, inform, educate, and help enhance a sense of place with added time depth – but perhaps most significantly they are almost always playful and fun.

This is perhaps no-where better embodied that Scotland’s newest crannog*, constructed in the first half of 2017 in Drumpellier Park, North Lanarkshire, with the primary function of this structure being a good old fashioned children’s play park.

*It probably won’t be the newest for long, at the rate they are being built.

newspic_5819

Initial stylized vision of the crannog (c) Architecture+Design Scotland

I have followed the construction of this crannog over the past few months, watching with interest as little details have emerged, such as the spread-eagled eagle atop the roof, and little boars on springs for little children to sway back and forth upon (I have no idea what the technical playground terminology for such things is).

The crannog itself is part of the ongoing development of a series of seven lochs that run from the east end of Glasgow out into Lanarkshire, with Lochend being the most easterly of these. The aspiration to create a ‘central belt nature park encompassing lochs, parks and woodland around Glasgow and North Lanarkshire’ was boosted last year with a huge HLF Grant for the Seven Lochs Wetland Park, and the crannog is just one of the new developments that this cash is funding.

Seven_lochs_logo_JPG

The aspiration? Inspired by the Iron Age crannog now hidden beneath the water of Lochend Loch in Drumpellier Country Park, our fantastic, new, crannog themed play structure is ready to be explored by the mini Celts of Drumpellier! [Seven Lochs]

This is powerful precisely because it draws directly on the deep time of this place – as we shall see, there really is an old crannog situated under the waters of the loch right next to where the new one has been constructed. In other words, this is a celebration of the prehistory of Coatbridge and the Iron Age of North Lanarkshire, and the questions that it will provoke amongst the children that see it and play on it will expand their understanding of how special the place they live and play is. This is the essence of urban prehistory.

Drumpellier_Country_Park_Map

(c) North Lanarkshire Council

 

Intermission (The archaeology bit)

Drumpellier Park includes Lochend Loch, and it is within this loch that a crannog was found in the 1930s. The loch was donated to the public by the local MP a few decades earlier, but proved poor for boating due to being shallow and weedy. A weed-removal loch-deepening exercise in 1931 revealed a crannog at the eastern end of the loch. The crannog was first spotted in the form of a mound emerging from the water by a Mr A Kennedy of Coatbridge, and the discovery confirmed by Ludovic McLellan Mann (not him again!) who also took charge of the excavations as was his wont.

Thankfully there was apparently also a magic money tree to pay for what must have been an expensive excavation.

Quote from excavation reportThe excavations, in February 1932, quickly identified wooden piles which supported the crannog, and also some ‘primitive pottery’.

Pottery

To be honest, it sounds like it was a grim excavation.

Quote about peat soup

Gradually, through muddy perseverance, the team began to find more substantial structural features including wooden beams the size of railway sleepers, as well as flooring and thatch. This all suggested a really substantial wooden building of more than one phase stood here, on a wooden platform surrounded by water.

 

Wooden beam

Floor

A wide range of objects were recovered, ranging from the rather unfairly characterised ‘crude pottery’ (as with most Iron Age pottery, it was functional and chunky, but not primitive) and some rather more wonderful lignite and jet jewellery. Quern stones were also recovered, as were thousands of burnt hazel nutshells and ‘fire-injured stones’.

Lignite

Remains of two humans were found in association with the structure, although these were incomplete bodies. In his report on the ‘osseous remains’ John Robb noted that these bones had chemically converted to Vivianite due to being underwater for so long. He also noted a nice detail related to one of these individuals, an early archaeological indication of the capacity of prehistoric people to help one another:

Human bone

This was altogether a remarkable discovery, and it was fortunate that the excavation team were afforded time, money and local labour to carry out the work, in challenging circumstances, and it was fortunate too that Mann was on hand to offer his advice. Through time, the crannog became submerged and is now no longer visible from the shore.

Amazingly, at almost exactly the same time, an even older prehistoric discovery was made public related to Woodend Loch, which lies just across the road from Lochend and Drumpellier.

Location map

The red circle marks where the crannog was found, the little cross where the lithic scatter was located.

The month before excavations commenced at the crannog, William McLean of Airdrie presented some prehistoric stone tools he had found on the bank of Woodend Loch a few decades earlier (perhaps provoked to do so by the crannog discovery). This location was subsequently monitored by J M Davidson who realised that this was a potentially significant Mesolithic site.

Davidson collected over 800 lithics, in some cases wading into the loch to pick stone tools up from under the water. The ebb and flow of the water levels, weather conditions and time of year all played their role in the efficacy of his muddy-foreshore-walking prospection. These were of sufficient interest to be shown to and approved by the great Mesolithic scholar AD Lacaille: all were agreed that this was a Mesolithic campsite, and limited poking about followed, albeit subject to the same grim conditions as met the crannog diggers in the adjacent loch, and not really amounting to a formal excavation.

Cores

Flint cores recovered at Woodend Loch (from Davidson et al 1949)

My colleague Nyree Finley has written about the significance of this site, being the first Mesolithic encampment found in West Central Scotland, although no further work was undertaken on this site and the context from which these lithics were deposited can only be speculated upon. For Mesolithic scholars like another colleague, Dene Wright, this is a site of almost mythic status, an assemblage requiring modern (re)assessment.

Woodend lithics

Woodend lithics (c) Glasgow Museums, from Finlay 2014

 

Taken together with the amazing collection of Bronze Age Food Vessels found near Drumpellier in 1852, there is a remarkable prehistoric flourishing on the fringes of Coatbridge which to date has been afforded almost no consideration by modern archaeologists.

 

Park (pre)history pre-crannog

The prehistoric remains found on the fringes of both these lochs has played a small role in the presentation of the park to the public. However, the emphasis has increasingly been on ecological matters with birds and reeds and that kind of stuff all over the place. Walking and leisure is also a big driver of activity here, and in the summer, there is a carousel ride consisting of giant tropical fruits, and a regular ice cream van.

In the small visitor centre earlier this year, I picked up a black and white photocopied leaflet entitled Drumpellier Country Park History.

History leaflet

Diagram of Drumpellier History

To be honest, the text in the leaflet is out-dated. It notes, ‘Primitive stone tools were discovered around Woodside loch. These discoveries date the first sign of man to nearly 6,000 years ago’. There is then a bit of nonsense about a Celtic invasion of Gaels from Europe (??). ‘It was a family of these Iron Age people that built the fortified loch dwelling, called a crannog, in Lochend Loch around 100 BC’. These people were allocated to the Damonii tribe. Three episodes of settlement and burning were noted, with the final family meeting a violent end (hence the two bodies) around AD 500, apparently at the hands of a ‘marauding tribe’ of Scots from Ireland. This is all a bit 1950s but I guess at least it helps inform visitors that something seriously old and vaguely important happened here.

However, this leaflet really needs to be revamped, and hopefully the construction of the crannog will generate updated information and more contemporary forms of interpretation for the public (and I believe the Seven Lochs team are working on this).

Sign outside visitor centre

There are also some indications in the visitor centre that this park has prehistoric depth, with a noticeboard about the park next to the main door briefly name-checking the Mesolithic and Iron Age. More dramatically, inside the cafe, there is a fine mural of the crannog and coracle, just behind a Peppa Pig ride.

Mural

On a visit in April 2017, I also noticed a new noticeboard that announced the imminent prehistoric upgrade that was about to hit the Park – the new crannog.

New sign

And – as if the power of coincidence had not already been demonstrated to you by my tireless blogging – the visitor centre itself was opened by a Provost Cairns.

provost cairns

 

Crannog 2.0

The first sods were cut symbolically early in 2017.

Crannog_Sod_Cutting_Drumpelier_Park

The whole scheme was ambitious from the start, with the final design for the crannog playpark produced by Jupiter Play, the source of the two uppermost images below.

Crannog-Playground-e1481206651506

Drumpellier crannog drawing NLC

Seven Lochs tweeted image

(c) Seven Lochs Wetland Park

I visited the crannog a few times during its construction, and saw it emerge, built on a peninsula on the eastern end of the loch, just to the north of the location where the real thing is located. It was fascinating to watch a prehistoric-style building being constructed almost in front of my eyes, and it was almost comforting to see the job over-run its time schedule and the site constantly to have all sorts of crap lying about and no-one ever seemed to be working.

April 2017

Crannog under construction April 1

Crannog under construction April 2

Crannog under construction April 4

Crannog under construction April 3

May 2017

May visit 1

May visit 2

June 2017

June visit photo 1

June visit photo 2

Opening Day

The crannog was opened with great ceremony on the morning of Sunday 18th June. A real event was made of this, probably as would have been the case back in the Iron Age day. Tents were set up with traditional prehistoric crafts demonstrated (aptly by the excellent Scottish Crannog Centre team) and park rangers doing their thing. Visitors were bussed in from Coatbridge. A red ribbon was draped over one of the entry points onto the crannog playpark, all the better to be cut with big ceremonial scissors at the propitious time. As with the Iron Age also, the elite and their children were afforded privileges, in this case being allowed onto the crannog first to run around like mental and have a great time.

opening day montage

N Lanarkshire council photos of crannog

(c) North Lanarkshire Council

Best of all was that for the first time the crannog was not a quiet and lifeless building site, but a living breathing place of sound, energy and people.

opening day 3

What next? That’s up to the stakeholders of course. Some interpretation will be added I’m sure, so curious users can find out where the old crannog is / was and get a sense of how long ago the sounds of children on the water were first heard in this place. The Council will bask in the happiness of their support for this innovative venture and I hope keep maintaining the site to ensure it is sustainable, safe and clean for as long as humanly possible. Moves will be made to explore the heritage of the Seven Lochs in other ways, perhaps with the re-examination of the Woodend Loch hunter-gatherer site being a good place to start (and I’ll encourage this to happen).

What will children do? They will swing, slide, rock, roll, laugh, cry, live – and learn? Maybe they will, maybe not. That isn’t the point. Prehistory can be used to improve lives without being front and centre, it is enough for it just to be there, it is more than enough for seeds to be planted, watered by the loch that laps over the muddy remains of an old prehistoric house.

The Iron Age can wait, for now.

Sources and acknowledgements: Various websites and images consulted in writing this blog post have been referenced in the post itself, and credit given beneath images for those that are not mine. I have included no links to the website for Jupiter Play as I keep getting a virus warning when I go to it [as of 30th June 2017]. I would also like to thank Dene Wright for sharing his thoughts on the Woodend Loch site.

The excavation reports consulted, quoted from and the source of most of the black and white image are:

James Monteith and John R Robb 1937 The crannog at Lochend, Coatbridge, Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society 9.1, 26-43.

JM Davidson, James Phemister and AD Lacaille 1949 A Stone Age site at Woodend Loch, near Coatbridge, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 83, 77-98.

Both papers are free to download online.

Finally, the Finlay 2014 source is Nyree’s contribution to the series of ‘Essays on the Local History and Archaeology of West Central Scotland’, commissioned for the Regional Framework for Local History and Archaeology, her chapter being on the Mesolithic, and it offers some essential context for Woodend.

 

 

 

Iron Age v Iron Works

13 Jun

Crannogs are not usually known for making dramatic entrances.

But in the nineteenth century the crannog that once stood in Kilbirnie Loch, North Ayrshire, erupted from the water due to decades of industrial dumping, in a stark illustration of what can happen when prehistory runs into the juggernaut of industrialisation.

The remarkable event that lead to the discovery and investigation of the Kilbirnie Crannog in summer of 1868 was most colourfully captured by Robert Love Esquire a few years after the event.

Love account of the site's eruptionA small stony island had been noted in this location before the slag-eruption. It was known locally as the cairn.

OS 25 inch to mile map

But nothing had prepared local people for what popped out of the water, demanding attention and re-evaluation, nothing less than a prehistoric ejaculation.

Subsequent investigation of this mound spewed forth in the southwestern corner of the loch showed it to be a crannog, an artificial island probably dating back to the Iron Age. The island measured 22 x 24 metres across and was up to 1.25m in height above the water level. It was located 60m or so from the shore of the Loch and was connected to the land by a perilously narrow causeway that dribbled from the loch shore. This may have been a more substantial bridge to the crannog in the Iron Age.

Excavations were undertaken in 1868 soon after discovery. This revealed that the island consisted of several layers (starting with the lowest, earliest phase):

  1. Chunky logs held together with wooden pins and iron nails
  2. Brushwood including branches of hazel, and ferns
  3. Gravel and sand deposit of up to 50cm thickness
  4. A stone ‘pavement’ with evidence for a hearth (a scorched sandstone flagstone)

On top was also the indication of rectangular buildings in the form of postholes and scattered animal bones. Little else was recorded of this excavation, but we can presume that this was one of many such artificial islands with a house on top found in this part of Scotland, and it would have been supported on wooden piles driven into the bottom of the loch.

Soon after, this crannog became completely engulfed by the slag and furnace waste being dumped from the nearby and ever-expanding Glengarnock Ironworks, as shown quite clearly when we compare Ordnance Survey mapping from 1858 and 1911.

OS 1st edn map

OS 2nd edition map

Industrial revolution 2 Prehistory 0

canmore_image_SC00569897 Ironworks

Glengarnock Iron Works in the twentieth century. (c) HES canmore_image_SC00569897

Occasionally, other prehistoric secrets popped out of this muddy loch foreshore, including an amazing and decently preserved wooden log boat as documented by the ubiquitous Ludovic McLellan Mann. He recounted that on Tuesday 22nd April, 1930, a Mr Thomas Miller investigated a wooden stick protruding from the muddy foreshore of the loch and found it to be a canoe made of oak. The photo below shows the industrial waste-land that this boat was found within, the massive slag heaps in the background dominating the local landscape.

Log boat from 1930

And so it came to pass that the crannog had, by the turn of the twentieth century, been engulfed and eradicated by the industrial sludge, a victim of industrial terra-forming where even the loch could not hold back the heavy metal, its southern shore gradually creeping north.

Fast forward to 2017. The ironworks, once the major employer for the towns of Glengarnock and Kilbirnie, was finally closed in 1978 and this void was filled (at least spatially) with Glengarnock Business Park. The Iron Works had gone the way of the Iron Age (overtaken by steel and then the Romans, er maybe not the last bit), to be replaced with business units, car parks, shiny new fences and corporate branding. The location of the crannog was covered with a car park, a road verge and a steel fabrication factory. So it goes.

Canmore location map

Modern map of the Glengarnock Business Park. Crannog location marked with blue circle.          (c) HES, CANMORE, OS and anyone else I have forgotten

I visited Kilbirnie for the first time ever on 5th April 2017. I had been invited by Gavin MacGregor of Northlight Heritage to come along and help lead an urban prehistory walking tour to find the crannog location. This walk was one of a series that Northlight had been leading in partnership with the recently established Garnock Connections Landscape Partnership Scheme.

Garnock connections advert for walks

We gathered in the early afternoon, after I had consumed a massive cake, in a diner in the renovated Radio City cinema, and after introductions, our small group set off on the quest for the crannog. We left the centre of town and passed an old railway platform on the now defunct Caledonian Railway, then followed a pleasant core path away from town towards the ruins of the Glengarnock Ironworks.

It really was a massive cake incidentally. One of those caramel tarts that used to be commonplace in school dining halls when I was a child, shiny with little brown vermicelli things on top, and rich with an interior cream deposit. Note to self: I am not good at describing bakery.

walk low res

We passed the ruins of a slaughterhouse and a cairn of bricks, and then a bin with a skull painted onto it. It felt, as we neared out destination, that we were slipping back in time, deep into prehistory.

walk images

skull on bin low res

Finally, we began to see the footings of buildings in the scrubby vegetation on either side of the path, ruins of the trappings and infrastructure of industry. One of our group worked in the steel works and pointed out where various offices had been located. He told stories of explosions in the night when he was a kid, the outcome of massive amounts of red hot slag being dumped into the much-abused Kilbirnie Loch. He was an old man, but not old enough to remember the crannog.

Our destination was reached, a most unpromising and placeless location, partly a car park, partly a bushy protuberance under the guise of landscaping.

crannog location low res

As a group, we stood in the location where 2,000 years ago we would have been under water, and a timber house would have stood resplendent on the loch. The encroachment of industry onto this body of water had turned this location from one of elite settlement, to corporate blandness, a Ballardian transformation and perhaps the inevitability of capitalism.

Crannog location chat

How many prehistoric sites now lie beneath, or have been found during the construction, of business parks, warehouses and industrial units?

More to the point, what can we do about it? Sure, such discoveries allow us to gain valuable information about the past (unless the site, like this crannog, had already been swallowed up) but can they be made into something more useful than just data sources? Conversation on the walk constantly turned to how we could make more of the heritage (industrial, railway, prehistoric) of Kilbirnie, to engage and educate locals about the deep time in the place they live, and to attract tourists and visitors to a town often bypassed en route to Arran. One of the locals even told me they had a longterm plan to build a crannog reconstruction in the loch, a crazy idea that floored me and inspired me at the same time. I had not thought this big, but why not?

radio city

Warehouse

The heritage of the town is gradually being foregrounded again, whether in the re purposed Radio City building, or in the recently decorated windows of an abandoned and ruinous warehouse building adjacent to the local Tesco in the town centre. These windows, covered in historical images created by local school kids, include medieval objects that have been found in Kilbirnie Loch over the years, giving up some more of its watery secrets under the relentless pressure of heavy industry.

warehouse 2

One day I hope that Kilbirnie residents and visitors will be able to walk the old and ancient paths of this town, following the railway lines that were once the arteries that connected this place to the industrial heart of Scotland. These paths may lead to a spectacular watery eminence, Scotland’s newest crannog, or at least a QR code telling you what was once here.

The best resource this town has though, is not the prehistory, or the industrial heritage, or even the amazing massive caramel tarts. The places and the things can only take us so far, and what energised me most about my visit was not the crannog beneath the steel fabrication car park but the people and their memories of the iron and steel and explosions and junior football teams and mills and slaughterhouses and railway platforms that were once stood upon. The people and their vision for the future, borrowing inspiration from but not stuck in the past.

Sources and acknowledgements: primarily, I would like to thank the local people, and team from Garvock Connections, who accompanied Gavin MacGregor and I on our urban prehistory walk to the crannog. Their enthusiasm and ambition was infectious, and I hope to work with them in the future to re-invigorate Kilbirnie’s Iron Age!

The sources for the discovery and excavation of the crannog are almost certainly repeating the same account, with the original account being that of archaeologist Cochrane-Patrick. All three of these sources can be found in full online with some careful googling:

  • Cochrane-Patrick, R W.1873 Notices of some antiquities recently discovered in North Ayrshire’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 9, 385-6.
  • Love, R.1876 Notices of the several openings of a cairn on Cuffhill; of various antiquities in the barony of Beith; and of a crannog in the Loch of Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 11, 284-8.
  • Mann, L M.1933 Some recent discoveries, Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society New Series 8, 139-42.

The maps were all sourced from Scotland’s National Map Library

 

 

 

 

 

An unexpected curio

15 May

‘……the site is not possessed of any notable features’ (Cash 1906)

‘What remains of this monument is not impressive’ (Highland Council n.d.)

General view Aviemore ring cairn low res

 

A description of a megalith in the words of others

‘Aviemore Ring Cairn (2200 BC)’ (Source 1)

‘The monument was once located in open fields….’ (3).

‘The circle is on the Seafield estate, and…is ignored by the estate officials’ (1).

Marshall 1962 photo

(c) Mae Marshall 1962

‘This cairn was built as a major landmark in the open, farming landscape of prehistoric Strathspey, though a housing estate has grown up around it recently’ (3).

‘The Aviemore stone-circle stands about half a mile north of Aviemore railway station, not more than 60 yards from the high-road, and just behind the United Free Church’ (1).

‘The circle can be found at the far end of the village, not the end that goes to Cairngorm’ (8).

‘As you head north out of Aviemore look out for a residential road called Muirton (on your right hand side). Then beyond the Ambulance and Fire Station, turn left (it is all signposted). In a little housing estate is a small circle of stones….’ (6)

Stone circle sign low res

‘Address: Scottish Ambulance Service, B1952, Grampian Rd, Aviemore, PH22 1 RT’ (google)

Location map from CANMORE

‘This is a Clava-type cairn’ (3).

A Clava-type ring cairn, as described and planned by Henshall, except that only three stones now remain of the perimeter of the chamber (4).

‘Stone circle’ (4).

‘Aviemore Ring Cairn and Stone Circle (about 2400-2200 BC) originally consisted of a rubble bank, flanked by kerbs both inside and out and surrounded by a ring of standing stones’ (8).

‘It seems evident that this circle has suffered considerable disturbance’ (1)

‘There is very little cairn material left, and the central area seems to have been disturbed. The outer kerb is almost complete, with a diameter of 42′ and slight traces of a bank against the outside; only 5 of the inner ring stones are now visible. The outer ring of monoliths now consists of 4 stones set about 17 ft. from the kerb, but there were 7 in 1877’ (2).

Plan from Cash 1906

Cash 1906

‘The second or middle circle is fairly complete. It consists of probably thirty-six stones’ (1).

‘The south stone stands 4 feet 10 inches high, and has a shape roughly suggestive of a cloaked human figure’ (1).

‘The most northerly lies close in to the second circle, and has, I am informed, probably been recently moved into its present position’ (1).

‘A cup-marked stone is said to have been found at the base of one of the monoliths, but there is no evidence of it today’ (4).

‘The cup is 3 x 1½ x 1¼ inches’ (1).

‘These ceremonial stones were placed here approximately 4000 years ago…’ (6).

‘It was probably built about 4000 years ago by farmers and herdsmen and may have had cremated human bones placed in it’ (5).

‘The Aviemore Stone Circle is now engulfed by a housing estate. it …. has been quite sensitively preserved (although a little more room round the edges would have been appreciated)’ (7).

Undated photo in the snow

Highland Council SMR

‘Although the houses encroach right up to the stones, giving the impression that the circle was nothing more than a civic monument to spice up a humdrum estate, when you actually get here you appreciate the fine qualities of the site. It is a fine circle, and surprisingly easy to imagine how things would once have been before the houses were built during Aviemore’s expansion in the 1960’s’ (9).

‘The site as it stands is in a poor state of preservation and its location is severely compromised by the close proximity of the modern, cul-de-sac housing estate. The only possible value in this is that the site serves as a shock example of how not to treat archaeological monuments, and possibly survives as an unexpected curio in this late-twentieth century, white-harled bungalow landscape’ (3).

General view Aviemore ring cairn 2 low res

‘Despite the fact that this ‘stone circle’ is within the village of Aviemore, I quite liked its semi-urban location, nestling like a village green ground suicide-grey bungalows at the back of the fire station’ (9).

‘It is nothing hugely exciting but worth a quick peek nonetheless’ (6).

 

Historically interesting but obsolete noticeboard

Noticeboard low res

AVIEMORE RING CAIRN

AND STONE CIRCLE

This circular gathering place

once consisted of a circular rubble

bank edged by kerbs inside and out,

all surrounded by a ring of standing

stones. It has been covered by soil

for its protection and the inner kerb

is not now visible.

It was probably built about 4000

years ago by farmers and herdsmen and

may have had cremated human bones

placed in it.

The monument is scheduled and in the

care of Badenoch and Strathspey

District Council. It is an offence to

damage or disfigure it*.

 

*With the exception of state-approved urbanisation.

NB ‘The existing panel should be replaced with one that makes full use of modern printing technology to produce a visually exhilarating effect’ (source 3).

‘There must be a sense here of righting the wrongs that have been done to this site’ (3)

NB Recommendation yet to be enacted. Righting of wrongs yet to be enacted.

 

 

Urban prehistory (Source 10)

Good or bad?

Better or worse?

Authentic or inauthentic?

Rural or urban?

 

Ruin or ruined?

 

Challenge or opportunity?

 

Sources for the quotations in this blog post:

Source 1: Cash, C G. 1906 Stone circles at Grenish, Aviemore, and Delfour, Strathspey, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 40, 1905-6, see pages 249-50. [Free to download online via the Society]

Source 2: Grant 1885 Stone circles and other ancient remains in Strathspey, Transactions of the Inverness Scientific Society and Field Club 1, see pages 55-6.

Source 3: Highland Council Sites and Monuments Record document. This undated document was prepared for Highland Council by Graham Robins, Community Archaeologist for Badenoch & Strathspey. [Source of the two old photos.]

Source 4: Canmore (National Monuments Record of Scotland).

Source 5: On-site noticeboard.

Source 6: Trip Advisor entry (the only one for this site, rated Average).

Source 7: Megalithic portal page for the site.

Source 8: Owen McCafferty for Scotland Guides.Org

Source 9: Modern Antiquarian forum discussing the site

Source 10: My own eyeballs.

Thanks to Jan for providing photos of the site and keeping me company in the drizzle.

 

 

The last days of a stone circle Part 2

7 Apr

One year ago, on 7th April 2016, the Sighthill stone circle in Glasgow was dismantled and buried.

Permanently closed.

Permanently closed

The first part of my story of the final months of the Sighthill stone circle can be found here. This is the second, and final part of my account, focused on the last 18 days of this remarkable urban megalith. When discussing the use of stone circles from prehistory, we at best can hope to have a resolution of a decade or generation; for Glasgow’s stone circle , which stood for little more than one generation, I was able to refine my study almost day-to-day, with a visceral immediateness. So immediate that at times the charcoal was still smoking when I recorded it and I witnessed events as they happened, the ultimate fantasy of the archaeologist.

visits table

My documentation of the Sighthill stone circle – constructed by a team lead by Duncan Lunan in 1979 – began in early 2013, with my objective to use archaeological field methods and psychogeographical activities to document the ways that the stone circle was used. This included the assessment of use-wear patterns, the collection of found objects, photographic documentation and urban wandering. During the months leading up to the removal of the stone circle from the Glasgow skyline, I visited the monument repeatedly to monitor and record activities taking place there (see table above). I also inveigled myself into the destruction process itself, attending meetings in portacabins, learning about plans, drinking powdered coffee, wearing a hard hat. This culminated in access to the demolition itself.

As previously reported, my visits in February became technical fieldwalking exercises, picking over the stuff of old industrial Glasgow that had been used to construct the artificial park that the monument was located in. I collected fragments of gravestones, constructed by other monumental sculptors for very different reasons, lead squashed onto marble in memoriam.

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This was a landscape imploding, undergoing the brutal process of being demolished but also de-toxified due to its industrial past, and in the final days and weeks Sighthill the housing estate and Sighthill the park became home to big machines, fences, piles of rubble and horrid smells. Outsiders looked on in wonder at the plan to remove the standing stones even as they celebrated the demise of the High Rises.

Herald 14th Feb 2016

The Herald, 14th February 2016

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21st March

On a dull and overcast morning, I visited the Sighthill stone circle for the sixth time that year, this being the morning after a final equinoxal celebration had taken place within and around the standing stones. The afternoon and evening before, people gathered amicably, fires had been set, liquids were consumed, pottery was fired, and positive but bitter-sweet words were spoken.

solstice bike

I wanted to see what archaeological traces these activities had left behind. Like a detective chasing a serial killer, this was the hottest crime scene visited yet, with the maximum chance of collecting good quality evidence before the weather and by-standers intervened and the trail, once again, went cold. This was my big chance and I was not disappointed.

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Hearths and firespots littered the stone circle, and these were photographed with scales and sketched in my notebook. Some of the megaliths had been scorched by the fires which had danced amidst the stones just 12 hours previously. Fragments of ceramic and all sorts of other bits and pieces were collected from the stone circle. The monument was sampled and narratives constructed.

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The stones themselves had been changed in other ways, marked with clay-soaked hands, caressed with slippy fingers. I could have, had I wanted, taken fingerprints. I could have, had I wanted, sampled for DNA.

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Atop one of the stones, ashy powder was evident, although whether residue or deposit I could not tell.

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Weird inexplicable bits of wood were strewn around the stone circle, like props from the workshop of a serial killer; Ed Gein’s charred rocking chair?

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The evidence spoke of what I had witnessed the day before: fire, fun and feasting. A fitting end for this magnificent megalith.

 

 

4th April: Monday

The Final Countdown had begun and I knew the monument was to be removed in a few days’ time. Helen Green and I had been invited to the official dismantlement of the stone circle, and so now I was killing time, visiting almost aimlessly.

It was a miserable day. The park looked terrible, like a hungover clown.

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This green space, as a functional place of leisure, had been given days to live.

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As I walked up to the stone circle I passed a park bench upon which had been daubed the word: G O I N G

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The Sighthill stone circle itself glowed in the rain, the stones having an almost liquid quality, straining from their roots in the mud and concrete, trying to walk away from this mess, trying to escape their fate. And failing.

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wotrkman low res

Traces of the equinoxal fire remained, albeit reduced.

Pathetic dampness.

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There was a new development too – a grey fence had been erected to form a rough circular enclosure immediately to the north-west of the stone circle. Within this profane space, an enormously deep circular shaft was evident, a shaft that led down to an abandoned and forgotten railway line deep beneath the park. Two workmen with hi-vis jackets stood within looking shifty and feckless, watching me with suspicion as I recorded the stones, perhaps thinking I was secretly recording them. A thin young man dressed in a cheap black suit walked up to the stones, asked what I was doing, scuffed his shoes on the grass, and slouched off again.

Surveillance was increasing, the stones disappearing into a chaos of paranoia and misinformation. This was the beginning of the end of the beginning of the end I sagely thought to myself.

 

 

5th March: Tuesday

48 hours to go and at least the sun was out. So was Jack Forbes, the man whose mother and wife has enjoyed the stone circle so much that their ashes had been scattered in the circle, and the central megalith acted as a memorial to both women. I met Jack for the first time at the Equinox event and found him to be humorous and humble, surprised that anyone was interested in his story or that of his family. Shocked that Council plans for the demolishing of the stone circle had taken note if his circumstances. It was a privilege and great coincidence to be there at that time with Jack, as the removal of the stone circle began on this day.

As I approached from the park below, I saw that the metal fence around the railway shaft had been extended to wrap around the stone circle as well.

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Inside this arena, groaning crunching pawing machines could be heard, and as I reached the top of the treeless slope, having waded through sawdust and bone dry leaves, approaching the circle in the only way that was possible now that the park had largely been closed, I saw that work was afoot.

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A turquoise digger (a peculiar colour for such a machine I thought at the time and still do) raised its crooked arm up and down as if serving tea and biscuits, while a dumper truck say nearby, its bucket raised in supplication. One lump or two?

Monitoring the activity carefully was Lindsay Dunbar, an archaeologist, whose task it was to ensure as topsoil was stripped in advance of the removal of the stones themselves that nothing was damaged. Lindsay works for AOC Archaeology Group, and they had been contracted to do some of the archaeological work related to the Sighthill re-development, with one of their tasks being the documenting of the stone circle and monitoring of dismantlement. The day before they had carried out a laser survey of the standing stones, creating crazed images that would have made great JG Ballard book covers.

AOC scan2

Provisional data from the laser scan (c) AOC Archaeology Group.

Lindsay had also been party to implementing the mitigation strategies put into place to (as sensitively as possible) deal with Jack Forbes’ family matters. The topsoil where ashes had been scattered was scraped away carefully and would subsequently be buried with the standing stones for future resurrection. Offerings that had been laid around the base of the central standing stone for several years (as I have been documenting) were gathered up before machining started although I cannot now recall whether these would be stored for later, or returned to Jack.

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Jack was genuinely touched by these gestures, and I was pleased to see promises made by the Council and remediation specialists VHE were made good upon when it would have been just as easy to sweep all away in the quiet of a dull Tuesday morning. I had a nice chat with Jack and Lindsay, and we watched together as the fabric of the stone circle was gradually peeled away, exposing little else other than stark standing stones jutting from soil like dirty teeth in dirty gums.

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To the side of the stone circle, the railway shaft was clearer than earlier in the week, a sinister wormhole. What was down there?

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I can have a good guess. I’ve watched lots of horror films.

Everything must GO.

 

7th April – Thursday

This story has been told before, in many papers and by many observers. In a sense the very last day of this stone circle was the least interesting of its many last days because of its inevitablity and necessity. The journey had been so much better than the destination. As Jarvis Cocker once sleazily crooned: What exactly do you do for an encore? 

The day was stage-managed of course, perhaps even spun. The Council and VHE wanted to ensure nothing that looked bad would happen, and so had ensured that a stone was ready to be lifted, the effect that they were after a painless tooth extraction with minimal use of anesthetic and oral numbness fading as quickly as possible. A little film was made, and my presence at the dismantlement was viewed as an act of support for what was happening, and perhaps I was condoning all by being there.

 

 

What was I doing there? Was I a neutral and dispassionate observer, documenting a necessary (lets not say evil) sad event? Was I there to leer at the demolition porn being played out in front of me, in the thick of throbbing machines and lots of men dressed like the castoffs from the Village People? Maybe I was just a useful idiot after all. However, Helen was also there, and she is far too sensible for any of these roles, and so I assume in reflection that we were there to the bitter end to pay our respects.

The morning started hi-vis and portacabin-style.

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Everyone was shuttled up to the stone circle and we gathered together there, in a controlled members’ only space which reminded me of the UFO scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

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There was a ‘genuine sense of anticipation’ as a huge digger loomed over one of the standing stones, the chosen sacrificial victim, which had been bound in yellow straps and now mutely dangled from the digger’s grip.

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Duncan Lunan was photographed – papped in fact – along with Linda. He was interviewed. Even I was interviewed (but not photographed, except by Helen, and only because I asked her to).

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me being interviewed low res

The stone was slowly popped from its pre-broken concrete socket and hoisted into the air. The small crowd of Council and VHE staff, friends of the stone circle, journalists and vaguely interested machine drivers, looked on, er, agog.

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The stone dangled for a little while and was, after being photographed a few million times with smiling humans standing in front of it, carefully laid into the back of a truck and covered over like a corpse. It would be remiss of me not to mention that as it dangled it swayed slightly in the wind like the aforementioned hungover clown.

Cameras and notebooks were packed away, the crowd queued up to hitch a ride back to the portacabin HQ, and we all drifted away from the scene. As we left, we were aware that the remainder of the monument would be quickly dismantled away from the gaze of onlookers, and indeed within a few days the megalith was gone, and the stones buried in a huge pit a few hundred metres away, one day to rise again. As I drove past on the M8 a week later, something was missing. How quickly will this feeling dissipate? And how soon will that damned devilish shaft be filled with concrete?

 

 

The last days of a stone circle in summary

A monument impossible to reduce to photographs.

A monument impossible to reduce to memories.

A monument impossible to reduce to images with scales.

A monument impossible to reduce to spreadsheets and context numbers.

A monument impossible to reduce to sketches and plans.

A monument impossible to reduce –

A monument impossible –

A monument.

 

FOR JACK FORBES

 

Sources and acknowledgements: I would first of all like to thank VHE and Glasgow City Council for inviting Helen and I to the dismantlement of the Sighthill stone circle and to allow me to be part of conversations in the run up to this event. In particular, I would like to thank Graeme Baillie, Gareth Dillon, Jackie Harvie, Peter Patterson, Ed Smith and Muir Simpson. I would also like to thank Andy Heald for keeping me abreast of AOC Archaeology Group’s work at Sighthill, and to Lindsay Dunbar; thanks also to AOC for providing me with some of the initial laser scan images for my records, one of which is reproduced above. Thanks to Duncan and Linda for information and advice related to the stone circle, and finally thanks to Helen for giving up so much of her precious PhD time to visit Sighthill with me, always pushing me to think about the monument in new and interesting ways.

 

 

 

David Moyes Road

26 Mar

road-sign-low-res

Recently I was invited to visit an excavation that GUARD Archaeology Ltd had been undertaking for several months since September 2016 at a site with the wonderful name of David Moyes Road in Carnoustie, Angus. The site is located on the northern edge of the town, right next to the High School and across the road from a very white and very recently constructed housing development, shiny with suburban possibilities.

It was another reminder, should one be needed, that amazing (as well as mundane of course) prehistoric stuff is sometimes only ever going to be found by archaeologists because of urban expansion and development. A lack of cropmarks in this location, previously arable land, means that it is unlikely research excavations would ever have taken place here except those of the most speculative nature which frankly no-one can afford to do anymore.

So instead we await the serendipitous discovery of wonderful things not because of any archaeological research framework or a cunning plan cooked up by heritage professionals, but because of factors such as social need, economic consideration and the planning process.

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I was shown around the site by the site director, Alan Hunter Blair, and he gave me a really good insight into the discovery process of the site, what had been done on site and some provisional interpretations. With characteristic bad timing, not only did I arrive on site on the last day of the excavation, but I also came at tea break, cardinal sins for the excavation visitor but almost always the way it happens. Politely, none of this was mentioned as Blair and I wandered around the site, pointing at a hole here, pondering a hollow there, pausing over oddly arranged or unusually large stones and generally basking in a wonderful crisp late winter day beneath a broad blue sky in the midst of some truly spectacular archaeology.

site view blue sky urban backdrop

This is a remarkable site, for which there has already been a good deal of positive media coverage both locally and nationally including STV News.

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The Sun extract

The Sun headline (above) is especially impressive – discovery in a Scottish BUILDING SITE!!! Why this should be a surprise is not clear, given that nowadays building sites are precisely where many major archaeological discoveries are made.

In fact, the site was identified in advance of the construction of two football pitches (not a housing or school development as I had supposed) with my supposition being that drainage and other ancillary elements of these playing fields required the complete excavation of the site, which as it happens will prove to be beneficial not just to archaeologists, but to the local community and politicians as well – and not merely in terms of knowledge creation, useful as this can be.

spear with scale STV image

The bronze spearhead during excavation. Image (c) Katielee Arrowsmith / SWNS.com

GUARD have characterised the highest profile discovery during these excavations as a ’rare and internationally significant hoard of metalwork that is a major addition to Scottish Late Bronze Age archaeology’. This includes a spearhead with gold ornamentation, a spectacular and rare discovery, and organics associated with some of the weaponry. (GUARD have posted online a nice video of some work on the hoard being done, as we like to say, ‘back in the lab’.) This hoard was found in a pit within a settlement consisting of several Bronze Age roundhouses.

GUARD drone image of the timber hall during excavation

The putative timber hall from the air (c) GUARD Archaeology Ltd.

As a Neolithic nerd, what has got me more excited about this site however (apart from the fact that is could well end up in the archaeological literature as ‘the David Moyes Road site’) is the discovery of a potential early Neolithic timber hall of massive scale. This building, defined by a combination of postholes and slot trenches could be as much as 35m in length, a third longer than any other Neolithic building ever found in Britain. A second ‘Balbridie’ size timber hall was located immediately to the south of the giant timber hall, a timber structure measuring a modest (but still bloody huge) c.20m by c.7m. The phasing of both buildings and dates will need to await post-excavation work for confirmation, but from my own experience of excavating a Neolithic timber hall at Claish, near Callander, 2001 with Gordon Barclay and Gavin MacGregor, the David Moyes site felt early Neolithic which if often how these things work for me (at least until the C14 dates come in and ruin it all!)..

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The unexpected discovery of this amazing site during the construction of a public leisure facility shows how urban expansion and social need can drive forward our understanding of prehistory. Which is great, but what I am more interested in here is how this archaeological discovery resonates with the local community and how it might benefit people other than completist academics like myself. The burden of paying for these excavations, probably costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, and delaying the development, is born by the local authority and therefore it seems to me that there has to be more benefit to the people of Angus than just knowledge generation and some expensive baubles for the National Museum of Scotland.

Thankfully, the heritage sector is now actively exploring the social, as well as archaeological, benefits of such a discovery. For instance, David Moyes Road is located right next to the local high school and so site tours and visits were an important element of GUARD’s educational outreach programme during the excavation. They have noted:

‘In tandem with the excavation, GUARD Archaeology have brought community benefits and added value to the work by providing tours and presentations for local schools, including Carnoustie High School and Monifieth High School. Work experience for two students (from Carnoustie High School and Brechin High School) was also provided. Each of the students were trained in core skills in archaeology and were provided with a bespoke training plan and an archaeology skills passport for potential future careers in archaeology’.

More broadly, politicians are keen to celebrate the discovery rather than moan about how much it is all costing which is good news. The Angus Council communities convenor, Donald Morrison, saw the discoveries as a source of local pride, stating, ‘It is clear that Carnoustie was as much a hive of activity in Neolithic and Bronze Age times as it is now’. Alliteratively named councillor Bill Bowles opportunistically used the discovery as an indication of the long term attractiveness of living in Carnoustie, musing ‘how many generations of people have been living and working this land because of the prime agricultural land?’ The local MSP, Graeme Dey, and others have expressed the hope that the local area will benefit from the discovery and excavations in the form of information being made locally in the form of something like an exhibition and that may well be in the cards in the future.

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Angus 2013 - 288

More broadly, the local media coverage emphasising the site as possibly being one of the earliest indicators of farming in Scotland plays well with a County whose ‘Welcome’ road sign includes the slogan, Scotland’s Birthplace, a phrase associated with the Pictish heritage of this region, but now being pushed back millennium by GUARD’s excavations. Cynically one could therefore argue that the Council are getting value for money after all, using the excavation results and positive publicity to market and even re-invent Angus.

This is the paradox of archaeology today: it is a game played to very different rules from when I started in the business over 20 years ago. Many of our most exciting new discoveries are being driven by the agendas of developers and policy-makers, responding to social needs such as, this the David Moyes Rd case, health and wellbeing. Excavations are taking place in a climate where accountability, transparency and ‘value for money’ are always factors, and the results of excavations are measured as much in ‘numbers of individuals impacted on’ or social media likes and re-tweets, as the quantity / quality of material recovered and the academic impact.

Nowadays, everyone has a stake to hold, and an angle to work.

As a result of this. the dissemination of excavation and post-excavation results immediately via social media, local press and business websites has become a complex mixture of self-justification, feel-good headlines, agenda setting – but the key thing is that usually there is some damn fine archaeology right in the middle of it all.

There is nothing wrong with any of this, we are simply on a different merry-go-round now. Indeed I would strongly argue that this kind of public accountability is good news for archaeology and archaeologists, as it more closely connects our discoveries to communities who might benefit from them. Inevitably the system will be gamed, and our stuff will be exploited for hard and soft gains by others. That’s the price we pay for being relevant, and these new engagements and ways of doing things are encouraging creativity and impact that would have not been possible in the 1980s and 1990s.

One final thought. The David Moyes Road episode has one other lesson to teach us. Archaeology often benefits society more through its controlled destruction via excavation techniques than it does fossilised under ground for future generations. The dance of discovery, destruction and dissemination allows people to learn amazing things about the places they live or go to school or play football.

Let development continue, let landscapes evolve, lets keep finding stuff and lets never stop sharing and celebrating it.

If the price we pay is that some of our major sites have stupid names, then so be it.

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The wrong David Moyes (source: FourFourTwo magazine)

Sources and acknowledgements: I firstly would like to thank Warren Baillie of GUARD for inviting me to visit the excavations at David Moyes Road and Adam Hunter Blair for giving me a great tour of the site and missing his tea break. The GUARD quotes in the post all come from their project website (link above) and the politician quotes come from the local press article shown above. 

 

 

 

 

 

Words here