Archive | Modern monuments RSS feed for this section

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.

fence-low-res

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.

paper-cover-low-res

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!)..

firstPage-S0003598X00089675a

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.

inside of newspaper low res

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.

david_moyes_one-on-one

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

55 / 45

21 Feb

You might think that prehistoric monuments and things that happened thousands of years ago have nothing to do with contemporary political debates about identify, nationalism and borders. You may well also agree, as I do, with Niall Sharples who wrote over two decades ago that “the archaeological record of earlier periods should not normally contribute to the discussion of a nation’s identity”.

But not everyone thinks like this.

Prehistoric monuments can become the plaything, for innocent or sinister reasons, of those who wish to make claims about national boundaries, ethnic or national identities – or to influence your vote. Such appropriation of the prehistoric past is always troubling in my opinion, although it could be argued that there is a sliding scale of badness at play here. At the (far right) end of the scale we have a recent iteration of the mission statement of the British National Party (from the 2000s, now removed from their website) which stated: “We enthuse with pride at the marvels of architecture and engineering that have been completed on these islands since the construction of the great megaliths 7,000 years ago”. Papers in the book pictured below warn against such corruption of prehistory for political ends: we should always be vigilant for such occurrences and expose them.

book-cover

It is with interest then that appeals to the ancient past have become embedded in the discourse of Scottish independence, a process which concluded in 2014 with a vote of 55% to 45% to retain the status quo, but which inspired widespread political debate and continues to resonate strongly today.

I became aware of how this can manifest itself even in that most banal of places, the TV archaeology documentary. There is no doubt that nationalistic passions were released by the BBC TV programme Britain’s Ancient Capital: secrets of Orkney, broadcast on the BBC in January 2017.

britains-ancient-capital-screenshot

Social media responses to this show included ‘the BBC is scandalously pushing…Neil Oliver’s tendentious, ludicrous and anachronistic British unionist line’. The well-known political persuasion of lead presenter Neil Oliver (clue: it’s NO, not YES) has been taken by some viewers as a driver behind the ‘Britain – not Scotland’ narrative evident in the programme, Oliver being accused of ‘shrill British patriotism’ and of being a ‘British patriot’ (which may or may not be an insult depending on your perspective). Although I was publically critical of the content of this show, I happen not to buy this politicized critique of the show, with my reservations about this programme rooted more in its repetition of the tired old tropes of Neolithic studies in Britain.

herald-low-res

omid-djalili-tweet

It came as something of a surprise to me to find out last year that a cairn had been constructed in 2014 right on the border between England and Scotland, a cairn that was an explicit rallying call for British unionism, a monument for those who did not want Scotland to become independent from the UK in the aforementioned referendum that took place in September of that year.

view-from-the-border-bridge-low-res

This is a ‘Scottish’ cairn: it is called The Auld Acquaintance Cairn, a Rabbie Burns name, located on the Scottish side of the Border, a reconstruction of a Bronze Age Clava Cairn. But it had a ‘UK’ team of builders and cheerleaders, invited to come from all corners to help in its construction, emerging into the world through shared labour, motivations and symbols, to create a whole that was stronger than its parts, Better Together.

It is a NO monument, not a YES monument.

no

NO or ON? (source: The Times (paywall))

It was built by the 55 for the other 45.

But. Despite being infused with unity and togetherness, constructed with good intentions as well as sweat and tears, I fear that its existence has, and continues to have, the potential to be divisive, festooned as it is with symbols and words that could be interpreted by some as divisive, even offensive.

yes-no-maybe

Built in the months leading up the referendum in a frenzy of fear that YES might win, it could be argued that this is a cairn that has served its purpose. But, since the conclusion of that debate, the cairn has become something of a monument to victory, a celebration of something not being lost, a vindication but perhaps also a warning from the past, literally a folly.

hands-across-the-border-logo

The Auld Acquaintance Cairn was the brainchild of the polymathic Conservative MP Rory Stewart. The project to construct the cairn over summer 2014 was in part crowd-funded through an organisation called Hands Across the Border, whose website offers an archival (pre)history of the cairn. It is in a location that is cupped by a the gentle meander of the River Sark, the border between Scotland and England, but sits in the shadow of a placeless shopping mall.

The cairn was constructed in the period June to August 2014, and is a spectacular monument, consisting of some 130,000 stones.

NNP-1_HANDS_ACROSS_THE_BORDER

Laying the foundation stones of the cairn, summer 2014 (source: North News & Pictures)

Volunteers and visitors were encouraged to bring to the location stones from wherever they were from, thus ensuring the cairn was constructed of stones from across the UK, and beyond (with for instance a fragment of the Berlin Wall included). It is claimed over 10,000 people added a stone or helped with building the monument, with dry stone dykers doing the fiddly bits. Visitors were also encouraged to paint messages onto the stones, giving the cairn a colourful appearance which still survives several years later.

the_cairn_crop_10_august_2014_tory-website

The cairn during construction. The flagpoles in the background are now gone (souice: available in various cropped versions online, happy to update if this is your photo).

Various ‘celebrities’ spent time helping build the cairn or visiting the monument: Scotland’s only Tory MP David Mundell was there when the foundation was laid, grizzled explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes made an appearance on 28th July, and actor Joanna Lumley put in a shift three days later. “Historians Simon Schama, David Starkey, Max Hastings and Antony Beevor, the ‎philosopher AC Grayling, Field Marshal Sir Charles Guthrie, and the writer Alain de Botton have all contributed stones to the cairn” (Cumbria Crack) as has the famous mountaineer Doug Scott CBE (Cairn Builder Extraordinaire?).

rfiennes

Fiennes (source: Hands Across the Border)

lumley-stewart-wall

Lumley (source: Sunbeam Music)

The cairn was a focus for events such as barbeques, teddy bear picnics, public shows of emotion, and a music festival called Brit Rocks! A poem – Cornerstone – was written for the cairn by Charlotte Higgins and carved onto two flat square slabs which were placed within the interior chamber. And apparently, some No voters and those who supported their campaign but who could not vote (i.e. anyone not living in Scotland) camped on the cairn overnight as the results of the referendum came in.

brit-rocks-poster

Source: Hands Across the Border

A large map was erected on site where visitors could mark where they and their rocks had come from, although the map appears to have had no room for 80% of Orkney, all of Shetland or much of western Ireland. Europe’s not there, natch.

the-map

Source: Trip Advisor (link below)

As the cairn was being constructed, a short film was made about the project by The Economist. In the film, Rory Stewart described the monument as ‘a model of our country’ and the only physical manifestation of Better Together evident in the UK at that time. More emotively, he suggested that Scotland and the Rump UK were rather like a couple whose marriage was on the rocks and that one partner only needed to say ‘I love you’ to reconcile the partnership. (Was he really saying that the UK was basically just like a very unhappy marriage that neither partner should leave?) The Project Manager Angus Aitken went further, calling the cairn a ‘geological love letter to the Union’, that far into the future would stand as reminder of a time when the people of the UK came together through the medium of dry-stone walling.

Then – the referendum happened and the NO / Better Together campaign won. The border upon which the cairn sits remained softer than an egg that had been in boiling water for 60 seconds, and all inhabitants of Scotland were encouraged to pull together and move forward.

Hand Across the Border state on their website: “Now is the time for everyone to reconcile their differences and create a stronger better Britain.”

Whether this is better facilitated by the retention, or destruction, of the Auld Acquaintance cairn, depends if you are one of the 55 or the 45. Like megaliths, divisive political debates can have a long afterlife.

50068053F005

Source: Cumberland News / (c) STUART WALKER

On a visit to the cairn in 2015, a year after it had been completed, Ian Jack recounted in The Guardian how the cairn was less noble in appearance than in aim. The banality of personal messages painted onto little stones was a little too much for him. He noted, “A monument intended to celebrate beautiful generalisations – political unity, friendship between peoples – has been altered (an old-fashioned aesthete would say damaged) by the intrusion of the specific and the everyday.” The solitude of the cairn was also noted (ie no one else visited while he was there), but so too was the noisy traffic flying past on the nearby M74 (the article calls it the M6, what this border zone of the motorway is known as in England). This sense of loss and disappointment is shared by a few (but by no means most) visitors to the cairn who have recorded their impressions on Trip Advisor (‘#4 of 5 things to do in Gretna’). One visitor called the monument ‘a mis-managed pile of stones’ which is actually quite a good definition of cairn.

The cairn was also vandalised that year, with Stewart saying at the time, “I respect that nationalists will continue to put forward their own arguments, but I fail to see what these vandals hoped to achieve by targeting the cairn at Gretna, other than to manifest their bitterness and resentment for the way in which the Scottish people ultimately chose to vote last year.” (Cumbria Crack). This vandalism appears to have included the daubing of ‘offensive slogans’ on the cairn, the breaking of one of the poem stones in the cairn interior, and removing the noticeboard next to the site and throwing it into the River Sark. This noticeboard floated down river, and was found on a beach a few months later by a dog walking former local MP, who returned this back on site for a photo shoot.

S80952.jpg

Source: News and Star / (c) JENNY WOOLGAR

butchers-apron-dr

Source: Daily Record (link below)

Was this a ‘nationalist stunt’? Graffiti on the cairn stones, reported on by The Daily Record, would suggest some political motivation for at least this aspect of the vandalism, with phrases added to the monument such as “Nicola Sturgeon is coming to get ye!” and “Don’t blame me a voted Yes”. In a poll, 54% of Record readers found the graffiti offensive, 46% did not (number of participants unknown) which mirrors almost exactly the result of the referendum.

bless-you-low-res

When I visited recently with Jan, I was surprised how tidy and well-maintained the cairn is, almost three years after construction started. I was also surprised that there were no signs to tell visitors where to park or how to walk to the cairn, the only indication we were in the right place being a pair of plain noticeboards beside a gate in the car park of the Old Toll Bar Café, the first or last chance for refreshments in Scotland depending on your direction of travel across the Scotland – England border located 100m to the south on the red sandstone bridge over the River Sark. The noticeboards explain briefly the history and ethos of the cairn and advertise some internet links of varying currency, and also include sketches that were prepared when the cairn was being planned.

noticeboards-low-res

The noticeboard text is explicitly political. It is noted that the cairn “is a testimony to the United Kingdom”, situated right on the current border, but in a place that was once neither Scotland nor England, but rather ‘Middleland’. As far as I can tell, this is a tenuous-to-mythical historical convenience, promoted in the writing of Rory Stewart for instance on his website. Here, he argues that there is ‘nothing natural’ about a border between England and Scotland, and that the fact there is a border at all simply relates back to the Romans drawing straight lines on maps for their own convenience. (It’s amazing how some of the most potent legacies of colonialism can be traced back to the gratuitous use of such an innocent piece of stationery, the ruler.) Stewart argues that Gretna and the cairn sit in what used to be a Middleland, an ill-defined ‘upland’ zone between Edinburgh and Sheffield with heartlands in Northumberia, Cumbria and the Scottish Borders.

This frontier zone is the focus of Stewart’s most recent book The Marches (Jonathan Cape, 2016), where he recounts walking along parts of Hadrian’s Wall with his late father as well as a solo long distance walk across Cumbria. I have not read this book, only reviews, but it seems to fit well with a man who is passionate about the Borders and the borders and borders that should not be borders, restless to understand how the past, and landscapes, can help people define themselves. The Middleland theme is played out in this book too: it is an upland rural landscape (although it is far from all being upland and rural) “… a land naturally unified by geography and culture for 2,000 years, but repeatedly divided by political frontiers”. It all sounds a bit W G Hoskins to me.

the-marches

Before Scotland and England, and amidst the periodic enforcement of a border here by ruler-wielding praetorians, Stewart in his website musings suggests that this area belongs to a misty-eyed time when there was “no single English ethnicity, or Scottish language”, and people on either side of what we now see as a border “married each other…wore the same clothes, ate the same food, lived the same life…and sung the same ballads about their exploits”. And yet why chose these specific traits to suggest cultural similarity? Why select certain centuries in the past and then set them up as a norm? This Borders romanticism would be less of an issue had it not been an explicit driver for the loud cairn construction campaign, drawing on the ancient past to legitimize modern political decision-making. In fact, it could be argued that Stewart misunderstands the nature of identity, mistaking shared actions, material culture and pragmatic accommodations for shared hearts and minds. Stewart’s arguments echo long-running discussions about the Dalriadan Scots in Ulster and Argyll, where archaeological and historical evidence has been used to argue for, and against, modern political boundaries. Such claims and connections can be dangerous, contested and illogical – on both sides of the argument.

More troubling still, the cairn builders seem to suggest that the political unity that a Yes vote in the referendum threatened has its origins in prehistory. The noticeboard goes on to say: “A cairn is a traditional northern English and Scottish marker in the landscape”, going back as far as the Neolithic. (Stewart repeats this in the short film linked to above.) This is nonsensical and a dangerous argument to make: are we now to define modern identities due to shared Neolithic monument traditions? Again, this reminds me of arguments related to Ireland. Matthew Stout (1996) has written about archaeologist Emyr Esten Evans’ ‘Ulster exceptionalism’, an attempt to demonstrate that megalithic tombs in Northern Island were different from those elsewhere on that island, with obvious political motivations. And cairns are not just found in Scotland and northern England – they are found across Britain and Ireland, and if anything you could argue there is an east-west divide. Furthermore, cairns come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and dates – it could be argued they are a very human thing to do.

Most ludicrously of all, the design template for the Auld Acquaintance cairn is a Clava Cairn, a monument style that is found almost exclusively in Inverness-shire. Very regionalised traditions in prehistory were commonplace and do not lend themselves well to narratives of British or UK wide continuity. And so all we need to do is select which monument types fit our argument depending on what boundaries we want to break down, or defend.

auldacquaintance_2

The design for the Auld Acquaintance cairn. Source: on site noticeboard

clava-cairns

A Clava cairn. Source: Visit Scotland. (c) Paul Tomkins.

Back to our visit. We went through the gate and walked the short distance to the neat and tidy cairn, which has lost the fringe of slates and stones that were evident when it was first constructed. A noticeboard was located here too, although the aforementioned map which had stood on the site in 2014 showing where the component stones had come from, had been removed. I was immediately impressed with the scale and quality of the construction: this would have taken a lot of work, supporting claims from those involved in building that this was a project that meant something personal to them.

cairn-general-view-and-sign-low-res

The cairn material consisted of many different types of rock and stone, with some of the stones brightly painted, with unsurprisingly a preponderance of red, white and blue. Personal messages with names, thanks and so on were commonplace, as were union flags.

montage

One of the stones was painted red and referred to a place neither Scotland nor England: Ulster. Taken together with the Butcher’s Apron graffiti shown above, this demonstrates that political gestures, no matter how well meaning, will be appropriated for all sorts of different (or tangentially related) agendas, old scores being settled, old wars being refought. If you make claims to deep time, expect others to do so as well.

ulster-low-res

Another contained a message for our post-Brexit times: THE PEOPLE SPOKE FOREVER, the idea that a decision has been made, and everyone should now get together and make it work. A decision that cannot be overturned or even argued with. Maybe it is a warning. As with everything about this megalith, it depends on who you are: the 55 or the 45.

forever-low-res

Another stone was decorated with a more primeval symbol – a prehistoric cup-and-ring mark. Using the logic of this cairn we perhaps need to abandon more national boundaries, as these symbols can be found across many EU countries.

cup-and-ring-mark-low-res

There was evidence that some messages were becoming less focused on the ethos of the stone, with an Orcadian flag (which itself was defaced by vandals in 2015), and stones with messages written by tourists visiting the monument on holiday. There is a growing sense of the routine about this monument, and as time passes it will be more and more difficult for Hands Across the Border to retain the meaning of this cairn despite their aspiration for this to be a permanent reminder of the NO vote.

The interior of the monument was entered by a narrow corridor lined by smart red sandstone blocks, topped with stacked slates, and with gravel crunching underfoot.

passage-low-res

At the end of the passage was the circular central chamber with high walls, 2m tall, enclosing and restricting views of the outside borderzone. Inside, a yellow stone slab was propped up against the back wall, containing one half of Charlotte Higgins’ poem; the other stone, broken in 2015, was only partially restored. The relative peace and solitude of the interior of the cairn, surrounded by beautiful stone work, and words which spoke of wars and memorialisation, was the most impressive and sombre element of an otherwise garish monument. Powerful or exploitative? It all depends. 55 or 45?

interior-low-res

We wandered back out, and away from the cairn. There was a low hum caused by a tanker spewing wood chips into a metal container beside the cairn. The surrounding field was scrubby and untidy, a ghostly and abandoned camp site with electrical power fittings for caravans jutting from the ground like gravestones. These were arranged around a derelict and boarded up toilet block. Ahead, we saw a massive blue sign on the northbound side of the M74. It was a giant metal flag, the saltire, adorned with the words ‘Welcome to Scotland’ with some tiny YES stickers stuck to it. Lying twenty or so yards from this sign was a discarded and broken placard, the one quarter or one eighth remnant of a very different roadside message that once said NO THANKS. Right on the border, on the banks of the Sark, YES and NO not so far apart after all, both little more than a blur in the eyes of motorway-hypnotised drivers speeding past, even in the slow lane.

me-and-flag-low-res

no-thanks-low-res

By strange coincidence, on the day of our visit, the front cover of The National newspaper was concerned with borders too. This is a Scottish paper that describes itself as ‘The newspaper that supports an independent Scotland’. The headline read: ‘TRUMP WON’T CROSS HADRIAN’S WALL: State visit will not include Scotland’. Behind this lay a weird montage of Hadrian’s Wall with the disembodied heads of Donald Trump (no hair) and Nicola Sturgeon (with sun rays shining beatifically from her chin like a golden beard, glowing in anti-Trump hirsuteness).

national-cover

Scottish nationalists can play this game too in other words – here we have the misuse of the ancient past to make a political point about modern borders. Here, we have the common mistake of likening Hadrian’s Wall to the Scotland – England border, the straight line across Britain’s middlelands that Stewart was talking about. Here we have in one gloriously daft image the old myth that Scotland somehow repelled the Romans while England did not, and that this division is ancient and meaningful when it comes to defining modern identity. It is not and it does not, but that will not stop prehistory and our ancient past being used again and again in this ongoing debate. It was no surprise to me when I found out while researching this post that Rory Stewart was also planning a referendum-focused human chain of tens of thousands of people along Hadrian’s Wall in 2014, showing that this boundary is endlessly exploitable to people of all political beliefs.

It is almost too easy to use prehistory as a lesson from which we should learn – and yet, all we are doing is projecting our own concerns and concepts onto the mute archaeological record back to a time when these words and ideas would have made no sense. Often for the best of intentions. I have sympathy with this tweet from only a few days ago (at the time of writing) and yet there are so many assumptions at play here that just I don’t know where to start.

bruce-mann-balbridie-tweet

In the Channel 4 TV sketch show from the 1990s, Absolutely, there was caricatured Scottish nationalist character played by Jack Docherty called McGlashan. He was a failed writer who continually pitched ideas for anti-English and pro-Scottish plays to his long suffering posh (English? Scottish?) agent. One of the plays he comes up with is called Nip Nap Shite (‘well, you’ve certainly got an eye for a title’). In this play, the SNP (then a party a million miles from government) stand a candidate called McGlashan in a general election against then Tory MP John Major. “He’s so brilliant and Scottish, right, he wins with a 50,000 majority”. In another and much shorter sketch, McGlashan cycles up to a very non-descript Scotland-England border crossing. He looks around, crosses into England, shouts some abuse and then quickly cycles back into Scotland again. The border is quiet, the road empty.

Here we have Scots comedians laughing at ourselves, our complex identity in relation to England and the UK, our fascination with borders and seeing how far we can push them, for a laugh. The same issues of identity that Rory Stewart has been wrestling with – them and us / them or us? The 55 or the 45? Or just the 100?

nip-nap-shite-low-res

The Auld Acquaintance cairn. Built on a border that is not a border. Made in a style neither local nor logical. A monument to British unionism drawing on a mythical ancient past to inform modern political identity. A place that is about uniting that can’t help but divide. Borders and boundaries that still confuse to this day – soft / hard, busy / quiet, first / last, 55 / 45. It all depends.

But one thing I am sure about – should auld acquaintance be forgot that megaliths and Roman walls should never be used to legitimize political arguments, to support the construction of walls, to make claims of identity, or to tell us how to vote.

Sources and acknowledgements: I have throughout this blog made use of information about the Auld Acquaintance cairn from the websites for Hands Across the Border and Rory Stewart (links in the text) – these have both been accessible and useful sources, and have helped document a most remarkable project.

Images used from these sources have been credited as such. I have attempted to give a source for more or less all images used above: no source means the photo is mine. The Marshes book cover is widely available online, as is the Orkney BBC TV show screengrab.

The book pictured at the top of the post was published by Cruithne Press in Glasgow in 1996 and is well worth a read. The Niall Sharples quote and Matthew Stout example both derive from papers in this book.

I did not provide a link to the BNP website. If one wishes to find the current cached source of the quotation from their old manifesto, google the phrase. I’m not doing it for you.

This post benefited from the insights of Steve Driscoll and Dene Wright, and Jan who accompanied me on the visit to the cairn.  

The language of size

5 Feb

‘Monuments orchestrate human experience. Their size is so important because it is one of the ways in which this is achieved…this particular property of monuments, what WH Auden called ‘the language of size’, also means that particular information can only be obtained in a prescribed sequence’ (Richard Bradley Altering the Earth (1993), 47).

 

Yesterday all the past. The language of size

Spreading to China along the trade-routes; the diffusion

Of the counting-frame and the cromlech;

Yesterday the shadow-reckoning in the sunny climates.

WH Auden, ‘Spain 1937’

 

I used to walk along cursus monuments and call it work. This was my PhD research, an investigation into the Neolithic past. In fact, on reflection what I was doing was encountering contemporary rural landscapes in a subversive manner, following ancient routeways that have been lost amidst the organisation of the land today and which do not appear on any maps. I thought at the time that I was revealing insights into lost Neolithic lifeways and getting inside the minds of shaman, novices and ritual travellers. What I was in fact doing was exploring alternative ways to move around the landscape, following ancient routes, cutting across the geometry of railway lines, roads, fences and field boundaries, ignoring the straight lines of the twentieth century and instead following, slavishly, straight lines that were dug into the land over 5000 years ago.

I was creating my own cartographies, a mad man walking across empty fields taking notes and photos.

There can be no middle ground, no compromise, because there is nothing in the landscape today that respects Neolithic cursus monuments. The act of walking along a cursus therefore was one that showed no respect to the way we construct our landscapes today, a provocation, but when I was walking along cursus monuments and calling it work I did not see it that way.

The thrilling cover of my PhD.

The thrilling cover of my PhD.

Recently I walked along a cursus again, the first time I had undertaken one of these selfish walks since the 1990s, although I have visited a few cursus sites in between. ‘Cursus monument’ is a category of enclosure that dates to the first millennium of the British Neolithic (c3800-3300BC). These are rectangular enclosures, defined initially by lines of timber posts, and subsequently earthworks, with internal ditches and external banks. Like many archaeological categories, the label cursus hides a good deal of variation, with monuments ranging in length from 60m to 10km, and in width from 20m to 180m. Clearly, this material and morphological variability casts doubt on these all being part of a coherent phenomenon, and it is likely these sites (over 100 are known in Britain and Ireland with a few Euro-cursus outliers) were probably expressions of religious norms and local need. The earliest sites appear to have been constructed by the first generations of farmers in eastern and southern Scotland. The sites long been considered by archaeologists as serving a processional and ceremonial role within Neolithic society, although whether they were pathways for the living or the dead is unclear.

The definitive book on cursus monuments, written by Roy 'Dr Cursus' Loveday as I call him.

The definitive book on cursus monuments, written by Roy ‘Dr Cursus’ Loveday as I call him.

The longest cursus monument in Scotland is, like almost all of these sites, known only as a cropmark. In other words, the monument has long disappeared from the visible spectrum of the landscape due to the processes of natural decay, erosion and hard core modern ploughing. 98% of cursus monuments are only known to us because they appear as cropmarks on air photos, the buried postholes and ditches transmitting themselves to us through differential crop growth rates visible from the air and light aircraft. Through this flaky and unpredictable medium, we can track the routes of cursus monuments across modern rural landscapes (cropmarks can only really reveal themselves in arable cereal crops and usually under drought conditions, no use looking for them in the turnips and rasps).

cropmark-image-from-i-spy-book

From the I-Spy archaeology book. Because kids can are always spying cropmarks.

This is how the East Linton cursus, East Lothian, was discovered, although the true scale of the monument was not initially clear due to the monument being partly built over. The western half of the cursus (NT57NE 67) was initially recorded from air photos taken in 1981, although the presence of the cursus ditches was not identified until the early 1990s by RCAHMS and Historic Scotland staff including Rebbeca Jones and Ian Armit. The latter described the cropmarks at Drylawhill as….

“….two parallel ditches running approximately E to W some 60m apart. The ditches vary in width from 2m to 3m and follow a somewhat erratic course, giving the impression of having been constructed in discrete lengths rather than as a single unitary construction. This variability of width and segmented construction are characteristic of cursus monuments. The ditches can be traced for a length of almost 300m, and undoubtedly extend into the field to the E, although no cropmarks are visible there to enable their full extent to be assessed” (Discovery and Excavation in Scotland journal, 1993).

This spoke of an enormous enclosure, of unknown length, although entirely invisible and unknown in the modern landscape. Armit’s suggestion that the monument might continue to the east was prescient, although he might also have noted we have no idea where the western extent of this giant monument was located, and his width estimation was short, it being more like 80 to 90m across.

The Drylawhill end of the cursus, taken from the SE. (c) HES canmore_image_SC00925219

The Drylawhill end of the cursus, taken from the SE. It runs top-left to bottom-right. Note the cemetery in the foreground. (c) HES canmore_image_SC00925219

I was cataloguing aerial photos in the same vicinity, on the north side of the village of East Linton, in 1999 when I worked for RCAHMS. I noticed a set of cropmarks in the field to the east that had first been recorded in 1976 and then again in 1995, and had been classified as an ‘enclosure’ which is about as vague a cropmark interpretation that is it possible to give. This site was called Preston Mains (NT57NE 29). This looked to me as if it was on the same orientation and had the same form and width as the Drylawhill site, and some nifty ruler work on a 1:10,000 map sheet suggested that these were indeed two parts of the same enormous monument. In this case, the Preston Mains end of the cursus also had a rounded terminal, at least giving the cursus one known end. This revelation (and one of the few occasions where I was left punching the air in my role as a civil servant) meant that the Drylawhill-Preston Mains monument was, in fact, the East Linton cursus, measuring at least 1.25km in length and up to 90m in width.

The Preston Mains end of the cursus, taken from the S. (c) HES canmore_image_DP00163891

The Preston Mains end of the cursus, taken from the N. The parallel ditches of the cursus run more or less left to right, above and parallel to the road. (c) HES canmore_image_DP00163891

transcription-from-my-phd

 

A walk along a cursus in the past in the present

I visited and walked along the Drylawhill end of the cursus (before I knew about the other half) with fellow PhD student Andrew Baines on the 30th June 1996. Fragments related to this walk exist in my field notes and PhD. I undertook a Tilley-esque landscape phemomenology approach, although the only thing I can remember about it now was knocking on a door to ask permission to walk across the field, and being made a cup of coffee by a nice lady in a white fluffy dressing gown. (That can’t be right surely…..)

Field notes

Field notes

fieldwork-notes-1996

I was making my own cartographies.

Bam and I walked both east, and west, along the cursus section, at that time the only recognised fragment of this huge monument that had been mapped. My notes are perfunctory and almost illegible; the photos stuck into my PhD with cheap glue, and then badly scanned at a later date by a librarian. At least I now have a pdf of my thesis – it previously only existed on eight floppy disks and as boxes of slides, the crumbs of a research project.

1990s-walk-photo

The notes are not informative. Eastbound walk: ‘ Start on low plateau and walk down slope….’ and cue some imaginative speculation about what could be seen from various parts of the cursus depending on where is actually extended too. Desperate stuff really.  The conclusion of this experience was that a hollow that the Drylawhill end of the cursus crosses may have been a meaningful element of any procession along this routeway when the monument was in its prime, but it is a detached and partial account, with no beginning and no end. The ‘bones of the land’ (as Chris Tilley would say) may have been more or less the same as those experienced in the early Neolithic, but little else about this experience was authentic or even, to be frank, of any use. This is because I was too fixated with trying to imagine away my surroundings, ignore the church to my right, the woodland plantation ahead, the houses to my left and right, none of which are mentioned in my notes. At the time these modern intrusions intensely annoyed me as they buggered up my views of the broader landscape. Little wonder that the final account was banal and added about 100 words of my 100,000 word PhD; this is one cursus walk that ended up on the cutting room floor.

 

A different walk along the same cursus in the present in the past

In January 2017, 20 and a half years after I last walked along this cursus, I returned, now the urban prehistorian, not a youthful bullshitting PhD student trying to make sense of it all. This time I was armed with a better sense of the extent of the cursus monument, but also a clearer understanding of the nature of what I was about to do. This walk would follow the entire route of the cursus despite the modern obstacles in the landscape. The stuff of the modern landscape would be part of the experience, not censored from the final account. This would mean climbing over walls, walking along tarmac, crossing roads, tenaciously staying within the boundaries of the enclosure even in the big blank space in the middle of the cropmark that has largely been destroyed. (My walk was based on the assumption that this was indeed a continuous monument: prove me wrong!)

I walked west to east, heading for the terminal of the cursus, and this time I was not in the shoes of a Neolithic shaman: I was in my own shoes, which are a far more comfortable fit.

Map

map

 

Pictures

walk-1-to-4-v2

walk-5-to-8

walk-9-to-12

 

Words and illustrative images

The field detained me only briefly. I had been here before. Amidst tender young crops, I stepped carefully, almost tap dancing. choosing my footfall carefully, following or seeking tractor tramlines, this modern stuff already mediating my bodily engagement with the disappeared cursus and keeping me looking down, not ahead. The landscape as friction, fighting back.

I could sense ahead of me an impenetrable wall of trees, and a wall, a wall bounding a cemetery, the cemetery slipping downhill from a church on a mound. The corner of the cemetery wall jutted into the cursus interior, a geometrical assault on the organic earthwork, a point of fusion between past and present, a boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a portal between the past and present. At the base of the wall smashed vodka bottles and crushed cans had been deposited at this most powerful and liminal of locations.

the-corner-of-the-wall-low-res

I clambered over the wall and jumped down amongst the tombs and the rotting Christmas wreaths, baubled wraiths.

I built a cairn here, a time machine.

the-cairn-low-res

In the cemetery, grid-like paths sat awkwardly on my conception of what the cursus might have looked like here. These were incompatible realities. The dead had been buried on ancient ground, even on the ditch and bank, ghosts on top of ghosts.

Megalithic tombstones littered the graveyard.

megalithic-gravestone

I looked back along the cursus (never look back).

The sun dazzled me (never turn back).

Forward then, into the shadows, to the other corner of the cemetery, and a small walled off area filled with soil, a barrow made of earth dug to form fresh graves, a ramp for me to clamber up and over the wall.

Beyond, I found fake red flowers and sticky oasis at the foot of the wall, and a discarded wellington boot. Eclectic offerings.

fake-flowers

wellie-low-res

The cursus here cuts across a patch of dense woodland, which I pushed through. This was the wildwood of prehistory, but not prehistoric, despite the improvised wooden shacks and dens, lined with tarpaulin and willow benders that clung to a field boundary wall.

shack

I was in the trees for a minute at most, and then crossed a track, and a rough roadway, before passing some bollards and entering the lost section of the cursus, a place where it can no longer communicate to us via the medium of the cropmark.

I passed between the bollards and across the track which is essentially a long driveway to a garden centre, and passed along a lane, hemmed in on all sides by orange hedges punctuated by driveways with shiny cars and men in their boots removing, or stashing, boxes in their gaping rear ends. No-one looked at me as I consulted my map, took my photos, wrote my notes. As I moved from trees to tarmac, a murder of crows piped up from above, an ominous soundtrack accompanying my transition into the suburban cursus. Four or five white houses with oddly shaped gardens lie within this section of the cursus, while some straddle the ditch and bank, probably destroying these during construction.

Written on The Dean was the word slow: I took this entirely seriously and literally.

slow-low-res

conservation-area-low-res

This was a middle class zone that had the feel of being a Ballardian gated community without the gates. A sign said this is a Conservation Area although its very existence has not been efficacious to the preservation of prehistoric earthworks.

the-hedges-low-res

Within this section of my walk my movements were entirely constrained and controlled by the urban infrastructure. I did not feel like trying to climb over 8-foot-high hedges or walking through gardens, and felt reluctant to tell householders of the unique situation of their property. And so I moved through the cursus in a curious zig-zag, until I emerged onto a main road – Preston Road – which broke the conspiracy of silence of the estate I had been in. This road runs obliquely across the cursus route.

I noticed on the pavement a curious blue arrow, spray painted, and pointing away from a small drain rod point. By following the arrow I came across a proper big drain on the roadside.

blue-arrow-low-res

I squatted and peered down into the drain, almost as if trying to look back in time, and saw myself reflected back in the dirty water below, which somehow had a rippled surface. Deep down under ground, this drain, and the system of pipes that it fed into, had been inserted right into the middle of the cursus, ripping into the monument in a way that felt much more invasive than erecting houses or laying road surfaces. The drain offered a window into the guts of the monument, maybe even beneath the cursus, a barred window back in time. The past was down there and god knows what else.

drain-low-res

Cars roared past, and shaken, I continued my walk, down the driveway of a National Trust for Scotland property, Preston Mill. This visitor attraction is closed to the public over the winter but I walked down the red ash track, once again cutting across the line of the cursus at an unnatural angle. At a convenient point, I climbed over another wall, and began the final stage of my walk.

line-low-res

The final 500m or so of the cursus route was back in fields again, although the crop here was very different – not fresh healthy growth, but carnage – brussel sprout carnage. Two fields lay ahead of me, strewn with the carcasses of sprout plants, literally frozen in places despite the low cutting winter sun. The overall impression was of the aftermath of some apocalyptic Lovecraftian battle, with parts of Elder Ones and other unspeakable beings littering the fields, green tentacles and drooping fronds lightly crunching underfoot. Sprouting sprout stocks jutted from the frosty soil, with orange bubbles of sap spewing from their green musculature. The sprouts that were left behind were scattered around and felt like cold bullets.

sprouts-1

sprouts-2

I traipsed across the field, surrounded by yellowing leaves and infinite tiny cabbages, and the topography dipped ahead, until I reached a point where I could no longer see the far end of the field ahead where the cursus ends. A few steps up a steep slope and over a modern trackway raised by viewing position and once again the cursus route was clear. This kind of bodily and sensory engagement is what landscape phenomenology is all about, experiencing sensory restrictions which are not apparent on maps or air photos, and which may or may not relate to the intentions of the cursus builders. Stage-management of experience, or just one of those topographical variations one would expect to find along such a massive monument? Maybe the brassicas know but dead sprouts don’t tell tales.

blue-line

To my right loomed a sewage plant, just beyond the southern boundary of the cursus. Like the constant sound of cars roaring by, this industrial effluence treatment plant was a modern intrusion that was tough to ignore. It also reminded me again of the drain I had peered down earlier on, and that what lies beneath is invariably unrefined shit.

Finally, after 10 minutes of solid trudging east across these fields of sprouts, I reached the place where the cursus terminates per the cropmark evidence. This was an unremarkable place, overlooked by some farm buildings, and hemmed in by hedges which restricted visibility to the east. Looking back to the southwest, I saw Traprain Law, a major East Lothian landmark and a flat-topped hill that may have had sacred significance in the Neolithic. But I could play these games all day – what could I see, what couldn’t I see, what might or might not the significance of these solipsistic visibilities be?

terminus

Terminal view

Another selfish walk concluded, I wandered back to my car which I had parked near the western end of the cursus in the cemetery car park. I mentally compared what I had just done with my walk of 21 years ago where my scope had been so limited, an experience that started and stopped in a field, never daring to venture beyond the edges of the rural. This confinement ultimately led to boring and unsatisfactory observations about what this place might have been all about in the Neolithic.

google-air-photo-with-cursus-line

An urban cursus walk, with the rough route of the middle 1km of the cursus monument marked on a google earth background.

The walk I had just undertaken, over soil, grass, pathways, tarmac, and clambering over three walls (two more than I would normally ever countenance), following an ancient routeway that cuts across modern urban sensibilities, was an explicitly psychogeographical journey, and allowed an extended mediation on the use of land here in the ancient past and the contemporary present. This might not help us re-think the Neolithic, but it was an experience that allowed me to further reflect on my own practice and the limits of what we can say about the world as archaeologists.

 

Footnotes: repurposing the cursus?

Could the East Linton cursus be about to make a come-back? During 2016, a series of housing developments were proposed to the north and west of East Linton, including a new estate of over 200 homes in the field that the western Drylawhill end of the cursus is located in. This has caused concern in the village with a facebook site set up to combat ‘excessive expansion’ in the area.

A report written by Wallace Land Investment and Management, who own 34 hectares of this land, made a number of recommendations about the Drylawhill development – one of which is to ensure that no building work takes place on the route of the cursus monument. Instead, this should be left as a linear and broad green space. They note:

‘East Linton is part of an archaeological landscape. This includes [the] Scheduled Monument of the Drylawhill Cursus within the site. No development will take place on the Drylawhill Cursus site. The setting of this Scheduled Monument will be taken into account with development set back creating a buffer’.

This is connected to ‘ensuring access to important archaeological remains and provision of a new park’.

development-proposal-map

Wallace Land Indicative Development Framework: urban prehistoric entanglements abound. The linear cursus green space is a striking element of the proposal.

Is it possible that the demands of a society voracious for new housing and urban expansion can also accommodate prehistoric monuments in a positive way? Could we see the establishment here of a park called ‘The Cursus’, the establishment of an archaeological walking trail and expanded information for the local community, new and old, about the ancient time depth beneath their feet? How will the presence of the cursus and other prehistoric sites here be brought to the attention of people living here? The construction of housing here offers amazing challenges and opportunities.

Watch this space. I will be trying to explore how the cursus can be remade for 21st century urban living, and how we translate into modern terminology the remarkable Neolithic language of size.

 

 

 

 

Cythera

11 Dec

“Thousands of motorists each day travel along the M74 motorway, to the south of Glasgow, unaware of the fascinating 1000-year history emerging from the edge of the hard shoulder.”

cythera

The town of Hamilton in South Lanarkshire is underlain by a monumental landscape – a landscape of expansive views, an extravagant burial monument, ceremonial avenues, carefully arranged trees, a folly, an enormous high status dwelling place, and an earthen barrow.

An alternative geometry, a different world.

the-draughstman

Yet much of this is actually visible from the M74 motorway, if one cares to look to the side that is not dominated by Strathclyde Park loch, itself a place of deep time, with a Roman fort and its fancy bathhouse, and the abandoned mining village of Bothwellhaugh, destroyed in the 1960s and now located beneath the waters of the loch and a theme park. And of course, the motorway has buried secrets of its own, notably the ‘lost’ medieval village of Cadzow that was rediscovered recently during excavations by GUARD Archaeology Ltd as part of the interminable roadworks that have dominated this corner of Scotland for the last 18 months.

Despite the endless development and alteration, the submersion of this landscape beneath concrete and water, traces of all these past places survive against all of the odds, sometimes revealing themselves to us, other times having to be sought out.

Buildings in the now destroyed and flooded Bothwellhaugh village (from Abandoned Communites website)

Buildings in the now destroyed and flooded Bothwellhaugh village (from Abandoned Communities website)

 

Excavations on the edge of the M74 (c) GUARD Archaeology Ltd.

Excavations on the edge of the M74 (c) GUARD Archaeology Ltd.

Deep within this place of complex and entangled timelines riven by motorways and parks both retail, leisure and theme, we have the aforementioned monumental landscape, hidden in plain sight.

But it is not, as I cunningly led you to believe, a Neolithic monumental landscape that now lies beneath an urban centre in Lanarkshire. Rather, it is the remnants of a remarkable eighteenth and nineteenth century (AD!) designed landscape that was constructed for and by the Dukes of Hamilton.

Reconstruction of the Hamilton Palace designed landscape

‘Simulated reconstruction’ of the Hamilton Palace designed landscape (source)

At the heart of this landscape was an extravagant avenue of trees, which ran for 5 km south-north from the Chatelherault folly hunting lodge and the Dog Barrow to a large meander in the River Clyde. (When I was a teenager, I helped plant a tree when part of this cursus-like avenue was re-established.) Midway along its length was the huge Hamilton Palace (not the infamous nightclub of the same name, of which more below) and an extraordinary mausoleum. The Palace, according to the National Museums of Scotland ‘the grandest stately home in Britain’ and basically a repository for all sorts of flashy and expensive baubles, was demolished in 1927 after a lengthy period of abandonment, damage and financial decline caused by an ill-conceived undermining of the structure by coal mining which was the result of decisions made under the watch of the 10th Duke of Hamilton.

Hamilton Palace (from the Douglas archives)

Hamilton Palace (from the Douglas archives)

 

Air photo from 1946 showing the site of the Palace on the far left, and remnants of the avenue of trees © Crown Copyright 1946/MOD

Air photo from 1946 showing the site of the Palace on the far left, and the truncated avenue of trees © Crown Copyright 1946/MOD

The Mausoleum (as it is known locally) however survives to this day and is a major landmark in the motorway corridor, conveniently located just behind Hamilton Service Station. This crazy building has a high domed form, a square base, and supposedly contains the longest echo of any building in the world when the big front door is slammed (15 seconds apparently). The local Council describe this building as ‘one of the finest private tombs in the country, and …. now one of the town’s most famous buildings’. It is made of sandstone with bronze and marble fittings, and carved lions stand guard outside, but was not completed upon the death in 1852 of the egotist who commissioned it for himself, the 10th Duke. There are all sorts of weird and wonderful stories associated with this place and the Duke, the best one concerning an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus and corpse-leg-chopping (perhaps of the type witnessed in the film Lisa and the Devil). To be honest when I was a kid I thought the place looked like a strange stumpy willy.

Hamilton Mausoleum (c) S Lanarkshire Council

Hamilton Mausoleum (c) South Lanarkshire Council

 

This grand landscape is of course redolent of many things, not least an obscenely wealthy family of individuals inheriting land and money and with the time and inclination to make their mark, dominate the landscape, through its restructuring. This grand design was explicitly political, not just a way to ensure one’s friends and family had nice places to promenade while carrying those lacy umbrellas and wearing stupid hats, and hunt deer in the most benign and non-challenging fashion. Aspects of the design ensured that as the nineteenth century proceeded most of this palaver was screened off from the locals who lived in altogether more modest shacks or worked in the burgeoning coal mines and quarries that were springing up on the Duke’s land. How ironic that the most blingy thingy in this landscape, the Palace, was undermined by the industrial revolution with mining pursed because of the attractiveness of New Money to Old Money.

I don’t need to tell you that these kinds of processes – monumental landscape change by an elite to maintain political prestige – is probably what Stonehenge was all about too. After all, Stonehenge itself was literally a mausoleum. But enough prehistory.

The altogether less grand Hamilton Palace nightclub

The altogether less grand Hamilton Palace nightclub

Perhaps it is fitting that the way that this spectacular landscape and building complex is best remembered today at its northern extent, as it kisses the motorway, is in the form of a retail park and a night club with a dodgy reputation.

Designed landscape of consumerism and commuterism (c) S Lanarkshire Council

The new designed landscape, of consumerism and commuterism (c) South Lanarkshire Council

retail-park

The Hamilton Palace Grounds Retail Park is at the centre of another kind of designed landscape, this one created for everyone, not just the elites, but just as underpinned by money, not inherited money, but consumerism. The Park was ‘opened in 1999 and comprised 175,000 square feet of retail space consisting of 17 units’ (source) which is all very exciting but about as distinctive as a golf ball in a big bag of golf balls that has been opened in the dark.

Thankfully, the fringes of the retail park do contain some interesting places and structures, such as the aforementioned Mausoleum which is a short walk through a nice park next to Homebase. And another gem can be found here too: a stone circle sculpture by Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006), which is an articulation in concrete of his poem Cythera. This is sandwiched between a five aside football place, McDonalds and a dual carriageway and was constructed in 2000, a year after the shops opened.

first-view-low-res

This is an organic place made of inorganic materials – paving slabs, concrete blocks, light fittings – and at the centre of a network of pathways, an island. It is surrounded by, for want of a better word, shrubberies, and some trilithon like stone benches.

2nd-view-low-res

The words of the 1965 poem are written across a series of monolithic concrete uprights set in a circle, interspersed with leaves, signifying pauses.

the-poem

Cythera

Air

in blue

leaf

blue bark

and blue leaf

a leaf

a barque

a blue leaf

a barque in leaf-blue

aire

 

words

This is a place of wonder and calm beauty amidst the car and football sounds and the whiff of beef patty in the air.

It offers a chance to pause, and reflect.

More, it is a provocation to look up and see where you really are, transported back in time to a time where there were no units, no motorways, and the only Comets were the ones that flew across the sky.

the-view-up-the-avenue

Because Cythera stands in the avenue, on the Duke’s land.

Because Cythera stands aligned with Chatelherault: the folly and the barrow.

Because Cythera sits not near the motorway, but near the river.

the-leaf

Sometimes the past intrudes.

Sometimes the geometry that structured the world once returns to the surface. Or rather that geometry cannot be hidden or will not let itself be concealed.

the-light

Cythera released –

the goddess of love reborn – 

barque in leaf-blue –

a temple to sanity amidst the cathedral of consumerism –

landscape by design.

 

Sources: the quotation that starts this blog comes from the GUARD webpage about the M74 Cadzow excavations (link above) while the cover of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s book of the poem Cythera was sourced from this website. Links to most of the images have been included in the captions, but special mention for information and imagery associated with Hamilton Palace and grounds goes to a webpage hosted by the old RCAHMS (now HES) on the history of this place – this includes the amazing simulated air photo I have included above. Finally, I would like to thank Gavin MacGregor for identifying this urban stone circle for me.

Dog Barrow

2 Oct

I walked towards the hunting lodge with a sense of foreboding. Ahead of me, an impossible building crowned the horizon, its window eyes staring back at me through the autumnal fog.

the-approach-low-res

A solitary figure appeared from nowhere and I followed him, seeking safety in numbers yet also doubting the trustworthiness of this wiry phantom. He led me to my intended destination – a Gothic secret cemetery. Ahead of me, almost completely shrouded by trees and sun-fog, I was able to glimpse the mound for the first time.

the-cemetery-entrance-low-res

My guide disappeared, of course, and I was left alone in this pet cemetery. I was able to push through a curtain of greenery, and found the pathway leading to my earthen destination, which now stood in plain sight.

approaching-the-barrow-low-res

The Dog Barrow.

the-barrow-revealed-low-res

Enclosed by metal and stone, crowned by grass. This is where the Duke buried his hunting dogs. Muddy footprints on the side of the Barrow caused me to shiver – who had walked upon this mound?

cage-and-wall-low-res

It is said when the beasts went into the mound, the other dogs howled and the white cattle pawed the ground. Others say that when the Barrow was visited by a local veterinary surgeon, a ball of fire rose from the mound heating the faces of all who saw it.

the-sun-captured

The parterre gardens cannot disguise this place for what it is. It is impossible to completely hide the dark history of this places with pretty trees, ornate shrubs and immaculate lawns. This is no normal folly. Those hounds hunted and were hunted, hounded to death.

baroque-low-res

And lo – a black dog still  walks these lawns and paths, hunting still those who come to enjoy the gardens and the hunting lodge. The existence of this place today depends on the pursuit of leisure and the forgetfulness of society. And yet when I last stepped into the hunting lodge itself, I felt sick because of the unnatural angles that the steps and floors are arranged. Some things cannot be hidden.

promenade-low-res

It must be acknowledged that the architect, the creator of this place for hunting dogs, the designer of this landscape, has done his work all too well. The draughtsman’s secrets are secure, occult principles embedded in the bricks and trees and grass and bones of the land.

the-draughstman

Dog Barrow. Hidden in plain sight.

 

The Dog Barrow is a mound next to Chatelherault, near Glasgow, an ornate ‘hunting lodge’ cum folly that was designed by William Adam and built in the 1730s. As a child, on visits to the country park surrounding this fanciful building, I was told that the mysterious mound next to the stables and kennels was a barrow built over the Duke of Hamilton’s dead hunting dogs. 

 

 

 

The last days of a stone circle Part 1

22 Sep

In prehistory, occasionally, stone circles were dismantled. Perhaps they had come to the end of their useful life. Perhaps they had become taboo or problematic places. Maybe the stones were required elsewhere for another monument. The dismantlement of a stone circle would have been no small task, akin in labour requirements to the construction of such a monument, and it may have been more difficult to remove monoliths from their sockets than it was to place them there in the first place. As Mike Parker Pearson has noted in this recent post for The Conversation, the removal of standing stones was sometimes a precursor to the creation of a ‘second hand monument’ using the same stones in a different arrangement in another place. This would be no trivial task, physically or spiritually.

The discovery of a monument dubbed ‘Bluestonehenge’ by the River Avon presents one such example. Here, a 10m diameter circle or oval setting of standing stones was dismantled towards the end of the Neolithic, with the removed bluestones perhaps being moved to, and erected at, Stonehenge itself. Mike Parker Pearson (MPP) in the aforementioned blog post has suggested that megaliths in south Wales were dismantled and transported to Salisbury Plain, once again to build Stonehenge. And it’s not just about Stonehenge (it never is). Stuart Piggott identified a stone circle had once stood within the henge monument of Cairnpapple Hill, West Lothian, which was subsequently taken down, with the stones used to build a large Bronze Age burial cairn within the henge. Although others have since argued that the holes Piggott found once held timber posts, not standing stones (notable Gordon Barclay and myself in the past), it seems Piggott may well have been correct. Josh Pollard convinced me recently that the section drawings published by Piggott were indeed stone sockets, not postholes.

At my own excavations at Forteviot Henge 1 in 2008-2009 (part of the University of Glasgow’s SERF Project), Gordon Noble and I found at least one broken standing stone associated with a Late Neolithic cremation cemetery and we have argued that a stone circle was dismantled here before the henge was constructed. The stones may then have been broken up, some ending up in the henge ditch.

broken standing stone at Forteviot

Broken standing stone at Forteviot (c) SERF Project

Why go to this effort? MPP has argued at this summer’s Hay Festival, “Why dismantle an original monument? We’re wondering if it actually might have been a tomb with a surrounding stone circle which they dismantled. If that were the case they were basically carting the physical embodiment of their ancestors to re-establish somewhere else. Their idea of packing their luggage was rather more deep and meaningful than our own. They are actually moving their heritage, and these stones represent the ancestors. They are actually bringing their ancestors with them.”

We can, therefore, find physical evidence for the removal of standing stones and the staged destruction of stone circles. And we have suggestions from MPP, Alison Sheridan, Colin Richards, Gordon Noble and others that there was a mortuary element to this process. But much less ink has been spilled on the process leading up to the dismantlement of the stone circle. How would such processes have been mediated? What rituals had to be performed to ensure the safe transformation of the stone circle in such a dramatic way? How much access was granted to the process and what did people think as they saw the stones, as MPP puts it, carted away for another purpose in another place?

The Sighthill stone circle in Glasgow offers a wonderful opportunity to reflect on these questions because it was dismantled in April 2016. I was fortunate enough to be allowed access to the plans for dismantlement and invited to observe the process itself, and in the run up to dismantlement visited the stones obsessively to document their final weeks and days. This was a powerful and emotional experience, and I got a sense that most who were involved in this process took it very seriously, so much so that the dismantlement of the monument had the quality of a solemn ritual rather than a straightforward demolition job. This post and the next one tell the inside story of the last days of Glasgow’s stone circle.

[For the back story to the stone circle and its dismantlement, see one of my previous blog posts on the topic and Duncan Lunan’s excellent book The Stones and the Stars].

British Arch mag article front page

From British Archaeology magazine, July 2014

Early in 2016 it became clear that the stone circle was to be removed. Demolition and landscaping work in the Sighthill area began to increase as early as January. This prompted me to start to visit the stone circle and the surrounding, collapsing landscape, on a much more regular basis than previously. In fact, I visited nine times between 29th January and demolition day, 7th April, with a frenzy of visits in the final month of the monument’s life.

visits table

I first became aware that the long-delayed landscaping of Sighthill Park was actually happening during a regular field recording visit to the standing stones with Helen Green on 29th January, where we also bumped into dowser extraordinaire Grahame Gardner and big crane expert Martin Conlon in heavy rain. As well as muddy tire tracks cutting through the park’s sickly grass, we saw a large strip of land that had been cleared of vegetation and a foot of topsoil, creating a rough roadway from the bottom of the park up to within about 10m of the stone circle itself. This cursus-like incision into the land appeared to threaten the standing stones with its violent intent, and signaled the beginning of the end.

the stones and the road low res

road low res with annotation

Around that time Glasgow City Council began to publish information on the progress of the re-development of Sighthill and this included hints on the fate of the stone circle, such as this entry from their Spring 2016 Sighthill Regeneration Newsletter.

Extract from Spring newsletter

A ‘second-hand monument’ was to be the outcome of this megalith dismantlement, echoing prehistoric practices.

I followed this visit with another a month later, this time part of a circular walk from the city centre. This time, the sun split the sky, and it was clear that little had happened since the last visit.

view from the bridge low res

I walked up and down the machine cutting, staring at the freshly revealed materiality of this park, exposing the fact that the hills of this place were created by large-scale landscaping using industrial material and domestic rubble.

road surface looking upfill

Tiles. Bricks. Metal and plastic pipes and tubes. Aggregates. Misshapen concrete forms. Wood. String. Bones.

bricks low res

Rubber tubes emerged from the ground like intestines, or pieces of surgical equipment.

rubble and pipe

I even found fragments of granite and marble gravestones.

gravestone and tile

This industrial incision into the park and the exposure of its Glaswegian gut demonstrated that the park was made of Old Glasgow itself, the living and the dead, the factory and the tenement.

There followed more and more visits, fumbling around for some final truth related to the stone circle and the park, feverishly recording as much as I could while Sighthill fell apart around me. I visited again with Helen on 11th March, once again in the rain. The park itself was being torn apart.

the park ripped apart

Yet the stone circle endured, the Forbes’s memorial stone in the circle still clearly maintained with new offerings and attachments.

forbes stone low res

New graffiti appeared, overlapped with once dripping, now congealed, red wax. E M I T

EMIT

Fire around the circle exposed further deposition. Business as usual, but with a new urgency. More and more visitors leaving their mark on the circle, in defiance of its certain fate, because of its imminent removal. Wringing every last drop out of the megaliths and this place before its too late. Because soon it will be too late.

burning low res

This was evident when I visited again a few days later, this time to attend a meeting I had been invited to, in a series of Kafkaesque portacabins. These were the temporary offices of VHE, the company who got the contract to do the first phase of landscaping ahead of the new Sighthill development. This huge £11 million task involves removing loads of smelly industrial waste, knocking things down….and removing the Sighthill stone circle. The meeting was attended by Council and VHE staff and architects; I had no influence in matters, and was there as an observer only. All sorts of plans and big pieces of paper were laid out on the table in the meeting room, and I was given a cup of coffee. I was impressed by how seriously they took the fate of the stone circle, with one eye of course on not getting any bad publicity, but also a genuine desire to treat the standing stones and the Forbes’ family memorial element of the monument with respect.

VHE corridor low res

After the meeting I walked around Sighthill, a landscape suffering major transformation, with fences being erected all over the place, pathways closed, and buildings abandoned and demolished. In order for Sighthill to reborn, it would have to die.

Sighthill Youth Centre

sun low res

Four days later, I was back again, for the final equinoxal event to be held in the stone circle, on 2oth March. Jan and I went for a walk through the development area, and the huge and austere Sighthill cemetery, with the dust of demolition never far away, even on a Sunday.

cemetery view

demolition 20th March low res

As we approached the stone circle, it was, amazingly, a hive of activity, something I had personally never seen before. The event here was organised by the Glasgow Arts Trail, and brought together residents, friends of the stone circle and of course the man behind the standing stones, Duncan Lunan. The event focused on a series of paper pottery kilns constructed within the stone circle by artist Kevin Andrew Morris, with clay objects made by local school kids fired within the kilns.

solstice overview

solstice activity

solstice bike

I was lucky enough during the afternoon to meet Jack Forbes, the guy whose wife and mother have their ashes scattered within the stone circle and who are memorialised by the offerings placed on and around the central standing stone. It was humbling to meet him, a man who has probably been to the stone circle more than anyone else in recent years, and who was pragmatic about its removal. I also got the chance to speak once again to dowser and geomancer Grahame Gardner and recorded a short interview with him.

Later in the day, after I had gone, Duncan addressed the crowds and the story of the stones was, I am sure, told once again. Perhaps for the last time. Certainly, the last time the story of the stones would be told within the stones.

scc-20th-march-2016-by-llunan-169

Duncan addresses the crowd. Photo by Linda Lunan and sourced from http://www.duncanlunan.com/thestonesandthestars.asp

And so the final ritual played itself out with music, fire, laughter and probably some nostalgia and sadness too. Because reality had to be faced. These were now the last days of the stone circle, and the fences would be going up soon.The stone circle had 18 days, or 430 or so hours, left in its current form and location and inclination.

img_5359

A climax was being reached

dowsed in smoke and fire and music and love

smeared with urbanisation and tears and wet wet clay

hanging on by its fingertips

ready for change

to become something new

something different.

 

To be continued.

 

 

 

 

Houses upon houses

30 May

There has been a lot of media and social media reaction to the new planning legislation proposed in the recent Queen’s speech, namely the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill. This Bill appears to be based on the premise that archaeological evaluations and other similar mitigatory processes which happen after planning permission has been granted are in some cases holding up development, or being exploited for financial ends, perhaps even regarded by some as frivolous. And so the idea is that this stage of the process could be by-passed in order to deliver the government’s aim to “deliver one million new homes, whilst protecting those areas that we value most including the Green Belt” – and creating lots of new jobs / apprenticeships. Blah blah blah of course they would say that, maybe even with a straight face.

Anyway, this new piece of legislation appears very much to be an attempt to bypass normal planning requirements in England such as dealing properly with any archaeological sites, the rationale I suppose being that archaeological work is expensive and thus gets in the way of money-making enterprises like house-building and economic development. The outcry from the archaeological profession has been loud, with for instance a petition against the legislation having over 15,500 signatories at the time of writing (30/05/16), and lots of angry tweeting going on. The petition has the rather hyperbolic opening line:

Britain has some of the most amazing and diverse archaeological remains in the world, however the new Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill announced today puts all of this at risk, leading to the destruction of our past for good.

In my opinion this kind of statement plays to the view that many have of archaeology as a profession, one of conservatism, complaining, protesting, often for motivations that seem closely aligned to protection for protection’s sake and knowledge gathering for knowledge’s sake. (I have tweeted sentiments to this effect previously regarding protests as varied as those against the Stonehenge tunnel and the housing development near Old Oswestry Fort.)

More balanced  and constructive responses are typified by that of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) which raised concerns for the viability of the heritage sector as a whole and the jobs that come with it, dependent as it is on developer-funded work, although this sector has diversified a lot in recent years. And recent media coverage appears to suggest that if anything the job market for archaeologists can’t keep up with demand, although whether this equates to floods of new good well-paid sustainable jobs is another matter (lets just say it probably doesn’t).

On the one hand I am worried that this legislation – which will apply only to England – will indeed mean the loss and destruction of countless archaeological sites in green belt locations and peri-urban landscapes. On the other hand, perhaps as archaeologists we sometimes fight the wrong battles. We should not necessarily see our profession being defined by developer-funded work alone (unless of course it is a news story about Stonehenge) for instance. These are real-world problems with very real implications for the historic environment and landscape change.

I think we need another strategy. We need to accept that as archaeologists we are part of an economy that thrives on eternal growth (a fictitious concept of course but that is the capitalist fantasy land we currently live in) and this includes always finding more things for the ‘construction industry’ to build. This is all the more pressing given that there is a housing crisis in the UK, with expectations of continual population rise in coming years from various different drivers.

Therefore, as archaeologists, we cannot just throw our hands up in horror about the crude weighting of value we see before us (economic growth v archaeological record) and fall back on out-dated notions of conservatism and activism. Rather, we need to make the case more strategically that heritage professionals can add so much value to developments and construction projects that the country as a whole cannot afford not to make sure archaeology is taken seriously as part of the planning process at all times. I’m afraid this doesn’t just mean: ‘please take note of the archaeology, it’s really interesting and we could really, really do with another box of Grooved Ware or Green Glaze in our museum store room, plus I don’t think we have quite enough grey literature yet’. Heritage and the past is not inherently valuable – being old does not necessarily equate with value for money or even public interest – and so we live in an age where ‘added value’ is required in our words and actions.

And so what I am suggesting is that we should not bemoan the Government’s actions or actively try to derail them with the trying to maintain the status quo and promote sensationalist petitions, but rather use this an opportunity to make the point that heritage professionals can and do work with developers of all sizes to add value to their projects rather than cost them money, hold them up and generally get in the way (which, like it or not, appears to be how Government ministers view our profession, and probably a lot of develops and businesses do too).

Developers need to be persuaded of the benefits to them (economically, reputationally, and perhaps also in terms of their own community engagement aspirations) to engage with the archaeology, deal with it adequately, and then make use of this for their own promotional purposes etc. This has worked well for instance with BAA and Framework Archaeology relating to Heathrow T5 construction, and just about the only time London’s Crossrail makes the news in positive terms is related to archaeological discoveries.

 

Cowie a walk map

I want to make this point using my own modest example. Last week, I visited a small housing estate on the edge of the Stirling village of Cowie. Here, the construction of houses in the late 1990s allowed a previously unknown Neolithic site of national importance to be discovered and fully excavated. The discovery of rare examples of houses and farming evidence (via a fine assemblage of quernstones) at Chapelfield, Cowie, has added much to our understanding of Neolithic settlement in Scotland, and the site is referred to in the literature frequently. However, I would argue that value was added to the lives of those living in this new housing estate by other means than traditional archaeological outputs, namely by the ways that the results of the excavation were used – in street names, for instance, but also in the co-production of a prehistorically themed children’s play park. Much more could have been done, but this was not just a cut and shut operation which cost the developer plenty-much cash and time with the only minor outcome a footnote in academic books and papers, and a couple of boxes in a storeroom.

General street view low res

The discovery of a Neolithic site here was a surprise. The housing development was proposed by Ogilvie Builders Ltd in the mid-1990s, and GUARD, a commercial archaeology company (at that time based within the University of Glasgow) carried out an initial evaluation. It was thought that there was an Iron Age ditch in the field where the houses were to be built, but evaluation trenches revealed something altogether different – and much, much older: ‘a series of structures defined by stake-holes and a number of pits containing Neolithic pottery’ (John Atkinson 2002, 139). So a really big excavation was carried out, paid for by the developers, Historic Scotland and the regional authority.

Oops. Source is Atkinson 2002. No offence meant.

Oops. Source of the images and information is Atkinson 2002.

 

Excavations at Cowie in 1995 (source: Atkinson 2002).

Excavations at Cowie in 1995 (source: Atkinson 2002).

The outcome was the excavation of a complex Neolithic settlement which included a range of oval and round stake-built structures (with few parallels in Northern Britain). These dated to both the Early and Late Neolithic. Associated with different phases of activity were a series of pits which contained broken quernstones, axe fragments, Arran pitchstone blades, charcoal and Neolithic Carinated Ware pottery. It could be argued that the deposits places in these pits were in part the detritus of everyday life, although these may have been deposited in line with social rules about rubbish, taboo or rituals. Whatever. I’m not getting into the whole Neolithic pit argument here. A few pits that provided Mesolithic radiocarbon dates suggests that this location was used at least in passing up to 8000-10000 years ago. Wow.

 

Today? It is a quiet suburb (if a village can have a suburb), and even on a sunny Monday afternoon, the only people I saw walking about were pushing prams. As I walked around the three streets that define this small estate, I also saw a succession of white vans going back and forth, while occasional chatter from back gardens floated in the feeble breeze. There seemed nothing exceptional about this place – except the deep time. On and off this had been a place for people to live, eat, drink, sleep, and walk around with babies, for at least 5500 years.

Neolithic village low res

These were houses upon houses. Paths upon paths. Beds upon beds. Kitchens above hearths. Dinner plates over pottery bowls. Loaves of bread over quernstone-powdered barley. Toast over carbonised wheat. An awesome example of what archaeology can tell us about the seemingly most mundane and normal of places.

houses upon houses map

It must have been decided that the prehistoric discoveries here were worthy of marking in street names (and I have reflected on the power of these in a previous blog post) and it has been done very nicely here: Flint Crescent. Ochre Crescent. Roundhouse. The latter road, the one into the estate, being afforded a single word that I could find on only two signs. This contrasts with the fate of the Neolithic timber cursus excavated during housing construction in the 1980s at Bannockburn, just 2 miles to the west: remnants of this huge monument lie beneath houses, tarmac and a bed and breakfast, but it has been completely forgotten.

Roundhouse 2 low res

Roundhouse 1 low res

Ochre low res

Flint Cres low res

These street names are quirky and nice although it doesn’t mean that the people who moved into these houses had any sense of the deeply engrained ancient use of this particular place or the significance of the unusual street names. I have suggested before that archaeological discoveries made during housing developments should be made more widely known to those seeking to buy, information included with the house schedule for example. Street names alone are probably not enough to convey this information.

During my walk, I came across a blank road sign offered a tempting opportunity for me to come up with a less ambiguously Neolithic place name, but my chalk would not make a mark on its glossy black surface.

Suggestions welcome....

Suggestions welcome….

However, after the houses had been built, a more tangible and exciting possibility emerged – the creation of a children’s play park with a prehistoric theme. The need for a park was actually prompted by the sad death of a child by drowning in a pond next to the houses. The designers of the park, Judi Legg and Mike Hyatt, drew inspiration from the Neolithic archaeology that had been found when the houses were being constructed. This led to local children being asked to actively help design the park in a prehistoric style:

Local children paid a visit to a pre-history park, Archaeolink, and many of the ideas they got from this visit as well as information about the pre-historic Cowie site itself have been built into the design of the park, which includes shelters, cooking and seating areas, and a raised beach, as well as mounds, tunnels, slides and a climbing wall. The children’s involvement in the design development has meant that the design concept which underpins the site layout contains elements which the children understand and which feel familiar to them. 

Playground photo 1

Playground photo 2

Playground photo 3

Children also helped choose and plant trees and hedgerows in and around the park, which was officially opened in 2006. It is regarded as an example of good practice by the Free Play Network because of the freedom to roam afforded to kids, although I would suggest the co-production of the park form, and the inspiration of the prehistoric archaeology found here, are also wonderful and innovative elements of this park.

Flint Crescent low res

As I said before, this is a modest example, where archaeological evaluation and intervention during the planning and development process has resulted in amazing archaeological discoveries. But there is much more to it – the very fabric of the housing estate and the identity of those who live(d) there is entangled in street (place) names, while the prehistoric discoveries here eventually helped inspire children’s play facilities and some amazing educational opportunities for local kids. Of course, I am under no illusions that most folk who live there now may well know nothing about any of the prehistoric pre-history of where they live, and I would imagine much more could be done to inform, amaze and inspire the local community. But the information is there, the work has been done, and none of this could have happened without the active collaboration of archaeologists, developer and local authority – potentially a relationship under threat in England from the Tory Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill.

If we are to be taken seriously as a sector, and want to really impact on how the planning process works, we need to be proactive and not reactive. We need to make the positive case for responsible, sustainable and meaningful engagements with the archaeological record during the planning and development process. We need to argue for the added value that heritage and deep-time depths can bring to new suburban communities. We need to make the point that the construction industry will thrive and benefit from working with heritage professionals precisely because of all that expensive and time-consuming ancient stuff that is out there under the ground waiting to be found. And we need to acknowledge that landscapes change, that society has needs, and that many aspects of the historic environment will, eventually, be swept away.

In other words there is a business case to be made for treating the past as an investment in the future – and I would argue this case will do more to ‘save our archaeology’ than any petition you care to sign.

Neolithic village fake sign low res

Sources and acknowledgements: I have mentioned and linked to my sources in the text above. For context, this post was written between 25-30th May 2016. The excavation report for Chapelfield, Cowie is freely available online – full details are: John Atkinson 2002 Excavation of a Neolithic occupation site at Chapelfield, Cowie, Stirling, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 132, 139-192. The first two playground photos were sourced from the wildside.scot website (link above) and this was also the source of the extended quotation used in my post, while the third photo was posted by the Free Play Network and attributed to Stirling Council Play Services.