In my first post looking at art and the Cochno Stone, I considered the 5,000 year-old tradition of using this domed sandstone surface as a canvas for various creative acts in the form of shallow scratches, deeply incised hollows and painted lines. These surface alterations are ambiguous in meaning, each with their own aesthetic qualities and values, either reducing or adding to the monument, all of them inspiring passionate opinions.
In this second post, I would like to consider the art of the Cochno Stone from another perspective, through the medium of sketches and drawings, specifically those drawn from life (ie before the stone was buried in 1965) over a period between the 1880s and 1930s. No doubt there will be some who will argue that some of these drawings are not really works of art and creativity. For instance, can we regard ‘measured’ depictions of something, technical drawings as part of an archaeological study, as being creative or simply reductive? And what is the archaeological value of studying archive material or newspaper clippings with old drawings when we know with the benefit of hindsight that the drawings are either inaccurate, or incomplete, or both? More fundamentally – and this gets to the roots of much debate on the nature of archaeological narratives – to what extent are these objective renderings of the Cochno Stone? Is such a thing even possible? There are layers of art entangled with art here, the art of art, about art, for art.
Regardless of the motivation, medium, and intended audience, I would argue that there is a deeply artistic strand running through the history of attempts to capture the spirit of Cochno and I hope that this story of four decades worth of drawing and sketching the Cochno Stone will persuade you of this. Before getting to the real stuff, however, I want to reflect a little more on the art of depicting rock-art, and this also has resonance for part 3 of this sequence of posts, which will focus on art inspired by the Cochno Stone, so please take notes! 😉
The art of rock-art
Prehistoric rock-art lends itself well to contemporary variations in unusual locations, with the simple form and shallow depth endlessly replicatable. Wherever it occurs, if offers a juxtaposition, a curious time slip. Palaeolithic rock-art – cave paintings to you and me – work especially well in this respect, with otherwordly effects as standard.
More abstract Neolithic and Bronze Age rock-art works is equally portable. This lovely image is in Umea, Sweden, photographed by Lorna Richardson (and reproduced here with permission). This was part of a campaign by the local authorities to promote cycling and draws on the local rock-art repertoire which is a little less abstract than the Scottish equivalents.
Many artists have been inspired by the simplicity and concentricity of cup-and-ring marks. Gavin MacGregor wrote about one such artist, Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864-1933), a landscape painter who lived most of his life in and around Kirkcudbright in southwest Scotland, and one of the famous ‘Glasgow boys’. Gavin notes that Hornel consorted with antiquarians and was himself a keen amateur archaeologist, and as it happens, Kirkcudbright happens to be a real hotspot for rock-art (as well as being the location of some shooting for The Wicker Man movie).
MacGregor, and the biographer of Hornel, Bill Smith, both draw attention to the echoes of cup-and-ring marks in the depiction of the moon in painting such as The Brownie of Blednoch (1889) and The Druids: bringing in the mistletoe (1890, with George Henry). Gavin notes the former (see above) is dominated by a ‘Gallovoidian shepherd beast, beard of circles and cup-marked eyes … manifestation of the living rock….’. Hornel went as far as to search for new cup-and-ring marked stones and some of his discoveries were recorded in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
It is in the work of the polymath-antiquarian-artist-archaeologist that we find the first recorded artwork associated with the Cochno Stone, with the earliest engagements mediated by various characters of this ilk as well as clergymen. The earliest drawings we have of rock-art in the pages of antiquarians books of the nineteenth century emerged form such a melting pot of influences and interests, blurring the lines between art and objective record, in fascinating ways. Hornel was himself involved in the process of the creation of a series of black and white engravings of Kirkcudbrightshire rock-art, which MacGregor notes were collaborations between a small team and were based on photographs taken of casts made from rock-art panels.
This is a period when the first drawings as a matter of record were being produced for cup-and-ring marks, and there was no rulebook, no style guide, no best practice conventions to follow. Artists used licence and produced evocative and memorable images, which often used unusual perspectives and were, for a time, concerned with context and not metrical accuracy.
It was also around this time that a young Ludovic Mann became obsessed with cup-and-rings marks near the rural family holiday home, according to Katinka Dalglish, an obsession that would reach its feverish conclusion on the surface of the Cochno Stone to which we now turn. Before going any further in this post, I must also offer the debt of gratitude I owe to Jim Mearns for doing much of the archive research which underpins the history of early drawings of Cochno.
Sketches and symbols
Several drawings or sketches of the Cochno Stone were undertaken before 1900, each with a very different style, scope and ambition. (A cast was also taken although the nature and fate of this remains unknown.) These wonderfully capture the emergent understanding of Cochno, presenting only symbols that were initially visible, sometimes selectively so. The gradual reveal of the removal of grass from the stone was played out in these artistic renderings and associated accounts.
A partial drawing, defined within a box, was published with the first detailed account of the Cochno Stone, by Rev James Harvey, in 1889. This may well be the earliest drawing we have of any part of the Cochno stone, certainly the first to be published, and it focuses on the only area of the stone cleared when Harvey encountered it. This is a rather plain drawing, with cupmarks represented as dots and dashes, and lacking depth. Harvey himself did the drawings in 1887, but also took rubbings, which he was then able to use to correct his field sketches. The end product has a sense of immediacy, a work in progress, megalithic notations in a sketchbook. Looking at this sketch now for me is slightly disorientating as east is to the top, but is a welcome break from the tyranny of the north. However, this is also a drawing of some authority, having been published in that august organ the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (PSAS).
The wonderful little sketch below was drawn by another minister, the Rev Robert Munro at the latest in 1890. It shows edited highlights of what must have been visible at that time. Two slightly different versions of this drawing were reproduced, the earliest, remarkably, in The Illustrated London News on 6th September 1890. A slightly amended version was then included in John Bruce’s History of Old Kilpatrick (1893). (A further version of this was reproduced in Harry Bell’s 1980s book Glasgow’s Secret Geometry but wrongly attributed to William Donnelly.)
When compared with what we know of Cochno now from our excavation of 2016, some of this drawing is quite fanciful, but it is also an image that has real depth. (The version published by Bruce even has the feel of a rubbing, a nice observation made by Grahame Gardner.) However, unlike Harvey’s drawing, there is no scale here, thus giving the drawing a sense of being more of an artistic and interpretive depiction rather than a document of precise record. This is perhaps the case, as elements of this depiction of the stone are spatially impossible, with symbols simply in the wrong place relative to one another and so this is an image of cup-and-ring mark density, not accuracy. The use of a sharply defined diagonal line allows symbols from another part of the stone – in this case the south-western extent, several metres from the other symbols to be shown in the same drawing, making this a sort of ‘Cochno Stone greatest hits’ compilation.
This emphasis on selected bits of the Cochno Stone was countered by the clearing of vegetation, and drawing of the whole monument, by William Donnelly in the mid-1890s, working with John Bruce. Illustrator Donnelly’s drawing of the whole of the stone was published in PSAS in 1896, but a slightly earlier and different version was printed in an edition of Bruce’s History of Old Kilpatrick and includes the artist’s signature and the date – 1895. The slightly earlier drawing, the upper of the two versions depicted below, is notable for its inclusion of a north arrow and some landscape detail that are inexplicably absent from the more widely circulated ‘authoritative’ PSAS version.
Donnelly himself was an interesting character, and his illustrations showed an equally bold approach to cup-and-ring mark symbols found elsewhere.
His depiction of symbols of these hoax items found during his excavations (with John Bruce, him again) have echoes of what he saw and drew at Cochno just a few years previously, and suggest a hankering towards the weird and esoteric which he was also able to satisfy at Cochno with his recording of a cross in a circle and two four-toe footprints, neither typical prehistoric motifs. On the cusp of archaeological professionalism, but with visibility and access to archaeological sites still somewhat limited, at the turn of the century such drawings had to be taken on trust.
Yet the rise in interest and participation in rambling and hikes in the early decades of the twentieth century allowed less authoritative accounts of archaeological monuments to be composed and disseminated. The only two sketches of the Cochno Stone that I know of from between 1900 and 1965 were both drawn by non-professional archaeologists.
The earliest of these was published, firstly in the Glasgow Evening Times newspaper in 1909, and then in the book Some Sylvan Scenes near Glasgow by T C F Brotchie in 1910.
This lovely sketch captures a very small fragment of the Cochno Stone focused on a ‘dumb-bell’ motif, sketched at the end of a good ‘Saturday afternoon ramble’. This is a truly artistic rendering, taken from an oblique angle rather than depicting the plan view, with no scale, no north arrow, no conventions – but a sufficiency of dynamism. The rings around the cup have a real sense of mobility, almost as if the symbols were spinning in front of Brotchie’s eyes. There is also a synechdotal quality to this sketch, a gutter running off the right-hand side of the drawing hinting at more to be discovered (and drawn) beyond the frame.
Such dynamism is also evident in another Cochno Stone drawing, one which I have reproduced before, notably in the excavation summary report. Ludovic Mann’s audacious attempt to explain the cosmological meaning of each ring of a cup-and-ring mark complex is as mind-blowing now as it must have been when published in the late 1930s as part of a consideration of the Knappers site he had been excavating in nearby Clydebank.
This ‘dialectogram’ (for the wonderful work of Mitch Miller is one of the best parallels I can think of here) is an amalgam of all the other Cochno drawings to that date. There is convention. There is artistic licence. There is narrative. There is a focus on the giant cup-and-ring mark motifs on the upper reaches of the Cochno Stone that also featured prominently in the drawings of Munro, Harvey and Donnelly. There is passion. And there is wonder.
And there are more questions than answers. Always more questions than answers.
All of these Cochno Stones drawings, produced over a period of forty years, offer a series of dynamic and creative attempts to document and make sense of the cup-and-ring marks, using the conventions and styles of their time and channeled through the personal motivations and passions of the artist-recorder. In their own ways, each of these drawing is a version of the Cochno Stone that captures some of the character of the rock and its symbols and taken together they form a compelling biography of this place, another chapter of a story that began to be written (before there was writing) 5,000 years ago.
What I especially find alluring about this collection of drawings is that they were drawn from life – by actually standing at the site and looking at the stone. This is where Morris’s much reproduced drawing of the stone falls short – it was cobbled together from the plans by Harvey and Donnelly, and some photographs from the 1930s. While it was (until our photogrammetric and laser survey of 2016) the most comprehensive drawing of the Cochno Stone produced, it creaks at the edges with the slightest bit of scrutiny especially when compared with earlier, more dynamic, drawings. It is clinical, transactional, flat.
Morris, a solicitor, was a lateral thinker. To really start to make sense of rock-art, concentric thinking is required.
One of the most common questions that I get asked about the Cochno Stone regards the meaning of the symbols, and regardless of how accurately we record and draw the cupmarks and the cups-and-rings and the gutters, that meaning cannot be revealed to us. Therefore, despite the formal and technical shortcomings of some of the earlier drawings of the Cochno Stone, these are no more or less likely to help make sense of the symbols than any image we could generate now that was mediated through digital technology. In this case at least, the pencil is no more or less mighty than the pixel.
The joy of the art of the Cochno Stone – and indeed any abstract rock-art – is not about accuracy, or precision, but about mediation, dialogue, spending time with the stone, tracing the contours of the prehistoric depressions with our fingers. There is much merit in standing back and letting a laser scanner do its thing, or viewing the stone through the lens of the camera. But drawings and sketches involve a powerful intimacy that mirrors the acts that created the rock-art in the first place.
Forget the scales. We don’t need north arrows. Making sense of rock-art is about thinking concentrically, not metrically.
In the final part of my series of posts looking at the art of the Cochno Stone, I will consider art and creative acts that have been inspired by the Cochno Stone, but that exist spatially somewhere else. In some cases they have only had a brief existence or do not exist at all. A mural, a comic book, Chalkno stones and inspired architectural design all attest to the power of Cochno to provoke a response and empower.
Sources and acknowledgements: as noted in the post, the story of the antiquarian and early drawings of the Cochno Stone could not have been told without the research and diligence of Jim Mearns. Thanks also to Katinka Dalglish, Gavin MacGregor and Alex Hale for the input that their research has had on this post and I have linked to their work where possible. For more on Donnelly and Dumbuck, you can download for free Alex and Rob Sands’ book Controversy on the Clyde: archaeologists, fakes and forgers from here. The biography of Hornel alluded to is Bill Smith’s 2010 book Hornel: the life and work of Edward Atkinson Hornel. I’m also very grateful to Lorna Richardson for both allowing me to use her Umea photograph, but giving me some background context for the image.
The High Banks rock-art drawing came from Hamilton’s paper in PSAS 23 (1888-9) ‘Notice of additional groups of carvings of cups and circles on rock surfaces at High Banks, Kircudbrightshire’. The Stronach rock-art sketch comes from Somerville’s PSAS article, ‘Notice of cup- and ring-marked rocks on the Stronach Ridge, near Brodick, Arran’ (volume 35, 1900-1901). All PSAS articles can be downloaded free.
Ronald Morris’s drawing of the Cochno Stone comes from his 1981 BAR volume The prehistoric rock art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway).
Other image permissions have been included in the captions, or the text accompanying the images
Is art an appropriate word to describe the abstract symbols that were carved onto rock outcrops in the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Britain? I was asked this question a few times recently during a series of talks I did about the Cochno Stone and it is a question that causes us to pause and reflect on the way that contemporary discourse shapes our perceptions of the ancient past. Our vocabulary is simply insufficient to characterize activities that happened in prehistory, and inevitably we end up writing narratives about the past that are pale reflections of, or weird variants on, our own present. You do not need to be a student of archaeological theory to understand that this is both problematic and inevitable.
Art is a word that polarizes in general, and especially so in the context of prehistory (for an interesting discussion on this issue, read this). Some archaeologists see the word art in this context as useful in helping us to understand some of the complexities of pictorial and abstract carvings on rock from prehistory. Others accept that while inadequate and loaded, we are stuck with the rock-art label: it is a widely understood term that is simply a classificatory label. No classification can ever be really neutral, however, and so while rock-art cannot now be easily abandoned as a descriptor, we should use it cautiously and critically. For me, art is something that provokes creativity, stimulates critical thinking, offers a fresh perspective on the world around us, and is deeply political. For others, art is about creativity and aesthetics. Can we say the same for rock-art? Can we apply the same criteria for reading art gallery art in our readings of prehistoric rock-art? Perhaps.
We could view Neolithic rock-art such as is found across Britain as prehistoric equivalents of medieval oil paintings of kings and contemporary landscape art installations. All have the aspiration and possibility to mean many things to many people that is only partially in the control of the artist. None of these means of expression is neutral or without political, social and emotional depth, even although their context, medium, audience and reception vary hugely. On the other hand, the repetitive and ubiquitous nature of cup-and-ring marks could be viewed as restrictions on creativity, symbols of conformity and social identity carved into rocks in an almost obsessive fashion that speak more of propaganda than free-will. But looking even closer, it is in the detail that we might should we care to look find the hand of the individual, subversive riffing on the cup-and-ring mark formula, rock(art) n roll. Perhaps we might take another approach, viewing cupmarks as a prehistoric abstract movement, all weird shapes, juxtapositions and coded meaning that is meaningless. Yet we could also read rock-art as an interactive and tactile form. The landscape was no art gallery and there were no fences, glass or guards (as there are now at places like Achnabreck in Argyll (fences not guards)). The haptic qualities of rock-art speak more of sculpture than painting: sculpture that one could touch however, rather than stand back and admire as one would do with an oil painting or something hung on wall. Or……
I could go on. What I am trying to say here is that there are many ways to make sense of cup-and-ring mark rock-art, and by thinking about it as ‘art’ we open up routes to interpret such symbols in ways that make sense to us.
One thing that art is good at is inspiring more art, and in this spirit, over two posts, I want to consider artistic responses to the Cochno Stone rock-art site. In this post, I will look at art that has been applied to the surface of the stone itself, and then in the second I’ll consider art inspired by the rock-art (I’ll add a link here once this has been posted) in the form of public art, sketches, measured drawing and comics. Together I hope these posts will offer an artistic and visual history of this amazing monument but of course there is no chance I’ll settle the old ‘is rock-art art argument’…..
Part 1: Art on the surface of the stone
Let’s leave aside the prehistoric carvings on the surface of the Cochno Stone.
Whether these are art or not depends on you and ink has been spilled on these elsewhere.
These symbols were carved into the rock probably between 3000BC and 2000BC for purposes unknown, but using a huge amount of skill and expertise. These creative acts, probably spread over a period of many decades of centuries, marked this place out as somewhere special, and ever since then people have been unable to resist the temptation to add their own elements to this huge communal rock canvas, with startling different motivations and outcomes.
The images below show prehistoric symbols and twentieth century (AD) additions, almost blending seamlessly together, a palimpsest in sandstone.
The earliest artistic responses that we have to the cup-and-ring marks on the Cochno Stone were recorded by the antiquarians who first drew the complete extent of the rocky outcrop, John Donald and William Donnelly. In the 1890s they recorded two unusual symbols:
‘two new features which had not hitherto been observed, viz, a cross within an oval border, and a sculpturing resembling two pairs of footprints, which …. show only four toes each’.
Are these genuine if unusual prehistoric symbol, or were these weird feet (or hands) added at some point in the millennia since the cup-and-ring marks were carved? We may never know. The cross is not a Christian cross, and so we cannot assume this belongs to the historic period. Perhaps these are prehistoric. Such subversions of the typical rock-art forms may have been especially powerful in prehistory, perhaps as impactful and shocking as other radical new art styles and pieces that have punctuated history, the Bronze Age equivalent of Tracy Emin’s unmade bed.
Antiquarians appear to have responded to the Cochno Stone symbols in a more boring way, adding their name as was their wont. During the 2016 excavations we recorded two examples of historic graffiti that appeared to be written in bookplate text: W KERR and W CARMICHAEL, which probably date to the nineteenth century and would have been regarded as unworthy of recording by their peers.
This reminds me of extensive ‘graffiti’ left on the orthostats and lintels of Unstan Neolithic chambered tomb on Orkney, also in the nineteenth century. A different set of standards were being applied here – double standards – where it was OK to scrawl your name into an ancient megalith as long as you were well-off and educated, like Orcadian James Cursiter. (You can explore the interior of this tomb for yourself with this brilliant sketchfab model by Hugo Anderson-Whymark – all of the graffiti has been scanned for posterity.)
This photo, which I took in 2015, is complex, containing the antiquarian graffiti of the aforementioned Cursiter from 1891 but also ‘FH’ from 2000. Which, if either, have the value of creativity? Is this historic graffiti or vandalism? Is it art? (And don’t get me started on the Viking graffiti in Maes Howe…). As Hugo notes in his model, however we view this, it is now illegal to deface this monument as it is a scheduled ancient monument, so FH better keep their head down.
Similar conundrums are posed by the next major intervention on the surface of the Cochno Stone. Into the twentieth century, the symbols on the Cochno Stone inspired more intensive artistic engagements, not least the work of Ludovic McLellan Mann, whose painting of the Cochno Stone in 1937 was one of the truly transformative events in the history of this monument. Aside from offering a colour-coded translation and abstract analysis of the meaning and properties of the design, Mann’s efforts could and should be viewed as a creative act.
This oil paint job was creative in other ways, with for instance two circles added to the surface of the stone, such as the red and white symbol in the image above, another layer of depth and obscure meaning as if Cochno needed any more depth and obscurity. One of Mann’s long straight yellow lines crosses the circle, almost as if he was revising his theories as he went along. Making sense of Mann’s brushstrokes is as much an act of interpretation as is needed for any artwork where we know little of the intentions of the artist.
Having used oil paints, as recent analysis by Louisa Campbell of the HES-funded Paints and Pigments In the Past project (PPIP) has demonstrated, it seems likely that Mann’s palette was the paint shelf of a 1930s ironmongery.
Even the drawing of the Stone, based on Mann spending a lot of time (perhaps more than is healthy), has an artistic quality that transcends mere recording because it is hardly an objective rendering. This image, the only drawing that Mann published related to the Cochno Stone, in 1939, is a fictional account of the meaning of the symbols, creative writing, one page from a wonderful graphic novel that he didn’t ever get round to finishing.
The grand canvas of Mann’s work contrasts with the more private and modest acts of graffiti that occurred with increasing intensity in the years leading up to the Cochno Stone’s burial in 1965. These actions did not have the facade of academic research that Mann may have hidden behind, although even his actions were frowned upon by the owners of the stone and the ‘establishment’. The memo below was written at best a couple of months after Mann painted the stone; the stone would become a scheduled ancient monument by the end of the year.
The legal protection of the Cochno Stone did not stop people making their mark on the surface, and I suspect that no-one from the Office of Works bothered to tell local people or visitors of the change of status anyway. Thus what Mann started, only the burial of the stone could stop. And frankly, if Mann could paint the stone up a storm, why could others not make their own modest additions?
Research by University of Glasgow postgraduate student Alison Douglas has shown that over 100 modern marks were made on the surface of the stone, mostly dating to between 1940 and 1965, overwhelmingly in the form of names, dates and initials.
Individual expression seems to have taken different forms, including weak attempts to replicate the prehistoric symbols, as this image from the online Cochno Stone viewer suggests.
Other graffiti showed a desire to be inventive – spirals and swirls were added to names to give a touch of class, a set of initials were displayed inside a simple depiction of a house while some names were connected with arrows, suggesting relationships were being depicted here too, stone genealogies.
This art came at a cost. I recently spoke to someone who as a child carved his name onto the surface of the Cochno Stone with his penknife, which was broken in the process. Sacrifices have to be made to make one’s mark on the world. One wonders what personal cost Mann’s obsessions had for him. And ultimately, the creative encounters discussed above culminated in the shutting down of this site, the burial of the stone beneath tons of soil for contravention of the rules in 1965.
Maybe we should charitably view the covering of the Cochno Stone itself as a grand piece of performance art that almost no-one was fortunate enough to witness.
There is no doubt that art and creative interventions on the surface of archaeological sites can be contentious. I don’t want to make light of the potential problems in site management and interpretation that paint, carvings and worse can cause and there are some horrible examples of crude painted messages added to rock-art around the world should you wish to google.
However, in the case of the Cochno Stone, there is a rich history of additions to the surface of the stone that cannot simply be written off as mindless vandalism as some other examples clearly are. Indeed, if we view one of the roles of art to inspire creativity in others, then at this level the Cochno Stone succeeds as an open air installation that was and remains a constant source of inspiration. The examples in this blog post suggest that these interventions – both permanent and temporary – have been going on for some four or five thousand years.
I will explore alternative mediums in part 2 when I consider the history of art inspired by the Cochno Stone that is not on the surface of the monument but located elsewhere – on the sides of buildings, on the trees and pavements, in the pages of journals and newspapers, and in a wonderful little comic book.
Whether you think rock-art is art or not, art sure follows it around.
Sources and acknowledgements: I would like to thank Alison Douglas for her ongoing analysis and research into the historic graffiti on the Cochno Stone, and for the community of Faifley for their indulgence and support. Thanks also to Grahame Gardner for drawing (ha ha) my attention to the Francis Hitchings’ book Earth Magic.
The Bruce and Donnelly report can be found here (free online):
Bruce, J 1896 Notice of remarkable groups of archaic sculpturings in Dumbartonshire and Stirlingshire, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 30, 205-9.
The Mann sketch of Cochno comes from his booklet:
Mann, L M 1939 The Druid Temple Explained. London & Glasgow.
Dr Green and I reached the final point of our expedition quite by chance. The end of our journey, marked by an encounter with a monstrous head that neither of us will forget. We had heard reports from locals about the existence of such a head, but had put this down to braggadocio or hallucination brought on my excessive Irn Bru consumption which I believe to be a local beverage with chemical properties that promote altered states of consciousness.
My source had told me that the monstrous head was located in a nether-world of scrap on the southern bank of the River Clyde. My first attempt to catch glimpse of this head, a solo mission, was unsatisfactory, the bulbous orb too distant when viewed from the north side of the river to reveal the details of its concrete physiognomy.
Upon approaching the supposed location of this concrete monstrosity, Dr Green and I spoke to various people who made a living breaking automobiles in this place. Surrounded by skeletal motor cars, carburetors and bent doors and wings, these men affected to tell us they knew nothing of a giant head. Yet we had already caught sight of the dome of its skull behind a portable cabin.
The men gazed on the head with awe and wonder from the safety of their own business premises and were soon evangelising about the discovery to colleagues.
Yet Dr Green and I did not have the luxury of standing back. We had a duty, now we had come this far, to document and record this wonder of human endeavour, to pay our respects at the chin of the beast.
In order to do this we had to pass through a broken post-industrial world of cairns of scrap metal, clawing digging machines and the constant rumble of crushing and breaking. This was the end of all things, the bent remnants of our society piled high as if to reach heaven but only speaking of hell.
We scrambled through an open fallen gate, circumnavigated some shacks and warehouses, and entered a broad and open yard, across which we espied the monstrous head behind two ruined mechanical units, one of them an omnibus.
Closer we edged, until in front of us the huge bald head stood, balanced atop a linear mound of litter, tin cans, building material and detritus. The dome loomed over us and it felt like it had eyes in the back of its considerable cranium.
The preposterously sized crown was propped up by wooden supports, better to enable it to loom over any river dwellers and pleasure cruisers sailing by.
As we hesitantly went closer to the megalith, it was clear that it had enormous orifices, dark holes that we could have climbed into should we have wished, although on reflection we decided that dragging ourselves into and along eye sockets and nasal passages would not have been the wisest course of action. It was better that we did not investigate too closely the sense organs of this thing.
An over-sized blocked ear was located on either side of the skull, a closed porthole into the brain. This was a great relief for us as there was no enthusiasm for an exploration of an enormous external acoustic meatus or the accompanying skin flaps.
Crude letters were daubed onto the eastern cheek and chin of the hideous noggin. We documented these photographically although could not and cannot discern the meaning of K P and J G. An incantation to be chanted by acolytes circling the head in a frenzy we supposed. Although the paintwork was not red, it had the character of blood that had dried.
The proboscis emerged from a beard of green lichen, a moss-tache. We realised that this massive head had features that were disproportionate and exaggerated, its sharp angles directional, indicating the north, notably the mandible. Moss balls ran down the spine of the nose, beads of sweat that mirrored out own precipitative glands. A metal loop protruded from the base of the chin, clearly with the purpose of chaining sacrificial animals and – shudder – humans. And in the centre of the face were the eyes, voids into which our gaze could scarcely be arrested, eyes which somehow seemed to look up- and down-river at the same time. Thankfully the oral cavity remained sealed, forming a rictus grin; we had no desire to see what lay within.
As we retreated back to our carriage, we vouchsafed that nothing in our previous existence prepared us for the magnitude of the foreboding, monstrous head that we encountered on the bank of the slow-moving River Clyde that damp Spring morning.
Its dead eyes looked upon us as gods look upon ants. But more disturbing than all of this was –
an oblong void in the centre of the forehead suggested to us that there once had been a third eye a television screen located here broadcasting messages of hate and despair
What we feared more than anything else was that the rest of the body of this titan was there too, buried deep in the foreshore mud and sludge, awaiting re-animation. This prehistoric abomination, this monstrous appendage, this dreadful megalith, this…this…
Floating Head, Richard Groom
The Floating Head was one of many pieces of public art that were commissioned for, and displayed at, the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988. This seminal and fondly-remembered summer event took place on the south bank of the River Clyde about 4km to the east of the current location of the Head.
The big Head was located in the Marina, which is on the left hand side of the map below.
The Souvenir Brochure of the Glasgow Garden Festival notes that the artwork was essentially a boat. “British Shipbuilders Training … helped to fabricate Richard Groom’s astonishing floating head – in reality a cement boat – in the harbour itself” (page 79). I have been able to find a few photos of the Head during the Festival (sources in the acknowledgements), and it looks very different.
The Festival ended in September 1988 and was dismantled, with various bits of art scattered around Scotland. In this air photo of the decommissioned site, the Floating Head is just visible, now out on the Clyde.
At what point the Floating Head was floated downstream to its current location I do not know. The Head now sits on the south side of the Clyde, near the Renfrew Ferry terminal, in an industrial estate accessed via Meadowside Street, Renfrew (NT 5068 6862).
It has its own record in the National Record of the Historic Environment (canmore). HES fieldworkers visited this monstrous head on 14 May 2015, and noted: “It now sits on the south bank of the River Clyde, adjacent to a scrap yard. It comprises the lower hull of a boat with a fibre glass moulded head on the top. It currently stands upright on its prow and appears to stare north across the river.”
Someone who works in a garage beside the yard the big Head sits behind told us that it had been there for at least 20 years, and that this place used to be a boat yard which might be why it was brought here. The Floating Head floats no more, but close examination makes it clear that it has many boat-like traits.
And now it has been erected, propped up, still an artwork but a very different one, a megalithic head watching boats travel up and down the Clyde, a source of puzzlement and wonder to all those who fall beneath its gaze.
Acknowledgements: I found out about the big head via Hugh Beattie, who posted the following photo on the My Clydebank Photos website. Hugh told me how to find the head, which prompted my two visits on both sides of the River over the past few weeks.
Helen Green accompanied me on the scrapyard fieldtrip, and provided one of the photos in the post above, so many thanks for the support when having to speak to strangers, not my strong point and for her observations which fed into the fanciful narrative that starts this post.
The staff of Renfrew Car Breakers were very helpful and allowed us access to their yard to take some photos. The Head is accessible by the various yards in this location, but permission must be sought, and it didn’t feel very safe. It is better viewed from Yoker on the other side of the River.
The images of the Floating Head in situ were found through various online searches, and attributed (from top to bottom) to: Owen of My Clydebank Photos, unknown, Graham Whyte video screengrab c16:45, Charlie Bubble (Flickr) and Sausage Sandwich (Urban Glasgow blog). If anyone has any other photos of the Floating Head I would love to see them.
My parents managed to find their old copy of the Garden Festival Brochure so many thanks to them for the archive work.
Sometimes fate and coincidence coalesce in such a way that they cause revelation. In my case this occurred recently when happenstance dictated that an urban prehistory stall I hosted at a science festival saw me located in a space between the material remnants of Glasgow’s prehistory, and a Ballardian nightmare. Completely outwith my control and I suspect beyond the ken of the organisers of the event, I was stationed at perhaps the most appropriate place in the whole city for the urban prehistorian to brandish his assorted wares.
For four hours I stood in what was essentially a glorified passageway in Glasgow’s Riverside Museum beside my rather feeble table of material culture, manipulated images, newsclippings and a flickering laptop slide show of urban prehistory images. On the horizons of my peripheral vision were a huge silver and copper engine, an old Corporation bus, and a display telling the story of the man who patrols the River Clyde to rescue those who jump or fall into the river. My more immediate landscape was starker still. To my right was a glass case containing two rotted timber logboats that had also been recovered from the Clyde, where they had been abandoned thousands of years ago. To my left was a tableaux set up around a crashed motorcycle, where a circular arrangement of television screens – a video henge – told the story of the collision with a motor car that had permanently ruined the bike and temporarily damaged the rider.
The story was on a ten-minute loop and so in effect I relived the story of the crash twenty four times by lunchtime.
This powerful, occult location, struck me as absolutely appropriate, and as I stood dumbly and heard the paramedics recount again and again how they held the motorcyclist in a neutral position while they established the mechanism of injury, it struck me once again that urban prehistory is nothing if it is not Ballardian. In fact, it is an example of what Simon Sellers has recently called Applied Ballardianism, ‘a theory of nothing’.
The remnants of prehistory that jut into the modern urban landscape occur in places that Ballard wrote about repeatedly – motorway intersections and roundabouts, suburban gated communities, industrial estates, shopping malls, golf courses and leisure centres. These renegade essences of the past offer uncomfortable glimpses in to the nature of our consumerist society, often destroyed, damaged or surgically excavated to allow development to occur, the past not being allowed to stand in the way of the present. These archaeological atrocities occur in order for us to exhibit the past in staged, stylized and un-natural ways, making an exhibition of the triumph of modernity over the pagan ancient past that lies barely concealed beneath the surface.
And so I turned once again, and re-arranged the objects on my table, exhibiting myself for a non-existent audience. Passers by lingered over the wreckage of the motorbike and I realized I could not compete with hyper-reality of the crash. Such is life.
“The car crash is the most dramatic event in most people’s lives apart from their own deaths, and for many the two will coincide. Are we merely victims in a meaningless tragedy, or do these appalling accidents take place with some kind of unconscious collaboration on our part?” (JG Ballard, 1971)
Lost in the mud
“Ballard once said, ‘One is aware of a sort of invisible marine world, of living below the water line. It works on you imaginatively after a while.’”
Context: the stall I set up was part of Exploration 2017, a festival of science and academic research taking place in a wide variety of venues across Scotland on 29-30th September 2017. The theme of the stall was Urban Prehistory and to be honest I didn’t get much in the way of interest from the public. I had plenty of time with my Ballardian thoughts in other words.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Jamie Gallagher for allowing me to take part in Explorathon 2017. Helen Green and Denise Telford helped me with the stall, while Fraser Capie kindly brought me a coffee mid-morning. The posters for the stall were designed with the help of Lauren Welsh.
The exhibition telling the story of the accident is called CRASH, a 12 minute installation by Joseph Briffa.
Illustration sources:The JG Ballard photo is a screengrab from a BBC4 documentary. I found this on the website, Volume 1 Brooklyn. The urban stone circle, beneath an underpass, is from the inside cover of the one of the popular Crap Towns books.
Quotation sources: Ballard 1971, from an article he wrote for the motoring magazine Drive. The underwater Ballard quotation was found in the Applied Ballardianism website (link, above).
They are places of rock-art, prehistoric settlement, fortifications, battles, ancient routeways, myth, folklore and megaliths.
Does it matter how deep that time is? Or is a sense of pastness enough, a whiff of the ancient?
This was brought home to me recently when I took two large groups of primary school children on psychogeographical fieldtrips around Queen’s Park in Glasgow’s southside. These semi-structured walks were part of the Glasgow Unity Festival, a weekend of events with the objective of bringing together people from the incredibly diverse neighbourhoods around the park to consider their complex heritage, common problems and shared future. In particular, Govanhill has the most ethnically diverse population in Scotland (with over 40 languages spoken), with many refugees and newish Glaswegians in residence. By exploring the freely accessible but hidden heritage of the park, we hoped to be able to give all of the children who visited us a sense of wonder and ownership that they might be able to pass on to their parents.
Both walks reached the same key point towards the end, what I think of as the heart of the park, a large earthwork enclosure, with some boulders arranged towards it centre, known as Camphill. This is an old place – but how old? It could be thousands of years old, or it could be 600.
I took the view that 600 years old and 2000 years old are both really, really ancient to your average 10-year-old and so ran with the earlier and more impressive of the two. There is a time and a place for spurious accuracy and this was not it.
This was also an opportunity for me to test my ideas about the place-making power of prehistory in urban places with an even more curious and challenging audience than I am used to.
An enigmatic enclosure
What is Camphill? What was Camphill? When was Camphill? The honest answer is – who knows?
The enclosure is substantial. It measures some 95m by 93m in size (a survey undertaken in 1996 by ACFA revising the originally recorded dimensions of 119m NW-SE by 98m) and is defined by a single bank and external ditch (very little of the latter now remains). The bank is no more than 1.2m high in places, with a rough footpath following the top (one of many subversive paths in the park). There are at least two convincing entrances.
Within the enclosure sits a rather unconvincing and rough collection of boulders. These do not seem to be set particularly deeply into the ground, nor do they have any discernible pattern. It appears there is no record even of these having existed in the nineteenth century according to the book Archaeology around Glasgow. They are not part of a wrecked stone circle or cairn, and now these rocks are used as seats for dogwalkers and nightdrinkers, surrounding an informal firespot, and are also the target for graffiti almost apologetically scrawled onto the stone-surfaces with a pen.
This is an earthwork enclosure that would have had extensive views across the Clyde Valley to the north and Lanarkshire to the southeast, being located on the shoulder of a drumlin (even deeper back in time than I am prepared to go), although these views have now been obscured by leisure-amenity-trees; the woodland has also contributed to the gradual slumping of the earthworks. Despite this, the remnants of this enclosure are still impressive and surprising in this urban context, with busy allotments located only 100m to the north.
There are claims that this is possibly an Iron Age enclosure, but this has never been established although the form and location of the site means it cannot be ruled out. The Heritage Trail booklet for Queen’s Park (downloadable, here) leaves the interpretation of the site ambiguous, calling the site an ‘encampment’. It goes on, ‘…it is perhaps not surprising to find that the flat topped summit has been occupied since prehistoric times….the brow of the hill could possibly date back to the Iron Age (1000BC – AD1000)’. Now that’s what I call a long Iron Age! The booklet also notes that some argue the enclosure is Pictish or Norman, while there are also historical associations, likely bogus, with the 1568 Battle of Langside.
The name of the enclosure, and hence also the former name of this part of the park, and the nearby Camphill Avenue, derives from the perception that this monument was at one point, er, a (Roman?) camp on a hill. There are nineteenth century newspaper records of some kind of excavations taking place within Camphill in 1867, the outcome being the identification of a ‘settlement’ or a corn drying kiln (two pretty different outcomes!). These crude investigations found a paved surface, and a weird sounding ‘cake of charred oats mixed with fragments of oak’. These were once on display in the People’s Palace in Glasgow. A millstone was also found. No formal record of this investigation was ever taken however.
Excavations also took place almost a century later, in 1851, under the guidance of the reliable Jack Scott and Horace Fairhurst. They were unable to find the 1860s excavation trench.
Instead, they focused their attention on the southern entrance and boundary to the enclosure, marked on their excellent site plan. (The plan also shows a park path running all the way around the enclosure, overlying the ditch; this path is now largely lost in the vegetation, although can be seen in the old photos of the site, below.) The location of the ‘setting’ of boulders is also helpfully marked.
The extent of the excavations was relatively limited which is just as well as most of the work seems to have been carried out by park employees ‘Mr Hunter and Mr Richmond’. The work took around four weeks, and the most substantial discovery was a pit containing a ‘modern cow burial’ dug into the base of the bank.
In actuality, very little was found to shed light on when the ditches were cut and ramparts thrown up although it was confirmed that this was indeed a substantial earthwork that once had a big ditch around it. The discovery of sherds of fourteenth century pottery – a bulbous jug or flagon – in one ditch section does not in itself offer evidence that this is when the ditch was cut, although the excavators were inclined to see the deep stratification of these sherds as pointing towards later, rather than prehistoric, origins. An old routeway or road was discovered, perhaps one of the oldest found in Glasgow, passing through the entrance, suggesting visitors to the site today are tracing the footsteps of people who walked here many centuries ago.
The conclusions of Scott and Fairhurst were rather limp. They could not see any reason why morphologically this could not have been Iron Age in origins, but the ceramics made them doubt this. Rather, they thought the enclosure more likely to be medieval, perhaps once acting as the ramparts of a ‘clay castle’ whatever that means.
A curious footnote was added to this confusion with the discovery of boring Roman Samian ware pottery eroding from the bank in 1985. I would love to add more but I can’t and none of this makes any sense.
The investigation by Scott and Fairhurst was, apparently, the first time an excavation in Scotland had been carried out and funded by the local authority, although I find this difficult to believe (see Lochend Loch crannog for instance). Nonetheless, the desire to find out what this enclosure was and to add value to the visitor experience is notable, and forms part of a lengthy tradition of Camphill being a site of great interest. As with many such ambiguous sites, the actual age does not matter so much as the fact that is it out of sync with the time of a Victorian Park, and this uncertainty has allowed Camphill to be whatever visitors and scholars want it to be. With interesting outcomes.
The heart of the park in the city
For the whole existence of Queen’s Park, established from 1857 onwards, Camphill has been an enigmatic and dominant presence, being located just off the top of the hill upon which the park sits. Maps from the nineteenth century show this site connected to the rest of the park by footpaths and planted with trees. This designed landscape was a product of architect Sir Charles Paxton, who used the influence of parks from across Europe to create grand avenues and vistas, symmetrical paths and strategically positioned plants.
These maps show that the Camphill enclosure was always built into the designed landscape of this park, whether through the path which circumnavigated it, or its close connection by a path to the visual focus of the park, a hexagonal plinth upon which sites a huge towering flagpole.
Old photos of the site suggest that the earthworks have not always been (a) lost in trees and (b) easily accessible.
The location of the site, on a spectacular vantage point, has lent itself to the enclosure becoming an important touchstone in various attempts to make sense of prehistoric Glasgow. In Ludovic Mann’s 1918 book Mary Queen of Scots at Langside, the discovery of an underground structure at Minard Street, Crossmyloof was recorded (although no other record of the nature of this structure exists). Mann noted that this weird underground cell, “…was situated precisely on a line leading from a prehistoric, circular, defensive earthwork in Queen’s Park to a similar … earthwork in Pollok Wood”. As I argued in a recent public lecture on Glasgow’s sacred geometry, this was the first evidence we have of someone attempting to discover an underlying logic in the location of prehistoric sites in Glasgow, although the significance of this observation was not developed any further by Mann. Camphill, a great and ancient survivor, was part of this scheme it seems.
The point was accepted and developed to a spectacular level by Harry Bell in his book Glasgow’s Sacred Geometry (1st edition, 1984). For Bell, Camphill was fundamentally important in his Glasgow Network of Aligned Sites, a revelation stemming from his realisation that from Camphill one could clearly see ‘the verdigris-coloured roof of Glasgow Cathedral two miles away’. Camphill, in Bell’s vision of ancient Glasgow, was also central to routeways that led in five or six different directions.
I will write much more about these alignment-chasing prehistorians in the future, but suffice to say that there is an alluring quality to connecting places on maps, or standing on viewpoints like the one near Camphill to look for prominent landmarks as Bell did. This view from Queen’s Park looks towards the Cathedral precinct, the ancient heart of Glasgow as far as Mann was concerned. The Devil’s Plantation does a great job getting inside the head of Harry Bell, and contains several short films and blog posts on Queen’s Park (which, incidentally, capture the character of the place far better than I have here).
And I have become entangled in these alignments too, a spiders’ web that has me trapped. Bell identified a line that ran from Camphill that intrigued me. Recently, I plotted this line on an OS 1:25000 map of Glasgow. I grudgingly forced pins through Camphill earthwork, Govan Old Parish Church and then the Cochno Stone, only to realise, as I connected them with string, that this was indeed a straight line. A slight error in the middle location could be countered by moving the point to the Doomster Hill, Govan’s possible prehistoric barrow. Incredulous, I gathered more pins, more string. Then I stopped myself. Through my psychogeographical practices and urban prehistoric fieldwork carried out at the Cochno Stone, Camphill and Doomster Hill, I converged with Ludovic Mann, overlapped with Harry Bell.
This could not become my obsession, even although I wanted it to, and so I folded up the map and walked away. I will do my work, on the ground, walking, and not crawling on the floor with pins and string.
Psychogeography in the Park
I was asked by Alan Leslie of Inherit (the Institute for Heritage & Sustainable Human Development) to help with the heritage element of the Unity Festival, his crazy idea being doing psychogeography with primary school children. I pitched the following idea.
So you think you know Queen’s Park? Think again! Psychogeography in the Park is your chance to find out how see the familiar in totally new ways by deliberately getting lost. Psychogeography is all about exploring urban places and parks from a different angle, by going off the beaten paths and pavements, by using maps in different and exciting ways, and by seeing how other people have used places today but also in the past. This means that we can start to uncover some of the recent and ancient historical events that shaped this part of Glasgow, which still exist in surprising and hidden ways even today, from unusual features in the park to local street names. We’ll learn that Queen’s Park is much more than a nice green space to spend some time – it is also a living storybook. Psychogeography in the Park will allow us to go back in time to the Ice Age, the Iron Age, the Battle of Langside and Victorian Glasgow without the need for a time machine!
I had only been to Queen’s Park long ago (my own prehistory) and so I needed to go on a couple of reconnaissance visits in advance to help me get meaningfully lost on the day, if that makes sense. Walking and talking with Alan, and then Helen Green, on these walks helped me to get a sense of the internal and external logic of this park, and some of the remarkable places contained therein.
The day of the walks was very wet. As I arrived clutching my coffee, rain hammered down in the marquee that had been set up to accommodate the showing of films about Glasgow’s southside from the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive. The grainy film footage was both alien and familiar, like much of the park still was to me.
I ran the walk (as it were) twice, once in the morning with about 15 children, and once in the afternoon with about 50 children. In each case, I prepared the kids and teachers for the walk to come with a short talk explaining about the unexpected deep time in the park. The idea was that I was going to show them how to properly look at the park, rather than just play there, as most of the children did from time to time. I also wanted them to think about how to subvert modern routeways and official paths, and encouraged then to collect found objects, all of which they took to with great enthusiasm.
I encouraged them: ‘Let’s get lost!’.
Each walk had the same start point: Queen’s Park arena. Both reached their conclusion at the flagpole viewpoint. Both took less than an hour, and in the morning, was undertaken in persistent and horrible precipitation. Each walk took a different route: in the morning, my aim was to reach Camphill randomly, giving the kids periodic choices as the routes and paths we took. In the afternoon, we walked back in time in a more controlled manner, largely because of the large number of kids. We moved from the twentieth century arena to the nineteenth century Victorian designed park layout, to the eighteenth century Pathhead farm which sits in the park, concluding in the ‘Iron Age’ at Camphill. We crowd-time-travelled 2000 years in 30 minutes.
At the end of the walks, I collected together bags of found objects and marked up maps of the walks, and laid them out for other festival participants to browse.
The most pleasing thing about these semi-structured walks was that I learned as much from the kids as they (I hope) learned from me. At one point some girls disappeared into a bush, and came back out, saying they had found an interesting stone. Sure enough, a polished black rock lay in the undergrowth, a memorial for someone called Moira. I was shown berries and mushrooms and bricks and old walls, and when offered the choice, the children almost always ran across grass or chose the muddy rough path, ignoring the impact this was having on their trainers. On the other hand, none of the children knew so many interesting old things could be found in the park, they were unaware of the Victorian logic underlying much of the landscape, had not noticed the grass-free patch on the edge of a path that marked the location of a now-removed park bench, did not realise that the park had such amazing views across Glasgow.
Knowledge was exchanged.
This has been another long blog post, and yet I feel that I have only really scratched the surface of Queen’s Park and Camphill in the walking and writing of it. Like the children wandering in the rain, junior flaneurs, I am only just learning how to look and move around this place. My research into the work of Harry Bell is at an early stage. And as for what we can say archaeologically about Camphill, there are more questions than answers at this stage. These entangled histories and prehistories ensure that Queen’s Park – like many of Glasgow’s parks – is rich with potential to be more than just a dear green space.
Sources and acknowledgements:
Psychogeography in the Park. Thanks to Alan Leslie for asking me to become involved, Inhouse for providing the children, and Helen Green for our walk in the park where my methodology finally became clear thanks to her insights.
Bell and Mann. Very limited and adapted extracts from a lecture I gave in Glasgow on 12th September 2017 as part of Door’s Open Day Festival have been included here. I am grateful to May Miles Thomas for allowing me to use an image from The Devil’s Plantation website. The staff at Mitchell library were very helpful in searching out their copy of Harry Bell’s book, while it was Bell himself who identified Mann’s note about Camphill.
Camphill archaeology. The best summary I have read can be found in Susan Hothersall’s 2007 book Archaeology around Glasgow (Glasgow Museums). The excavation report is Fairhurst and Scott (1953) ‘The earthwork at Camphill in Glasgow’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 85, 146-56. This was also the source of the site plan, pottery drawings and excavation photo. You can find this paper online as a pdf by searching for the title. The Samian ware note is taken from Discovery and Excavation Scotland 1985, page 45. And yes – Samian ware is bloody boring.
One year ago, on 7th April 2016, the Sighthill stone circle in Glasgow was dismantled and buried.
The first part of my story of the final months of the Sighthill stone circle can be found here. This is the second, and final part of my account, focused on the last 18 days of this remarkable urban megalith. When discussing the use of stone circles from prehistory, we at best can hope to have a resolution of a decade or generation; for Glasgow’s stone circle , which stood for little more than one generation, I was able to refine my study almost day-to-day, with a visceral immediateness. So immediate that at times the charcoal was still smoking when I recorded it and I witnessed events as they happened, the ultimate fantasy of the archaeologist.
My documentation of the Sighthill stone circle – constructed by a team lead by Duncan Lunan in 1979 – began in early 2013, with my objective to use archaeological field methods and psychogeographical activities to document the ways that the stone circle was used. This included the assessment of use-wear patterns, the collection of found objects, photographic documentation and urban wandering. During the months leading up to the removal of the stone circle from the Glasgow skyline, I visited the monument repeatedly to monitor and record activities taking place there (see table above). I also inveigled myself into the destruction process itself, attending meetings in portacabins, learning about plans, drinking powdered coffee, wearing a hard hat. This culminated in access to the demolition itself.
As previously reported, my visits in February became technical fieldwalking exercises, picking over the stuff of old industrial Glasgow that had been used to construct the artificial park that the monument was located in. I collected fragments of gravestones, constructed by other monumental sculptors for very different reasons, lead squashed onto marble in memoriam.
This was a landscape imploding, undergoing the brutal process of being demolished but also de-toxified due to its industrial past, and in the final days and weeks Sighthill the housing estate and Sighthill the park became home to big machines, fences, piles of rubble and horrid smells. Outsiders looked on in wonder at the plan to remove the standing stones even as they celebrated the demise of the High Rises.
On a dull and overcast morning, I visited the Sighthill stone circle for the sixth time that year, this being the morning after a final equinoxal celebration had taken place within and around the standing stones. The afternoon and evening before, people gathered amicably, fires had been set, liquids were consumed, pottery was fired, and positive but bitter-sweet words were spoken.
I wanted to see what archaeological traces these activities had left behind. Like a detective chasing a serial killer, this was the hottest crime scene visited yet, with the maximum chance of collecting good quality evidence before the weather and by-standers intervened and the trail, once again, went cold. This was my big chance and I was not disappointed.
Hearths and firespots littered the stone circle, and these were photographed with scales and sketched in my notebook. Some of the megaliths had been scorched by the fires which had danced amidst the stones just 12 hours previously. Fragments of ceramic and all sorts of other bits and pieces were collected from the stone circle. The monument was sampled and narratives constructed.
The stones themselves had been changed in other ways, marked with clay-soaked hands, caressed with slippy fingers. I could have, had I wanted, taken fingerprints. I could have, had I wanted, sampled for DNA.
Atop one of the stones, ashy powder was evident, although whether residue or deposit I could not tell.
Weird inexplicable bits of wood were strewn around the stone circle, like props from the workshop of a serial killer; Ed Gein’s charred rocking chair?
The evidence spoke of what I had witnessed the day before: fire, fun and feasting. A fitting end for this magnificent megalith.
4th April: Monday
The Final Countdown had begun and I knew the monument was to be removed in a few days’ time. Helen Green and I had been invited to the official dismantlement of the stone circle, and so now I was killing time, visiting almost aimlessly.
It was a miserable day. The park looked terrible, like a hungover clown.
This green space, as a functional place of leisure, had been given days to live.
As I walked up to the stone circle I passed a park bench upon which had been daubed the word: G O I N G
The Sighthill stone circle itself glowed in the rain, the stones having an almost liquid quality, straining from their roots in the mud and concrete, trying to walk away from this mess, trying to escape their fate. And failing.
Traces of the equinoxal fire remained, albeit reduced.
There was a new development too – a grey fence had been erected to form a rough circular enclosure immediately to the north-west of the stone circle. Within this profane space, an enormously deep circular shaft was evident, a shaft that led down to an abandoned and forgotten railway line deep beneath the park. Two workmen with hi-vis jackets stood within looking shifty and feckless, watching me with suspicion as I recorded the stones, perhaps thinking I was secretly recording them. A thin young man dressed in a cheap black suit walked up to the stones, asked what I was doing, scuffed his shoes on the grass, and slouched off again.
Surveillance was increasing, the stones disappearing into a chaos of paranoia and misinformation. This was the beginning of the end of the beginning of the end I sagely thought to myself.
5th March: Tuesday
48 hours to go and at least the sun was out. So was Jack Forbes, the man whose mother and wife has enjoyed the stone circle so much that their ashes had been scattered in the circle, and the central megalith acted as a memorial to both women. I met Jack for the first time at the Equinox event and found him to be humorous and humble, surprised that anyone was interested in his story or that of his family. Shocked that Council plans for the demolishing of the stone circle had taken note if his circumstances. It was a privilege and great coincidence to be there at that time with Jack, as the removal of the stone circle began on this day.
As I approached from the park below, I saw that the metal fence around the railway shaft had been extended to wrap around the stone circle as well.
Inside this arena, groaning crunching pawing machines could be heard, and as I reached the top of the treeless slope, having waded through sawdust and bone dry leaves, approaching the circle in the only way that was possible now that the park had largely been closed, I saw that work was afoot.
A turquoise digger (a peculiar colour for such a machine I thought at the time and still do) raised its crooked arm up and down as if serving tea and biscuits, while a dumper truck say nearby, its bucket raised in supplication. One lump or two?
Monitoring the activity carefully was Lindsay Dunbar, an archaeologist, whose task it was to ensure as topsoil was stripped in advance of the removal of the stones themselves that nothing was damaged. Lindsay works for AOC Archaeology Group, and they had been contracted to do some of the archaeological work related to the Sighthill re-development, with one of their tasks being the documenting of the stone circle and monitoring of dismantlement. The day before they had carried out a laser survey of the standing stones, creating crazed images that would have made great JG Ballard book covers.
Lindsay had also been party to implementing the mitigation strategies put into place to (as sensitively as possible) deal with Jack Forbes’ family matters. The topsoil where ashes had been scattered was scraped away carefully and would subsequently be buried with the standing stones for future resurrection. Offerings that had been laid around the base of the central standing stone for several years (as I have been documenting) were gathered up before machining started although I cannot now recall whether these would be stored for later, or returned to Jack.
Jack was genuinely touched by these gestures, and I was pleased to see promises made by the Council and remediation specialists VHE were made good upon when it would have been just as easy to sweep all away in the quiet of a dull Tuesday morning. I had a nice chat with Jack and Lindsay, and we watched together as the fabric of the stone circle was gradually peeled away, exposing little else other than stark standing stones jutting from soil like dirty teeth in dirty gums.
To the side of the stone circle, the railway shaft was clearer than earlier in the week, a sinister wormhole. What was down there?
I can have a good guess. I’ve watched lots of horror films.
Everything must GO.
7th April – Thursday
This story has been told before, in many papers and by many observers. In a sense the very last day of this stone circle was the least interesting of its many last days because of its inevitablity and necessity. The journey had been so much better than the destination. As Jarvis Cocker once sleazily crooned: What exactly do you do for an encore?
The day was stage-managed of course, perhaps even spun. The Council and VHE wanted to ensure nothing that looked bad would happen, and so had ensured that a stone was ready to be lifted, the effect that they were after a painless tooth extraction with minimal use of anesthetic and oral numbness fading as quickly as possible. A little film was made, and my presence at the dismantlement was viewed as an act of support for what was happening, and perhaps I was condoning all by being there.
What was I doing there? Was I a neutral and dispassionate observer, documenting a necessary (lets not say evil) sad event? Was I there to leer at the demolition porn being played out in front of me, in the thick of throbbing machines and lots of men dressed like the castoffs from the Village People? Maybe I was just a useful idiot after all. However, Helen was also there, and she is far too sensible for any of these roles, and so I assume in reflection that we were there to the bitter end to pay our respects.
The morning started hi-vis and portacabin-style.
Everyone was shuttled up to the stone circle and we gathered together there, in a controlled members’ only space which reminded me of the UFO scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
There was a ‘genuine sense of anticipation’ as a huge digger loomed over one of the standing stones, the chosen sacrificial victim, which had been bound in yellow straps and now mutely dangled from the digger’s grip.
Duncan Lunan was photographed – papped in fact – along with Linda. He was interviewed. Even I was interviewed (but not photographed, except by Helen, and only because I asked her to).
The stone was slowly popped from its pre-broken concrete socket and hoisted into the air. The small crowd of Council and VHE staff, friends of the stone circle, journalists and vaguely interested machine drivers, looked on, er, agog.
The stone dangled for a little while and was, after being photographed a few million times with smiling humans standing in front of it, carefully laid into the back of a truck and covered over like a corpse. It would be remiss of me not to mention that as it dangled it swayed slightly in the wind like the aforementioned hungover clown.
Cameras and notebooks were packed away, the crowd queued up to hitch a ride back to the portacabin HQ, and we all drifted away from the scene. As we left, we were aware that the remainder of the monument would be quickly dismantled away from the gaze of onlookers, and indeed within a few days the megalith was gone, and the stones buried in a huge pit a few hundred metres away, one day to rise again. As I drove past on the M8 a week later, something was missing. How quickly will this feeling dissipate? And how soon will that damned devilish shaft be filled with concrete?
The last days of a stone circle in summary
A monument impossible to reduce to photographs.
A monument impossible to reduce to memories.
A monument impossible to reduce to images with scales.
A monument impossible to reduce to spreadsheets and context numbers.
A monument impossible to reduce to sketches and plans.
A monument impossible to reduce –
A monument impossible –
FOR JACK FORBES
Sources and acknowledgements: I would first of all like to thank VHE and Glasgow City Council for inviting Helen and I to the dismantlement of the Sighthill stone circle and to allow me to be part of conversations in the run up to this event. In particular, I would like to thank Graeme Baillie, Gareth Dillon, Jackie Harvie, Peter Patterson, Ed Smith and Muir Simpson. I would also like to thank Andy Heald for keeping me abreast of AOC Archaeology Group’s work at Sighthill, and to Lindsay Dunbar; thanks also to AOC for providing me with some of the initial laser scan images for my records, one of which is reproduced above. Thanks to Duncan and Linda for information and advice related to the stone circle, and finally thanks to Helen for giving up so much of her precious PhD time to visit Sighthill with me, always pushing me to think about the monument in new and interesting ways.
Between 5th and 22nd September 2016, the Cochno Stone was revealed, recorded and reburied. For 10 days the complete surface of the stone was completely exposed and visitors were able to see the rock-art and the paint and the graffiti on this magnificent rock dome for the first time in 51 years. Analysis of the data we collected during this period is ongoing and we will continue to disseminate results and images as we go forward (follow @cochnostone and see the project outline). In the meantime, I am using my blog to publish here the summary report of the archaeological results of the work to date so that everyone who wants to find out what we were up to can find out. A brief account of the preliminary 2015 phase of excavation can be found in an earlier blog post.
REVEALING THE COCHNO STONE
Phase 2 excavation and digital recording summary report
The Cochno Stone, West Dunbartonshire, is one of the most extensive and remarkable prehistoric rock-art panels in Britain. It was however buried by the authorities in 1965 to protect it from ‘vandalism’ associated with visitors and encroaching urbanisation. A proposal has been developed to uncover the Stone, and 3D scan it, to allow detailed study of the stone, and an exact replica to be created and placed in the landscape near where the original site is. Two seasons of excavation have now been carried out to enable an assessment of the condition of the Cochno Stone and gather high quality digital and photographic data for future analysis and replication of the Stone. This summary account is an archaeological report on the main 2016 season of excavation of the Cochno Stone, where the Stone was completely uncovered up to the edge of the modern retaining dry stone wall, recorded, and then buried once again. Key discoveries include the survival of paint on the surface of the stone from the 1930s, the extent of modern graffiti, and the recovery of very high resolution digital data and photographic imagery of the complete surface of the stone. The third phase of the project, the creation of the replica and legacy activities, will follow on from phase 2 when funding is in place.
The Cochno Stone: a brief history and background
The Cochno Stone (aka The Druid’s Stone and Whitehill 1; NMRS number NS57SW 32; NGR NS 5045 7388), West Dunbartonshire, is located at the foot of the Kilpatrick Hills on the north-western edge of Glasgow, in an urban park in Faifley, a housing estate on the north side of Clydebank (Figure 1). It is one of up to 17 panels of rock-art in this area (Morris 1981, 123-4) but by far the most extensive. Indeed, the Cochno Stone is one of the largest and most complex prehistoric rock-art sites in Britain. The zone of rock-art on this large outcrop measures some 15m by 8m, and is covered in scores of cup-marks, cup-and-rings marks, spirals and other unusual motifs. The surface is dome-like, sloping sharply to the south and west, less so to the north, and is a ‘gritstone’ or sandstone; the most concentrated zones of rock-art are on top of the dome and on the southern and western slopes of the outcrop. The stone location has extensive views to the south and over the Clyde valley and when fully exposed in prehistory would have been a localised high point.
The Stone was first documented by the Rev James Harvey of Duntocher, who came across the incised outcrop in 1885. Harvey explored beneath the turf around the Cochno Stone and some other examples in the area to test their extent, and then published his results in volume 23 of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (PSAS). He included a detailed description of a profusion of classic and unusual rock-art motifs across a large sandstone block (which he called Stone A). Soon after this John Bruce produced a review of other rock-art sites in the region which was published in PSAS in 1896, and here he included a full sketch of the Cochno Stone by W. A. Donnelly (Figure 2). Donnelly’s drawing was the basis for Ronald Morris’s own sketch plan (see Figure 4) although Morris was dismissive of its reliability based on his own observations of photographs of the Stone (when Morris visited the Stone was already buried (1981, 124).)
The Stone subsequently became the focus for archaeological attention in the mid-1930s when Ludovic Maclellan Mann took an interest in it, located as it was relatively close to the remarkable Knappers prehistoric site on what is now Great Western Road (Mann 1937a, 1937b). Mann infamously ‘painted’ the motifs to make them clearer, apparently for a visit of the Glasgow Archaeological Society in 1937 (Ritchie 2002, 51). Mann added his own speculative grid as well (see Figure 12) and it likely that other motifs he painted onto the rock were fanciful on his part. Some black and white photos of the Stone from this time suggest more than one colour was used. Mann believed the Cochno Stone was used to help predict eclipses and ‘celebrate the defeat of the eclipse-causing monster’ (Mann 1937b, 14, and see below).
The Cochno Stone was buried in 1965 under a thick layer of soil to protect the stone surface from being walked on by visitors and graffiti and paint being added to the stone, a decision made by the Ministry of Works and Ancient Monument Board early that year. Records held in the Scotland’s National Archives show that from the 1930s onwards the two landowners of the Cochno Stone (it is located on a historic land boundary) were becoming concerned about damage to the rock surface, a process that seems to have accelerated after the site was publicised by Ludovic Mann. A dry-stone wall with a style had already been constructed on and around the stone before the 1930s in part to discourage visitors and demarcate the stone location, and this was used as a boundary and container for the soil that was dumped on top of the stone. But this was deemed insufficient protection for the Cochno Stone and it was buried beneath up to 1m of soil.
This remained the case until the current project was proposed in 2014. Revealing the Cochno Stone has as a long term the objectives the creation of an exact facsimile of the Cochno Stone to be placed near the real thing. To realise this ambition, a staged process has been adopted.
Trial excavation [completed September 2015]
Full-scale exposure of the Cochno Stone and 3D scanning [completed September 2016]
Post-excavation analysis of data (ongoing, late 2016 into 2017)
Production of a 1:1 facsimile of the stone, placement in landscape and legacy activities [funding now being sought for this phase of the project]
Phase 1 (2015) summary (link for full report in introduction to this blog post)
A small-scale excavation was undertaken in September 2015 to assess the current condition of the Stone, and to inform a potentially larger clearance of the surface of the Stone in the future. A small trench, 4m by 1m, was opened by hand on the northern side of the Cochno Stone location. This revealed that the Stone is buried beneath between 0.5m and 0.7m depth of clay-silt-loam, and that the dry-stone wall surrounding the Stone was partially destroyed during burial. Seven deeply incised cup-marks were recorded, three with rings around them, and the Stone was shown to be in good condition, albeit soft in character. Evidence for vandalism was also found including graffiti and melted plastic; samples were taken of the latter. At the end of the excavation, the trench was backfilled. The excavation allowed several observations and recommendations for future work to be made. These included:
The Cochno Stone remains in good condition despite its burial, but the stone surface is soft so care must be taken when cleaning the stone surface;
It is likely existing drawings of the Cochno Stone are inaccurate in terms of content and certainly in scale;
The surface of the stone will have extensive modern graffiti on it;
The wall surrounding the stone appears to have been pushed over during stone burial but its lower courses and foundations remain extant.
Phase 2 – Excavation and 3D scanning September 2016
The second phase of excavation of the Cochno Stone ran from 5th to 22nd September 2016. This consisted of three phases of work:
5th to 12th September
Removing topsoil and cleaning the Cochno Stone by machine, water and using hand tools
13th to 19th September
Laser scanning, photogrammetry, archaeological recording, hi-spy and ongoing light cleaning
20th to 22nd September
Reburial of the Cochno Stone, by hand on the 20th, followed by two days of machine work
The area of the Cochno Stone bounded by the dry-stone wall was chosen as the focus of all the work: an area measuring 15.2m E-W by 8.6m N-S. The outcrop continues beyond this zone but almost no rock-art has been found on these fringes, and these zones of the rock outcrop were in any case not buried in 1965. The overburden was removed by a closely monitored mini-digger with a mini-dumper ensuring spoil was taken well clear of the site, with large stones removed by hand and placed on a separate spoil heap. Once the digger had cleared to within 10 to 15cm of the surface of the stone, the remainder of the spoil was removed by hand using plastic shovels and scoops to avoid damage to the stone surface. All large stones were also removed by hand so that the digger could not scrape them along the surface of the Cochno Stone. Once completed, the Stone was then carefully washed down by a firefighter using a hose, to ensure slow but safe cleaning. The site was also brushed with soft hand brushes and sponges after this, and it was only permissible to walk on site with socks on or specially designated clean plastic shoes. A stone conservator, Richard Salmon, was on site at all times and able to advise on these matters.
Phase 2 results
The following research questions and objectives underpinned the Phase 2 full exposure of the Cochno stone: here provisional answers to these questions have also been presented, and some key findings will be discussed in more depth below.
Implications / further research
What condition is the Cochno Stone in?
Very good condition with no obvious decline due to burial
Management – stone burial stable in short term even with no geotextile breathable layer
Has the overlying topsoil had a detrimental effect on the stone?
No obvious problems associated with soil lying on the stone surface. Black areas may be staining?
Investigate nature of the black areas – paint or staining?
Could any damage be reversed or stopped?
Not applicable although we have no way of assessing long-term stability
Geotextile laid on the stone surface before re-burial at the end of the excavation
Has the collapsed wall caused any damage to the fringe of the stone?
No damage of any note was recorded although large stones were found lying on the surface
No stones were laid directly on the Cochno Stone surface during backfilling
How clearly visible are the motifs?
The carved symbols vary from very clear to very faint
Analysis of data will reveal all visible symbols and some not apparent with the naked eye
How accurate are the old drawings we have?
They appear to contain most of the symbols but there are clear issues of scale and spatial arrangement
New plan to be produced using survey data
Comparison with older drawings and analysis
Can phasing be identified amidst the rock-art?
Yes, some cup-and-rings marks overlay one another, and symbols had different depths and wear evident
Different methods of pecking evident
Analysis of data but also adoption of MacKie’s methodology adopted at Greenland (MacKie & Davis 1988-89)
Scan will enable analysis of pecking methods employed
Does the rock-art run beneath or continue beyond the boundary wall?
Not as far as we could tell although our SMC conditions set out that we could not remove the wall. Where one section was removed for drainage, no rock-art was found
Outcrop beyond dry-stone wall to be re-examined for any motifs other than those recorded by Morris
How is the wall attached to the stone?
The wall was laid directly on the surface of the Cochno Stone with no binding as far as we could tell
The wall remains have been left in situ as it has a historic connection to the Cochno Stone
Is there any evidence for activity contemporary with the rock-art panel being in use?
Nothing was found and the surface of the stone had no cracks
Future investigation of the fringes of the outcrop e.g. downslope, worth doing
Do any traces of Ludovic Mann’s paint remain?
Yes, we found extensive evidence for his paint work including use of various colours: white, yellow, green, blue, red
Samples taken of paint
Digital reconstruction of how the stone would have looked in 1937 to be undertaken
Research into Mann’s work
Were any objects associated with the 1965 burial of the stone found?
Nothing we can directly connect to the burial, but we did find two marbles, two coins and a Red Cross medal on the stone surface / wall base
Analysis of topsoil finds
Identification and conservation of coins and medal
How extensive was the graffiti on the surface of the Cochno stone?
Graffiti was concentrated on the southern and western sides of the stone, and for the most part did not overlap with prehistoric rock-art. Mostly names and dates
Several possible ‘modern’ cup-and-ring marks were identified
All graffiti was photographed and logged
Attempts made to contact those who did it
Analysis of content, location, form of graffiti to be undertaken
How extensive was visitor damage to the surface of the Cochno stone?
Nothing obvious on the surface of the stone
One zone near the centre of the stone may have been bleached by a fire
Data analysis should reveal wear patterns e.g. near the style into the walled area
Investigation of ‘fire’ area
Was anything found adhering to the surface of the stone?
Nothing additional to what was found in 2015
Melted plastic to be analysed
At the end of the fieldwork, the Cochno Stone was reburied. We covered the surface of the Stone with a breathable geotextile layer, initially weighed down with rocks carefully placed by hand. A layer some 10cm thick of soil was placed back on the Stone by hand, with care taken to ensure no large stones was amongst this material. Finally, the remainder of the overburden was placed onto the Stone by a machine, and the mini-digger landscaped the site back to its initial form.
During the cleaning of the overburden, we collected a sample of the objects found within the deposits on top of the Stone. Once the surface of the Stone had been completely revealed and cleaned, detailed scale photography was undertaken of the Stone, as well as sampling of various paint deposits and other materials adhering to the surface . We did not draw the Stone as a new plan will be generated from the digital and photogrammetry data collected.
Small finds: During the cleaning of the Cochno Stone, a wide range of objects were collected, none of which had a secure context. These were mostly the kinds of material one would expect to find in agricultural topsoil, hinting at the origins if the clay-silt-loam material the Stone was buried with. These included broken ceramics, tiles and field drain pipes, glass, brick fragments and metal objects such as barbed wire and nails. Notable finds included two glass marbles, found separate from one another at the base of the Stone and wall, which we assume rolled there during play on the Stone, as well as two coins and a Red Cross medal. The small finds will all be cleaned and catalogued at the University of Glasgow, and the coins and medal conserved and analysed.
Samples: Samples were taken of the various paints found on the surface of the stone, as well as the melted plastic (initially found in 2015). These will be analysed using a portable XRF reader for chemical content and to identify their sources – in particular, it will be interesting to know what kind of paint Mann used. The location from which each sample was taken was marked on a plan of the site which will be included in the site archive.
Black melted plastic [sample also taken in 2015]
Green-white paint from the largest cup-and-ring mark
Scanning and digital recording [Ferdinand Suamarez Smith]
The 3D scanning of the Cochno Stone represented one of the largest high-resolution digital recording projects of a cultural heritage artefact ever undertaken.
The process of digitally recording The Cochno Stone made use of several different techniques. The first method employed was aerial photogrammetry (using a DGI Phantom 4 drone) which was intended to capture the entirety of the form of the stone and provide a ‘map’ onto which higher-resolution data, capturing the detail of the surface, could be added to. Photogrammetry is a process by which 3D information is extracted from 2D photographic images. 2D images are made of the subject in a sequence, then a computer programme (in this case, Capturing Reality) recognises features from across the different images and triangulates the distance between them, placing points and building up a ‘point cloud’ of the surface (see Figure 12).
The data from the drone was better than expected and provided details of some of the graffiti, although not high enough resolution for the bench mark of what the ultimate end of the project is, the creation of a 1:1 facsimile. To achieve this end, we also gathered much higher resolution photographic data using a 50 megapixel Canon 5DS R on a horizontal linear guide with a ring flash attached. This was moved across the surface of the stone sequentially (using the same principle as described above), taking all due care to protect it using rubber feet on the tripods and foam shoes for the operators (see Figure 13).
The final stage of the process was laser scanning undertaken by a team from the Scottish Ten, using a Leica P40. Unlike photogrammetry, laser scanning measures distances by shooting light at the surface of the object then measuring the time in which it takes to return, thereby creating a point cloud of the surface. Like the drone, this was aimed at capturing the broad form of the stone rather than the micro level of detail. However, it has an additional advantage of superior accuracy and when used in tandem with the other techniques provides a basis for making the model geometrically accurate.
Laser scanning (Lyn Wilson)
A laser scan of the Cochno Stone was undertaken by Historic Environment Scotland’s Digital Documentation Team who digitally surveyed the site using a Leica P40 terrestrial laser scanner. Several scans were captured at a resolution of 3.1mm @10m around the perimeter of the exposed and cleaned bedrock and at key locations on the bedrock itself. Individual scans were registered using high definition targets. High resolution data capture resulted in a very dense point cloud. Data was registered using Leica Cyclone software to create one database. The data was exported to ASCII format (.ptx) and has since been transferred to Factum Foundation for further processing and integration with photogrammetric data within Reality Capture software (see Figure 16 for an early snapshot of results).
The Historic Environment Scotland hi-spy unit also came on site, to take photographs of the Stone from above, in order to help enhance the NMRS records for the site.
At the time of writing this report, very little analysis of the digital, laser and photographic data has been carried out. It is possible though to offer some observations based on the archaeological work that was carried out on site, with the proviso that our understanding of these matters will greatly benefit from integration of the digital data in the coming months. Five significant phases of activity will be discussed: prehistoric rock-art, antiquarian recording, Ludovic Mann’s painting, modern graffiti and activities, and the burial of the Stone in 1965. It is hoped that these disparate elements will come together to offer a comprehensive and unique biography of the Cochno Stone over the past 4,000 years.
(1) Prehistoric rock-art
The revealing of the Cochno Stone simply reinforced the impression that the Stone is one of the outstanding examples of a cup-and-ring marked outcrop in northern Europe. The full range of motifs expected were discovered as well as some other markings that had not previously been noted.
Hints of phasing were identified with different depths of carving, overlapping symbols and differential weathering all pointing towards extended and multiple phases of carving on this rock, presumably in the third millennium BC (however, exactly when this was done in prehistory is something we will not be able to shed light on). Different methods of creating rock-art were also evident, something that we will also be able to explore, and this may help to shed light on whether some of the carvings (the footprints, cross-marked stone and some cup-and-ring marks) were modern additions.
These phenomena will be investigated as the data becomes available. Perhaps of special note is simply the variety and scale of the rock-art on the surface of the Cochno Stone, something that means that this was a significant and highly visible place in prehistory, as well as of remarkable note today. We also know from a ragged NE edge of the Stone that the rock-art may once have been more extensive; part of the stone seems to have been quarried away.
(2) Antiquarian recording
Only one drawing of the Cochno Stone has ever been undertaken, by Donnelly in the 1890s. This was later updated by Morris based on photography, but Morris did not actually see the Stone for himself (Figure 4). It is clear from out excavations that the scale on Morris’s drawings, which was added based on his own calculations, is flawed but also that the motifs are not arranged quite as shown on Donnelly’s drawing. The digital recording of the Cochno Stone will enable us to produce a definitive plan of the Stone, including motifs to scale and in the correct location. We will also be able to add carvings that had not previously been recognised, and rule out some that had been included by Morris and Donnelly that do not convince.
(3) Ludovic Mann intervention
The activities of Mann on the Cochno Stone in the 1930s are perhaps the strangest of his long and eccentric career (Ritchie 2002). Mann believed the Cochno Stone and other rock-art in the Glasgow area encoded cosmological and mathematical ideas and although he published little on the Cochno Stone itself, his activities in 1937 at the Stone were a significant and radical intervention in the story of this rock outcrop. There, he could demonstrate his theories in a dramatically tangible way on the surface of the Stone, painting everything that he regarded as an ancient symbol and adding an extensive ‘megalithic grid’ to the Stone (see Figure 3). As noted above, Mann believed that the Cochno Stone portrayed a legend associated with the prediction and ‘defeat’ of eclipses; ‘The sculpturings cover an area of 2000 sq. ft., and represent an extraordinary diversity of symbol pictures relating to important episodes in the heavens’ (Mann 1937b, 14).
Our excavations have shown that Mann used several colours of paint – red, blue, yellow, green and white were all identified (Figures 19) – and that each colour had a specific meaning, with yellow, red and blue used for different elements of his grid for instance. Some patches of the rock were almost black, which may either have been black paint, or discolouration at the damp fringes of the rock. Grid lines were apparent across much of the stone, even when coloured paint was not evident, and these ghostly lines suggest perhaps that Mann incised his grid lightly onto the stone surface to ensure the accuracy of his work.
We also know that he painted spirals and symbols that were either natural variations in the rock surface, or modern graffiti. And he appears to have drawn in at least one circle of his own making (Figure 20). Unfortunately, we were unable to find evidence (at least through visual observation) of the ‘ruler’ like markings made on the northern edge of the Stone (Figure 21). Samples were taken of the paint (see samples list above) for analysis and it is remarkable that the paint has survived, especially as it was exposed to the elements for 28 years before burial.
Mann’s painting of the Stone could be viewed as an act of vandalism that simply encouraged further damage to the Stone. It could also be considered an incredibly creative act, that entailed a huge amount of work and craft. Perhaps we should see his work in both lights. In the next phase of the Project we intent to explore Mann’s theories about the Stone and the work he did there, with the addition of some unexpected technicolour.
(4) Modern graffiti and damage
One of the main reasons that the Cochno Stone was buried in 1965 was the profusion of graffiti and we found ample examples of this across the Cochno Stone, with over 50 individual instances of graffiti found from full names, to initials. These ranged from careful, almost bookplate writing of full names, to untidily scrawled and almost illegible words. Some of these names and initials had dates associated with them, ranging from the 1930s right up to 1965. A few pieces of writing had additional flourishes, such as spirals beneath the writing (mistaken as prehistoric spirals by Mann) or boxes around the name.
The graffiti appears to be concentrated in the lower southern zones of the Cochno Stone, although some also is evident amidst rock-art towards the high point of the rock notably the DOCHERTY graffiti found in 2015 (Figure 5). Writing occurs in various orientations although strong preferences and clusters of graffiti may well relate to episodes of writing on the Stone e.g. by a group of individuals at the same time facing to the east. Dates in 1964 and 1965 are commonplace, suggesting that an upsurge in vandalism played a role in the burial of the Stone around this time. Several cup-and-ring marks are pecked in appearance and irregular, and may be modern copies; it is hoped that analysis of the data will help identify such instances (see Figure 16 for instance). We also identified an area of the Stone that appeared to have been burned perhaps by a fire set on the surface (Figure 25); this may be related to the burnt plastic we found nearby stuck to the stone (see Brophy 2015), and it is presumed this happened near the time the Stone was buried.
It is hoped that some of the writers of the graffiti can be identified so we can interview them and find out their motivations and means of creating the graffiti, which will help us make sense of the social history of what was known locally as the Druid’s Stone. A study of the graffiti will be undertaken for an Undergraduate dissertation at University of Glasgow by Alison Douglas.
(5) Burial of the Stone in 1965
Little more light was shed on the burial of the Stone during the 2016 excavations. The depth of soil on the Stone varied considerably from c0.5m at the highest point of the Stone to up to 0.8m deep at the lower, southern extent of the walled zone. No damage due to the wall collapse was evident, but upper courses of the wall had clearly been thrown into the clay-soil matrix as the Stone was being buried. It may well be more can be learned about this event by continued archive research, as well as collecting the oral history of the Stone.
Conclusion and next phase of the project
The uncovering of the Cochno Stone for 10 days in September 2016 was a great success, with extensive media coverage but also great local interest in the project. We were also able to engage with both local schools.
In archaeological terms, we succeeded in removing the soil from the top of the stone without causing additional damage to it, and we carried out all the recording work that we wanted to. This has given us an incredibly powerful dataset to work with going forward into the future, with the intention of raising funds to create an exact replica (or facsimile) of the Cochno Stone amongst our plans although we can also use the data to study the surface of the stone, create 3D visualisations of the Stone and create materials for information boards, exhibitions and social media. The data gathered also gives us a tremendous opportunity to engage with the local community in Faifley and Hardgate, to find out stories and memories of the Cochno Stone, many of which were shared with us during the excavations.
The Cochno Stone has been buried for the second time in 51 years, but its future remains open for debate and discussion. It is hoped the Revealing the Cochno Stone project has been a catalyst for an exciting future of the stone whether it remains buried or not.
The excavation would not have been possible without the permission of the landowners, Mrs Elaine Marks and her son Gary, and West Dunbartonshire Council, and we are very grateful that we could carry out this work. Our main point of contact with the Council was Donald Petrie, whose help and support throughout was very much appreciated; thanks also to David Allen. We also received permission from HES in the form of Scheduled Monument Consent (SMC) and we are grateful for their advice in navigating our way through this process successfully as well as manage what was a unique project, we would like to thank HES’s John Raven and Stephen Gordon. Richard Salmon was on site at all times to advice on working on the surface of the Cochno Stone, and this was greatly appreciated.
Revealing the Cochno Stone was funded by the Factum Foundation and the University of Glasgow.
Many people worked on the site and we would like to thank them all. The team of archaeology students from University of Glasgow was supervised by Helen Green. The team included Aurume Bockute, Liam Devlin, Alison Douglas, Hannah Dunn, Jo Edwards, Taryn Gouck, Anemay Jack (Aberdeen University), Jools Maxwell, Scott McCreadie, Joe Morrison, Katherine Price, Jennifer Rees, Elizabeth Robertson and Lauren Welsh. Alison Douglas has also carried out some initial analysis of the modern graffiti. Thanks especially to Alison, Taryn, Lauren and Jools for their help with the school visits. The Factum team would like to thank Dani Trew and Tom Don, Lucie Salmon, Jules Salmon, and Alison and Fergus Leckie for all their help. The machine work on site was carried out brilliantly by the digger driver Davie and banksman Danny; thanks also to George McKenzie of Greenlight Environmental for help and advice throughout the project.
We would also like to thank the teams from Scottish Ten and the History Channel for helping to record the stone and document the project. Figure 16 appears with permission of HES.
Many other individuals played a vital role in the project. Danny Docherty helped on site, and was also instrumental in arranging for the fire service to help us out. Cleaning of the Stone was undertaken by the Clydebank Fire Brigade and we are very grateful for their support. Friends in the media were on site frequently documenting what we were doing, notably Huw Williams and John Devlin (who kindly allowed us to reproduce Figure 17), and the media coverage was organised by Jane Chilton. Thanks also to Gil Paterson MSP for being supportive and for giving the project a positive mention in the Scottish Parliament. And many thanks to Grahame Gardner who visited us several times and was kind enough to conduct the pagan ceremony before the Stone was reburied. Thanks as well to Anne Teather who drove almost 500 miles to see us!
Finally, we would like to thank all the people who visited the Cochno Stone, and who treated the Stone with respect while it was open and exposed. Their enthusiasm, support and stories inspired us. Special mention here to Owen, May Miles Thomas who started it all, and to Stevie, the guardian of the Stone.
Many people worked on the site and we would like to thank them all. The team of archaeology students from University of Glasgow was supervised by Helen Green. The team included Aurume Bockute, Liam Devlin, Alison Douglas, Hannah Dunn, Jo Edwards, Taryn Gouck, Anemay Jack, Jools Maxwell, Scott McCreadie, Joe Morrison, Katherine Price, Jennifer Rees, Elizabeth Robertson and Lauren Welsh. Alison Douglas has also carried out some initial analysis of the modern graffiti.Thanks especially to Alison, Taryn, Lauren and Jools for their help with the school visits.
Many other individuals played a vital role in the project. Danny Docherty helped out on site, and was also instrumental in arranging for the fire service to help us out. Cleaning of the Stone was undertaken by the Clydebank Fire Brigade and we are very grateful for their support. Friends in the media were on site frequently documenting what we were doing, notably Huw Williams and John Devlin, and the media coverage was organised by Jane Chilton. Cleating the bulk of the soil on top of the Cochno Stone was the machining team who did a great job. Thanks also to Gil Paterson MSP for being supportive and for giving the project a positive mention in the Scottish Parliament. And many thanks to Grahame Gardner who visited us several times and was kind enough to conduct the pagan ceremony before the Stone was reburied. Thanks as well to Anne Teather who drove almost 500 miles to see us!
Finally, we would like to thank all the people who visited the Cochno Stone, and who treated the Stone with respect while it was open and exposed. Their enthusiasm, support and stories inspired us. Special mention here to May Miles Thomas who started it all, and to Stevie, the guardian of the Stone.
Urban green spaces are great locations for urban prehistory to hide itself away, existing in the cracks in the city that still exist, offering entry points to wormholes that go way back in time. And yet for some reason these precious prehistoric portals are often unheralded, and frequently ignored. And not just by visitors to the park. But also by park authorities, those who market and map parks, make signs, host park websites, produce publicity material and whose task it is to engage the public in park life.
Urban prehistoric sites may sometimes be partial, and often difficult, but they are seldom unrewarding.
In this post I would like to recount a recent visit to see one such site, a rock-art panel in Rouken Glen park, East Renfrewshire. I naively imagined before my walk that this amazing resource would be something that was viewed as a visitor attraction and point of interest within the park. I foolishly believed that when I parked my car and walked into the part itself signs would point me the way, thus supplementing the rather poor maps I had been able to source online. Yet what happened surprised me, and what appeared initially to be a simple task turned into a more of an educated guesswork wander which took me off the beaten path until I found a beaten path with the rock-art hidden and almost forgotten, 5m from a railway line.
Thankfully, as the entirely fictional news clipping above suggests, the gaze of archaeologists and park managers – and hopefully visitors to the park – may well be turning towards this rather sad and lonely piece of railway rock-art. The light of lasers has been shone on the rock and it has to be hoped that it will illuminate it so that it becomes as bright as it once was, several thousand years ago. But in the meantime, I have this suggestion:
Then a walk to find cup-marks on the 25th October 2015
I arrived at the car park on a damp Sunday morning and proceeded to walk straight to the small pavilion which I knew hosted an exhibition about the park itself. Beside this building an extensive and well-used playground throbbed with sound and nice screams, and children climbed on megalithic blocks and ran around within timber roundels.
Inside the pavilion was a light and airy exhibition with a focus on the heritage and geology of the park. I found little here on the rock-art however. One panel was entitled Mystic marks on the stone. Beneath a grey picture with some shadowy holes was a bit of text that said: ‘There are two rocks in the park with Neolithic … or later Bronze Age carvings”. Two?? That was a surprise. The label then concluded unhelpfully, ‘No one is sure what they mean’. Great. At least try!
There was no indication of where either of these rock-art panels might be, and they were not marked on any of the fistful of maps and leaflets I picked up as I left. I was on my own.
There were also no signs outside saying helpful things like ‘Rock-art this way’. And so I randomly headed along one of the paths that cut southwards across the wide open green expanse of park.
Then, almost immediately, and right in front of me, was a standing stone, on a low grassy mound just to the west of the path I was on. It was clear this was a stone with an affectation, namely an asymmetrical profile with a needle sharp protrusion on top. In front of this monument was a little board that told me that this stone was erected in 2006 to mark the centenary of the park. A tiny council logo sat beneath these rather grey words. The slate grey monolith emerged from a scuffed grassless patch and an green-orange-leaved tree overhung it. Sun rays painfully wriggled through the leaves to illuminate the backside of the stone.
I negotiated a few paths of various widths and surfaces, as well as dog walkers and joggers who were being timed by a trainer in a tracksuit and decided to head down towards the river with an aim of crossing a bridge further south which would take me to the rough ground where I knew the rock-art must be located. I walked along this silent path, with sandstone outcrops jutting out below me. Alone with my thoughts.
And my chalk.
After a while, the wooden barriers and fence posts began to take on rock-art motifs, transforming in front of my credulous eyeballs.
I realised there would be no signs. So I followed the official park map with my own annotations. Emerging at a crossroads I crossed a bridge. From one of the bridge barriers was a wet toy donkey hung on a rainbow noose, a symbol from a crazed alternative tarot card. Lost, like me.
Beyond the bridge was a huge rock outcrop. I scanned the surface. I crawled all over it. There was no ancient rock-art here. But there were fag packets, broken glass, cigarette butts. And the faintest traces of weathered writing, indistinct letters and words, in pen and chalk. A rock that was not marked in prehistory. But marked now, breaking an ancient taboo.
Beside the rock I found two train tickets, separated from one another by several metres. Both tickets bought by or for a child, from different places, to different destinations. Both outbound, but neither to here.
This is a transitory place, near a railway line but curiously not a station. One-way only, a place for the young, for concessions with restrictions of carriage.
And from my hog-backed rock viewing position I could see a circular enclosure, defined by small trees and differential lawn mowing regimes, a space fine trimmed. In its centre was a megalithic capstone, and beside that, a red lipstick contained within a purple bullet-like capsule, make-up for the dead.
I sensed I was getting closer. The planets were aligning. But to get to my goal I had to leave the path and so I did this at a suitable location and plunged into the trees and the mud and the long grass and the weeds. Soon I was thoroughly lost and apparently no closer to my destination.
I climbed up a slope and emerged, blinking, onto a golf course, with golfers lurking nearby holding their golf sticks and golf balls and golf bags. Back down into the woods I hid from them, afraid that a twig snapped underfoot would bring down their wrath upon me. Then I though ‘sod it’ and climbed back to the fringe of the golf course and used it as a shortcut to get to the edge of the railway line.
Then the vegetation got really thick. I forced my way through branches and weeds, with roots clinging onto my ankles and brambles tripping me up.
Like Frankenstein’s monster, I lurched through the chest-high plants, my arms raised in surrendered, a face full of confusion for a world I no longer understood due to a recent re-arrangement of my limbs.
Then suddenly I found a nice clear path that ran beside the railway line and I realised there was probably an easier way to get here than the route I had just taken. But I had come through a rite of passage (I consoled myself), I had got here the hard way (so I told myself), I had gone off the map but had found the rock-art.
A single, solitary cup-mark. Lonely. Quietness punctuated by trains speeding by a few metres from where I stood.
The cup-mark has a wonderful organic quality and alone in the woods I found it difficult to determine the soft edges of the pecked hollow motif on the pliable and plastic rock. The cup circle held some water and a curled brown leaf when I had arrived but as I stayed and stared, it took on a new character, organic and vital, life-giving and potent, fecund.
And so after staying here for quite some time, under the influence of the vibrating tracks behind me, I set off, along the path.
Ambiguity abounded. Trees, spirals, cuts, knots, twigs, tree rings, rock-art rings, stone and wood, blurred together in this place and on this path.
There was a tree that beneath the bark was blood red. I shivered as I passed it but made my mark.
Back out of the woods, the confusion seemed to pass, and soon I was just another person out for a Sunday stroll, with my path back to the car more certain as I got my bearings. En route I passed more stone monuments, this time in the form of lime kilns, some of which had candles and shrines in alcoves. These monuments to industry had been split open, half-sectioned, to expose the megalithic workings within, creative voids, spaces for air and material transformation, now places of candles, coins and flowers.
Then – my walk was over. The rock-art had been found. My boots were muddy and my hair was ruffled.
But it was done.
Followed by A More Formal Record of my own making
Notes on an exhibition
During 2015 Archaeology Scotland carried out a series of events in the Park to engage local people and park visitors to its archaeological heritage. These included walking tours, talks, survey and mapping workshops, laser scanning, a Heritage Festival and small-scale excavations. This was part of the DigIt! year of events and appears to have been a success. The project had a high visibility within the park with notices and posters up all over the place advertising the programme of events.
In early December a small exhibition based on the work done was launched with a lecture by Phil Richardson. I visited the exhibition about a week after it launched.
This is a really good example of how archaeological methods and techniques can be used to involve and energise the public (although in the photos I saw a lot of well-known amateur archaeologists and some of my students). Crucially, for me, this is not about saying something new about the past – although this can be an outcome – but rather it helps people today, to come together, work on something, see tangible outcomes and have a positive experience. It is also about the improvement of the green space for all users, whether this is displays like the exhibition, or better information about the park itself, and augmented visitor experiences.
Sadly, so far, this has not resulted in the new cup-and-ring-lings being any more visible in the park, and perhaps this exhibition, and the results of the work that underpinned it, will be as ephemeral and short-lived as my chalk markings. I hope not. I hope the cup-marks can become signposted and foregrounded in some way so dog walkers no longer rush past, children don’t need to create their own – and flâneurs will never again struggle to find them.
The rock-art, to benefit Glaswegians and other visitors today, can’t stay hidden anymore, off the map.
Fragments of a site, documented poorly, beyond living memory. The excavation of a Bronze Age cist cemetery in a sand pit on the south-west fringe of Glasgow in 1928. By Ludovic Mann, who else? Piecing together the pieces, re-telling the story, making sense of it all. All we are left with: fragments, pots, photos, rumour, myth, mystery. Only fragments of a site, material clues, things, both familiar and unfamiliar. Found in a sand pit on a ridge beside Mount Vernon: a place now a quarry and landfill site. Fragments. That’s all we have. As archaeologists, as (pre)historians of Glasgow, the voice of the past drowned out by the quarry machine, the truck, the motorway. The quarry and the cemetery. The cemetery and the quarry. The cemetery in the quarry. The quarry on the cemetery.
Fragments of a site, documented poorly, all we are left with.
But it is – thankfully – enough.
Complete Skeleton. Find Near Glasgow. A poem.
Ludovic Mann –
well-known archaeologist –
discovered a complete Bronze Age skeleton in splendid condition
when carrying out excavations recently
on a sandy hillock at Mount Vernon near Glasgow
the skeleton is about 4000 years old
and it is quite possible
that a number of others may be found in the vicinity
as it was the practice of the people of that age
to have tribal burying grounds
over which they raised cairns.
The discovery was made
at a [sand pit] worked
by the Greenoakhill Sand Company.
a mansion-house which was built 130 years ago stood near the spot
and it is thought [that] the cairn raised
over the tomb
was demolished when the ground was being cleared to [make] a garden for the mansion.
When some workmen were removing sand
from the hillock
an earthenware vessel of beautiful design
rolled out of a cavity constructed of slabs of stone
the find was at once reported to Mann
who went out and started systematic excavations.
Found three feet below the level of the grass a walled chamber 3 feet 3 inches by 2 feet the sides of which were built of vertical red sandstone slabs as a rule these tombs have a solid stone cover but in this case the covering consisted of about [X] rounded stones carefully packed over the skeleton.
Above these stones
was a handful of bones
which it is thought had been food intended for the dead
but this matter will have to be more carefully investigated.
When the black earth and boulders were removed
there was discovered a skeleton
carefully placed in position facing south-east
exactly along the medial line of the structure
the head was that of the brachycephalic or round-headed type
usually associated with the Bronze Age.
According to the fashion of the time
bodies were some[times] cremated
and the reason why
some bodies were disposed of in this way
while others were simply buried in the usual manner
Beside the skeleton was a vessel of earthenware,
in which it was the practice to place food to sustain the spirit
on its journey to
the other world.
Attempt at an Inventory of the Material, Sediment and Human Deposits Excavated by Ludovic Mann at Greenoakhill in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-Eight
Six Food Vessels, two pottery bowls.
Five cists, one wooden coffin
One crouched inhumation of an elderly man, one crouched inhumation of a young woman, one crouched inhumation of an adolescent, one fragmentary inhumation, two skeletons, one cremation deposit.
One flint arrowhead, two flint knives, one white pebble, one hair moss garment.
Two charcoal deposits.
Oats, rye, sand.
A Perambulation to Wyndy Hege
A place of restricted access. A gated community. Movement within mediated by fences, signs, barriers. Specialised and highly regulated clothing needs to be worn to secure entry to the scene. For your own safety. And the safety of others.
A Bronze Age cemetery? Or a modern industrial quarry?
The cemetery and the quarry, both places of danger, of transformation, places we need protection from, locations and activities that need to be contained.
The wearing of special safety gear is compulsory. Without exception. PPE. Personal Protective Equipment.
Personal Protective Equipment. Sealed off from danger. Wrapped up for safety. Clearly marked out from the others. Distinctive. Safe. Because these are taboo places. The quarry and the cemetery. The cemetery and the quarry. Places where digging into the ground is an act of devotion, an act of conviction, a dangerous and troubling activity, hidden away from the others.
Things happen here that have to be taken seriously and carried out appropriately, according to the rules and regulations.
And access has to be mediated by key individuals – gatekeeper, shaman, foreman, security guards, man in a wee wooden shed.
To enter the inner sanctum.
KEEP OUT. TRESPASSERS ON SITE WILL BE PROSECUTED.
DANGER. QUARRY WORKINGS.
NO ENTRY. DANGER!! PLACE OF DEATH.
Because the quarry and the cemetery are both polluted places. They have depth, they have power, and they are repositories of value and potential energy, derived from underground. Social capital. They are connected places, entangled across and beyond the societies from within which they emerged: Pastoralism / Capitalism. Entangled in networks of meaning that expand beyond this geographical location and its enforced boundaries, beyond the knowledge of any one individual visiting a grave, laying the dead to rest, driving a truck, reading the Daily Record in a cab. Exploded places, shrunk down to just this one place, a dot on a map, a high point, a special place, a pit. The quarry and the cemetery.
During the daylight hours: the traffic in and out of this place is incessant, unrelenting, tireless. It never stops. Back and forth, in and out, a hive of activity, of noise and light. It never seems to end.
By night, it is silent and dead. It reeks of death, of waste, of subterranean detritus. Landfill. Burying the very things and bodies of a community. Murmurations of crows and ravens and blackbirds fly overhead. There is a miasma. A stench. The long dead and their ancient bones. The assorted containers buried and put beyond use: Food Vessels and food vessels, Beakers and beakers, skulls and rusted beer cans. Encased in a shroud of stone and earth and grass. Put in a stone box. Fenced off.
A place of restricted access. A gated community. Movement within mediated by fences, signs, barriers. Specialised and highly regulated clothing needs to be worn to secure entry to the scene. For your own safety. And the safety of others.
A Bronze Age cemetery? Or a modern industrial quarry?
The quarry and the cemetery. The cemetery and the quarry. The quarry on the cemetery. The cemetery in the quarry. The quarry on the cemetery.
Neither one nor the other. Both.
Sources and acknowledgements: each element of the tripartite structure of this post depended on different sources and inspiration. Image credits are in captions; those with Glasgow Museums copyright came from The Glasgow Story website.
Complete Skeleton. Find Near Glasgow. A poem. The entire ‘poem’ is a very slightly adapted version of a newspaper story about the excavations that appeared in the Glasgow Herald on 27th July 1928.
Attempt at an Inventory of the Material, Sediment and Human Deposits Excavated by Ludovic Mann at Greenoakhill in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-Eight. The data contained in this inventory was derived from a summary of the discoveries that can be found in the CANMORE entry for this site. The site has NMRS number NS66SE 2. The title for this short section owes much to the Georges Perec piece ‘Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four’. This first appeared (in the original French of course) in Action Poétique in 1976 and was translated and appeared in the Penguin collection of Perec writings Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (1997).
A Perambulation to Wyndy Hege. All images and words my own. The name of this section was taken from the supposed original name of Mount Vernon – Windy Edge or Wyndy Hege. According to Wikipedia.
Ludovic Mann’s excavations at Greenoakhill have never been published.
This is a slightly updated version of the text of a paper I gave at a conference held in the Pearce Institute, Govan, on Saturday 17th October 2015. The event was ‘EcoCultures: Glasgow’s Festival of Environmental Research, Policy and Practice’ and it was organised by Glasgow University PhD students Kirsty Strang and Alexandra Campbell. For more information on this excellent event, see the festival Facebook site and twitter feed (@EcoCultures, #EcoCultures). I believe podcasts of lectures and round tables will be made available soon; I will update the blog to include a link when this happens. I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to contribute.
Walking Ludovic Mann
Ludovic McLellan Mann wrote the secret history of Glasgow.
He sketched out the shape of an invisible city.
He sensed the possibility of another Glasgow, beneath Glasgow.
Beneath their feet. Beneath their trams. Beneath their omnibuses.
The prehistory of Glasgow.
Ludovic McLellan Mann was present at the birth of this modern city.
A growing, expanding city.
A process that required the eradication of what came before.
The quarrying away of the past.
The burying of the ancient.
Building on the dead.
The price that had to be paid.
Ludovic McLellan Mann was busy. He was aware of opportunities. He took advantage of serendipitous discoveries. His ear was to the ground. He sniffed out the past. He called in favours. He took advantage. He seized control. He drove the agenda. He brought in his friends, the suits and the specialists. And he welcomed the glare of publicity that went with all of it.
Bronze Age pots and chunks of cremated human bone were extracted from graves.
Prehistoric stone coffins were dismantled in newly created back gardens.
Neolithic pits, hollows, quernstones and hearths were rescued from the quarry face.
Ancient carvings on rocks in parks and golf courses were drawn and quartered.
He was everywhere. He was busy. He was aware of opportunities. He took advantage of serendipitous discoveries. His ear was to the ground. He sniffed out the past.
Ludovic McLellan Mann.
Glasgow’s gentleman archaeologist.
Ludovic McLellan Mann wrote the secret history of Glasgow.
He sketched out the shape of an invisible city.
He was everywhere. He was busy. He was aware of opportunities.
He sensed the possibility of another Glasgow, beneath Glasgow.
Beneath their feet. Beneath their trams. Beneath their omnibuses.
His ear was to the ground. He sniffed out the past.
The prehistory of Glasgow.
Ludovic McLellan Mann (1869–1955) was a polarising figure in the world of Scottish archaeology. He was less controversial in his main trade: an insurance broker. In 1900 he patented his own system of consequential fire loss indemnity, which was widely adopted in that industry. However, in 1901 he became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, hinting at a parallel career – as an aspiring archaeologist, although was he never truly accepted by the establishment even although he spent a good deal of time cultivating his reputation as an ‘eminent archaeologist’. In the end, leading academics took to print to condemn and mock him.
However, Mann did have a high profile within the Glasgow Archaeological Society, and for the early part of his career had broad-ranging interests, and was published widely. In 1911 he curated the Prehistoric Gallery of the Scottish Exhibition in Kelvingrove Park. This was the result of two years of work by Mann, and the exhibition space he designed was crammed full of hundreds of pots, stone tools and metal weapons, reconstructions, scale models and the walls were adorned with 16 large wall charts. Prehistoric tableaux were created using the soil of Glasgow, extracted from excavation sites. The central feature of the gallery was the ‘life-sized statue of a typical man of the late Stone Age’ sculpted by Alexander Proudfoot.
A series of decent quality excavations, eclectic collecting activities and innovative research projects maintained his profile, but by the mid-1920s his reputation and activities began to change. Archaeologist Graham Ritchie noted that by 1923: ‘Mann seems to have lost the ability to prepare coherent excavation reports, perhaps because some of his discoveries were piecemeal and because site survey was not his strong point’. Mann also had a tendency towards losing interest in projects before bringing them to a conclusion, and in time, veered towards the fantastical and eccentric in his interpretations of his prehistoric discoveries, alienating himself theoretically as well as methodologically from his peers.
He started to bypass mainstream academic publishing. His methods were simple. He watched out for opportunities to help with and drive forward excavations based on chance discoveries, information for which was sometimes retrieved from the news clipping services he subscribed too. Neolithic settlement traces found in a quarry. Cremation urns discovered in advance of construction of new houses. Discoveries reported to him by the public, his network of sources. He would move in, and either take over entirely from whoever had been doing the archaeology, or he took on the role of eminent archaeological overseer and site director recovering and excavating things as they were found. And all the while, he was talking to local journalists and national newspapers, disseminating his results, reporting on his work, bypassing the conventional and traditional academic publications that rarely if ever published his work in the second half of his career. His outlet was the print media: national press, local papers. The Glasgow Herald. The Scotsman. The Express. The Hamilton Advertiser. He even set up his own eponymous publishing imprint and spoke widely to local historical societies and public audiences.
Mann was born and lived most of life in Glasgow. And he did much work, both in terms of excavation and recording, in Glasgow and the surrounds of the city. He was obsessed with the past of Glasgow – the ancient, occult framework of the city, the obscure origins of roads and churches and cemeteries, folk takes and myths of gods and temples. His own excavations underpinned his beliefs in an intelligent pagan ancestry for Glasgow – fine quality pots, wonderful stone tools and well-made graves attested to this.
Ludovic McLellan Mann wrote the secret history of Glasgow.
He sketched out the shape of an invisible city.
He sensed the possibility of another Glasgow, beneath Glasgow.
He took the city apart and put it together again.
He extracted the long dead.
He painted the past.
He exploited the past for its own good.
He celebrated prehistoric Mann.
A Bronze Age cemetery in Newlands, near where he was brought up, in 1905
A cist cemetery at Greenoakhill, Mt Vernon, near where he lived, in 1928
Two cists and a cremation deposit found during the construction of Dalton School, Cambuslang in 1930
Knappers cemetery and Neolithic timber structure in 1933 and 1937
The Cochno Stone in 1937
After his excavations, like a serial killer, he kept souvenirs – tokens – trophies – to remind him of his work. The Bronze Age cinerary urns from his first prehistoric dig in Glasgow, at Langside, remained in his possession until his death 50 years later.
Mann wrote a book on prehistoric Glasgow – a pamphlet he published in 1938 called Ancient Glasgow: A temple of the moon. Here, Mann laid out the occult history of Glasgow.
The mounds of Glasgow
Moon sanctuaries at the Necropolis
The ancient Grummel mound where High Street and Rottenrow and meet
The sanctuary of St Enoch
The sanctity of the Molendinar Burn
Ancient gods, ancient places, ancient traditions, ancient mounds, ancient temples. All beneath the modern grid plan of the city. Hidden – but still there is you knew where to look, where to walk. The ancient sacred geometry of Glasgow still informing the grid. Powering the grid. Shaping the grid.
All part of a network, connections spanning time and place, subverting the straight jacket of urbanisation, defying the order of the modern city.
Mann wrote the book. He created the past, with his trowel, his pen, his chalk and his paints. He reconceptualised Glasgow as a pagan city. He held in his hands the ashes and burnt bones of the noble savages that once lived in this place. He looked upon their fine pots, and their sharp, elegant axes. His work was at the cutting edge and on the fringe: the fringe of the discipline, the fringe of the city, the edge of modernity, the cusp of science, the past in the present.
He was the first urban prehistorian.
Over the past couple of years I have been visiting the locations of various sites that were excavated or studied by Ludovic Mann both within and around Glasgow.
Mann’s research into prehistoric Glasgow can helped us piece together another Glasgow, an ancient one, in the heart of the city but also in its suburbs and arterial routes. By walking these routes, and visiting these sites, I am trying to foreground once again the prehistoric within these urban contexts, piecing together a narrative that is all but lost and forgotten.
Following maps within maps, a city within a city, secret maps, secret cities.
One of the oldest roads in Glasgow is Rottenrow, which runs towards the cathedral from the city centre. But before the cathedral, according to Mann, there stood an ancient earthen mound called Grummel Knowe, at the junction of High Street and Rottenrow.
An ancient geometry, just beneath the skin of the city.
Walking between locations that no longer exist.
Following routes that have been forgotten.
Visiting sites that have been altered out of all recognition.
Remembering the lost and celebrating the dead.
Walking Ludovic Mann’s Glasgow is to walk prehistoric Glasgow.
Glasgow’s ancient past intrudes into the present in surprising and peculiar ways. One of the most famous sites excavated by Ludovic Mann was a Neolithic complex of timber structures and pits, and Bronze Age graves, at Knappers, on Great Western Road in Clydebank. This site was taken on by Mann after initial excavations had revealed a series of prehistoric features during quarrying in 1933. In 1937 Mann excavated an extensive group of features which he interpreted as stake- and post-holes, the remnants of a spiral timber setting with accompanying earthworks. He reconstructed this monument and went on a publicity drive, proclaiming it a major discovery. Literally thousands of Glaswegians headed down to Duntocher Boulevard to witness this spectacle and see Mann in full flow, lecturing to the masses. Mann even published adverts about the dig and suggested routes and means of travel to this site.
Knappers today is a very different place.
This is a location where the prehistoric traces are still evident in the fabric of the grass and tarmac. The architecture of urban dwelling and the car in particular reflects the Neolithic circular structures that were found by Mann: circular bays of garages, roundabouts, towering uprights, landscaping stone blocks in playgrounds.
The relatively modern housing estate across the road was constructed in the location of another Early Bronze Age cemetery that was excavated by GUARD archaeology in advance of development in 1997 and 1998.
Mann’s intervention here was not typical – it wasn’t an excavation. Rather, he took an interest in the esoteric patterns he saw on this rock – spirals, weird symbols, crosses, and stars. In order for visitors to better appreciate the stone in 1937 Mann painted the symbols with a white organic mixture (and perhaps other colours too). Overlain on the prehistoric markings was a measured and complex grid system of his own devising which helped him interpret the code. Mann was by now obsessed with the mathematical and astronomical properties of such symbols and it is almost certain many of the shapes he painted on the stone were fantasies of his own construction. He began to find what he wanted to find.
And this time his publicity-seeking activities backfired. In a letter which has just come into my possession, written by a solicitor on behalf of the man who owned the Cochno Stone in 1937, it was noted:
As a result of the activities of certain antiquarians who have expended much care on the decoration of the monument, a considerable amount of public interest has recently been directed to the stone, with the result that large numbers of people from the surrounding industrial district and elsewhere are in the habit of visiting the site, particularly at week-ends, where it is the destination of an almost constant stream of sightseers. As a result considerable damage is being done by the behaviour of persons who are attracted more by curiosity than antiquarian interest.
And when I opened a small trench over the stone in early September, evidence of this damage was very clear, with graffiti, perhaps carved just before the stone was finally buried in the Spring of 1965, and black paint splattered over the surface of the rock-art.
Here, Mann had enthused the public about a prehistoric monument to the extent that the establishment had to intervene. He was too successful. He had not predicted the hunger for this kind of thing. But the wider message seemed to be that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing where the wider public was concerned. And so attacks of Mann’s abilities and theories began in archaeological circles and the press.
His prehistoric Glasgow began to fall apart. Plans were set in place to protect the Cochno Stone – from Glaswegian visitors and from Mann himself. A decade after Mann’s death the wall around the Cochno Stone was kicked over. Earth was dumped on it.
Mann started this.
Landowners and the Ministry finished it.
Buried without a trace.
This paper comes at an early stage in my Walking Ludovic Mann project and in the coming months and years I intend to visit – and walk between – a wide range of locations of significance to Mann’s prehistoric Glasgow. Previous blog posts have reported on work Mann did outwith the city – Ferniegair cist cemetery for instance in South Lanarkshire, and Townhead Neolithic settlement on Bute. But I now want to retreat back to the city, to retrace the work of Mann with my feet, to see what remains of his secret grid and his sacred geometry beneath the fabric of this modern city.
The discoveries of Ludovic Mann in essence sketched out the structure of prehistoric Glasgow.
A Glasgow before it was Glasgow.
His eccentric research and eclectic interests allowed a different way of thinking about familiar Glasgow streets, landmarks and place names.
A map within a map. A city within a city. A secret map. A secret city.
His probing mind.
His dirty hands.
His obsessive measuring.
Mann’s voracious collecting.
Mann’s prehistoric fetishizing.
Mann’s insistent storytelling.
Mann’s underground city, Glasgow inverted, Glasgow’s past dragged back into the present, raised from the dead. Passing through wormholes. Tears in space and time.
Prehistoric Glasgow revealed – for all to see – if they care to look.
Secret geography. Sacred geometry.
Walk and talk and chalk Ludovic McLellan Mann’s Glasgow.
Sources and acknowledgements:much of the biographical information in this lecture came from Graham Ritchie’s excellent paper Ludovic McLellan Mann (1869–1955): ‘the eminent archaeologist’, published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland volume 132, pages 43-64 (2002). If you google it, you can find this article freely available online. The front cover of the Mann pamphlet and the route to get to and from Knappers were sourced thanks to this really helpful webpage which has scanned and reproduced various ‘earth mysteries’ books and pamphlets. Various images, sourced from the former RCAHMS, have been reproduced under their creative commons policy with image codes in the captions.