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Hyperprehistory

31 Mar

This blog post contains selected extracts from a paper I gave at the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology (SPMA) ‘congress’ at the University of Glasgow. More details on the session, The archaeologies of now, organised by James Dixon and Sefryn Penrose, can be found at the end of the post.

My paper abstract

Me giving the paper Brian Kerr photo

Photo: Brian Kerr

Crash

For a decade now, I have been exploring various ways that my interest in prehistoric sites in urban places might intersect with a Ballardian worldview. English author JG Ballard’s fiction and non-fiction writing is often characterised as prophetic and dystopian, covering themes such as climate change, consumerism, middle class isolationism and violence, auto-erotica, hidden pathologies, and the excesses of supermodernity. These teased at my brain, something awaiting unlocking.

There is no better indication of the crashing together of prehistory and our modern urban world than roads and cars competing for the same spaces as standing stones. Sometimes this can take on a visceral form, such as a documented attempt in the 2000s to drive a car over the reconstructed Bronze Age barrow at Huly Hill near Edinburgh.

Crash montage

The images above show the outcome of a collision between a BMW and Bedd Morris standing stone in Dyfed, Wales, in October 2011. The stone was broken, and the toppled half initially removed for safe-keeping before later being reinstated. This crash resulted in a small excavation which recovered material culture from the stone socket and two C14 dates. This was not the first time this has happened, the stone being situated on a bend on a fast country road. This event is doomed to be repeated multiple times as if on a loop.

To pursue my Ballardian pathology, I purchased a copy of Simon Sellar’s book Applied Ballardianism on the mistaken belief that it was a textbook or academic treatise about the application of JG Ballard’s ideas in the humanities.

What I got was something very different and yet it unlocked something in my brain that I am still trying to come to terms with: Ballard as a way to rethink our engagements with the material outcomes and traces of the ancient past in the present. A Ballardian archaeology.

Applied Ballardianism lr

Ballard’s obsessions with gated communities, boundaries, social disorder, antisocial behaviour, subversion and urban decay are all obsessions we should have as archaeologists. His focus on urban edgelands and dystopian developments mirror the working environment of many in the heritage sector. These are our desire lines to the past.

Urban dreams

The place where the thin line between past and present is at its thinnest is in the urban environment, a point of singularity, starkly shedding light on the condition of being an archaeologist, performing as a prehistorian, rooted in the present.

I have gradually come to realize that urban prehistory is nothing if it is not Ballardian.

Ballard book titles

Ballards’ writing offers for me the clearest and most coherent means to understand the juxtaposition between past and present which dominates archaeology. All our encounters with traces of the past – material and otherwise – happen in the contemporary, the modern. The past and present meet at a stark and jagged edge, a tear, that for a moment gives the illusion of a past that still exists in a degraded form.

Sighthill crown of stones

Prehistory offers a heightened state of time-consciousness.

These points of fusion – wormholes that lead nowhere – are the places where the magic happens. The powerful intersections between the ancient and the supermodern occur in places that Ballard would recognize and frequently wrote about – motorway intersections and roundabouts, suburban gated communities, industrial estates, shopping malls, golf courses and leisure centres.

ballard_cokliss

Our encounters are here,  in the shadow on the destruction machine.

Quarry

Horton Neolithic house – Wessex Archaeology

These renegade essences of the past offer uncomfortable glimpses into the nature of our consumerist society: our prehistoric heritage is routinely damaged, or destroyed, often surgically excavated, to allow development to occur and to maintain our consumer commuter society.

Some of the most fascinating engagements – our weird rituals – with prehistory in the contemporary happen in relation to travel infrastructure projects and that is what I want to focus on here.

weird ritual

The Day Today (BBC)

Roads and the car. Railway lines and stations. Airport runways and terminal buildings.

These are all places and things that could be described as supermodern, and thus require special consideration.

Hyperprehistory

In order to apply Ballardian logic to prehistory, we must accept that we are now in the age of Hyperprehistory.

Hyperprehistory is a concept that describes the role of prehistory in the supermodern environments we live in today. Supermodernity, as defined by anthropologist Marc Auge is ‘the acceleration of history’.

gettyimages-852300790-1024x1024 Marc Auge

It is a period of what he called excesses: factual, spatial and self-reflective over-abundance. Gonzalez-Ruibal has gone further and suggests that the super (or hyper) modern includes also material abundance.

An outcome of this is an increased and dynamic world of things and places, which serves and perpetuate these excesses. It is within these processes that prehistory has become entangled.

non-places book cover

The supermodern is physically defined by non-places, parts of the landscape that are irrational, ahistorical and that have no identity. These primarily consist of places of transit and consumerism. This concept echoes the work of the geographer Edward Relph who argued that we have created urban spaces that have a sense of placelessness, bereft of emotional attachment. Our urban cityscapes consist of impersonal places where transactions are carried out and facilitate movement to another place, often another non-place.

Hyperprehistory reflects the intimate connection between urban development, the needs of our consumer society, and the material traces of prehistoric lifeways. It suggests that in the creation of non-places, we often encounter prehistory.

And hyperprehistory also contains within it the potential to place non-places, to add emotional attachments where there are none, to replace surface gloss with the depth of deep time.

Crossrail 1

Crossrail excavations

We should expect to find prehistory in urban places and in association with transport infrastructure. We should actively seek it out, rather than despair on its ruination.

I always look at roundabouts. They are a legitimate fieldwork target.

Ballard wrote that high rises constructed around his hometown of Shepperton resembled the megaliths of Stonehenge.

Shepperton images

There is no such thing as coincidence.

Terminal prehistory

How can we derive meaning from such encounters? What is the social value of hyperprehistory in a supermodern urban world?

One of the most captive audiences you will ever have (except for audiences who are literally captives) are those on public transport, whether on trains, planes, trams or omnibuses. That is why so many commuters spend much of the journey blankly staring of a window picking their nose. They have the disbenefit of having even less agency that car drivers.

More captive still are those who have to pass through and / or spend time in travel hubs, from the humble bus stop to suburban railway stations right up to massive international airports. These placeless places not only have designated waiting / lurking areas, but are also replete with connecting passages, walkways and tunnels. In other words, all sorts of spaces that become venues for consumption, as advertisers and those who own these transit hubs recognise the value of having a bored audience just where you want them.

Huly Hill

JG Ballard commonly wrote about such transactional commuter spaces. He noted in an essay on airports for instance that Shepperton was not a suburb of London, but of Heathrow Airport. He wrote:

I have learned to like the intricate network of car rental offices, air freight depots, and travel clinics, the light industrial and motel architecture that unvaryingly surrounds every major airport in the world. Together they constitute the reality of our lives, rather than a mythical domain of village greens, cathedrals, and manorial vistas.

Ballard would I suspect have been delighted that the expansion of Heathrow Airport in the 2000s created prehistoric landscapes: great primeval forests within which hunter-gatherers thrived and great beasts roamed, geometrically rigorous cursiform vistas, farming landscapes swollen with fecundity. The additional terminal building, an expansion of this sky-city (as Ballard has called it), in its construction passed from non-place to place and back to non-place again.

t5

Framework Archaeology – T5 excavations

The hiatus in the middle was the invigoration of excavation, a kind of ecstasy of data gathering.

Heathrow Airport is a place of deep time and shallow lives lived. Ballard noted: I welcome the landscape’s transience, alienation, and discontinuities.

Ballard has also noted that:

At an airport like Heathrow the individual is defined not by the tangible ground mortgaged into his soul for the next 40 years, but by the indeterminate flicker of flight numbers trembling on a screen.

A flickering screen is the medium by which the prehistoric eruptions that accompanied the construction of the terminal building are communicated to the trapped commuters. Enforcedly at leisure, numbly holding onto their travel documents to enable even the most minor of purchases in Boots and WH Smith, holidaymakers and business people offer the required captive audience.

real-time-schipholclock-maarten-baas-clock-installation_dezeen_936_0

Martin Baas, Real Time – Schiphol Airport departure lounge

The stasis of the departure lounge is used as a vehicle for the presentation of a short film about the excavations that took place in advance of the construction of Heathrow Terminal 5. This video, and associated online content, had subtitles rather than sound, a visual essay in deep time.

This short film can also be viewed on any device via youtube, where you can provide your own soundtrack.

The intercity exhibition

In 2018, I stumbled upon an explicit attempt to ‘culturally contaminate’ a ‘non-place’ while travelling from Milan to Milan Malpensa airport via train. The railway station at Terminal 2 contained a detailed exhibition on prehistoric lifeways, material culture and burials. This exhibition is located in that most placeless of places, a concourse between two travel hubs.

atrocity exhibition cover

The purpose of this bland tunnel-space would be impossible to determine should one be blindfolded and led here. The exhibition space had the qualities of a hospital and an airport waiting space, illuminated by shiny surfaces and energised by the low hum of escalators and the mechanical whirr of elevators.

Exhibition concourse lr

The material on display was discovered during excavations in advance of the construction of the railway line between Terminals 1 and 2. These objects and this information were revealed because of an infrastructural need, a direct result of supermodernity.

exhibtion low res 1

Reconstruction drawing

The exhibition has the explicit aim of making a place of this non-place.

The railway station has been chosen as the place to exhibit the finds … making them accessible 365 days a year, 24 hours a day for a very large audience. Passing through the exhibition, even the most hasty and distracted traveller will notice the presentation of a wide selection of finds … accompanied by immediately comprehensible communication.

Exhibition noticeboard

It is almost as if JG Ballard had written the text to accompany this commuter museum, this intercity exhibition.

Scar tissue

Amongst Ballard’s writings include the novel Millennium People, and the collection of essays and reviews, A user’s guide to the millennium. But I increasingly find myself wondering – what millennium was he writing about?

Book cover

If this pathology has a name, it is archaeology.

Prehistory is the scar tissue of the past.

Hyperprehistory is our framework for navigating ourselves through the coming millennium, whatever it may bring.

 

Archaeologies of Now session

A twitter moments summary of the session, posted by James Dixon, can be found here.

Session abstract 2

Session intro low res

Session notes lr

Sources and acknowledgements: I would like to thank James Dixon for inviting me to take part in this fantastic session, and for the positive feedback my paper got. Thanks to the other speakers for stimulating papers. 

I would like to thank Brian Kerr for allowing me to use his photo of me giving the paper.

Image sources, where known, are noted in captions. The first photo of JG Ballard (BBC4 still) comes from an article about Crash in The Reprobate. The second (Shepperton) was sourced from an article about Ballard in The Spectator. In both cases, I don’t think this is the original source of the photo.

The Huly Hill photo source is unknown. Sadly I don’t think it is one of my photos – it is too good!

The Ballard quotations in the post come from an essay he wrote called ‘Airports: the true cities of the 21st century’ which can be found here. His comment about Stonehenge came from a Guardian interview. 

This paper was also referred to in the post: Gonzalez-Ruibal, A 2014 Supermodernity and archaeology. In C Smith (ed) Encyclopaedia of Global Archaeology, 7125-34. New York: Springer.

My paper was also summarised in this twitter thread.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crossrail 1

 

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King Lud

2 Jan

King Lud lr1

Drink to King Lud

whose knuckle bones were

carried north

by a favoured son –

carried north

from Lud’s Gate to

Wishaw

a place that was then called  Wygateshaw

home from home

one gate to another

the Best of Caledonia

a hand of friendship

in those darker ages –

King Lud llr2

From Lud’s fortress

Fleet of foot

to Mother-well

Moderwelt

the lady’s well

water to water

border crossing

bribing Tennents with tributes

making merry

smoking area

& beer garden

at rear –

King Lud sign 2

 

Ludovic Mann wrote of Lud in Glasgow –

The moon was termed Ur, Ara, Er; and Cu, Cua, Kai, Clu, Glo, expanded to Llud, Lug, Lach, Cluth –

the richness of moon nomenclature –

the Temple of the Moon

to the north of the Clyde

drink to King Lud

whose knuckle bones were

carried north

and it is said his ribs

were

dragged

to

Hookland.

 

 

 

Notes:

This post has been written to mark the beginning of the Hookland Year of the Moon.

Mann’s quotation comes from his 1938 book Earliest Glasgow. Temple of the Moon.

The King Lud pub is located at 9 Craigneuk Street, Craigneuk, Wishaw.

The Holy Knowe

14 Dec

The Holy Known newscutting

183 West George Street, Glasgow

May 10, 1946

 

SIR, -this attractive and symmetrical

glacial mound at Lennoxtown, known for

generations as a sacred place, is threatened

with removal to make place for three tem-

porary bungalows despite their being much

open adjoining ground.

 

Elderly people tell me that as boys they

worked the field where the mound is situ-

ated, and that the tenant farmer of those

days insisted that no agricultural work was

to be allowed upon the mound-not even the

rolling of the grass. It is some 25 years

since I was first taken to see the place.

 

Nowadays the newcomers to the district

seem to know little about the site, and

apparently care nothing for it, and as

members of the controlling District Council

they favour obliteration, doubtless stirred by

the extreme urgency of the housing shortage.

 

Thus goes on the deplorable and unneces-

sary work of destruction of sites near Glas-

gow-sites which ought to be kept in pre-

petuity as a source of delight for all thought-

ful people. It is sad to think that during

the last five years in Glasgow and district

more ruthless slaughter of sites of archaeo-

logical and geological interest has been

carried out than during the whole of the the

last 100 years.-I am &c.

 

Ludovic Mann

 

a sacred place –

HK1

 

newcomers to the district – 

HK2

 

not even the rolling of the grass –

HK3

 

they favour obliteration –

HK4

 

three temporary bungalows –

HK5

 

this attractive and symmetrical glacial mound –

HK6

 

ruthless slaughter –

HK7

 

kneel before –

HK9

 

a source of delight for all thoughtful people – 

HK8

 

Fact check: the letter that forms the basis of this post and my Lennoxtown visit was published in The Scotsman newspaper. As with many other Ludovic McLellan Mann observations, there is no corroborating evidence for the presence of this Knowe, nor its folk and archaeological significance. If such a mound existed, its contours have not troubled mapmakers. And it is commonplace to find that prefabricated houses from the 1940s were not ‘temporary’, even if this mound was. The ruinous ground behind the three bungalows on a natural rise was once occupied by the Free Church of Lennoxtown, which was used as a drill hall for “D” Company, 7th battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders during the First World War, and a school also once stood upon this acclivity. 

Map 195x

Putative location of The Holy Knowe (OS map, 1956)

 

How old is a piece of stone?

3 Dec

There can’t be much left to write about the London Stone, an urban megalithic curio that The Guardian newspaper called a ‘psychogeographer’s landmark’. This strange roughly cuboid limestone block, located at 111 Cannon Street in London for at least half a millennium, may well be a solid lump of stone but it consists more of myth than molecule.

the-london-stone-at-st-swithins

There are so many legends associated with this roughed-up beige 76 kg stone block that it strikes me as weird that it has consistently been located in such an un-legendary location. Although in the past the the London Stone has by historical accounts been set into the wall of the former St Swithen’s Church, it has also in more recent times been contained by a rather crappy cage in the wall of a WH Smiths and before that a Sportec sports shop and even The Bank of China. This was after a near miss during the Blitz.

London_Stone-WHSmith

Wikipedia: creative commons, John O’London

Rex Shutterstock photo Daily Mail

Rex Shutterstock photo Guardian 2016

Above two images both Rex / Shutterstock, sourced from The Daily Mail 12022016

There is little point in rehearsing the many stories associated with the origins, meaning and biography of the London Stone. There is such a depth of lore about this object that I am sure that it deserves more than the one or two paragraphs afforded in most books about London; certainly, a lack of time permitted me researching this as rigorously as I would have liked.

For the time being, to cut to the urban prehistoric chase, let’s focus on how old the LS actually might be. Peter Ackroyd (London: the biography, 2001), suggests that it, ‘is of great antiquity’, but ‘as a perishable stone, cannot be assumed to survive from prehistoric times’. Two pages tell the story of the Stone in John Matthews and Caroline Wise’s The Secret Lore of London (2016); they describe is a ‘worn stump’ and a ‘geomantic mark-stone’ of, at oldest, Roman origin.

London Lore book illustration

Reproduced in The secret lore of London (Matthews and Wise)

In The Stones of London (2012) Lee Hollis suggests that the London Stone may be little more than a Roman gatepost that has taken on all sorts of myths and legends depending on the political needs of those who told those stories. Ed Glinert (The London Compendium, 2004) calls the Stone a ‘totem for the city’s safety’ which has prehistoric overtones, but more broadly draws on myths about the Stone not being removed from the city. And so on. Each account draws on the same pool of lore, include lots of secondary referencing, and indicate the limitations of the historical text as a source as authors attempt to peer back into the murky mists of time.

There is much that could be done from an archaeological perspective to add to the already-colourful story of the London Stone. There have been various different reliquaries that have held the LS, and this would be an interesting line of investigation both in terms of the form but also materiality of these cages and boxes, as well as telling us something about how people engaged with and interacted with the Stone, and what levels of control were exercised over that engagement.

4-London-Stone-in-Cannon-Street

From John Thomas Smith’s Antiquities of London (1791-1800)

Or perhaps a mapping exercise could be undertaken, considering the various different locations that the London Stone has been placed, on both sides of the street and with slight variation, and other possible places of repose. The location of the Stone vertically might also be traced, with pavement level and higher in the church wall just two variations. Again, how people encountered the London Stone and spatially where it was located might shed light on its social role, and this includes the bodily inclination needed to view the monolith: looking down or peering up.

london-stone-conserved-portrait

Helen Butler does some conservation work (c) Museum of London

The stone itself could (and I’m being fanciful here but what the heck) be the object of scientific study, with techniques such as XRF and Ramon Spectroscopy able to discover paint, blood, sweat, tears and semen stains (OK, maybe not the latter, that would need a CSI-style UV light source…). Use-wear analysis would be able to (theoretically) shed light on the exact metallurgical properties of the sword that was used to strike the London Stone by rebel leader Jack Cade in 1450 (but not what he had for breakfast that day).

jack-cades-rebellion

Stock image of Jack Cade waving his sword about, various sources online.

It is interesting how many old drawings of the stone focus on the detail of the container and not the stone, which more often than not seems to be a shapeless lump. This is perhaps because geometrically this thing is a shapeless lump. The Mail Online described it as looking like, ‘a large piece of leftover masonry’. So a 3D model of the stone would be nice so capture its slightly strange shape and rough surface, and might shed light in the mechanism of the breakage of the stone (it may once have been larger), as well as highlight historic damage and carvings.

London_Stone_scan

(c) Europac 3D

Indeed, after I had written these words, I found out that such a scan has indeed been undertaken by Europac 3D. This laser scan, undertaken to sub 1mm resolution, was done using Arctic Space Spider which sounds like something from a John Carpenter film but probably isn’t. Interestingly, this ‘revealed several man-made carvings, one of which is believed to have been made when Jack Cade entered London’ although I think that one was already visible with the naked eye. I think full results are yet to be published, but at last the Stone can be viewed as something other than a blurry block in a photo or as an etching of a blob in a box (see below).

Ackroyd book illustration

Reproduced in Ackroyd’s London: the biography

The London Stone, as it happens, recently spent a couple of years in the capable hands of the Museum of London’s archaeologists, and they undertook some conservation work on the Stone as well as putting the thing on display with a lovely purple background in their museum (and getting the aforementioned scan done).

John Chase photo Guardian Sep 2018

(c) Museum of London

One of the key areas of their presentation of the stone to the public was some myth-busting, and blimey there are lots of myths and stories attached to this object that they wanted to bust.

Myth number 1 that they ‘bust’ was: It has stood in London since prehistoric times and Myth number 2: It was an ancient altar used for Druidic sacrifices. Both of these centre on the suggestion that the LS is the remnant of a much larger prehistoric stone or even a broken standing stone. However, MOLA question the urban prehistory credentials of this rock, and thus by extension the legitimacy of this blog post. In fact neither myth is really busted, but rather some of the historical biography of the London Stone cited, with the underlying suggestion that there is simply no evidence that this was ever part of a prehistoric monument. They push is back possibly to Saxon or Viking times, maybe even Roman, but no earlier.

Assumed by some authors such as John Strype and William Blake to be a pagan stone, in fact this had no basis in fact and simply confirmed their own romantic proto-druid mythologizing, captured in this stansa from Blake’s Jerusalem:

Where Albion slept beneath the Fatal Tree,
And the Druids’ golden Knife
Rioted in human gore, In Offerings of Human Life…
They groan’d aloud on London Stone,
They groan’d aloud on Tyburn’s Brook…

Finally, MOLA get to the point and conclude: “There is no evidence for this, and London Stone, whatever its purpose, was certainly not erected before the Roman period.” Boo.

That’s fine, and also true. There is no evidence that the London Stone is prehistoric in origin. But does this matter? Some in the past have believed it to be the case, and some still do. The prehistoric credentials of this stone are nothing to do with reality, but perception, and this is often the way with odd megaliths and other urban prehistoric miscellany. We might as well ask: how old is a piece of stone? Because the fact that the London Stone is an oolitic limestone means that it is very old, dating to before 1,000,000 BC. It depends on how one frames the question.

London Stone launched

Source: London TimeOut 05102018

Visiting the London Stone today seems to me a legitimate exercise in prehistoric speculation now that it has been re-instated in a new shrine on the former WH Smith site, still 111 Cannon Street.

London Stone wide view low res

The Stone has only been back in its old location for a few months, although now the weird cage has been replaced with a glossy shiny glass-fronted display box. This reliquary appears to be a throwback retro design referencing older versions of the container for the Stone, some of which are pictured earlier in this post.

London Stone new setting low res

Two black plaques sit on either side, one of which explains that we know bugger all about the London Stone, while the other says the same thing in braille (I assume).

The right-hand information panel begins with a malformed tripartite sentence.

London Stone plaque low res

Above the ceremonial repository, there is a simple bookplate inscription saying LONDON STONE and this appears to be part of a limestone facade of the fancy new building, thus mimicking the materiality of old Stoney itself. Has the architectural design for this glassy building been designed with the LS in mind?

London Stone sign low res

This has replaced the crappy but endearing WH Smith context of yore, and the new mini-high rise building is rather more glassy and glamorous. The London Stone has clearly gone upmarket. This is certainly a gentrification from its earlier status, described by Ackroyd as, ‘blackened and disregarded, by the side of a busy thoroughfare‘. Nonetheless, the latter part of this statement remains true.

The London Stone obscured low res

The glassy nature of the building within which the LS is now encased affords views behind the Stone, a glimpse that was not within the gift of the stationer WH Smith. Here, disappointingly, the oolitic lump appears to be concealed behind a wall of mdf, although there is the hint of a small panel that might be removable with a smuggled screwdriver once this establishment opens for business, whatever that business might be.

Behind the London Stone low res

Observing those walking past the London Stone suggests that this is, at worst, of no interest, or at best, an over-familiar landmark, as few pedestrians paused to pay their respects. The noticeboard detained a few men with suits for a minute or two, while a woman with a pram did look at it as she perambulated past.

Road closed low res

I got the sense that this is a lonely Stone as I lurked in the area for far too long. This is perhaps why this geological curio literally engaged me in a short twitter conversation, expressing the surprising and hitherto un-expressed desire to be called Kevin. I duly obliged, walking past and affording LS this new moniker with a jolly shout of ‘hello Kevin’, although as yet this new persona has not been adopted widely.

Tweet 1

Tweet 2

Shall we ever get to the truth of it? No, of course not. And why should that matter? When we ask ‘how long is a piece of string’ we don’t expect a factual, empirical answer. The London Stone’s prehistoric credentials are not in doubt as far as I am concerned, elements of a story long told, whether that be the one about it being a broken standing stone or having served as a druid altar or some other sacred megalith of yore.

It doesn’t matter how old the London Stone is: we only need believe it to be so. This is rich narrative, a stone that does not roll but has gathered spiritual moss. As AD Cochrane has noted, ‘Down the centuries a parade of charlatans, poets, modern psychogeographic writers, alchemists, historians and eccentric clergymen have enriched the mythology of London Stone‘. If this isn’t prehistory, I don’t know what is.

There is one source that I was able to find that suggested that this misshapen hunk of rock was once part of a prehistoric monument. In a review of the former London Stone Pub (107 Cannon Street) a contributor to the website ‘Fancy a Pint.com‘ suggests that the Stone was, ‘possibly part of an ancient stone circle’. The same review also suggests that the pub contained, ‘gargoyles, cocktails in test tubes and other assorted horror ephemera’ so perhaps it is for the best that it closed a couple of years ago, to be replaced by The Cannick Taps.

London Stone pub

Photo: Fancyapint.com

Rare views inside the London Stone pub, which appears to have been a gothic extravaganza of poor taste, suggest decor that mimicked the grey metal cage that enclosed the Stone until fairly recently. Bad art imitates poor cage.

quaint-decor-in-pub

Trip Advisor – interior of the London Stone pub (deceased)

How old is this piece of stone? Who cares.

The London Stone is as the London Stone does. LS if you are into the whole brevity thing.

The London Stone abides.

 

Sources and acknowledgements: if you want to find out more about the London Stone, ask it questions on twitter via @thelondonstone – it / Kevin might answer back.

 

 

 

 

Ghosts

31 Oct

It is a cliche to say that archaeological sites are fecund with the ghosts of those who occupied, lived, worked, cried and laughed in those places in the past. Even the most unremarkable ancient place is likely to have been passed through by countless living but now dead humans and animals. Mute witnesses whom we cannot call to account. Spectral presences that haunt our efforts to write their stories with all of the constraints of the archaeological record and our imaginations.

01 Sandy Road 2.jpg

These phantoms of the past are always present as we visit archaeological sites (as we clinically call them), just invisible from the corners of our eyes. The dead are knocking once, twice, if only we would listen. Warping the thin rood screen between now and then, past and present, and bending the wind to their will. Light cannot pass through them, and forever their ancient haunts will be opaque to us, clumsily accounted for in our narratives, our excavation reports, our notes. Archaeologists are amateur ghost story writers with neither the elegance nor the critical ambiguity of MR James.

04 Ravenswood low res

Urban prehistory sites suffer more than most, and at this time of the year in particular. The harsh entombment of concrete and tarmac, brick and gabbion, combine to dull the kinetic urgency of the dead users and makers of prehistoric places with the misfortune – the curse – to haunt places now occupied by a different strain of zombie: commuters, shoppers, drivers.

03 Bargeddie l r

Only school children and certain sensitive individuals remain attuned to the specific frequency that prehistoric ghosts broadcast via. Sometimes the past bleeds through though, as if in a seance, and becomes a matter of record. Twisted clues offer fragmentary accounts, uneasy truths, partiality. We place our trowel on the ouija board trench surface and hope that a spirit will animate it, write the story for us, shatter glass.

05 Townhead lr

Archaeologists act in advance of urban expansion and development as ghost-busters, using highly sensitive equipment to pick up the wavelengths of the spirits of prehistory, then extracting those spirits by way of storage bags and boxes that are transported far away from the site and blessed with the obscure rituals of the trinity of lab analyst, the archivist and the curator. We do everything but consult with priests, and can be found in libraries furtively flicking through a dusty grimoire.

07 Succoth Place low res

As archaeologists we often state our case ‘in all seriousness’ and yet this is simply to cover up our fears, and insecurities. We laugh off the uncertainty of the past, the questionable proofs of prehistory, supported by the safety net of out ontologies which when analysed have all the supportive qualities of the spiral staircase in the library in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Aberdour Rd low res

Like many a Poe-inspired mansion in a Roger Corman movie, everything may end up in a suspicious but cathartic conflagration. All of us wish to be Quatermass, to discover our own Pit, and with it our fate and destiny.

Boydstone Rd low res

We must embrace the ghosts of our ancient past,  strain to listen to what they have to tell us, get everything on tape, play it back over and over again to hear their story until it stretches and snaps. For we ignore them at our peril.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talus

12 Oct

Talus. Noun.

  1. an accumulation of scree at the base of a cliff or steep slope
  2. an ankle bone
  3. a fortification

 

Automatic writing

The pressure of my thumb caused just enough 0.7mm graphite to ooze from my pencil. Sitting on a train, breathless, fumbling in my bag for the book. Applied Ballardianism by Simon Sellars. This crumpled paperback that had become the roadmap for my increasingly eccentric visits to places in heavily urbanised or industrialised places with obscure prehistoric predecessors. This was no longer enough, I came to realise after writing 116 posts for my blog. I needed new kicks, fresh experiences, the hard stuff.

I opened Sellars’ book up at random pages and saw continual relevance to my own condition, just as the unreliable narrator of this fever-dream of a novel had also done. I began to scribble in the margins, automatic writing. The sections of the book that I applied marginalia to appeared to be random but were perhaps not. Bunker Logic. Scar Tissue. Emergence.

IMG_4723

This book was the archaeological fieldwork guide that I had always wanted. More profound than Barker’s Techniques of Archaeological Investigation. More informative than Drewett’s Field Archaeology. More grounded in reality that Hodder’s The Archaeological Process. More emotionally charged than the MoLAS archaeological site manual (3rd edition).

I came to realise that as a rulebook for surveying the deep time in our world one need do no more than read the complete fictional works of JG Ballard, Applied Ballardianism and Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archeology.

IMG_4966

IMG_4967

Through this psychogeographik grimoire, I had found my hard stuff. The hard stuff of life.

The midden.

 

Calcium Cairns

Middens are indicative of accumulation and disposal, rise and decline. They are the ultimate material expression of consumption.

Middens mark the rise, fall, and will indicate the return of, prehistory.

Middens are contingent on abandonment, emergent in every place that humans exist, from a deserted military island to the urban core.

Middens passively grow, while awaiting collapse.

Middens are our cultural scar tissue, which we cannot help but touch.

Cairns of calcium and carbon.

 

In the Mesolithic of Oronsay, hunters and fishers would bury human finger bones in their shell middens.

In the Neolithic of Orkney, farmers would use midden material to insulate their houses.

Oronsay shell midden canmore_image_SC01453537

But middens are not just of the past. Everywhere around us are middens-in-waiting, potential-middens, partial-middens, middens-in-hiding, proto-middens.

Living is an act of middening.

 

A Gruesome Inventory

The kitchen-midden was discovered on the far side of the small estuarine island of Inchkeith in 1870 at the base of a slope. This artificial organic talus consisted of cooking-debitage, eating-scree, of unknown date and origin. The midden was monumental in its scale, up to 3m high, thick with greasy charcoal.

Baskets of bones were removed from this midden for analysis back in Edinburgh. The scientist tasked with the analysis of these bits and pieces produced a gruesome inventory, scraped from the pages of an anatomical manual, notes from an animal autopsy.

inventory

Basi-occipital and basi-sphenoid fragments of grey seal skulls. Mastoid process and temporal fossa of sheep. Head of the ulna of a sheep. Fourth cervical vertebrae of a pig. Head of left tibia of an ox. Cannon bone of hind foot of bos. Toe bone of bos. Parts of jaw, and several teeth, of horse. Jaw bones of the rabbit. An assemblage of alien species.

Many shells were found too, listed in the analysis like an incantation. Tapes pullastra. Purpura lapillus. Pecten varius. Ostrea Edulis. Pecten maximus. 

It was concluded after this analysis and repeat visits to the island that, ‘there is no evidence as to the period when these rejecta were first cast forth’.

Cast Forth in the Forth.

 

Urban Midden

Hunter Street. There is no such thing as a coincidence so I told myself as I cut up from the Barrowlands Ballroom and headed towards the urban prehistory. I turned onto Hunter Street, folding a map and stuffing it into my back pocket. Across a railway line, over an abandoned tunnel. Ahead of me now were the rusty skeletal remains of warehouses, the Victorian city excarnated, exposed as if on a osteoarchaeologist’s slab.

The sign of the Hunter was affixed to a street light that had beside it a rusty totem pole, its evil twin, pock-marked with corrupted spirals and corroded cupmarks.

Hunter Street

Two drunks in navy shell suits kept appearing during my walk, as if they were being projected for my benefit on a loop by some unknown projectionist. One of them spoke to me tenderly, momentarily breaking the fourth wall, confusing me for his partner in grime, before realising his mistake and flickering out.

I was looking for hunters in the city, middenscapes in the shadow of the industrialised Tennants’ Brewery, makers of liquid gassy capitalism. From my perspective as I entered Barrack Street it seemed that the aluminium pipes that emerged from the brewery were connected directly to the Necropolis, Glasgow’s city centre cemetery, and for a moment I speculated that this must have been for the exchange of fluids. Through the beer haze I could also see the outline of Glasgow Cathedral, one of Ludovic Mann’s ancient Glaswegian pagan places, his Temple of the Moon. There is no such thing as a coincidence.

Moon temple view

Back on Hunter Street (confusingly re-appearing) I reached my destination. A block of modern flats and some old brick-built industrial units on Duke Street where a shell midden had been found during construction works in 1985. Ancient oyster shells had been found on the spoil from the job, and identified too late as being of archaeological significance. In prehistory, I reminded myself, everyone was swallowing oysters all of the time, as they were, as in Victorian times, not simply the preserve of the rich. The shells were then dumped in a pile, calcium cairns, middens.

The industrial unit was orange and glowed in the late afternoon sun, raking across the facade and revealing ghosts – ghost signs, phantom lettering, a typeset palimpsest of failed and out-dated businesses. The building was dominated by a monstrous sign: JAS. D GALLOWAY. TYRE DISTRIBUTORS.

Galloway

I wondered around the block onto a different section of Barrack Street (I was becoming spatially disorientated). I passed a pub – the Ladywell, suggesting an ancient spring or holy well once stood here. On the wall of a neighbouring car repair shop, an occult symbol had been crayoned onto a white-washed wall. Was it a spiral, or a malformed cup-and-ring mark, or a reversed number nine – or a shell, a mollusc, a midden-component?

the symbol

A constellation of coincidences? I reflected on the words written by Marion Shoard and quoted by the fictional headcase Philip in Applied Ballardianism. Urban edgelands allowed us to see ‘history as in the stratified layers of an archaeological site’. In essence, socially fundamental constructions, materials and infrastructure often become restricted to urban edges. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

In prehistory, those conflicted spatially dangerous fundamentals were middens.

 

Organic Rejecta

under the flats and the factories are places of accumulations of shells and bones and twigs and nuts and seeds and pips and marrow layers of practice the stratigraphy of a lifetime of generations of meals of daily routine of repetition and habit and routine and the accumulation of shells and bones and twigs and nuts and seeds and pips and marrow under the people under the streets pressing against the walls of the basements pressure toe bone of bos parts of jaw and several teeth of horse jaw bones of the rabbit tapes pullastra purpura lapillus countless rejecta under the flats and the factories are places of accumulations of shells and bones and twigs and nuts and seeds and pips and marrow calcium carbon cairns

 

The Island of Dead Birds

Inchkeith today is a very different place from the island where the kitchen midden was recorded in 1870. Militarisation began in 1879 and continued throughout the first half of  the twentieth century transforming this small rocky eminence through the construction of concrete bunkers, control buildings and the infrastructure of ammunition supply.

This was a defensive, reactive place, but never saw action.

After this brief flourishing, the island has more or less been abandoned to nature (with most of the personnel withdrawn in 1943) like some kind of social experiment.

Quite by chance, this island of precaution has become an emergent prehistoric landscape with its own monuments, its own concrete vocabulary, its new middens.

The porcelain cairn –

The porcelain cairn

The fallen megalith –

IMG_E4562

The shit-stained monolith –

IMG_E4567

The island has its own sacred geometry, ghost paths and leys –

ghost paths

Bunkers abound, underground spaces for the containment of ammunition and men. The walls are burdened with a sinister anatomy of coat hooks and shelf supports.

IMG_E4551

Animals have become complicit in re-making prehistory, the island covered in bird-build middens, accumulations of shells and bones and twigs and nuts and seeds.

The bird built midden

Now, in its abandoned state, this concrete island is becoming something … other.

 

Talus

Middens

Mummified mice

Nests within nests by nests

Scattered cartilages and cartridges

Shells upon shells under shelves and on skulls

Pips amidst pipes and petrification

Calcium cairns. Concrete cairns.

Broken bunkers and bones

Talus Talus Talus

Middens.

 

Concrete Island

IMG_4559

Bunker archeology image Amazon

“Abandoned on the sand of the littoral like the skin of a species that has disappeared, the bunker is the last theatrical gesture in the endgame of Occidental military history…. (Virilio 2014, 46).

 

Dirty Edgelands

What is urbanisation but an accumulation?

A midden with prehistory as its dirty edgelands, if not in space then certainly in time.

We are all middening, us town and city dwellers.

Living on our own islands with our own futile defences, bunker mentalities, surrounded by lots of shelves.

Cultivating our prehistoric sites, curating our legacy, hoarding our single-use plastic debitage, accumulating our very own midden.

And when our megaliths have collapsed, our material culture turned to dust, our bodies broken down, all that will be left of us are our middens and our single-use plastic.

Our middens will become the focus of ritual extraction and deposition by birds.

We are tomorrow’s urban prehistory.

 

Sources and acknowledgements: I would firstly like to thank Gordon Barclay for inviting me to spend a day visiting various fortified islands in the Firth of Forth, amongst them Inchkeith. The few facts about that island that appear in the narrative above come from Gordon’s excellent handouts to accompany the trip and he appears in one photo striding towards an anti-aircraft gun position. 

The account of the kitchen-midden found on Inchkeith in the 1870s is (you can find it online by googling the title of the paper): David Grieve 1872 On the discovery of a kitchen midden on Inchkeith, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland volume 9, 452-55. The jumbled list of animal bones in my post is adapted from this paper.

The limited information available for the Barrack Street / Hunter Street shell midden can be found in the canmore entry for the site here, and Sloan recorded in the 1985 edition of Discovery and Excavation in Scotland (pg 46):

“Deposits of oyster shell were reported from approximately this location during housing development in 1982. Although reported too late for active investigation a sample of shell was recovered from builder’s spoil; remains in the possession of the Committee for Early Coastal archaeology”.

This could be a Mesolithic site, but it could also be medieval, or anything in between. We choose our own myths about the past.

Ludovic Mann’s moon temple writings are included in his 1938 short book Ancient Glasgow: Temple of the Moon.

The photograph of a Mesolithic shell midden near the start of the post is of the site Cnoc Sligeach on the island of Oronsay, taken in 1911, and reproduced here thanks to canmore and is © HES: Early photographs of sculptured stones.

I must finish by paying a debt of gratitude to Simon Sellars for his brilliant novel Applied Ballardianism (Urbanomic, 2018) for inspiring aspects of this post, and leading me to the chapter Edgelands by Marion Shoard (quote from this in the blog post) in Jenkins’ book Remaking the landscape (Profile Books, 2002). Sellars also led me to the majestic Bunker Archeology by Paul Virlio (my version being published in 2014 by Princeton Architectural Press). The image from that book was sourced from the Amazon page for this volume and a credited quotation appears above as well.

The definitions that start this post were adapted from wikipedia

Psychogeography in the park

15 Sep

Glasgow’s parks are deep time.

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.

Unity Festival logo

Programme for the festival Friday

Govanhill festival poster

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.

Bank with path on top

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.

The camp low res

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.

PSAS paper title

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.

Fairhurst and Scott plan

Fairhurst & Scott 1953 site plan

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.

Excavation photo 1

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.

Pottery from the excavation

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.

DES 1985 entry

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.

OS Map 1893 Camp

OS 1893

Bartholomew Glasgow map 1895

Bartholomew 1895

OS Map 1913

OS 1913

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.

Camphill earthwork photo undated

Undated photo, from The Glasgow Story website

1921 photo Mitchell Library GC941435REN

1921 – a fence surrounds the bank at this time.  Mitchell Library photo GC941435REN

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.

Mann 1918 line

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.

Harry Bell book

Harrys-map-Devil's Plantation

Image used courtesy of The Devil’s Plantation / May Miles Thomas

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).

A view back in time low res

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.

Glasgow map Cochno to Camphill annotated version

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.

Visit with Alan low res

Unity Festival poster in the rain

Walk with Helen low res

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!’.

Talk before the walk low res

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.

Walk 1 map

Walk 2 map

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.

installation-low-res.jpg

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.

Glasgowsparks.

 

Conclusion

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.