Selfish walks

21 Jan

What is the nature of the narratives that we write as archaeologists? What status do our accounts about the past have? I have long characterised my own writings about my chosen area of expertise, the Neolithic period, as being fictional accounts of an ancient past that we have no direct experience of. These fictions rely on research, evidence and facts that act as a framework for what I say about Neolithic monuments and lifeways; these in effect offer resistance to flights of fancy and nonsensical accounts of the past, although I have been accused of producing both of these in the past, my defence being that we cannot write about the past without writing about ourselves. One of the key reasons that archaeological accounts of the past have – let’s be generous – a fictional element, is that they are mediated through the present. Our archaeological engagements happen today and thus we must account for the circumstances within which we investigate remains of prehistory, although there is precious little of this kind of introspection in archaeology.

A good example of this is ‘landscape phenomenology’, which has been used to help make sense of Neolithic monuments, settlements and landscapes ever since Chris Tilley published his seminal but flawed book A phenomenology of landscape in 1994. This book offered the first comprehensive foray by Tilley into experiential fieldwork and one of the first uses of the philosophical concept of phenomenology in archaeology. Phenomenology is concerned with processing and understanding perceptual and bodily engagement, trying to make sense of phenomena by how we encounter them. So the description of our experiences of things is more meaningful and helpful than merely describing things in themselves; this should be an involved, not detached task. This is typified by an approach to Neolithic landscapes that is embodied and carried out on foot on the ground as opposed to a detached analysis based on maps, air photos and site plans.

phenomenology-of-landscape

Tilley achieved the remarkable sleight of hand of moving from ontological philosophy to archaeological fieldwork method. Thus, experiences one has today such as walking through a prehistoric enclosure, approaching a dolmen, or surveying the wider landscape from the entrance of a chambered tomb to see what can and cannot be seen, could be meaningful data in the study of how people in the Neolithic experienced and used those things and why those monuments were built where they were. This approach has many flaws and critics, but has been much imitated as a method over the past two decades in no small part because, as Jo Brück says, it is cheap and anyone can do it. To paraphrase Andrew M Jones, it is the theory that has launched a thousand student dissertations – including mine.

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Map of a phenomenological walk around the Stonehenge landscape undertaken by Tilley, Barbara Bender and a baby (Bender 1998)

Tilley argued that taking his experiences in the contemporary landscape (all of his fieldwork happens there of course unless he has a secret time machine) and transposing his own personal observation, knowledge and insights derived from these walks back 5000 years can be done because of our shared human physiology, and the consistency of the ‘bones of the landscape’. (See what I mean about archaeology-as-fiction?) Issues of historicity and trees can be overcome so it seems although archaeologists from John Barrett to Andrew Fleming have voiced serious reservations. For my own perspective, I have always been a recreational user of phenomenology, but have never hooked. My first ever published piece of writing was back in 1998 in the now defunct magazine 3rd Stone where I felt confident enough to offer some tentative misgivings about how beneficial walking along Neolithic cursus monuments was although these related more to refining the method than destroying it (in much the same way as Frankenstein kept trying to make better monsters through the Hammer film series rather than just giving up after the first one and admitting it was a pretty bad idea all along).

3rd-stone-cover

Landscape phenomenology of the kind proposed by Tilley and others has as one of its explicit aims the imaginative recreation of the Neolithic landscape (except for all those troublesome plants which we can’t say much about with any precision), and this means that somehow the contemporary landscape has to be filtered out of the equation, in the same way as an augmented reality app might do so on a smart phone. In other words, the very context within which all archaeological engagements happen – the present – is subordinated by the past in the present, which is really just the present when you stop and think about it. It’s almost as if to carry out landscape phenomenology one has to don a pair of x-ray glasses that can see through the actual AD2017 and back to a version of 3017BC. I happen to think that augmented reality in this case means diminished reality and no amount of phenomenology hats can disguise this.

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Augmented reality is diminished reality (photo source: VR Scout)

Tilley called this ‘imaginative self-transposition’ which sounds a bit like a course you could do over a weekend at a lodge in the country somewhere, but is in fact the process of imagining away the present – the roads, field boundaries, planes overhead, car noises, funny smells – to get to the past, or rather the past as imagined by the archaeologist carrying out this process. Thus, we have the emergence of the selfish walk as archaeological fieldwork method, where, as Julian Thomas has put it, ‘the investigator bases their interpretation of a place or object on their unbridled subjective experience’. I actually don’t have that much against acknowledged subjectivity in fieldwork – I am a fiction writer remember – but I do disagree with screening out the context within which archaeological engagements happen. Because we have to understand the nature of our encounters to begin to understand the significance of those encounters; how reliable what we have to say about the Neolithic is contingent upon this.

Little wonder that Tilley has also stated that ‘a megalith in an urban environment does not seem to work’ because the more urban a place is, the more sensory and physical stuff landscape phenomenology says that we must filter out. It might be more correct to say that trying to draw conclusions about Neolithic activities, movements and monuments is harder in an urban or industrial setting, but then that depends on what you are up to in the first place.

If your interest is how the past and the present intertwine, if your concern is what multifarious and denuded ways prehistory appears to us in contemporary settings, if you are passionate about exploring what we can say about contemporary prehistoric landscapes – all concerns of mine – then in a sense it is easier to do this in an urban setting, as this jars more violently with social and disciplinary preconceptions of what prehistory was like. It electro-shocks a reaction, which can be one of intrigue or horror. But here’s the thing: it isn’t really prehistory, no matter with how much determination Tilley and others might walk along, or up to it, and experience it. Prehistory has gone, it’s over, done with. The less prehistoric a place or landscape feels, the more likely that prehistoric remains in that context will tell us something meaningful about our engagements with the past in the present and the conditions within which archaeological knowledge emerges. Some humility and honesty go a long way here.

It might also tell us bugger all about the past, but I am comfortable with that, plenty of archaeologists do that shit.

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Walking along the route of a Neolithic cursus. Maps are the tools of psychogeographers, not the enemy.

In fact, a much better way to deal with prehistoric monuments in a landscape context is to use psychogeography which Guy Debord famously defined as ‘the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’. What better means could we use to explore how urbanisation has impacted on our ability to see and make sense of prehistoric monuments and activities? Psychogeography as a practice is not concerned with filtering out the present, but rather it embraces it as a necessary condition of being concerned with the past in the first place. The imposition of an urban grid replaces what went before, and thus necessitates actions that presence what went before in the present. Here, the urban change has to happen in order for the need, the want, to emerge. It goes without saying that urban prehistory demands urbanisation to have occurred.

The use of mapping in psychogeography as a means to plan or record walks and journeys accords far better with the reality of our urban encounters than vain attempts to forget maps and yet have to draw them anyway to report on our discoveries. Maps are not detachment, they are a record of the world that exist to be subverted, not ignored. Maps are the tools of psychogeographers, not the enemy. The dérive is a far more effective way to encounter prehistoric sites and monuments than knowing-a priori-assumption-laden walks between cairns and stone circles. Psychogeography can adequately allow for outlandish encounters and weird juxtapositions, celebrated as an inevitable and beautiful outcome of human palimpesting of the land, whereas landscape phenomenology can only lead us to bemoan things getting in the way, breaking up the experience, blocking views, generally ruining the megalithic aura and – well, just being annoying reminders that everything is really happening now, in the present, and not in the past. Psychogeography is not as half as visually dominated as landscape phenomenology is. And so on.

So, returning to my first point, I draw a very firm line between the two types of archaeological narratives that I write. Some are indeed fictionalised versions of the Neolithic, and are intended to offer my expert interpretation of the chaotic mass we call the archaeological record. Others are far from fictional – they are serious, factual reportage on encounters I have with prehistoric sites and monuments in the contemporary landscape. I don’t have to make that stuff up because it really happened to me. Nothing Neolithic ever happened to me, and if you have ever seen the huge polished stone axes they were knocking out and hitting one another on the heads with back then you wouldn’t want it to happen to you either. Urban prehistory can and should be a serious business because the traces of prehistoric actions are more useful to society if we understand how people encounter them today, than how they were encountered 5000 years ago.

Crap, this was supposed to be a blog post about me walking along a cursus monument in East Lothian. I’ll do that next time.

 

My thoughts in this post have greatly benefited from various conversations with Andrew Watson, although he may not agree with my conclusions!

The Stonehenge VR image came from the VR Scout Stonehenge webpage.

Academic sources referred to in the text:

  • Brűck, J 2005 Experiencing the past? The development of a phenomenological archaeology in British prehistory, Archaeological Dialogues 12, 45-72.
  • Barrett, J. and Ko, I. 2009. A phenomenology of landscape: a crisis in British landscape archaeology. Journal of Social Archaeology 9(3), 275-294.
  • Bender B 1998, Stonehenge: making space, Oxford: Berg
  • Brophy, K 1998 This is not phenomenology (or is it?): experiencing cursus monuments. 3rd Stone Magazine 30, 7-9.
  • Fleming, A 2006 Post-processual landscape archaeology: a critique, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 16, 267-80.
  • Jones, AM 2007 Review of The materiality of stone, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 17, 229-31.
  • Tilley, C 1993 Art, architecture, landscape [Neolithic Sweden], in Bender, B (ed) Landscape: politics and perspectives, Berg, 49-84.
  • Tilley, C 1994 A phenomenology of landscape, Oxford: Berg.
  • Tilley, C 2008 Phenomenological approaches to landscape archaeology, in David, B & Thomas, J (eds) Handbook of Landscape Archaeology, Leftcoast Press.

 

 

 

 

 

Shadow of the stone

27 Dec

Granny Kempock Stone (Gourock, Scotland): Top Tips Before You Go from TripAdvisor

“If you’re interested in anything historical, this is for you. 

There is something eerie about being near this stone….perhaps it’s the witchcraft that it’s suposedly linked to?!

We only stopped off at this for a matter of minutes, but worth it, if you like this type of thing.”

Andrew W, Trip Advisor

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The avenues and alleyways
Where the strong and the quick alone can survive
Look around the jungle 
See the rough and tumble

Sometimes we must creep around the avenues and alleyways to find truly ancient things, rake amongst the bins for the rubbish of the ancient past that refuses.

Sometimes we need to seek out the rough in order to make the tumble way back into the past.

But…..sometimes the stories of standing stones become more interesting when they become urban.

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Gourock, Inverclyde, is perched on the edge of the firth of Glasgow’s river, at the end of the line, and the beginning of so many journeys to the islands, doon the watter. Here, there are avenues and their are alleyways, wynds and braes, urban sandstone cliffs and serpentine staiways. Here be the Kempock Stone.

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This remarkable megalith, as so often with urban standing stones contained within a cage for whose protection it is not clear, is a well kent character locally, reflected in for instance a playful iron sign located on a roadside about 100m away.

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A sign that reveals the affectionate local name for this standing stone – Granny Kempock Stone. The stone is said to have the appearance of an old hag standing looking out to the sea, and folk myths have become attached to this stone like limpets, with the modern reference point for most stories drawing almost exclusively from an account of the Kempock Stone which appears in the Rev David MacCrae’s 1880 book Notes about Gourock, Chiefly Historical. This account tells of the mostly historical life of this prehistorical monument.

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Maccrae’s account of the Stone is almost the only source we have for the association with the eponymous granny (who might have been a witch), and a series of Lovecraftian rites that were once (and may still be) performed around this stone. It is worth reproducing key elements of that account here (and pictured is the original, above). Macrae’s lurid and tabloidesque description of the stone and its possible functions through time are at stark odds with the middle class designed garden context within which it sat even in the late nineteenth century.

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He notes upon walking up to the monument that “you behold, standing erect, a remarkable block of grey mica schist, that might (had Gourock been near Sodom) have passed for the bituminous remains of Lot’s wife.”

His feverish historical account then turns to darker matters still (at least for a man of the cloth as the author was) – the pagan activities and beliefs that this megalith provoked both in the ancient past, and the uncomfortably near past.

“It is supposed that the Kempoch Stane marks the site in Druid times of an altar to Baal; and that it was wont to gleam, more than two thousand years ago, in the light of the Baal-fire, with the blood of human sacrifices flowing round its base. [Hmm, wonder if there is potential for phosphate analysis around the base of the stone?!]

However that may be, the Kempoch Stane was for many centuries an object of superstitious awe and reverence. The very ballast for ships from Gourock Bay was judged sacred in old time for its connection with the “Kempoch Stane”. Marriages in the district were not regarded as lucky unless the wedded pair passed around the “Lang Stane” and obtained in this way Granny Kempoch’s blessing.

It was chiefly in connection with the winds and the sea that the Kempoch Stane was regarded with superstitious dread. Standing forth on the top of the rock….Granny Kempoch must have been a marked object to ships sailing up or passing down the firth; and would look like someone placed there to rule the winds and the waves, and watch the ships as they came and went.

At one time, according to tradition, a monk made money by giving his blessing to sea-going ships, on this spot. Another tradition tells of a withered hag, reputed to be a witch, who for years dwelt beside the mystic stone, dispensing favourable winds to sea-faring men, who secured her favour by suitable gifts before sailing from Gourock Bay. But long before, and long after, the witch’s day, the sailors and fishermen were wont to take a basketful of sand from the short and walk seven times round Granny Kempoch, chanting a weird song, to ensure for themselves a safe and prosperous voyage” (MacRae 1880, 5-7).

cover-of-macrae-book

This incredible account of a scandalous standing stone that was exploited for sex and money was derived from, one would imagine, local tales, with no written sources provided. Perhaps Macrae made some or most of it up, not beyond the realms of possibility for a Victorian clergyman with an interest in antiquarian matters. But it is a narrative that has endured, and a plaque located next to the corner of the cliff-top pathway that the Stone itself occupies reproduces in full generous extracts from Macrae’s account, perhaps appropriately set within a halo of rusting screws.

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This account renders Baal as Baai, but otherwise evokes the almost spell-like enchantment of Macrae’s words, a rap sheet against this misunderstood lump of rock. (Incidentally, given how close the stone sites to the edge of an old sea cliff, the act of moving around it would actually have been more perilous than it sounds especially is one were in a hurry or a drunken sailor.)

Perhaps these words were also carved on the curious cream-coloured marble plaque adhering to a stone walled structure that sits right beside the Kempock Stone, a touch which gave the whole setting a cheesy Hammer horror feel.

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I was unable to get close enough to this weird feature – which looked rather like a heavily weathered grave slab covered in tidy tiny (but inhuman?) writing – to read its surface. It added to the sense of mystery of this tiny portion of Gourock.

Archaeologists have done little to nothing to resolve any of this mystery and this is perhaps because our traditional tools – survey, excavations, careful recording, scientific analysis – are almost powerless in the face of a single standing stone. 

The National Monuments Record of Scotland has little to say about this standing stone, which has NMRS number NS27NW 5. Field notes for the stone from the 1960s record the size (6 feet tall, 2 feet across) and petrology of the monument (mica-schist) as well as repeating some of the points made by Macrae. And that is it. Nothing else of archaeological note to help someone wanting to make sense of this stone other than the vague assertion on the metal sign on-site that it was Bronze Age and erected around 2000BC which is, frankly, a stab in a millennium long bit of dark.

The NMRS fieldworker’s account adds one further detail though, another layer in this intriguing story set in stone, which adds depth and historical incident to Macrae’s biography of the Baal-stone.

In 1662, Mary Lamont, who was burned as a witch confessed to having attended a meeting when it was intended to throw the stone into the sea.

Huh? That must be the lamest confession ever made by a witch – basically attending a meeting that was convened for the discussion of the fate of an ancient monument. No doubt she appeared in the minutes of the meeting as ML and made the tea and biscuits at the end of the night.

In fact, the story of Mary Lamont, or Marie Lamont, was far more complex than the NMRS gives it credit for and, inevitably, rather tragic.. Of Innerkip (now Inverkip) near Gourock, Mary was 16 when she confessed 13 articles associated with witchcraft and consorting with the devil presumably in less than legally fair surroundings. She claimed the devil had given her his mark, and a new name – Clowts. Thus convicted, she was burned at the stake, with the locals apparently taking pity on her and throttling the young woman before the pyre was lit.

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From a nice little film about Mary Lamont, Clowts and the Serpent (embedded below)

Her confession related to the Kempock Stone was, perhaps fittingly, the thirteenth and last. That she danced around the megalith, ‘plotting to cast it into the sea in order to destroy ships and boats’ (Clowts and the Serpent).

This tragic story, the full truth is which is lost in the mists of time, is unlikely to have involved any real magic or witchcraft, nevermind the very devil himself,  but it has cast a potent spell over modern perceptions of this standing stone in a way I have rarely encountered for any other megalith. What is more, Mary’s story inspires creativity to this day. Bloggers behind the Inverclyde myth and folklore website, Tales from the Oak, have been involved in the production of graphic novels such as Identity, which was HLF funded and developed from working with local school children to celebrate their heritage. This included the tale of Mary Lamont and the Kempock Stone.

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A page from the Identity graphic novel

Perhaps a higher profile attempt to tell the story of Mary was a STV children’s TV show from 1987 called Shadow of the Stone.

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This show was a tea-time-at-the-weekend kind of thing, and is best remembered now as the big break for actors Shirley Henderson and Alan Cumming.

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Shirley Henderson and Alan Cumming on the set of The Shadow and the Stone. Photo believe it or not (c) Alan Cumming himself

The plot revolves around a 1980s’ school girl who, through the medium of the Kempock Stone, develops a strong and supernatural connection with Mary Lamont. The writer of the programme, Catherine Czerkawska recently described the plot:

Shadow of the Stone is a spooky tale of witchcraft, possible possession and burgeoning adolescent sexuality, all set in picturesque Gourock and Greenock on the Clyde. A young girl, Lizzie, becomes fascinated by the story of Marie Lamont, who was burnt as a witch in seventeenth century Scotland. Lizzie has a troubled family background and thwarted ambitions to sail, so when a yachtsman arrives from America, having navigated the Atlantic alone, Lizzie develops a crush, not just on him, but on his beautiful yacht. 

The power of the stone can be seen here in rather simplistic brush strokes as a conduit to the past, enabled by touching or hugging the stone, as Shirley Henderson seems to be doing here. (Note the signage for the stone, now gone.) The megalith acts as a literal touchstone with deeply encoded messages that only a kindred spirit to those who once danced around the stone can access. Forbidden knowledge, dangerous and confusing to adults (i.e. men).

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This programme makes the connection once again between this stone, and the sea, and women, and sexuality, and fertility, threads which run through all of the stories about Granny Kempock.

Alan Cumming, on his own website, reminisced briefly but fondly about working on this show.

Also made by Scottish Television for the ITV network,Shadow of the Stone is a six-part series about a girl and her alter ego from a century ago who had been burned at the stake as a witch. I played her boyfriend Tom, her boyfriend in both time zones. 

He notes that in every scene he was involved in, his character was said to be ‘lurking’ and this sums up nicely the role men have had in the story of the Kempock Stone – sleazy, exploitative, sadistic, judgemental. It is often said in folk myths that to be turned into stone was a common punishment for witchcraftery and covorting, and it is perhaps no surprise that the modern cutesy name for the stone derives from the apparently physical similarity between the stone and an old woman, or crone, or hag, or gran. Yet there is nothing about this stone that suggests it looks more like a man and a woman.

Mhairi Robertson's depiction of Granny Kempock, reproduced with permission

Mhairi Robertson’s depiction of Granny Kempock, reproduced with permission

 

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I visited the stone on a mid-December Saturday, parking down by the waterfront where the denim-grey waves pounded against megalithic sea defences, the fusion of stone and water occurring at a point that I was unable to adequately determine – in the same way as it was now almost impossible to tell where the sea began and the Clyde ended. Fusions of horizons on the horizon, creating fluid boundaries that barely exist. I turned my back to the roaring river to look inland and up to the urban horizon where past and present blurred, another fusion and confusion.

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Through the car park, up some stairs, not using a map, working from memory, I skipped across the main road – KEMPOCK STREET- and randomly turned left. Almost immediately I came across the entrance to a narrow alleyway that led to some steps. An iron sign bridged the alleyway – KEMPOCK STONE. Names pointing me in the correct direction, propitious omens for success. Over the avenue, up the the alleyway. Up the steps, to my destination.

kempock-steps-alley

kempock-steps

All the while I was climbing up a cliff face, sandstone outcrops overhanging gardens on all sides. At the top, I turned right and immediately saw….her.

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The standing stone was in a curious location, perched on the cliff edge and set within a compound of strangeness, with a stumpy stone tower with marble slab beside it, and an ornate gothic green fence around it, some upright post adorned with corrupted fleur de lis. Unsurprisingly, the megalith was caged.

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A closer look at the surface of the stone showed that three sides of if were adorned with carved initials and symbols. I was unable to see the fourth, dark, side of the stone. My notes, scrawled with cold hand and blue pen, documented these markings as best I could, subsequently let down by a botched scan on the work photocopier which it is now too late to rectify.

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Amidst the markings, aside the usual mixture of big initials and dates, and some bold lines and delineations, were what appear to be at least two mason’s marks.

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Reproduced from wikipedia under a creative commons licence (see list of sources at end of post)

Reproduced from wikipedia under a creative commons licence (see list of sources at end of post)

Perhaps here we can see the hand of men in the story of the stone at last, and we can also assume that the fence around the stone and the constructions around it were likely to have been a male domain when this work was undertaken. Superficial scrapes in the deep surface of this stone, nothing more.

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Around the base of the Kempock Stone was a collection of offerings (or perhaps I have been studying Neolithic pit deposition for too long, and this was just rubbish). And there was a hole in the stone, of which I can find no discussion anywhere. It was respected and perhaps even incorporated into one especially grand carving, a large ‘shield’ containing big writing and the date 1815.

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I took one last look at the stone and its bizarre mashed up contemporary setting, yards away from net curtains and tenement doors, and then wondered at the view from and past the stone, expansive and thrilling. If this is the original setting for the standing stone, it is breathtaking, and the connection with the sea, and the salty tasting air, is satisfying and obvious.

I walked out onto Bath Street where the nice iron Granny Kempock sign had been installed, defiantly beside the local church and a dog shit bin.

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By the time I reached the bottom of the hill I had almost completed my loop back to the start of my short urban walk, when I came across a rather creepy nativity scene in a small park. Here, offerings were being placed around a crypt, but perhaps the motivations behind this story were little different to the stories of deposition and ritual at the standing stone up the road, acts with the intention of paying respect to awesome forces, whether that be god …. or the sea.

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KEMPOCK PLACE. THE KEMPOCK BAR. Names, names, names.

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My walk had come to an end. The Kempock Stone had been revealed to me, although I had not yet had enough, and continued to sneak up alleyways into gardens for one last look at the dark, western, side of the megalith from below. I peered between bins and through wet washing like a megalith junkie, eager for one more hit of Granny K. A clear view remained beyond my grasp, but the peculiar and spectacular location of the stone was evident.

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Urban standing stones are rarely as accommodating, or have such rich biographies, as the Kempock Stone. The stories, myths and people who have an association with this stone, whether witch, mason, sailor, school girl or granny, give a richness of narrative that we rarely, if ever, get for the prehistoric incarnations of such monuments, and even excavation would scarce furnish us a fraction of this level of detail. It is the modern biographies of prehistoric monuments that maintain these stones, not the work of archaeologists or fence-builders or heritage managers. We should cherish and celebrate these stories, told in the Shadow of the Stone.

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Sources and acknowledgements: The lyrics that start the blog are from the song Avenues and Alleyways, written by Mitch Murray and Peter Callander, and most famously performed by Tony Christie. I would like to thank Fiona Watson for information about the stone, and Gourock-based artist Mhairi Robertson for kind permission to reproduce her wonderful and evocative drawing of Granny Kempock. The image showing the graffiti possible mason’s mark on the Kempock Stone was reproduced under a creative commons licence via Wikipedia – By Mgordon42 – Own work, CC BY 3.0, while the image showing mason’s marks was sourced from Edward D Galvin (1987) A History of Canton Junction. Finally, I have used the photo of Alan Cumming and Shirley Henderson without actually asking permission from Mr Cumming, an actor of some repute, who I am sure is far too busy to be dealing with unsolicited messages from bloggers asking for permission to use obscure photos from the collection of Mr C himself and first published on his extensive, entertaining and authentic blog. I hope that’s OK with everyone.

 

 

 

 

Cythera

11 Dec

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

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

An alternative geometry, a different world.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Reconstruction of the Hamilton Palace designed landscape

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

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

Hamilton Palace (from the Douglas archives)

Hamilton Palace (from the Douglas archives)

 

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

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

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

Hamilton Mausoleum (c) S Lanarkshire Council

Hamilton Mausoleum (c) South Lanarkshire Council

 

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

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

The altogether less grand Hamilton Palace nightclub

The altogether less grand Hamilton Palace nightclub

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

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

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

retail-park

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

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

first-view-low-res

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

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

the-poem

Cythera

Air

in blue

leaf

blue bark

and blue leaf

a leaf

a barque

a blue leaf

a barque in leaf-blue

aire

 

words

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

It offers a chance to pause, and reflect.

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

the-view-up-the-avenue

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

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

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

the-leaf

Sometimes the past intrudes.

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

the-light

Cythera released –

the goddess of love reborn – 

barque in leaf-blue –

a temple to sanity amidst the cathedral of consumerism –

landscape by design.

 

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

The Fleet beneath my feet

30 Nov

‘We are treading upon our ancestors’ (Peter Ackroyd, London Under)

‘At low tide, the Fleet outfall can be seen by standing in front of the empty bridge piers, and looking down’ (Tom Bolton, London’s Lost Rivers: A walker’s guide, pg. 113)

 

London is the place to go for long walks and drink beer.

It is a city to go underground and read.

Beer and books, books and beer.

beer-and-book-1

Beer and books.

Words and tunnels.

Glass tower blocks and dark dirty corners.

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London is a city of turmoil and change.

It is topographically, topologically, geomorphologically, hydrologically dynamic.

Yet it never changes.

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In London, I walk. I always feel as if the surface of the ground is wafer thin, a membrane. I sense – I fear, I hope – that it would be the easiest thing in the world to let myself fall through, tearing myself and my temporality apart, lose myself in the quick sand of time and the seductiveness of the past. The ancient past.

I imagine as I drip through the pavement pores, feet first

that a Bronze Age archer grabs my ankle and pulls me down

that a Roman citizen tugs on my ragged trousers and cheap shoes

that hunter-gatherers, distracted from the hunt, come to gather me up

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The weight of time, the deep time of London, is a force I can barely withstand and whenever I am in London it comes for me, it hunts and gathers me, it farms me, it smelts me and it colonizes me.

Because London is a city on the edge, a lawless and fluid border zone between past and present.

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London is the gaping maw of prehistory, daring us to forget but not allowing us to, polluting and intoxicating with its weird hot breath.

lower-robert-street

The pavements beneath my feet are almost translucent. Walking in London is to walk on a gossamer-thin reality, the certainty and hardness of the present diminished. As I walk, I feel my feet begin to sink into the concrete and tarmac, and my walking becomes laboured. I look behind me and see a line of footprints – my footprints. Footprints that I have left behind and that I cannot erase. Nor can I escape. They will be able to follow me, the dead, although I have the consolation that I have left my mark in this place. ‘We are treading upon our ancestors’.

footprints-low-res

What more can be said about London?

What more can be written about London?

How deep can we go? How deep should we go?

How about as deep as we can and as far as we can.

Deeper than anything a guidebook can tell you.

beer-and-book-2

I write these words as I sit in a café. I look up from the page. Around me are signs. A road sign points to LUDGATE CIRCUS. An office block is called FLEET HOUSE. A pub is called THE ALBION. A side street called BRIDEWELL LANE, named for a Holy Well.

THIS IS PREHISTORY.

wheeler-sign

How is it possible to write the histories of London and Londoners? History is only part of the story, and a very small part at that. History was brought to London by the Romans, whose ancient city walls were located near where I sat and wrote. I am acutely conscious that I am situated outside the walls of LONDINIUM. I am still in prehistory. I am one of the barbarians, the blue-bodied woad-wearers, I am indigenous, I am a native. There are people everywhere even although it is barely 8am and the sun is barely up.

Iron Age commuters.

Iron Age dispatch riders.

Iron Age cars and buses and taxis and lorries.

Yet – are we not all Homo Sapiens Sapiens? That is all I can see around me in the shadows.

temple-station-low-res

Nearby too, the Roman temple atop Ludgate Hill, now St Paul’s Cathedral, must have been a pagan, pre-Roman, pre-Christian place. Before that it was a mound by a river. It has been coveted, transformed, appropriated, converted and contested. Only last night I ate a pizza and drank wine there. This heathen hill was Romanised by the Romans and Christianised by the Christians and commodified by the capitalists – all in the name of capital in the capital.

And before that, where I sit now, supping caffeine, was under water, in the Thames.

So now I sit, tired, but elated and focused.

The Fleet beneath my feet.

 

 

 

Dig Cochno

8 Nov

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.

excavation-info-image

 

REVEALING THE COCHNO STONE

Phase 2 excavation and digital recording summary report

Summary

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.

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Figure 1: Map showing the location of the Cochno Stone

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).)

donnelly-drawing-from-bruce-1896

Figure 2: Sketch of the Cochno Stone by W A Donnelly (dated 1895), which was reproduced in Bruce 1896 – this is the only known drawing of the Cochno Stone based on direct observation

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.

canmore_image_sc01062363

Figure 3: Ludovic Mann (right) on the Cochno Stone in 1937, which is covered in his paint. His companion may be George Appleby. © HES CANMORE image SC01062363

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.

  1. Trial excavation [completed September 2015]
  2. Full-scale exposure of the Cochno Stone and 3D scanning [completed September 2016]
  3. Post-excavation analysis of data (ongoing, late 2016 into 2017)
  4. 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.
trench-location-phase-1-after-2016-excavation

Figure 4: The red box indicates the location of the Phase 1 trench (drawing from Morris 1981)

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Figure 5: Modern graffiti and a cup-mark on the exposed surface of the Cochno Stone

 

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.

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Figure 6: Mini-digger clearing the overburden on top of the Cochno Stone

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Figure 7: A firefighter helping to clean the Cochno Stone

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Figure 8: Excavated area (in yellow) within the walled compound, and the dotted line shows the extent of the outcrop as a whole. The stone heap in the end was located to the east of the main spoil heap rather than to the south of it as initially planned.

 

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.

No. Research question Provisional observation Implications / further research
1.1 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
1.2 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?
1.3 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
1.4 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
2.1 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
2.2 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

3.1 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

4.1 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
4.2 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
5.1 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
6.1 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

6.2 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

7.1 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

7.2 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

7.3 Was anything found adhering to the surface of the stone? Nothing additional to what was found in 2015 Melted plastic to be analysed

 

Reburial

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.

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Figure 9: The Cochno Stone being reburied on 20th September 2016, with a layer of geotextile laid over the Stone

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Figure 10: Pagan ceremony, led by Grahame Gardner, to mark the reburial of the Cochno Stone

 

Archaeological recording

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.

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Figure 11: Red Cross medal found in the topsoil (photo: Alison Douglas)

 

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.

Sample Number Material sampled
CS01 Black melted plastic [sample also taken in 2015]
CS02 Green-white paint from the largest cup-and-ring mark
CS03 Red paint
CS04 Yellow paint
CS05 Red-white paint
CS06 White paint

 

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).

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Figure 12: Provisional image from the Drone survey. North to the bottom © Factum Foundation

 

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Figure 13: Photogrammetry at the Cochno Stone

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).

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Figure 14: Scottish Ten team’s Laser scanning taking place, with a camera from the History Channel team set up to record the process in the foreground

 

High-spy

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.

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Figure 15: HES high-spy unit on site

 

Provisional results

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.

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Figure 16: Very early view of part of the laser scan data, where carvings not evident on previous drawings, and differential pecking styles, are both evident © HES

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.

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Figure 17: The footprint motifs – modern or ancient? © John Devlin, photo initially published in The Scotsman newspaper, reproduced with permission

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.

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Figure 18: The sheer scale of some of the cup-and-ring marks is breathtaking. This is the motif that was sketched by Ludovic Mann (see Figure 22).

 

(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.

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Figure 19: Mann’s yellow grid paint lines clearly visible in the surface of the Cochno Stone, standing out clearly where the stone appears coloured black.

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Figure 20: Painted circle, presumable the handiwork of Ludovic Mann, found at the NW corner of the Cochno Stone.

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.

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Figure 21: The epicentre of Mann’s grid, located at the northern edge of the Cochno Stone. Note the ruler-like design along two grid lines. Even on this B&W image it is clear that more than one colour was used for the paintwork. © HES

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.

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Figure 22: Mann’s sketch of the big cup-and-ring marks with a narrative associate with the Sun God and other cosmological myths (from Mann 1937b). The top motif here is the one shown being cleaned in Figure 18.

 

(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.

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Figure 23: ROSE and assorted other graffiti written in various orientations.

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Figure 24: Graffiti. Here it is also possible to see Mann’s yellow grid line and white paint in one of the cup-and-ring marks.

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.

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Figure 25: Possible fire spot towards the centre of the Stone, which appears to post-date graffiti in this area.

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.

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Figure 26: Media interest in the Cochno Stone project included three slots on Radio Scotland, two on BBC television and widespread newspaper coverage.

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Figure 27: Using the Cochno Stone to educate and inspire, in this case talking to pupils from Edinbarnet Primary School (photo: Alison Douglas)

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Figure 28: Drone view of the ‘chalkno’ stone drawn by pupils from Edinbarnet Primary School © Factum Arte

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.

 

Acknowledgements

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.

 

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Some of the University of Glasgow team on site (photo: Jan Brophy)

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.

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Stevie

 

References

2015 Cochno Stone report (aka Brophy 2015)

Cochno Stone CANMORE entry

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.

Harvey, J 1889 Notes on some undescribed cup-marked rocks at Duntocher, Dumbartonshire, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 23, 130-7.

MacKie, E. & Davis, A. 1988-89 New light on Neolithic rock carving. The petroglyphs at Greenland (Auchentorlie), Dunbartonshire. Glasgow Archaeological Journal 15, 125-55.

Mann, L M 1937a An appeal to the nation: the ‘Druids’ temple near Glasgow: a magnificent, unique and very ancient shrine in imminent danger of destruction. London & Glasgow.

Mann, L M 1937b The Druid Temple Explained. London & Glasgow. [4th edn, enlarged & illustrated, 1939.]

Morris, R W B 1981 The prehistoric rock-art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway), Oxford: BAR British Series 86.

Ritchie, G 2002 Ludovic MacLellan Mann (1869-1955): ‘the eminent archaeologist’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 132, 43-64.

 

 

Dog Barrow

2 Oct

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

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

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

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The Dog Barrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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Dog Barrow. Hidden in plain sight.

 

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

 

 

 

The last days of a stone circle Part 1

22 Sep

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

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

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

broken standing stone at Forteviot

Broken standing stone at Forteviot (c) SERF Project

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

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

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

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

British Arch mag article front page

From British Archaeology magazine, July 2014

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

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

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road low res with annotation

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

Extract from Spring newsletter

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

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

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

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

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

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I even found fragments of granite and marble gravestones.

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

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

the park ripped apart

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

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

EMIT

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

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

VHE corridor low res

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

Sighthill Youth Centre

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

cemetery view

demolition 20th March low res

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

solstice overview

solstice activity

solstice bike

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

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

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

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

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A climax was being reached

dowsed in smoke and fire and music and love

smeared with urbanisation and tears and wet wet clay

hanging on by its fingertips

ready for change

to become something new

something different.

 

To be continued.