Crania suburbia

Juniper Green is not just the colour of posh jumpers and fancy cars. It is also a rather well-heeled suburb on the south side of Edinburgh, within earshot of the city bypass motorway which roars past immediately to the north. The initials of this place, JG, are only one Ballard short of JG Ballard, which interests me. What interests me even more is that this is a place where the dead were uncovered in advance of moneyed urban development – houses, suburban streets – in the nineteenth century. Escaping the noxious smells and over-crowding of Edinburgh city was done at the expense of disturbing the dead, a price the middle classes were no doubt happy to pay. Yet this is also a story of a community rediscovering a prehistoric heritage and the positive impact that this had, including the permanent memorialisation of this in the form of a standing stone.

Before we continue I should note that this blog post contains photos, and drawings, of human skeletal remains.

The story of what was found has already been unpicked by legendary archaeologist Alison Sheridan for the Juniper Green Bronze Age history website and so only needs summarised here by way of context for what actually drew my attention to the Green. This account draws heavily on Alison’s expertise and I am indebted for her supplying additional information to me.

As usual, it started with a tweet. In this case from Alistair McGowan, alerted me to a standing stone beside some tennis courts which had carved onto its surface amongst other things a human skull and an urn.

This hazily reminded me that a friend who lives nearby had mentioned this to me a while back. This was all becoming irresistible and so I planned a visit during a necessary work trip to Edinburgh before Lockdown 3 started with no intention of being socially distanced from this monolith…..

First, some background.

The first cist burial was found in 1851 in a place that might have been a leveled burial mound. Within this well-made stone coffin was a crouched inhumed male individual and a Beaker pot. The skull, which was documented to have been laid on a flat stone pillow, was purchased along with the Beaker by the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland. What happened to the remainder of the skeleton is not clear. 

From Crania Britannica
(c) National Museums of Scotland

The location of this find has been the subject of some detective work, with Alison Sheridan noting:

The exact findspot of this cist had been uncertain until recent sleuthing work by Professor Beevers allowed it to be pinpointed. We knew, from ancient accounts, that the cist had been found “not more than ten yards” [around 9 metres] from the Edinburgh-Lanark road. Professor Beevers found notes of a talk given by J J Malloch, the Headmaster of Juniper Green School, to the Colinton Literary Society in 1927. In an aside, reference was made to the Bronze Age bones that had been found in Mr Cattanach’s garden. In the 1920s, Mr Cattanach lived in a house called Viewforth; the house is now the butcher’s shop, and the garden of the house lies very close to the Lanark Road. The National Grid Reference of this location is NT 196686.

This location is now a delicatessen on Lanark Road, formerly the long-lived Scott’s butcher’s shop at number 574-6. Lockdown rules mean that sadly I have to rely on Google Street View to illustrate this location. Sad face.

Images from the Juniper Green 300 website
Google Street view

Almost half a century later, in July 1898 during ‘building operations’, a cist was disturbed although it contained only ‘bone dust and soil’. Three ceramic vessels were recovered, two Food Vessels and an inverted cinerary urn. Fred Coles notes in 1899 that six weeks later another pot was found at this site but ‘it soon disappeared and its whereabouts is not known’. In other words, he could not find out upon whose mantelpiece or sideboard this ancient vessel now sat.

Both images from Coles 1899

This discovery was made along Woodhall Terrace, again here depicted using the google maps rather than the sweat of my own fieldwork efforts.

Google Street view

The locations of both of these discoveries are marked on this wonderful map of Juniper Green that was produced as part of the some serious celebrations in 2007 to mark the 300th anniversary of the suburb. Indeed it was this occasion that saw the local community begin to take note of their prehistoric heritage. The map (by Natasha Stewart, part of a leaflet that can be downloaded here) is enlivened by lovely sketches of some of the finds from these sites.

Drawings by Natasha Stewart

As noted, the Juniper Green 300 celebrations were the catalyst for a renewed interest in the history and heritage of this place, and the residents were clearly enthused by the information that there had been a ‘Juniper Green man’ living here 4,000 years previously, to the extent that some of them were able to see his skull up close and personal during a visit to the National Museum of Scotland, hosted by Alison Sheridan. Because as fortune would have it, the skull had recently been scientifically analysed for a major project on Beakers. There is no such thing as coincidence.

Images (c) JG300

This is not the first time that the skull of this male individual, a man of 40-55 years old, has been subject to analysis. It features in the book Crania Britannica: Delineations and Descriptions of the Skulls of the Aboriginal and Early Inhabitants of the British Islands: with Notices of Their Other Remains. This epic trawl of human skulls, phrenology and craniology was published in 1865 so this skull was fairly freshly out of the ground and into the pages of this unnatural selection in short order. The book documents that this was a rounded (brachycephalic) skull, and was unusually heavy and thick-walled.

Image: McTears auction house
‘Juniper Green man’ as drawn in Crania Britannica

The principle of this book was very much that humans could be ethnically characterised by the shapes of their skulls, and as the title suggests, a major element of this was to demonstrate the racial superiority of western Europeans as opposed to those who had the misfortune to be colonised by the British Empire. Prehistoric skulls were very much part of this narrative, identifying traits that could be compared across skulls found in the Victorian world. The research and narrative contained within this volume would be best described as ‘scientific racism’, building on the earlier Crania Americana. Researcher James Poskott has noted how important such volumes were in allowing “racist theories [to] gain credibility”.

This is a way of thinking that I thought had been condemned to the prehistory of archaeology but recently I realised that differentiating between skull shapes is still a thing. I noticed that the late Euan Mackie’s 1977 book The Megalith Builders included a reference to skull shapes of Neolithic people and Beaker users as being different, an idea I thought had long since been abandoned. Upon tweeting this I found out that this kind of argument is still being made. For instance in chapter 6 of the 2019 epic Mike Parker Pearson et al. monograph The Beaker People: Isotopes, Mobility and Diet in Prehistoric Britain (Prehistoric Society). I don’t really know what to make of this frankly, but this kind of skull shape data is no longer couched in racist terminology. Nowadays reasons for skull differences are sought in cultural practices such as ‘cradle-boarding’, applied to children to modify skull shape. Indeed Daniel Wilson in his 1863 book The Prehistoric Annals of Scotland (pg 272) suggested this had happened to the Juniper Green man.

The much more recent analysis this skull underwent was part of the Beaker People project, which included radiocarbon dating the head bone, and also carbon, nitrogen, strontium, oxygen and sulphur isotope analysis. This showed that this man (whom Alison called Mr J Green!) had a diet dominated by meat rather than fish. He was probably local and died in the period 2350-2130 cal BC (right at the cusp of the Copper Age and Bronze Age).

The fresh information on these ancient burials was viewed with excitement by local people. At the time of the radiocarbon dating in 2007, then owner of Scott’s Butchers, Colin Hanlon, told The Scotsman, “It’s a huge shock that there were people here all that time ago. The whole community is alive with all this at the moment – everyone’s talking about it. We may arrange something to celebrate that it was here that the village’s oldest resident was found.” There is no doubt that Alison Sheridan played a part in this revival of interest, being described as inspiring by local community group JG Diggers.

There was now momentum. Following on from the 300 year celebration, a monument was erected in the suburb, the one that started this whole thing off for me. In a report on this in The Scotsman on 9th March 2010, this was described as ‘a giant green monument’ (??). This is a slightly confusing description but has some useful detail: “The rectangular monument features carvings of a water wheel, a pot, a skull and a juniper branch, representing aspects of its history” and that it is a “seven-foot structure”. It is not wildly green but made of a greenish slate hence the weird headline. And some of that seven feet is below the ground surface. However what is clear is that the motivation for this was another indication of the sense of pride and awe locally about the depth of time that people had lived in this place.

Local Val Hawkins noted, “so people have been living in Juniper Green since the Bronze Age at least, which was more than 4,000 years ago.” The monument itself was unveiled in front of a crown of 200 people. The standing stone itself – which in effect is what it is – was sculpted by sculptor and stonemason Ian Newton, made of Westmorland slate. The design was by local artist Mick Brettle.

Juniper 300 website images showing the unveiling. Alison Sheridan bottom right

It is located on the corner of Baberton Avenue, Belmont Road and Woodhall Terrace, on a grassy slope beside some tennis courts. I visited this wonderful monument on a chilly December day in 2020, during a slightly lesser set of lockdown restrictions. I was struck by the powerful nature of the carvings on the front side of the stone, the heritage of Juniper Green carved in stone, including the skull that has been mentioned so often in this post and the cinerary urn found in 1898.

The detail on the skull and pottery vessel is wonderful. The skull stares impassively towards the west with a watchful alert eye. The pot has lovely texture on it, decorative strokes and a kinetic form, a suitable vessel made to hold the dead. The 1851 and 1898 discoveries are both shown here together, a tangible symbol of a place with an ancient heritage, conflating time and space into a new symbol for this town at the cusp of the third millennium (AD). From their time to ours. The rear of the standing stone is blank, a canvas upon which the current and next generations might hew their own destinies, document their stories.

This is a fascinating story of a community re-discovering their prehistoric heritage and embracing it. With the enthusiasm and communication skills of Alison Sheridan, this became a potent combination of local pride and – yes – wonder. This is also a celebration of her wonderful and inspiring career, this being only one of many pebbles she has tossed into ponds only to stand back and watch wonderful ripples surge outwards. One need only view her recent Rhind lectures to reflect on a career well spent as not just an academic but also a public prehistorian.

In Juniper Green there was surprise that these jumbled bits and pieces of pots and bone could be so old. Awe that Juniper Green was not just an occupied place for 300 years, or even 3000 years, but 4000 and more. I have it on good authority that enthusiasm remains and Mr J Green’s old head might yet reveal more secrets of who he was and even what he looked like. It reminds me of a great novel I read a few years ago written from the viewpoint of Oliver Cromwell’s decapitated head, Marc Hartzman’s The Embalmed Head of Oliver Cromwell: a memoir (Curious Publications, 2015). This skull has been on a journey since being recovered from the ground, passed through many hands, sat in quite a few boxes and storerooms, and more adventures may well lie ahead.

This is a tale that might be played out in many other towns, villages and suburbs across Scotland which have an equally rich heritage but which await the revelation of deep time to happen. The Juniper Green example shows that prehistory can inspire social gatherings, creative acts, conviviality, and local pride. In this case, the prehistoric story of this place is now available to read online, and traced in the contours of a standing stone barely a decade old.

This is the power of urban prehistory.

Sources and acknowledgements: I am indebted to the work of Alison Sheridan on these discoveries and the clear presentation of those results in the Juniper Green 300 website, which was my main source of information here. Alison also kindly supplied some supplementary information.

Other source used:

Coles, F R. 1899 ‘Notices of the discovery of a cist and urns at Juniper Green, and of a cist at the Cunninghar, Tillicoultry, and of some undescribed cup- marked stones’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 33, 1898-9. Page(s): 354-8.

The skull is SK12 in Mike Parker Pearson, Alison Sheridan, Mandy Jay, Andrew Chamberlain, Mike Richards & Jane Evans (2019)The Beaker People: Isotopes, Mobility and Diet in Prehistoric Britain (Prehistoric Society).

The Beaker can be found here (in print, not literally!): Clarke, D L. 1970 Beaker pottery of Great Britain and Ireland, 2v. Cambridge. Page(s): Vol.2, 519, no.1710 and you can view a sketchfab 3D model of the Beaker here.

For anyone interested in some darker research, see Davis and Thurnam, J B and J. 1865 Crania Britannica, 2v. Page(s): Vol.2, vi pl.15. Wash your hands once you are done please.

Oh my Goss

Archaeologists are collectors and hoarders. We go through life amassing our own assemblages, perhaps in compensation for all the things we find during fieldwork and excavations that we must hand over to someone else.

My latest collection obsession was prompted by the kindness of Hugo (as in Hugo Anderson-Whymark of the National Museum of Scotland) during the Neolithic Studies Group visit to southwest Scotland in May 2019. During a lunchbreak on a sunny Saturday in Wigtown, he presented me with a small package – a present for me! I carefully unwrapped – excavated – the package that he presented me with and inside was a very small ceramic pot. Directed to read the tiny writing on the base, the reason for this gift soon became clear. This was a very small replica of a prehistoric urn. I could barely believe such a thing existed.

Later than day back in my weird Kirkcudbright B&B room (a short walk from some of the locations used in The Wicker Man) I turned the little fragile pot over in my hands, absorbing the writing on the bottom:

MODEL OF CINERARY URN FOUND AT GLEN DORGAL NOW IN TRURO MUSEUM

On the side of the pot was, weirdly, a crest for the Welsh town of Merthyr Tydfil. What was the Celtic connection?

This was all very exciting, and Hugo filled me in on the astounding truth – that there were lots of such tiny ceramic prehistoric urns, made (primarily) by Staffordshire ceramics manufacturers WH Goss in the late 19th and early 20th century, based on a variety of later prehistoric pots and urns, with a host of town crests upon them. How could I not have known about this? There is even a Goss Collectors’ Club for fans of the ‘crested urns’ and other china keepsakes made by Goss.

Entry for my Glen Dorgal urn from the Goss Collectors’ Club website

The story of these little pots – the crested urns – goes back to the nineteenth century. Essentially they were cheap tourist souvenirs, produced between 1858 and 1939, and which were embossed with the crest of the town or place where they were being sold. WH Goss used a huge range of historical influences for the shapes of their little urns, in part with an ethos of making these little pots educational and informative. Thus there are countless examples of little urns in the shape of medieval pots and jugs, Roman vessels, leather bags, goblets, drinking urns, milk urns, tankards, all in the order of 60mm to 80mm in size. In each case the object that the china replica is based on is written on the base with a Goss stamp, although this became less common through time thus reducing the educational value of the urns. Other companies such as Arcadia made knock-off cheaper versions of some of these urns.

Pine and Pine 1987

So why are some of these little objects china replicas of prehistoric pots? In a 1995 paper about this phenomenon, Catherine Johns stated that the idea came from Adolphus Goss (1853-1906), son of founder of the Goss company William Henry Goss. Goss Jnr. wanted to produce educational and informative keepsakes of holidays and daytrips for working class tourists. The prehistoric pottery range designs came from the pages of Llewellyn Jewitt’s 1877 The ceramic art of Great Britain (2nd edition) and so, as Johns notes, even at the time, some of the terminology used was out-dated (‘Celtic urn’, ‘ancient cup’). As Anderson-Whymark has tweeted, this book had a fine collection of wood cut illustrations of prehistoric pots including one of the Glen Dorgal urn that started me off on this journey.

Image of my Glen Dorgal urn from Jewitt, tweeted by Hugo Anderson-Whymark

And so a modest range of prehistoric inspired crested urns were developed, Johns documenting 18 different styles based on Beakers, Food Vessels, and assorted cremation urns of Bronze Age date.

The prehistoric pots, the Hythe Crypt skull, and bust of Goss (Hugo Anderson-Whymark)

These miniature china urns are pretty good replicas of the originals, in some cases retaining fine detail such as surface decoration, almost impossible to see except close up. Some retain the asymmetries and irregularities of the original.

Johns did a remarkable job of tracking down what the original pots actually were due to a random selection of information and nomenclature. For instance the handled vessel pictured below was called by Goss the ‘Brixworth Ancient Cup’ which is of course a Beaker: for those if you who like this kind of thing it is No. 626 and Fig. 1066 in Clarke 1970!

Real pots (image from Johns 1995, individual photo rights in captions

Pretty cheap at the time (something like 6d), these little urns have become collectable. More information on each pot can therefore be gleaned from annual sales catalogues, produced years after production was wound down. These contain good pictures and info on all Goss pots, not just the prehistoric ones, and show the wide range of town crests on show, not all of them obvious tourist hotspots.

Images from the 1975 The Price Guide to the models of WH Goss

Generally purchasing these crested urns today is quite an inexpensive business. Hugo’s gift was worth about £2.50 in 1975 as you can see above from the price guide for that year, and in 1999 was valued at £12.50 (Pine 1999). However, I very much doubt Hugo paid that in the charity shop he found the object, and on Ebay such pots now sell for a few quid. Ebay has devalued the market to the extent that at any time loads of these are being auctioned for not much money. Almost no-one else bids for them in my experience.

Devizes Bell-Beaker crested urn for sale!

One quirk of these pots is that almost all have a different town crest and object locaton, but some match. So for instance I have a ‘Devizes Celtic drinking-cup’ urn in my modest collection, with the town crest of Devizes. These are a usually more expensive due to rarity although I don’t think mine cost anything more than normal, nowhere near the £33 it was worth in 1999 apparently.

Matched Devizes urn with Pine 1999 entry in the background

I don’t need to tell you that these objects are immensely collectable for prehistorians. After tweeting about Hugo’s gift and my first crested urn, archaeologists Neil Wilkin and Mark Knight came out as Goss collectors. Hugo has a massive collection by his own account, and legendary Scottish prehistorian Alison Sheridan has some too. Crested urns are held in the collections of the British Museum and the National Museums of Scotland.

Image courtesy of Neil Wilkin
Image courtesy of Mark Knight

Of course this started me collecting, and I have now amassed a decent little corpus of crested urns, with more or less all of the 18 types represented by at least one example. In some cases, where small and medium versions were produced, I have one or both. My dad even built a nice display shelving unit for them.

The act of collecting these urns has its own excavation parallels. Coming through the post, most urns have been wrapped up a box and bubble wrap, mimicking the ways that complete pots might be removed from the ground and taken to the lab for analysis. Each act of opening packaging is another form of excavation, unwrapping multiple layers of protection, revealing something beautiful at the end of the process. The material culture of posting and packing these little urns holds its own fascination for me.

Is this urban prehistory? Of course it is. The collection of these weird versions of prehistoric pots seems to me an opportunity to bring the vessels of the ancient dead into our domestic spaces. An opportunity is afforded to trace herringbone designs and lozenge patterns with our fingers, or hold these vessels up to the light which shines right through, literally bone china. Placing these wee pots onto shelves and mantelpieces has echoes in antiquarian practice, where ancient rude urns would be collected from the ground and placed on display by wealthy landowners, only to become lost in the mists of time, turned to dust.

The Goss crested urns are entangled in the Bronze Age, the antiquarian age, the practices of archaeology, the postal service, online auctions, and the lives of collectors.

Johns argued that, ‘there has always been a subtle underlying implication that a natural predilection for designs based on those of antiquity is a mark of an educated and sophisticated taste’. The Goss miniatures sought, in a sense, to democratise this snobby perspective, and open up objects of educational sophistication to suit all pockets and grace the most modest of mantelpieces. What Adolphus Goss started, Ebay finished. Prehistory for the people!

Sources and acknowledgements: I would firstly like to thank Hugo for his kind gift and generous explanations of his collection and advice on how to build my own. Images from Hugo, Neil, and Mark used in this post were all tweeted in response to my excitement at this Goss-giving.

The following sources were refered to in this post:

Catherine Johns 1995 Educational souvenirs: models of British Bronze Age pottery in Goss heraldic porcelain. In Ian Kinnes and Gill Varndell (eds) ‘Unbaked urns of rudely shape’: essays on British and Irish Pottery for Ian Longworth, pages 211-8, Oxbow Books.

Nicholas Pine 1999 The concise encyclopaedia and price guide to Goss china. Milestone publications.

Roland Ward 1975 The price guide to the models of WH Goss. Antique Collector’s Club.

Lynda and Nicholas Pine 1987 The story of the Staffordshire family of potters who invented heraldic porcelain. Milestone publications.

Green bling

Oh, Edmund… can it be true? That I hold here, in my mortal hand, a nugget of purest Green?

This post has two points of departure.

Firstly, I am uncomfortable with the use of the word bling in the context of prehistoric metalwork. This is a common enough trope used by archaeologists and the media. But is this really the correct word for how these objects functions in prehistory, or merely a characterisation of objects as being shiny, precious things – even if the objects in question were neither of these things in the Iron Age or Bronze Age?

Perhaps also there is an element of (inverted) snobbery here, of disparaging gratuitous wealth displays, and the appropriation of a word in mainstream discourse that would appear to be more at home in the urban dictionary. Take the case of the so-called Prittlewell Prince, whose early medieval grave was found in 2003 during road-widening in Southend: in the media and amongst archaeologists (from the Time Team to British Archaeology magazine) this individual became widely known as the King of Bling.

Secondly, I find almost all museums boring. Unless they are museums of weird things, or deeply strange, I am left cold by glass cases of inanimate objects, little text panels, maps, and assorted accompanying artwork and imagery. Museums of course can be deeply contested and problematic places, but for me I see them, usually, as reliquaries for cold dead things that we value today and see as representative which they may or may not be.

Museums confuse me with their fixed categories and compartmentalizations, their maze-like floorplans, the disorderly arrangement of things, the missing objects replaced by little loan cards, weird coffee, lockers with non-returnable coin slots, how much coinage to drop into the donations slot at the doorway. They are places of little stresses that I do not enjoy.

I realise how that both of my initial points of departure are contingencies related to the contemporary setting of the museum, that they exist to showcase prehistory (or whatever) in our own terms and not the terms of those who made the stuff (or whose bodies we display). They are places that for me have little sense of pastness, like big shops where nothing is for sale (except in the actual shop).

But on the other hand, as a recent visit I took to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford did remind me, museums can be fine repositories of urban prehistory. There are few places where urban prehistory exists in such a concentrated form, albeit it in a deeply fragmented and stylised arrangement. If you happen to want a hit of prehistory and are in a city or town, heading to the local museum is as good as a way as any to ensure that you your desire is fulfilled, your lust sated for the good stuff. Although I would argue that museum displays are really just a kind of methadone for prehistory addicts.

On the same weekend as I made my trip to the Ashmolean apres breakfast a conference was being held in Chester on the topic of The Public Archaeology of Treasure. This is one of a series of excellent student conferences organised by the tireless Prof Howard Williams of Chester University, some of which have resulted in publications including papers by students, and generously co-edited with students too. Howard has discussed the conference on several occasions on his brilliant Archaeodeath blog eg before the event and after.

The hashtags for this conference were / are #archbling and #blingarch and this is one of the things that I reflected upon as I sat on a lovely smooth wooden bench in the Ashmolean after failing to find a temporary exhibition of works by the artist Philip Guston that I was actually quite interested in visiting.

Because the European prehistory gallery that I had spent some time on at that point sure was full of bling, gratuitously so. But what intrigued me was how much of this bling was, er, green. Not gold, not silver, not even bronze, but green. Not always shiny, sometimes rather dull. And curiously the idea of green bling made a lot more sense to me because this opened up the category of bling to non-metallic materials. For instance, Neolithic jadeite polished stone axes, of the deepest green. Or wonderful ornate beads of glassy faience, in pale greens and turquoises.

Bling was on my mind for another reason as I pondered a vast wall of busts in the stairwell of the museum. That weekend I had been attending and participating in a continuing education conference on the topic of Places of Worship in Britain and Ireland: prehistoric and Roman. Organised by Paul Barnwell and Tim Darvill, this is part of an epic series of conferences on historic matters. I was talking about cursus monuments of course.

Speakers used the word bling a lot over the course of the weekend. My notes for a great talk by the wonderful Dr Seren Griffiths showed that she used the phrase WEIRD BLING but I can’t recall the specific context.

On the Saturday evening, an excellent talk by the National Museum of Scotland’s all-knowing Dr Fraser Hunter on Iron Age stuff was frequently punctuated with the word bling, usually in relation to some shiny piece of metal like a carnyx, a torc, or a lunalae. (I am not confident about the correct singular or pluralisation of any of those words.)

Curiously my notes from Fraser’s talk included a sketch of a weird Iron Age spoon, and a pair of these caught my eye as I wondered about the European Prehistory gallery at the Ashmolean, taking in the sheer green-ness of it all.

The more time I spent in this gallery, the more green stuff I saw, in all sorts of shades, depths, tones, and materials. Lumps of malachite (nuggets of the purest green?), glassy beads, stone axes, torcs, axes, little metal things that I had no idea what they were, and the pair of bronze spoon-things. In fact it seemed to me that there was more green bling than gold bling or silver bling or even brown bling.

Obviously some of this stuff was not green back in the day. A chemical reaction has taken place. Metal corrodes to a coppery haze and loses its original colour over time. A lot of this stuff is green with age: unlike wood, here green does not depict youthfulness and flexibility. But quite a good deal of this stuff was green all along, with for instance the rich greenness of the stone azes brought to the fore by relentless polishing. Here green was the origin point, not the inevitable outcome. Green-ness was worth climbing the Alps for, perhaps even dying for.

And of course a lot of the bling found with the ‘King’ at Prittlewell had, with age, green-ed like this drinking horn fitting and hanging bowl.

My own experience of green bling came with the discovery of a dagger grave in a cist at Forteviot, Perth and Kinross, 2009. The first indication we had of the grave goods was a shaft of green poking from the beige cist floor, almost as if the dagger was a new growth, appropriate amidst a grave that contained rich evidence for Meadowsweet flowers (white bling). The dagger, once all the brown stuff had been cleaned from it, was revealed to be a wonderful green jagged shard of copper alloy with a whale tooth and gold pommel atop. Now, let’s not get started on whale bling.

So if we must use the word bling, and given the word has been used by the Howard Williams and Fraser Hunters of this world, then I guess we must, then let us at least rethink the parameters and temporality of what we mean. Let’s celebrate green bling, if nothing else because it is one of the most common forms in which urban prehistory appears to us, minty fresh, today.

Sources and acknowledgements: the quote that starts this blog post comes from the Blackadder Season 2 episode Money, and was, or course, uttered by Lord Percy.

I would also like to thank Paul Barnwell and Tim Darvill for inviting me down to Oxford to take part in the conference.

Drinking horn image (c) MOLA and sourced from The Guardian and the hanging bowl image is also (c) MOLA, from Heritage Daily.

The Forteviot dagger image is (c) the SERF Project and HES.

Museum map taken from the guide to the Ashmolean which cost me a quid.

Finally, grateful thanks to Howard Williams for sharing his thoughts about bling. I am truly delighted to have found a topic to blog about that has not yet featured on Archaeodeath (yet!).

Bronze Age

 

We’ve been having something of a clean out in the archaeology department at Glasgow Uni recently in preparation for a new digital imaging lab, and I came across some boxes of papers. These largely contained a collection of notebooks, images, typescripts and photographs that were amassed by a former colleague of mine, who I shall call Dr G_________. Although most of this work has been published in one format or another, one folder in particular caught my eye. This blog post briefly describes the nature of G_________’s research and the unexpected outcome of it. Certain points of detail have been redacted for reasons that will become clear.

files 2 low res

The folder was foolscap, of pink cardboard, and on the front was written the following information in black biro.

BROWN

POWDER

ANALYS.

i.1973 – iv.1973

Above this was added in somewhat less order: Burn this file!!! written with such conviction that the pen had almost punctured the cover of the folder.

the pink file lr

The folder contained the following materials.

  1. A typescript manuscript entitled Analysis of brown powder recovered from the cist at Wester H________ and its implications for our understanding of Bronze Age chieftains in Scotland. The text was short. Written at the top of the page, in rough script in blue biro was the phrase ‘For D.E.S. and the Ministry only’.
  2. A small plastic bag filled with brown powder / dust.
  3. A scientific report on 2 sides of A4 written by a Prof W.X.F. B_________ entitled: Scanning Electron Microscopy of brown dust from a prehistoric grave.
  4. A small notepad with a series of crude childish sketches.
  5. An annotated drawing of a small ceramic vessel.
  6. A stub from a cheque book (Bank of Scotland).

Upon reading the typescript, it became clear that the following sequence of events had occurred. In 1959, when Dr G_________ was still an undergraduate, and senior boy scout, he participated in an excavation on the island of _________. During that project, a stone coffin or cist was discovered and excavated, rather crudely by the sounds of it, by the scout troop leader who was also the organist in the local church, St D_______ of C______. The materials from within the cist were roughly inventoried and stored in a bucket, which remained in the garage of the scout troop leader until he died a decade later during a bank robbery on the mainland. The excavation had never been published due to, I assume and reading between the lines, the embarrassing circumstances of its poor excavation. The whole episode was reported in the local press at the time as a gardening project gone wrong.

typescript low res

Later established as a member of academic staff at Glasgow, Dr G_________ was prompted to return to this youthful episode upon hearing the news of the bank job death, surprised as he was to discover that the troop leader, a Mr Q________ had been robbing banks in his twilight years. He journeyed to the island of _________ and was able, with some persuasion and bribery, to recover the bucket of artefacts and bones. He set about privately trying to redeem himself by funding from his own resources the analysis of all the objects in the bucket, with the intention of bringing the site to publication in the Glasgow Archaeological Journal. He felt confident he could reconstruct the cist itself in sufficient detail for such a publication from a combination of memory and some sketches he took at the time.

Everything proceeded smoothly with these private endeavors for a few years, with cheques removed from the cheque book testament to payments made for services rendered from pottery, human bone, textile and lithic specialists. These payments appear to have been made once annually, around the time when it was customary for young academics to receive a bonus for satisfactory performance. These monies were, it seems, used to fund his nefarious post-excavation project, in order to assuage his guilt.

Forteviot chafing vessel

Once the Christmas 1972 bonus was safely banked, he turned to the next phase of his activities, which is where the meat of this tale is to be found. Here, analysis was required of a curious deposit of brown dust that was found in a heap within a small ceramic vessel that was recovered from beside where a partial skull lay on the cist floor. This was seemingly recovered by one of the team members, a lanky youth called B. Mc________, using a teaspoon, and poured into a small sealable plastic bag. Upon the bag was written, in a childish hand, ‘Brown stuff found by head’ and the site code, which I will not reveal here for fear of allowing the identification of the site. This was placed in the bucket with all the other materials at the end of the escapade and went into storage, only being recovered by Dr G_______’s re-invigoration of this site.

sample low res
The mostly empty bag of brown powder (reversed to protect the anonymity of finder and site name)

It appears that in January 1973, Dr G_________ gave this bag of brown powder to the renowned chemist Prof W.X.F. B_________ who was at that time also tenured at the University of Glasgow. The material was analysed using a newly installed Scanning Electron Microscope. This analytical machine was at that time a novelty, being closely based on the ‘Stereoscan’ machine first put into use at Cambridge University in 1965. The analysis was undertaken rapidly, although the report on this work took several months to be delivered to Dr G________ in his attic office in the archaeology department.

1970s SEM
1970s SEM (source)

The results, contained within the scientific report were brief and to the point. Dr G________ summarized the results and added his interpretation of them in his typescript.

The brown powder, was found under SEM analysis, to contain the following minerals and compounds: Mica, Titanium Dioxide, Dihydroxyacetone and various Iron Oxides. Initially I regarded this as some kind of dyeing agent, perhaps to ensure that [the] deceased within the stone coffn [sic] had clothes of various shades of brown as is widely believed to have been the case in Scotland in the Bronze Age (Stafford and Green 1963). However, further research led me to the revelation that this was, in fact, what is known colloquially today in 1973 as ‘bronzer’ or ‘self-tanning powder’. In other words, the man (as our analyses have shown) must have kept his tan topped up, perhaps as an indicator of status. This is in keeping with our understanding of Beaker folk: Piggott used to tell me that they liked to look healthy, and the a tanned appearance was indicative of a leisured class with time to spend in the sun.

This radical conclusion – that in effect self-tanning powder was invented in the Bronze Age and was a Beaker-associated novelty just like faience, jet beads and copper axes – would have been a career-making publication for Dr G_________. Yet the discovery was quietly forgotten, filed away in the pink folder, presumably intended never to see the light of day. From what I can gather from the remainder of the account in the folder and some other scribbled notes stapled to the manuscript (some even on toilet paper and napkins) the whole post-excavation project was abandoned at this point as well. Prof W.X.F. B_________ left the University to take up a position with the state-run Premium Bonds organisation within six weeks of turning in his report to my former colleague.

premium bonds
Prof W.X.F. B_________ (right) in his new role marketing Premium Bonds (The Times)

Dr G________ himself, from that point onwards, threw himself into the study of brochs, crannogs, wheelhouses and other variants in Iron Age roundhouse form. He never published a single word on the Bronze Age ever again.

What happened? I spoke to a few retired colleagues who remembered working with Dr G_________ and one of them told me a curious tale. She was not sure of the significance at the time, but then she was not privy to what G_______ was up to or his secret file. The story goes that back in 1973 the University senior management was looking for opportunities to monetise humanities research. One day a heated argument was heard in Dr G_______’s office between G and two vice-principals. When eventually Dr G________ emerged from the office he was ashen faced and from that day onwards he tilted to the Iron Age and quit the boy scouts where he had risen to the rank of Brown Owl. Even more curious, the VPs quit their jobs the following month. To open a tanning parlour in Bellshill called Bronze Age.

This money-spinning venture remains open to this day and I can’t help but join the dots and wonder: what became of the rest of the brown powder that was missing from that little plastic bag…..and what the secret of the success of this lucrative salon might be…..

Bronze Age Bellshill

My suspicions were confirmed only a few days ago, when I was scrambling around beneath the desk in my office looking for a sandwich I had dropped. I noticed a scrap of paper, stuck to the underside of the desk, with a yellowing piece of sticky tape. What was sketched onto that little piece of paper made perfect sense when I recalled that my desk and my office had indeed once been the domain of Dr G__________. As I read once in a fortune cookie: cartoons are the window into a guilty soul.

Cartoon stock
Cartoonstock (from here)

Heathen temple

churchyard low res

in a yard in the shadow of the church

amidst bent monuments and faded death markers

and dead flowers

protrudes from the earth the last fragment of a

heathen temple

that once stood in this location

now sanctified now a sanctuary

but once an altar upon which offerings were made

of an unholy nature pagan

with liquids unknown returning to the earth

dripping splashing running

to be absorbed into good christian graves

corrupting bones

countless years later many moons

have passed since dark and mysterious

rites were practiced here in a

heathen temple

that stood in this location

now a sanctuary now sanctified

bible-proofed

but chalk dust was spilled here

by antiquarian Mann inquisitive man

sketched out on the north face of this stone stump

mapping out the occult

crossing the cracks transcending planes

imposing acute and right angles

making connections that ignore

the topography of the megalith

inscrutable washed off by rain never repeated

photographed greyscale black and white

the last flourishing of a

heathen temple

that stood in this location

of the dead

Photo 3

 

Notes

The standing stone in the churchyard of Strathblane Parish Church, Stirling, is of unknown date although there is no reason to doubt that it has ancient origins. Nothing is known about the stone at all, although it was recorded in nineteenth century maps in this location and was briefly mentioned by John G Smith in his 1886 book The Parish of Strathblane. The stone itself is no more than 1m in height, with five faces, and a relatively flat top.

Photo 1

strathblane-stone-1886 map Northern Antiquarian
1886 map of the churchyard with standing stone location shown. This map was first posted online on the Northern Antiquarian blog post for the site.

At some point, the archaeologist and antiquarian Ludovic Mclellan Mann drew a grid on one face of the standing stone in what looks to be white chalk. The nature and meaning of this grid, consisting of connecting and overlapping lines and circles, remains unknown. Only one photograph records that this event ever took place.

canmore_image_SC01331278

Paul Bennett, on the Northern Antiquarian webpage for this standing stone, notes:

‘The fact that it stands by the church (rebuilt around 1803 out of its more ancient fabric) suggests that the site was a heathen temple or sacred site, redesignated by the invading christian priesthood’.

The truth of this may never be known.

Sources and acknowledgements: The grid-drawn-on-the-stone photograph is copyright HES and has Canmore image number SC01331278. It was brought to my attention by Katinka Dalglish who attributed the handiwork to Mann. Supplementary information, as is easily gathered from above, comes from Paul Bennett’s Northern Antiquarian page for this site: he always gets there before me! 

Melancholia

Some urban prehistory sites are strange. Some are sad. Some are both.

There is something melancholy about a prehistoric site that has been destroyed with nothing done to compensate. We are now used to the fairly cosy arrangement that we can accept the destruction of archaeological sites in exchange for them being professionally and fully excavated. This is a deal that archaeologists – and society without most being aware of it – have made with the free market economy. We won’t interfere too much with endless development, change and economic progress and the juggernaut won’t completely flatten what is left of the past without first slowing down a bit or taking little detours. The result is jobs in the heritage sector, lots of random data we would otherwise not have, and sometimes local communities benefit from these transactions too. This might be a Faustian pact, it might even be entirely sensible, but it does mean that in 2017 one of the most important and uncontrollable ways we have of finding prehistoric sites and sucking the information out of them is driven by social need for, and the political demands of, development.

But in the nineteenth century when society was still getting to grips with the implications of massive scale urban and industrial expansion, railway line and canal building, and the requirement for the extraction of the necessary aggregates to make these things happen, no such deal existed. Archaeological sites were swept aside simply because they were literally the wrong place at the wrong time. And so inconvenient standing stones were  toppled, or ”blown with powder’ as in the case of a stone circle at St Colmac’s, Bute. To add insult to injury, whatever survived these extractions was then put to use as building materials, built into walls and barns, or broken up and utilized serendipitously and randomly e.g. in road and rail foundations. Stone cists and coffins were emptied of their contents, with much of the goodies inside ending up on the mantelpieces of the rich landowner, local vicar or an eccentric antiquarian, soon to be ‘lost’. Of course, this was all underpinned by money as well – but the power relationship was balanced differently than it is now. Archaeological sites could be swept away on a whim, facilitated by the signing of a cheque (one of those big fancy Victorian ones), and the data and information that resulted from any crude interventions that followed could be characterized as limited, selective and often rubbish.

Whoever said that no deal was better than a bad deal?

A dead megalithic monument in Clackmannanshire prompted these thoughts to be re-articulated once again. It is a sad and strange story that represent the ways that even substantial prehistoric monuments, when competing with the demands of nineteenth century economic requirements and the requirements of the landed gentry could come to a very sticky end, reduced to nothing more than an antiquity map symbol.

 

I have a Cunninghar plan

The site to which I refer was called Cunninghar in Tillicoultry. This is a monument that according to varied accounts was substantial, consisting of a circular or oval setting between 20m and 35m in diameter of standing stones three feet high at the foot of the Ochils. (A bank apparently surrounded this, suggesting to me this was a kerb cairn rather than a stone circle for what it is worth.) No record of the number of stones survives, nor any etchings or drawings of this monument. The enthusiastic recorder of prehistoric lost causes and megalithic wild goose chases, Fred Coles, tried to get to the bottom of the story of this stone circle right at the end of the nineteenth century, his sources of information patched together from conversations with an experienced local forester, an OS Name Book entry and some nifty mapwork.

His informant, the estate forester, gave a vivid description of the stone circle and the fate that it met (for the source of this quote, see the end of this post; Location A is shown on Cole’s map reproduced below):

McClaren statement from Coles 1899

The rather undignified evisceration and re-purposing of the monument by the local gentry for their own grand designs, and also perhaps with one eye on the quarrying and thus financial potential of this location to come, left the bank and one single standing stone on site, which became the focus of excavations in the 1890s when two cists, one containing a fine Food Vessel, were discovered on site as the ridge was gradually denuded for aggregate extraction. The account of these discoveries was documented fastidiously by R Robertson in a paper written slightly before Coles arrived on the scene, and in his observation that the site was situated on an ‘elevated ridge of sand intermixed with gravel’ lies the seeds its downfall at the hands of quarrying for those materials.

There is no need to rehearse the details here of the discoveries that occurred in harmony with the rhythm of the extension of the gravel quarry, surprising extractions, suffice it to say that several Bronze Age pots, and a stone marked with rock-art, were discovered.

Food Vessel from Tillicoultry Robertson paper

Rock-art photo Robertson paper

My favourite detail of these impromptu rescue excavations was the discovery by Robertson in the location within a cist that one would have expected a head to be located, ‘a quantity of a fibrous or hairy substance, of dark-red colour’. Analysis was undertaken of this mysterious material by a Professor Struthers who appears to have been something of an expert in these matters, having his own collection of ancient hairs which he sometimes exhibited to the public. He concluded, by comparison with his own reference collection, that this was not the hair of a man, ox or horse – but it might have been the ‘wool’ of a fox, dog or rabbit. (Audrey Henshall later suggested it was otter.) No further analysis of this was undertaken but I like to imagine this was the remnants of a crazy stoat hat. (It is worth noting also that the name of this site derives from something to do with rabbits suggesting this is the kind of location where a rabbit might have burrowed into a cist by accident and died in there. Just saying.)

Cist plan Tillicoultry Coles paper

Fred Coles reported on another cist found here a few years later, although had nothing to say on the matter of the ginger-haired deposit. He also noted that quarrying had not begun at the south end of this ridge by the time of the OS 1st edition mapping of the 1860s, but by then, the stone circle was already gone, for the reasons already noted above. The sand pit to the north suggests the landowner was well aware of the potential value of this location and the pesky stone circle that was on the way of his bank account being further bloated.

OS 1866
OS 1866

Later maps show the outline of the quarrying in more detail, and so show the activities that led to the discovery of Bronze Age burials here as well as completely removing the site where the stone circle / kerb cairn. In a sense the quarrying was more destructive than the standing stone removal, in the same way as extracting one’s teeth is not half as bad as losing your mouth.

This megalith was wiped off the map, and it was on maps that ironically was the only place where it continued to exist.

OS 1866
OS 1951

Gradually, this location became increasingly surrounded by housing estates and the trappings of the modern urban landscape. Using a really helpful map that Coles made of the archaeological discoveries at Cunninghar, and subsequent mapping, it is possible to roughly plot where these key discoveries were made in relation to the modern Tillicoultry – sandwiched between Dollar Road and Sandy Knowe with a fine view over a cemetery and war memorial.

Location map

It was no surprise to me when I visited on a quiet Saturday morning that there is no sense whatsoever that in this corner of Tillicoultry once stood a substantial multi-phase Bronze Age monument. The Cunninghar sand and gravel ridge that so attracted quarriers survives within the urban setting, in the form of a wide grass-covered bank that runs north-south between two housing estates. A path runs along this ridge and I mounted it, from my parking position on the appropriately named Sandy Knowe, via a set of steps. Once on the embankment I followed a rough path that lead to a broader and uneven overgrown area with a mast atop it. This metallic tower stood within a steel cage with warning signs adorning it.

The mast

Grassy knoll

The skull

Tree symbol

This area betrays little to nothing of its former purpose, other than that it is possible to imagine this as a prominent viewing point with views down to the River Devon. The ridge came to a sudden end at a wall on the fringe the A91, while an escarpment topped with a feeble fence which meandered from east – west marked the limit of the sand and gravel quarry that was once here that finally removed the remnants of this monument, the conclusion of a slow-motion series of interventions.

The quarry

As I wandered around in the faint hope of seeing something, anything, that might hint at megaliths, burials or an embankment, I noticed a large stone lying on the other side of the fence on the edge of what was once the quarry. This had previously been identified by the Northern Antiquarian as being a remnant from the stone circle, and although it seemed to me too small to have fulfilled this purpose, it did look out of place and may once have been a prehistoric something or other.

Remnant

Down I went into the quarry, now an overgrown edgeland betwixt road, mound and back gardens, nothing but weeds and rubbish strewn about. Spatially, if not physically, there had been a stone circle here once, perhaps elevated 5m above my head. But all that remained were random sad objects: a twisted child’s car seat, a hoard of charity shop sacks and the splayed and stretched out tendons of a Venetian blind.

Remnants

This made me melancholy. A stone circle had been lost – so be it. But it had been lost and not adequately compensated for. A Food Vessel, Urn and a clump of dead rabbit / otter had been added to the archaeological record, dots on a distribution map (except for the rabbit unless there is a distribution map of Bronze Age wigs), but we don’t even know how many megaliths once stood here. Tillicoultry House with its amazing standing stone lined drain was demolished around 1960, another victim of progress, while the current location of the rock-art-marked stone, visited and visible to Ronald Morris in 1966, is unknown. The Food Vessel is held in the collections of the National Museum of Scotland.

Tillicoultry House
Tillicoultry House. Drain not visible. Source: http://www.ochils.org.uk

There is nothing to let people whose houses are literally metres from where a prehistoric centre of ritual, ceremony and burial once stood know about this, no noticeboards that might inform casual passers-by, a lack of an app or virtual reality ancient version of this place to download. This monument has gone, a victim of all sorts of Victorian hoo-ha. And not only was the monument destroyed, but the place where this monument once stood was destroyed, atomically removed. Once it was removed, the megalith was split up into pieces and then it was later destroyed again, a second death. The burials that were left behind were recovered to an extent, but are now hopelessly dispersed.

There was no deal here – this was a hard extraction, and once the stones had fallen from this cliff edge there was no going back.

I have often said in the past that urban prehistory is not about a sense of loss, or sadness, and this is still the case. But for Cunninghar there have only been bad outcomes, as bad as it gets, and it seems a hopeless case, all that remains being this sad story and footnote in the National Monuments Record of Scotland.

Melancholy is not the same thing as sadness, nor is regret. What I regret about some urban prehistoric sites is that their destruction was in vain, the price paid too high.

Prehistorica melancholia.

 

Sources and acknowledgements: This post benefited from many conversations with Helen Green about heritage, development and compensatory measures (or lack thereof). 

Little has been published on Cunninghar, or the variants of spelling of that name that are out there (Cuninghar, Cunningar). Two articles were published in close succession in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland about this site, both referred to above. The first of these was Robertson’s 1895 effort, ‘Notice of the discovery of a stone cist and urns at the Cuninghar, Tillicoultry’, in volume 29; the second Cole’s 1899 ‘Notices of the discovery of a cist and urns at Juniper Green, and of a cist at the Cunninghar, Tillicoultry, and of some undescribed cup- marked stones’ (volume 33). Both can be read online for free via the Society webpage. The image of the Food Vessel came from the Robertson paper, the cist plan and rock-art ‘photo’ from Coles, and the latter also provided the quote near the start of the post.

Dunfermline’s invisible dead

I went on a fieldtrip on Saturday with Sam to Fife. Ostensibly the journey was to visit the location of a Bronze Age cemetery that had been found by chance during house construction work in the 1970s in Dunfermline, but this expanded to a visit to a second location, a standing stone situated just a few hundred metres to the west. These two locations – the standing stone and the cemetery – were treated very differently during the post-war urban expansion of Dunfermline. One was excavated thoroughly, and then forgotten. The other was monkeyed about with, left on display and had a pathway named in its honour. Yet it was the invisible prehistory that had more impact on me on my visit to Pitcorthie.

standing stone walk sign low res

In the 1950s the site of the standing stone and cemetery was still ‘all fields’ as they say with farms Easter and Wester Pitcorthie eventually giving their name to the suburb that would emerge here. The standing stone appears on some old OS mapping, such as the six inch 1st edition Fifeshire sheet 35 (published in 1856) marked simply as ‘stone’. The cemetery was unknown until its accidental discovery during Scottish Special Housing Association (SSHA) works in 1972. A lot of the post-war housing in southern Dunfermline was constructed by the SSHA. This was a government-founded agency that was established in 1937 and was involved in the construction and maintenance of ‘social housing’. One of the most notable projects the organisation was involved in was Glasgow Eastern Areas Renewal (GEAR) in the 1970s. This pseudo-quango was wound up in 1989 at the time my father worked for them, and they became Scottish Homes.

standing stone and grafitti low res

Urban development inevitably impacted on the prehistoric archaeology of this area (sadly no longer called Fifeshire). The terrace of land to the north of the Forth has a sequence of Bronze Age monuments scattered along it, including a series of isolated standing stones and the famous Lundin Links stone setting (NMRS number NO40SW 1) with its weird monoliths. The latter monument sits within a golf course, one of several prehistoric monuments that have become obstacles (and targets?) for golfers in Scotland. And located on what was once outside Dunfermline was a single, lumpy standing stone, known as Easter Pitcorthie (NT18NW 4). When visited by RCAHMS in 1925, the stone still sat in a field and was described as being just under 2m tall and made of sandstone; stones clustered around the base, although their relationship to the standing stone was unknown. The stone still looked rather like this in 1959, but at some time in the 1960s, as urbanisation spread to this location, the stone was transformed by the construction of an irregular square of cobbles, or setts, around its base. The ‘landscaping’ of this stone was, I assume, not accompanied by an invasive excavation as no record of such an act exists. The stone became the centrepiece of a small square sloping piece of grassland, with houses on all sides, and assorted trees in the vicinity. The pathway that ran past the megalith was called Standing Stone Walk. It appears that this was to be ‘a feature of interest to the local population’ (Close-Brooks et al 1972).

sam and standing stone low res

The stone today is surrounded by concrete, literally and metaphorically. It sits forlornly adjacent to some back gardens, covered in slimy green moss and even the red graffiti daubed on its western side has faded to unintelligibility. Broken glass and weeds had replaced the stones that once sat at the base of the stone, while the paved setting looks like it is now a few bricks short of a patio. A child ran past and told us he was able to climb on top of the stone, but we did not ask him to demonstrate. Urban prehistory can take on many forms, but most commonly it is banal, and even the most powerful and obvious juxtapostions (or indeed contrived juxtapositions) cannot revive the pastness of these places.

standing stone and friends low res

Just 350m to the west, house-building continued, and an altogether more troubling and problematic (and expensive) prehistoric site was located in 31st March 1972. A machine driven by Mr M Miller dislodged the capstone of a cist; the driver jumped down and started to clear out the contents of the cist with a shovel, stopping only when he found a human skull. By the 1st of April, five burials had been found and fully excavated, while a sixth was located and investigated ten days after that. Little time was lost on the build, with the cemetery location just beyond the back gardens of several houses on what was to become Mathieson Place. (This site is commonly known as Aberdour Road, NMRS number NT18NW 13).

plan of the cremation cemetery

Three cist burials were found in all, plus two cremations and one cremated burial associated with a Food Vessel pot sat within a stone setting. The survival of materials within these burials was varied, but suggests some interesting and unusual burials. A young female lay crouched in one cist, the leg bones of three different young pig bones laid around her knees (burial 1), while the crouched burial of an adolescent was accompanied by a lump of iron ore, possibly a component of a fire-making kit (burial 3). One cremation (burial 5) consisted of the remains of two people, buried together, with a single bone pin, which may once have held together a bag that contained the bone and ash. In one cist (burial 2), all that survived of the body was chemical traces, indicated by sampling for phosphorus.

the remains of the person in cist 2

All of this was recovered despite the ‘large-scale destruction by earth-moving machinery’ recorded by the excavator: in finding these sites, cist slabs were smashed, and some pottery was broken by the bulldozer.

location of grave 6 low res
The location of burial 6 which we marked with a wooden fence post fragment

The location of this cemetery today is easily accessible via a pathway at the eastern end of Mathieson Place. Sitting on a ridge, overlooking a park and surrounded by houses, the cemetery is now a piece of grassland and is not marked in any way. A few hollows in the grass hint at locations where burials were located. Debris from activities being undertaken in the park were noted: a glass Irn Bru bottle lying in the vicinity of burial 5, beer cans and bottles in an scrubby area just to the SE.  Yet there is no sense that this was once an ancient burial ground, a sacred place in the Bronze Age where at least seven people were laid to rest. The remains have now been removed, but plans by SSHA to mark the spot by returning the cist slabs obviously came to nothing. The location of cremation burial 6 lies just 5m from someone’s back garden, yet who actually knows about any of this?

burial site viewed from the SE low res

It is profoundly sad, I think, that the burial of this small group of people is not marked in any way; it is a shame that the SSHA aspiration in the early 1970s came to nothing. It was easy to leave the standing stone where it stood nearby and incorporate it into the fabric of modern Dunfermline using building materials that were to hand, whereas when skulls start to pop out of the ground, something has to be done to facilitate development. This is the fate of many accidentally found prehistoric cemeteries, unmarked and forgotten except in exceptional circumstances. An appendix in the Aberdour Road report briefly records a third prehistoric engagement during the urbanisation of Dunfermline, in the nearby village of Crossford. Workmen on the construction of a new road uncovered on 13th November 1973 what they thought was a drain, but was in fact a Bronze Age short cist burial (NT08NE 36). A Mr A Hall recovered a Food Vessel pot from the drain-grave but within a week this burial had been buried once again, this time under the foundations of the new road. The location of this burial is on the junction of Morar Road and Affric Way if you care to visit.

standing stoneD walk croppped and low res
Standing StoneD Walk: the sign subverted

Do we need to show our respect to the ancient dead? Have we done this by carefully removing the dead and their grave goods in controlled excavations rather than simply bulldozing them away? Are our excavation reports, our records and our dots on maps suitable epitaphs? Have we memorialised these people archaeologically? Do these places cease to be meaningful once the physical remnants of mortuary rites have been removed? I am not sure what the answers to any of these questions are, but I am uneasy about us concluding excavation projects and forgetting these places. In Dunfermline, I encountered two forgotten prehistoric monuments: one hidden from view, the other hidden for everyone to see. But who cares?

Sources: Many thanks to Sam who accompanied me on the fieldtrip to Dunfermline and took some of the photos used here, and to Donald for inviting us to the town in the first place. Most of the information on the history of the Easter Pitcorthie standing stone was derived from the National Monuments Record of Scotland. The excavation report for the Aderdour Road cemetery, and the Crossford Food Vessel burial, is: Close-Brooks, J, Norgate, M & Ritchie, JNG 1972 A Bronze Age cemetery at Aderdour Road, Dunfermline, Fife. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 104, 121-36. This journal, PSAS, can be accessed free online via the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland website. The plan of the cemetery was derived from various illustrations in this report, as was the phosphorus data.