Saturday 5th October 2019. 5002 years, 194 days and 19 hours after Glasgow’s ancient eclipse*, a conference was held to re-evaluate, celebrate, and contextualise the life and times of Glasgow’s antiquarian archaeologist, Ludovic Mclellan Mann. This post offers an overdue summary of the conference, and updates on what is next for the Mann-revival. More in-depth Mann stuff can be found at my dedicated blog for research into this man(n).
(* eclipse may not have happened, and almost certainly not at the precise time Mann thought it did.)
2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Glasgow’s great eccentric antiquarian and amateur archaeologist Ludovic Mclellan Mann (1869-1955). A controversial figure during his lifetime, Mann nonetheless carried out important excavations, was Scotland’s first ‘rescue archaeologist’ and lived a life committed to public archaeology and heritage education. He is well known for his colourful books on ancient measurements and Earliest Glasgow, and his excavations at the Druid Temple, Clydebank in 1937-9. But what is his legacy? How should we view his eclectic activities and ideas? What role did he play in the development and professionalisation of the archaeology in Glasgow, Scotland and beyond? And what about his non-archaeological interests?
To mark this anniversary, as part of a series of events, a conference and celebration of Mann will be held at the Glasgow University Union Debating Chamber on Saturday 5th October.
We welcome proposals for contributions to this event, whether this be a 20-minute talk or something more creative. In particular, we encourage non-academic content and so are welcome to whatever idea you want to pitch.
Then we sat back and waited to see what would come our way. We were not disappointed.
A really nice range of contributions came in, some of which in the end did not become conference papers due to clashes with other events. These came from a variety of people, from academics to geomancers, those with an ‘amateur’ interest in archaeology, to students. Speakers included early career researchers and pensioners and most things in between. The final programme looked like this:
All of these speakers freely gave up their time, energy, and resources to contribute and attend the conference, and so we are indebted to them. Not named here is Dr Stuart Jeffrey, Glasgow School of Art, who kindly agreed to act as a discussant at the end.
I wanted the venue for the conference to be fairly informal, not a stuffy lecture theatre. I also wanted to keep costs down which limited possible weekend venues in and around Glasgow University where I work. In the end we settled for the debating chamber at the Glasgow University Union, where my previous experience of a conference – the Scottish Student Archaeology Society event in January 2018 – had been a good one.
I spoke at that event, and my only quibble was that I wanted a giant screen to show slides on, not the little one shown in the photo above. Thankfully I was able to squeeze that out of the conference budget as well as an all-singing-all-dancing sound system (which of course conked out on the day of the conference for a while). Thanks to Glasgow Archaeological Society I was also able to organise catering at the venue, and kept the entrance fee down to a tenner for general entrance, fiver for GAS members and students, and free for all helpers and speakers.
Our funders and backers helped make this possible:
The conference pack
I also wanted to ensure that delegates had something tangible to take away with them, rather than just a boring old programme. With no real cash to spare to buy pens, tote bags, or other ephemera to give to those attending (the decadent trappings of the contemporary conference), I decided to design and produce a zine, and include this and some other bits of paperwork in an A4 envelope, which I could buy in cheap packs in Tesco.
The zine was on the theme of the conference of course, old Ludovic himself, and cost nothing directly to the conference attendees, although a lot of A3 paper was used and colour photocopying done at work (hope my line manager does not read this!). One of our students, Hannah Stevenson, kindly folded them all into zines which must have taken ages! In the end only about 75 were ever made so if you have one, hold on to it, one day you may be able to cash in on antiques roadshow or posh pawn brokers.
The zine was accompanied by a postcard advertising a future podcast on Mann, Mannsplaining (still a future aspiration at the time of writing!), with design by Mike Middleton, a conference programme, and some flyers.
Katinka kindly agreed to host a hands-on session with objects associated with Ludovic Mann in the collections of the Kelvingrove Museum. This was held in the Kelvin Hall across the road where much of their archaeological material is now stored. A few early bird delegates turned up the day before the conference and spent a happy hour fondling stuff found or collected by Mann, a veritable material culture menagerie.
The boxes, the writing on the objects, the little notes and labels, were as of much interest as the materials themselves. A tangible connection to the Mann himself.
The day of the conference dawned for me with a mixture of excitement and stress. I went into Glasgow, got a couple of bags of stuff, and come coffee, then went to the venue where I was met with the relaxing presence of lots of helpers ready to get going. Things were set up, even the audio-visual stuff started working after a while, then the audience began to drift in. By the time we were ready to go, there were lots of people in the room, and most of the speakers had been able to turn up!
I’m not going to go over the contents of the day in much detail. There are plans for an edited volume with some contributions which should be out before the end of 2020, and also the whole day was recorded by Tristan Boyle. I’m hoping the talks can be released as part of the Mannsplaining podsact series when it eventually gets up and running. You can also follow live tweeting from the event by checking out #theManntheMyth on the twitter.
But here are some pictures I took on the day of some of the speakers.
As well as the speakers, and others took part other than those photographed above, there was also a display of Mann archival material and some of his books (and some Harry Bell books), and Tom Davies presented a selection of marginalia by Mann in textbooks he had come across. Glasgow Archaeology Society, Glasgow University Student Archaeology Society, and Edinburgh University Press had stalls.
The day was indeed a celebration of Mann, but of course reservations were also expressed about the veracity of some of his explanations, perhaps even the sanity of some of his actions. I think there was a good balance in the room of awareness that for all of his limitations and weaknesses, Mann was a pivotal figure in the development of Scottish archaeology. This was illuminated by a very personal intervention by George Applebey, whose father with the same name was a friend of Mann’s, and did a lot of work with him. George even remembered meeting Mann, who was an uncle figure to him.
The reaction to the day seems to have been positive, with tweets like this one from film-maker Myles Painter making it all worthwhile.
In numbers, the Mann the Myth conference was also a success. 64 people came along to the conference including over 20 Glasgow Archaeology Society members. The day would not have been possible without the financial and in-kind support of our sponsors, while the time and effort given freely by speakers, student helpers, and assorted other supporters was humbling. I hope that this is only the start of my Ludovic Mann journey, not the end, and given his voluminous and mostly uncatalogued archive, that seems very likely. His legacy has yet to be truly reflected on and explored to the depths of the Palaeolithic and onwards.
Exactly a year ago, 20th March 2019. the new Sighthill stone circle was officially revealed to the media. Designed, as was the first iteration, by Duncan Lunan, this astronomically aligned stone circle has been constructed as a permanent and unique resource within the emerging new Sighthill just to the north-east of Glasgow city centre.
At the time when this new megalith began to emerge, it sat on a raised island amidst a giant muddy building site. Sighthill itself was yet to be reborn, the old variant having been more or less completely bulldozed and remediated as part of a £250 million redevelopment. The standing stones stood resplendent like teeth, their concrete foundations exposed like white gums. At the time they sat in a noisy landscape of construction, with the closest neighbour being a Mercedes car dealership, a Ballardian crash of epic proportions.
A year on, residential Sighthill is now growing slowly, although the stone circle remains (just) in glorious isolation. It still sits in a brownscape of mud amidst machines of construction, but it is slowly visually and metaphorically being lost in an urban skyline. Yet even now, driving west along the M8 into the city centre, the Sighthill’s second stone circle is a fantastic site / sight, emerging as it does on the horizon off to the left. A similar and wonderful view can be gained by the pedestrian by standing on Baird Street bridge over the motorway.
The stone circle is surely Glasgow’s Angel of the North, a great crown of stone on the horizon.
This photo essay (my rather grand description of what is basically a series of photographs) documents the time I was privileged to spend in and around the stone circle on 20th March 2019 thanks to a kind invitation from Duncan.
an accumulation of scree at the base of a cliff or steep slope
an ankle bone
The pressure of my thumb caused just enough 0.7mm graphite to ooze from my pencil. Sitting on a train, breathless, fumbling in my bag for the book. Applied Ballardianism by Simon Sellars. This crumpled paperback that had become the roadmap for my increasingly eccentric visits to places in heavily urbanised or industrialised places with obscure prehistoric predecessors. This was no longer enough, I came to realise after writing 116 posts for my blog. I needed new kicks, fresh experiences, the hard stuff.
I opened Sellars’ book up at random pages and saw continual relevance to my own condition, just as the unreliable narrator of this fever-dream of a novel had also done. I began to scribble in the margins, automatic writing. The sections of the book that I applied marginalia to appeared to be random but were perhaps not. Bunker Logic. Scar Tissue. Emergence.
This book was the archaeological fieldwork guide that I had always wanted. More profound than Barker’s Techniques of Archaeological Investigation. More informative than Drewett’s Field Archaeology. More grounded in reality that Hodder’s The Archaeological Process. More emotionally charged than the MoLAS archaeological site manual (3rd edition).
I came to realise that as a rulebook for surveying the deep time in our world one need do no more than read the complete fictional works of JG Ballard, Applied Ballardianism and Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archeology.
Through this psychogeographik grimoire, I had found my hard stuff. The hard stuff of life.
Middens are indicative of accumulation and disposal, rise and decline. They are the ultimate material expression of consumption.
Middens mark the rise, fall, and will indicate the return of, prehistory.
Middens are contingent on abandonment, emergent in every place that humans exist, from a deserted military island to the urban core.
Middens passively grow, while awaiting collapse.
Middens are our cultural scar tissue, which we cannot help but touch.
Cairns of calcium and carbon.
In the Mesolithic of Oronsay, hunters and fishers would bury human finger bones in their shell middens.
In the Neolithic of Orkney, farmers would use midden material to insulate their houses.
But middens are not just of the past. Everywhere around us are middens-in-waiting, potential-middens, partial-middens, middens-in-hiding, proto-middens.
Living is an act of middening.
A Gruesome Inventory
The kitchen-midden was discovered on the far side of the small estuarine island of Inchkeith in 1870 at the base of a slope. This artificial organic talus consisted of cooking-debitage, eating-scree, of unknown date and origin. The midden was monumental in its scale, up to 3m high, thick with greasy charcoal.
Baskets of bones were removed from this midden for analysis back in Edinburgh. The scientist tasked with the analysis of these bits and pieces produced a gruesome inventory, scraped from the pages of an anatomical manual, notes from an animal autopsy.
Basi-occipital and basi-sphenoid fragments of grey seal skulls. Mastoid process and temporal fossa of sheep. Head of the ulna of a sheep. Fourth cervical vertebrae of a pig. Head of left tibia of an ox. Cannon bone of hind foot of bos. Toe bone of bos. Parts of jaw, and several teeth, of horse. Jaw bones of the rabbit. An assemblage of alien species.
Many shells were found too, listed in the analysis like an incantation. Tapes pullastra. Purpura lapillus. Pecten varius. Ostrea Edulis. Pecten maximus.
It was concluded after this analysis and repeat visits to the island that, ‘there is no evidence as to the period when these rejecta were first cast forth’.
Cast Forth in the Forth.
Hunter Street. There is no such thing as a coincidence so I told myself as I cut up from the Barrowlands Ballroom and headed towards the urban prehistory. I turned onto Hunter Street, folding a map and stuffing it into my back pocket. Across a railway line, over an abandoned tunnel. Ahead of me now were the rusty skeletal remains of warehouses, the Victorian city excarnated, exposed as if on a osteoarchaeologist’s slab.
The sign of the Hunter was affixed to a street light that had beside it a rusty totem pole, its evil twin, pock-marked with corrupted spirals and corroded cupmarks.
Two drunks in navy shell suits kept appearing during my walk, as if they were being projected for my benefit on a loop by some unknown projectionist. One of them spoke to me tenderly, momentarily breaking the fourth wall, confusing me for his partner in grime, before realising his mistake and flickering out.
I was looking for hunters in the city, middenscapes in the shadow of the industrialised Tennants’ Brewery, makers of liquid gassy capitalism. From my perspective as I entered Barrack Street it seemed that the aluminium pipes that emerged from the brewery were connected directly to the Necropolis, Glasgow’s city centre cemetery, and for a moment I speculated that this must have been for the exchange of fluids. Through the beer haze I could also see the outline of Glasgow Cathedral, one of Ludovic Mann’s ancient Glaswegian pagan places, his Temple of the Moon. There is no such thing as a coincidence.
Back on Hunter Street (confusingly re-appearing) I reached my destination. A block of modern flats and some old brick-built industrial units on Duke Street where a shell midden had been found during construction works in 1985. Ancient oyster shells had been found on the spoil from the job, and identified too late as being of archaeological significance. In prehistory, I reminded myself, everyone was swallowing oysters all of the time, as they were, as in Victorian times, not simply the preserve of the rich. The shells were then dumped in a pile, calcium cairns, middens.
The industrial unit was orange and glowed in the late afternoon sun, raking across the facade and revealing ghosts – ghost signs, phantom lettering, a typeset palimpsest of failed and out-dated businesses. The building was dominated by a monstrous sign: JAS. D GALLOWAY. TYRE DISTRIBUTORS.
I wondered around the block onto a different section of Barrack Street (I was becoming spatially disorientated). I passed a pub – the Ladywell, suggesting an ancient spring or holy well once stood here. On the wall of a neighbouring car repair shop, an occult symbol had been crayoned onto a white-washed wall. Was it a spiral, or a malformed cup-and-ring mark, or a reversed number nine – or a shell, a mollusc, a midden-component?
A constellation of coincidences? I reflected on the words written by Marion Shoard and quoted by the fictional headcase Philip in Applied Ballardianism. Urban edgelands allowed us to see ‘history as in the stratified layers of an archaeological site’. In essence, socially fundamental constructions, materials and infrastructure often become restricted to urban edges. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.
In prehistory, those conflicted spatially dangerous fundamentals were middens.
under the flats and the factories are places of accumulations of shells and bones and twigs and nuts and seeds and pips and marrow layers of practice the stratigraphy of a lifetime of generations of meals of daily routine of repetition and habit and routine and the accumulation of shells and bones and twigs and nuts and seeds and pips and marrow under the people under the streets pressing against the walls of the basements pressure toe bone of bos parts of jaw and several teeth of horse jaw bones of the rabbit tapes pullastra purpura lapillus countless rejecta under the flats and the factories are places of accumulations of shells and bones and twigs and nuts and seeds and pips and marrow calcium carbon cairns
The Island of Dead Birds
Inchkeith today is a very different place from the island where the kitchen midden was recorded in 1870. Militarisation began in 1879 and continued throughout the first half of the twentieth century transforming this small rocky eminence through the construction of concrete bunkers, control buildings and the infrastructure of ammunition supply.
This was a defensive, reactive place, but never saw action.
After this brief flourishing, the island has more or less been abandoned to nature (with most of the personnel withdrawn in 1943) like some kind of social experiment.
Quite by chance, this island of precaution has become an emergent prehistoric landscape with its own monuments, its own concrete vocabulary, its new middens.
The porcelain cairn –
The fallen megalith –
The shit-stained monolith –
The island has its own sacred geometry, ghost paths and leys –
Bunkers abound, underground spaces for the containment of ammunition and men. The walls are burdened with a sinister anatomy of coat hooks and shelf supports.
Animals have become complicit in re-making prehistory, the island covered in bird-build middens, accumulations of shells and bones and twigs and nuts and seeds.
Now, in its abandoned state, this concrete island is becoming something … other.
Nests within nests by nests
Scattered cartilages and cartridges
Shells upon shells under shelves and on skulls
Pips amidst pipes and petrification
Calcium cairns. Concrete cairns.
Broken bunkers and bones
Talus Talus Talus
“Abandoned on the sand of the littoral like the skin of a species that has disappeared, the bunker is the last theatrical gesture in the endgame of Occidental military history…. (Virilio 2014, 46).
What is urbanisation but an accumulation?
A midden with prehistory as its dirty edgelands, if not in space then certainly in time.
We are all middening, us town and city dwellers.
Living on our own islands with our own futile defences, bunker mentalities, surrounded by lots of shelves.
Cultivating our prehistoric sites, curating our legacy, hoarding our single-use plastic debitage, accumulating our very own midden.
And when our megaliths have collapsed, our material culture turned to dust, our bodies broken down, all that will be left of us are our middens and our single-use plastic.
Our middens will become the focus of ritual extraction and deposition by birds.
We are tomorrow’s urban prehistory.
Sources and acknowledgements: I would firstly like to thank Gordon Barclay for inviting me to spend a day visiting various fortified islands in the Firth of Forth, amongst them Inchkeith. The few facts about that island that appear in the narrative above come from Gordon’s excellent handouts to accompany the trip and he appears in one photo striding towards an anti-aircraft gun position.
The account of the kitchen-midden found on Inchkeith in the 1870s is (you can find it online by googling the title of the paper): David Grieve 1872 On the discovery of a kitchen midden on Inchkeith, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland volume 9, 452-55. The jumbled list of animal bones in my post is adapted from this paper.
The limited information available for the Barrack Street / Hunter Street shell midden can be found in the canmore entry for the site here, and Sloan recorded in the 1985 edition of Discovery and Excavation in Scotland (pg 46):
“Deposits of oyster shell were reported from approximately this location during housing development in 1982. Although reported too late for active investigation a sample of shell was recovered from builder’s spoil; remains in the possession of the Committee for Early Coastal archaeology”.
This could be a Mesolithic site, but it could also be medieval, or anything in between. We choose our own myths about the past.
Ludovic Mann’s moon temple writings are included in his 1938 short book Ancient Glasgow: Temple of the Moon.
I must finish by paying a debt of gratitude to Simon Sellars for his brilliant novel Applied Ballardianism (Urbanomic, 2018) for inspiring aspects of this post, and leading me to the chapter Edgelands by Marion Shoard (quote from this in the blog post) in Jenkins’ book Remaking the landscape (Profile Books, 2002). Sellars also led me to the majestic Bunker Archeology by Paul Virlio (my version being published in 2014 by Princeton Architectural Press). The image from that book was sourced from the Amazon page for this volume and a credited quotation appears above as well.
The definitions that start this post were adapted from wikipedia.
Dr Green and I reached the final point of our expedition quite by chance. The end of our journey, marked by an encounter with a monstrous head that neither of us will forget. We had heard reports from locals about the existence of such a head, but had put this down to braggadocio or hallucination brought on my excessive Irn Bru consumption which I believe to be a local beverage with chemical properties that promote altered states of consciousness.
My source had told me that the monstrous head was located in a nether-world of scrap on the southern bank of the River Clyde. My first attempt to catch glimpse of this head, a solo mission, was unsatisfactory, the bulbous orb too distant when viewed from the north side of the river to reveal the details of its concrete physiognomy.
Upon approaching the supposed location of this concrete monstrosity, Dr Green and I spoke to various people who made a living breaking automobiles in this place. Surrounded by skeletal motor cars, carburetors and bent doors and wings, these men affected to tell us they knew nothing of a giant head. Yet we had already caught sight of the dome of its skull behind a portable cabin.
The men gazed on the head with awe and wonder from the safety of their own business premises and were soon evangelising about the discovery to colleagues.
Yet Dr Green and I did not have the luxury of standing back. We had a duty, now we had come this far, to document and record this wonder of human endeavour, to pay our respects at the chin of the beast.
In order to do this we had to pass through a broken post-industrial world of cairns of scrap metal, clawing digging machines and the constant rumble of crushing and breaking. This was the end of all things, the bent remnants of our society piled high as if to reach heaven but only speaking of hell.
We scrambled through an open fallen gate, circumnavigated some shacks and warehouses, and entered a broad and open yard, across which we espied the monstrous head behind two ruined mechanical units, one of them an omnibus.
Closer we edged, until in front of us the huge bald head stood, balanced atop a linear mound of litter, tin cans, building material and detritus. The dome loomed over us and it felt like it had eyes in the back of its considerable cranium.
The preposterously sized crown was propped up by wooden supports, better to enable it to loom over any river dwellers and pleasure cruisers sailing by.
As we hesitantly went closer to the megalith, it was clear that it had enormous orifices, dark holes that we could have climbed into should we have wished, although on reflection we decided that dragging ourselves into and along eye sockets and nasal passages would not have been the wisest course of action. It was better that we did not investigate too closely the sense organs of this thing.
An over-sized blocked ear was located on either side of the skull, a closed porthole into the brain. This was a great relief for us as there was no enthusiasm for an exploration of an enormous external acoustic meatus or the accompanying skin flaps.
Crude letters were daubed onto the eastern cheek and chin of the hideous noggin. We documented these photographically although could not and cannot discern the meaning of K P and J G. An incantation to be chanted by acolytes circling the head in a frenzy we supposed. Although the paintwork was not red, it had the character of blood that had dried.
The proboscis emerged from a beard of green lichen, a moss-tache. We realised that this massive head had features that were disproportionate and exaggerated, its sharp angles directional, indicating the north, notably the mandible. Moss balls ran down the spine of the nose, beads of sweat that mirrored out own precipitative glands. A metal loop protruded from the base of the chin, clearly with the purpose of chaining sacrificial animals and – shudder – humans. And in the centre of the face were the eyes, voids into which our gaze could scarcely be arrested, eyes which somehow seemed to look up- and down-river at the same time. Thankfully the oral cavity remained sealed, forming a rictus grin; we had no desire to see what lay within.
As we retreated back to our carriage, we vouchsafed that nothing in our previous existence prepared us for the magnitude of the foreboding, monstrous head that we encountered on the bank of the slow-moving River Clyde that damp Spring morning.
Its dead eyes looked upon us as gods look upon ants. But more disturbing than all of this was –
an oblong void in the centre of the forehead suggested to us that there once had been a third eye a television screen located here broadcasting messages of hate and despair
What we feared more than anything else was that the rest of the body of this titan was there too, buried deep in the foreshore mud and sludge, awaiting re-animation. This prehistoric abomination, this monstrous appendage, this dreadful megalith, this…this…
Floating Head, Richard Groom
The Floating Head was one of many pieces of public art that were commissioned for, and displayed at, the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988. This seminal and fondly-remembered summer event took place on the south bank of the River Clyde about 4km to the east of the current location of the Head.
The big Head was located in the Marina, which is on the left hand side of the map below.
The Souvenir Brochure of the Glasgow Garden Festival notes that the artwork was essentially a boat. “British Shipbuilders Training … helped to fabricate Richard Groom’s astonishing floating head – in reality a cement boat – in the harbour itself” (page 79). I have been able to find a few photos of the Head during the Festival (sources in the acknowledgements), and it looks very different.
The Festival ended in September 1988 and was dismantled, with various bits of art scattered around Scotland. In this air photo of the decommissioned site, the Floating Head is just visible, now out on the Clyde.
At what point the Floating Head was floated downstream to its current location I do not know. The Head now sits on the south side of the Clyde, near the Renfrew Ferry terminal, in an industrial estate accessed via Meadowside Street, Renfrew (NT 5068 6862).
It has its own record in the National Record of the Historic Environment (canmore). HES fieldworkers visited this monstrous head on 14 May 2015, and noted: “It now sits on the south bank of the River Clyde, adjacent to a scrap yard. It comprises the lower hull of a boat with a fibre glass moulded head on the top. It currently stands upright on its prow and appears to stare north across the river.”
Someone who works in a garage beside the yard the big Head sits behind told us that it had been there for at least 20 years, and that this place used to be a boat yard which might be why it was brought here. The Floating Head floats no more, but close examination makes it clear that it has many boat-like traits.
And now it has been erected, propped up, still an artwork but a very different one, a megalithic head watching boats travel up and down the Clyde, a source of puzzlement and wonder to all those who fall beneath its gaze.
Acknowledgements: I found out about the big head via Hugh Beattie, who posted the following photo on the My Clydebank Photos website. Hugh told me how to find the head, which prompted my two visits on both sides of the River over the past few weeks.
Helen Green accompanied me on the scrapyard fieldtrip, and provided one of the photos in the post above, so many thanks for the support when having to speak to strangers, not my strong point and for her observations which fed into the fanciful narrative that starts this post.
The staff of Renfrew Car Breakers were very helpful and allowed us access to their yard to take some photos. The Head is accessible by the various yards in this location, but permission must be sought, and it didn’t feel very safe. It is better viewed from Yoker on the other side of the River.
The images of the Floating Head in situ were found through various online searches, and attributed (from top to bottom) to: Owen of My Clydebank Photos, unknown, Graham Whyte video screengrab c16:45, Charlie Bubble (Flickr) and Sausage Sandwich (Urban Glasgow blog). If anyone has any other photos of the Floating Head I would love to see them.
My parents managed to find their old copy of the Garden Festival Brochure so many thanks to them for the archive work.
Urban green spaces are great locations for urban prehistory to hide itself away, existing in the cracks in the city that still exist, offering entry points to wormholes that go way back in time. And yet for some reason these precious prehistoric portals are often unheralded, and frequently ignored. And not just by visitors to the park. But also by park authorities, those who market and map parks, make signs, host park websites, produce publicity material and whose task it is to engage the public in park life.
Urban prehistoric sites may sometimes be partial, and often difficult, but they are seldom unrewarding.
In this post I would like to recount a recent visit to see one such site, a rock-art panel in Rouken Glen park, East Renfrewshire. I naively imagined before my walk that this amazing resource would be something that was viewed as a visitor attraction and point of interest within the park. I foolishly believed that when I parked my car and walked into the part itself signs would point me the way, thus supplementing the rather poor maps I had been able to source online. Yet what happened surprised me, and what appeared initially to be a simple task turned into a more of an educated guesswork wander which took me off the beaten path until I found a beaten path with the rock-art hidden and almost forgotten, 5m from a railway line.
Thankfully, as the entirely fictional news clipping above suggests, the gaze of archaeologists and park managers – and hopefully visitors to the park – may well be turning towards this rather sad and lonely piece of railway rock-art. The light of lasers has been shone on the rock and it has to be hoped that it will illuminate it so that it becomes as bright as it once was, several thousand years ago. But in the meantime, I have this suggestion:
Then a walk to find cup-marks on the 25th October 2015
I arrived at the car park on a damp Sunday morning and proceeded to walk straight to the small pavilion which I knew hosted an exhibition about the park itself. Beside this building an extensive and well-used playground throbbed with sound and nice screams, and children climbed on megalithic blocks and ran around within timber roundels.
Inside the pavilion was a light and airy exhibition with a focus on the heritage and geology of the park. I found little here on the rock-art however. One panel was entitled Mystic marks on the stone. Beneath a grey picture with some shadowy holes was a bit of text that said: ‘There are two rocks in the park with Neolithic … or later Bronze Age carvings”. Two?? That was a surprise. The label then concluded unhelpfully, ‘No one is sure what they mean’. Great. At least try!
There was no indication of where either of these rock-art panels might be, and they were not marked on any of the fistful of maps and leaflets I picked up as I left. I was on my own.
There were also no signs outside saying helpful things like ‘Rock-art this way’. And so I randomly headed along one of the paths that cut southwards across the wide open green expanse of park.
Then, almost immediately, and right in front of me, was a standing stone, on a low grassy mound just to the west of the path I was on. It was clear this was a stone with an affectation, namely an asymmetrical profile with a needle sharp protrusion on top. In front of this monument was a little board that told me that this stone was erected in 2006 to mark the centenary of the park. A tiny council logo sat beneath these rather grey words. The slate grey monolith emerged from a scuffed grassless patch and an green-orange-leaved tree overhung it. Sun rays painfully wriggled through the leaves to illuminate the backside of the stone.
I negotiated a few paths of various widths and surfaces, as well as dog walkers and joggers who were being timed by a trainer in a tracksuit and decided to head down towards the river with an aim of crossing a bridge further south which would take me to the rough ground where I knew the rock-art must be located. I walked along this silent path, with sandstone outcrops jutting out below me. Alone with my thoughts.
And my chalk.
After a while, the wooden barriers and fence posts began to take on rock-art motifs, transforming in front of my credulous eyeballs.
I realised there would be no signs. So I followed the official park map with my own annotations. Emerging at a crossroads I crossed a bridge. From one of the bridge barriers was a wet toy donkey hung on a rainbow noose, a symbol from a crazed alternative tarot card. Lost, like me.
Beyond the bridge was a huge rock outcrop. I scanned the surface. I crawled all over it. There was no ancient rock-art here. But there were fag packets, broken glass, cigarette butts. And the faintest traces of weathered writing, indistinct letters and words, in pen and chalk. A rock that was not marked in prehistory. But marked now, breaking an ancient taboo.
Beside the rock I found two train tickets, separated from one another by several metres. Both tickets bought by or for a child, from different places, to different destinations. Both outbound, but neither to here.
This is a transitory place, near a railway line but curiously not a station. One-way only, a place for the young, for concessions with restrictions of carriage.
And from my hog-backed rock viewing position I could see a circular enclosure, defined by small trees and differential lawn mowing regimes, a space fine trimmed. In its centre was a megalithic capstone, and beside that, a red lipstick contained within a purple bullet-like capsule, make-up for the dead.
I sensed I was getting closer. The planets were aligning. But to get to my goal I had to leave the path and so I did this at a suitable location and plunged into the trees and the mud and the long grass and the weeds. Soon I was thoroughly lost and apparently no closer to my destination.
I climbed up a slope and emerged, blinking, onto a golf course, with golfers lurking nearby holding their golf sticks and golf balls and golf bags. Back down into the woods I hid from them, afraid that a twig snapped underfoot would bring down their wrath upon me. Then I though ‘sod it’ and climbed back to the fringe of the golf course and used it as a shortcut to get to the edge of the railway line.
Then the vegetation got really thick. I forced my way through branches and weeds, with roots clinging onto my ankles and brambles tripping me up.
Like Frankenstein’s monster, I lurched through the chest-high plants, my arms raised in surrendered, a face full of confusion for a world I no longer understood due to a recent re-arrangement of my limbs.
Then suddenly I found a nice clear path that ran beside the railway line and I realised there was probably an easier way to get here than the route I had just taken. But I had come through a rite of passage (I consoled myself), I had got here the hard way (so I told myself), I had gone off the map but had found the rock-art.
A single, solitary cup-mark. Lonely. Quietness punctuated by trains speeding by a few metres from where I stood.
The cup-mark has a wonderful organic quality and alone in the woods I found it difficult to determine the soft edges of the pecked hollow motif on the pliable and plastic rock. The cup circle held some water and a curled brown leaf when I had arrived but as I stayed and stared, it took on a new character, organic and vital, life-giving and potent, fecund.
And so after staying here for quite some time, under the influence of the vibrating tracks behind me, I set off, along the path.
Ambiguity abounded. Trees, spirals, cuts, knots, twigs, tree rings, rock-art rings, stone and wood, blurred together in this place and on this path.
There was a tree that beneath the bark was blood red. I shivered as I passed it but made my mark.
Back out of the woods, the confusion seemed to pass, and soon I was just another person out for a Sunday stroll, with my path back to the car more certain as I got my bearings. En route I passed more stone monuments, this time in the form of lime kilns, some of which had candles and shrines in alcoves. These monuments to industry had been split open, half-sectioned, to expose the megalithic workings within, creative voids, spaces for air and material transformation, now places of candles, coins and flowers.
Then – my walk was over. The rock-art had been found. My boots were muddy and my hair was ruffled.
But it was done.
Followed by A More Formal Record of my own making
Notes on an exhibition
During 2015 Archaeology Scotland carried out a series of events in the Park to engage local people and park visitors to its archaeological heritage. These included walking tours, talks, survey and mapping workshops, laser scanning, a Heritage Festival and small-scale excavations. This was part of the DigIt! year of events and appears to have been a success. The project had a high visibility within the park with notices and posters up all over the place advertising the programme of events.
In early December a small exhibition based on the work done was launched with a lecture by Phil Richardson. I visited the exhibition about a week after it launched.
This is a really good example of how archaeological methods and techniques can be used to involve and energise the public (although in the photos I saw a lot of well-known amateur archaeologists and some of my students). Crucially, for me, this is not about saying something new about the past – although this can be an outcome – but rather it helps people today, to come together, work on something, see tangible outcomes and have a positive experience. It is also about the improvement of the green space for all users, whether this is displays like the exhibition, or better information about the park itself, and augmented visitor experiences.
Sadly, so far, this has not resulted in the new cup-and-ring-lings being any more visible in the park, and perhaps this exhibition, and the results of the work that underpinned it, will be as ephemeral and short-lived as my chalk markings. I hope not. I hope the cup-marks can become signposted and foregrounded in some way so dog walkers no longer rush past, children don’t need to create their own – and flâneurs will never again struggle to find them.
The rock-art, to benefit Glaswegians and other visitors today, can’t stay hidden anymore, off the map.
Fragments of a site, documented poorly, beyond living memory. The excavation of a Bronze Age cist cemetery in a sand pit on the south-west fringe of Glasgow in 1928. By Ludovic Mann, who else? Piecing together the pieces, re-telling the story, making sense of it all. All we are left with: fragments, pots, photos, rumour, myth, mystery. Only fragments of a site, material clues, things, both familiar and unfamiliar. Found in a sand pit on a ridge beside Mount Vernon: a place now a quarry and landfill site. Fragments. That’s all we have. As archaeologists, as (pre)historians of Glasgow, the voice of the past drowned out by the quarry machine, the truck, the motorway. The quarry and the cemetery. The cemetery and the quarry. The cemetery in the quarry. The quarry on the cemetery.
Fragments of a site, documented poorly, all we are left with.
But it is – thankfully – enough.
Complete Skeleton. Find Near Glasgow. A poem.
Ludovic Mann –
well-known archaeologist –
discovered a complete Bronze Age skeleton in splendid condition
when carrying out excavations recently
on a sandy hillock at Mount Vernon near Glasgow
the skeleton is about 4000 years old
and it is quite possible
that a number of others may be found in the vicinity
as it was the practice of the people of that age
to have tribal burying grounds
over which they raised cairns.
The discovery was made
at a [sand pit] worked
by the Greenoakhill Sand Company.
a mansion-house which was built 130 years ago stood near the spot
and it is thought [that] the cairn raised
over the tomb
was demolished when the ground was being cleared to [make] a garden for the mansion.
When some workmen were removing sand
from the hillock
an earthenware vessel of beautiful design
rolled out of a cavity constructed of slabs of stone
the find was at once reported to Mann
who went out and started systematic excavations.
Found three feet below the level of the grass a walled chamber 3 feet 3 inches by 2 feet the sides of which were built of vertical red sandstone slabs as a rule these tombs have a solid stone cover but in this case the covering consisted of about [X] rounded stones carefully packed over the skeleton.
Above these stones
was a handful of bones
which it is thought had been food intended for the dead
but this matter will have to be more carefully investigated.
When the black earth and boulders were removed
there was discovered a skeleton
carefully placed in position facing south-east
exactly along the medial line of the structure
the head was that of the brachycephalic or round-headed type
usually associated with the Bronze Age.
According to the fashion of the time
bodies were some[times] cremated
and the reason why
some bodies were disposed of in this way
while others were simply buried in the usual manner
Beside the skeleton was a vessel of earthenware,
in which it was the practice to place food to sustain the spirit
on its journey to
the other world.
Attempt at an Inventory of the Material, Sediment and Human Deposits Excavated by Ludovic Mann at Greenoakhill in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-Eight
Six Food Vessels, two pottery bowls.
Five cists, one wooden coffin
One crouched inhumation of an elderly man, one crouched inhumation of a young woman, one crouched inhumation of an adolescent, one fragmentary inhumation, two skeletons, one cremation deposit.
One flint arrowhead, two flint knives, one white pebble, one hair moss garment.
Two charcoal deposits.
Oats, rye, sand.
A Perambulation to Wyndy Hege
A place of restricted access. A gated community. Movement within mediated by fences, signs, barriers. Specialised and highly regulated clothing needs to be worn to secure entry to the scene. For your own safety. And the safety of others.
A Bronze Age cemetery? Or a modern industrial quarry?
The cemetery and the quarry, both places of danger, of transformation, places we need protection from, locations and activities that need to be contained.
The wearing of special safety gear is compulsory. Without exception. PPE. Personal Protective Equipment.
Personal Protective Equipment. Sealed off from danger. Wrapped up for safety. Clearly marked out from the others. Distinctive. Safe. Because these are taboo places. The quarry and the cemetery. The cemetery and the quarry. Places where digging into the ground is an act of devotion, an act of conviction, a dangerous and troubling activity, hidden away from the others.
Things happen here that have to be taken seriously and carried out appropriately, according to the rules and regulations.
And access has to be mediated by key individuals – gatekeeper, shaman, foreman, security guards, man in a wee wooden shed.
To enter the inner sanctum.
KEEP OUT. TRESPASSERS ON SITE WILL BE PROSECUTED.
DANGER. QUARRY WORKINGS.
NO ENTRY. DANGER!! PLACE OF DEATH.
Because the quarry and the cemetery are both polluted places. They have depth, they have power, and they are repositories of value and potential energy, derived from underground. Social capital. They are connected places, entangled across and beyond the societies from within which they emerged: Pastoralism / Capitalism. Entangled in networks of meaning that expand beyond this geographical location and its enforced boundaries, beyond the knowledge of any one individual visiting a grave, laying the dead to rest, driving a truck, reading the Daily Record in a cab. Exploded places, shrunk down to just this one place, a dot on a map, a high point, a special place, a pit. The quarry and the cemetery.
During the daylight hours: the traffic in and out of this place is incessant, unrelenting, tireless. It never stops. Back and forth, in and out, a hive of activity, of noise and light. It never seems to end.
By night, it is silent and dead. It reeks of death, of waste, of subterranean detritus. Landfill. Burying the very things and bodies of a community. Murmurations of crows and ravens and blackbirds fly overhead. There is a miasma. A stench. The long dead and their ancient bones. The assorted containers buried and put beyond use: Food Vessels and food vessels, Beakers and beakers, skulls and rusted beer cans. Encased in a shroud of stone and earth and grass. Put in a stone box. Fenced off.
A place of restricted access. A gated community. Movement within mediated by fences, signs, barriers. Specialised and highly regulated clothing needs to be worn to secure entry to the scene. For your own safety. And the safety of others.
A Bronze Age cemetery? Or a modern industrial quarry?
The quarry and the cemetery. The cemetery and the quarry. The quarry on the cemetery. The cemetery in the quarry. The quarry on the cemetery.
Neither one nor the other. Both.
Sources and acknowledgements: each element of the tripartite structure of this post depended on different sources and inspiration. Image credits are in captions; those with Glasgow Museums copyright came from The Glasgow Story website.
Complete Skeleton. Find Near Glasgow. A poem. The entire ‘poem’ is a very slightly adapted version of a newspaper story about the excavations that appeared in the Glasgow Herald on 27th July 1928.
Attempt at an Inventory of the Material, Sediment and Human Deposits Excavated by Ludovic Mann at Greenoakhill in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-Eight. The data contained in this inventory was derived from a summary of the discoveries that can be found in the CANMORE entry for this site. The site has NMRS number NS66SE 2. The title for this short section owes much to the Georges Perec piece ‘Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four’. This first appeared (in the original French of course) in Action Poétique in 1976 and was translated and appeared in the Penguin collection of Perec writings Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (1997).
A Perambulation to Wyndy Hege. All images and words my own. The name of this section was taken from the supposed original name of Mount Vernon – Windy Edge or Wyndy Hege. According to Wikipedia.
Ludovic Mann’s excavations at Greenoakhill have never been published.
This is a slightly updated version of the text of a paper I gave at a conference held in the Pearce Institute, Govan, on Saturday 17th October 2015. The event was ‘EcoCultures: Glasgow’s Festival of Environmental Research, Policy and Practice’ and it was organised by Glasgow University PhD students Kirsty Strang and Alexandra Campbell. For more information on this excellent event, see the festival Facebook site and twitter feed (@EcoCultures, #EcoCultures). I believe podcasts of lectures and round tables will be made available soon; I will update the blog to include a link when this happens. I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to contribute.
Walking Ludovic Mann
Ludovic McLellan Mann wrote the secret history of Glasgow.
He sketched out the shape of an invisible city.
He sensed the possibility of another Glasgow, beneath Glasgow.
Beneath their feet. Beneath their trams. Beneath their omnibuses.
The prehistory of Glasgow.
Ludovic McLellan Mann was present at the birth of this modern city.
A growing, expanding city.
A process that required the eradication of what came before.
The quarrying away of the past.
The burying of the ancient.
Building on the dead.
The price that had to be paid.
Ludovic McLellan Mann was busy. He was aware of opportunities. He took advantage of serendipitous discoveries. His ear was to the ground. He sniffed out the past. He called in favours. He took advantage. He seized control. He drove the agenda. He brought in his friends, the suits and the specialists. And he welcomed the glare of publicity that went with all of it.
Bronze Age pots and chunks of cremated human bone were extracted from graves.
Prehistoric stone coffins were dismantled in newly created back gardens.
Neolithic pits, hollows, quernstones and hearths were rescued from the quarry face.
Ancient carvings on rocks in parks and golf courses were drawn and quartered.
He was everywhere. He was busy. He was aware of opportunities. He took advantage of serendipitous discoveries. His ear was to the ground. He sniffed out the past.
Ludovic McLellan Mann.
Glasgow’s gentleman archaeologist.
Ludovic McLellan Mann wrote the secret history of Glasgow.
He sketched out the shape of an invisible city.
He was everywhere. He was busy. He was aware of opportunities.
He sensed the possibility of another Glasgow, beneath Glasgow.
Beneath their feet. Beneath their trams. Beneath their omnibuses.
His ear was to the ground. He sniffed out the past.
The prehistory of Glasgow.
Ludovic McLellan Mann (1869–1955) was a polarising figure in the world of Scottish archaeology. He was less controversial in his main trade: an insurance broker. In 1900 he patented his own system of consequential fire loss indemnity, which was widely adopted in that industry. However, in 1901 he became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, hinting at a parallel career – as an aspiring archaeologist, although was he never truly accepted by the establishment even although he spent a good deal of time cultivating his reputation as an ‘eminent archaeologist’. In the end, leading academics took to print to condemn and mock him.
However, Mann did have a high profile within the Glasgow Archaeological Society, and for the early part of his career had broad-ranging interests, and was published widely. In 1911 he curated the Prehistoric Gallery of the Scottish Exhibition in Kelvingrove Park. This was the result of two years of work by Mann, and the exhibition space he designed was crammed full of hundreds of pots, stone tools and metal weapons, reconstructions, scale models and the walls were adorned with 16 large wall charts. Prehistoric tableaux were created using the soil of Glasgow, extracted from excavation sites. The central feature of the gallery was the ‘life-sized statue of a typical man of the late Stone Age’ sculpted by Alexander Proudfoot.
A series of decent quality excavations, eclectic collecting activities and innovative research projects maintained his profile, but by the mid-1920s his reputation and activities began to change. Archaeologist Graham Ritchie noted that by 1923: ‘Mann seems to have lost the ability to prepare coherent excavation reports, perhaps because some of his discoveries were piecemeal and because site survey was not his strong point’. Mann also had a tendency towards losing interest in projects before bringing them to a conclusion, and in time, veered towards the fantastical and eccentric in his interpretations of his prehistoric discoveries, alienating himself theoretically as well as methodologically from his peers.
He started to bypass mainstream academic publishing. His methods were simple. He watched out for opportunities to help with and drive forward excavations based on chance discoveries, information for which was sometimes retrieved from the news clipping services he subscribed too. Neolithic settlement traces found in a quarry. Cremation urns discovered in advance of construction of new houses. Discoveries reported to him by the public, his network of sources. He would move in, and either take over entirely from whoever had been doing the archaeology, or he took on the role of eminent archaeological overseer and site director recovering and excavating things as they were found. And all the while, he was talking to local journalists and national newspapers, disseminating his results, reporting on his work, bypassing the conventional and traditional academic publications that rarely if ever published his work in the second half of his career. His outlet was the print media: national press, local papers. The Glasgow Herald. The Scotsman. The Express. The Hamilton Advertiser. He even set up his own eponymous publishing imprint and spoke widely to local historical societies and public audiences.
Mann was born and lived most of life in Glasgow. And he did much work, both in terms of excavation and recording, in Glasgow and the surrounds of the city. He was obsessed with the past of Glasgow – the ancient, occult framework of the city, the obscure origins of roads and churches and cemeteries, folk takes and myths of gods and temples. His own excavations underpinned his beliefs in an intelligent pagan ancestry for Glasgow – fine quality pots, wonderful stone tools and well-made graves attested to this.
Ludovic McLellan Mann wrote the secret history of Glasgow.
He sketched out the shape of an invisible city.
He sensed the possibility of another Glasgow, beneath Glasgow.
He took the city apart and put it together again.
He extracted the long dead.
He painted the past.
He exploited the past for its own good.
He celebrated prehistoric Mann.
A Bronze Age cemetery in Newlands, near where he was brought up, in 1905
A cist cemetery at Greenoakhill, Mt Vernon, near where he lived, in 1928
Two cists and a cremation deposit found during the construction of Dalton School, Cambuslang in 1930
Knappers cemetery and Neolithic timber structure in 1933 and 1937
The Cochno Stone in 1937
After his excavations, like a serial killer, he kept souvenirs – tokens – trophies – to remind him of his work. The Bronze Age cinerary urns from his first prehistoric dig in Glasgow, at Langside, remained in his possession until his death 50 years later.
Mann wrote a book on prehistoric Glasgow – a pamphlet he published in 1938 called Ancient Glasgow: A temple of the moon. Here, Mann laid out the occult history of Glasgow.
The mounds of Glasgow
Moon sanctuaries at the Necropolis
The ancient Grummel mound where High Street and Rottenrow and meet
The sanctuary of St Enoch
The sanctity of the Molendinar Burn
Ancient gods, ancient places, ancient traditions, ancient mounds, ancient temples. All beneath the modern grid plan of the city. Hidden – but still there is you knew where to look, where to walk. The ancient sacred geometry of Glasgow still informing the grid. Powering the grid. Shaping the grid.
All part of a network, connections spanning time and place, subverting the straight jacket of urbanisation, defying the order of the modern city.
Mann wrote the book. He created the past, with his trowel, his pen, his chalk and his paints. He reconceptualised Glasgow as a pagan city. He held in his hands the ashes and burnt bones of the noble savages that once lived in this place. He looked upon their fine pots, and their sharp, elegant axes. His work was at the cutting edge and on the fringe: the fringe of the discipline, the fringe of the city, the edge of modernity, the cusp of science, the past in the present.
He was the first urban prehistorian.
Over the past couple of years I have been visiting the locations of various sites that were excavated or studied by Ludovic Mann both within and around Glasgow.
Mann’s research into prehistoric Glasgow can helped us piece together another Glasgow, an ancient one, in the heart of the city but also in its suburbs and arterial routes. By walking these routes, and visiting these sites, I am trying to foreground once again the prehistoric within these urban contexts, piecing together a narrative that is all but lost and forgotten.
Following maps within maps, a city within a city, secret maps, secret cities.
One of the oldest roads in Glasgow is Rottenrow, which runs towards the cathedral from the city centre. But before the cathedral, according to Mann, there stood an ancient earthen mound called Grummel Knowe, at the junction of High Street and Rottenrow.
An ancient geometry, just beneath the skin of the city.
Walking between locations that no longer exist.
Following routes that have been forgotten.
Visiting sites that have been altered out of all recognition.
Remembering the lost and celebrating the dead.
Walking Ludovic Mann’s Glasgow is to walk prehistoric Glasgow.
Glasgow’s ancient past intrudes into the present in surprising and peculiar ways. One of the most famous sites excavated by Ludovic Mann was a Neolithic complex of timber structures and pits, and Bronze Age graves, at Knappers, on Great Western Road in Clydebank. This site was taken on by Mann after initial excavations had revealed a series of prehistoric features during quarrying in 1933. In 1937 Mann excavated an extensive group of features which he interpreted as stake- and post-holes, the remnants of a spiral timber setting with accompanying earthworks. He reconstructed this monument and went on a publicity drive, proclaiming it a major discovery. Literally thousands of Glaswegians headed down to Duntocher Boulevard to witness this spectacle and see Mann in full flow, lecturing to the masses. Mann even published adverts about the dig and suggested routes and means of travel to this site.
Knappers today is a very different place.
This is a location where the prehistoric traces are still evident in the fabric of the grass and tarmac. The architecture of urban dwelling and the car in particular reflects the Neolithic circular structures that were found by Mann: circular bays of garages, roundabouts, towering uprights, landscaping stone blocks in playgrounds.
The relatively modern housing estate across the road was constructed in the location of another Early Bronze Age cemetery that was excavated by GUARD archaeology in advance of development in 1997 and 1998.
Mann’s intervention here was not typical – it wasn’t an excavation. Rather, he took an interest in the esoteric patterns he saw on this rock – spirals, weird symbols, crosses, and stars. In order for visitors to better appreciate the stone in 1937 Mann painted the symbols with a white organic mixture (and perhaps other colours too). Overlain on the prehistoric markings was a measured and complex grid system of his own devising which helped him interpret the code. Mann was by now obsessed with the mathematical and astronomical properties of such symbols and it is almost certain many of the shapes he painted on the stone were fantasies of his own construction. He began to find what he wanted to find.
And this time his publicity-seeking activities backfired. In a letter which has just come into my possession, written by a solicitor on behalf of the man who owned the Cochno Stone in 1937, it was noted:
As a result of the activities of certain antiquarians who have expended much care on the decoration of the monument, a considerable amount of public interest has recently been directed to the stone, with the result that large numbers of people from the surrounding industrial district and elsewhere are in the habit of visiting the site, particularly at week-ends, where it is the destination of an almost constant stream of sightseers. As a result considerable damage is being done by the behaviour of persons who are attracted more by curiosity than antiquarian interest.
And when I opened a small trench over the stone in early September, evidence of this damage was very clear, with graffiti, perhaps carved just before the stone was finally buried in the Spring of 1965, and black paint splattered over the surface of the rock-art.
Here, Mann had enthused the public about a prehistoric monument to the extent that the establishment had to intervene. He was too successful. He had not predicted the hunger for this kind of thing. But the wider message seemed to be that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing where the wider public was concerned. And so attacks of Mann’s abilities and theories began in archaeological circles and the press.
His prehistoric Glasgow began to fall apart. Plans were set in place to protect the Cochno Stone – from Glaswegian visitors and from Mann himself. A decade after Mann’s death the wall around the Cochno Stone was kicked over. Earth was dumped on it.
Mann started this.
Landowners and the Ministry finished it.
Buried without a trace.
This paper comes at an early stage in my Walking Ludovic Mann project and in the coming months and years I intend to visit – and walk between – a wide range of locations of significance to Mann’s prehistoric Glasgow. Previous blog posts have reported on work Mann did outwith the city – Ferniegair cist cemetery for instance in South Lanarkshire, and Townhead Neolithic settlement on Bute. But I now want to retreat back to the city, to retrace the work of Mann with my feet, to see what remains of his secret grid and his sacred geometry beneath the fabric of this modern city.
The discoveries of Ludovic Mann in essence sketched out the structure of prehistoric Glasgow.
A Glasgow before it was Glasgow.
His eccentric research and eclectic interests allowed a different way of thinking about familiar Glasgow streets, landmarks and place names.
A map within a map. A city within a city. A secret map. A secret city.
His probing mind.
His dirty hands.
His obsessive measuring.
Mann’s voracious collecting.
Mann’s prehistoric fetishizing.
Mann’s insistent storytelling.
Mann’s underground city, Glasgow inverted, Glasgow’s past dragged back into the present, raised from the dead. Passing through wormholes. Tears in space and time.
Prehistoric Glasgow revealed – for all to see – if they care to look.
Secret geography. Sacred geometry.
Walk and talk and chalk Ludovic McLellan Mann’s Glasgow.
Sources and acknowledgements:much of the biographical information in this lecture came from Graham Ritchie’s excellent paper Ludovic McLellan Mann (1869–1955): ‘the eminent archaeologist’, published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland volume 132, pages 43-64 (2002). If you google it, you can find this article freely available online. The front cover of the Mann pamphlet and the route to get to and from Knappers were sourced thanks to this really helpful webpage which has scanned and reproduced various ‘earth mysteries’ books and pamphlets. Various images, sourced from the former RCAHMS, have been reproduced under their creative commons policy with image codes in the captions.
Between 7th and 9th September 2015, the Cochno Stone was revealed for the first time in 51 years – albeit only for 36 hours.
The results of this small-scale excavation are simple, yet exciting.
It is important that the results of the work we did, and the recommendations I am making for future work at the Stone, are made as widely available as possible. And so my full report on the excavation can be found below in this blog post.
For other accounts of this brief, but important, excavation, there are some excellent sources online:
The Cochno Stone, West Dunbartonshire, is one of the most extensive and remarkable prehistoric rock-art panels in Britain. It was however buried by archaeologists in 1964 to protect it from ‘vandalism’ associated with visitors and encroaching urbanisation. A proposal has been developed to uncover the Stone, and laser scan it, to allow an exact replica to be created and placed in the landscape near where the original site is. In order to do this, it was felt that an initial trial excavation should take place (Phase 1) in order to assess the condition of the Stone and the nature of its burial. This work was undertaken in early September 2015. The Cochno Stone was found to be buried less deeply than claimed, and the wall surrounding it appears to have partially collapsed or been pushed over. The Stone itself was uncovered and rock-art, as well as 20th century graffiti and damage to the Stone, was recorded. Recommendations for the next phase of the project can now be made and the future plans for the Stone opened up for dialogue.
Background to the project
The Cochno Stone (aka 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. It is one of up to 17 panels of rock-art in this area (Morris 1981, 123-4) but by far the most extensive. The outcrop measures some 13m by 8m, is covered in scores of cup-marks, cup-and-rings marks, spirals and other unusual motifs. The surface is undulating, sloping sharply to the south, and is a ‘gritstone’ or sandstone. It was buried for ‘protection’ from vandalism in 1964.
The Cochno 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). Harvey concluded his largely descriptive narrative with this hope:
Evidently the district in which these sculpturings have been found, lying as it does on the pleasant slopes of the Kilpatrick hills, and commanding an extensive view of Clydesdale, had been a favourite resort of these ancient rock-engravers; and it is my hope that, in the course of time, with a little labour, more of these mysterious hieroglyphics may be brought again to the light of day, and perhaps the veil that shrouds from us their meaning may be withdrawn (Harvey 1889, 137).
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 new sketch of the stone by W. A. Donnelly, this time showing (apparently) all of the stone rather than one part of it. There are some notable differences here from Harvey’s depiction (above) of the triple cup-and-ring mark arrangement. Donnelly’s drawing was the basis for Ronald Morris’s own sketch plan (see image 7) although Morris was dismissive of its reliability based on his own observations (1981, 124).
Bruce did not re-tread Harvey’s account but rather focused on unusual motifs found on the Stone:
Two features which had not hitherto been observed, viz., a cross within an oval border and a sculpturing resembling two pairs of footprints, which, curiously enough, show only four toes each, both being incised in the rock, casts of which can now be inspected, prepared by Mr Adam Miller, Helensburgh (Bruce 1896, 208).
Some international parallels for these symbols were found and they were considered as being contemporary with the prehistoric rock-art as opposed to modern editions. However, it is as likely that the cross and petrosomatoglyphs are much more modern additions. The fate to the casts is unknown sadly.
Soon the stone became something of a tourist attraction, and a wall with at least one style was constructed around it at some point to control entry. The few photos of the Cochno Stone (such as image 9) – mostly from the 1930s – show visitors walking over the stone, usually from learned societies, and this may well have contributed to damage to the Stone which subsequently led to its burial.
The Stone became the renewed focus for archaeological attention in the mid-1930s when Ludovic 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 white 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 image 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 at this time suggest two colours were used.
There was clearly a growing concern from this point onwards that the Stone was under threat, from visitors walking on the Stone, but also vandalism. A hint of this is evident in the rare image (pre 1937?) above showing a carved P H on the surface of the Cochno Stone beside the remarkable triple cup-and-ring arrangement shown in Harvey’s original sketch (image 1).
And thus in 1964, the stone was buried, although the circumstances of this act remain shrouded in mystery.
Morris (1981, 124) offers this account:
The vandals were later identified in the same book as ‘from near-by towns’. Others repeated this story over the years since, naming Glasgow University as the driving force behind the burial and suggesting up to 1m of soil covered the Stone. Euan MacKie (in MacKie and Davis 1988-89, 127) noted that the Stone has been “buried for some years for its own protection” although a recent email conversation with Euan suggests he was not privy to the act of burial itself. Therefore the details of the burial of the Stone, and potentially other rock-art panels in the vicinity, requires further research.
Phase 1 overview: research questions and methodology
The first phase of work was carried out in order to allow a small section of the Cochno Stone to be exposed, under conditions akin to an archaeological watching brief. This small-scale excavation was viewed as being vitally important in establishing some baseline conditions ahead of the proposed more extensive phase 2 of the project.
Research questions and objectives underlying this small-scale intervention were as follows:
What condition is the Cochno Stone in? Has the overlying topsoil had a detrimental effect on the stone? Could any damage be reversed or stopped?
How deep is the topsoil? What is the nature of this material (soil, turf, stone content)? How easy is it to remove from the surface of the stone?
How clearly visible are the motifs and can these be matched to previous drawings and records? How accurate are the old drawings we have?
How was the stone buried and what happened to the wall that has been pictured around it?
This work was undertaken over three days, 7-9th September 2015, with a small team of students from the University of Glasgow; also present were Ferdinand Saumarez Smith of Factum Arte, and Richard Salmon, stone sculptor, who was on hand to assess the condition of the stone. The process was documented by film-maker May Miles Thomas.
In advance of the excavation, weed and vegetation clearing was required to allow access to the site and trench location. A small trench 4m by 1m was opened by hand on the north side of the stone, with turves, and the topsoil removed by a combination of mattocks, shovels and spades. At this end of this process, the site was re-instated through the replacement of soil and turves.
A trench 4m by 1m was opened by hand on the north side of the stone, with long axis north-south. The trench ran from the northern extent of the stone (in the form of the remnants of the boundary wall). Due to the unreliable drawings of the stone that exist, the exact location of the trench in the context of the stone remains unclear.
The topsoil that the stone was buried in was mid-brown clay silt with infrequent pebble inclusions, and for the most part had the character of re-deposited plough soil. The occurrence of brick fragments, rusted metal nails, broken ceramic and glass in this soil layer suggests that this was transferred from a field nearby rather than derived from the immediate vicinity. The soil varied in depth from 0.5m towards the top of the stone, to 0.7m at the south end of the trench, which suggests the 1m depth occasionally quoted may only apply to the southern downhill portion of the stone. No indication was found of anything placed between the stone and the soil.
It is clear that the drystone wall which surrounded the stone is still there, albeit in a ruinous state. The top of the wall had been pushed, or fallen, over, but the lower section of the wall appears to be intact. Remnants of a stone style were also discovered, some of which was visible on the ground surface before the excavation commenced (and can be seen in image 9, above). This raises concerns that the wall was pushed onto the stone during the burying process and it may be that the stone itself has been damaged by this. We did not remove the wall rubble to assess this due to time constraints. But there did not appear to be a layer of topsoil between wall rubble and stone surface, only material that had trickled beneath.
The Cochno Stone
The stone was revealed in the afternoon of the first day of work, at varying depths beneath the surface and running beneath the wall rubble in the northern end of the trench. After the surface of the Stone was reached, heavy tools were removed from the trench and we continued to clean down to the Stone surface using trowels and then soft-bristle brushes. Water was poured on the Stone to assist cleaning and a water pump was used to remove excess water. The Cochno Stone was recorded via a sketch plan (image 8) and a photographic render produced by Factum Arte (image 14) which shows most clearly the motifs that were uncovered.
Six or seven cup-marks were evident, two of which had rings around them (one two, the other possibly three) and a further faint putative ring was identified at a third cup. The marks were all deeply incised and quite coarse in quality (cups up to 25mm in depth and 50mm in diameter), and in remarkably good condition given the burial of the stone and previous exposure for several thousand years. It was possible to determine small pecking marks in and around at least one cup-mark, suggesting the means of producing the marks may be revealed through further analysis. It may also be possible to identify phasing between one cup-mark and adjacent cup-and-ring mark which appear to overlap, as was the case at nearby Greenland (Mackie & Davis 1988-89).
A number of other surface additions were noted, all presumably related to activity in the late 19th or early 20th century:
A short section of metal pipe was found adhered to the rock surface, leaving a stain when removed; this likely ended up on the stone during the burial process.
White flecks identified within one cup-mark may be remnants of Mann’s white paint, but no other sign of this was identified, suggesting an organic liquid was used rather than a chemical paint. These flecks were sampled for further analysis.
A small red patch, about 20mm across, was noted adhering to the surface of the stone. This had the character of a paint of some kind, and adhered closely to the stone; no sample could be collected as this was so closely bonded to the stone; this could relate to another colour of paint used on the stone by Mann, or be the remnant of some kind of vandalism.
A large black blob was found towards the SE corner of the trench. This had the character of pitch, tar or melted plastic, and was sampled for further analysis. The irregular pattern of this deposit suggested it melted in situ or is some kind of ‘splatter’. This overlay at least two cup-marks and edges of rings.
Modern graffiti scratched into the rock. This was an extensive panel of writing , contained within a crude box with irregular boundary. The visible portion measured some 250mm by 300mm, running under the eastern baulk of the trench. The letters were deeply incised and most are apparent:
E F D B
J B 1905 [1945 / 1965 also possible]
During the course of the excavation, a few marks were also made on the surface of the Stone with a mattock. This highlights the softness of the stone, and once this happened, heavy tools were abandoned. One consequence of this was that we wore no shoes in the trench , and so we have to consider that even walking across the Stone may cause damage to its surface.
At the end of the excavation, the stone and wall were covered in a double layer of geotex, and the trench was backfilled and re-turved by hand.
Preliminary recommendations for Phase 2
The Cochno Stone remains in very good condition despite being buried and so a project to uncover and record the Stone is considered to be feasible and of great value.
The local community should be consulted at all stages of the development of phase 2 of the project and any subsequent outcomes from the Cochno Stone project.
The exposure of the Cochno Stone can be done by machine, but under very close supervision and with various mitigating factors in place e.g. plastic or rubber blade on the bucket, machine stays out with the perimeter wall.
The rock is very soft and therefore hand excavation should avoid metal tools where at all possible – appropriate tools and brushes will need to be identified. Consultation with archaeologists who have worked on other rock-art panels will be imperative to share best practice.
It is likely that existing drawings of the Cochno Stone are inaccurate (what we found cannot be located on Donnelly’s drawing) and therefore a full and detailed new drawing is urgently required. A suitable individual to do this should be identified.
Phasing of rock-art cannot be ruled out, and we may be able to establish the means by which the rock-art was carved into the rock. Methods to deal with both areas of enquiry should be developed.
Initial photogrammetry suggests high resolution recording techniques will reveal more about the Stone than observation with the naked eye and therefore techniques such as this and laser scanning will be of fundamental importance.
We must consider the possibility that the perimeter wall collapse has caused some damage to the edges of the Stone; the removal of wall rubble will add to the time and cost of the final excavation.
A rough sample – our trench (and the P H carving on one photo) – suggests that the Cochno Stone is heavily vandalised – and the damage to the Stone will include graffiti but also paint splatters and wear from visitors walking on the stone. The removal of chemical and other substances from the Stone (if desirable) will add to the cost of the project.
Ludovic Mann’s ‘paint’ has largely disappeared; but traces may still remain and so we should not discount this from project designs. Research to connect Mann’s work at Cochno with Knappers would also be of great value.
The story and circumstances of the burial of the Stone – and others in the park – need to be investigated as a matter of urgency to help inform the phase 2 excavation, find other rock-art panels and add to the modern story of the Stone.
Any work on the Stone should be accompanied by research within and beyond the local community for:
Memories and stories associated with the Cochno Stone and other rock-art
Pictures and other images of the Stone before its burial.
A small team of very hard working students gave up a few days of their time to work at the Cochno Stone which was very much appreciated – Liam Devlin, Alison Douglas, Taryn Gouck, Rebecca Miller, Joe Morrison, Rory Peace and Katherine Price. Helen Green visited several times with her thoughts for phase 2 and other Glasgow PhD students – Tom Davis, Jamie Barnes and Dene Wright popped in with useful suggestions. Thanks also to project partners Ferdinand Saumarez Smith and Richard Salmon for help and advice throughout the process, and May Miles Thomas was a constant source of encouragement, and documented the process. Thanks to West Dunbartonshire council for permission to carry out the work and for ensuring access to the excavation site by strimming weeds and vegetation. John Raven of Historic Scotland has offered support and advice throughout the process and ensured permission was secured to excavate this scheduled ancient monument. And thanks too for Mrs Marks, owner of the east half of the Stone, for visiting and entering discussions with us about the future of the Stone. I would also like to thank John Reppion for drawing my attention to the word petrosomatoglyph!
Most of all, thanks to all of the local people who have kept alive memories of the Cochno Stone, many of whom of all ages came and visited our dig: this project is dedicated to all of you.
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.*
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.]
Mackie, E W and Davis, A 1988-89 New light on Neolithic rock carving. The petroglyphs at Greenland (Auchentorlie), Dumbartonshire’, Glasgow Archaeological Journal 15, 125-55.
Morris, R W B 1981 The prehistoric rock-art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway), Oxford: BAR British Series 86.
Ritchie, J N G 2002 Ludovic McLellan Mann (1869–1955): ‘the eminent archaeologist’ Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 132, 43–6*
References with * are free to view online – just google the title.
This week I will be opening up a trial trench to examine a prehistoric site, on the fringe of Glasgow, that was buried 51 years ago beneath a 1m layer of soil and turf.
The site is called the Cochno Stone and it is one of the most spectacular and extensive panels of prehistoric rock-art in Britain. It is located in the lower reaches of the Kilpatrick Hills, in an area with dense rock-art concentrations on small outcrops and boulders.
In 1964 it was sealed, put beyond use and rendered inaccessible.
For its own good.
This rock-art splattered outcrop, rich with cups, cup-and-rings marks, spirals and two four-toed footprints was deemed, in the 1960s, to be under threat from the urban expansion of Glasgow. The Council-built estate of Faifley, now in West Dunbartonshire Council, encroached almost to the Cochno Stone itself. Too close apparently.
Houses were built. Infrastructure was constructed. Power towers and electricity cables were added.
The edge of the city cut through the land like a guillotine, with parkland created in the footprint of an old-style Estate, Auchnacraig. The ruins of old money and its trappings were slowly replaced with paths for dog-walkers, illicit gathering places in the trees and bridle tracks. (The location of one of the main Auchnacraig buildings is now marked by log seats, hearths and decorated tree stumps, a nice subversion.)
Amidst this all lay the grand old Cochno Stone. Too close to the city for comfort, too vulnerable to the new Glaswegian overspill population armed to the teeth with knives, chalk, paint and pens, the tools of choice of the urban vandal. Academics at Glasgow University bristled, shook with fear. Fear for their stone, a scientific relic, becoming the plaything of the youth of today, the unwilling recipient of scars and scrapes in the form of initials and love hearts and dates. Expressions of love, friendship and regret carved in stone, daubed on stone, Glaswegian rock-art, Glasgow kissing the stone into submission and confusion.
We can’t have that.
Then, in 1964, a solution was reached.
The stone would be saved from itself and its new neighbours, saved for the future generations who might one day wonder why such effort was made to bury such a stunning stone. Saved from itself and its inherent wonderfulness and weirdness. Saved for a rainy day, for better weather, saved by the soil, piled high and deep, a last resort, a tidy solution.
Encase the stone in a tomb of soil.
Quietly, so no-one notices. In the dead of night. Furtively. Secretly. For the benefit of everyone and no-one, for the good of Glasgow but the disbenefit of Glaswegians.
A dirty secret, hidden from view, never mentioned except in secret conversations and obscure academic articles. Which are often one and the same thing.
Encased in a tomb of soil.
Decades went by and the stone fell from memory like a dream. Ronald Morris, solicitor and rock-art collector, kept the Cochno Stone alive with his field surveys, drawings and lists. Euan Mackie excavated the rock-art panel at nearby Greenhills and noted briefly the sad loss of the buried Cochno Stone. Like a video tape played too many times the story lost focus and sharpness and clarity however, a sob story that fewer and fewer people wanted to hear.
And even today the cup-and-ring marks of Faifley remain under threat apparently. Other rock-art panels, unburied, are located in what became designated as Auchnacraig Urban Park in the 1990s. Their location was not made public even although the public knew where they were. (Local people in fact know much more about the rock-art and where it is to be found than almost any archaeologist.) And at least one of these, shown above, has been vandalised. But other more impressive panels have been left alone.
Noticeboards were erected at the entrances to the park. Much of the information they contain (only one panel survives, the other having been removed from its plinth) concerns the modern history of the park and Estate. However, a brief paragraph concerning the prehistoric rock-art is present. A brief discussion of the nature of these sites is followed by this troubling statement regarding the rock-art outcrops in the urban park:
To provide protection from modern people their location is not publicised whilst some have had to be buried.
Today, because of vandalism, the best of the carvings, including the Druid Stone [Cochno Stone], have been earthed over for protection by Historic Scotland.
There is no trust here (and it is a little unfair to blame HS here too!).
But who can we trust?
Looking back on archaeological engagements with the stone, there is not much encouragement. In 1937 Ludovic Mann, a recurring character in this blog, took an interest in the Cochno Stone and other rock-art, located near his seminal excavations at Knappers. Mann painted the rock-art in white indelible paint, and to add to this middle class vandalism, he then daubed a grid of white lines all over the rock. It is almost impossible to find a photo where the Stone is not covered in this gaudy make-up. And it was enduring. Euan Mackie recently told me that when he visited the Cochno Stone in the early 1960s, it was still covered in Mann’s handiwork.
So who are the vandals here? The Cochno Stone is dynamic, not static. It seems possible that motifs were added in the 18th and 19th century, such as a cross, and possibly also the enigmatic four-toed footprints found on the Stone. Perhaps too my excavation will uncovered 1960s additions, and it seems probable that Mann’s paint will also be evident still. The Stone is a palimpsest, a surface upon which many individuals, for many motives, have felt the need to leave their mark over the past 5000 years.
So can we trust the public? Apparently not, with recent media stories reporting vandalism at the Ring of Brodgar. There, earlier this month, the phrase AA2015 was carved into one of the standing stones. Historic Scotland plans to do some work to limit the damage, and their statement added: “Fortunately incidents such as this are rare, and we continue to work with the local community to educate people on the significance of these prehistoric sites.”
And here is the key to what might be a chance for the Cochno Stone to be rehabilitated and returned to the community from which it has been separated from by a barrier of soil for so long. My excavation is being carried out in collaboration with Spanish heritage company Factum Arte and the film-maker May Miles Thomas (director of the wonderful film The Devil’s Plantation). The plan is to make a super high resolution laser scan of the Stone once the topsoil has been removed, and then recreate an exact replica of the Stone, to sit in situ once the real Stone has been buried again. This is a very exciting project and it will be a privilege to be one of the first people to see the Stone since 1964 on Tuesday or Wednesday next week.
But might this be a missed opportunity?
Why not leave the Cochno Stone exposed, rather than cover it up again? What about engaging the local community in the project, enthusing them about the Stone, explaining the international significance of this prehistoric site in their midst. Surely the best stewards of urban prehistory are those who live with it?
To cover up the stone again, it could be argued, would once again be a case of the authorities telling local people that they are not to be trusted.
I am currently working with teachers and pupils at St Mungo’s Academy in Falkirk on a series of lessons based on decision-making: in this case, the kids are being challenged to answer this questions – should the Cochno Stone be left open, or covered back up, at the end of the excavations? Can we trust local people, or can they make do with the replica? I am really fascinated to see what the children come up with over the next few weeks. After all, these kinds of decisions can seem simple but can have significant ramifications.
Can it really be true that there are nearly 90 Bronze Age (5,000-years-old) fantastic, mysterious rock carvings on a stone measuring 42ft by 26ft (55ft by 35ft on some counts) in a field on the edge of Clydebank and that these have been deliberately hidden under the soil by “the authorities”, so to speak, since 1964?
You. Are. Having. A. Laugh.
Every archaeological site that sits in the landscape, extant, does so by the combined will of society to allow this to happen. We have a set of values and make judgements about what can be changed, and what cannot. In some cases, those in power take decisions away from the people, with the addition of fences, charges and fees, warning signs, pathways and in extreme cases like Stonehenge security guards. The Cochno Stone is another extreme case – buried for its protection. But this was a decision from another time and should, in my opinion, be revisited.
The small-scale excavation of the Cochno Stone will happen on 7-9th September. I will be live tweeting during the excavations next week using #digcochnostone
Sources and acknowledgements: I must first thank Historic Scotland and West Dunbartonshire Council for permitting this 1st phase of excavation, and for Ferdinand Saumarez Smith of Factum Arte for inviting me to do the archaeology as it were. The St Mungo’s classes have been developed and mostly taught by Jan Brophy and Michelle McMullan, many thanks for their time and enthusiasm. The photo of the Cochno Stone in the 1930s is copyright RCAHMS, image number SC01062363, and reproduced under their new creative commons policy with regards their images. The Harvey extract came from his paper on the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland from 1889.
How many standing stones are there in Glasgow? There are lots of stones that are standing of course, but when archaeologists talk about standing stones (and stone circles) we are talking about proper prehistoric standing stones. Standing stones in back gardens don’t count, and neither do stone circles in roundabouts (even although they are, to the innocent bystander, er, standing stones and stone circles). Anyway, if we use the narrow archaeological view of standing stones, then there are none in Glasgow. None? How can this be possible? Glasgow is geographically a big place. And a quick search in the National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS) shows that there 1162 standing stones recorded across Scotland. This covers all manner of stones that stand alone or in pairs (but not circles or more elaborate settings), but even allowing for a few whimsical antiquarian entries, and some rogue non-prehistoric megaliths, it seems unlikely that people who lived in what is now the greater Glasgow area in the Neolithic and Bronze Age didn’t erect a few standing stones. So we have to suppose that the urban machine has chewed them up and spat them out. Or even the rural, post-improvement farming machine. The second last standing stone in Glasgow stood in a field on the north side of the Clyde, in the area that is now Scotstounhill (across the river from the Braehead shopping centre, location of an Iron Age settlement that is now Ikea). In 1873, a J. Napier remembered that, ‘a large stone standing in a field on his farm … was broken and removed a good many years ago’ (NMRS number NS56NW 13). Even before this became an urban area, this standing stone disappeared in the name of progress (or in the name of needing building material for a new barn).
And then there was one. Because until 1972, there was one more standing stone, the last stone standing in Glasgow. This stone stood a few metres from a roadside just to the south of Pollok Park, just to the north of Kennishead in the south side of Glasgow (NS56SW 13). This megalith is marked as ‘stone’ on various versions of OS 25 inch maps for Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire published in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1972, the standing stone – let’s call it the Boydstone standing stone as it does not seem to have had a formal name – finally succumbed to urban improvement; it was removed in advance of the widening of the adjacent road. The stone socket was excavated and it was concluded by archaeologist Helen Adamson (Assistant Keeper of Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries) that this was possibly a prehistoric standing stone, perhaps later used as a boundary marker for Boiston estate (this is a boundary location, between estates, between Counties, on a road junction). Adamson’s report for Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 1972 (the organ of record in Scottish archaeology) reads as follows:
I suppose we can make allowances for progress and some of the compromises we have to make. The real stone was to be re-erected, albeit in the wrong place, and the proposed location in nearby Darnley would have meant the stone probably got a lot more public attention than it had had in its original lonely roadside location. But…sadly, it was never to be. A report from 1975 on the excavation by Adamson, deposited in the NMRS, notes: ‘it was accidentally destroyed in storage’. What!? How on earth could a sandstone block that was over 3m long and weighing in the order of 4 or 5 tonnes be accidentally destroyed? Perhaps the simple truth is that it was ‘lost’ in a quarry or landfill. Or maybe it did indeed crash from a creaking fork-lift truck and smash into miniliths. Most tantalising of all is my fancy that the megalith was propped up in the corner of a warehouse, hidden by all of those orange corporation buses that used to drive about Glasgow, and was forgotten, awaiting rediscovery. Such is the fate of urban megaliths.
It remained the task of the urban prehistorian to visit the location where this stone once stood 40 years ago almost to the day. Would any essence of the stone, or the pastness of this location remain? I approached the location from the north, aware of the constant hum of traffic from the nearby M77. The stone had stood at the bend of Boydstone Road, at a point where several routeways converged, and these tracks were still apparent, although one was inaccessible due to a silver metal fence with a padlocked gate. The location of the stone was disappointing, a roadside patch of scrubby vegetation, a crappy fence and lots of litter. A golf course lay just behind the spot, and tower blocks offered a suitably urban backdrop. This was a classic urban edgeland, not so much brown belt as grey belt, troubled by traffic noise and shadowed by an inexplicable pile of industrial debris and a huge – and nearly empty – car park for industrial units that are now gone. Yet echoes remained. Across the road, at the end of one of the tracks running off towards the west, stood a setting of three ‘megaliths’, blocks of varying shapes made of concrete and metal. These stood in a row and were almost comical, as if the Three Stooges had been petrified. These curious geometrical objects reminded me of the amazing (and appropriately named) Paul Nash painting Equivalent for the megaliths (1935), which appropriately adorns the cover of Julian Thomas’s 1991 book Rethinking the Neolithic (Cambridge University Press).
And this returns me to my opening point. These are not proper prehistoric structures: but they are our equivalent of megaliths, abstract, physical, mysterious, perhaps even slightly menacing. This is all we have, this is our consolation when – in Glasgow – in the name of progress all standing stones have now been removed. The last two stones standing were treated with little dignity, and no care, and we must now assume they are gone forever. And what we are left with are places that were once special, but are now typical.