Tag Archives: Ludovic Mann

The cemetery in the quarry

9 Nov

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.

Green-oak-hill

Brown-sand-ridge

Mount Vernon.

Windy Edge.

Fragments of a site, documented poorly, all we are left with.

But it is – thankfully – enough.

old map extract

canmore_image_SC01332949

(c) Crown Copyright. Source: http://canmore.org.uk/file/image/1332949

Herald newsclipping

 

Complete Skeleton. Find Near Glasgow. A poem.

 

LONDON, Wednesday

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.
Until recently

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

puzzles archaeologists.

 

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.

Food Vessel Glasgow Story webpage image

Food Vessel from Greenoakhill, held in Glasgow Museums collection, who hold the copyright for this image

Mann with suits at MV Glasgow story

Ludovic Mann and assorted suited visitors – dead and alive – antiquarians and magistrates – at Greenoakhill (c) Glasgow Museums

 

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.

N soils.

 

(c) Crown Copyright. Source: http://canmore.org.uk/file/image/1337792

(c) Crown Copyright. Source: http://canmore.org.uk/file/image/1337792

 

A Perambulation to Wyndy Hege

Quarry sign low res

 

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?

Both.

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.

Hard-hats / Stag frontlets / High-vis / Low-vis / Identity badge / Pendant / Steel-toed boots / Leather wraps.

The quarryman and the mourner.

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.

Removal. Insertion. Extraction.

Digging. Burying. Replacing. Modifying. Regenerating.

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.

Keep Out low res

DANGER. QUARRY WORKINGS.

Quarry sign 1 low res

NO ENTRY. DANGER!! PLACE OF DEATH.

No entry

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.

trucks low res

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.

The site today low res

The location of the cemetery today

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.

Field notes

Field notes

Ludovic Mann’s excavations at Greenoakhill have never been published.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Walking Ludovic Mann

19 Oct

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.

My paper. Literally.

My paper. Literally.

 

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.

Accountant.

Insurance broker.

Showman.

Opportunist.

Digger.

 

Flamboyant antiquarian.

Amateur 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.

Mann in 1905 (c) Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries)

Mann in 1905 ((c) Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries)

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.

prehistory gallery

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.

Workmen helping excavate a cist cemetery in advance of construction of a school in Cambuslang (c) RCAHMS image number SC01338023

Workmen helping excavate a cist cemetery in advance of construction of a school in Cambuslang (c) RCAHMS image number SC01338023

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.

Pots from the Newlands excavations, found in 1905 (c) RCAHMS image number SC01331866

 

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.

 

Occult alignments.

Sacred roadways.

Unearthly mounds.

Secret temples.

Buried cemeteries.

 

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.

 front_cover Earliest Glasgow

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.

Extract from Mann's Earliest Glasgow

Extract from Mann’s Earliest Glasgow

 

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.

explained_routes low res

Knappers today is a very different place.

DIGITAL CAMERA

knappers today low res

Sketch from Knappers walk

fungal ring low res

chalk rock art low res

pit location low res

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.

The living and the dead.

The living on the dead.

Also in Clydebank is another site which Mann is intrinsically connected to – the Cochno Stone (for background, see a previous post on this blog).

Ludovic Mann on the Cochno Stone in 1937 (c) RCAHMS image number SC01062363

Ludovic Mann on the Cochno Stone in 1937 (c) RCAHMS image number SC01062363

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.

Vandalism to the Cochno Stone (photo taken during my excavation there in September 2015)

Vandalism to the Cochno Stone (photo taken during my excavation there in September 2015)

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.

Deep time.

Timeless. Effortless.

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.

 

 

 

Links:

EcoCultures: www.facebook.com/events/114920895512376/

Mann booklet source: http://www.cantab.net/users/michael.behrend/repubs/index.html

 

 

 

Dagon Day

22 Dec

‘I perceived beyond a doubt that the strange object was a well-shaped monolith whose massive bulk had known the workmanship and perhaps the worship of living and thinking creatures’.

The recent launch of the issue 3 of the Love Archaeology magazine prompted me to take a fieldtrip to Darvel in East Ayrshire. The magazine contains an article on HP Lovecraft and archaeology, and this made me think of one of the strangest urban megaliths in Scotland, the Dagon Stone. My main motivations were to explore the complicated modern biography of this standing stone, as well as think about its strange name, and so I developed a simple field project. In one morning, I would visit Darvel and the various sites associated with this much travelled megalith, then read HP Lovecraft’s short story called Dagon, and finish the project off with a viewing of the film version of Dagon. For me, this was an exciting programme – of all of the urban megaliths I have encountered, this one seems to have suffered the most indignities: constantly moved, appendage added, drawn on with chalk, and allocated a silly name. This is urban prehistory worth exploring.

Dagon Stone low resBefore we look at the standing stone itself, it is worth asking who, or what, was Dagon? Typically regarded as a Near Eastern god with prehistoric origins, Dagon is sometimes depicted as a half-man, half-fish creature. The 20th century image of Dagon was, to an extent, defined by Lovecraft, with fishy men and fishy gods featuring heavily in his writings, notably the short story Dagon (of more below) and the longer story, The Shadow over Innsmouth (from 1931). Lovecraft utilised ‘the ancient Philistine legend of Dagon the Fish-god’ although this entity is also mentioned in various forms in the Old Testament in connection with more mundane things like agriculture and paganism.

Dagon in Mesopotamia

Bearing this in mind, I have always found it surprising that there are two references to Dagon in the National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS). One relates to a steam trawler called Dagon, which sank off the Aberdeenshire coast en route to the Faroe Islands on 8th September 1934 in heavy fog (NMRS number NK14SW 8001) with no lives lost. (In some records it is thought that this ship was actually called Dragon, a point of confusion I will return to later.) And the other is the bizarre standing stone of unknown provenance which today stands in the centre of the Ayrshire town of Darvel (NS53NE 12), known locally as the Dagon Stone.

This is quite a remarkable monolith, and indeed its appearance is so strange that I have passed it many times in the past by car and assumed it was some kind of statue or sculpture. The main body of the megalith is quite normal (for a megalith): it is a thin block of ‘olivine’, some 1.6m in height above the ground surface, narrowing towards the top. It has a rather blocky appearance. In its current location it has been set into a circular arrangement of setts or cobbles and a lot of concrete. But what sets this stone apart from others is the addition of a ‘large stone ball’ to the top of the megalith; the two are connected by a corroded iron rod which is embedded quite deeply into the top of the standing stone. It is possible that a succession of stone balls have been stuck on top of the stone as hints of other rods are visible. Apparently the addition of this stone ‘head’ was undertaken by a local blacksmith in 1821. I could not find any sign of the date stamp that Woodburn noted (in A history of Darvel) was present on the iron rod in 1967.

dagon stone

The maverick Scottish archaeologist Ludovic MacLellan Mann felt the stone had a series of cup-marks on them (prehistoric rock carvings). The above photo shows the Dagon Stone in one of its previous locations, taken for the Glasgow Herald newspaper by George Applebey in 1922. This shows chalk lines and circles added to the stone, presumably by Mann himself, who had a bit of a reputation as a chalksman. Yet these ‘markings’ have been rejected as natural for quite some time now, and I saw nothing convincing in terms of rock-art when I closely examined the stone. The identification of rock-art would have gone some way to explain the mysterious provenance of this standing stone. Was it initially erected in prehistory in this area and at some point had a stone head added to it? Or is the megalith simply a modern – fanciful – creation?

darvel sketch map

One of the most remarkable things about the Dagon Stone is that it has moved about a lot. Indeed, based on OS mapping records and a few local snippets of information, Woodburn noted the Dagon Stone has stood in at least four locations in the town since the 19th century. I visited each of these places while I was in Darvel and got a sense of the geography of the Dagon Stone in the town; this is mapped out above. The motivation for each stone upheaval is unknown, but the stone endured, and has been a fixture within Darvel for at least 200 years, albeit crossing the main road several times and appearing in two different parks. The Dagon Stone appears to have initially been recorded on the main street that runs east-west through the town, at the junction with Ranoldcoup Road (location 1) where it is shown on 19th century maps. I am not sure how likely it is that this was the original position for this stone if it was prehistoric in origin, but a connection with a main route way would not be unusual.

Dagon Stone location 1 road junction low res

Location 1

The main road was widened in 1894, and so the stone was moved to the ‘grounds of Brown’s Institute’. The Brown Institute was a one of a number of such Working Men’s Institutes established by Miss Martha Brown of Lanfine in Ayrshire villages in the 1870s; a sad looking building at 7 Mair’s Road (pictured below) is one building that survives from this Institute, while a still occupied adjacent building acted as a Reading Room. These were built in 1872/1873, and the standing stone must have been located somewhere in adjoining Morton Park at the back of these buildings (location 2) although the exact location is unknown.

Dagon Stone location 2 back of Browns Institute

Morton Park, location 2. The cluster of buildings beyond the park is the Brown’s Institute.

7 Mairs Road Browns Institute Darvel low res

Decades later the stone was on the move again. In 1938 it was taken to a small park at the junction between the main street and Burn Road (location 3) beside the building that is now the Darvel Telephone Museum. There is no indication now of where the Dagon Stone stood on this thin stretch of grass, although I assume it was near the main street and in full view of passers-by. (The Morton Park location was the only time we know of that the Dagon Stone was removed from the side of the main road.) The Burn Road ‘park’ is now dominated by a much more modern memorial, a ‘cairn’ dedicated to the Special Air Force Regiment (SAS) who were stationed in Darvel in 1944; this was erected in 2001.

Dagon Stone location 3 Burn Road low res

Location 3

And then finally, the stone was moved to its current prominent position in Hastings Square in 1961 or 1962, where it has remained for half a century, set into concrete. The stone sits amidst a series of other memorials, including an obelisk-like War Memorial, and at the opposite end of the square stands a pillar with a bust on top in honour of Sir Alexander Fleming, the penicillin guy as I like to call him, who was born in the town.  This offers a peculiar mirror image of the Dagon Stone. Both consist of an upright with a head stuck on top, and with a circular feature at the base (a flower-bed in the case of the Fleming statue). The main War Memorial sites equidistant between them. The creation of this little symmetrical monumental garden is, I would imagine, one of the reasons why the Dagon Stone was moved to here from across the other side of the road.

Dagon Stone wider setting low res

Location 4

And this is where, in a sense, my journey should probably have ended. I had spent some time wandering about Darvel in the rain, exploring the previous locations for the Dagon Stone, and then spent more time looking up close and touching the stone itself, which had little dribbles of rain running down its side. I even bought Hugh Maxwell’s book Old Darvel in a local bookshop, demonstrating that urban prehistory can contribute to the local economy. But I had set myself a task some time before Dagon Day, and so I decided to keep to schedule in order to seek inspiration from the creative arts. I drove to a car park with a fine view of nearby Loudon Hill, and proceeded to read aloud HP Lovecraft’s short story Dagon. Nothing much happened.

dagon book cover

Dagon was one of the first HP Lovecraft story to be published, in a magazine called The Vagrant, No. 11 (November 1919), 23–29. It does read like one of his weaker efforts, with a feeble storyline involving a sailor / narrator who had escaped ‘the ocean forces of the Hun’ and set off by boat alone into an unexplored area of the Pacific. The narrator runs his ship aground on a strange unmapped landform that he assumes has risen up from the ocean floor and notices all sorts of weird shit, including unusual geometrically arranged rocks (standard HPL landscape features), strange dead things and the mysterious standing stone described in the quote that opened this blog. Before fleeing, the sailor saw some kind of ‘loathsome’ creature with big hands, and then somehow he found his way back to dry land.

The narrative framing device for the story is that he is committing this tale to pen and paper before he kills himself. He has become a shambolic morphine addict haunted by the visions of the indescribable creature he saw in the ocean with its hands all over the standing stone. The story ends with the narrator still furiously writing that ‘some immense slipper body’ was at his door; thankfully the story does not end with him writing aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrghhhhhhhhhh but it comes pretty close. Did reading this story help with my understanding of the Dagon stone? In fact, aside from the title, Dagon is only mentioned once, prompted by the narrator’s attempts to research what he had seen on the rocky eminence. But what is interesting is that this story is a thinly veiled anti-war tale, set unusually for HPL in the ‘real world’: the sailor noted that if the underwater creatures were to rise to the surface they would only find ‘the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind’. The Dagon Stone sits in the centre of Darvel where I counted at least three memorials to those who fought and died in 20th century wars.

Dagon DVD cover

I headed back home and settled down to watch the film version of Dagon on DVD, which I had recently been loaned. Directed by Stuart Gordon, and released in 2001, this was an attempt by Gordon to re-capture the glorious excesses and Lovecraftian creepiness of his brilliant 1985 film Re-animator. Sadly, he was not successful. Strangest of all, this part-Spanish movie is actually really a film version of HPL’s masterpiece, The Shadow over Innsmouth; the only element that is retained from ‘Dagon the story’ is the arrival by boat, and even then it is four people in a yacht. (In Shadow Over… the protagonist arrives in Innsmouth by public bus, perhaps a first in horror fiction.) I won’t trouble you with the plot, which involves a lot of running about from the fish-man equivalent of zombies, all of whom are caught up in the cult of Dagon, which has provided the Spanish village of Imboca (nicely rendered in the film) huge amounts of fish and gold from the sea. This cult has dis-benefits however, in the form of some unpleasant fish mutations, cross-breeding and a regrettable need for human sacrifices to appease Dagon itself.

DAGON

There is very little horror either, other than an unpleasant scene in a ‘butchers’ which I assume was a homage to the 1960 horror classic Eyes without a face, complete with very unpleasant sound effects. There are lots of rituals in the film (as well as a crazy scene involving a flimsy hotel door, a bolt-type lock and a penknife with a screwdriver), and quite a lot of Cthulhu chanting by people with tentacles (some of whom are thoughtfully pushed about in wheelchairs) but I couldn’t see any standing stones. I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the ‘Making of’ extra on the DVD.

Dagon Stone head low res

Half man, half fish. An idol to be worshipped. I will now avoid the temptation to drift onto musings about the weird limestone fish-man-gods found within houses of the Danubian Mesolithic village of Lepinski Vir in Serbia. But what does interest me is how such a strange name came to be associated with a standing stone in Ayrshire. Can it really be that the stone is named after the fishman of Babylon? Certainly, the monolith has been implicated in rituals or ceremonies carried out locally; Ordnance Survey fieldworkers recorded in the 1960s that ‘there is a strong folklore tradition that before its [the Dagon Stone] 19th century history newly-wed couples had to walk around the stone for good luck’. This fertility rite (for this is surely what it was) offers some connection to ancient Dagon I suppose. And the addition of the stone head to the stone gives it a somewhat pseudo-anthropomorphic appearance. Scrutinizing photos in Old Darvel shows, in certain pictures, a recurring hazy black and white figure in the middle distance that looks like it might be the Dagon Stone – although I don’t think the Stone actually does appear in any of the photos I have seen. The stone has, like Dagon, something of the human about it.

Dagon Stone in Morton Park maybe

Yet perhaps we can find a more mundane explanation, which takes us back to the aforementioned shipwrecked Aberdeenshire Dagon (a Lovecraftian event if ever there was one!) which, in some records, was actually called Dragon. Could it be that the Dagon stone was actually the Dragon Stone? This sounds plausible, and during my visit to Darvel this connection became overwhelming, when I glanced over the road, where just 50m from the Dagon Stone was situated a Chinese carryout that suggested that the simple truth – Dagon was simply a mistaken spelling – had been hidden in plain view for anyone who cared to see…..

Dragon Chinese carryout low res

The Dagon Stone is a true enigma, its origins, meaning, place and even name a source of confusion, now fading even from folk memory. Limited attempts by archaeologists to make sense of this stone have come to naught, and it has, like so many urban megaliths, been made ‘modern’ through concrete and decontextualisation. At the same time, though, the comical addition of the stone head has transformed this stone into something very different from the other urban megaliths I have visited. The naming of this stone – whether Dagon or Dragon – has added a colourful chapter to the biography of a standing stone that people may have been ‘worshipping’ or processing around  for thousands of years, perhaps as recently as the 19th century. The ancient evil personified in Lovecraft’s fish-man-god Dagon has never rubbed off onto this stone, despite the name, but it reminds us that in the prehistoric past, megaliths would have had names, and personalities, and perhaps when no-one was looking, they moved, and then became petrified once again in another place. Dagon Day did not really help me make sense of this standing stone, but it has given me a better appreciation of how people interact with megaliths, even in the modern world.

Sources: The quote that opens this blog comes from HP Lovecraft’s story Dagon.  Some information about the Dagon Stone came from MacLeod’s 1950 Book of Old Darvel (which in itself sounds Lovecraftian)  while details on the movement of the stone are drawn from John Woodburn’s A history of Darvel (1967), with additional information from the NMRS. I also made extensive use of Maxwell’s Old Darvel photo book and this was the source of the old Morton Park picture. The Dagon image at the start of the blog is available widely online; the black and white Dagon photo is from the Herald, 1922. For more on Mann and the Cochno Stone, see Ritchie, JNG 2002 Lucovic McLellan Mann (1869-1955): ‘the eminent archaeologist’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 132, 43-64 (google and you shall find). There is a massive amount of information on HP Lovecraft online; I usually dip into the Lovecraft Archive for factual information. You can watch all of Dagon the movie on youtube and read all of the short story Dagon in various places online. The Dagon book cover reproduced above is widely available online, and is from a classic series of Panther HPL book covers, the illustrated example from 1973. Images of the DVD cover and stills from Dagon the movie are surprisingly commonly available online. And finally, thanks to Bam for loaning me the Dagon DVD – but please, please take it back.