Faifley Rocks WH19

This is a summary account of the excavations at Whitehill 3, 4 and 5 rock art panels between 13th and 19th August 2019. This report was written with co-director, Yvonne Robertson. This is a brief and provisional account, with a more detailed publication to follow in the future.

zines
Zines inspired by the excavations, created by University of Glasgow archaeology students

Faifley Rocks! is a project researching prehistoric rock art sites to the north of Faifley, Clydebank, West (and as it turns out East) Dunbartonshire, using excavation, survey, oral history and archival research. The largest rock art site in the area, the Cochno Stone, has received the most attention, but sits within a small group of c 16 rock art panels. Some of these sites were identified in the late nineteenth century, others through more recent fieldwork, but no comprehensive work has been done on any of these sites since Ronald Morris’s fieldwork in the 1960s and 1970s (reported on in Morris 1981).

This was the second excavation as part of the project, following work at Auchnacraig in June 2019. The summary report of this excavation includes some more background on the project which need not be repeated here.

Whitehill 2019 excavations

In August 2019, excavation took place around three of the rock art sites in the area, sites known as Whitehill 3, 4 and 5 in Scotland’s Rock Art Project (ScRAP) database. These outcrops are situated within a small area of woodland amidst arable fields immediately to the northeast of Whitehill Farm and north of Law Farm on a prominent landscape position with extensive views to the south. The outcrops are sedimentary, being gritstone or sandstone. They are located around NS 5138 7403 and are listed in canmore. These are just inside East Dunbartonshire and hence not quite on the map below right!

WH19 location map

location map
Red circle = Whitehill 3-5 location. Green circles = Whitehill 1-2 and 7 locations

Two of these sites were first recorded in the 1960s by Morris unlike the Auchnacraig sites which were first documented in the late nineteenth century. Morris documented these in his 1981 book The prehistoric rock-art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway). The numbering system he used is slightly different to the system adopted here; we are adopting the ScRAP nomenclature.

Whitehill 3 is the most extensive of the panels and located on the edge of an escarpment. Morris called this site Whitehill 5. It was initially briefly documented in the Morris and Bailey gazetteer (1967, 161) as a hilltop or break of slope location decorated with 25 cups and a few cups-with-rings. This is reflected in a sketch that is within his archive at HES (see below).

In 1971, Morris uncovered an area some 10m by 10m (although his plan suggests a smaller area was looked at) and found more symbols. He recorded, ‘5 cups-and-two-rings, at least 21 cups-and-one-ring, and at least 40 cups. Radial grooves were noted in some instances, and dumb-bell shapes identified’ (1981, 130).

IMAG3963
Sketch in Morris archive from 1960s showing the area of this rock that is typically visible (Image sourced by Denise Telford)
Morris plan of WH3
Morris’s drawing of Whitehill 3, published in 1981, based on a more energetic clearing of vegetation from the outcrop during a visit in 1971
IMAG3966
 Morris photo of Whitehill 3 presumably during the 1960s visit (Photo sourced by Denise Telford)

In March 2019, these panels were subject to detailed recording and photogrammetry as part of SCRAP. RTI survey of Whitehill 3 was also undertaken by a team from Glasgow School of Art. The SCRAP record for this site notes that 22 cupmarks, 13 cup-and-ring variants and 7 grooves were recorded; the latter are distinctive oblong cupmarks that the record sheet calls ‘courgettes’. An enigmatic graffiti symbol was also noted; this had been pointed out to me on previous visits. Connections between symbols and ‘fissures’ were noted.

Whitehill 3 model screengrab
3D scan of Whitehill 3 (c) HES / ScRAP
WH3 during 3D recording March 2019
Setting up for RTI recording of Whitehill 3 in March 2019 (photo: Alison Douglas)
Stevie rock-art low res
Another part of the Whitehill 3 panel usually covered by vegetation, on a visit in 2018 with Stevie Cafferty

During the SCRAP and Glasgow School of Art surveys, the site now called Whitehill 4 was discovered c20m to the south. This is described in the SCRAP Project database as a ‘domed sandstone outcrop’ that has four cupmarks, one of them dubious. Morris noted additional cupmarks at Whitehill but did not formally document them; this is probably one he spotted and referenced (1981, 133).

WH4 March 2019
Whitehill 4 photographed after recording in March 2019
WH4 3d scan screengrab
3D scan of Whitehill 4 (c) HES / ScRAP

The third panel in this location, 25m south of Whitehill 3, is known as Whitehill 5 in the SCRAP database. The survey in March 2019 identified seven cupmarks on this stone, which was entirely covered in turf at the time.

WH5 in March 2019
Whitehill 5 during recording in March 2019 (photo: Alison Douglas)
WH5 screengrab
3d model of Whitehill 5 (c) HES / ScRAP project

It is not clear if this is the same as Whitehill 6, a site was first recorded by Morris during the visit to the location in 1971 already noted above, having been found by a JM Stables (Morris 1971; 1981). Morris noted that the rock was carved with a ‘much-weathered cup-and-two-complete-rings, slightly oval’ (1981, 133) and suggested it was 55m south of SCRAP Whitehill 3. This site appears similar in Morris’s Plates 123 and 125 (see images below) but the presence of a clear cup-and-ring mark, and its location info, suggests this is a different panel.

Morris Whitehill images

Objectives: August 13-19th 2019 excavation

The specific research questions for the excavation of these three panels were:

  • Do carvings extend beyond the currently exposed outcrop?
  • What evidence is there for activity in prehistory, and in the twentieth century?
  • How do the panels physically and spatially relate to one another?
  • Are there any other carved stones in the vicinity? Morris noted others that are not accounted for in the SCRAP survey eg Morris’s Whitehill 6 and 7.
  • Is there additional historic graffiti on the rock art at Whitehill?
  • What is the significance of the location of these sites eg in relation to views and other rock art such as Law Farm sites and SCRAP Whitehill 1-2?

Methodology

The excavation was conducted between the 13th and 19th August 2019 by Glasgow University staff and students, and local volunteers. Upon arrival, the area was subject to a visual inspection to ascertain the condition of the outcrops containing rock art and any further possible features and archaeological remains.

Essentially we ended up clearing vegetation from the outcrops rather than excavating the surrounding area due to the extensive nature of the bedrock.

Cleaning low res

Three ‘trenches’ were laid out focusing on the exposed outcrops at Whitehill 3, 4 and 5. Seven small test pits were also excavated (all but one measuring 1m by 1m) which were positioned in the surrounding woodland targeting areas of archaeological potential both on the ridge and in the valley below. The trenches and test pits were all hand dug, with contexts and rock art being recorded in plan and section, as appropriate, by measured drawing, digital photography, and written descriptions on pro forma sheets. Photogrammetry was also conducted on all three exposed rock art outcrops. After excavation and recording the excavated material was replaced and the turf reinstated.

sketch site plan
Sketch map showing the locations of the three trenches and test pits 1-7. Base map is OS 1st edition.

Results

Trench W3

Trench W3 aimed to investigate the largest of the three known Whitehill rock art sites, Whitehill 3, where a number of cup marks were already visible on an exposed outcrop of bedrock.

A trench measuring 5.0 m by 5.0 m was opened over the exposed outcrop and the flat top to the west and north covered with a shallow layer of turf and topsoil. An extension measuring 2.5m by 1.0m was opened to the west of the trench as well as an extension to the north-east measuring approximately 2.5 m by 2.0 m in order to investigate a wider area for potential rock art symbols. Turf was also cleared off the steep slope of the outcrop to the east in order to investigate the potential for further symbols.

WH3 low res a

Where present, the topsoil comprised a shallow layer (0.15m) of loose medium to dark brown silt loam (context number 301/303) which contained modern glass, plastic and metal as well as a small quartz pebble (Find 1) recovered from a crack in the bedrock. The topsoil directly overlay the natural bedrock (300) in the majority of the trench although pockets of a medium orange brown silt clay with infrequent small pebble inclusions (302) and a medium dark grey silt clay with frequent angular stone inclusions measuring 0.05-0.10 m (304) were recorded in pockets across the trench within natural fissures in the bedrock. This material was relatively sterile and was interpreted as natural hill wash. Disturbance caused by tree roots was apparent throughout deposits across the trench.

WH3 low res b

Bedrock (300) was encountered across the entire trench. The bedrock was a large flat-topped sedimentary outcrop which sloped steeply downwards to the east and gently sloped to the north, west and south.  Up to 65 carved symbols, including c. 33 cupmarks, 16 cup-and-ring marks, six cup-and-ring marks with double rings, eight oval/elongated cupmarks or grooves and at least two radials, were recorded within the trench, largely concentrated on the flat top of the outcrop (see photos). The symbols were of varying size, depth and quality, and dispersed in no clear pattern across the outcrop, and some had clearly been weathered as a result of having been exposed.  Large natural cracks where the bedrock had fragmented in parts were visible across the surface in a north-east to south-west orientation and these areas were devoid of markings. A graffiti symbol was also recorded on the bedrock (300) where the rock had previously been exposed; the meaning of this symbol remains unknown.

graffiti on wh3 low res
Graffiti on Whitehill 3. This might be upside down! 10p for scale.

Trench W4

Trench W4 measured 4.0 m by 3.0 m and was centred on a bedrock outcrop to the south-west of Whitehill 3 known as Whitehill 4. Prior to excavation, four cupmarks were visible on the bedrock outcrop and the trench aimed to investigate whether further symbols were present as well as whether any further archaeological features were present in the area surrounding the outcrop.

Context 405

The trench was largely covered by topsoil (401) comprising a friable dark black brown clay loam with occasional angular stone inclusions (measuring 0.05 – 0.20m) as well as rare charcoal flecks. Modern glass and plastic as well as a post-medieval or modern ceramic fragment (SF 2) were present within the topsoil. The topsoil directly overlay bedrock (400) in the centre of the trench, however, an underlying clay silt wash comprising dark brown clay silt with occasional angular stones and frequent charcoal (402) was recorded in pockets of the trench within undulations in the bedrock (400).

WH4 after first clean
Whitehill 4 after initial cleaning. Greasy silty dark brown (402) in patches visible across the trench, these presumably washed into cracks in the rock.

This deposit also overlay what initially appeared to be a rubble stone wall comprising angular stones (measuring 0.08m – 0.30m) in the north-west corner of the trench. Further rubble material was encountered to the immediate east of this within a large sub-rectangular depression (404). Fragmented bedrock as well as other fragmented stone within a grey silt wash matrix similar to (402) filled the depression and may have been a leveling deposit within a natural hollow, purposefully placed for a platform or trackway or naturally occurring.

WH4 stone cluster
Mid-excavation view of possible leveling deposit from the west

To the south of the Whitehill 4 outcrop, a clean light grey sand was recorded below (402). The material was sterile and appeared to have been a naturally washed in deposit directly overlying the bedrock.

W4 plan

No further symbols were observed on the bedrock (400) nor were any further archaeological features recorded in the surrounding deposits.

Trench W5

Downslope and to the south of Whitehill 4, a trench measuring 2.0 m by 0.5 m with a roughly rectangular extension to the south-east measuring 2.5 m by 2.5 m was excavated. The trench focused on an outcrop recorded as Whitehill 5, previously exposed by SCRAP, where three cupmarks were visible on the exposed outcrop prior to the removal of any material. Topsoil (501) was found to extend across the rest of the trench and comprised a friable medium orange brown silt loam with extensive root disturbance and organic material and generally had a depth of 0.10m. The topsoil directly overlay bedrock in much of the trench although a silt clay wash deposit (502) formed a subsoil between the topsoil (501) and the bedrock (500) in the east of the trench. This material was largely sterile and there was clear root disturbance.

WH5 during planning
Trench W5 during planning
WH5 cupmarks
Cupmarks on Whitehill 5 (the only previously recorded ones are those immediately next to scale and N arrow)

In addition to the cluster of three previously recorded cupmarks associated with Whitehill 5, a further seven possible cupmarks were observed approximately 1.5 m east on the same bedrock outcrop (500) (Plate 7). These were recorded to the east of a large sub-circular area of conglomerate within the bedrock (500). No further features were encountered within the trench and no small finds were recovered.

Test-pits

Seven test pits were opened in all, all bar one measuring 1m by 1m. The location of these is shown in the general site plan above.

Test Pit 1

Test Pit 1 was located at the most northerly point of the ridge on which Whitehill 3, 4 and 5 were situated, c. 45 m north of Trench W3. The test pit targeted this area as it was the highest point on the ridge and found to be relatively level with views of the landscape extending south-east towards the Clyde Valley and to the north-west towards the Kilpatrick Hills. The test pit measured 1.0 m by 1.0 m and was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.30 m.

Topsoil extended across the entire test pit and comprised a friable dark black brown silty loam with occasional angular stone inclusions (0.02m – 0.08m in size) (1001). The topsoil was rich in organic material with some root disturbance. Frequent glass was encountered within the deposit. Beneath the topsoil, medium orange brown clay silt with occasional stone inclusions (1002) was recorded which extended to a maximum depth of 0.20m. This overlay the bedrock (1000) which had an undulating surface within the test pit and sloped downwards from west to east.

No symbols or archaeological features were observed in Test Pit 1, nor were any artefacts recovered.

Test Pit 2

Test Pit 2 was located c. 24 m to the north-west of Trench W3 in a relatively flat area, devoid of turf and simply covered in organic woodland debris. The test pit was placed in this location to determine if there were any archaeological features within this area which could be related to the rock art sites to the south. The test pit measured 1.0 m by 1.0 m and was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.35 m.

TP2

A friable medium black brown silt loam with occasional angular stone and rare charcoal inclusions formed the topsoil (2001) within the test pit and continued to a maximum depth of 0.10m. Modern activity in the area had clearly occurred as glass and modern metal cans were observed throughout. A firm medium orange brown sandy silt with frequent small roots and rare small angular stones formed a natural subsoil (2002) beneath the topsoil and this directly overlay the bedrock (2000). The subsoil deposit was relatively sterile, although some charcoals flecks were noted likely as a result of surface burning and root bioturbation.

No significant archaeological finds or features were recorded.

Test Pit 3

Test Pit 3 was situated c. 7 m north-west of Trench W4 in the centre of a shallow sub-circular hollow. The hollow, although appearing natural, was thought to have archaeological potential and the trench was situated within it to investigate whether features may be present within the area. The test pit measured 1.0 m by 1.0 m and was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.20 m.

TP3
Eric and Ross working on Test Pit 3

An organic vegetation layer (3000) covered the test pit and overlay topsoil comprising a loose light brown organic loam (3001). Beneath this, a natural subsoil comprising a clay silt wash (3002) was observed which continued to a maximum depth of 0.19m which contained patches of compact orange disintegrated sandstone (3003) and overlay the undulating bedrock (3004) (Plate 8).

TP3 sketches

There were no traces of significant archaeological remains within the test pit.

Test Pit 4

Test Pit 4 was positioned c. 5m south-west of W3 and targeted a partially exposed outcrop of bedrock. The aim of the test pit was to investigate if further unrecorded rock art symbols were present on smooth outcrops in the immediate area. The test pit measured 1.0 m by 1.0 m with a maximum depth of 0.10m.

A small outcrop of bedrock (4001) was already exposed and only shallow topsoil was found to cover the bedrock in all areas of the test pit. The topsoil comprised friable dark black brown silty loam (4000) and modern glass fragments were observed throughout. There was no evidence for archaeological features within the excavated area and no markings were observed on the bedrock which was found to be undulating.

Test Pit 5

Test Pit 5 was located c. 5m east of W5 at the southern extent of the site. The location was chosen as it appeared to be a flat area with the potential for a bedrock outcrop to be directly beneath the turf topsoil. The test pit measured 1.0 m by 1.0 m and was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.30 m.

TP5

The topsoil comprised a shallow loose light brown organic sandy loam (5000) which overlay a very compact light brown sand with frequent angular stones up to 0.25m in size. Beneath this a compact layer of dark brown black sandy silt with some large angular stone inclusions was observed (5002). No significant archaeology was recorded within the test pit.

Test Pit 6

Test Pit 6 was located approximately 22 m west of W4 within a level area in the valley below the ridge. The test pit was excavated to investigate whether there were any features associated with quarrying activity in this area. The test pit measured 1.0 m by 1.0 m and was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.50 m.

The topsoil (6000) comprised a dark red brown silty loam which contained modern glass. This was overlying a light red brown clay sand with angular and rounded stone inclusions of various size (6001). Bedrock was not reached within the test pit. No archaeological finds or features were recorded within the test pit.

Test Pit 7

Test Pit 7 was located c. 21 m west of W3 within a slight hollow on the west edge of the ride. The test pit targeted a supposed flat-topped bedrock outcrop and was also located within this area to investigate the potential for features related to the occupation of the site. The test pit measured 1.50 m by 1.50 m and was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.20m (Plate 9). Peck marks on the flat bedrock surface were identified and probably related to someone trying to get purchase on a tent peg…..

TP7
Jean planning Test Pit 7
Modern peck marks
Probably modern peck marks found within Test Pit 7 on flat bedrock

Photogrammetry

Under the guidance of Megan Kasten, teams of students undertook photogrammetry of the three outcrops, which supplemented work already undertaken by SCRAP. In each case more of the rock was exposed than during this earlier survey, and in two cases (W3 and W5) more symbols were exposed as well. These models are still being worked on and final versions will be added to this post, or linked to, in due course.

WhitehillLowerCupmarks Cluster 2
Initial render of results of W5 photogrammetry
Whitehill501lowres
The complete survey of W5, again at early stage of processing

Discussion 

The excavations at Whitehill have shed further light on three of the known rock art panels at Whitehill. Previously unrecorded symbols were observed and recorded on both Whitehill 3 and Whitehill 5, as parts of the outcrop previously left covered by Morris and SCRAP were exposed, and the areas around the outcrops also investigated.

Whitehill 3 was found to be the largest and uppermost decorated outcrop with a huge number of symbols observed on its flat top and the top of the smooth slope on the eastern side. A wide variety of symbols were recorded with no obvious pattern deciphered. The mixture of type, depth and quality does, however, potentially suggest the rock art was conducted by different people at different times. This is the second most extensive rock art site in the area after the Cochno Stone. The rock art panel known as Whitehill 4 was occupied by four simple cupmarks only while up to 13 single cupmarks were recorded as part of Whitehill 5. There is no evidence as of yet to allow interpretation of the relationship of the individual panels or to either confirm or deny that these cupmarks are contemporary with one another as no datable material was recovered in or around the outcrops.

The symbols on all three panels were limited to areas of smooth bedrock enclosed by glacial striations, with only the best areas for carving having been selected. It was also noted that the symbols were largely limited to the top of the flat-topped outcrops with few symbols on vertical faces. Several other rock outcrops were investigated on the ridge to determine whether other panels were present in the area, however, none were found. The shape and aesthetics of the natural rock surface therefore appear to have played a major role in the selection of the outcrops as well as potentially the design of the carvings, a notion also apparent at Hunterheigh Crag, Northumberland (see Waddington et al 2005).

While the areas around the panels were investigated, few further archaeological features were observed. The only notable feature was observed in Trench W4 focusing on Whitehill 4 where an area of fractured bedrock was found to potentially signify the remains of a wall or leveled area. This feature may be related to prehistoric use of the site, with ‘rubble platforms’ having been found to be contemporary with carvings at Copt Howe (Bradley et al 2019) and also, interestingly, at nearby Auchnacraig 1; however, it could also be a result of later quarrying or landscaping activity in the area. No material was found within the cracks on any of the outcrops despite investigation, based on the results of rock art sites such as Torbhlaren, Argyll and Bute (Jones et al. 2011). The quartz pebble found in W3 was in an area removed from the carvings and more likely ended up there through natural processes.

Later use of the area was noted with the west side of the ridge having visibly been quarried and more recent graffiti observed on Whitehill 3, which was limited to one area of exposed bedrock on Whitehill 3. There is no indication of what this quarry was or when it was in use in nineteenth century maps.

Yvonne
Yvonne!!

Acknowledgements

The excavation was funded by the University of Glasgow archaeology department, as part of the 2019 Cochno Farm Field School. Supervisory support was provided by AOC Archaeology Ltd.

We appreciated the team of helpers who came along and worked on site. Team members (in alphabetical order) were: Zahra Archer, Erin Butler, Samantha Climie, Hayley Drysdale, Todd Ferguson, Adrianna Figacz, Eric Gardner, Alexa Hayes, Joel Karhapaa, Emma Keenan, Caitlin McLeod, Gordon Morrison, Linsey Reid, Nikki Reid, Jean Tumilty, Tom Tumilty, and Ross Wood.

Thanks to the Honours students who worked on the amazing zines shown at the top of this post!

Megan Kasten conducted the photogrammetry of the three outcrops and provided training for students, for which we are grateful. Megan also supplied images for this report.

Equipment was provided by the University of Glasgow. Thanks to Aris Palyvos for organising and transporting tools. We’re also grateful to the staff at Cochno Farm for allowing us to store equipment there.

Finally, we really appreciate the work done at these sites in March 2019 by the SCRAP team, led by Tertia Barnett and Maya Hoole. The 3D models of both rock art panels has been invaluable to this project and images from that project are included in this report. Thanks also to Stuart Jeffrey of the Glasgow School of Art Centre School of Simulation and Visualisation for undertaking an RTI survey of Whitehill 3 in March 2019. Processing work in this image continues at the time of writing but this will be added to the post in time.

Thanks to all those who visited the site especially those who brought cakes (Jeremy Huggett, Ellen Laird) and local knowledge (Stevie Cafferty).

References

British Geological Survey, 2019. Geology of Britain. [Online version]

Bradley, R, Watson, A & Style, P 2019 ‘After the axes? The rock art at Copt Howe, North-west England, and the Neolithic sequence at Great Langdale. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 1-16.

Brophy, K 2015 The Cochno Stone: an archaeological investigation. Phase 1 summary report. Urban Prehistorian blog post.

Brophy, K 2016 Revealing the Cochno Stone: Phase 2 excavation and digital recording summary report. Urban Prehistorian blog post.

Brophy, K 2018 ‘The finest set of cup and ring marks in existence’: the story of the Cochno Stone, West Dunbartonshire. Scottish Archaeological Journal 40, 1-23.

Brophy, K and Douglas, A 2019 Faifley Rocks! Auchnacraig 1 and 3, June 20-27th 2019 Data Structure Report. Available as an Urban Prehistorian blog post of course!

Historic Environment Scotland, 2019a. Scotland’s Rock Art Project (SCRAP).

Historic Environment Scotland, 2019b. Whitehill: Cup and Ring Marked Rock (Prehistoric). [canmore]

Jones, A, Freedman, D, O’Connor, B & Lamdin-Whymark, H 2011 An animate landscape: rock-art and the prehistory of Kilmartin, Argyll, Scotland. Oxford: Windgather.

Morris, R 1971 Old Kilpatrick, Whitehill, cup-and-ring marked outcrops. Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 1971, 19.

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

Morris, R and Bailey, DC 1967 The cup-and-ring marks and similar sculptures of south-western Scotland: a survey. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 98, 150-72.

Waddington, Clive, Mazel, Aron & Johnson, Ben. (2005). Excavation of a rock art site at Hunterheugh Crag, Northumberland. Archaeologia Aeliana. 5th Ser. 34. 29-54.

Reaktor

The prehistory laboratory repository

In the middle of an industrial estate

Amidst the units and the car parks

Is a laboratory

A laboratory that is a repository for prehistory

An appointment with science

This is East Kilbride

S.U.E.R.C.

Scotland’s Environmental Research Centre

Branded with a dynamic flowing liquid logo

suerc-logo

Where prehistory sits in test-tubes

Where prehistory resides in aluminum capsules

Where prehistory is turned into gases and powders and pastes and unguents

Through the corridors of power are the containers of powder

Corridors of power

The geochemistry of prehistory –

The radiochemistry of prehistory –

The isotope biogeosciences of prehistory –

The prehistory of Scotland and beyond

In the hands of the scientists

In this prehistory laboratory repository

In East Kilbride.

 

The small print

Bring your samples to us and let us analyse them we provide a comprehensive post-excavation service and are happy to deal with prehistory but also not prehistory if that is appropriate and in some cases we are aware that you are aware that when samples are given to us you do not know if they are prehistoric we do not know if they are prehistoric or not and we offer no money-back guarantees as there are no guarantees no a priori assumptions here just hard science the atoms have no politics our reaktor has no biases and there is no prejudice in a test tube once they have been thoroughly cleaned so roll up and bring us your samples and we will do you proud.

We will accept samples in the following vessels and receptacles: plastic Tupperware box, tin foil (no hats), carrier bag (bags for life please), matchbox, kinder surprise eggs (plastic element not chocolate please you would be surprised), shoebox.

Samples cannot be accepted in liquid form unless sample is a liquid.

Samples cannot be accepted in gaseous form unless sample is a gas.

The following materials are permissible for sampling and we have some kind of technique for all of these, and if we do not have a technique, we will invent it. Plant microfossils, teeth, shells, all sorts of wood, bone, antler, horns, crusty residues, methane, dirt (please clean dirt before deposition and remove all worms), speleotherms, all manner of artefacts from metals to ceramics to textiles (you name it we, we date it as long as it has a carbon component and once had a proverbial pulse), and assorted elements of the periodic table namely 1-64, 71-100 and 112 (latter only in extremis and we need a 36 hour warning and lots of permits). 

We are contractually obliged to note that you should not expect to get your sample back at all, ever, and certainly not in the form you gave it to us. Furthermore it is likely that the container you delivered the sample to us in is unlikely to come out of the process in one piece, and indeed may well be destroyed / recycled / contaminated / melted. However, we do reserve the right to retain bags for life to distribute amongst our staff. 

Please note we do not sample the living. 

 

Isotope flavours and ancient diets

Reaktor artwork

 

Prehistory turned into gas

controlled area

 

And so to the Reaktor

disembodiment

Only the most disembodied of prehistory makes it this far

Only the finest samples underpinned by the most clearly articulated stratigraphic arguments are permitted entry to the Reaktor

Only the best can experience nuclear ecstasy in the Reaktor Shed.

The Reaktor Shed, on the edge of the industrial estate gives nothing away regarding its contents, masked behind the corrugation of obscurity

Shielded from penetration

The reaktor shed

The Reaktor Shed adorned with a stark geometric deep blue monolith, appearing to emit turquoise ectoplasm, the escaping spirits of the past

Reaktor shed monolith

Inside the shed, an appointment with science awaits

Don’t be late because time is important here or at least relative chronology

The chronology of prehistory –

Time measured through atomic bombardment –

Complex machinery for the deconstruction of materials and the transformation of those materials into something else – data, information, knowledge

Data that is corrupted by the ignorance of objectivity and the ‘clause of subjectivity’

Spinning stories from the centrifuge.

 

Reaktor

travelling in time bending light stretching the laws of physics bombarding inside the cage lead lining artefacts broken down to constituent parts indistinguishable from the matter that defines the universe big bang flickering lights and electrical surges

Hazel nutshell protons

Birch bark electrons

Cremated human pelvis photons

Meadowsweet flower quarks

Carbon isotopes 12 and 14

big machine U of G photo
Inside the Reaktor (c) SUERC
science direct photo
(c) Science Direct

 

The poetics of C14

Carbon abstraction from carbon extraction

SUERC-21566 (GU-17836); 3120 ± 40 BP; 1500 – 1290 cal BC (95.4%)

SUERC-23247 (GU-18537); 8290 ± 30BP; 7480 – 7250 cal BC (87.1%)

Foreplay before the Bayesian dance

Visual inspection only – for now

A dagger through my heart.

forteviot-dagger-with-organics.jpg
The Forteviot dagger (c) SERF Project

 

Isotopic heaven

The devil in the detail

Craving statistical probability

The past as conjuration, mediated through tree rings, carbon on carbon, wood on wood

The results are preconceived and can only have one outcome because

All journeys end at the Reaktor

All journeys begin there

The Reaktor loves decay even although the Reaktor cannot love

It is an information machine

Never look back.

Looking behind

 

SUERC is a shared facility between different Universities in Scotland, and they undertake a wide range of scientific analyses for archaeology and beyond the idea being that lots of expensive equipment and expertise is more efficiently pooled in one location for all to access. This facility includes the following Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) facilities: the Radiocarbon Facility (Environment), the Argon Isotope Facility, the East Kilbride node of the Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility, the Isotope Community Support Facility and the Cosmogenic Isotope Analysis Facility. It has emerged from decades of activity and was formerly the Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre (SURRC). They have amazing staff and undertake amazing research and analyses. I could not do what I do without them.

Most of the photos in this blog were taken during a visit to SUERC with Honours archaeology students from the University of Glasgow.

The radiocarbon dates in the ‘C14 poetics’ stanza are from the SERF Project, one of well over 100 dates from that project that were produced by SUERC and funded by HES. The dates were provided by Dr Derek Hamilton.

Much of the information in this post comes from the SUERC website and the text betrays my lack of scientific understanding.

The concept of the ‘clause of subjectivity’ comes from a paper by Tim Flohr Sorensen entitled ‘More than a feeling: towards an archaeology of atmosphere’ (from the Journal Emotions, Space and Society 15, 64-73 (2015)). Thanks to Erin Jamieson for suggesting I read this.

 

 

Pilgrimage

Dreams can come true –

Dreams of empty car parks and painted postholes –

Strange dreams –

Fluorescently illuminated – 

Electric, eclectic dreams.

Supplication
Photo: Jan Brophy

Pilgrimage involves a journey in hope, ritualised behaviour upon arrival, the slow walk with reverence and humility, supplication in front of reliquaries and relics, the leaving of an offering, the purchase of a souvenir, and a journey back cleansed and vindicated.

I had just this experience recently when I visited the lower floor of a multi-storey car park beneath a Waitrose and shopping mall in Dorchester, Dorset.

A multi-story car park.

This was the fulfillment of a long-held ambition of mine to make this pilgrimage to a place of urban prehistory. An ambition that began with the establishment of a folder in my urban prehistory memory stick on 5th June 2013 simply entitled: ‘Waitrose timber circle‘. A folder set up in expectation of this pilgrimage, six years in the making, and also a potential blog post finally now being realised.

In the folder, the photo that started it all.

A megalithic manel.

WaitroseTimberCircle
Photo: Tim Prevett

A link to the Megalithic Portal page that this picture came from was copied into a largely empty ancient MS Word document in the folder. Also written there was the excitable note: There is also a mural in the shopping centre all about the building of the timber circle!!

The 20 painted red circles in a line running across this car park were the target of my pilgrimage, indicating the (precise?) location of large Neolithic postholes that were excavated in 1984 advance of the shopping mall development by the Wessex Trust for Archaeology (now Wessex Archaeology, ‘welcome to the future of heritage’).

These postholes were part of the boundary of what was likely to have once been a massive late Neolithic (third millennium BC) palisaded enclosure, that is an oval space some 380m across, enclosing about 10 hectares, defined by hundreds of huge timber posts. The extent of this enclosure (of which only a small part was ever excavated) is such that much of central Dorchester sits within / atop its boundary, now of course invisible, buried, perhaps almost wholly destroyed. Five similar postholes were apparently also found at Church Street, a location some hundred metres away. Taken together with the projection of the curve of the posthole arc, dots were duly joined and a notional enclosure was born (or reborn) on the ancient banks of the River Frome (now much smaller than it was back in the day).

site plan

This monument, of which similar examples have been identified across Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia, may well represent one of the most monumental endeavors of British prehistory even although it now lies beneath Icen Way, Drumgate Street, the Dinosaur Museum and a pub called The Blue Raddle (‘laugher on tap’).

My own excavations (with Gordon Noble) at comparatively smaller sites at Forteviot and Leadketty, Perth and Kinross, brought home to me how massive these monuments must have been, not simply in terms of the resources, time and labour needed to build them, but also the impact they would have had on the broader landscape. A lot of oak trees had to be felled for starters.

David Simon reconstruction
Forteviot late Neolithic palisaded enclosure and squirrel (c) David Simon / SERF Project

Only 40m worth of the Greyhound Yard boundary was excavated in 1984. These were massive postholes, some almost 3m deep, and 2m to 3m across, with ramps to help with post erection. Using standard calculations (1m of depth can support 3.5m of post height above ground) then these postholes could have supported oak posts of up to 1m in girth and 14m length, perhaps 10m of that the height above ground. These would have been re-arranged tree trunks, bloody massive posts

post height 3

Doing some rough calculations on the back of Brexit propaganda from the nearby Wetherspoons (The Royal Oak), this enclosure would have had a circumference of something like 1.2km (if a complete circuit) defined by posts that were spaced between 1 and 2m apart. The boundary would have consisted of at least 600 oak posts, each weighing in the order of 10 tonnes. That is 6000 tonnes of oak alone, a similar figure to that calculated by Alex Gibson for the Hindwell palisaded enclosure, Wales, which he excavated. (This enclosure was bigger in plan but was defined by smaller postholes.)

Gibson gazetteer
Gazetteer entry for the Dorchester monument in Gibson (2002)

The Greyhound Yard (or my preferred name, Tudor Arcade) monument is only one part of a larger complex of Neolithic enclosures on the south side of the Frome, which also include Maumbury Rings henge, Mount Pleasant mega-henge and Flagstones causewayed enclosure, which puts this locality on a par with the Avebury and Stonehenge landscapes, although less celebrated due to Roman monkeying about, urbanisation and lack of World Heritage Status. (Maumbury is a sensational site despite the Romans buggering it up, and I’ll blog about this in the future.)

Castleden Neo Britiain book map
Source: Castleden’s Neolithic Britain (1992)

Exactly how the monument came to be memorialized in red paint and artworks is less clear (given that this was certainly not a normal thing to do in 1984 never mind today) although I heartily approve of this way of doing things. There are even a couple of metal plaques in the lift concourse area of the car park that explain what the painted circles mean and offer some context which give a space-age start to this prehistoric-car park experience. One has to travel down to get to the good stuff and make Star Trek door noises for the full effect however.

lift concourse

noticeboard in lift concourse

Marked in Mosaic in the floor of this car park are the positions of 20 huge posts the text begins, with the reverent tone of a giant fantasy novel.

The posthole paint circles are a deep brick red, about 1m in diameter each, and spaced less than 2m apart, arranged in an irregular line. These are highly stylised depictions of what the postholes would have looked like and I have my doubts if they the originals were quite disposed like this being both too regular, too small and too close together if the stats given above are to be believed.

line of painted circles

The paint circles offer rich juxtapositions with the more normal paint marks and urban furniture one would expect to find in such a car park.

juxtaposed with u

juxaposed with me

Looking more closely, it is clear that not all of the circles are painted, and indeed some are ‘mosaic’ like, as suggested by the shiny metal noticeboard. These were concentrated on the north side of the car park and seem to be the cover of circular voids, drains or (ritual?) shafts of some kind. This indicated the artifice of this rendition of the monument, suggesting the floor level of the car park is not at the same level as the Neolithic postholes, which would have floated somewhere above or below the tarmac level.

This is urban prehistory with depth, with stratigraphy.

mosaic

After a period of paying my respects and documenting the occasion with an undue level of excitement and diligence, in a surprisingly empty Sunday lunchtime car park, we headed into the lift shaft and arose to the mall level, levitating over the Neolithic.

Here, we saw the aforementioned mural and it did not disappoint.

the mural

Dynamic ceramic images are set into a brick wall, immediately outside the entrance to Waitrose, position to be admired by shoppers with jute bags placed between their legs. A timeline moving from the Neolithic forwards, left to right, not stopping at the New Stone Age but hinting at deep time and the continuity that such big monuments tended to demand.

In the beginning, erection by beast.

mural panel 2

Then centuries, maybe even a millennium later, but in reality a few centimetres to the right, the age of land divisions as Parker Pearson would have it was depicted. Farmers haunted by the ghosts of the palisade, inexplicable holes which they dare not fill in but perhaps deign to drop some potsherds into just for luck. Or maybe one of their cows shits in one of these ancient hollows, the stuff of life.

mural panel 1

Underneath it all a commentary, a mapping of time to contextualise the images above, words in English almost breaking the spell. But not quite.

The narrative continues into the Iron Age and later still, and once again a metal sign lies nearby to explain all to the curious consumer. As well as annoyingly using the word history to describe what is largely prehistory, the information board informs us that the murals here were funded by the John Lewis Partnership (owners of Waitrose) and again date to AD1984.

metal sign 2

It also tantalizingly notes that the ‘frieze from the original panels’ is now in the ‘Waitrose’ staff canteen area, suggesting these murals are actually replacements or at least based on another piece of art. I did not try to get into the dining room to see it – perhaps I should have but it felt rude to intrude.

Another information panel related to the Neolithic monument which lies beneath this shopping mall was missed by us on our visit, but documented on twitter by Susan Greaney and replicated here with permission.

Noticeboard Sue Greaney tweet
Image reproduced with permission of Susan Greaney

Part of the Dorchester Dormouse Trail, this noticeboard erroneously calls this monument a henge. Nonetheless the reconstruction drawing is evocative of this being a big monument defined by some mighty posts although here people (men of course) are doing the erection and not yoked cattle. The text gradually descends into Stonehenge fetishism and some story about Thomas Hardy. There are however a couple of nice pics from the excavations, a site plan, a cartoon mouse (the eponymous dormouse) and one of those QR codes which I have neither the desire nor the inclination to use.

This noticeboard is located on Acland Road for those who possess local knowledge or want to visit.

The pilgrimage ended with the partaking of victuals at the aforementioned ‘Spoons, safely outwith the boundaries of Greyhound Yard.

Thus I have squeezed all I can from my visit to Dorchester, and the time spent within the confines of this mighty Neolithic enclosure will long live with me, even when viewed through the lens of a 1980s shopping mall.

The noble attempt to inform patrons of this mall of the deep time beneath their feet and underneath the tyres of their cars is surely an example of hyperprehistory in action, the added value that prehistory can add to a place of consumerism and transactional behaviour.

Let’s face it. You will never look at a red painted circle the same way ever again.

Sources and acknowledgements: I was accompanied on my visit to Dorchester by Jan Brophy and Andrew Watson, and they helped to keep my emotions under control. I am also grateful to Susan Greaney for sharing with me and allowing me to use the photo of the noticeboard which we shamefully missed on our pilgrimage. 

The mural was the handiwork of John Hodgson – his website mentions it briefly. Thanks to Zooms@freespiritspice for pointing this out on twitter.

The excavation report for the Greyhound Yard Dorchester enclosure is:

Woodward, PJ, Davies, SM & Graham, AH 1993 Excavations at the old Methodist chapel and Greyhound Yard, Dorchester 1981-1984. Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Monograph. 

A good general source of information (including the gazetteer entry reproduced above) on the site and parallels is: 

Gibson, A. 2002. The Later Neolithic palisaded sites of Britain. In A. Gibson (ed.) Behind wooden walls: Neolithic palisaded enclosures in Europe, 5–23. Oxford: BAR International Series 1013.

And for a more recent and even broader overview (with lots on Forteviot), see: 

Noble, G and Brophy, K 2011a Big enclosures: the later Neolithic palisaded enclosures of Scotland in their Northwestern European context. European Journal of Archaeology 14.1-2, 60–87.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Men of Felben

Resolute.

Men of Felben awakened from their deep slumber.

Looking for fuel.

Felben approach

Unfurling themselves.

Dwarfing standing stones.

Remnants of their former selves.

Giants de-petrifying.

Becoming metal.

Leaving their shackles behind.

Fully erect

Looming over vehicles.

But not looking at them.

The circle of life.

Roundabout.

Over vehicles

Standing guard beside their tombs.

Limestone boxes.

The eternity of stone.

Spirits in the sky.

Revealed

 

Sources and acknowledgements: Die Herrn von Felben (The Men of Felben) is an artwork (artist unknown to me) within a roundabout in the town of Mittersil in the Austrian Tyrol. At the time of its construction in 2014 it was one of 95 in the Salzburg Region, although probably the only traffic island adorned by two metal giants and four portal dolmen. 

Newspaper photo of Felben
Source: Salzburger Nachrichten

The ‘gentlemen’ of Felben were noblemen from the 12th century whose name is commemorated in the nearby Felbertal mountain pass and the tunnel, Felbertauern, that runs through it (source). 

The photos in the post were taken, from a car, by Jan Brophy.

 

Faifley Rocks AC19

This is a summary account of the excavations at Auchnacraig 1 and 3 rock art panels between 20th and 27th June 2019. This report was written with site supervisor, Alison Douglas. This is a summary and provisional account, with a more detailed publication to follow in the future. The project was featured in the Clydebank Post.

Introduction and background

Faifley Rocks! is a project researching prehistoric rock art sites to the north of Faifley, Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, using excavation, survey, oral history and archival research. The largest rock art site in the area, the Cochno Stone, has received the most attention, but sits within a small group of c 16 rock art panels. Some of these sites were identified in the late nineteenth century, others through more recent fieldwork, but no comprehensive work has been done on any of these sites since Ronald Morris’s fieldwork in the 1960s and 1970s (Morris 1981).

The starting points for Faifley Rocks have been excavation and survey work related to the Cochno Stone (2015-16, Brophy 2018) and the 3D recording of Faifley’s rock-art undertaken by HES’s Scotland’s Rock-art Project (SCRAP) in 2019.

  • Cochno Stone excavation summary account
  • 3D models of Faifley’s rock art (sites Edinbarnet, Whitehill, Law Farm and Auchnacraig) on sketchfab

Faifley Rocks! intends to:

  • identify features, materials & activity related to rock art decorated outcrops;
  • recover material related to the chronology & environmental context of the rock art;
  • identify additional symbols on buried outcrop areas and explore connections between symbols and aspects of the natural rock;
  • quantify and interpret rock art and graffiti on each rock outcrop;
  • raise the profile of Faifley’s rock-art locally and more broadly;
  • inform ongoing local consultation on the future of the Cochno Stone;
  • support the development of a rock art walking trail in the area and provide information for other forms of public engagement, analogue and digital;
  • work with local communities and schools to provide information, skills and learning opportunities.

The overall intention of Faifley Rocks is to place the rock art within its prehistoric, and contemporary, context, explore the social value of prehistoric rock art and identify ways to use the rock art for social benefit of the local and broader community. As part of this commitment, summary reports on all fieldwork will be posted on this blog.

Auchnacraig 2019 (AC19) excavations

In June 2019, excavations took place around two of the rock art sites in the area, known as Auchnacraig 1 and 3. These are situated within 10m of one another in Auchnacraig Park at the edge of a clearing that was previously occupied by Auchnacraig House. They are located at NS 5028 7366 and NS 5029 7365 and have this Canmore ID.

AC19 location map
Location map (Lorraine McEwan, SCRAP data)
Prelim trench locations based on 1963 map
Auchnacraig House, gardens, and rock art panels 1, 3 and 4 (OS 1963). Trench locations marked with red rectangles. Map sourced by Todd Ferguson.

These two rock art sites (along with nearby Auchnacraig 4 and the Cochno Stone) were first documented in the late 1880s by Rev Harvey (1889). He noted that the carved stone were at that time located in moorland, and that the outcrops bore marks of glaciation. He identified all rocks as sandstone.

Auchnacraig 1 (Harvey called this Rock B) was said to dip at an angle of 30 degrees and was covered in a profusion of cupmarks (up to 90) and some rings, as well as other markings and a large basin. He noted the connection between natural cracks and ‘ducts’, and some of the symbols. Ronald Morris said of Auchnacraig 1: ‘Prominent smooth gritstone slab sloping 30 degrees from 1m high on the east to ground level on west. 7m by 5m. On it are nearly 100 cups…at least 6 are surrounded by weathered rings, mostly now incomplete. These include 3 cup-and-three-rings, one with two radial grooves in the ‘keyhole pattern’. Largest ring 22cm in diameter’ (1981, 85). When Morris visited this site in June / July 1968, it was situated within the garden and lawn of Auchnacraig House. He wrote in his notes from one visit that this rock was only a few metres from the corner of the building, and that the House looked derelict.

Harvey sketch of Auchnacraig 1
Harvey’s 1880s sketch of Auchnacraig 1 (Harvey 1889 (c) Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)
Morris 1981 sketch of AC1
Morris sketch of Auchnacraig 1 (Morris 1981)
Auchnacraig House Nov 75 1 s
Auchnacraig House in 1975. Auchnacraig 1 is located bottom left (photo courtesy of Sam Gibson)
Auchnacraig 1960s low res
Auchnacraig 1 in 1965/66. Note the garden in the background (Ronald Morris archive)
Auchnacraig 2019 low res
Auchnacraig 1 in 2019, now in a park landscape (photo: K Brophy)

Auchnacraig 3 has received much less attention. Harvey called this his Stone C and noted that it was a rock that had seven cupmarks on it. These were, he noted, of ‘exceptionally large diameter’ (1889, 137). Morris simply noted the presence and the existence of a few cupmarks on this surface of the other panel, Auchnacraig 3. He did not give this site its own number and the label Auchnacraig 3 comes from the SCRAP database.

Harvey sketch of Auchnacraig 3
Harvey’s 1880s sketch of Auchnacraig 3 (Harvey 1889 (c) Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)
A3 pre excavation
Auchnacraig 3 in June 2019 (photo: K Brophy)

Both sites were also visited by an OS fieldworker in 1951, when the stones were situated in the garden of Auchnacraig House. It was noted that no rings were visible on any of the outcrops (incorrectly in the case of Auchnacraig 1). Both were partially covered in vegetation and located on the edge of a lawn at this time.

In March 2019, these panels were subject to detailed recording and photogrammetry as part of Scotland’s Rock art Project (SCRAP). By this time, as has been the case since the 1980s, the rocks were situated in a cleared area in an urban park, reflecting the remnants of the footprint of Auchnacraig House and gardens.

Auchnacraig 1 3d scan screengrab

Auchnacraig 3 3d scan screengrab
Screengrabs of 3D models of Auchnacraig 1 (top) and 3 (c) HES and SCRAP. Models by Maya Hoole

The SCRAP survey identified several distinctive long ‘gutters’ running down the slope of Auchnacraig 1 which were not recorded by Morris (who presumably felt them to be natural features of the rock). It was also noted that graffiti, and a cup-and-ring mark, are evident on the vertical eastern face of the stone, again previously unrecorded. A more detailed analysis of the symbols and natural features on all rock art sites in the area is currently underway and will be reported on in the future.

June 2019 excavation

The specific research questions for the excavation of these two panels are:

  • Do carvings extend beyond the currently exposed outcrop?
  • What evidence is there for activity in prehistory, and in the twentieth century?
  • How do the panels physically and spatially relate to one another?
  • Was the rock-art incorporated into the garden or any other structures associated with 20th century activity here?
  • Are there any traces left of the house, garden or associated features?

Three trenches were opened as part of AC19, two around Auchnacraig 1 and one around Auchnacraig 3. Furthermore, geophysical survey was undertaken in the area immediately to the east of the rock art in the area of Auchnacraig House and garden. The results of this will be reported on fully once processed.

AC1 trench locations schematic
Auchnacraig 1 rock are panel and trench locations

Trench A1a

3.5m east-west by 1.5m running east from the vertical face of Auchnacraig 1.

Trench A1a post excavation
Trench A1a after excavation, photo taken from the east

A number of soil layers were identified within this trench, laid on top of bedrock which sloped to the southwest. These were, in simple terms, an orange-brown soil (105/112) interpreted as a ‘garden soil’ with darker topsoil layers on top (100/113/101).

A concentration of rounded and angular stones was identified hard up against the vertical face of the rock outcrop (102). This consisted of a series of large stones up to 0.3m across; they were set in a roughly level layer consisting of one course of stones. This extended 0.8m out from the main outcrop and extended across the width of the trench. This was set within a matrix of dark silt loam (101) which was similar but darker than topsoil 100/113.

The bedrock was 0.7m beneath the surface at the rock face end of the trench, and 0.08m below the surface at the eastern end of the trench. This is the same sedimentary rock as both rock outcrops with rock art here. There were signs of glacial plucking on this bedrock surface.

Small finds from within this trench were not in secure contexts and included modern rubbish and roofing material, presumably from the house.

Trench A1a platform feature
Possible platform / stone concentration on east side of Auchnacraig 1, viewed from the south

Trench A1b

A trench measuring 1.5m by 3.2m was opened on the southern side of Auchnacraig 1 running from a ‘crack’ in the rock; an extension was added to the southern end of this trench, on the west side, measuring 1m x 1.8m.

The stratigraphy in the trench was fairly simple, with a mid-brown clay-slit soil (117), at least 0.7m deep, underlying a fairly shallow dark brown to black loam topsoil (104).

Overlying layer 117 was a drystone kerb or wall was running east-west adjacent to the southern edge of the outcrop (107/108). A gap in this wall about 0.8m across coincided with extensions of the kerb northwards on both sides of this gap for c1m and abutting / overlying the rock outcrop’s southern sloped extent.

Garden feature low res
Kerb / wall 107/108 viewed from the southeast.
Trench A1b post-ex plan
Post- excavation plan of Trench A1b showing the kerb / wall relationship with Auchnacraig 1

Rubble deposit 109 was found in the ‘entrance area’ within and protruding through topsoil 104, consisting of scattered stones up to 0.4m in length although most were much smaller.

A cup marked stone was found amidst the wall, on the western corner of the entrance area. This has not previously been recorded.

Small finds from this trench did not come from a secure context. In topsoil layer 104, a marble was found, and a metal ‘box’ was in the same layer in the ‘entrance’ area.

Marble

Trench A3a

A trench measuring at its maximum 4m east-west by 5.4m north-south was opened on the north-east and eastern side of Auchnacraig 3.

trench-a3a-post-ex-colour.jpg
Post-excavation plan of Trench A3a. 301 is the cupmarks outcrop, 303 the natural boulder clay.

Cleaning and recording

Distinctive markings were noted on the rock outcrop including striations running along the rock (glacial markings). A natural vesicle was also noted on a lower section of the outcrop, and while this is natural, it looks like a cup mark. Scrapes on the rock’s upper surface are probably plough marks suggesting that before this was a garden, this area was a field.

Natural vesicle
Natural vesicle on Auchnacraig 3

This trench had simple stratigraphy. The natural was an orange-brown-pink boulder clay (303) which in places we dug into to establish this was the natural. Above this was an orange-brown ‘garden’ soil (similar to 105/112 in Trench A1b); this layer, 302, was between 0.2 and 0.3m deep and spread across extent of the trench beyond the outcrop. Above this was a topsoil layer, 300, which was a dark brown loam with small stone inclusions. This layer was no more than 0.2m thick and was essentially the same as topsoil layers 104 and 100/113 in the other trenches. No features were found cut into the natural.

Small finds from within this trench were not in secure contexts and were modern debris and roofing material, presumably from the house. There was evidence for fires having been set in the topsoil, modern surface activity.

Discussion

These modest trenches at first glance did not reveal much of prehistoric relevance to the carving of these rock art panels. However, the interplay between natural features and the carved symbols are an important element in the story of this location in prehistory. The natural vesicle found at Auchnacraig 3 looks like a cupmark and may have been regarded as such in the Neolithic period, although unlike a similar feature found at Copt Howe, Lake District, this had not been augmented by a carved ring (Bradley et al. 2019).

Copt Howe vesicleSource: Bradley et at 2019

The glacial striations and signs of plucking found during the excavation may also have played a role in the significance of these outcrops, not least due to the entanglement of symbols with cracks, veins and so on evident on the surface of Auchnacraig 1. Unlike other rock art sites such as Torbhlaren, Argyll and Bute (Jones et al. 2011), no material was found in any cracks on either outcrop although several large stones are still to be analysed.

The collection of rocks found in Trench A1a was at first glance interpreted as the result of a modern gardening activity. However, it is worth bearing in mind that a similar rocky setting at Copt Howe has been interpreted as a ‘rubble platform’ contemporary with the carving of the stone. This was, as at Auchnacraig, set up hard against a vertical face with carvings on it. Bradley et al (2019) have suggested this architectural trait is shared with Irish passage graves. That the rubble layer at Auchnacraig appears to have sat upon a layer we interpreted as a garden soil suggests this is not a likely interpretation of what we found, but it is worth bearing in mind and we cannot rule out the possibility that these stones were indeed set there in prehistory and our interpretation of the sequence might be revisited. A less well-defined version of this was found at Rock 1, Ben Lawers, Perth and Kinross, during excavations and interpreted as a ‘cobbled surface’ (Bradley et al 2012, 38).

Copt Howe platform
Possible prehistoric platform at Copt Howe (Bradley et al 2019)

Twentieth century use of the rock art as elaborate garden features is apparent, especially in the constructed wall or kerb on the south side of Auchnacraig 1. This kerb or wall continues for some 2m to the west, before merging or joining a broader coarser wall or bank which runs to the south. Morris’s photos of this stone (such as the one included above from 1968) show a similar drystone wall beyond the rock, suggesting these were two sides of a pathway skirting south of the rock art. This arrangement, and a possible rockery on the west side of the rock outcrop, will be explored in a future season of work.

The inclusion, probably deliberately, of a cup marked stone at the entrance area of the kerb or wall suggests the house owners were keen to celebrate the rock art in their garden and none of this is a coincidence. The discovery of a marble in this area suggests that the rock art outcrop here was not just a garden feature, but a place where children played; the latter was also the case at the Cochno Stone (Brophy 2018). It seems that this richly decorated stone was a matter of some pride for the house owners, and aspects of the garden here were arranged around it.

Acknowledgements

The excavation was funded by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Permission to carry out the work was given by West Dunbartonshire Council; thanks to Donald Petrie for arranging this.

Equipment was provided by the University of Glasgow. Thanks to Aris Palyvos for organising and transporting tools. We’re also grateful to the staff at Cochno Farm for allowing us to store equipment there.

Thanks to Tessa Poller, and Aris, for coming out to do the geophysical survey and survey the trench locations.

The site supervisor was Alison Douglas, and Alison also did all filming for Digging for Britain.

We appreciated the large number of helpers who came along and worked on site, in particular Tom Davis who put in a legendary performance. Other team members (in alphabetical order) were: Clare Archibald, Tristan Boyle, Pamela Diffin, Hayley Drysdale, Todd Ferguson, Lesley Fraser, Remy Grossman, Carolyn Hutchison, Christopher Ladds, Ellen Laird, Clare Love, Jools Maxwell, Rory McPherson, Gordon Morrison, Hannah Mould-Healy, Irene Pandolfi, Katherine Price, Linsey Reid, Nikki Reid, Hannah Ridley, Sandra Roxburgh, Jean and Tom Tumilty, Charlotte Walker, Jennifer Wallace, Simone Wason, Lauren Welsh, Ross Wood and Danielle Young.

Small finds were cleaned and catalogued by Dominic Pollock and Dominic also inked up and helped tidy the site drawings, some of which appear in this blog post.

We really appreciate the work done at these sites in March 2019 by the SCRAP team, led by Tertia Barnett and Maya Hoole. The 3D models of both rock art panels has been invaluable to this project.

Much appreciation to those who brought cakes: Jeremy Huggett, Dene Wright, Rebecca Younger and other friends who popped in with eagle eyes such as Gavin MacGregor.

Finally, thanks to each of the 100+ local people who visited the excavations including school children, and a massive thanks to the Clydebank High School Archaeology Club who came along and helped with the backfilling!

Clydebank Post 211114010
Clydebank Post, 4th July 2019. Thanks to Gil Paterson and team.

References

Bradley, R, Watson, A & Anderson-Whymark, H 2012 Excavation at four prehistoric rock-carvings on the Ben Lawers Estate, 2007-2010, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 142, 27-61.

Bradley, R, Watson, A & Style, P 2019 After the axes? The rock art at Copt Howe, North-west England, and the Neolithic sequence at Great Langdale. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society to be published December 2019.

Brophy, K 2015 The Cochno Stone: an archaeological investigation. Phase 1 summary report. [Available from https://theurbanprehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/the-cochno-stone-exposed/]

Brophy, K 2016 Revealing the Cochno Stone: Phase 2 excavation and digital recording summary report. [Available from https://theurbanprehistorian.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/dig-cochno/]

Brophy, K 2018 ‘The finest set of cup and ring marks in existence’: the story of the Cochno Stone, West Dunbartonshire. Scottish Archaeological Journal 40, 1-23.

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

Jones, A, Freedman, D, O’Connor, B & Lamdin-Whymark, H 2011 An animate landscape: rock-art and the prehistory of Kilmartin, Argyll, Scotland. Oxford: Windgather.

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

A trick of the light

The standing stone stands outside the shop.

The shop is situated beside the standing stone.

But which came first – the shop or the stone?

Odin stone

This is the new Odin Stone, on the corner of Junction Street and Burnmouth Road, Kirkwall, Orkney. Right across the road from Buster’s Diner and a long stone’s throw from the marvellous Bothy Bar.

It is a replica of the old Odin Stone, which once stood between Maeshowe passage grave and the Ring of Brodgar. This was destroyed by an over-zealous landowner in 1814 and apparently built into a barn.

This is a standing stone that was / is distinguished by it’s hole, through which (reputedly) arms were thrust and within which objects were balanced in ancient rites.

canmore_image_DP00038990
The Odin Stone (right) in 1807. The Watch Stone is on the left.

The new Odin Stone might have been erected to mark the launch of a fancy gift shop in Kirkwall in the early 2000s called Odin Stone. (The ‘the’ was dropped.)

Or was the shop called Odin Stone because there was already a replica Odin Stone on this street corner?

Which came first? What is the stratigraphy here?

Odin Stone shop frontage
From defunct Odin Stone website

It was a nice shop, and sold the kinds of things one would expect to find in a high-end gift and souvenir shop. I once bought a nice butter dish from there and from time to time browsed through boxes of expensive black and white prints with little intention of actually buying one.

One travelogue review described how the Odin Stone (the shop not the old or new standing stone) had the aspiration ‘to honor [the] spirit [of the Odin Stone] by representing local artists and craftspeople’ which is a curiously cynical way of describing what was in fact the kind of shop that one would have expected to do well in the new cruise ship reality of Kirkwall, a reality that has changed the character of the town over the last decade.

But sadly this does not seem to have been the case and on my most recent visit to Orkney in June 2019, the shop was gone. Probably long gone.

The standing stone – the fake Odin – abides though. And there is something rather comforting in that.

General view Odin stone 1

General view Odin stone 2

By the standards of replica megaliths, it is a hole lot of fun.

Through the Odin hole

But what’s this? A new business opportunity has sprung up. The Orkney Experience.

The Orkney Experience

The heavily painted windows make it difficult to see inside but this is clearly not a shop, more of an ‘experience’ as, to be fair, the name suggests. Cruise passenger fodder that promises OPTICAL & ORCADIAN on one window, and ILLUSIONS ARTEFACTS on the other. Beneath these bold words are pictures of a wee monster and someone running away from it, dressed like a stereotypical archaeologist. Wearing the books of a pirate.

He is running for the sanctuary of the Odin Stone.

Optical Orcadian

Illusions artefacts

Much of the imagery on the outside of this building now points towards the Norse heritage of the island, and mythology.

Norse imagery

This painted wall sign, to the side of the shop entrance, actually retains the ‘Odin Stone within the O’ motif of the Odin Stone shop, as demonstrated by the ghost sign of the old shop which still protrudes from one wall albeit with the stone viewed from different directions, inverted versions of one another.

Ghost sign

On another window of the Orkney Experience is a curious optical illusion, an Escher Trilithon, imported from Stonehenge. Beneath it, cards or CDs with standing stones on them line the window sill. A mirage of a man runs past in the rain, mirroring the optical illusions that this place seems to sell, obscuring the Odin Stone’s reflected doppelganger.

A trick of the light.

Illusionary trilithon

What is the Experience that this places sells? Entry has it’s price. I confess I couldn’t be bothered going in. It can’t be that big a place inside (the shop wasn’t) so what does £6.50 get an adult punter? Something like this according to BBC Orkney’s Huw Williams…

Huw

The Experience’s website tempts the prospective customer with this offer: ‘Come and dress like a viking, ‘visit’ a Sanday beach, or be caught by Cubbie Roo the giant’. Making a virtue of a small premises with illusions appears to be the name of the game. From various images available online, this seems to be a place with a complex combination of acrylic paintings that act as optical illusionary photo subjects, dressing up props, and real and replica objects, fixtures and fittings. Such as a Skara Brae dresser.

skara brae
From The Orkney Experience website

Not a lot of the consumer offer appears to focus on prehistory or archaeology however.  Is there no Odin Stone inside?

A magic window
A most marvelous confection
But windows are for looking through
Not for checking out your reflection (Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales)

 

The standing stone stands outside the experience.

The experience is situated beside the standing stone.

There can be no doubt.

This stone came first.

 

Sources and acknowledgements:

The old Odin Stone has National Record for the Historic Environment number HY31SW40

There is a fine account of the unfortunate fate of the original Odin Stone in the Orkneyjar website.

The 1807 drawing of the Odin Stone and neighbouring megalith is (c) RCAHMS / HES and was downloaded from canmore.

The pic of the original Odin Stone shop front came from the now defunct website for the shop – the link won’t go anywhere. 

Thanks very much to Huw Williams for permission to reproduce the photo of him with Cubbie Roo.

The lyrics towards the end of the post come from the track A Trick of the Light from the Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales album Room 29.

Finally, by way of balance, check out the wholly excellent and positive reviews (as of 17/6/19) of the Orkney Experience on Trip Advisor.

Bronze Age

 

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

files 2 low res

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

BROWN

POWDER

ANALYS.

i.1973 – iv.1973

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

the pink file lr

The folder contained the following materials.

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

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

typescript low res

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

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

Forteviot chafing vessel

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

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

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

1970s SEM
1970s SEM (source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bronze Age Bellshill

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

Cartoon stock
Cartoonstock (from here)

Modern Stone Age family

We’re about to meet the Flintstones
They’re the modern Stone Age family

Fun fair

In the town of Brodick
They’re a page right out of prehistory

Flintstones 1

Let’s ride with the family down the street
Witness the arrangement of Fred’s conjoined feet

Flintstones 2

No refunds, pushing or somersaulting on the slide
Please don’t eat, smoke or drink as you glide

Flintstones 3

When you’re with the Flintstones
Have a yabba dabba doo time, a dabba doo time
We’ll have a gay old time

Flintstones 4

ooooOOOOoooo

The amazing inflatable Flintstones slide I witnessed in Brodick, Arran, during a warm spring day is indicative of perhaps the most common way that children (and drunk adults) get to engage with prehistory in urban (party) settings: the Flintstones Bouncy Castle / water slide. For the purposes of this spurious argument, let’s all just agree to ignore the fact that there were no castles (or inflatable water slides) in the Stone Age…..

Fred Flintstonesource: alibaba

This is a surprisingly commonplace phenomenon.

I now present the most comprehensive picture gallery of Flintstones bouncy castles and water slides in the world. If you see any other Flintstones big party inflatables, let me know with a comment at the end of this post, or contact me via twitter @urbanprehisto using the hashtag #Flintstonesbouncycastles. [This post should not be taken as an endorsement of any of the products shown here! I have not bounce-tested them yet.]

Bentley Hire

Rainbow Inflatables

 

BB Castles

Basil’s Bouncy Castles, Essex

ian's bouncy castles

Ian’s Bouncy Castles, Basildon

Prestige Inflatables

Prestige Inflatables, Aberdeen

toys ocean

Toys-Ocean Amusement Equipment

Portsmouth

Love to Bounce, Portsmouth

double deckers

Double Deckers Entertainments, Newcastle

AliBaba

Alibaba Inflatables

Moonwalk Houston

Texas Party Inflatables, Houston USA

dobson ferris wheel

Dobsons Ferris Wheel

Airbounce Cumbria

Airbounce Cumbria

CeeJays

CeeJays Bouncy Castles, Merseyside

abcinflatables

ABC Inflatables, Flintshire

SwanseaWild West Entertainments, Swansea

The-Flintstones-Theme-Inflatable-Bouncer-Castle-1134-

close up

Rainbow Inflatables again. “The inflatable the flintstones playground is hot for sale now. If you want to make the beautiful inflatable amusement playground, you may have a try of ours”.

hisupplier

HISupplier (Made in China)

Stolen bouncy castle

Flintstones bouncy castle, stolen from the Fox and Duck Pub in Arlesey Road, Stotfold in 2017.

Zombie parent guide blog

Spotted in Valley Garden, Harrogate (Zombie parent blog)

Pelican promotions

Pelican Promotions, somewhere in Ireland

I await reader’s photos and suggestions to expand this image gallery…..

 

 

Hyperprehistory

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

My paper abstract

Me giving the paper Brian Kerr photo
Photo: Brian Kerr

Crash

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

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

Crash montage

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

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

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

Applied Ballardianism lr

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

Urban dreams

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

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

Ballard book titles

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

Sighthill crown of stones

Prehistory offers a heightened state of time-consciousness.

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

ballard_cokliss

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

Quarry
Horton Neolithic house – Wessex Archaeology

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

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

weird ritual
The Day Today (BBC)

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

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

Hyperprehistory

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

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

gettyimages-852300790-1024x1024 Marc Auge

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

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

non-places book cover

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

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

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

Crossrail 1

Crossrail excavations

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

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

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

Shepperton images

There is no such thing as coincidence.

Terminal prehistory

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

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

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

Huly Hill

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

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

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

t5
Framework Archaeology – T5 excavations

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

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

Ballard has also noted that:

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

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

real-time-schipholclock-maarten-baas-clock-installation_dezeen_936_0
Martin Baas, Real Time – Schiphol Airport departure lounge

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

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

The intercity exhibition

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

atrocity exhibition cover

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

Exhibition concourse lr

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

exhibtion low res 1

Reconstruction drawing

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

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

Exhibition noticeboard

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

Scar tissue

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

Book cover

If this pathology has a name, it is archaeology.

Prehistory is the scar tissue of the past.

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

 

Archaeologies of Now session

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

Session abstract 2

Session intro low res

Session notes lr

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

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

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

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

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

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

My paper was also summarised in this twitter thread.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crossrail 1