Built as a diamond-shaped, concentric fortress, this stone piled up by Edward I to maintain control over the Welsh now stands ruined, almost impossible to imagine it as it once was. What better fate for monuments to war and occupation, and yet… my deep love for these bloodied stone skeletons shames me. The original castle on this particular spot was built by Llywelyn the Great (c1172-1240). He built a chain of castles from Tegeingl to Meirionydd — it paralleled the English chain from Cardigan to Montgomery. After initiating his campaign to subdue the Welsh, in 1277 Edward ordered his power solidified and embodied and exerted through architecture–updated to withstand all the new technologies of war–in 1277. But not the pounding of the waves. It was already falling down when turned against the English for a time by Owain Glyndwr in 1404. Cromwell completed the task, pounding the Roundheads within.
The townsfolk very sensibly used the stones to help build their town.
It was chance that brought us here at dusk, with a fierce wind that chased everyone else away. Strange to be so alone in this place huddled up to homes and buildings, open to the public to clamber and crawl. I loved that what remains of this place is so open to all, a breath of history knitted into the town itself in the way it is placed. Only the photographer in me cursed the many welcoming benches. In one hidden corner sat a cluster of teenage girls listening to the radio and laughing, the great stone walls sheltering them from the wind.
I did not mind one three-sided room we could not explore.
I wondered where you could see these same stones made humble and domestic in the town’s architecture, still ringing to the sound of Welsh you hear everywhere here.
Everything else stopped for a while as we looked up towards Pen Dinas where the Iron Age hill fort stood, and along the coast in either direction until the sea swallowed up the sun.
An Early Christian site founded by St. Ciarán in the mid-6th century on the eastern bank of the River Shannon. The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches (10th -13th century), two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of Early Christian graveslabs in Western Europe.
— Heritage Ireland
The cairns at Loughcrew may have been one of my favourite places to visit, if only because we got to see them on our own, wander about them at our pleasure after picking up the key at the centre.
[of course, when picking up the key I was given directions to the cairns, which somehow went in one ear and right out the other and so we got lost and so we had to go back, and my partner was ever so brave going back inside to ask where we needed to go a second time.
Of course, I was really the brave one driving at all. Hunched over the wheel, white-knuckled. Pulling over regularly to let real drivers whiz past. It was grand.
Also, I left my glasses at the visitor’s centre so they would always remember me.]
In a landscape of inspiring beauty and intriguing history, the cairns at Loughcrew form the largest complex of passage graves in Ireland, much older than the better known Newgrange.
The Cairns are megalithic structures originally built about 4000 bc as burial chambers. The cairns are in two groups; Carnbane West, about 15 cairns, including Cairn L which is roofed and contains superb symbolic carvings in good condition.
Oweynagat, or the cave of the cats. This may not look like much, but is in fact a gateway to the underworld — it is more terrifying that it is small and hidden I suppose. From this portal have emerged herds of fiendish swine, the ancient goddess of battle Morrigan, malevolent birds, and a monstrous triple-headed creature. Also cats, who battled Cuchulainn and two other warriors. Later it was just known as a cave entrance to hell. Now it sits in a field to be entered perilously by the informed adventurer.
Oweynagat from a fiend’s eye view, my partner’s legs, if not his very soul, here at risk:
As St Patrick’s day is not only my dad’s birthday and a day for St Patrick himself, but also St Gertrude’s day, the patron saint of cats, it seemed fitting to share a few more photos of the great Ireland tour of ought thirteen. The cave is part of a larger complex, from the Rathcroghan website:
the royal complex of Cruachan, the oldest and largest unexcavated Royal Complex in Europe….Rathcroghan boasts a multitude of monument types, from the majestic and enigmatic Rathcroghan Mound, which in the Iron Age was impressively topped by wooden ramparts and ceremonial henges, and whose secret heart remains an untouched mystery. … Kings were inaugurated at the ceremonial heart of Rathcroghan and the site is witness to the rise and fall of great tribes, wealthy chieftains and dynastic families. Some of these went on to rule the whole island as High Kings, ensuring the continuing legacy of this unique complex well into the modern era.
This was the home of the
great Iron Age Warrior Queen Medb, who ruled all of Connacht from her home here in Rathcroghan, the origin point for our National Epic ‘an Táin Bó Cuailnge’ – the Cattle Raid of Cooley, which features a whole host of legendary heroes including Medb herself, the mighty Battle Goddess Morrigan, the Connacht Champion Fraech and the boy hero Cúchulainn, whose names and deeds are inextricably linked to the landscape that surrounds us here. Witness the site where the ferocious white horned bull Finnbennach, battled the legendary Donn Cuailnge, the brown bull of Cooley.
Road trip! Day one, a long driving day to get up past the sprawling monster of Phoenix, up up to the top of our enormous state. This all used to be two lane highway when I was a kid, but it’s four to six now most of the way…and has traffic to fill it. If you build it bigger they will drive it say the planners, and they are right.
I just realised there is almost no traffic in this picture. But honestly. It’s there. It is anything but carefree. I kind of admire the effort some planner put into this though:
We put a lot of effort into destroying the desert too… sucking up the groundwater reservoirs to grow crops, leaving the rest of the valley dry as dust edged with an unbelievable green:
Like the efforts of a corporate chain pretending they have any kind of authentic history, but without making too much of an effort:
Enough of that kind of effort though. Getting up to Flagstaff, cooler air, and the Lowell Observatory, now that was amazing. Lowell — built in 1894 by millionaire Percival Lowell of the Lowell, Massachusetts mill owner Lowells. You know. Those fucking Lowells. Which makes this a place that combines a quixotic history with quite a lot of space-exploration awesomeness.
So…I was excited to come here because Lowell believed — and tried desperately hard to prove — that Mars was covered by immense canals being built by martians in an immense hurry to channel water from the poles to held save their dying civilization. That is my all-time favourite Mars theory, and yes, yes it was inspired by reading a lot of science fiction (it also inspired a lot of science fiction, as you can guess). But also because a famous Italian astronomer by the name of Schiaparelli wrote a book about the canali of Mars, which should simply have been translated as channels (natural), but were instead translated as canals. And Percival Lowell being one of those fucking Lowells and the guy who funded and ran the observatory, there was no one who could really budge him from that hobby horse. So he spent a lot of years working on these maps, drawing canals that no one else could see because they just weren’t there given the low resolution of the telescope.
I still love them. Especially as there are apparently three theories about where these lines actually came from. The first is — his own eyelashes. The second — shit, I have forgotten the second. The third — that he spent a lot of time staring into bright skies and he was actually seeing the patterns of his own retina reflected back the way you sometimes do when getting your eyes checked. That was my favourite.
But back then he had some credibility — this from the New York Times on August 27, 1911 (105 years ago yesterday! That’s a bit of a coincidence).
The Clark observatory today:
Inside it’s even better:
Lowell hired two guys to build this dome who had never built a dome before — and you can pretty much tell. But it works. It needs to move of course, so originally that dome sat on great castors and two men with ropes had to move it according to Lowell’s instructions. The next attempt was my favourite — to set it floating on a course of salt water (to prevent it from freezing). Our tour guide (who was awesome) noted that it worked great. For all of two hours. All kinds of things went wrong, some of the stains are still visible on the wood. So they went back to castors and two guys pulling it with ropes, but then the next director came along and had the bright idea of using tires. So it is now cushioned on original Ford 1957? steel rims and hubcaps — the tires themselves have to be replaced frequently given the weight of the dome.
I haven’t even gotten to the more exciting parts, like the way Vesto Slipher (!) actually discovered from his observations here that the universe was expanding, though his measurements of the various spectrums of stars and the realisation that most of them were moving away from us. Spectrum analysis also proved that those spiral things people were seeing were actually entirely separate galaxies. This meant that universe was actually much bigger than just our galaxy. Imagine that jump when the two had always been conflated. Imagine how the universe expanded then (not literally you understand, but our understandings of it).
Vesto presented his findings and had astronomy’s first ever standing ovation in 1912 — in the audience sat the not-yet-Doctor Hubble, who would first try to put a number to the expanding universe.
Then in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto.
That turned out trickier than expected of course, given it was not a planet at all, but still.
I loved the Rotunda too, though we didn’t get enough time here as we still had far to go.
Inside we had a little fun with spectrum analysis ourselves. We got to wear glasses.
And these simple and flimsy things revealed wonders when staring at tubes of neon or mercury. Not quite this good, but close enough. This is neon:
We got a quick look at everything else…I wanted more time but we couldn’t wait until evening when they were opening it up fully.
From there we drove up to Tuba City…and a sign on the side of the road said dinosaur footprints and mom said ‘hell yes, let’s do it’ (or something to that effect). We had seen a dinosaur earlier of course:
But look at these things, they are amazing…
I’m not sure I can say the same about this toenail polish which I bought on a crazed whim — I am never colour coordinated like this.
This place is one of my favourite in the world. Mum says it took her forever coming from England to get used to the space, it made her feel so small, so insignificant. Me, I feel like this space makes you humble and at the same time opens you up, gives you a spirit big enough to fill it. It makes me so happy to be back here again in the red rocks. Especially staring across an ancient seabed at dinosaur tracks.
We gave our guide and her partner a ride into Tuba City, it being the end of the day, and then found a hotel. An expensive hotel. Damn. But the Hogan Restaurant next door? The best waitress ever and they had mutton stew with frybread on the menu which probably gave mum more joy than anything else through the day — she grew up on that in postwar England don’t you know.
Me, I had a cheese burger — on fry bread. Which was delicious but oh. my. god. Filling. I can’t tell you how filling. I could eat almost no fries, but that was probably a good thing. As it is, I feel I should run the first ten miles tomorrow alongside the car…
Today started with Copernicus (1473-1543) — a visit to Collegium Maius where he was a student. Though never a professor. We had a splendid, if quick, tour with decidedly witty commentary. Copernicus kept his head down in a deeply Catholic atmosphere, kept quiet, and published nothing until the year leading up to his death at age 70. Not Galileo, and look what happened to him…
I am not sure of the moral of this.
Collegium Maius is an amazing place, gothic brick construction along with limestone exuding knots of flint and two most beautiful ammonites. It has vaulted ceilings, incredible carved wood, has been a place of learning and study since the 14th century, and in this form since the 15th. Professors lived upstairs and taught downstairs, and it is most splendid.
I was most excited about the instruments Copernicus used — early ways people were trying to understand our universe before lenses or proper telescopes. They are amazing, these three.
The Jagiellonian Globe:
Made in 1510 in France and most likely the first globe to show the Americas. In completely the wrong place.
A copy of On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, the famous text by Copernicus positing our own revolution around the sun:
Many more most wonderful instruments of astronomy, like these from Moorish Toledo:
The college itself is more stunning than I can say, with wonderful carved wood and painted ceilings, carvings, instruments, books, windows, furniture, murals, beaten metal shaped to reflect candle-light to illuminate a room, the most wonderful wooden spiral staircase I have ever seen, the Nobel prize medal won by Wisława Szymborska who was a student here, the Oscar and other awards won by Andrzej Wajda, an intricate inlaid door commemorating Columbus’s ‘discovery’ of American and showing the maiden Europe distributing justice to the New World and Africa. We did not, however, manage to catch the clock figures striking the odd hour…
This was only the beginning of a day in Krakow, which also included an exhibition of Max Ernst: An Ornithologist’s Dream (most wonderful) a trip to the Pharmacy Museum (again wonderful), lunch at Noworolski’s, where Lenin once took his mistress (and sometimes his wife), drinks in Kazimierz at Propaganda… but I have no more energy, and all of these things demand more thought.
Richard Morris packed Time’s Anvil full of so much fascinating things, that I wanted a second post to collect them all up (first post is here). First, this hilarious quote from Nikolaus Pevsner on England:
This is a very modest country, satisfied with very little. All morning one can see one’s breath indoors… To look at it positively, I suppose people are closer to nature… (1)
This reminds me of evenings spent huddled next to relative’s radiators exuding a very faint warmth.
I did love the aside on seed saving and diversity, a key battle now in view of corporations like Monsanto and a reminder how this has long formed part of our culture. One late Saxon charm for the improvement of land directs that
seed from elsewhere be taken from beggars in exchange for twice as much…
A good strategy of improved stock and distribution, and incorporates the most poor into key agricultural systems in a way that could be respectful, though it hardly mitigates the suffering of such a life.
There is another fascinating quotes from John Letts, ‘Living Under a Medieval Field’ on old planting systems:
every plant in a land race is slightly different from its neighbour, and medieval cereals were consequently very uneven in straw height, ripening time, grain yield and other agronomic traits. This diversity ensured that a portion of the crop almost always set seed irrespective of the many environmental stresses that can destroy a crop such as drought, waterlogging, frost or crop disease.
Such diversity is a key component of permaculture and organic farming systems, and another part of our past that farmers are trying to relearn and bring into practice.
The early role of the church in shaping the physical and mental maps of the land is also so interesting. There is some discussion of the changing nature of the church, the tendency of early Anglo-Saxon bishops to be treated as saints, and therefore this:
A map of their resting places is a diagram of power. (261)
There are proofs of how this became part of everyday life in places like Wells cathedral — one of my very favourite cathedrals, so I was surprised to learn that long ago the skulls of its Anglo-Saxon bishops sat on display there as relics. Some of them show patches of high polish caused by the touch of multiple hands, others have had perfect circles bored out from their backs, probably for amulets or shrines.
It never occurred to me that people might describe the incorporation of older buildings into newer as a sign of laziness or lack of vision or skill, but apparently so it has been said. Morris here reclaims the idea that incorporating older churches into the design of expanded churches incorporated their holiness and power. Interesting that my own reactions to much of the book underline Morris’s argument that much of what we understand of the past is conditioned by our present. Seems that two hundred years of archeological history are quite an indictment of power structures in society, though there is very little unpacking of how age, gender, race, national origin, class and etc impact our readings of things.
I quite love thinking more about this, though:
In traditional religion, community embraced the living and the dead, each supporting the other in a fellowship that extended across history. When Reform snuffed out that coloured world of saints, lights, signs, gestures and seasons it shrank the boundaries of community, dimmed collective memory and diminished time. (267)
The ties between fascism and planning & conservation
I learned a little more about the Third Reich here as well — apparently Heinrich Himmler
held sway over functions that included the SS, the police, the consolidation of German national identity, and settlement of the East.
The settlement of the East alongside consolidation of identity? That combination at first seemed so odd to me, and then I thought about it and it made a perfect chilling sense. There has always been a terrible dark side to our connection to land and how we live upon it. Himmler and his friend (he had friends…) Hanns Johst toured upper Silesia in 1940, Morris writes:
The two men reflected on how the German settlers would soon change the appearance of the land. Trees and hedges would be planted. Shrubs would grow…All of this was a great work of culture undertaken in awe of nature. They speculated on how these changes would ‘create protection from the wind, increase dew, and stimulate formation of clouds, force rain and thus push a more economically viable climate further toward the East. (329)
It heads to megalomania there, which is unsurprising, but also it appears they imagined a fairly comprehensive plan for living well upon the earth. Crikes.
I discovered Henry Williamson, author of Tarka the Otter, also had claims to fame as a Nazi sympathizer. So on the one hand you have the left Atlee government establishing parks and protecting buildings and wildlife for the working classes due, but also alongside concerns about ‘spoiling’ of the countryside and development. Morris quotes Engels’ descriptions of Manchester (which I too have quoted extensively) and poverty, writes:
It was partly in reaction to such squalor and moral degradation that conservation in Britain originated. That is not only why conservatism had its heart in the countryside — where despite a century of urbanism the heart of England’s identity still lay — but why historically it was anti-urban. the National Trust was founded to protect land ‘against development and industrialization.’ (331)
Their efforts allied in this with people of the far right, who saw nature as separate from human beings, and in need of protection from the masses.
Too often quite fascist protection. There are still clear affinities in some of the rhetoric today, and more than ever this is something we have to understand and root out.
I wish there was a little symbol I could use so that when I make a pun I could laugh to myself self-deprecatingly.
On the beauty of labour
Part of the lure of the past and the wilderness can also be seen in the writings of William Morris and Ruskin —
buildings and monuments of earlier ages evoke melancholy, an emotion then held to be purer and deeper than joy and to be a stimulant to imaginative consciousness.
A gothic emotion — I liked the evocation of the gothic and the uncanny. I found it interesting he doesn’t go into, or even mention, William Morris’ deeper beliefs and Socialist foundations, I think this love of medieval building is more about craftmanship and the beauty of certain kinds of labour, but there you are. There is, however, a quoted fragment from D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Things Men Have Made’:
Things we have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into
are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still, with the glowing life of forgotten men who made them. (47)
It seems to encapsulate the worth and beauty of things granted them by the labour involved in making them. Morris derides the idea of industrial production as revolution or as something that just broke out, which is an interesting idea to follow:
…another result of the lumpish way in which we cut up time — a tendency which previous chapters have shown can encourage fixation with difference at the expense of affinity, put change before flow and predispose us to simple determinism. (345)
if the industrial revolution had a defining moment it was the point at which large sections of the workforce switched from selling things they made in to selling their labour. (348)
There was another section on Birmingham, and just how much was manufactured there through industrialistion based upon this selling of labour. Johanna Schopenhauer writes in 1803:
that there is not a village in civilized Europe, perhaps not a house, where there cannot be found some industrial product made in that city, if only a button, a needle, or a pencil. (344)
By 1875, workers made over ten thousand billion nails a year.
I can’t quite get my head around the scale of that, but like how again it speaks to widespread connections through materials and labour, though I have read plenty of the desperate poverty and horrible working conditions underlying it.
A few last things, happier things, like the Lunar Society! The Lunatics met in each other’s homes the Monday evening closest to the full moon: Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestly, Matthew Boulton and James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood. I also wanted to remember to find George Peele’s ‘The Voice From the Well’ and read it, and set a reminder to self to walk the Icknield way… The name so old that not even the Anglo-Saxons remembered where it came from.
Dirleton Castle… Authority and conquest built in stone. Material embodiment and defense of a way of life and thought. Ruling centre of a community. Many of the remaining old Norman castles here in the UK stand stark and grim and square — imposition of French feudal aristocracy on earlier versions. They are squat and violent and empty of all but petty dead ambition achieved through bloody force. Dirleton castle, however, has notes of true grace overlying this — I wonder what it grew into and just how it related to the surrounding communities.
The prison and ‘pit’ for lower-class prisoners are probably the best indications, yet castles remain overlaid with a touch of gothic romance despite my best intentions, and I keep visiting them in a forever unfulfilled desire to explore Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. Still, had I been alive at the time, I have a feeling I would have been all for burning them down as a peasant with ambitions for a better life and the ability to read.
There is also a lovely garden here, which contains the longest herbaceous border in the world. A rare Scottish sunny day showed it at its best.
In looking this up I was troubled that the crown has re-established a barony of (Fulwood and ) Dirleton — overlaying my images of picturesque ruins of violent stone with a very different, modern kind of violence and power. It ties together efforts to rebuild a monarchy in Brazil to Israel’s devastating invasion of Lebanon (‘Peace for Galilee War?) to hotel management in South Africa to Florida notary public-ship to Mozambique, and my only reaction continues to be, if you will excuse me, what. the fuck. Because Le Carre did not, apparently, invent this. An abbreviated version of the the bio from the barony’s website:
Camilo Agasim-Pereira of Fulwood & Dirleton, The Baron of Fulwood & Dirleton The Feudal Lord of Dirleton, Lord of the Manors of Colemere, Fulwood, Gresley, Repton, Morpeth Castle and of the Hundred of Gresley and Repton, was born in Brazil, and educated in Brazil, USA and Israel.
He served in the Israel Defense Forces, IDF Between 1981 to 1983, was discharged with Honours and mention in dispatches, was mentioned in dispatch for valour and was an active reservist between 1983 to 2003. He was awarded a medal for operations in Lebanon, during the “Peace for the Galilee War”. After Military Service, he served as an assistant community envoy and spokesman in the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia. Late on he was also a member of the Israel Police and Security Forces.
He has a Degree in Hotel Management, his last position as Hotelier, was Operation Manager at The Sun City Complex in S. Africa one of the largest and most luxury hotel resort in the world…
Since 1993 The Baron of Fulwood & Dirleton, holds an appointment from the Governor of Florida as Notary Public at-large for the State of Florida…
From 1993 to 2000 he was acting Hon. Consul of Mozambique in United States, the appointment was made permanent from 2000 and was recognized as a permanent appointment by the USA State Dept. in 2001 and server until 2006.
There is a charitable trust associated with the position, has as a mission
The promotion of Monarchy as the most stable form of government and the understanding and exchange of ideas among people of all races and creed. The Barony of Fulwood Trust host a website dedicated to the restoration of the Brazilian Monarchy at: www.correioimperial.com and www.monarquia.com.
Is this for real I asked myself. The armorial register and Burke’s Peerage supports its reality, though not a hint of what he might have done for Scotland to gain a barony. I have some ideas.
Time’s Anvil was brilliant in thinking about archaeology and landscape — human lives, activities and ideas and their inter-relations with their surroundings. Much of Richard Morris’ argument revolves around this:
Or as Einstein said to Werner Heisenberg in 1926: ‘Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which describes what can be observed.’
What you see is often defined by what you expect, what questions you start with, what you choose to notice and what you think irrelevant. Thus we can track archaeology by its questions and assumptions, which as years pass have shifted time and time again as widely held ‘truths’ proved completely wrong. This is a lovely little history of some of these dismantlings, a bit rambling from personal experience to excavations to poetry to agriculture to planning and battles and more. Quite enjoyable, and much for thought here — as you can unpack this kind of history for any field of inquiry.
There is quite a bit on the rise of archaeology itself, and how that shaped what early archeologists were looking for, the questions they asked, and what they were able to see.
There is, of course, that crazy period where (almost all) men worked so hard categorising things to understand them — Luke Howard’s An Essay on the Modification of Clouds (1803), William Smith’s attempt to map for the first time the stratification of minerals in a geological map (1815), the first attempt to grapple with architecture — An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of Architecture in England by Thomas Rickman (1817). Morris roots archeology here, and in the activities that emerged through it:
With these four step taken — classification, the ability to ascertain sequence, time-depth, and evolution by natural selection — modern archeology’s heart was set beating. (62)
He argues that Darwin returned man to nature, made humans –and their history and development — subject to scientific examination rather than sat above it.
Interesting that archaeology grew as a discipline alongside history and conservation — which means British/American archaeology shared much of the same understanding of land and nature. People like William Wordsworth and Ralph Waldo Emerson running around delineating land worked by humans and ‘pure’ and ‘pristine’ nature.
As the industrial revolution quickened so did the idea of delimiting areas if land to keep nature in a pristine state. (64)
Thoreau rode on this bandwagon, arguing for establishment of parks ‘not for idle sport or food, but for inspiration and our own recreation’ (65). Thoreau apparently often wrote re-creation — not just enjoyment but self renewal. That’s rather nice. But still, a very different way of seeing the world around us than was common for earlier generations:
Deeper than this, though, was a perception of the pre-industrial past as a place in time that paralleled wilderness in geographical space — a slower-paced realm of pure life-giving existence, as it was, before everything became sullied or began to fail. What was old was more ennobling than what was new, because it had its own organic, creatively true and coherent network — the result of deep-rooted tradition which set it beyond fashion or unthinking utilitarianism. (65)
But we couldn’t get beyond these binaries of civilized and wild (too much riding on that one, like all of Britain and America’s arguments for colonisation and genocide), and linear progression. This is so different from other conceptions of time, so much has been written on Mayan and other indigenous understandings of teh cyclical nature of time, but for medieval Europe it was the same. This is a quote from the medieval historian Bede, from his The Reckoning of Time:
a lunar year and a solar year, a separate year for [each of] the wandering stars, and one for all the planets, which is particularly called “the great year”. (10)
And more about the differences:
Advances in technology and art during the Middle Ages were apparently unaccompanied by a general theory of progress. Until the sixteenth century an ‘inventor’ was, as its Latin root invenio reminds us, a person ‘who found something which had been lost, not one who devised a new solution unknown to previous generations.’ (quoting Keith Thomas from Religion and the Decline of Magic) (18)
Stepping outside of accepted theory we see a little more. For example, I liked the use of ‘the Old Ones’ to describe the mix of our ancient ancestors, the ones from the muddy bits of our family tree, the ones who may or may not have been homo sapiens or part of that line.
I love this amazing graph, this feels rather new since I studied such things in my heady undergraduate days in the 1990s:
I also like imagining them as different, rather than as inferior versions of ourselves.
Despite abundant evidence that earlier humans were adapted to their environments, the legend which paints them as inferior versions of us lives on…the archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley demanded evidence of progress, as if its absence was a defect…E.H. Carr argues that ‘only those people which have succeeded in organising their society in some degree cease to be primitive savages and enter into history’. On this view, it is history that defines our genes rather than the other way round. (141)
An example —
Hitherto it had been generally assumed that early people had lived in holes in the ground. Bersu showed that in fact they lived in generously proportioned timber-built round houses. (71)
How people relate to their environment is also up for rethinking. I read some of Childe doing my masters — those beloved archeology classes I took as part of the Latin American Studies degree I never finished, this makes me want to go back to him.
Child argued that human beings do not adapt to their surroundings as they really are but rather as they imagine them. ‘Each individual carries about in her or his mind a “cultural map” incorporating knowledge acquired through learning and experience, from which the individual selects the data required to adapt to the social and natural environment. (76) [Childe – Prehistoric communities of the British Isles, Trigger — Childe’s relevance]
This is a good metaphor for archaeology itself, Morris argues it arose in years of colonial expansion and nation states, ‘It is not surprising, then, that archaeology should have been harnessed to the imperialist cause’ (77) — nor that pre-history should be understood as succession of conquests bringing new ideas and better ways of doing things. Thus rather than look at landscape or the continuity of developments over time, they cut deep shafts into sites:
‘in Britain down to the 1950s placed reliance on vertical control whereby events in the life of a place, each chapter with its own layers, each layer a stage in a story, were read off serially from sections as if from a railway timetable. (77)
Very different from countries such as Denmark, always more focused on settlement and environment. A focus on shafts in a very tightly delimited space also limited what could be seen:
At best, ‘site’ was an artificial construct, an area delineated for present convenience rather than denoting any past reality. ‘Site’ was also deceiving, for it invited you to look inwards rather than out to the surrounding area and horizons that gave it meaning. [O. G. S.] Crawford said that alongside frameworks of period and typology archaeology also needed a grammar of space and time. (122)
There is a wonderful chapter on the rise of aerial photography — a whole new view of landscape and identification of sites and how they fit into their surroundings. Trasnformational, For example, until then archeologists and historians believed settlement concentrated in a belt across England, and that places like the fenlands lay all but deserted. Aerial photography showed marks of old fields, proved this completely wrong. I love too that they found that different crops show archeological features very well or not all through changes in lushness of growth, that frost dissipates differently, that mushrooms can grow differently — Gilbert White had noted this in his journals. A nice tie-in.
As these challenges arose, new ways of excavating worked to answer them. Christopher Taylor doing an area study, challenged
four time-honoured suppositions: that places had generally come into existence in ‘waves of colonisation’ or grown outwards from stable centres; that the earliest recorded reference to a place was likely to approximate to the time when the place was first settled; that a place ommitted from Domesday Book did not exist in 1086; and that continuity of habitation presupposed continuity of site, or indeed the reverse. The new reading visualized extensive earlier settlement, and fluidity as well as fixity of habitation within an older framework of fields, estates and lanes. (162)
The fluidity is particularly important:
There is a contemporary tendency to see the past in terms of static functions, what a place was ‘for’, as distinct from processes, the perpetuity of what went on. (170)
Aerial photos and excavations revealed so much that we didn’t know — like causewayed enclosures or cursus that we still don’t understand the meaning of, like Knap Hill in Wiltshire.
It also allowed us to better trace changes in agriculture, from small fields to open-field agriculture:
Blocks of strips with the same trend had been gathered into furlongs, and a group of furlongs formed a larger land which was cropped in rotation with one or two others. Lacking permanent subdivision, tenurially subdivided, communally organized, there were the remains of open-field agriculture. (184)
And similar changes in villages — going back to Christopher Taylor:
…the settlements we see today will not usually be the result of outward growth from ancient nuclei, but the result of a succession of reconfigurations. Such transformation can occur in many ways — by relocation, slow drift, coalescence, fission, fusion — and at differing tempos in which beats of different measure may run in counterpoint. (194)
Taylor showed how widespread planning had been. By examination in the field he showed that places which looked amorphous were in fact often made up of planned elements which had, so to speak, gone out of shape as time passed — for instance through piecemeal addition or the loss, subdivision or amalgamation of buildings. (194)
Land and people differ from those once pictured: the land more intricate, locally, varied, longer settled and more efficiently managed; the people better housed, more socially and economically diverse, bearing more responsibility for events and change. (202)
Part of this is the long occupation of sites over time, and things like the widespread Anglo-Saxon cemeteries associated with earlier mounds and monuments like Wigber Low or New House Farm.
On to Dominic Powlesland, who found this incredible ‘filament of farms, a linear agricultural commune one building wide and tens of miles long’ (212) in the Vale of Pickering.
Amazing. This was a moment where I felt everything change — nucleated village settlements aren’t some kind of innate, natural form we create.
He uncovered this working systematically over nine seasons across a broad area in a way no one had before — it is now thirty years work has been happening now, and the wonderful site of the Landscape Research Centre has much more on this. Look at these images generated through geophysics:
These long strips could run for up to ten miles, a line of buildings facing each other across a road. They remind me immensely of Paolo Soleri’s Arterial Arcology, which is sitting in a box now for the most part unread.
This study also challenged ‘the foundation myth of a people finding its destiny in an unclaimed land’ — the Anglo Saxons moving into a mostly unpopulated wilderness parallel to rhetoric around colonisation. I wasn’t even aware of such a myth, but it parallels closely the myths utilised n the US and elsewhere to justify expansion so I am not surprised. I (and others) find the period after the end of the Roman Empire particularly interesting, and particularly cloudy, with little evidence and much speculation of collapse and darkness. But excavations in the Vale of Pickering showing little contraction in the economy or depopulation, but stable communities
A key aspect of these settlements is the way they embraced a cross-section of rural resources between the Vale floor and the Wold top: river frontage, marshland, arable, water, upland grazing’ (223)
His surveys and excavations also showed residence, craft and industry in different zones — ah, zoning. My urban planner heart goes pitter pat.
The village of Heslerton remained occupied until the ninth century in this long filament pattern. It was then dismantled (how? why?) and a new community a short distance to the west emerged. The old area converted to ridge and furrow and communally worked fields — and this happened up and down the valley. Thus
the ‘early Saxon’ settlement did not originate in contrast to the thousand-year-old ladder, but rather was condensed out of it. (227)
The Vale of Pickering shows:
the birth of early medieval England occurs not in the aftermath of a post-Roman collapse, but as an evolution from late prehistoric society that Rome had ruled and exploited but not significantly altered. (227)
York is another example of continuity followed by change — as medieval York evolved above the still-visible ruins of Roman York:
the evolving topography of the Anglo-Saxon city had been influenced by axis of the Roman fortress. The Norman cathedral builders, on the other hand, had pointedly ignored it. (257)
Interesting. But archaeologists found Anglo Saxon graves in the old Roman basilica, and they also used Roman building blocks and Roman slabs for gravestones within remains of Roman buildings. They painted them as well! I don’t know what that last detail is so interesting, but so it is.
A final challenge to some linear developments by conquest of small insular villages — the mining industry and how it connected all of Europe over the centuries. The 1140s chronicler (Henry of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum) writes:
although little silver was mined in England, much was brought from Germany by the Rhine on account of England’s wonderful fertility in fish and meat, in most precious wool, and in cattle without number. As a result, a larger supply of silver is found in England than in Germany. (198)
The more I read or watch documentaries on the past, the more I realise just how much trade and travel did occur across our history – a look at mining and minerals seems to be a good way to understand the long-existing connectedness of Europe:
Trade seems to have intensified from the late tenth century, and its stimulant lay some six hundred miles to the east of England’s midlands, in the Harz mountains of Germany, where late in the 960s a large new source of silver was discovered, augmenting an earlier silver supply from central Europe which had been fuelling the expansion of coinage since the early eighth century. (197)
Morris described a confluence of mining and farming in Cornwall, exploited in places like Alderley Edge, where some of the tunnels and mine working mining out minerals — copper, silver, tin, malachite, galena, vanadium, cobalt, nickel, zinc, molybedenum — date from the early bronze age. These same minerals contributed to the rise of the Industrial Revolution. Cornish tin in pewter, solder and tin plate used for canning industry, Tin alloyed with copper — bronze for machine bearings and marine propellers. Copper in boilers, vats, piping for dying and processing of sugar. in brass, parts for steam engines, and gun cartridges. Arsenic for dyes and pigments, early insecticide. But going back, a look at mining challenges some very fundamental understanding’s of the stages of human development:
The Iron Age, for long viewed as a step along the road of linear technological progress, has recently been argued to have begun because from around 1100 BC the supply of accessible continental copper began to dwindle, thus stepping up the search for other kinds of ores closer to hand. If copper was a metal of journeys and mysteries, then, iron eventually became a metal of localities. Its stories differ from those of copper and gold. (382)
For all this is true, there is a definite change with the rise of imperialism and colonisation.
From the sixteenth century, it becomes less and less possible to study the past ‘as if it happened only in one place’. (350)
This is almost a throw away line, but reiterated again and again by writers like Walter Rodney, Stuart Hall, Cedric Robinson and others — hardly a coincidence that they all write critically from the spaces conquered through Empire.
I am not an archaeologist, so unable to comment how this book fits in with work happening in the field under discussion, but there is so much here for geographers. The points above were what I found most useful in understanding more of what the study of archaeology and landscape can teach us about how humans grow and change with their environment — both in challenging paradigms of thought and methodology, as well as many of my own assumptions gleaned from reading about the past. There is a lot more that could be said about how race, class, gender and etc impact our vision and structure our theory, I missed more of that here, but it does do quite a lot.
The area this farm sits on is particularly rich in traces of the past — with two mounds here, and Wigber Low just across the road. It’s a fascinating site, and unlike the mounds here (descriptions upcoming), was excavated in the early 70s and a monograph published/edited by John Collis.
I got the story of how this happened — an amateur (and now accredited) archeologist and son of the farmer down the village took his metal detector up there and found some precious metals — the dagger perhaps? I can’t remember all of the story, I apologise I was too tired to blog this right away. He let local archeologists know of his finds, and that there was more to be found — did they come look and find some gold perhaps? How can I not remember? But I don’t. Still, the upshot is that a Derby paper got hold of it and printed a small story about gold found on Wigber Low, and the next weekend there were carloads of treasure hunters coming up from the city…thus this emergency excavation took place lead by the University of Sheffield to rescue it, and it was so rich it was continued for several seasons.
A picture from the excavation:
Pictures from my own visit — approaching it from the other side of the wall you see in this photo:
And now facing in this same direction. The nicer direction. The view they gave their dead, with another burial sight in the distance — the largest in the area — Minning Low. This is the best place to really feel sure you have found it:
And the full view from atop what I do believe was one of the mounds, but there isn’t honestly too much to see:
It really is stunning.
It’s very technical this book, and represents the collective analysis of many different people looking at the evidence collected here — often in the pouring rain and high wind. It is highly descriptive — both in terms of methodological jargon and findings. I did very much love how much reflection was included — problems in the evidence, places where human error was introduced, things that could have been done better. How better to make use of very early computing and data systems. I feel for them, some things are easier now.
But the meaning of this site and the glimpses of the lives of those buried here remain almost as buried in these pages as the objects among the stones for a slightly voyeuristic enthusiast such as myself. They come through briefly, like a bit of sun. The small spear, perhaps belonging to a child. The amber bead. The fact that light spears were probably carried by women, and they were buried with them, as well as knives. A male and female buried along with a side of beef…
It is clear this site had meaning to the people living in this area for a very long time — there are layers of ceremony and human activity. Found here was a flat-topped stone platform — the first place identified where the dead were left exposed in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. There are a scattering of teeth and phalanges — and likely that larger bones were removed to be reburied (collections of such mingled bones of the ancestors have been found in barrows), though it was not discovered where they were interred. The cairn was made larger at some point, but they could not be sure when. Possibly the bronze age. The bones of at least 30 individuals were found here.
It was used in the iron age and Roman period as well, possibly some folks lived up here, but just as likely it was just some poor dude sat on the hill watching sheep. I feel for him too.
But most interesting, is that seven Anglo-Saxon burials were also found here, cut into the cairn. Probably a family group. They were partially excavated in the 19th century — like the ones here on the farm — with just a shaft sunk down, disturbing lots and dragging forth some treasure that now sits in the British Museum.
These are, of course, the graves that yield the most information about the people within them. But still, it is so little…but they felt some connection to this mound created by much earlier peoples to desire burial here, and they were not alone in this as other Anglo Saxon burials have been found cut into neolithic cairns.
This was also a site of medieval lead working, with numerous pits dug into the hill, and smelting happening on its top. Slag thus mingles with the other remains.
I felt I didn’t quite know enough to glean much from the expert discussions, but it was interesting to see how many people contributed to elucidating what the excavations produced, as well as the main sections examined: human remains; environment and subsistence; pottery; stone objects; metal, bone and glass; coins; lead working.
One last note, the earliest mention of the name Wigber Low is from a manuscript found in Belvoir Castle, dated about 1230 — it is named Wygebericlow. -ber perhaps relates to a barrow, low to hlaw or mound, and Wig from personal name Wicga.