Category Archives: Ancient History

Archaeology and landscape and seeing what you expect to see

16109225Time’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:

Stringer graph-model of the evolution of several species of genus Homo over the last 2 million years (vertical axis).
Stringer graph-model of the evolution of several species of genus Homo over the last 2 million years (vertical axis).

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)

And this:

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)

Ah, planning.

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:

Fluxgate gradiometer survey of Ladder Settlement. (Area 6.87 hectares)
Fluxgate gradiometer survey of Ladder Settlement. (Area 6.87 hectares)

 

atlasiso
3D view showing the ribbon of Iron Age and Roman settlement on the southern side of the Vale of Pickering near West Heslerton

 

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.

For more on archaeology…

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Wigber Low

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:

6-6B_Wigber

Pictures from my own visit — approaching it from the other side of the wall you see in this photo:

Wigber Low

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:

Wigber Low

And the full view from atop what I do believe was one of the mounds, but there isn’t honestly too much to see:

Wigber Low

It really is stunning.

wigber lowIt’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.

One last look — the view behind me of Wigber Low’s sharp profile as I carried on my way:

Wigber Low

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Romans & Socialists, Caerleon & Newport

We began our Sunday (not last Sunday either, but the Sunday before) in Newport. A bit grim, Newport. What is not permanently shut down is shut down for the Sunday…but there are burgeoning signs of life and it is the kind of place I like to imagine arriving at its possibilities of beauty and full employment and a bustling centre catering to the needs of its current residents. This probably will not happen under capitalism as we know it.

Newport

Cupcakes may be a good start, and this arcade could contribute to that start — it would certainly be a better one that the desultory big apartment box development of seemingly even shittier quality than London’s ‘luxury flats along the Thames’, though that seems hard to fathom.

Newport

We stood in front of this entance waiting for the bus that would take us to Caerleon, only £1 and 15 minutes away. It was beautiful, unexpected and beautiful.

Caerleon, Wales

The two small, but quite wonderful museums of Roman life there were not unexpected. I knew this had been a centre for Roman troops, that a huge bath complex had existed here, villas, barracks, and an amphitheater. Nothing had quite prepared me for how cool, and empty, the amphitheater was.

Caerleon, Wales

Caerleon, Wales

Nor did I have any idea that Arthur Machen, Arthur Machen of A London Adventure, or the Art of Wandering as well as of The Imposters was born here, though he left when he was two for a village named Llanddewi Fach five miles away. Arthur Machen who I quite adore.

Caerleon, Wales

His house even has one of these, built since he lived there of course, but I imagine using the same cellars:

Caerleon, Wales

We didn’t get reservations at the restaurant in the nice and ancient priory next door, but did have a pint in the lovely Hanbury Inn, where, by the way, Tennyson began work on ‘Idylls of the King’:

Caerleon, Wales

There were chartists here too, of course, but the plaque mentioning them is more about the walls built to defend against them. Only a bit of that is still standing, thank god.

Caerleon, Wales

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We couldn’t dally, we walked back to Newport. A walk partially along the river, partially along the motorway, strong in contrasts and industrial grit but also some pigs. I like those walks if I’m honest.

Caerleon To Newport, Wales

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And then? Fish & chips, delicious fish & chips in the Harbour fish bar, and then to see friend Fox and Thee Faction, and my new music crush, Helen Love at a fundraising gig in Le Pub as part of the We Shall Overcome weekend — from Thee Faction’s website:

The weekend acknowledges two things. First, it acknowledges the horrendous dismantling of society that the Tories have been pursuing. We have never been so socially insecure since before 1945. There is no safety net we can reliably fall back on. Everything is precarious. So everyone is a failed pay cheque or two away from absolute destitution. And that means that an enormous number of us are already there. Secondly, it acknowledges that every night socially and politically conscious musicians are busy, in ones, twos, threes, fours, playing in pubs and clubs across the land, doing their bit and making a little bit of noise to a relatively small number of people.

Comrade Joe Solo has done phenomenal work to piece this whole thing together. There are well over 200 events happening, under one fist.

Cool to be a little piece of something like that.

Newport

Newport

Newport

I keep realising I leave it too long between gigs, great music, pints, awesome pubs like this one, and toilets that entertain.

Newport

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Chatsworth

We started in Bakewell, beautiful Bakewell with pies that taste the way you always dreamed pies should taste, and the tarts are quite nice as well.

Bakewell to Chatsworth Walk

We climbed up and up, past some grandstanding llamas and into some beautiful woods, here we are off our planned route and well into our several-mile accidental diversion:

Bakewell to Chatsworth Walk

I loved most the Carlton Pastures, with Bronze Age tumuli dotting their great expanses, the dead overlooking the views from the hill tops.

Bakewell to Chatsworth Walk

We continued to pass an inordinate amount of sheep clustered ominously under the trees — it did indeed rain.

Bakewell to Chatsworth Walk

Finally to Chatsworth itself — a great change from glorious rolling hills and the grounding of farms and livestock, or the evocative tumuli of ancestors who lived very different lives, much harder lives than we do. Here it sits, a great square presence on the river Derwent. It is meant to look like wealth and power, and look like wealth and power it does.

Bakewell to Chatsworth Walk

Here it is from above, looking down from the pastures. You have to remember that this is a landscape sculpted and shaped to accentuate its great romantic sweeps and, of course, the wealth and power of its owners. First by gardener Capability Brown, and then by Joseph Paxton, an immense amount of money and labour have been expended to create a landscape that tries demurely to appear natural as though no such thing took place. This is one of that plural noun hatred of gardens that I have expended venom on before. Funny how many of them are in the Peak District, Keddleston Hall is just around the corner, vying with this one. I did want to see how it sat within its landscape, and the walk was worth it.

Bakewell to Chatsworth Walk

Of course the Duke of Devonshire trumped almost everyone by the removal of the local village that once sat along the Derwent. He rebuilt it with the help of Joseph Paxton (who built the Crystal Palace in my own patch, who also built a remarkable conservatory for the Duke, demolished in 1920). Rumour has it that the Duke himself sat with a pattern book and picked out a different pattern for each of the homes there.

Bakewell to Chatsworth Walk

It bothered Mark and I that it was this picturesque, and undoubtedly the homes were of better quality than those that had been lost and lives thus improved. But in the end this seemed to add insult to injury, because these lives were thus put on display when ancestral homes were moved at a whim and the Duke able to show off his philanthropy and his taste to his friends, his dependents become showpieces.

We left that place, set off into a misting kind of rain that helped erase the ugliness of unchecked power and massive gaudy aristocratic bling. We headed to see the Ball Cross Iron Age hillfort, which sat overlooking the valley though the view is now obscured by trees.

Bakewell to Chatsworth Walk

A great walk all in all, whatever your feelings about Dukes and things, and Bakewell is very well served by public transport.

And did I mention that steak and stilton pie? I dream of it still…from the Bakewell Pudding Shop.

Bakewell To Chatsworth And Back

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Around Clevedon and Cadbury Camp

This couldn’t quite compare to our lovely Pensford ramble, but was a pretty good walk none the less. We started in the town of Clevedon — once an agriculture village, but Victorian times transformed it into a seaside resort. It’s now home to the awesome Curzon Theatre, but we didn’t catch a film. The pier was nice, its cake mediocre. Climbing up the hill from there was quite beautiful, however, with stone walls along one side, water on the other.

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We came back down through a bit of the town, across rhines draining the levels reminding you that once these were all marshes, and fields where we saw deer leaping away through the grass. Under the motorway, which was actually quite enjoyable, and then up and up towards Cadbury Camp.

Aerial view of Cadbury Camp taken in 1946.
Aerial view of Cadbury Camp taken in 1946.

Occupied from the 6th century BCE through the 1st century AD, this was probably also contained a Roman settlement. From the National Trust site:

The Camp was built in the late Iron Age, probably by the Dobunni Tribe who lived in the Somerset Area. They dug out ditches and threw back the soil to make high banks for the fortress to protect them from any invading forces. They added a high timber fence on top of the bank and a complicated entrance to make it difficult for anyone to attack.

The name Cadbury meant Cada’s fort. Cada was an early Anglo Saxon personal name.

The site itself is lovely, with splendid views.

Clevedon Walk

But sadly there was more building along this walk, closed pubs, signs of rather obscene and unfriendly wealth in the form of high walls and no trespassing signs and things like this:

Clevedon Walk

Clevedon Walk

Not quite made up for by these rather more enjoyable examples of weirdness:

Clevedon Walk

Clevedon Walk

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Stanton Moor

This was perhaps my favourite place, though words like that cease to have so much meaning in an area as beautiful as this one. We came up through the woods

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

We knew we were close to where we wanted to be, but we weren’t on the path we were supposed to be on, so looking for the nine ladies stone circle we found this instead:

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

No one quite knows what these are apparently, this one sits along the ‘Duke’s Drive’, possibly part of an effort to transform the moor into somewhere to visit and enjoy following Parliament’s Act of Enclosure in 1819.

Enclosure breaks my heart, but stone circles are a joy. The nine ladies (and a tenth stone face down was found after a drought some years back) are lovely — but quite small. It makes for a very different effect from the standing stones I know, or a circle like Stanton Drew or Stonehenge.

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor in its an entirety is a beautiful Bronze Age ceremonial landscape, covered both with monuments but also somewhere archaeologists now believe people to have lived and worked the land. From the conservation document detailing what is here to be preserved from the sandstone quarries that still encroach upon the moor:

The prehistoric monuments which survive on the moor include an unusually tight cluster of ceremonial sites comprising three embanked stone circles, a standing stone, and at least one (possibly two) ring cairns. A fourth circle, Doll Tor, lies to the west, just 250m outside the limit of the modern moorland. Close to these monuments lie more than 120 cairns, many of which appear to be primarily funerary (Figures C5 and C6). Again, the survival of a cairnfield with a very high proportion of funerary cairns is rare in the region, where only two or three other (much smaller) sites have been recognised (3.4.3.2). In addition, early 20th century excavation on the south-western fringe of the moor (2.5.1.4) revealed a large number of funerary urns and cremated remains in what may have been a fl at cemetery (Storrs Fox 1927).

It is an extraordinary place, made even more beautiful by August’s purple heather and the green hills beyond.

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

One of the beautiful and larger mounds, with evidence of the stone cist that used to sit in the centre, containing the mixed bones of ancestors

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

We followed the sandy path along the curve of the hillside

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Sat for a while here, to rest and look out over the landscape

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

A standing stone — the Cork Stone — towers over us, behind it an old quarry. Going up one side are metal staples and footholds dug into the rock. We didn’t climb it.

Stanton Moor Walk

Here it is looking back

Stanton Moor Walk

The edge of the quarry, picturesque now covered in golden grass and heather

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Coming up to Stanton Peak’s trig point

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

Then back down the far side of the moor, back down into trees past old walls and lined pits

Stanton Moor Walk

Across fields

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

To what must have been another burial cairn

Stanton Moor Walk

A sheep with the hair of a greek statue

Stanton Moor Walk

And into Alport, lovely but we thought there was a pub, badly needed a pub, and there was no pub. Not until we walked up another very big hill into Youlgreave.

Stanton Moor Walk

Stanton Moor Walk

But it did have scenery and chickens

Stanton Moor Walk

Youlgreave was lovely, but we were too tired to explore it properly…

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Stanton Drew Stone Circles

I’ve always been a bit of a frustrated archeologist — it was a road started and then not taken. But my youth was full of books about Hittites and Ancient Egypt, watching Michael Faught examining arrowheads while babysitting us, volunteering at the museum in downtown Tucson putting storage pots together — but of course volunteering was not sustainable for a poor kid without a car. I got a minimum wage summer job and that was that.

There is such richness here, but not having a car (again the car) makes everything a little difficult. It was a bit of a surprise getting here on a lovely walk from Pensford, an easy bus ride from Bristol. It was in an old guide book (though surprisingly accurate and nicely sarcastic) and mentioned the neolithic stone circle as an aside only. Some extra scenery.

But wow.

Stanton Drew Stone Circles

I have since looked up, only to find it is the third largest in the UK behind Stonehenge and Avesbury. In finding out more, there is the English Heritage site, but if you want the really detailed and juicy stuff, you can look at ‘Stanton Drew 2010’, a report by John Oswin and John Richards, of the Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society, and Richard Sermon, Archaeological Officer, Bath and North-East Somerset (BANES).

They include in their report an 1896 drawing done by Charles Dymond, a railway surveyor. Quite simply it is beautiful.

It shows the different circles as they relate to one another, along with ‘the cove’, a set of three more stones we stumbled across when we naturally paused at the pub, called the Druid’s Arms. These relationships are almost impossible to see from the ground, but here it all becomes a bit more clear:

PlanAncientRemains

With today’s technology, archeologists create maps like this one, showing how much more there is to this site than the eye can capture unaided:

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http://www.eng-h.gov.uk/archaeometry/StantonDrew/

But really, it was nice to discover for ourselves, to measure out the circle with our steps and let our fingers trace the stones. Then come home and add more layers on to that. Though I’d like to go back.

Stanton Drew Stone Circle

Oswin, Richards & Sermon write:

The visibility of the monument site at Stanton Drew from the surrounding countryside might have been an important factor in the location of the site. Higher ground surrounds the low ground of the River Chew basin where the stone circle site is situated and an approach from a low level would have meant that the site could not be seen, the seclusion giving a sense of privacy…Streams enter the main river here from Dundry and Norton Malreward to the north and from the Stanton Wick area to the south… During the Neolithic many sites were placed close to rivers, water sheds and water sources as can be seen at Stanton Drew.

We approached from the south, there is no real view of the water.

The stones from the beginning fascinated me, most of them in the great circle rusty red, pitted and starred with tiny crystals and geodes, festooned with spiderwebs and lichens.

Stanton Drew Stone Circles

They are Silicified Dolomitic Conglomerate of Triassic Age (circa 248–205 Ma). Oswin, Richards & Sermon write:

 The rocks have a glassy, metallic appearance and feel and the surface has been described as pitted, pock-marked, frothy, knobbly and gnarly. There are abundant quartz geodes that make many of the stones sparkle, William Stukeley (cited in Lloyd Morgan 1887: 39) remarks that “it shines eminently and reflects the sunbeams with great lustre”. Quartz was a highly significant and regarded material in prehistory as indicated through its use in various monuments (Lewis n.d.). There are some silicified fossil fragments from the remains of limestone clasts within the conglomerate.

We found no fossils damnit! But the rock remains beautiful:

Stanton Drew Stone Circles

Stanton Drew Stone Circles

Stanton Drew Stone Circles

Stanton Drew Stone Circles

I took some uninspired pictures of the Oolitic Limestone, which I accidentally purged. I wanted to go back after reading this:

The surface of the blocks resembles a limestone pavement and there are numerous natural cup-shaped depressions and pits that partly fill with water. At many rock art sites flat slabs of stone are found that are open to the elements and after rain, any cup-and-ring marks fill with water; also rocks with natural cup marks are often utilised for the same effect. It could be that places where rocks ran with water or held water were culturally significant in many ways (Fowler and Cummings 2003: 10). It is possible that some of these limestone slabs at Stanton Drew were not intended to stand or were intended for use as capstones.

There was an interesting grouping inside the circle, being resolutely occupied by a middle-class family with no conception of sharing or situational awareness. We hovered for a while, but eventually moved on. We were paused in the middle of an eight+ mile walk after all.

The southwest circle has a very different feel, more elevated, the rocks much smaller.

The SSW Circle is situated in a more prominent position on a brow and commands a wider and more panoramic view of the surrounding countryside particularly when looking to the west along the valley towards the Severn Estuary where the high ground of Blackdown and the Mendip Hills is clearly visible. The different positioning of the SSW Circle might suggest a differing thought process or even a different period of construction.

Stanton Drew Stone Circles

Stanton Drew Stone Circles

I had a moment here reading this report — I realised apart from a simple fascination with a past so distant we can only barely imagine it I am also fascinated by something else, and this is part of it (though why this is a ‘new’ thing for archeologists is a bit bewildering):

Archaeologists are becoming increasingly aware that monuments help to shape the perception of landscape, possibly altering both the form and content of a landscape; helping to promote and create senses of time, place and notions of identity and belonging (Goldhahn 2008: 57). It is then feasible that monuments were constructed to occupy a permanent place in the landscape and were intended to exert an influence on any future occupants of that landscape.

Is that not what we do as planner, as activists, as community, as architects? So the question is what senses of time, place and belonging are created here, and what do we seek to create in our time? And how many ways is this contested, subverted? What brilliant imaginings this inspires. I am thinking. It makes me want to write, fiction is perhaps the best way to explore such thoughts.

The village of Stanton Drew is lovely, the cat was immensely friendly (joy), and the pub good.

Stanton Drew Stone Circles

I’m glad we stopped at the Druid’s Arms, driven by hunger and thirst but thus ensuring we did not miss the Cove somehow skipped by our guidebook, and the presence of what many argue are the remaining stones of a long barrow (the stones here are Dolomitic breccia by the way, different from the majority of the stones from the circles)

Stanton Drew - The Cove

As we drank down a pint and ate lunch, this became the scene of prayer and grief by a circle of friends or possibly family, history a palimpsest perhaps. These stones still hold meaning.

I rather love the history of archeology itself, and the stories of myths and theories that arise around such sites, and how people’s treatment of them has changed over time, this report does not disappoint on that front, which is lovely.

The first mention of an archaeological find at Stanton Drew is by an anonymous source writing in 1666 or later: “… (a stone) being newly fallen, in the Pitt, in which it stood, were found the crumbes of a man’s bones, and a large horse-bell, with a skrew as the stemme of it” (Hearne 1725: 507). This is reminiscent of the discovery of the barber-surgeon’s remains under a stone at Avebury (Smith 1965: 177–8).

There have been changes to the stone circles in the last few centuries. Aubrey (Aubrey et al 1980: 47) wrote in 1664 that the villagers break the stones with sledges to get them out of the way, and he was told they were much diminished in the last few years. Later, the villagers would tell Seyer (1821) that a century earlier many stones were broken up to mend the roads. However, the villagers then seem to have decided to leave the stones alone, and Long (1858) said it did not appear that any stones had vanished since Stukeley’s visit in 1723. The John Woods, father and son, the Bath architects, visited the site (Wood 1749), (Wood 1765). John Wood, the son, claims to have carried out an accurate survey. His text does indeed support this, but his diagrams are fanciful, being aimed at proving his intent.

Our little guide book noted that the measurement of Wood’s Moon Crescent in Bath  is based on that of  the great circle.

Some stones were toppled deliberately. It seems this was also done at Avebury in medieval times and the stones left lying on the surface; other stones were buried in pits. The purpose cannot have been simply to clear the land for cultivation as it was not particularly effective, and it is assumed there was a superstitious motive (Smith 1965: 176, 179–80).

I’m glad something of them still survives, along with a version of the local superstition given by English Heritage:

The most persistent tale is that the stones are the petrified members of a wedding party and its musicians, lured by the Devil to celebrate on the Sabbath and thus being punished for their revels.

Which sounds like the myth that exists for every group of standing stones anywhere. Either villagers or priests or note-takers of history had very little imagination.

After lunch we walked off westward, along what the guidebook described as an ancient approach to the circles. Hard to know now, but I like to think it true:

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Before ‘Architects’: Tuzigoot

Tuzigoot is an ancient village or pueblo built by a culture known as the Sinagua. The pueblo consisted of 110 rooms including second and third story structures. The first buildings were built around A.D. 1000. The Sinagua were agriculturalists with trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles. The people left the area around 1400.
Monumental Arizona, KAET

The ruins of Tuzigoot (‘crooked river’ in Apache, but misspelled) offer a glimpse of how people lived on this land before Europeans arrived. Their architecture is one that aesthetically I prefer to most others, and seems beautifully adapted both to climate and to the land itself. Here the Pueblo crowns the hill and follows its downward curving. It probably would have been plastered, not quite such an affect of stone rising from stone. Beautiful.

Tuzigoot

Tuzigoot

The walls are very thick, a facing of stone filled with rubble. Cooler in the summer, easier to keep warm in the winter, especially clustered together rather than heated and cooled individually.

Tuzigoot

Tuzigoot

Tuzigoot

The life of the pueblos exemplify many of the themes of Soleri’s arcology in some ways, though more limited in the number of people who could be supported by this fragile ecosystem and thus still by necessity falling short of his ‘urban effect’. The lived experience of them also recasts Wright‘s ideal of minimising the distance between inside/outside in a more interesting way I think. These rooms are dark, enclosed spaces entered from the roof, perfect for storage, privacy, warmth. But most of life was lived outside, communally, in the plazas and workspaces on the roofs. A good way to live. This is Tuzigoot in the heat of summer, when the lushness of the Verde Valley is visible:

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It was built beautifully, even by a people still engaged in a longer-term migration.

Another example is Besh Ba Gowah, built by what archeologists refer to as the Salado culture near Globe:

Besh Ba Gowah

This was built surrounded by a wall, with a long entry passage, reflecting a need for defense, but a similar communal life shared mostly outside in the plazas and on rooftops:

Besh Ba Gowah Entrance

One of my favourite places is Wupatki, an area of multiple buildings, occupied by the cultural phases of what archeologists call the Anasazi and the Singua cultures and perhaps others. Here it curves around and incorporates the living stone of the valley:

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Some of the structures are playful with its use of stone, something else that recalls Taliesin West to me.

Citadel Pueblo

And then there are the cliff dwellings, like the misnamed Montezuma’s Castle:

Montezuma Castle

and the Gila Cliff Dwellings (though these are just across the border of New Mexico, I know). They sit beautifully in these caves, most likely a result of a harsher environment, more aggression amongst the people, but perfectly suited to their defensible position. That is the key to all of these buildings. They are perfectly suited.

Gila3

Gila6

Other Architecture in the Desert posts:
Arcosanti | Taliesin West | Mining Zombies, Cadavers and Ghosts

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Roque-Gageac, Beynac, Rouffignac

I woke up this morning to a brave calling of swallows echoing across the cliff face, greeting the dawn. It is the same cliff that forms one wall of my room, the other wall of pine sloping sharply up to meet it with a cross bracing of huge and ancient beams cut square. It is very cold. The swallows move in and out of crescendo and light comes in through the two small triangular windows.

Last night I was kept awake by the irony of a rock-pop festival in this tiny medieval village, and then I was kept awake by the cold. I wore my down vest under the covers for a while, then wrapped it around my feet. In between wakings I dreamed of James Crumley, big and shaggy and alcohol soaked, I dreamed he had hired my dad to rebuild and redecorate his record and auto-part store. I dreamed we walked in the desert and I tried to explain just how beautiful it was, just how much I loved it. But I almost never write about the desert, I don’t understand. But I suppose dreams aren’t for understanding.

Maybe it is just that I have found no inspiration beyond photos, I don’t find words hidden seamed up in time’s folds the way I do in London. So I shall work on my dissertation. It is ridiculously beautiful here of course, ancient villages of mellowed golden limestone and narrow winding roads. They are all fortified, on hilltops, castles crowning outcrops and defensible walls blocking cavern faces high up in the cliffs. It was on the edges of the hundred-years war with England, the castle of Beynac-et-cezenac in French hands, that of Castelnaud in English.

We went to see the grotte de Rouffignac yesterday as well. It is a huge cavern, huge. And regular the way most caves are not, carved out by an underground river through stone that must have been very regular. There are no stalactites and stalagmites, though my french did not quite reach to understanding why. The walls are mostly smooth, with a layer of what looks like a conglomerate just above the level of my head, strange rounded multi-armed shapes embedded whole into the walls, grey near the opening, stained a deep orange-red with iron ore deeper inside. You ride a small electric train very deep inside, following where ancient people walked with only torches. Large openings branch to either side, you wonder how they found their way. Past the hollows where ancient cave bears dug their holes to hibernate for the winter, into a rounded cavern where beautiful mammoths and bison were drawn across the roof, only a few feet from the floor, emerging from the deep hole of a cavern to the left that goes far beyond seeing…

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Petroglyphs!

I found them! Eureka!

Well, my dad found them first…and took me too see them out in the desert, we drove and drove, walked and walked…I’m being cagey because I doubt that their exact location should be public knowledge. Because they are just there, you can touch them

It’s extraordinary to touch them, to stand in front of them in the middle of the desert, to search for them under stones. Here’s another, this motif could be seen several times, I don’t know what it means but it has sent my mind imagining of course, mysteries…

There were many more, if you click on the above images you’ll get to my flickr page where you can see all of them, they were truly extraordinary. At one time there were a great deal more, but the rock face is splitting off and falling away, I am sure myriads lie hidden, face down on the earth or crumbled into shards of rock. I happily climbed the cliff faces (not that I need an excuse to climb cliff faces). And the good news is that I can still do it in chanclas, to the right is a steep slope of scree, and myself showing off my powers in flip flops. I suppose I could have more grace and poise, but I am glad I’m still half wild, I worry sometimes that I face incipient and total domestication. Not that sensible footwear means domestication. I hadn’t actually realized the kind of hike we were going on or I might have been tempted into trainers, but I really hate wearing socks if the climate does not absolutely require it.

My brothers and I spent quite a bit of time looking for petroglyphs back in the day, we searched every cliff face within miles of our house I think…little did we know that the internet would soon be along with every location noted, as I have now found out. Still, there’s no real information there on the ancestors who carved them, and no knowledge of what they mean, I suppose they would have had to have been done by the Tohono O’odham, or those who came before? I remember reading a book by Frank Waters years ago about the ancient migrations and how they were tracked on the stone, but it’s been too long for me to remember properly. It was pueblo myth anyway, I doubt the folks down here would agree with it.

It was truly a gorgeous day in the desert today though, and one of the prettiest washes I’ve seen I think. It must be spectacular after the moonsoons, and full of deep pools perfect for swimming.They would collect below the pyroclastic flows of Rhyolite Tuffs like this one

My dad, and my fount of all geological knowledge is at the end of it, an ancient lava flow. The rock is beautiful

There was water there today, left from the rain over Thanksgiving, but there’s definitely more seeping through the rocks in several places. We continued walking down the wash back towards the car

Final views of what I love about this place, saguaros:

Barrel cacti growing out of a rock face

And ocotillos against a blue blue sky

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