Ħaġar Qim… there is beauty just in the letters, these unique Maltese forms that I love. The temple sits on cliffs just above the temple of Mnajdra, unique and ancient I had never heard of them until I knew I was coming to Valletta. I had never read of the civilization that existed here. 5,500 years ago. Older than Stonehenge, than the great pyramid, I read so much and yet I never stumbled across these wonders. Ħaġar Qim before the covering was built over it:
I missed this sense of the whole and the way that it fits into the landscape, the natural light on stone, but I am glad it is being protected. In the visitor’s centre I had my first experience of 4D, with a 3D screening and scents and watery mist being pumped into the theatre, along with lightening flashes and wind. Noisily. But I rather loved it. This is what it looks like now:
The carvings have been removed to be kept safe in the museum in Valletta — it occupies the old Auberge of the langue of Provence, quite beautiful in itself:
I had seen it the day before in the company of new friend from the conference who had written part of his thesis on this figure, found in one of the first apses of the main building — I was jealous he had come across it before:
The back of it is so lovely. More intriguing, though, are the enormous figures also found there, which I did not take a picture of. This lapse astonishes me. This more official one is undoubtedly better however.
These too are from the first apse, they left me without words. I could never have imagined them and I love coming across such things. They are strangely beautiful, impossible for me to understand. They are massive, an immense presence. The heads were almost certainly carved separately from the bodies, we can only guess why.
Perhaps my favourite is the ‘sleeping lady’, she was found in the Hypogeum (underground prehistoric temple carved into the stone, my god, everything I love in one place) — words cannot convey my sadness at this being closed during my visit, but it ensures my return.
But the temples I did manage to see — this is the first apse, a strange doorway
Replicas of some of the carvings, these pitted stones, and more curves
On the opposing side more stonework — everywhere on this island beautiful stonework:
Ħaġar Qim stands highly visible and highly exposed, unlike all of the others. It has the largest piece of rock I have ever seen as part of a building, much less an ancient one like this. It has multiple entrances, an openness that is also unique, like this outside niche:
A carved hole in one of the apses marks the summer solstice. It was built on and added to over time, a sprawling, slightly untidy nature that you can feel walking through it, as though it were always open to possibility, even as the wind and rain were melting the limestone slowly away.
Mnajdra has a more satisfying perfection, indeed an almost perfect form. A complement to openness I think. This is the walk down to it from Ħaġar Qim alongside fields of beautiful soil.
The museum’s model gives a sense of its completeness:
Perhaps even more beautiful stonework, these wonderful square doorways and pitted decorations:
Everywhere these doorways. They reminded me strangely of the Chaco culture in New Mexico with its unique T-shaped doorways, it makes me think how important doorways always are as you step from one place to another, one world to another, and how much meaning lies encoded in these. They are all amazing given the levels of technology — though their tools were also beautiful, look at this two-person hammer:
And this people’s own architectural model
Their graceful carvings and decorations:
The museum holds great round stones as well, and one theory is that these were used to transport the great slabs of limestone.
From the trail connecting the temples you can branch off along a nature trail — I was alone while there in choosing to explore the longer one that took me uphill. Happiness, yet also a certain disappointment in people really. Because they couldn’t be bothered to see more of this place.
To be out in the countryside — joy. Nopales flourish:
Grapes — though these are struggling:
Figs, this one alongside one of the small stone huts scattering the hillside, built as hides for the trapping of birds:
Another of them, the most picturesque:
Unexpectedly here (I must have blinked at some point in the museum) I found the Misqa water tanks — carved by the temple builders into the limestone to collect fresh water, and still used to irrigate nearby fields.
There are curious remains carved deeply here into the rock
The island of Filfla in the distance — probably sacred to the temple builders, the British used it for target practice, and now it has returned to being a bird sanctuary.
They are deeper than I thought, like the one here on the left:
I admired so much the curves of the beautiful wall there in the background, and as I backtracked down the path a head popped up, scaring me it is true, but thus I met Tony. For many years he had lived part of the year in the Bay area and part of it there alongside the temples, growing figs, olives, and grapes. We talked about nopales, how we cook them along the border. His favourite way to eat them is to pick the young leaves (late July and August) and peel them, then put them in the fridge and eat them very cold. I might try it. We talked about Trump, of course. Trump is bad for everyone. I continue to have those conversations. I love these chance meetings, I hate that it should be shaped by such a man in any way. We ended as friends though, and I continued on my way.
The path curves down alongside an old quarry, on the other side of the road, somewhere hidden in that canyon — part of a large fault system — are the Tal-Maghlaq catacombs. I think perhaps I saw the overgrown entrances, but I am far from sure.
Walking back, the sound of the sea, and the limestone cliffs grooved from the quarrying of stone:
More views of the narrow stone-walled fields terraced across the hillsides
I walked a little of the way down towards the Blue Grotto but the afternoon was lengthening so headed back for the bus. My final views
There is a wonderful fragrance here also, more of herbs than of flowers though I could be wrong about its source.
If I were to do it again I would have more time, have started at the blue grotto and walked up, and then walked into Qrendi I think, I longed to spend a little time in these villages. They are tightly defined, ending where the fields begin. They all have large beautiful churches with a square in front, long rows of terraced houses, they are beautiful and sit well upon the land. Many have oranges and other citrus and figs growing in front of them.
To end with a mystery which I was not able to see, but which I discovered in the museum — that of Clapham Junction (! – but oh yes, this was a British colony and they named some things) and of the deep ruts in the limestone whose causes are mysterious and as yet unknown — variants of them are found all over the island…
I don’t know that I have been anywhere in a landscape that felt so ‘natural’ as it were, but also carried so deeply the craft and mark of human beings. I haven’t even gotten started on the Phoenicians, the Romans…newcomers. Though interestingly, they believe that the temple builders left and there was a period when no one lived here… Still, there is thousands of years of history scored into the limestone, the same limestone that has been built in a myriad of different configurations across five thousand years, that unifies it all in a way I haven’t seen before. England feels a crazed jumble of materials in comparison. Malta is an incredible place, and I haven’t even started on the door handles. I have shared a little about the cats, so really now to end, the great hunter of Ħaġar Qim:
After the Turquoise Trail, after Los Cerrillos and Madrid, we headed south to Quarai, south through Moriarty (!) and McIntosh, Estancia to Mountainair.
We were driving through the countryside poet Jimmy Santiago Baca writes about so compellingly. I read Martín & Meditations on the South Valley, look how time and evil rewrites the nature of towns — driving now we would only know Estancia as home to yet another prison, networked into the US carceral nation. This is how Baca knows it from Martín:
The religious voice of blind Estela Gomez
blackened the air one day.
“92 years mijito. ¿Que pasó? There were no more
beans to pick, no crops to load on trains.
Pinos Wells dried up, como mis manos.
Everyone moved away to work. I went to Estancia,
con mi hijo Reynaldo.
Gabachos de Tejas, we worked for them. Loading
alfalfa, picking cotton for fifty cents a row. (11)
Here too, are the ruins of Quarai. Before looking for the hotel we stopped at the ruins, hoping for a sunset peak. It was all closed off, sadly, but the town’s church was beautiful:
the countryside golden:
We came back in the morning, the church is mostly what is visible:
There was once a great pueblo here too, up to three stories. It sat along the trails by which salt was once traded, another place of encounter (Three such church and pueblo complexes form the Salinas Pueblo Missions Natinal Monument — Quarai, Abó, and Gran Quivira, which we weren’t able to see).
Here is it’s reconstruction from about 1300 — fascinating that it seems to have been left to the ancestors for many years just around this time, and reoccupied just before the arrival of the Spanish:
Like Cicúye / Pecos, this was a place of coexistence for a very long time after the Spanish Entrada. This is a reconstruction of the church.
It is huge, making us feel small.
Called El Misión Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Cuarac, it was completed around 1629, and for a while served as a seat of the Inquisition. That gives me chills, though the park service information boards focus on the inquisitions struggles with the army more than its actions surrounding native beliefs and religions.
Like Cicúye, there are kivas here too amidst the Christian buildings. Like this one, square. That sits in my heart somehow. Change, contrariness built into stone and ceremony.
The pueblo ruins remain at peace beneath great mounds, covered with melons.
Jimmy Baca writes of how this place continues to live.
Dawn in the Manzano mountains.
Pine and piñón from chimneys
smoke the curving road
with resinous mist.
My black feathered heart
in the clear blue sky
above the pueblos
de Manzano, Tajique, Willard and Estancia.
At the foothills
my grandmother herded sheep
and my grandfather planted corn y chile.
I turn my motorycle off
next to QUARAI RUINS
and silence drops
into the canyon
sounding like an ancient song of sadness,
like a distant boulder
echoing into the blue sky and stubble grass
I step into the open rock pit
hollowed in the earth
with flat rock door facing east,
pinch red clay and chew
my teeth black with earth prayer, then speak with QUARAI–
O QUARAI! Shape
the grit and sediment I am,
mineral de Nuevo Mejico. (38-39)
I am not sure how much work had been done here when Baca arrived, it it was closer to what we could see, or this view of the church in 1935.
We traveled down Highway 60.
Abó is very similar, but people still live just to one side, and more recent ruins of settlement make this place feel a bit less like a ‘monument’. This is nice. They believe that while Quarai was of the Southern Tewa or Tiguex people, this was the place of the Tompiro. My favourite picture:
It is more lush here:
Another massive church here:
Again a kiva.
The pueblo hidden beneath mounds of earth. Bordered by flowers.
From here we drove on, drove on home
A final poem from Baca’s Meditations on the South Valley:
Send me news Rafa
of the pack dogs sleeping
in wrecked cars in empty yards,
or los veteranos
dreaming in their whiskey bottles
of the past, full of glory and fear.
The black smell of wet earth
seeps into old leaning adobes,
and prowls like a black panther through open windows.
hoeing their jardines
de chile y maíz in the morning,
crush beer cans and stuff them in gunny sacks
and pedal on rusty bicycles
in the afternoon to the recycling scale.
and at Coco’s chante
at dusk tecatos se juntan,
la cocina jammed like the stock exchange lobby,
as los vatos raise their fingers
indicating cuánto quiren.
There is much more I miss Rafa,
so send me news. (57)
We ate lunch in Truth or Consequences. Were too tired to stop in Hatch. We hit rain and a huge dust storm just outside of Deming. Pulled to one side. They are terrifying if you live here, have grown up with the news of 10 (20 to 30 to 100)-car pile-ups along these freeways. Fatalities. People drive like where they got to go and the time they got to get there are more important than life.
The Navajo Interactive Museum shares some of the Navajo’s own history. It is the first place I have ever been that does not try to whitewash the history of conquest. It does not shy away from how people were killed, enslaved. It tells of the forced march, relocation, return. The immense loss. Grief. It shows how much has been saved, how custom and belief are not things of the past but of the present. It shared versions of the creation. Methods of weaving, the sheep that are the sources of wool. The building of hogans and some of their spiritual meanings. It is divided by the four directions, reclaims history for its own people, and offers it as a gift to us.
From one of the signs:
Indigenous languages are holistic, fluently expressing intrinsic human relationships with everything. Navajos believe that their language is a spiritual gift from the Holy People, for it connects them directly to the entire universe. It is a language of webs and motion, relationships and process, not of nouns and objectivity.
I have been thinking so much about language and patterns of thought, the limitations of science and how perhaps it is built into the English language itself. Spanish too, but just knowing two languages helps you understand language’s limits. There is still so much I cannot express, I wish that I had been honored to speak such an indigenous language. It is not hard to see why conquerors would work so hard to destroy language, it is so intertwined with culture, with worldview. It is always a place of strength and resistance.
Next door was a small museum in honour of the Navajo code talkers, the men who joined the US army and used their language to keep our transmissions from the Japanese. The whole text of the ‘Navajo Code Talkers Act‘ was on the wall, and it surprised me. I have put in bold the things I never though the U.S. government would say out loud, and we circle around language…
(1) On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor and war was declared by Congress the following day.
(2) The military code, developed by the United States for transmitting messages, had been deciphered by the Japanese and a search by United States military intelligence was made to develop new means to counter the enemy.
(3) The United States Government called upon the Navajo Nation to support the military effort by recruiting and enlisting 29 Navajo men to serve as Marine Corps radio operators; the number of enlistees later increased to over 350.
(4) At the time, the Navajos were second-class citizens, and they were a people who were discouraged from using their own language.
(5) The Navajo Marine Corps radio operators, who became known as the Navajo Code Talkers, were used to develop a code using their language to communicate military messages in the Pacific.
(6) To the enemy’s frustration, the code developed by these Native Americans proved to be unbreakable and was used extensively throughout the Pacific theater.
(7) The Navajo language, discouraged in the past, was instrumental in developing the most significant and successful military code of the time. At Iwo Jima alone, the Navajo Code Talkers passed over 800 error-free messages in a 48-hour period.
(A) So successful were they, that military commanders credited the code with saving the lives of countless American soldiers and the successful engagements of the United States in the battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa;
(B) So successful were they, that some Code Talkers were guarded by fellow marines whose role was to kill them in case of imminent capture by the enemy; and
(C) So successful were they, that the code was kept secret for 23 years after the end of World War II.
(8) Following the conclusion of World War II, the Department of Defense maintained the secrecy of the Navajo code until it was declassified in 1968; only then did a realization of the sacrifice and valor of these brave Native Americans emerge from history.
I am unsure what the U.S. government has done since then to grant full, respectful, honoured citizenship or to encourage the speaking of indigenous languages, but I suppose medals were something. It would take a few years before other tribes were honoured for similar roles, the Comache and Choctaw among them, in WWI as well as WWII.
We drove and drove, Northeast, out of the red rocks towards New Mexico. We passed Black Mesa, and the Peabody Company’s coal mine — another reminder of exploitation, another form of resource extraction.
EACH YEAR PEABODY COAL COMPANY PUMPS MORE THAN 4,500 ACRE-FEET OF PRISTINE NAVAJO AND HOPI DRINKING WATER FROM THE “N-AQUIFER.”
Peabody uses this pristine water supply simply to mix with crushed coal-called “slurry.” This “slurry” is then pumped through a pipeline over 275 miles to the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada.
With every breath we take, 50 gallons of pristine ground water has just been pumped from the dry lands of northeastern Arizona. On Black Mesa, home to the Hopi and Navajo people, more than 300 gallons of potential drinking water has, in the last 10 seconds just been mixed with crushed coal. In the time it took to read these sentences Peabody Coal Company pumps over a thousand gallons of the cleanest groundwater in North America, simply to transport coal. Today, Peabody Coal pumps more than 3,600 acre-feet (equivalent to 4,600 football fields, one foot deep) per year of pristine water from the Navajo Aquifer.
From World War II until 1971, the government was the sole purchaser of uranium ore in the United States. Uranium mining occurred mostly in the southwestern United States and drew many Native Americans and others into work in the mines and mills. Despite a long and well-developed understanding, based on the European experience earlier in the century, that uranium mining led to high rates of lung cancer, few protections were provided for US miners before 1962 and their adoption after that time was slow and incomplete. The resulting high rates of illness among miners led in 1990 to passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.
In North Dakota, indigenous activists are continuing to protest the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River. More than a thousand indigenous activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have traveled to the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, which was launched on April 1 by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
I wish I could be there too. Instead I am here, writing. We drove onward. It looks pristine, but corporations are poisoning this land.
A sea of crushed metal, old cars left here.
Up to the ‘Aztec’ ruins. Midway between Chaco and Mesa Verde, this was an incredible Anasazi construction, planned and for the most part built within a very short time. Labelled Aztec because that’s all people apparently knew of indigenous cultures building in stone, too ignorant or racist to ask its real name. The National Park Service did try to give a ‘balanced’ history, but such radically different ways of seeing the world sit uneasily next to each other. There could be nothing too critical of the role archeology has played in the mythologizing of western expansions, nor of those expansions, nor the disrespect of native histories. A disrespect that stems from their attempted destruction. But it was good to hear native voices here, and the contrasting ways of seeing.
This is a place that feels good, a place left to the ancestors before white men arrived, like Chaco, like Mesa Verde.
It’s construction is beautiful, full of details. The corner openings:
Stones rolled smooth from the river
And other bands of decoration:
Once standing three stories high
This wall traces exactly the path followed by the sun during the summer solstice
It is a beautiful place. To see with eyes open and with eyes closed. The ground story of storage rooms still stand
They open into other rooms, a mat left behind is still here, hundreds of years old.
From archaeology we see the map of the whole. Almost all of it built between 1100 and 1130, which is amazing. Then slowly added to.
This map shows its symmetries, though it cannot explain their meaning.
They have reconstructed the great kiva here, I am not sure about entering such a place of ceremony without ceremony. Without invitation. So I didn’t take pictures, but I did give thanks to be there. With mum. They are wonderful sacred spaces.
Several of them, along with the large central one, are surrounded by smaller rooms. I have never seen this before.
I didn’t love the small museum as much as the one in Tuba City, but the pottery was beautiful (so much here, as in the other NPS museums, on loan from far away. Pottery and artifacts taken away as property by the institutions who sponsored digs, I do not understand how they do not see this as a living place to which things still belong). Apart from the maps of the place itself, the trade routes were also wonderful:
From here we continued on and on, up to Chama. A good day.
I write and write and write here, too many words spilling across the screen in a struggle to grasp, understand and above all remember. To make mine, so that I can recall things when needed. So they do not escape me. Boring words often, missing so much and grasping at details.
I have to struggle for memory.
Time feels so fleeting and there is so much to read, to write, to know, to puzzle through. I will never get it all thought.
I read poetry and find deeper things than I had ever contemplated expressed in a few lines (not all poetry, not even most, but Wisława Szymborska yes, oh yes). The sifting of meaning already done, language perfected so nothing gushes out across page after page.
The poetry of Wisława Szymborska is deep, humble, filled with grief and wonder. Terrifying.
Who are we?
I give you three poems. One for where we are (literally) going:
“La Pologne? La Pologne? Isn’t it terribly cold there?” she asked,
and then sighed with relief. So many countries have been turning up lately that the safest thing to talk about is climate.
“Madame,” I want to reply, “my people’s poets do all their
writing in mittens. I don’t mean to imply that they never remove
them; they do, indeed, if the moon is warm enough. In stanzas
composed of raucous whooping, for only such can drown out the windstorms’ constant roar, they glorify the simple lives of our walrus herders. Our Classicists engrave their odes with inky icicles on trampled snowdrifts. The rest, our Decadents, bewail their fate with snowflakes instead of tears. He who wishes to drown himself must have an ax at hand to cut the ice. Oh, madame, dearest madame.”
That’s what I meant to say. But I’ve forgotten the word for
walrus in French. And I’m not sure of icicle and ax.
“La Pologne? La Pologne? Isn’t it terribly cold there?”
Well, my poor man,
seems we’ve made some progress in my field.
Millennia have passed
since you first called me archaeology.
I no longer require
your stone gods,
your ruins with legible inscriptions.
Show me your whatever
and I’ll tell you who you were.
A scrap of engine.
A picture tube’s neck.
An inch of cable. Fingers turned to dust.
Or even less than that, or even less.
Using a method
that you couldn’t have known then,
I can stir up memory
in countless elements.
Traces of blood are forever.
Secret codes resound.
Doubts and intentions come to light.
If I want to
(and you can’t be too sure
that I will).
I’ll peer down the throat of your silence,
I’ll read your views
from the sockets of your eyes,
I’ll remind you in infinite detail
of what you expected from life besides death
One for the startling abilities of language in the present.
From trapeze to
to trapeze, in the hush that
that follows the drum roll’s sudden pause, through,
through the startled air, more swiftly than
than his body’s weight, which once again
again is late for its own fall.
Solo. Or even less than solo,
less, because he’s crippled, missing
missing wings, missing them so much
that he can’t miss the chance
to soar on shamefully unfeathered
naked vigilance alone.
and calculated inspiration. Do you see
how he waits to pounce in flight; do you know
how he plots from head to toe
against his very being; do you know, do you see
how cunningly he weaves himself through his own former shape
and works to seize this swaying world
by stretching out the arms he has conceived–
beautiful beyond belief at this passing
at this very passing moment that’s just passed.
There is a lovely essay by Joelle Biele here on Szymborska’s relationship with the communist party and Poland’s long tradition of poetry.
Thank you also to the translators, who are part of these poems now for all of us who are lacking, who cannot read them in Polish: Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh.
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.
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 farm archaeology is fascinating here, and best of all there is a folder full of articles and reports on what can be seen, and what experts know about it. The information here comes from a report done by Frank Robinson in 2001 (FR), an English Heritage designation report (EH), and a lovely packet put together by a Geography teacher for the local secondary school (G). These maps are from Robinson:
The farm sits at the top in the middle. For the farmhouse – the house and stone buildings built in the late 18th and early 19th century, and they originally made cheese in what is now the kitchen (G). The oldest building stands along the lane and supposedly ‘from the lane can be seen a sandstone cheese press block used to fill part of an old doorway’ (FR). I read that too late to go look for it, coming to Glasgow meant I didn’t quite get to process everything. Whitewash (made of quicklime from the lime quarry on the farm itself) mixed with cow’s blood, dung, sand and horse hair worked as building mortar, and this was used in construction of the farm itself, along with more quarried limestone, and rubble infill.
The old shed along the lane:
The farm itself from the lane:
As interesting are the hedgerows – The presence of 8 different woody species age a hedge at roughly 500 years, the hedgerow here is probably about 800 years old due to the presence of 13 different woody shrubs: Hawthorn, Buckthorn, Guelder Rose, Holly, Elderberry, Willow, Hazel, Honesuckle, Field Maple, Field Rose, Dog Rose, Blackthorn and Ash (G).
Almost as cool is that the age of the hedgerow may show date of enclosure — Robinson notes that the land was enclosed by agreement so there is no act as such, probably the field boundaries were established by early 19th century. These now serve as windbreaks and habitats for small mammals and birds – wrens, bank voles, badgers, foxes, rabbits. Other plants found here are wood anemone, townhall lock, goldilox buttercup, ground ivy, red campion, dog’s mercury, and lords and ladies (G). For years these would also have been the main source of firewood, and food as well — the tender shoots of hogweed boiled or steamed! Delicious.
Before enclosure these were open fields, plowed in a ridge and furrow pattern which shows the old medieval fields. These ridges were to be found all over the farm, but I found them difficult to see in many places. Apple Sitch Pingle (a name I never heard, this field was always top block) shows them clearly in the late afternoon light however, especially after mowing:
Robinson notes the meaning of this old field name – sitch is an old English word for a muddy stream, Apple probably a spelling of Aplow – low old English hlaw – hill or mound. Ap could refer to a hill or lost barrow. Pingle term often used to describe a meadow by the side of a stream.
You climb up to the top of the this and get the most lovely view of the farm and surrounding hills:
The next field up is Stanlow Close, between this and Stanlow Nobbs is:
The dew pond
These were needed before the existence of water mains and hoses. Built to provide water for upper fields, Robinson describes their building as almost a lost art. They were made with a special clay lining to retain water, sometimes ‘puddled with pig manure and dock leaves’. The Department of Agriculture ordered these filled in during the 1950s — there are evidence of several on the farm.
Continuing on to Stanlow Nobbs (limekiln field or the quarry to us) are
Climbing up from the other side:
And another view of them (and me! Hello!):
The view from the top
From the very dry English Heritage Monument documents: There are two bowl barrows, joined by an earthwork ‘not yet fully understood’. Lucas and Carrington partially excavated one of the barrows in 1869, dated it to Bronze age and found a pottery urn, amber ring, perforated stone axe and bronze 3-rivetted dagger with ivory pommel (the axe and dagger are buried somewhere in the British Museum — they were once thought lost but refound, probably in a pile of things all gathering dust in London. I can’t help but feel they should have remained with their dead, or be found in the local museum). Cropmarks (3 rectangular marks of lush growth in dry weather) show probable location of Anglian secondary burials dating to c AD 700.
This would also be shared in common with Wigber Low — which is visible from here but this view of it makes it seem most unremarkable.
The cropmarks weren’t visible sadly. Robinson gives a bit more information — most such bowl barrows are from the Late Bronze Age, dating between 2400-1500 BC. Of these, there is actually some debate as to whether the smaller of the two is simply a natural mound, as well as the connecting ridge between them. This hasn’t yet been resolved as there has been no excavation since the 1800s.
Just to the other side of them, a rise followed by a dangerous drop off shows the presence of:
Climbing down and around it is beautiful here in the afternoon light:
This area is left uncut and ungrazed through July so rare limestone flora can grow as part of a conservation scheme – Stone Crop, Cowslip, Primroses, Wild Carrots, Sheep’s Bit Scabious and Field Scabious, Yarrow, Meadow saxifrage, Kidney Vetch and others:
Two quarries appear on 1850 tithe maps, by 1880 they had been combined and extended. In 1941, the farm owner (Jack Oakes) and a butcher in Ashbourne (Herbert Plumbley) were recorded as operators, and providing crushed Limestone for construction of Darley Moor – Ashbourne’s airfield during WWII.
This quarry is also the site of the
The two were worked together. I wasn’t sure quite where the seam was to be found, assuming it to be somewhere amongst the rubble in the middle:
Lead mining was another way to supplement farm income, and lead was used widely before plastics became available, especially for plumbing. There are a number of records relating to the mining, and showed a number of people in the surrounding area had worked the quarry, not just the farmer. The more recent 20th Century mine shaft has been explored by a local group, and they found evidence of folded iron rails and a wooden sleeper from narrow gauge track, as well as a winching beam standing over a shaft .
Other records are to be found in the Wirksworth Wapantake General Barmasters Book vols 24 and 77, though there were much older workings here as well. The English Heritage records note that this is described as a King’s Field, where the crown has the right to assign mining rights. The below is all from Robinson:
1806 land staked out as Bonyhole (bony hole) by William Bearisford of Weston. I know some of you will find that name hilarious, there is no speculation on its origin.
1938 H.G. Plumbley and John Oakes (the butcher/farmer combo) claimed a vein in the quarry with the Barmaster. In October and December 1948, two others (W.J. Brooks of Wirksworth and John Matkin of Carsington) applied to be given rights to work Bonyhole mine – notice was served on Plumbley on 23rd December ‘that unless his mine, Bonyhole is put in proper workmanship within 3 weeks it will be given away. Notice is also posted at the mine’. The new owner of New House Farm, Major F.C. Linnel-Gosling, then sent his own notice of registration as owner, saying that he had been working since Jan 1948 and that others had unlawfully taken lead from it.
Brooks returned the lead.
As of 1950 when Bob’s father bought the farm, I don’t think there was any longer activity in the quarry or mine.
Close to the quarry is also to be found a gravel pit:
Along with ruins of the:
Limestone used to be quarried both as a source of income and for the farm itself – quarried limestone was used as a building material of course, but could also be heated in a kiln to produce Calcium Oxide – Quicklime. This was sprinkled in plague graves to reduce infection. It was a also mixed with water to make slaked lime – ie whitewash — which was also known as ‘bug-binding’ as it disinfected walls in houses and barns and got rid of insects. Whitewash, as mentioned at the beginning, could also be mixed with blood, straw and sand to create mortar for building. All in all, limestone is a very useful material.
From the edge of the field you can look into Rye Close
Clearly used as a field for planting rye — once the main grain for consumption in this area. This was known to his parents as the football field as there used to be a football pitch on it! Old ridge and furrow is supposed to be visible from medieval plowing, but I couldn’t really see it. I’d have hated to play football on it.
Coming back down the central field you can some more of it though, not so much from the top
but further down, where the electric fence now keeps everything safe from the goats.
This place was rich in history, and visible markings of the different ways people not just grew food and raised livestock for survival here, but also dug out metals and processed rock. I so loved being part of this.
Strange after thinking of land and history in this way, to wake up to the news that we have left the EU. The area where I was voted overwhelmingly for leave…signs were posted everywhere, and I know a meeting of farmers was held to discuss the issue, and they were all for leave which disappointed the conveners immensely. An American friend asked what I thought about it all and I am still not sure, but this is sort of what is in my head — and I wished for us to remain.
Most of us are pretty depressed, because it feels like a vote for the right wing and xenophobia and racist anti-immigrant rhetoric and insularity and fear… and at the same time there was a strong left argument for leaving because the EU is a neoliberal shit that has been working to build a (metaphorical-ish) wall around the EU to stop all non-white immigrants from getting in (while allowing free movement within it) and pushing austerity and layers of bureaucracy without much accountability, and I’ve heard some argue it’s a working class vote against politics in general, which may be true — but seems as usual cities full of working class and immigrants tended to vote one way and rich and rural people who live in areas without immigrants voted another, with some exceptions for areas in the north that have been truly fucked economically for a very long time. Brixton/South London was 78% remain, and of course scotland also voted remain so another vote for their independence will probably take place again in light of this. It will be years two years at least, of course, before it ‘starts’ and at least one booming job market in legal wrangling and regulation writing. I wish I could celebrate Cameron’s resignation properly but I just can’t.
Many on my facebook feed see it is a failure of the (Blairite) left to respond to concerns of the working class facing stagnant wages and a shrinking economy and fewer and fewer services and opportunities.
But the news has been heartbreakingly unbearable lately, even more than usual. It hasn’t helped too much to spend every day working so hard physically to produce food rather than politically or with community as before, nor helped much to think of how many bloody and horrific periods of history these barrows or the ridge and furrows have existed alongside and survived, but it resets the perspective a little perhaps.
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.
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
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:
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 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 (188.8.131.52). In addition, early 20th century excavation on the south-western fringe of the moor (184.108.40.206) 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.
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
We followed the sandy path along the curve of the hillside
Sat for a while here, to rest and look out over the landscape
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.
Here it is looking back
The edge of the quarry, picturesque now covered in golden grass and heather
Coming up to Stanton Peak’s trig point
Then back down the far side of the moor, back down into trees past old walls and lined pits
To what must have been another burial cairn
A sheep with the hair of a greek statue
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.
But it did have scenery and chickens
Youlgreave was lovely, but we were too tired to explore it properly…
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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)
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:
Just communities, just cities, Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.