Pipe-Lines

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Much to my surprise the field behind our house hasn’t been ploughed yet. This is good news for the birds: lots of wheat gleanings to forage amongst the stubble. And gleanings for the erstwhile archaeology student too (that would be me). Since late September I’ve been walking back and forth to allotment across Townsend Meadow, and as I go I pick up the remains of old clay pipes; the residue of ploughmen-past.

After rain the bowls look like bird skulls emerging from the mud. I dig them out and bring them home to wash. The bits are mostly quite plain, except for indistinct maker’s stamps on the bowl bases. But then, most unusually, I found a stem with a well known manufacturer’s mark  on it: W.Southorn & Co, Broseley.

Clay pipes were made in this corner of Shropshire from the late 1500s when Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the nation to tobacco. In the 17th century there was a pipe works on Much Wenlock’s High Street, but at this period it was the Southorn works in King Street, Broseley, a few miles from Wenlock, that was much more  famous. As well as work-a-day models they produced the most elaborate creations including the delicately long Churchwardens (for a long cool smoke). In fact so great was the international reputation of the factory the pipes themselves came to be known as Broseleys. It was thriving trade too, the fragility of the product doubtless stimulating repeat orders. During the 19th century Southorns employed 90 workers.

The works were still in operation until the early 1950s. The pipe kiln there could hold between 75,000 to 100,000 pipes for each firing which lasted 4 days. When the factory closed, the place was simply left, remaining just as it was when the last worker closed the gate behind him. I remember walking past it in the 1970s and ‘80s. It still belonged to the Southorn family then, but remained, much like Miss Haversham’s wedding breakfast* in a time warp all its own. The premises are now in the care of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.

There is some extraordinary 1938 archive film of the works HERE.

* Great Expectations Charles Dickens

Line Squares #28

Fancy Living Along Iron Age Lines?

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And surely a query worth contemplating. For instance, how would we get on without all our high-techery and labour-saving homes? Or fare without the daily multiple-choice comestibles. Or the mass entertainment streams. Or the means to travel where and when we want and in great comfort. Or the shopping opportunities by land, air and internet.  Would we think it a life worth living without plumbing and waste management systems? Would we feel ourselves utterly impoverished? Could we even survive as our ancestors survived over tens of thousands of years?

Of course by the time we in Britain reached the era of technological development that archaeologists call the Iron Age (c. 800 BCE to 43 CE and the Roman invasion), the manner of existence is at least broadly recognisable to us. People lived in farmsteads and fortified villages and belonged to regional tribal groups ruled by individual chiefs (men or women). These people were horse-riding, chariot-driving warriors as well as farmers. They also had specialist metal workers, potters, and weavers. They built hillforts on a monumental scale (e.g. Maiden Castle, Danebury, Old Oswestry). Some were inhabited. Some were not. Some were elaborations of earlier earthworks begun in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Their exact purpose is often unclear – tribal prestige, defence, seasonal market and ritual gathering places. All of these.

Some things we do know about Britain’s Iron Age people – they were prosperous farming folk employing improved methods of agriculture (iron-tipped ploughs and new strains of barley and wheat; they cultivated peas, flax, beans; they raised pigs, sheep and cattle). The great numbers of Iron Age sites suggest that the population was on the rise. Nor in Britain were they isolated islanders. They traded with continental Europe, exporting (in particular) grain, hunting dogs and rain-repellent woollen capes, possibly also slaves, and importing wine in return. At least three to four hundred years before the Romans arrived, Greek, Phoenician and Carthaginian traders were coming to Britain for Cornish tin.

The southern British tribes had their own coinage. Iron Age smiths worked in gold as well as iron and created torques, brooches and bracelets of unsurpassed beauty as well as magnificently wrought swords and shields. Many that have survived appear to have been votive offerings, placed in lakes and rivers. Roman historians write of druidic cults and of human sacrifice and other deemed dark Celtic practices.

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The photos here were taken at Castell Henllys, a promontory fort in the uplands between Newport and Cardigan. Excavations have been continuing on this small hillfort site since the 1980s, and for the last twenty years it has served as a training ground for York University archaeology students. The reconstructions are based on the excavations and occupy parts of the site where there is no archaeology. The outlines of the original excavated homes of these Iron Age Celts are marked with posts. When we were there some primary school children were using them to weave willow panels – the basis of Iron Age wattle and daub house wall construction. (Seen in the distance in the next photo; also the reconstructed fort gateway).

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The main frame of the houses (20-30 feet in diameter) comprises some pretty heavy duty posts, the roof thatched with grasses laid on cross laths. There is no chimney, but the smoke from the central cooking hearth would have risen through the rafters and helped to seal the thatch. It would have been pretty fumy, but also draughty too with a wide gated entrance.

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As you can see, the houses were spacious inside, probably catering for one family unit while the settlement as a whole would be made up of extended family members. The primary school children were having a fine time learning domestic skills.

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Iron Age cookery lesson.

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The Granary

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Artist’s impression: Castell Henllys in around 300 BCE

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The fortifications around the houses certainly suggest their inhabitants were well prepared for marauding invaders. Archaeologists uncovered an unusual feature in the outermost line of defence – a ‘cheveaux-de-frise’ – a formation of embedded rocks placed to stop chariots in their tracks, and within sling-shot range. And to go with it, a large hoard of slingshots was also discovered, placed in readiness behind the rampart. Both finds are more commonly known from European and Irish sites.

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And what happened here after the Romans invaded? It seems the people adapted. Just north of the hillfort there are remains of a Romano-British farmstead. Life goes on then, but not always as we expect it to.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Related: https://tishfarrell.com/2013/06/18/the-great-earthly-curves-mystery-what-when-and-why/

Line Squares #18

More Ancestral Lines ~ Carreg Coetan Burial Chamber

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The remaining stones of this ancient burial chamber sit in their own grassy sanctuary amid a little enclave of holiday bungalows in Newport. The Cadw noticeboard (the official Welsh heritage service that cares for such monuments) says it was built around 6,000 years ago. Long ago excavations inside the tomb uncovered cremated bone, stone tools and pottery belonging to the Neolithic period. These days the huge capstone balances on only two of the four upright stones. Once, too, the whole structure would have been covered  by a mound of earth as at Pentre Ifan.

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Carreg Coetan is one of several similar tombs along the River Nevern valley, all lying in sight of the craggy top of Carn Ingli mountain. That it survives now so well embraced by 21st century domesticity is either heartening or incongruous depending on your view. I rather like it. It reminded me of Brittany and coming upon a similar burial chamber that had been incorporated into the structure of a farmyard shed, the capstone providing a substantial door lintel, and elsewhere a long barrow whose gallery served as the crypt for a village church built in medieval times. It could anyway be timely to tap into some ancestral thinking. I feel they might tell us to review our values and pdq.

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Line Squares #10

Who Needs CSI Forensics? Though You may need your Glasses ~ A Welsh Potter’s Thumbprint circa 1530

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It was an extraordinary find, so tucked away. For a couple of days we’d been reading the signs to Kiln Odyn, but the message had not been sinking in. And then it did. And off we went – a short walk from the Castle Inn where we were staying, and up a little alley beside the old Memorial Hall and there it was: the best surviving medieval pottery kiln in the United Kingdom.

Stranger still was the story of its discovery. In 1921 the people of Newport began work on the building of a Memorial Hall in remembrance of community members who had died in the Great War. In the midst of digging the foundations, builders uncovered two medieval kilns. The National Museum of Wales was alerted. Its director, Dr. Mortimer Wheeler, so-called ‘father of British archaeology, was swift to ensure the site was preserved. This included having the National Museum put up the £20 he said was needed to adapt the building plans and so keep the archaeological site intact within the new Hall’s basement. A trap door would provide access to the remains..

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And so it remained for nearly a century until 2016 when the community decided the Memorial Hall facilities were badly in need of an update. There followed a scheme of creative refurbishment and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which meant the kilns, by now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, could also be re-excavated, conserved and put on permanent view. All it took was the installation of a very big window in the side of the building and some heavy-duty spotlights.

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Also added were some very thoughtful outdoor information panels designed by students of Carmarthen College. Their artwork brings medieval Newport to life. We meet the master potter and his family and see how they might have lived and worked.

We’re also told what a busy market town Newport would have been during the lifetime of the kilns (c1470-1530); not only a port exporting goods, which may well have included the jars and jugs from the pottery, but also a stopping place on the pilgrims’ route to St. David’s in south Pembrokeshire. And in 1485 we are also told there was a very particular event: Henry Tudor passed by the town, and what a sight that would have been – an army 2,000 strong, marching on to Bosworth to win the English crown and found a new royal dynasty. One of the panels further conjectures that the potter’s son might have gone off to join the army, escaping the hard work of digging, potting and firing for the thrill of battle and adventures in foreign parts.

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Kiln Odyn produced high quality domestic wares of the day: cooking pots and pitchers, alembics for lotions and potions, ridge roof tiles for high status buildings. The work, from digging the clay to selling the pots would have involved the whole family, skills passed down the generations. The Lord Marcher, who owned all the lands, took his cut of the potter’s profits instead of charging him rent.

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Credit: artwork by the students of Carmarthen College.

Accounts of the 2016 archaeological excavations HERE and HERE and some details about the pottery shards recovered with reconstructions of jars and jugs HERE

Line Squares #9

 

 

Derbyshire’s Arbor Low ~ They Call It The Stonehenge Of The North

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Unlike Stonehenge a visit to Arbor Low does not include accompanying hosts of fellow enthusiasts, tacky gifts and bad coffee, nor the parting with large sums of money to go in (adult ticket £16.50). In consequence there are absolutely no facilities, no opening or closing times, and thus no need to pre-book to avoid the rush.

There is, however, an honesty box by the farm gate, and a requested fee of £1 per person. This is fine by me. The monument, though scheduled, is on private land. The farmer has to put up with the repeated nuisance of standing stones devotees, although on the September afternoon of our visit, takings suggested that scarcely a couple of dozen others had preceded us that day, and as we set off from the car there were only three people ahead of us on the track.

The only problem with Arbor Low is that once you’ve trekked through the farmyard and across the field to visit Derbyshire’s most important Neolithic henge (one’s head inevitably full of Stonehenge images, and lots of anticipation) it all looks decidedly flat when you get there, and so quite lacking in the upstanding drama of its more famous southern analogue. And while Arbor Low surely has considerable edge when it comes to setting (a thousand feet up on a limestone crest of the White Peak)  one wonders why the comparison has been implied at all. Isn’t Arbor Low its own special place?

I suppose, then, that mentioning the two sites in the same breath is really more about emphasising their prehistoric importance than suggesting any correspondence in physical scale or appearance. Arbor Low is anyway a much smaller circle. But it does have its own unique features, apart from the recumbent stones that is. These include a very impressive encircling ditch and an outer rampart with the added extra of a later Bronze Age round barrow built across its southerly bank. You can see it on the right of the next photograph.

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So now that I’ve raised the vision of Stonehenge with its great sarsen lintels, I want you to forget it, and think about digging. The time is some four and half thousand years ago. I am the foreman, and I am handing you an antler pick, and maybe a cattle bone shoulder-blade to use as a shovel. We have marked out a circle some 70 metres across, and now you have to start digging 3 metres down into the limestone bedrock, while shovelling up your spoil to create the outer bank.

After many, many, many man-, woman-, and child-hours you can step back and regard the massive earthwork thus created. The freshly dug limestone of the rampart will doubtless have an unearthly white-grey glow. It will be visible from miles around, despite a more wooded landscape than today. At sunrise and sunset it will look spectacular against the skyline, the bank much taller and with a sharper profile that the present remains. In other words, it cannot be mistaken for anything other than a highly prestigious, and momentous man-made structure – the visual shock equivalent of coming upon a designer high-rise in the middle of a wilderness. Or maybe Starship Enterprise.

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After all the digging you are left with a central oval platform around 50 metres across. Perhaps the limestone slabs are already located there, set up on end, and bedded, after much hefting and shunting, in the rocky ground. They could have been worked during the making of the ditch, or sourced from somewhere nearby. In any event, they would have involved considerable effort given your limited toolkit of stone, wood and bone.

From outside the earthwork – and because of the height of the outer bank, you cannot see either the stone circle, or to observe anything that is going on within. Stepping through the entrance to view the newly built monument is thus perhaps a deliberately contrived catch-your-breath moment: the scene before you covert, unnerving, awe-inspiring, drama-filled. If some ceremony is in progress – a narrative declaimed or sung, the outer bank will amplify the sounds in mysterious ways – echoing, resonant, other-worldly; it may be a place of loud whispers.

There will perhaps be no grass cover, just an exposed limestone arena. Around the oval platform you will see some forty standing stones.

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In the centre there is also some kind of sanctuary, a rectangular configuration of more standing stones. The barrow on the southern bank is not yet there. It will be another thousand years before this spot is used as a burial site – perhaps by strangers, perhaps by the distant descendants of  you henge builders. These newcomers have also built another barrow, Gib Hill, just across the field from Arbor Low. Here they raised their own tomb atop the long barrow built by your forebears, a monument that possibly long preceded the stone circle. And so although you can no longer remember the rites and customs of these ancestors, you do know that, like the great mediaeval cathedrals of Europe with their roots in Roman and Saxon times, this place was considered ‘sacred space’ for a millennium and more…

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And so back to reality and the flattened circle we see today. No one knows when the stones were laid low or why. There are other so-called recumbent stone circles in Britain. Sometimes some of the stones have also been buried. Superstitious dread could have much to do with it: an attempt to neutralise the stones’ power perhaps. There is also archaeological evidence in other contexts that suggests that the prehistoric occupants themselves have ritually ‘closed’ particular sites, perhaps prior to moving to a new centre of operations. There are other more practical reasons too: later farmers came along and simply re-used or moved the stones because they were ‘in the way’.

I also seem to remember from my student field-trip days to Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire that one of the stones had been buried in mediaeval times to cover up a murder. When the stone was being restored to its upright position, beneath it was found the grisly remains of a surgeon-barber, identifiable by the tools of his trade that were still with him. More fanciful interpretations of this find could of course suggest the presumed continuing practice in pagan sacrificial offerings, i.e. the kind of activity that we modern folk so very much like to associate with all ancient stones.

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I suppose one of the most surprising things I discovered about Arbor Low is that there has been no archaeological exploration of this site since early Victorian times when the local antiquarian Thomas Bateman of Lomerdale Hall, and serial excavator of prehistoric barrows, tackled the place. It was he who discovered a human burial in the stone circle barrow and, during his Gib Hill excavation, uncovered a stone cist (a slab built tomb) in which the cremated human remains were placed along with an urn and offerings of meat and flint tools. And this, it seems, is all that is known.

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So many mysteries then, and no likely answers. Instead I’ll leave you with the words of Thomas Bateman and his description of Arbor Low from his Vestiges of the Antiquities of Derbyshire 1848:

…the solitude of the place and the boundless view of uncultivated country are such as to carry the observer back through a multitude of centuries, and make him believe that he sees the same view and the same state of things as existed in the days of the architects of this once holy fane.

 

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

“the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns” ~ Or Is It?

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Every other Thursday we’ve taken to popping along Wenlock Edge to Church Stretton. This used to be Graham’s daily commute – eighteen miles of Shropshire hills, old quarries, small villages and neat farm fields. Oh yes, and the occasional deer. Just now the Edge woodlands along the road are a haze of blue bells and bursting greenery. We never fail to think how lucky we are to live in such a place.

The object of the excursion is to stock up on organic and other ethically produced foodstuffs at my sister Jo’s brilliant shop – Entertaining Elephants  (a name coined by the previous owners from Maurice ‘Where the Wild Things Are’   Sendak’s  Alligators All Around  alphabet book.

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With the shopping done, a few picnic items gathered together, and the weather apparently in spring-mode, we decided to head west around the southern end of the Long Mynd towards Bishops Castle and the Welsh Border, and so to the Bronze Age stone circle of Mitchell’s Fold.

The last time we were there was at least twelve years ago and it had been snowing (see header photo). I don’t remember what prompted us on that occasion to drive out to so remote a place in such bad weather. We weren’t even living in Shropshire at that time, but in the midst of Christmas visiting from Kent. I remember tramping up the icy track to the circle, and despite the bitter cold, being entranced. All of Wales spread before us. It was like standing on top of the world – a parallel universe of Celtic warriors, old gods, poets and shamans.

On Thursday our notions of spring proved deceptive. Once out of the valleys the wind was vicious. We huddled in the car on top of Stapeley Hill to eat the picnic since attempts to stand outside blew the food away. While doing this we observed and were observed by a passing police Range Rover, which carried on over the hill track on a route that was distinctly signed ‘no vehicles’ and disappeared into Wales.

Police car – what police car. There it was gone. Very odd.

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Having got ourselves this far, we determined not to give into wimpishness, and inappropriate clothing, and pressed through the gale to Mitchell’s Fold. Of course it was not ideal photographing conditions due to wind, haze, midday light and cold fingers.

An English Heritage information board had made an appearance since our last visit, although I thought its proximity to the circle rather insensitive. It anyway did not have a great deal to tell us, other than the monument is now believed to be at least 3,000 years old, and that the largest of the standing stones was once one of a pair, probably forming an impressive portal. I’m assuming that the presumed partner is the one you can see lying prone beside it. The stones are local dolerite.

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As stone circles go, it is no Stonehenge, but it does have the edge (in all senses) when it comes to setting:

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Looking back into Shropshire from the circle (and on maximum Lumix zoom) you can see the cairn-like summit of the Devil’s Chair on the ridge of hills known as Stiperstones, a wild terrain of old mine shafts, ghosts, satanic dread and legend:

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And then when I turned back to the stone circle, there was that strange lone figure loping through the stones. Here he is again (btw the title quote is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet ).

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It seemed like a good moment to leave, although not before agreeing that we would return in summer – with hopefully more warmth and some clearer skies.

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As ever, as we return to the car, Graham is in my shot. Here though he is providing a convenient marker for some ancient  medieval rig and furrow plough marks. You can just make out the light and dark stripes running  north-south in the cropped grass behind him. At least I’m assuming that this is Graham and not another traveller from the undiscovered country of Shakespeare’s imagined after-life. In places like Mitchell’s Fold you just never do know.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

P.S. For more on the earlier trip to Mitchell’s Fold see my long ago post Witch-catching in the Shropshire Wilds – also including the legend about the wicked witch Mitchell, who gave the place its name.

Even though she’s off on her travels again, and by way of wishing her the best of times, I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk

 

 

The Winter Walker

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You can step back through time on Wenlock Edge. The trackways across the ridge-top have doubtless been trodden by itinerant traders since Stone Age times. In fact if I didn’t know that the lone figure on the path ahead of me was Graham, I might tell you that this is the shade of a six thousand year-old stone axe merchant, or a four thousand year-old Bronze Age smith. Or closer to our time, say two thousand two hundred years ago, it could be an Iron Age farmer trekking through the woods.

There are also traces of Roman farms either side the Edge, and from the Middle Ages until modern times the limestone from which the Edge is formed would have been quarried for building and for iron making, and also  burned in kilns to make lime mortar and fertilizer. And then there is the 400 million year geological history of the Edge itself – starting in times before fish had evolved, let alone mammals. (I won’t mention the four foot long giant water scorpions that lived back then).

But landscape as a portal to the past – it’s an intriguing notion.

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This week at Black & White Sunday Paula’s guest, Lisa Dorenfest, gives us the theme of ONE. Please go and see her stunning photo, and Paula’s own response to the challenge.

This was a good day: Great Zimbabwe

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I’ve posted this photo before, but then it was a very good day all those years ago in Africa. And it’s also good to remember days when I looked a lot younger. (Or maybe not).

As you can see, all was bathed in old-gold light at Great Zimbabwe. The air was dreamily soft – much like a September Indian Summer day in England when all is drowsing except for the buzzing of wasps and bees.

Surprisingly, we had the place to ourselves. There we were, utterly free to wander about, seeking out the spirits of this once thriving African city of cattle herders and gold traders.

I remember pressing my palms on the granite blocks of the Great Enclosure and feeling their warmth, and wondering, too, at the sheer height of the walls that had no mortar to hold them  fast for 700 years. Just imagine the skills needed to build walls like this, and think, too, how the white elite that once ruled Southern Rhodesia attributed this astonishing structure to Phoenicians, Ancient Egyptians, the Queen of Sheba, in fact to pretty much anyone who was not a member of the local Shona people who did construct it.

It was at times like these that I discovered that archaeology was not the benign, gently antiquarian discipline that I had spent three years of my life studying. No indeed. In certain quarters archaeological ‘evidence’ can be grossly perverted to sell false credentials to justify the rule of unjust rulers. I find it both sad and shameful that amongst such self-appointed elites even old stones can become the object of racist bigotry.

But wait. Such thoughts are spoiling the day, and there is still so much to see. There are  mysteries too. Why were these city walls raised up so high when there is no evidence that the entrance gateways were ever closed, or even defendable? What was the purpose of the extraordinary stone tower? Why was this place abandoned, left amid the granite hills as the people simply gathered their cattle and belongings and walked away?

For more of Great Zimbabwe’s history see my earlier post:

Abandoned: Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe general view

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Today Was a Good Day

Pondering on what makes us human: that would be shopping, then?

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So what does make us human? What differentiates us from our closest relatives the great apes? These were some of the questions posed to us as students of Prehistory & Archaeology way back in the 1970s. Naturally, the philosophical framework of a course with such a title is going to be artefact-driven. Archaeologists deal in physical remains. Prehistory means there is no written record. Mostly all we are left with are bones, stones, post-holes, hearths, bits of wood (if we’re lucky), stains in the soil, and that prehistorian’s joy of joys – the rubbish pit and/or midden.

(After all, there is nothing so fascinating as poking through other people’s garbage – as long as it doesn’t smell too much. Just think what future archaeologists will make of our landfill sites, and what their contents will say about us. See WALL.E  the movie for starters.)

But back to that ‘what makes us human’ question.

In the early 1970s it was widely thought that the appearance of tools was a key criterion. Their construction suggested evolving cognition and the ability to forward plan. Tool-making further  presupposed the facility to walk upright, thus leaving hands free to access materials, and to fashion them for preconceived purposes.

For a time this seemed a useful marker, but then as palaeontologists delved ever further back through the remains of our pre-human ancestors (mostly in Africa’s Rift Valley) it became clear that even by 2.5 million years ago, pre-humans were making tools. The picture was further confused by the realisation that chimpanzees also make tools, albeit crudely fashioned ones – e.g. hammers to crack open nuts, or break into bee hives.

Large brain size was another criterion (judged back then on the basis of the cranial capacity of skull remains), this supposedly indicating a well developed intelligence. I’ve never liked this much, feeling it had a whiff of eugenics about it.  I also remember finding it perplexing to discover that Neanderthal brains were apparently larger than those of modern humans even though Neanderthals were supposed to be ‘inferior’.

None of this seemed to advance my understanding at that time, and besides, now we find that back in the Paleolithic, and  in two distinct phases hundreds of generations apart, humans of the northern hemisphere interbred with Neanderthals. The evidence is there in our genomes.

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I left Prehistory behind long ago. As a discipline, I felt it never would be capable of revealing the aspects of humanity that are truly important. And while inferences might be drawn (read: guesses made) about social, religious, political and economic systems from the fragmentary remains of ancient humans, archaeology alone cannot retrieve the all important drivers of human development, the intersecting sets of shared beliefs that create human culture.

After all, we do not know why Stonehenge was built, or what people actually did there, or who organised its building and the activities that took place within the great stone arcades. We never will know. But we can date associated remains, source materials, conjecture on construction techniques, work out how long the place was used, and then we can admire it as an astonishing edifice built by people with an apparently limited technology.

The physical remains,then, are indeed important, but what I really want to know is what was the intention of  its builders; what beliefs led to Stonehenge’s conception and realisation.

By now you may be wondering why this post includes scenes from Dubai, including the 9th century pot above. Here’s a clue from the bazaar:

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And another from the Gold Souk:

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And at the Dhow Harbour:

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And in the mall:

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Yes, you have guessed it. Trade is the clue. And so, having ruminated on archaeology’s limitations, I can say that one of the things it does do well is reveal ancient trading  patterns across the globe. In fact only last week it was announced that a study of sediments from a waterlogged 8,000 year-old Mesolithic (ostensibly hunter-gatherer) settlement in the English Channel contained introduced wheat grains that suggest trade with European farmers.

In this regard then, the movement of goods, the origins and spread of food species can be tracked across the millennia. We can thus surmise that even 8,000 years ago humanity was already out shopping, and that, down the ages, this would seem to be one shared behaviour pattern that is exclusively human. We all do it, and probably always have, because whatever territory was commanded on a day to day basis, it probably did  not provide for all its inhabitants’ wants and needs.

There may have been the need to share with other groups a particularly good source of flint for tool making. Inland and maritime communities would have met to exchange materials and foodstuffs. There would also have been the pressing need to find mates well outside the group of related family members. And there might have been a yearning for salt or, in season, for honey or for a particular fruit, all of which might have involved negotiation with outsiders. Fresh water sources might also have been at issue, or the need for extra hands for some seasonal hunting or farming pursuit. And so, for these reasons and more, we would have traded, bartered, exchanged, made treaties and contracts, formed alliances, given and received gifts. This was also probably how some us of ended up with Neanderthal DNA in our genomes.

From the historical record we also know that when it comes to dealing in resources and commodities, hostilities may be instigated, or suspended depending on those whose interests rule. Safe havens, forums, fairs, markets, shopping centres, bazaars, souks, malls are places we all recognise. In the past such gathering points would have also provided venues for song and dance, spiritual and ritual observance, political rallies, exchanges of information and specialised services, the telling of tales.

Dubai, these days, is one of the world’s shopping capitals, reinvesting its wealth from oil refining and trade in the ’shop till your drop’ model. It brings together the concepts of the marketplace and the caravanserai, but on a mega, upmarket 5* scale. Yet it also draws on ancient roots, and on actual trade routes that go back to at least 3,000 BCE. Back then copper and the pearls dived for off Dubai Creek were the stock in trade. Later, as commerce between the Mediterranean and the East began to thrive, dhow merchants made the most of Dubai Creek’s favourable geographical position. The trade continues, only now it is western cars, refrigerators and Coca Cola going east, while the spices, as they have for centuries, come west.

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Shopping then, provision and consumption, is, I suggest, what makes us uniquely human. And while I admit that this does not seem a particularly elevating pursuit for our time on this wonderful planet, it nonetheless engages pretty much all of us, from Manhattan bankers to Congo hunter-gatherers. Multifarious  mechanisms of exchange bind us in relationships of largely peaceable cooperation.  The squabbling over resources, and corporations’ drive to make profits at others’ expense threatens us and our planet. But either way, it is hard to see where this never-ending shopping spree will take us. Maybe we need to take a hard look at those landfill sites of ours, and consider what future archaeologists will have to say of us.  I’m not sure we will want to hear it.

 

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

Inspired by Jennifer Nichole Wells and her One Word Photo Challenge: teal

 

DES RES ~ Nouveau Roman Anyone?

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I think I may have mentioned somewhere on this blog that, a few miles up the road from Wenlock, we have the remains of Wroxeter Roman City aka Viroconium aka Uriconium. In its day it was one of the largest urban settlements in Europe (AD 47 – AD 650). Most of it still lies under farm fields within the broad sweep of the River Severn, although the outlines of houses and roads have been eerily revealed in aerial photos and  LADAR surveys.

For centuries, too, farmers at their  ploughs have turned up marvellous Roman artefacts. Even now, if you walk the fields after harvest you can easily spot the polished terracotta shards of fine Samian pottery among the wheat stubble. Archaeological excavations have been on-going for decades. I dug there myself aeons ago, as an undergraduate archaeology student who needed to rack up some fieldwork  experience. The exposed remains are now in the care of English Heritage, and many of the finds are on display in the site’s small museum. More of the collection has been recently re-displayed at the county’s new Shrewsbury Museum.

But now we come to the Roman Villa in the photo – this ‘desirable town residence’. Its appearance here was prompted by Jo’s ‘restoration’ challenge. Strictly speaking, this is not so much a restoration as a  reconstruction. Although on the other hand, you could say that its builders did attempt to use only Roman construction methods – thus ensuring the restoration of long-lost skills. They did, however, have to apply for present day planning permission before they could start work.

And the whole project came about as part of a TV series on UK’s Channel 4 – Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can have virtual tour of the villa HERE

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Of the original city, there is not a great deal to see, although the remaining high-standing basilica wall is pretty impressive, and did feature rather splendidly in Simon Schama’s epic A History of Britain TV series. You can see the first episode in which it and the surrounding remains feature at 40 minutes in:

Simon Schama’s A History of Britain

 

One of the reasons why the physical remains of this large and long-lived city are so few is because the building stone was recycled through the ages. If you walk down the lane to Wroxeter Church you will find that Roman pillars have been used to make the gateposts. Doubtless much more of the Roman stonework found its way into the body of the original Anglo-Saxon, later Gothic church. The church is redundant now, and looking rather sad.

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And finally, I can’t leave you without showing off some more Roman treasures that may be found in Shrewsbury Museum’s Roman gallery. The finest object of all is a polished silver mirror, made in the Rhineland but found in Wroxeter forum’s courtyard. It dates from the AD 2oos. Its convex design, and the weight of the silver suggests it would have been held by a slave or servant so ‘my lady’ could admire her latest hair-do. Enjoy!

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Back of a convex silver mirror, circa 3rd century AD, Shrewsbury Museum.

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Restored section of Roman mosaic floor from Whitley Grange Roman Villa, near Shrewsbury.

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The Shrewsbury Hoard: over 9,000 coins dating from 280 AD to the following century. The coins were wrapped in cloth bags and buried in a big storage jar.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

 

For more restored pieces go to: Jo’s guest challenge ‘restoration’. Also check in at Paula’s response at Lost in Translation Thursday’s Special