My Lord Essex
Old stones and the sea
Riding into history
The folk that lived in Liverpool
So tyger fierce took life away
Editor Mike Pitts
If you’re going to blow it, you might as well blow it big-time. Inspired by ubiquitous TV archaeology, last summer Marion Garry began auto-excavating her garden in Buckhaven, Fife when she came across some old-looking flat slabs. She alerted archaeologists at Fife Council to her discovery, who in turn thought that Mrs Garry’s dig might represent a significant archaeological find. Situated on a raised beach next to the sea, the site ‘had all the hallmarks of ancient building techniques’ and Fife Council set to excavate. As the work progressed the archaeologists discovered some not-so-ancient artefacts, including a World War II child’s gas mask, and they soon realised that far from uncovering a Viking settlement they were in fact excavating a 1940s patio. ‘Buoyed up by the fact that we were digging for something of some significance, we kind of ignored these tell-tale signs,’ Douglas Spiers, chief archaeologist at Fife Council told BBC Radio Scotland. ‘Looking back now, that probably wasn’t the best approach’.
BA readers with long memories and a taste for the odd may recall the name of TC Lethbridge, one-time Anglo-Saxon scholar who excavated what he believed to be prehistoric hill figures in the Gogmagog Hills, Cambridgeshire before getting the hump with the archaeological establishment of the 1950s and retiring to Devon to write about ghosts, dowsing and UFOs. Today Lethbridge’s name is little known, but he hasn’t fallen off the cultural radar of the world at large just yet. A rock’n’roll collective going under the name of The Sons of TC-Lethbridge has recently released A Giant: The Definitive TC Lethbridge, a double CD of music and spoken word in honour of the Great Man. Modern Antiquarian author Julian Cope, members of rock outfit Spiritualized and Colin (The Outsider) Wilson all take part in what surely must be the most extraordinary posthumous festschrift professional archaeology has ever seen. To hear and see more, visit www.tc-lethbridge.com and prepare to have your preconceptions, if not your audio speakers, blown to smithereens.
Amid the strife about what is or isn’t going to happen to the Stonehenge landscape, it’s reassuring to know that at least readers of the Guardian’s Wednesday Society supplement are enjoying an informed debate. A letter published on February 11 from Nell Darby of Chipping Norton got to the heart of the matter: ‘The controversy over road upgrading at Stonehenge raises wider issues. Both the A344 and A303 run very near Stonehenge – so why was approval given for these roads in the first place? Everything these days seems to come down to a conflict between cost and environment, and the environment keeps losing out.’ Good question: just who were the nameless bean counters who gave the go-ahead for the A344 (in the 1760s) and A303 (sometime during the early Medieval period), and why have they not been held to account for their short sighted deeds? But Nell Darby’s confusion pales when compared to the story told by an esteemed archaeological correspondent of Spoilheap’s who, following a lecture delivered in Los Angeles concerning Stonehenge, was asked by an audience member Why’d they build it so close to the road?
Two revs and a crowbar
‘National Trust archaeologists have discovered an arc of buried megaliths at Avebury that once formed part of the great stone circle … the world of archaeology suspected that most of these stones had been demolished and lost forever … until now, no-one had realised that some of these stones had survived intact …’ A press release announcing the first geophysics survey of eastern parts of Avebury delivered the stirring news that at least 15 stones of the outer circle, missing and presumed long gone, in fact lay buried beneath Avebury’s well trampled grass (see News). Nobody likes a party pooper, but Spoilheap must direct readers to Rev AC Smith’s 1884 Guide to the British & Roman Antiquities of the North Wiltshire Downs in a Hundred Square Miles Round Abury, and plate V and pages 139-41 in particular. In 1881 the Rev Smith, the Rev WC Lukis and a gang of five hired men spent several days probing the ground with a crowbar around the ‘vacant places’ of Avebury’s outer circle. When they thought they had come across a stone, the turf was stripped to reveal the buried megalith. The exact positions of the stones they discovered – 18 in all – were published along with a decent groundplan. Didn’t the NT know about these fine antiquarian researches, or were the dreaded doctors of spin at work?
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CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005