Archive

Mountain Memorials

IMG_0458

Mystery in the mist;

Glinting in a clint,

Offered to the mountain?

Well traveled whiteness.

Void between volcanic rock,

IMG_0460

Exploded out of the earth the dust settles

In water forming

Patterns of the past

Layered

In

Deep

Time

Scafell pike 13.05 15 005

A light released from the land

The hand moves to draw

With chalk of childhood

Sediment writes itself

Scafell pike 13.05 15 011

Alien fragment on lofty Pike

Released from bony white matrix

In Grimes, Wolds, Wessex or Antrim

Remote lands – with still echoes

Of times long gone

Hidden in hollow hills.

Mind wanders to downs and dales

Memories held guide the hand

Moved to make a mark,

Scafell pike 13.05 15 014

Diamond lozenges, tightening skins

Scraped by flakes,

IMG_0453

The beating bodhran calls

Rhythm of the wind – resonating rock

Scafell pike 13.05 15 017

Through heavy brow

Owl eyes bring a sharper focus –

Clouds clear

IMG_0466

Elemental tumbled sculptures emerge

Mountains making their own art

IMG_0472

Look close – layered,  lichen

Reflecting  clasts cast in stone

IMG_0468

No scribe engraved these forms.

Red rememberings of hard nicked hands that

Scafell pike 13.05 15 032

Split sharp hornstone,

Ancient prospector for mysterious XI,

Its unknown source – found?

Scafell pike 13.05 15 026

Cris-crossed with rhombic faultlines

Weathered scallops patinated to grey

Scafell pike 13.05 15 029

Crack,

Hiatus,

Time shifts

Settles again

Present

IMG_0463

Falling back into the earth

Joining the ancestors

Scafell pike 13.05 15 020

Scattered all around,

Crag-high memories now burnt bone offering

Crumbling to constituent carbonates

Merging with the future

Acknowledgements, notes, etc

This chance meeting with a flake of chalk took place on top of Scafell Pike, a place full of modern monuments and offerings, to the dead mainly, many of whose ashes lie around the summit cairn, and older structures that could be interpreted as monuments; the Neolithic Axe working sites. There is a continuity here in this wild place, others have discussed the offerings left by people in the Neolithic period at prehistoric stone working sites including Peter Topping, but here we have a modern offering – for reasons unknown. More recently I was reminded of this by a paper given at BRAG by Andy Merion Jones and Marta Diaz-Guardamino which directly inspired this blog following my serendipitous encounter with the white rock. The title of their presentation was Making the Mark: Imagery and Process in Neolithic Britain and Ireland and included a discussion on the Folkton Drums, below.

London 01.03.13 007

The motifs of the owly heavy browed eyes and lozenge hatching are now being found more regularly as a symbol in the Neolithic period from the West Country to Orkney.  But I was particularly impressed by the detail revealed on the Folkton Drums,see here. Although probably not actually representing drums, these were found in a Neolithic round barrow by the good Canon Greenwell in the Yorkshire Wolds, which region demonstrably had a strong connection with the Cumbrian Mountains on account of the large numbers of Cumbrian Stone axes found there, and this got me thinking…

Pete

Greenburn cairns, Great Gable 11.11.12 032

It’s a long way from Flanders Fields to Great Gable,  hub of Wordsworth’s Lake District “wheel”. For over 90 years a pilgrimage of remembrance has led to a poignant monument, here on the summit rocks, on Remembrance Sunday. It is to those members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club who were killed in the First World War and would never tread these fells again, people pause and take a moment of silence up here to remember all victims of war; mans folly.

Greenburn cairns, Great Gable 11.11.12 054

Cairns have generally been built to mark summits or as way-markers. They are proliferating, people add to them, marking another “Wainwright” climbed perhaps or someone’s passing, some are appropriated as formal or informal memorials to the dead. There is a continuity with the past here, as just some of these summit Cairns are prehistoric, a memorial place perhaps for a local tribe.

Greenburn cairns, Great Gable 11.11.12 048

Now in a dynamic landscape being altered by man, pounded by the constant tread of boots, it is quite hard to identify which cairns have been here for a hundred years or so and which have been for a few thousand years. There are sometimes a few clues to be seen in their eroded structures but otherwise we are reliant on reports of antiquarians and surveyors from a time before the Lake District became popular for walkers. One of these people was James Clifton Ward a member of the British Geological Survey who worked from Keswick in the 1870’s. Although in poor health he walked the Fells and noted unusually large cairns on some peaks such as Seatallan. This particular fell sits on the western fringes of the mountains; an area rich in prehistoric upland settlement remains.

Wasdale 025

Why people chose particular mountains on which to place cairns in prehistory is perhaps too larger subject to address in this blog. However on the face of it there would be an element of aesthetics creeping in here with some on nicely rounded peaks and others on distinctly  pyramidal, whilst others like Seatallan are perhaps chosen for their relative isolation and proximity to Bronze Age settlements. Establishing unequivocally that these are prehistoric burial cairns might only be possible by excavation, exposing any concealed structural elements; it is unlikely that any artefacts or human remains would survive as the environmental conditions are too aggressive.

Rydal High Park 18. 11. 2014 011

I am reminded of mountain burials as I record a cairn-field, which is surely a cemetery, set in a sheltered hollow high above Rydal; a locale rich in prehistoric rock art. One ponders on the connection between the two, both set in an elevated spot with fine views over Rydal Water to the distant Langdale Pikes; surely as good a final resting place as anyone could wish for.

Greenburn cairns, Great Gable 11.11.12 041

After thought…It is interesting to note that as I stood in the misty silence on Gable’s summit around me and amongst the feet of the gathered throng were scattered people’s ashes. Should archaeologists come to investigate these cairns and summits one wonders what interpretation they may draw from the stratified layer of cremated bone from the 21st Century should it survive; Burial Cairns?

Pete

Sources and notes

Clifton Ward’s surveys are recorded in the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 1876/8

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the old plaque has now been replaced with a shiny new one; these photographs are from 2012

The First Ten Words by Rich Larson

Because a guy has to keep his chops sharp

Palaeoman

Living the dream of a prehistoric human

Archaeology and Heritage Digital Recording

Low cost recording technologies

The Stone Rows of Great Britain

Big, Small, Short, Tall, Have we got 'em all?

northshorepottery

studio pottery and ceramic sculpture by Jenny Mackenzie Ross

FragmeNTs

from the National Trust archaeology team in the Stonehenge & Avebury World Heritage Site

Duddon Dig

The survey and excavation of three longhouses in the Duddon Valley

Neil's Mountains

Exploring the mountains and wild places of Britain and Ireland

Archaeology Orkney

Blog for the University of The Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. Please feel free to share any post.

Neolithic And Early Bronze Age Research Student Symposium

Annual Conference for Postgraduate Researchers

Stonehenge Neolithic Houses

An English Heritage experimental archaeology project to recreate houses from 2500 BC