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A grand post from Heritage Landscape and Creativity on Scottish artists from the nineteenth century AD to the third millenia BC!

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‘They are the faults of archaeology rather than art’

LunulaEarlier this year I was privileged to see The Druids: Bringing in the Mistletoe by George Henry and Edward Atkinson Hornel (1890) in the excellent Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.  Only seeing the original painting does it proper justice and I urge you to visit the Kelvingrove to see its full wonder.

The DruidsThe painting was supported by interpretative signage, one of which explained:

Hornel Landscape Needless to say this required further investigation.

In his biography of Hornel, Smith notes in relation to the composition of The Druids,

The half-sphere of the moon on the background is reflected in the curve of the hill and the shapes of the priestly insignia, all echoing the cup-and-ring markings‘.

Looking at the Druid Landscape, Smith underplays the extent to which the lunar has been evoked through the cool silvery quality of the light…

View original post 1,875 more words

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Mystery in the mist;

Glinting in a clint,

Offered to the mountain?

Well traveled whiteness.

Void between volcanic rock,

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Exploded out of the earth the dust settles

In water forming

Patterns of the past

Layered

In

Deep

Time

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A light released from the land

The hand moves to draw

With chalk of childhood

Sediment writes itself

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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,

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Diamond lozenges, tightening skins

Scraped by flakes,

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The beating bodhran calls

Rhythm of the wind – resonating rock

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Through heavy brow

Owl eyes bring a sharper focus –

Clouds clear

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Elemental tumbled sculptures emerge

Mountains making their own art

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Look close – layered,  lichen

Reflecting  clasts cast in stone

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No scribe engraved these forms.

Red rememberings of hard nicked hands that

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Split sharp hornstone,

Ancient prospector for mysterious XI,

Its unknown source – found?

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Cris-crossed with rhombic faultlines

Weathered scallops patinated to grey

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Crack,

Hiatus,

Time shifts

Settles again

Present

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Falling back into the earth

Joining the ancestors

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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

Thus the chant went out early in the morning at Woodstock as the somnolent – LSD weary –  space cadets arose, drawn from their slumbers by the mantra; it was Sly and the Family Stone getting funky. This was recently recalled in a BBC documentary and although never a great funkster myself the pounding rhythm that drives the music many find irresistible and the suggestion was that this was because of its rhythm that mimics the human heartbeat. So of course rock art in high places came to mind…

sly_live

Well, despite the apparent nonexistent relationship between “Funkadelia” and rock art, it’s all about making human connections and this one concerns the auditory element in the creation of rock art. It can’t be avoided, anyone who has bashed two rocks together knows it makes quite a noise, outdoors with an amphitheatre of mountains the sound is amplified and  echoes too, adding to the effect. In a world free of sound pollution this would make a strong impact on people.

Lakes, castlerigg, stanbury, g rock g 050

So the remote Weather Stones on top of Boulsworth Hill came to mind, where I had found an eroded cup-and-ring, cups and grooves on a slab and at an altitude of over 500m this must surely be a candidate for the highest rock art in England!

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Here on the wild East Lancs moors the wind and water eroded gritstone blocks endow an otherworldly feeling to the place, it is transformative, liminal, between earth and sky;

Saucer Stones

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the sun begins to set – a crack between the worlds

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Cold water glows gold

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The pointing finger

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The basin

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This is also a place of myth, also known as Lad Law with  Hill of Slaughter conveniently carved into the rocks below a solution hollow said to be where druids sacrificed…well people?

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Runnels and grooves are also a feature of other rock art sites, most dramatically at Lordenshaw,Northumberland, another elevated site, arguably, set in a ceremonial landscape on the slopes of Simonside Fell, where a friend referred to them as blood gutters, mmm… a touch of hyperbole I hope!

Northumbrian rock art 107

Now unlike the neighbouring Rombalds Moor, across the Aire Valley, this is a locale with rather a dearth of rock art although some cup-marks can be found on the easterly parapet of the pack-horse bridge at Wycoller which appear to be the sections of a broken monolith.

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This is the setting for  Anne Brontes Wildfell Hall, she and her sisters conveyed the elemental nature of these moors well.

A sheepdog – wolf, the queen of hearts

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The auditory force of the rhythmic tapping would have only added to the dramatic effect of the place on any throng that might have assembled. Pounding rhythms using percussion have been used for millennia by shamanic types to create a trance-like out-of-body experience or to be technical Altered States of Consciousness. So we can see that the creative act of producing these rock-marks may have actually had more impact and was the more significant element in that process than the finished impression.

There has been debate over the years as to whether narcotics were used in British prehistory to attain altered states of consciousness, there are suggestions that this was so but on balance I would say the jury is still out. But human nature supported by anthropological examples suggest that  when people find something that intrigues them they use it, and when it means they spend some time out of mind, the thrill seekers do it. Of course there are many cases where this is used as a powerful tool such as in shamanic ritual, these days one difference is that these kind of drugs are available to buy should you so wish.

Lithophone, Peter Crosthwaite

Coming back down to earth in Cumbria and the somewhat more prosaic. The lithophonic quality of the Langdale tuff or clinkstone as it became known has been noted by researchers and we also have a lithophone! The original (pictured) was made in about 1786 by Peter Crosthwaite from Skiddaw slate this, and a more sophisticated version that was played to Queen Victoria in London, is on display in Keswick Museum, I somehow doubt she was amused.

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So some people still seek their escape from the  hum-drum material world. These days some find refuge in the heart throbbing frenetic drug fueled clubbing scene, others seeking flight can still be seen wandering the moors searching for solace, some of those questers you will notice with  their heads inclined earthward, sometimes looking for the eponymous liberty cap fungus, as perhaps people may always have done.

Pete

Sources and acknowledgements

More about the Keswick lithophones can be found here

http://www.leeds.ac.uk/ruskinrocks/relevant-articiles.htm and at Keswick Museum

http://www.allerdale.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/museums-and-galleries/keswick-museum/the-collection.aspx

The picture of the lithophone is from the website of Martin and Jean Norgate and can be found here

http://www.geog.port.ac.uk/webmap/thelakes/html/topics/lithph01.htm

More on English Rock Art can be found here: http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/era/

If you would like an introduction into possible prehistoric narcotic use you could look at Richard Rudgley’s book The Alchemy of Culture

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