Bone Room Meditations V: The Three ‘F’s – Feasting, Fighting and the Other One

March 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

A fortnight or so ago I attended a lecture by Mike Parker Pearson: Archaeologist of the Year and leader of The Stonehenge Riverside Project. In amongst the many astounding recent findings revealed during the course of his lecture, I was particularly impressed by various speculations regarding ancient human relationships to landscape. How the landscape affects us and how we interpret it, how we read its geomorphology for signs, for meaning. Of course we are viewing these speculative ‘images’ of life in the past from a long way off – blurred by 10 millennia of distance in fact – and even from the close up perspective of the archaeologist delicately skimming away layers of variable soil texture with a trowel* these can be read only as fragmentary picture frames containing broken relics and shattered clues. Except, that is, where chance allows the soil to be undisturbed by worm or plough between burial and discovery; but we’ll come to that.

Two major geographical influences appear to have been brought to bear on the siting of Stonehenge  – one the effect of long dead glaciers, the other the influence of a living river that still travels along much the same course. The glacier carved grooves in the upland chalk, grooves that led in parallel perspective towards the precise location of the rising solstice sun. Geology configured as rebirth. The theory is this could have marked an axis mundi or site of exceptional significance to these peoples – a site that might have been travelled to from all over europe for The Three ‘F’s – Feasting, Fighting and, as Mike puts it, the Other One.

A still virile river flows between the sites, connecting Durrington Walls, the site of a wood henge (once hewn from a living material – and site of enthusiastic feasting on the flesh of pigs) to Stonehenge; that iconic assemblage of immutable sarsens and bluestones that is now considered, in light of the numerous burials that litter its fields, to be a site dedicated to the dead. Thus a watercourse connects the two, the domain of the living is joined by a watery ribbon to the domain of the dead.

Although the site of the quarries is yet to be discovered, lithographic studies suggest that the bluestones were transported from Preseli in West Wales, carried across formidable geographical obstacles to be planted in the Wiltshire landscape. I am brought to mind of the symbolic significance of marble, even the contemporary significance of granite headstones, perhaps even the value ascribed to expensive granite work tables in modern homes. How we will all end up one day on the metaphorical ‘cold slab’. People were packed into the foundations of these stones, almost like the sprinkle of white, phosphate plant food that one adds to the base of a pot before adding a seedling. Again the metaphors of life and death, burial and rebirth throw distorted echoes across the ages.

The final remarkable revelation was the unveiling, from only a few inches below the grass of the plain of a buried surface: 5 square meters of ancient village – where it is possible to walk on the same ground that was trampled by the busy feet of the people who occupied this site 10,000 – 11,000 years ago. The earth is stained dark with organic matter, with the fragile dung and decay of life.

*This is almost the reverse of the process of making paintings, I’m led to think, in this case meaning is extracted through a feeling for texture instead of accumulating in layers of paint.

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