Wednesday 4 October 2017

In the footsteps of ancestors

As Guardian of the Ringstone [R] I have a duty of care towards the neolithic artwork which we discovered on our property ten years ago. In 2010, after we had recovered all four chunks of the worked face of the rock, we roughly assembled the jigsaw and went for lunch. Over the celebratory meal we talked about what to do with our find. As one of our party was/is an The Man from the State Archaeology Service, there were fewer possibilities available to us (selling it to a passing American, for example). But three sensible options were entertained and each deemed okay by The Man:
  • Move the rocks to a convenient corner of the field and there assemble them face up, looking at the sky. This was the orientation in which the rings had originally been incised. A field corner was going to be avoided by mowers and balers. It meant minimal movement of the mass[es].
  • While we had Niall Deacon and his digger, we could move the relic up to the yard near our house. This would make it easier for visitors to view the wonder. It would also keep them from trudging through our traditional hay-meadow during the Summer Neolithic Art Season.
  • We finally decided to reassemble the ringstone face-vertical in the same gap in the wall where it had originally been hidden and later revealed. This a) honoured the Earth-Mother by showing her map of a sacred landscape; b) honoured the hard-working early 19thC farmers who had split the rock to make the verticals of a gap between fields; c) served us as one side of a wider gateway.
Several people separately suggested that security should be part of our decision making process. There is a cohort of perps who travel round rural Ireland half-inching compressors, chain-saws and ride-on lawn-mowers from barns and out-houses while the legitimate owners are at the mart or at a funeral. I dismissed the idea that someone would come round and take 4 half-tonne lumps of rock to sell at a local car-boot sale. It's just too awkward a proposition; and who would want to buy such a thing?

Then two items popped up on the blogosphere. The first was a fascinating story of a long-distance furniture mover. One of the anecdotes told is that a certain rich fuck celebrity had acquired eight Qing dynasty tombstones and was having them schlepped across the USA. Maybe I should call Aspen Co long-distance and see what price I can get for neolithic Irish original artwork.
The second story by Babis Fassoulas was about the looting of a set of 6 mya footprints from Crete [R]. The really annoying thing about this archaeological vandalism is that much of the value of antient artifacts is their provenance and location. The laws of stratigraphy apply, for example: things under others are usually older. A shoe-buckle or a coin is much more informative if its depth and context is recorded as well as just the site. And a displaced object has lost much of its utility. A paleolithic Venus, for example, is fatuous as well as fat if it finishes up unattributed on a penthouse mantle-piece in Manhattan or Saint Germain-des-Prés.

Then again, then again, Fassoulas points out that leaving sites open to the weather is one way of exposing more layers of our shared history. Mary "Ichthyosaur" Anning went out along the beach from Lyme Regis after storms in the hope that another slab of cliff-face had fallen to reveal fresh bone-scapes. When a softer layer of Cretan mudstone erodes, fresh tracks appear on the landscape as glistening puddles heading into an ancient future.

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