Fire and Moon

BuildNBurn 13

Fire and Moon are a powerful combination.  There is no doubting the importance both had in the past, both moon and fire were clearly incorporated into rituals and ceremonies for thousands of years.  What may be less apparent is the power of groups of people building together, a communal effort to create not only structures but more importantly lasting memories of striking events.

BuildNBurn1A week of preparations, involved felling trees, and hand breaking trenches through bedrock to hold the timbers.

BuildNBurn 2Posts were decorated using pigments found from local sources.

BuildNBurn 4Special objects were made in preparation of the events which were to follow.

BuildNBurn 3Everything was set for the arrival of extraordinary figures.

BuildNBurn 5Preparations completed, we were ready…

BuildNBurn 6for transformations through fire…

BuildNBurn 8for remembering ancient stories of the landscape beyond…

BuildNBurn 7for remembering the people who had explored before us…

BuildNBurn 10for measuring things in a new light…

BuildNBurn 9 for transformation, to find a different beauty in wood.

BuildNBurn 11An illumination cloaked in possible pasts.

BuildNBurn 12An intensity of insight, focused at night.

BuildNBurn 14Fire beckoned darkness and called another light.

BuildNBurn 15A monument captured a lunar moment…

BuildNBurn 16 … of rhythms hunted through the ages.

BuildNBurn 17  Memories,

of figures and festivities, fire and moon blended,

blazes.

BuildNBurn 19Could never be revealed in mornings traces ?

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The BuildNBurn approach has been developed with Kenny Brophy and Corinna Goeckeritz.  For some partial insights into other BuildNBurn events, please look at:

Burning the Circle 2013

and

Burning the Circle 2014

Please contact me, if you have any ideas for other BuildNBurn events, we are happy to collaborate.

The BuildNBurn presented above was produced as part of the Joseph Anderson 150 Festival organised in collaboration by the University of Glasgow, Cardiff University, Northlight Heritage, the Yarrows Heritage Trust, Venture North and Northshore Pottery. The Joseph Anderson 150 Festival was supported with funding from the E.ON Camster Community Fund, supported by Foundation Scotland and by Eneco and Venture North. 

The BuildNBurn performance ‘Joseph Anderson Presents The Mysteries of Prehistories’ could not have happened without the support, hardwork and creative efforts of: Tom (Performance and Build); Andrew Baines (Performance); Cara Berger (Technical Advice); Nan Bethune (Storytelling); Alex Carnes (Performance and Build); James Dilley (Performance); Helen Green (Performance and Build); Steve (the sound man) Mills (Audio);  and Brianna Robertson (Song and Technical Advice).  Thanks also to Ian Giles for providing two carved oak plaques for carbonisation.  Many thanks to Islay MacLeod and Catherine MacLeod for providing copious quantities of wood and putting their faith in the BuildNBurn team.  A special thanks to Amelia Pannett who made Joseph Anderson 150 Festival happen and dealt with too many challenges during the week : but we got there in the end !

The Sword Cycle

The ability to transform materials can have an almost magical quality.  There is great skill to be able to source metalliferous ores, smelt them to produce metal and then cast to produce complex objects.

Molten SwordNew SwordWhen a Bronze sword was removed from its, typically clay, mould…

Cast Swordits edges were trimmed, sharpened and blade polished.

A wooden hilt and pommel may have been attached.

Living SwordIf Bronze Age metalwork broke (or was no longer desirable) it could readily be recycled.

Melted down and recast in a different mould.

Fiery SwordIf such objects are not repaired, reused or recycled, they can potentially drop out of the cycle, found by archaeologists, corroded green with time.

Lost SwordWhen recovered properly another cycle of study and learning commences.

Fragments conserved, analysed…

Melted Sword…reassembled and interpreted.

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The Bronze Sword cycle above relates to a Wilburton type sword,  a type in production some time around c 1000 to 900 BC.  About this time Iron production commenced and cycles of production and recycling which may have taken place in the United Kingdom for about 1500 years before were challenged by new powers.

During Burning the Circle 2014 the Bronze sword was placed on the central ‘pyre’ structures which burned fiercely for nearly four hours, and then smouldered to nothing during the remainder of the night.  The broken and fragmented remains of the sword were excavated the next morning, amongst the broken parts were hundreds of small spheres of Bronze.  These spheres indicate that, in the heart of the fire temperatures reached c 950 degrees centigrade, at which point parts of the sword turned liquid.

All images are of activities taking place at Burning The Circle, apart from the hafted polished sword which has been kindly provided by Neil Burridge.

 

Burning the Circle

Burning Before the Mountain

The power of the place became apparent long before the burning began.

When the final timber was erected, we knew there was something potent at this location.

Antler Dig

Perhaps it was the result of our physical labour, of breaking earth with antler pick, heaving timbers into place.  Or maybe it was the growing mood of anticipation amongst those who built this place about what was going to come next: a nervous excitement, an uncertainty of what exactly would happen as night fell, and what the following morning would witness.

Spoil Or perhaps it was the way the mountain top back-dropped the site.  Or maybe it was knowing that you had created something tangible, solid, yet nothing more than a series of fleeting frames.

Wooden Circle

And then there was the creation of a central focus, a figure head, a guardian.  Around which deposits were placed, pottery made by the roundhouse located lower down the hillside.

Carving Head

And, as the sunset, we were ready to commence.

Sunset

It was time, the right time, to burn the circle.

As the light faded, as day was stolen by night, we seized back the light, as the timbers began to blaze.

Ceremony 2

It was transformed, another world, another place, of night and fire.

Burning the Circle

For nearly four hours, we fed more fuel, creating an insatiable heat.

The guardian in the centre of the circle looked on.

Glowing sternly, in quiet contemplation of the events.

Guardian of Fire

In the centre, did it sit between one world and another, night and day, past and present, the sacred and the profane.  What strange things did the guardian see ?

Other Worlds

Hours passed so quickly, months of planning, collection of masses of wood, moving soil and timber, the other world we temporarily created burnt less brightly, faded…

…our past.

Worlds Below

Yet we were left the next morning with the proud timbers, survivors around the guardian.

Survivors

Only two companions had fallen in the night, others had burnt nearly through but stood on, what seemed to be precarious bases, slender charcoal sticks.

Fallen Stump

Then we left the other world.

Trowel our instrument of divining the past. A past so recent, its smell permeated our hair and clothes, our eyes still blazed with a reflection of the night before.

Excavation

So, faithful trowel revealed that, despite masses of fuel (nearly five hours of burning in the night), once the wind had blown ash away and when ground was eroded away, beneath the topsoil there would be no significant trace of the burning to the archaeologist of the future.  In time, only the post-holes, would reveal we were ever there at all.

Fragments

Yet as we departed, we knew we left something more behind, a tangible place overlooked by the mountain.

Place of Fire

They say the guardian still watches from the hillside,

most times it stands a lonely vigil.

But I am sure it has visitors, who mark special times,

who seek a place of quiet contemplation,

a place permeated by a vivid, visceral, vibrant, burning past.

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Burning the Circle was a festival of the Bronze Age delivered in July 2013 in partnership with Northlight Heritage, the National Trust for Scotland, the University of Glasgow and the Isle of Arran Brewery to raise awareness of and celebrate the prehistoric remains on the Isle of Arran. 
There is evidence for timber circles having been built on Isle of Arran, on Machrie Moor, over 4000 years ago.  There are some excavated examples of prehistoric ceremonial monuments in Scotland and beyond where the soil has scorched deep into the ground when they were destroyed by fire.  As part of the event, the timber circle was built for experimental firing to begin to explore what archaeological traces the burning of timber structures may leave behind and to better understand what circumstances are most visible to the archaeologist.
Many thanks to Marvin Elliott for undertaking the fantastic carving with bronze tools. The event was greatly helped by the expertise, in other forms of pyro-technology, of Graham Taylor and Neil Burridge: amazing insights from both.  For another perspective on the events, please visit the Urban Prehistorian.  Big thanks to Corinna, Kenny, Richard, Joss, Steven, Katy, Katie, Kate, Ingrid and Derek they made it all possible.  Looking forward to next years event….!