Through the Eyes of the Ballachulish Goddess

The Ballachulish Goddess was discovered in 1880 beneath about 10 feet of peat.

When she was lifted from lying face down,

her quartzite pebble eyes stared forward,

unwavering.

How remarkable it would have been, when she was first lifted to gaze upon her, or rather for her to see again, to gaze upon us, for the first time in over 2000 years.

ballachulishfigure-originalphoto

Whether deliberately so, her eyes seem different.  Her larger right eye appears to have a distinct pupil marked, as if staring directly at us, or forward into the distance. While her small deeper set left eye, evokes an inward contemplation, perhaps a second sight to other places and times. Her mouth appears poised, as if about to speak to us, perhaps of some wisdom from the past or I can almost hear the first notes of a song emanating.

Taken back to Edinburgh, she was uncared for, and as she dried out, her fabric twisted and split, presenting a countenance which differs greatly from her appearance of 2600 years previously.  Now a look of shock, or worry perhaps, a permanent rigor mortis – her eyes pleading to be freed from permanent public display.

ballachulish-figure2

Many have speculated, who she is and what she may have represented.  Others have noted that the location she was left was a special place, next to a narrow water crossing, the successful navigation of which allowed travel on land up the west coast of Scotland.

DSC_0526

Some have noted, with the proximity to Beinn a’Bheithir, that the Ballachulish Goddess may in some way be related to the Cailleach Bheithir.  Described by some as the winter storm goddess, responsible for sudden changes in weather, which even in April with snow in the corries and successive bands of icy rain sweeping across Loch Leven still seems within the Cailleach’s purview.

DSC_0524

I cannot contribute much to the story, like many before I wonder who she may have represented – an individual, an archetype, a goddess, named or nameless – perhaps all these at different times.  However, I can reflect on the landscape she was found within and how earlier sites may reveal something of her nature.  Other archaeological sites including cairns and burial cists suggest this part of the landscape had been used for ceremony and ritual by people in the third and second millennia BC.  So the Ballachulish Goddess was located in a landscape which had a depth of story before she was created about 600 BC.

The location where she lay beneath peat for over two thousand years is on the brow of a raised beach.

IMG_20170404_114026IMG_20170404_113900

IMG_20170404_113851

A shore line, when following the last ice age, sea levels rose rapidly and water lapped many meters higher than today.   However, about 600 BC that raised beach line was already a distant memory and much of the ground below had been revealed by falling water levels.

IMG_20170404_113838

Where she stood, she looked over a small islet An Dunnan. When the water lapped at the raised beach line where the Ballachulish Goddess was placed An Dunnan would have been totally submerged. By the time the Ballachulish Goddess was actually placed at the raised beach An Dunnan had been emerging for several thousand years.

DSC_0501

Others before had marked these profound changes. On this islet, there is a small group of cup marks, a distinctive form of rock art dating from the the fourth millennium BC.

IMG_20170404_115046

DSC_0497IMG_20170404_115016

As the water retreated and the island became accessible, perhaps a thousand years later people modified the rock with cup marks.

IMG_20170404_115142

Most striking perhaps is that they are adjacent to significant outcrops of quartz, which even today seem to flow or drip into the sea below.   But in heavy tide or winter storm, they will be washed and partially submerged by the sea.

IMG_20170404_115033

Where the Ballachulish Goddess was located was not only liminal in terms of the distance across a short, but potentially hazardous, stretch of water.  The liminality was also temporal, a place of deeper time where sea and land played out a dance through millennia, as sea levels rose and fell, and then land sprang back up after the weight of an ice sheet lifted.

The Ballachulish Goddess stood poised above An Dunnan, with one of her eyes looking back to when people, perhaps two thousand or more years before had marked rocks revealed by watery transitions.

One quartzite eye staring back calmly at the quartz which marked this place of rock-water which had been birthed as the sea levels fell.

Yet as she stood on the raised beach, she also looked forward with another quartzite eye, to a time

when sea levels may rise again, and

the dance of water-rock continues.

——————————————————————————————————————————-
The images of the Ballachulish Goddess are from the National Museums of Scotland website where more information can be found.
Further information can be found at the Canmore
The original publication of the discovery can be found in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
While further thoughts on the ritual context of the Ballachulish Goddess can be found in an article by Jeff Sanders  ‘The sky almost never falls on your head – why ritual rarely fails’
in
Koutrafouri, V G ‎and Sanders, J (eds) 2013 Ritual Failure. Archaeological Perspectives. Sidestone Pres
And a brief introduction to some of the geology of the wider region.
Advertisements

There Is An Equilibrium Here… ?

Five days and fifty miles I traveled by foot.

Narrating the journey, as a linear movement would be possible, but my experiences were more complex, more entangled, with a range of eruptions and encounters in the changing landscapes which continue to resonate.

Some sense of the journey may be gained, however, through the images below, some of which were incorporated in a joint exhibition held in Caithness, Scotland, in 2016.  Each image, a compound of particular serendipitous conditions, mediated by subsequent selective sensibilities, represents moments of revelation.  Brief entanglements, enchanted, with the rich flows of time and the dynamic inter-relationships between people, other species and landscapes.

The Flow Country, a patch work of Lochs and Lochans, stitched by burns and rivers, often offered views to the distinctive peaks to the south of Morvern, Maidens Pap and Smean.  These peaks guided my journey, topographic beacons, which drew me onward and inwards.

birdland

Bird-land encounters were prevalent, when I couldn’t see birds their song was ever present, even at night my sleep was disturbed by their ghostly clicks and calls.  Only once did bird-land go silent, during my last morning heavy rain confined me to the tent, but it was the energetic call of song birds which told me it was time to depart.

Before my journey commenced, I encountered the realities of the avian beach, where angels wings littered the foreshore : stripped of flesh, divorced pairs of wings, perhaps the work of skuas.  Five peewits mobbed a buzzard ; a heron leaving the Strath, frantically avoids being pulled down by gulls, its elongated body bending unnaturally in utter terror desperately dodging the beaks of kindred.

beach-dream

Stooping for water at Allt nam Beist (Burn of the Beast) there is a huge splash nearby.  I quickly turn to see an Osprey breaking from the water, a fish hanging from its feet, it ascends and turns to the south : I did not exist.

The loch is fringed with deposits of sand, beneath which is sealed peat, erosion reveals the stumps of ancient trees.  No arboreal fantasy but revelations of possibilities.  Moments later, fragments of flint, reveal themselves from where these deposits are being gradually worn by the gently lapping waters.  The forms of the worked flints suggest they were left by hunter-gatherers who also rested at this location, perhaps 7000 years ago.  We probably drank from the same burn, in which small fishes still leap to catch flies, and rested at the shores of the same loch : I almost heard the whisper of their voices.

Abandoned farmsteads in the uplands were prevalent, part of a  widely known story of the depopulation (the deliberate removal of people and change of landscapes) of Caithness and Sutherland, and much of Scotland.  Sheep played their unwitting role in this story, introduced by landowners, with landscapes and communities being re-organised in part to accommodate them on the land in the 19th century.  It seemed appropriate to sleep where the sheep had been penned, so for one night my tent nestled within a small sheep fold.

cotton-grass

The low red sandstone walls gave some shelter to the wind which whipped along the Lochside.  Then I wondered, it was a very small pen, perhaps too small for sheep.  Earlier inhabitations are also found in the uplands, hut circles perhaps four thousand years old, within which I think I slept.   I wanted to mark my brief dwelling at this spot, cotton grass, evocative of fleece, nestled in the cracks of the walls.

aumbry

Many of the longhouses (and shielings) have stone boxes built into the walls.  Aumbries perhaps for cool storage of foodstuffs, or safe display of treasured items.  Years later the soil reveals, the signs of former fertility, a flush of nitrogen, often ring such settlements, a sharp reminder of our loss : stinging nettles (Urtica dioica).

Those rich deposits can also be found in buildings which have been abandoned as sheep shelters – hard won ground, hard won places, lives and loves no more… !

hearth

Deer-land, dear-land, our-land.  For much of my journey I traveled through deer-land.  At first it was their multiple footprints, along shared tracks, least resistance across ground that you would sink deep in peat and water, still used by estates.  Then I encountered the herd, aggregations of stags and larger groups of does.  They watched, with flick of ear and rise of nose, my every move.  Brief silhouette on skyline, flash of white tail, gone.  A few watched longer, the last small groups of does and hinds, tenderness grazed patiently if I kept a respectful distance.  I continued to follow the deer paths, a different form of route along edge of river and burn, their path cutting more directly across loop and meander, a quicker more confident travel which I learned to trust.   One night I was woken by the grumph and roar of stags, so close it seemed they were next to the tent.

iron

Shelter can be found in these lands, a range of corrugated iron bothies, huts and boat houses.  Often a focus for hunting or fishing they are open to all who respects the spaces provided.  In some cases, a chronology of rubbish suggests it has been 20 years since properly used.  Brown rusted skeletal beds, and broken seats greened with age, a reminder of comfort and company long afforded by such places to those who make the journey.

bothy

A tradition of visitation was marked upon the wall of the few I visited, written in pencil, etched in pen and scratched with pen knives, a stratigraphy of dates and names going back to at least the 1930’s.

marks

R Hendry 11th May 1931 Killed Fox Last Night – there is a reality to this landscape, foraged, browsed, managed and changed with time.

My preconceptions of the Flow Country as empty lands was being challenged by the encounters, with the liquid landscape, I could only readily traverse where others had created track and bridge.  Many of the burns were wide and deep enough that a bridge was needed to cross, and if not maintained routes will shut and landscapes become less accessible.  In one case, I balanced precariously, with a full pack, on old railway sleepers which were the only remains of the long gone timber bridge.  Upon which I couldn’t turn back and if I continued was likely to take an early bath.  They bounced and swayed as I slowly edged over, not believing I actually made it to the other side.

bridge

Lichen colonises wood-land above peat quenched waters. They lead us to places of contemplation.  The aggregation of the fishers bothy, the curation and discard of meaningful journeys.

assemblages

Around the huts, slowly sinking into the peat, clinker hulks rotting on the shores of distant lochs.  Small rowing boats, in the main, but evocative of the sea and a wider tradition of boat building.  Rose headed copper rivets, copper nails, plank and cauking, paddles and playful catch.

clinker

For a moment, upland water, settles on the hull of the boat.  I drift, carried on the thermals, dip and rise like the cycle of the swifts, and soar in the gyre.

copper-nails

Woodland disappears beneath peat and the hooves of herbivores. I flow, return to the source.

clinker-beach

We are riveted to the changes of the foreshore, inescapably we are bound to the cycle.

sand

Imagine if we should be able to see worlds in grains of sand…

—————————————————————————————————————————–

In July 2016 I walked solo from Thurso on the north coast of Caitness south, through farmlands and into the watery interior of the Flow Country. Camping for four nights I arrived five days later in Dunbeath. The walk was my approach to developing content for a joint exhibition, with Ian Giles and Andy Heald, at North Lands.  It resulted in a series of photographic prints, texts and sculptures by me which responded to the encounters.

installations

Thanks to Dunbeath Preservation Trust for kindly providing accommodation at the Old School House in the days before and after the journey.  Many thanks to North Lands for their support and to Andy and Ian for the collaboration and companionship to produce the exhibition There Is An Equilibrium Here…

Mice O’ Mote O’ Mark

One year of heritagelandscapecreativity has just passed, so this post has a celebratory tone to it.

On a recent visit to Mote of Mark, an important 5th – 7th century AD fort at Rockcliffe, Dumfries and Galloway,

Mote of Markwe spotted a mouse.

Where,

there on the stair, …

Mouse on the StairRather than being startled and scurrying away, it sat in the path with half shut eyes.

A few steps further up, we then encountered another sleepy mouse content to loll about in the sun before us.

Bleary Eyed MouseUpon descending from the fort, we spotted a further cluster of mice at the side of the path, and scratched our heads at what appeared to be a strange lack of timidness amongst the (brave ?) Mice O’ Mote O’ Mark.

Cluster O' MiceMy son then discovered, a mouse hole, within which a clue to this strange behaviour was revealed.

SourceCrab Apple TreeThe rodent population had been feasting on windfall crab apples, a simple act of fermentation had intoxicated them, and they enjoyed the rest of the day.

Ah the tipsy Mice O’ Mote O’ Mark, continue the ancient tradition of feasting and drinking, which this site had almost certainly witnessed before…

…long may their celebration of heritage and landscape continue.

———————————————————————————————————————–

Many thanks to all of those who have followed, commented, liked, tweeted, blogged, in relation to heritagelandscapecreativity over the past year.  Your interest, enthusiasm and encouragement has been greatly appreciated.

Building Landscapes

Managing Change in Scotland’s Landscapes conference was held towards the end of 2012 to look forward at the next 50 years for Scotland’s landscapes.  It marked 50 years since the first (and, up to that point, only) National Landscape Policy Conference.

Cambusnethan PrioryWhen I was reading the conference presentation abstracts, which are available from here, it struck me that it was deeply ironic the last national conference was held 50 years ago at Cambusnethan Priory in the Clyde Valley, South Lanarkshire: a wonderful building, built in 1819 in the Gothic style, which recently appeared on the excellent Ruination Scotland blog.  Indeed, in the abstract for one of the presentations Reflections on the Past 50 Years, architect Peter Daniels refers to working at the house when he first arrived in Scotland and of its sad demise when it was burnt down for its insurance value….!

Now seen by most as a picturesque ruin, fifty years ago Cambusnethan Priory was a functioning building, and it is, as an A-listed building, Nationally Important in architectural, historical and cultural terms.  Does this ghostly shell, perched on a terrace over looking the River Clyde, still have the potential to breath again?  What will its future be in fifty years time?  Perhaps to answer this question positively we may have to think of it less as a building, and more as part of a series of contiguous spaces occupied by people, integrated as part of a wider cultural landscape.

Well, it should be no surprise that Cambusnethan Priory is listed on the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland (see Cambusnethan Priory) as CRITICAL: which suggests there is some hope and (unlikely ?) possibility of an intervention which stops the ongoing process of decay and collapse but that the window of opportunity to prevent one inevitable future is rapidly passing.

Looking at the accounts of Cambusnethan Priory in the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland of what has happened in this fifty year period (a woeful tale of neglect and deterioration of this property), it is worth reflecting on what occurred since it was saved from demolition in 1967 to its current state.  There are various entries which refer to the deterioration of the building (stripping of interiors, stripping of lead and piping, damage by fire, destruction of roof, bricking up of windows…) and proposed plans for redevelopment (which were objected to and / or refused on grounds of…, or fell through due to funding issues…).  The last recorded proposal for redevelopment received outline planning permission in 1998 but in 2001 was still receiving objections at least in part due to the need for enabling development within proximity required to make the project economically viable / profitable:

Scottish Natural Heritage objects due to concerns at adverse effects on the local environment. SCT objects on the grounds that the scale of the new build would compromise the setting of the Priory and have traffic implications.’ (From Buildings At Risk Register)

Its not clear ultimately why the redevelopment did not take place, whether due to such objections or whether for example the financial package fell apart.  It is, however, interesting that in both cases the objections referred to adverse effects from enabling development on the wider landscape (local environment and setting being referred to).  So ironically the concerns, about getting the balance right between saving the building and ensuring the character and quality of relationships to a wider landscape were protected, recognised that Cambusnethan Priory does not sit as an isolated building but was part a wider cultural landscape.

The now ruined building replaced a 17th century country house after it had burnt down in 1809.  Both structures were (or are in archaeological terms) immediately situated in gardens and designed landscapes, which in some respects were intended to relate the house to the wider landscape, for example with the principle view to the River Clyde.

The Earlier House at  Cambusnethan - from RCAHMS, Canmore

The Earlier House at Cambusnethan – from RCAHMS, Canmore

In its broader context, much of the wider landscape within which Cambusnethan Priory is set is particularly cultural.  Comprising in the 18th and 19th centuries, a remarkable density and quality of country houses in estates, running for well over 20 km in the Clyde Valley.  The gardens and designed landscapes at the core of most of these estates would have been complemented by home farms and a wider suite of cultivated field and orchards.  Many of these estates functioned but based on social inequalities and economic models which were unsustainable: yet created a remarkable character of landscape. This legacy is still evident through the designations as Gardens and Designed Landscapes (GDL) from the west at Hamilton Palace, through Chatelherault, Dalzell House and to the east of the Falls of Clyde.

Now hindsight is a wonderful thing, and perspectives have clearly changed in Scotland about the importance of the historic environment in terms of it wider contributions to economy and society (see for example Scottish Historic Environment Policy).  However, as seen in the case Cambusnethan Priory, the reliance on the market to provide a solution to the plight of such buildings over a twenty year period did not manage to find a viable solution (agreeable to all parties) to save a Nationally significant building and balance the other landscape sensitivities.  Indeed, in the case of other buildings on the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland, such market driven solutions are arguably even less likely to occur in many cases (particularly in rural contexts), not least due to the current economic conditions making finance even more difficult to secure.

However, in other parts of Europe there have been very different perspectives to the relationships between conservation, restoration and regeneration for some time. For example in Holland, The Belvedere Memorandum dating to 1999 linked cultural history to spatial planning with a policy vision which could be summarised as: ‘Conservation through development’ is the motto.’

So I insert a extract from The Belvedere Memorandum, which gives further sense of its spirit:

‘Belvedere is the Italian word for a ‘beautiful view’ but it also appears in the English dictionary as a ‘pavilion or raised turret intended to afford a general view of the surrounding area’. The Netherlands boasts countless such towers, often graced with Belvédère (the French spelling) as part of their names. One can also draw an association with the Belvédère quarry near Maastricht, site of the oldest archaeological discoveries ever made in the Netherlands, some 250,000 year old.
 

With a little good will (and poetic licence), archaeology, building conservation and historic cultural landscapes can be now summed up in one and the same word: ‘Belvedere’. Above all, it must be remembered that a Belvedere is a point from which to expand one’s viewpoint and to look ahead.’

I wonder if such perspectives were held in Scotland in 1999 (or earlier), whether we would be faced with the ghostly ruin which Cambusnethan Priory is, and whether its future in 50 years times would be very different from how its appears now, most likely a mound of collapsed stone, barely recognisable as once having been a building, slowly absorbed back into the last vestiges of a cultural landscape.

Cambusnethan Priory

If we are happy to leave a legacy of picturesque ruins for future generations which will ultimately collapse and disappear we should continue to do nothing.

If as a society we truly value such Nationally important buildings (and the character of the wider cultural landscapes they historically relate to) perhaps we need to take a longer term view about what their regeneration could deliver.  We need to explore how such buildings can become vibrant social and cultural hubs, find innovative new uses for them, and re-imagine how they can potentially relate to activities extending into a wider integrated multifunctional landscape but this would require ambitious proactive strategic funding programmes with input from local and national government.  Perhaps new funding models such as a form of Social Impact Bond could be explored.

Perhaps it is too late to change the future of Cambusnethan Priory but we must learn lessons to ensure such built historic environment assets are sustainably connected to their broader cultural landscapes.

If not, as such buildings collapse and disappear, we can look forward to more work for the archaeologists of the future….

Creative Landscapes ?

Feather BeachWhat is the relationship between landscapes and creativity? Do some landscapes afford more creative potential? Do some landscape characters (e.g. upland, coastal, woodland) inspire and provoke greater creative responses?  Do some landscapes have more components (material, emotional, spiritual, historical, ecological etc) and complexity which can be drawn upon?  Is it the person, the intention, the practice brought to the landscape which catalyses creativity?  Is it a complex relationship, a conversation, between a person and a landscape which co-produces?  Does landscape based creativity capture a fleeting memory of the past, or a glimpse of possible futures?  Is experiencing, dwelling within a landscape, always a creative process: an entanglement, a negotiation, an innate ability to express ourselves in a myriad of different ways?

What landscapes inspire a creative response in you?

Footprints Beneath The Sea

It was amazing to see the footprints which had been revealed by the sea.

Footprints beneath the seaThese are located on the north coast of England and are currently in the inter-tidal zone.  They probably date to over six thousand years ago, when the feet of people and animals sank into the upper surfaces of peat.  They were then sealed beneath sands for thousands of years when the coastline had retreated.  Now, these footprints are revealed daily by the action of the sea, they get covered by water during high tide and are exposed to the wind when the sea retreats: natural rhythms which will eventually scour theme away.  So it is perhaps no surprise they aren’t perfect in form…!

Ancient Peat on CoastlineOur landscapes have changed radically since the last Ice Age.  The water taken up to form ice sheets lowered the sea levels around the world, and where these massive ice sheets sat on land, their sheer weight pressed the ground down.  Since then the ground in Northern Britain has slowly been ‘springing’ back up, and shore lines have changed radically over this period.  Such changes are most strikingly evident, with the remarkable insights in recent years into the submerged landscapes around Britain’s coast, not least with the scientific work which has mapped ‘Doggerland‘: a low lying boggy landscape of river and lakes.  There was thus a time when you could walk across the lower ground between Britain and Northern Europe.

Such insights may cause us to think differently when we pause to contemplate a seascape: in many cases there may be the remains of ancient landscapes preserved beneath the water.

Contemplating SeascapesA location on the coast does, however, mean when such remains are present they are particularly vulnerable to damage through erosion.  Climate change may result in rising sea levels, and more frequent, higher energy, storms and waves, which is accelerating such processes of destruction.  This also now leaves difficult decisions about how we manage our coastlines, and what their character will be in the future: where can controlled retreat, such as the creation of salt marshes, take places; or where do we create hard edges to defend against the power of the seas?

Coastal DefencesIt also reminds us that for millennia people have, not only been transforming landscapes, but responding to the processes of change inherent in them.

A complex dance which sometimes reveals footprints in surprising places…

Creating Natural Wetlands

Landscapes can appear natural but when you understand their history it is clear appearances can be deceptive.

Lake Kirkini PelicanOne such landscape can be found at the center of Lake Kerkini National Park, Greece.  Here there is a striking example of the complex unintended consequences of a major infra-structure project.  In 1932 a dam was built on the River Strymonas to create a massive reservoir for irrigation and flood protection, which also resulted in the creation of a dynamic landscape from the marshlands along the riverside.

Lake Kirkini PelicanThe seasonal water level of the reservoir dropped three meters in depth between spring and autumn-winter, which resulted in a 5000 hectare lake being reduced to almost nothing by winter.  These seasonal changes in water level created riparian forests, with trees being flooded, depending on altitude for between 50 and 190 days of the year.  This dynamic habitat meant Lake Kirkini became an increasing focus of a remarkable range and number of bird life (including pelicans and flamingos) and as such was recognized in 1975 as an internationally important RAMSAR site for migratory birds.

A new dam was built in 1982, which increased the seasonal fluctuation to about a 5 m change in water level, and resulted in the surface of the lake varying from between 5000 to 7,300 hectares.  The larger level and size of the lake meant that the shallow parts of the lake were more limited, many of the seasonal breeding locations for the birds were permanently flooded and the riparian forest underwater for longer and dying out.

Lake Kirkini Pelican PlatformLake Kirkini has also been an important focus for economic activity (including fisheries and tourism) in the region.  It was also the host of the largest population of water buffalo in Greece, and other mammals, which were causing problems with over grazing (reducing habitat for nesting) and trampling of nests.

In 2006 Lake Kerkini was established as a National Park.  The management authority of the National Park has been taking measures to gradually reduce the water levels and to re-balance the dynamics required for riparian forest and the associated breeding birds.  This long term vision to re-balance the wetland, is being supported by shorter term interim measures such as creating artificial platforms for the pelicans to breed on while water levels are changed more gradually.

A landscape which is such an important hub of biodiversity, but also important in economic terms to local communities, is clearly dependent on its sensitive integrated management for a balanced future.

Landscapes Beneath

With our feet firmly on the ground we can be confident we are in the landscape.  However in some cases where we stand the remains of older landscapes can be found beneath us.  These remains can be buried deep beneath sediments: perhaps sealed beneath wind blown sands, covered by soils which have moved down steep slopes, or hidden by silts carried in waters when rivers flood.

Fragments of other landscapes can also be found preserved beneath waters.  One example is where dams have raised water levels during the creation reservoirs and submerged landscapes and buildings.  During some hot summers, when the water levels recede, a strange landscape is temporarily revealed.

The stone of structures is eerily clean, like bleached bone on a beach…

But it is not long, with the rains of autumn, until the waters reclaim them !