Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Joining the Dots…

It’s time for another one of those articles that was originally written for the Wyre Archaeology newsletter many hundreds of years ago (which explains why the illustrations are all greyscale and extremely low quality, because I had to scan them in from the original), reused in the Wyre Archaeology Omnibus (which has long since been out of print, and quite rightly so), churned up again for the first of the Fylde and Wyre Antiquarian books, and is now being dragged kicking and screaming from its coffin once more for use on this website, simply because we’re great believers in recycling.
(It's amazing what rubbish we get away.)
This article should also, by rights, have appeared on this board about twelve months ago, but for some reason or other I never got around to actually posting it. However, there’s a half-finished Nintendo game downstairs that I’d like to get on with so I thought it was about time to ressurect it.
Anyhow…according to the book ‘Heroes of the Dawn’ published by Time-Life: “…the 6th century pendant brooch (illustrated below) from a tomb at Hallstaff, Austria, bears circular emblems thought to be symbols of the sun.”
These geometric shapes are believed to date from between 800 to 500 BC, an era otherwise known as the Hallstaff period.


Interestingly, as far as Wyre Archaeology is concerned, the symbols on the Bleasdale urns are remarkably similar and have been dated to the Bronze Age; roughly 2,500 BC to 900 BC…approximately 100 to 2,400 years earlier than those on the pendant. Dots, cross-hatched triangles, wavy lines…they’re all there if you look closely enough.


So exactly how old are the urns and what do the images mean?
Well, the ‘three concentric circles’ formations crop up frequently in the British archaeological landscape, cup and ring marks adorning rocks in Yorkshire, circular steps beneath Saxon crosses, ring designs scratched into Beaker pottery…even the shape of Bleasdale Circle itself with its outer palisade, its inner henge and its circular ditch could all be said to be following the same pattern.
It’s been suggested that the rings represent the sun, the earth and the moon in alignment. It might even be possible that they’re a primitive attempt at drawing a tunnel.

Then there are the wavy lines…presumably a stylised version of the ocean across which, we’re informed, our ancestors had to travel in death to reach the afterlife.
And the triangles…do they represent mountains such as Fairsnape?


Early pieces of rock art appear to have evolved over time from recognisable images into more abstract designs. Take the frequently occurring icon illustrated above, for example, which seems to show a druidical figure worshiping the sun. Or possibly an early attempt at parachuting. Maybe even somebody carrying an extremely large lollipop.

Is it possible that this simple character evolved into the more complex design shown in the photograph below, which bears a striking resemblance to our concentric circles?



This in turn might have evolved into the well-known labyrinths, an example of which is illustrated below.


Naturally pre-historians and archaeologists alike have been keen to give religious significance to any design beyond their immediate interpretation. They do this sort of thing. I've never worked out why. In future generations museums'll have Barbie Dolls and egg cups all lined up on a shelf labelled 'Religious Fetishes', I can see it coming.
Countless ancient images scrawled into cave walls showing erect phalluses have been automatically interpreted as fertility symbols, created in worship of sexually voracious gods closely associated with the great cycle of life and death.

Yes…well…perhaps this sort of imaginative conclusion shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Wander into any bus shelter in the Fylde and Wyre and you’ll be confronted with similar crude drawings, usually bearing the name of some local teenager who’s developing a reputation for his/herself. We can state here, for the record, that none of the latter were drawn in adulation of a higher being.
In fact the idea that our Bronze Age ancestors were scrawling these exaggerated doodles for religious reasons is probably just a phallusy. (Yes…we know that was dreadful, but we don’t make any money out of this so there’s no point in trying to get us the sack.)
To return to the point behind this article, what exactly do the markings on the Bleasdale urns represent?
Well, all matters considered, they were probably just etched into the clay rims because they looked nice.
Unless, of course, you know different…

Incidentally, on a slightly different track, nobody's signed the guestbook for this place since last June, and the last entry is linked to a website that's been dead for at least six months. It's got one more week to buck up its ideas, and if nobody's added to it by then, it'll be taken blindfolded round the back of the site and shot.

13 comments:

Andrew said...

Damn, I was doing well until I got my palisade and henge mixed up.

Jayne said...

It was the cross hatchings, Andrew, they do it to me everytime.

John said...

Are there any rock carvings in the Wyre, of prehistorical origin? I know there are carvings on the Anglo Saxon boundary markers and Viking carvings , etc, but how about more primitive rock carvings?

Just the designs on the pottery?

Good point about people of our time imposing our own preconceptions about what our prehistoric ancestors were up to with their paintings, carvings, etc. If you read up on the subject, some points can be justified, but yeah, for the most part, we can't know exactly what people were thinking back then.

The graffiti idea is also apt. Supposedly walls recovered from Pompeii are scrawled with all sorts of naughty little things. :0)

Still, some of this stuff must have had meaning, but I'm not sure we can compare jewelry from one place and time with grooves in pottery from another place and time. Context and all that, you know.

Speaking of which, archeologists in Ohio here in the states claim from collecting lots of pottery that the designs and styles of pottery indicate various tribes, and that the designs were passed down from mother to daughter. Frankly, I'm quite surprised to see the repitition in design that we do see, so it is easy to imagine that the design had a purpose and a meaning, and quite possibly identified the pottery as belonging to a certain tribe.

If it were me, and I had to make pot after pot, I'd probably be scribbling all sorts of stuff on those pots. Either these people were unimaginative, or the designs served a purpose.

And from what I've heard, apparently some bus stops have been the scene of 'religious experiences' of a sort. :0)

Cheers, Indiana JOHN ;0)

Brian Hughes said...

Andrew,

A palisade is a type of fence made out of poles that encloses an area, whereas a henge is a circular earth bank (and not a ring of large stones as most people think).

Jayne,

I thought crosshatchings were chickens with a gender identity crisis.

John,
"Supposedly walls recovered from Pompeii are scrawled with all sorts of naughty little things."

They are and I've seen the Frankie Howard film to prove it.

History Hunter said...

I remember being propelled at great speed through several rooms at Pompeii by my horrified mother many years ago. They certainly had imagination in those days !

Brian Hughes said...

Melanie,

She must have been in a hurry to get to the rude stuff.

Jayne said...

They didn't have David Tennant showing us the Pompeii rude bits on the Doctor Who Confidential special, hmph!

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

They were on the Up Pompeii Confidential Special though, as explained by Lurkio and Scrubber.

Ann oDyne said...

I signed the Guestbook when it opened.
Have you traced your own ancestors back to the Domesday Book?
This week I have been compiling a family tree, and got from Melbourne back to Guernsey in the Channel, where my subjects were buried in The Strangers Cemetery.
Very weird those Huegenots.

Ann oDyne said...

Holy Trowels Batman!
I went into the chat room expecting to find Earl Carnaervon misappropriating stuff, and there's nobody there chatting.
What are yas?
love, Bruce.

Brian Hughes said...

Annie,

I've never really been into geneology. I've got enough with my immediate family.

As for the 'Chat Room', if anybody does want a natter it's probably best to arrange a time by e-mail first. Oh yes...and bring a bottle and a bird.

Ozfemme said...

In that case, we have a henge in our living room. It can be made of dust, right?

Brian Hughes said...

Bella,

Dust Henge? I've just noticed one of them on my computer desk. Must have left my brew downstairs.