As a person with a degree in Archaeology, I obviously have a bit of a soft spot for old stuff. The fact I chose not to squander my time digging, sifting through bags of mud, counting the amount of different shell types from shell middens and touching myself during repeats of time team was something I realized after my first year of the course. Why didn’t I change courses? Because I had a real fascination in the subject and I suppose I felt it would make me a more knowledgeable fellow, certainly I found whenever I had banter with the generation above they would always show interest, often ending with “Gosh, that takes seven years to qualify doesn’t it?” Err no that’s Architecture…another drink sir?
I suppose I was just interested in the finds: the Indiana Jones school of archaeology. Now that is a course they should run up at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne…the “Wham, Bam, thank you Mam” archaeological approach was certainly for me, I didn’t want to mince about, I wanted to discover things and have the experience of taking something out of the ground that hadn’t been touched by human hands for thousands of years. Problem was that rarely happened and if it did, it involved digging first…you do the mathematics.
I did get to experience it on one occasion. In my second and third year I took all the modules/classes that focused on hunter- gatherers, I was fascinated by this way of life, as I still am today, by a stroke of luck I managed to get on a dig (onsite work was part of the course) on the oldest house in Britain (8,500 BP , years old). Two weeks were spent digging, taking the piss out of the BBC presenter for Meet the ancestors who were filming the whole thing, and surfing an uncrowded Northumbrian Reef just below the site…good times. I did get to work on the main area of focus too: the shelter. Whilst scraping the dirt, we continuously found different bits of the Mesolithic tool kit- a variety of knapped flint, which were worked on and retouched to make different blades and tools for different tasks.
The sad thing was I knew that these amazing finds that were last touched by someone who wore animal skins, limited use of language and wiped their arse with a leaf…now that’s some primitive shit, would end up bagged and boxed in some dark cellar in some dreary museum. Needless to say I didn’t record every find and pocketed the best examples for my own collection that I could fondle whenever I wished- completely against the grain for any archaeologist to do, but I knew I was never going to become one so my professional integrity could never be questioned.
So what is this post about? Last week, whilst on a local jaunt to find another weird place to sleep (see pill boxing), I had heard rumors in the local pub, that infinite source of local wisdom, of caves nearby and one of the largest outcrops of sandstone in the country…on my doorstep? Really? So I had to check it out to see if the country pub banter was truth or, as with most rustic drinking holes, exaggerated myth.
As it turned out the outcrop happened to be on private land. Having never been a stickler for the rules and, due to ludicrous government intervention, being able to say, “Right to roam bitch” to any potential landowners (of course I would never utter such words…), I confidently left the footpath in search of sandstone. It must be said, Google earth can be very helpful in these circumstances and I had already seen online a small outcrop of stone, but nothing had prepared me for the vast amount that was there. It really was like stepping back into forgotten landscape.
When I was at school I went on a tour round Greece as part of our Ancient history course and I clearly remember seeing Lord Byron’s unoriginal graffiti on one of the pillars of the temple of Poseidon in Attica. He had quite simply carved his name, yet that rudimentary defacing of an ancient pillar had become a star attraction: rather strange for a Laudanum-caning drug abuser who sniffed anything that he could get his hands on. Had his poems not been seen as half-decent (debatable at best), would it have just been seen as another scrawl of graffiti?
So when I came across a rather imposing pinnacle I was confronted by a wall of faceless graffiti, so much that it looked as if most of it had been written over. The most fascinating part were the dates, most were actually quite old. If anything it made me think of the people that had spent their time carving away to leave their mark in this place for someone like me to be enthralled in the future. Unlike the graffiti of today which is utter gash (banksy, whoever you are, take note- I’m a big fan of bad mouthing popular culture), these early graf artists had taken the time to carve quite sophisticated lettering, something that proved they were probably real- if you are going to deface something, at least do it in the best possible taste (Lord Byron take note).
As long as graffiti doesn’t contain the foot note “Woz ere” and isn’t on anything of particular value (that doesn’t include trees), I think it can be a quite a pleasant thing. The date is of course the most important feature as that allows you to put the person who inscribed their initials into context: the clothes they wore, the type of dwelling in which they lived and the sort of stuff they got up to. Here are a few of the gems of the pinnacle collection:
1923: Oldish. Walt Disney founds Disney and Pancho Villa passes away.
1839: Quite old. The year Cezanne was born and Darwin married his cousin.
1760: Old. George III hits the throne.
1193: Very Old- when Richard 1st sat on the throne and the Aztec civilisation began.
Interesting stuff! I wonder what other meaningless carvings from faceless types scatter the British landscape? Oh and as far as caves go, I did find one, quite a sizeable one too. It had the name "Cave Adullum" written outside the entrance (see above): a stronghold referred to in the old testament as David's refuge after his succession of Saul, I suspect it's probably not the same one. The actual cave outside the town of Adullum is the source of the term Adullamites, which is used generally to refer to groups of political outsiders plotting their comeback or the overthrow of the status quo, especially after recent defeat. The term originated as a derisory name for a dissident faction within the British Liberal party during the Victorian Era- I'm not sure I will go the same way, I must admit my understanding of politics is extremely limited...there are more important things in life.
Good Cave, can't wait to sleep in it though, any takers?