Friday, June 23, 2017

Dumbarton Rock article in World Archaeology

Dumby gets an academic approach in this article published by World Archaeology. This multi-authored article was the result of archaeologists, climbers and heritage professionals examining the meaning of Dumby for those who frequent the place, especially climbers.

Abstract
The notion of counter-archaeology is echoed by the opposing faces of the volcanic plug of Dumbarton Rock, Scotland. On the one side is the ‘official’ heritage of Dumbarton Castle, with its upstanding seventeenth-century military remains and underlying occupation evidence dating back to at least the eighth century ad. On the other side lies a landscape of climbing, bouldering and post-industrial abandonment. This paper develops counter-archaeology through the climbing traditions and boulder problems at Dumbarton Rock and brings to the surface marginalized forms of heritage. Climbers and archaeologists have co-authored the paper as part of a collaborative project, which challenges the binary trope of researcher and researched and provides a model for a collaborative, co-designed and co-produced counter-archaeology.




Monday, May 08, 2017

Spring Blocs Scotland

There is that magical transitional  time in Scotland between the green dankness of winter and the dreaded muggy midgeness of summer ... a dry springtime. April 2017 was cool and fairly dry so allowing some pleasant sessions on the blocs and the sudden blazing high that arrived at the start of May turned the highlands into a paradise with a cool north-easterly airflow. Those lucky enough to have some time off would have had some good bouldering days out in big landscapes, or even small ones!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Fakes and Archaeology - the Whitehill 'runes'

Sketch of fake (?) runes, Whitehill, 2011


The Whitehill 'runes' - real or fake, it matters ...

The danger with fakes, if they are done well, is that they legitimise every construct built upon them. Any archaeology, but especially one with faded logics and contexts, is susceptible to imagination.

A few years ago I found this petroglyph beside a grouping of cup and ring marks in the sandstone outcrops of Cochno Hill on the Clyde, and it recently surfaced in my memory as the nearby Cochno Stone was briefly unearthed for laser scanning, (which Ludovic Mann 'matrixed' with a grid in the 1930s to force on it his interpretation of astrological significance to the ancient markings).

The sandstone outcrops of the Kilpatrick Hills have long been known for their remarkable collections of rock art such as the said Cochno Stone, Whitehill, Craigmaddie, Auchentorlie (Greenland Quarry), but the Clyde is also no stranger to fakery and the persistence of human mischief - witness the fiasco of the Dumbuck Crannog. This vanity project was riddled with fakes buried and unearthed to draw attention to the amateur archaeologist William Donnelly. Alex Hale wrote a great book on the Dumbuck Crannog excavations and the controversy of the fakes.

The provenance of these markings is seductive next to more ancient cup and ring designs, as the 'letters' inscribed suggest an alphabetic rune system, though they do tend to too closely resemble modern English letters with the extra crosses and tails. Two 'letters' -  a name perhaps? Which way up do we look at them? Who did this, when? Why? It's impossible to tell, there are no known similar markings nearby, no Rosetta Stone, and quite possibly more reasons to believe it is a fake than believe it is contemporary with the cup-marks (chiselled lines suggest metal, rather than hardstone-pecked circles and grooves). Considering the Donnelly affair at Dumbuck Crannog nearby, my suspicions were aroused.

But this is a topical issue with the recent trend in 'fake news' for political gain. The danger of a fake is that it becomes a cuckoo discourse, and builds its house from bricks of speculation and the desire for bias to be confirmed. Foucault, in his Archaeology of Knowledge (Tavistock, 1972, p.149), addresses this issue at a more foundational level (I will try not to mention Religion here!):

'The history of ideas usually credits the discourse that it analyses with coherence. If it happens to notice an irregularity in the use of words, several incompatible propositions, a set of meanings that do not adjust to one another, concepts that cannot be systematized together, then it regards it as its duty to find, at a deeper level, a principle of cohesion that organizes the discourse and restores to it its hidden unity.'

In Archaeology, fakes can create coherence as much as suppositions of unity based on isolated and 'genuine' material items. 

The question is, how do you tell the difference between a material fake and the fake in one's discourse (the tendency to believe what one wants to see)? A topical subject everywhere... the Guardian did a decent guide to  Fake News... (and how to spot it)


Friday, January 27, 2017

Schiehallion



'The hill of the Caledonian pixies', if you like, is the classic pyramidal mountain - a stalwart of Scottish Munroists and regal in its isolation amongst the feeder lochs for the Tay and Tummel rivers. In 1774 its isolation was what attracted Nevil Maskelyne and Charles Hutton as they sought a regular and massive part of the earth they could measure, weigh and extrapolate the weight of the Earth. The tale is told entertainingly in Ian Mitchell's Scotland's Mountains before the Mountaineers. (Edinburgh: Luath, 2013). Perhaps of most enduring legacy was Charles Mason's method of slicing the mountain into conceptual layers to calculate weight, which led to the idea of contours as a useful topographical tool.

The site of the experiment was in the glen in the photo above. I recall reading the research bothy burnt down, or was immolated no doubt in celebration of leaving the midge and rain for the comforts of the city Society scene. The grouse and hares still patrol the snows, light-footed and unaware of the gravity of the place...