Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Archaeology of Christmas: 2

Just time (there's always time) to check on the ongoing experimental archaeology project that some call Christmas. It's been two years since we last looked in on the project and things have, as expected, changed: clocks move on, artefacts multiply, stratigraphy builds.
The exercise in stratigraphical development for archaeo-historical magazines (2014) has come to an end, movement of the sofa in order to permit the annual insertion of a tree, has demonstrated that for this year the depth of paper-based stratigraphy was 1.86m.

Careful examination, excavation, recording and removal of layers have shown a well-preserved chronological sequence from BBC History Magazine (December) right the way down to the primary deposit, a copy of the Radio Times ('legendary double issue') for Christmas 2013.

A quick recalculation of time-depth, however, proved necessary due to a small intrusive pocket of non-archaeo-historical magazine publications preserved midway in the sequence (relating to the late summer months of 2014).

Hence the true depth of specifically archaeological and historic magazine related literature for 2014 was actually 1.78m, an increase of 0.14m on 2012-3 when the stratigraphic sequence was last measured.

Looking up, the relative dating of tinsel-installation now numbers 11 drawing pin holes per strategic coving placement, meaning it has now been just over a decade since the last major phase of painting and decorating.

Further afield, the annual movement of furniture has produced artefacts relating to the last celebration of Christmas, key find of which was the 2013 Waitrose Christmas 'bag for life' (other supermarket bags are available).

Whilst clearance of bookshelves produced a bumper crop of unused crackers

misplaced cracker 'gifts'

and a particularly fine example of displaced joke-related fun.

A full report on the comparison between 2013 and 2014 cracker-based gifts and the de-evolution of humour in the intervening 12 months is currently in preparation and will, it is hoped, be published in the New Year.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Moanhenge 3: Goodbye to the Time Tunnel

As the old saying goes "Ah'll be lovely when it's finished"

It may actually be finished quite soon, or at least the 'visitor experience', as promised for much of the 20th and early 21st century, will be.

As we speak (and as noted in my last henge-related post) the great new visitor centre / motorway-service-station-built-from-discarded-matchsticks / experimental wind-tunnel (delete as applicable) is open, allowing people to see real artefacts and learn stuff without having to first purchase a guide book (though you can still do this). As I think I said before, I very much like the interior of the visitor centre and the interpretative recreations of Neolithic houses are uniformly excellent. The exterior I could do without (but then what do I know about modern architecture?).

Today the British government 'unveiled' new plans for the A303 road tunnel, which seems to have upset and excited people in equal measure. Some pundits are enraged because the proposal to drive the road underground means that those motoring past will, in future, be deprived of the 'free treat' of seeing the world's most famous megalithic monument (slowing down to gawp and thus generating an immense traffic jam). Others are pleased that, whilst standing close to the worlds most famous megalithic monument they will, in future, no longer see the huge train of motorists gawping at them as they pass noisily by, enroute to the beaches of Devon and Cornwall.

As the road tunnel is discussed and the new visitor centre and associated car / coach park 'goes live', the old Stonehenge concrete gift shop / Führerbunker is in the final stages of demolition.

Having grown up with these facilities, I have mixed feelings about this.

Yes, it's good to get rid of the old road, in the process opening up the Stonehenge Avenue and reconnecting the monument to its wider landscape and yes, the old facilities, such as they were, were probably just a wee bit too close to the stones, but I knew them, liked them and, as with all friends, tolerated their little failures and foibles. Now they've gone, smashed into oblivion by the mechanised soldiers of the State, I confess that I miss them.

I miss the elongated car park where coaches endlessly reversed into one another; I miss the old toilet block that shook every time a truck went past; I miss the white-painted circles on the car park tarmac which indicated the former position of prehistoric timbers; I miss the windswept café which looked as if it had been designed to withstand heavy gunfire; I miss the tea served in large unwieldy paper buckets and the thickly iced doughnuts; I miss the security-checkpoint and ticket booth; I miss the old gift shop with its plate glass windows displaying stick-on druid beards and Excalibur-shaped envelope-openers.

Most of all, though, I miss the Time Tunnel.  

This simple concrete and steel passageway ran beneath the old road, herding generations of tourists away from the delights of the gift shop and out to the majestic splendour of the stones themselves. I loved its cold Dalek-grey, mock-marble lining and oddly angular edges, slightly alleviated by multi-coloured 60s Star Trek lighting. I miss the large reconstruction paintings of hirsute Neolithic farmers straining sarsen boulders through the ancient landscape of Salisbury Plain. I miss the giddy-school boy excitement of turning the very last corner at the end of the tunnel and climbing the pebble-dashed ramp, seeing the sarsens rise up magically in the distance.

The tunnel reminds me of visits past: of sheltering from the rain and driving hail; waiting in the semi-darkness with school and university fieldtrips. It was here, when we were excavating inside the circle, that we chatted with night security. It was here that we wheeled spoil past incredulous French, Italian and Japanese tourists. It was here that, on seemingly endless school visits, that we compared tacky purchases (novelty pencils, pens and snow globes). It was here, if you were particularly good at suspending your disbelief, that you could imagine that you were leaving the modern-world behind, plunging headlong back into the distant prehistoric past.   

This part of Stonehenge has now gone, never to return.

I know, of course, that the landscape is steadily being improved and, in the long run, this is all for the good, but the Time Tunnel was part of my Stonehenge experience, my own personal phenomenology and I will never see it again.

Goodbye time may not have been liked by everyone, but I for one will miss you.