[Because we can’t go for a day marching up and down hills at the moment, I’m sharing some walks from the past.]
Black Mountains and Pen Y Fan, Wales
Two August walks that made us puff and pant a little.
The first walk began and ended at Cwymyoy, where there’s a little chapel. As we neared the end we came across St Issues church, Partrishow, which has a splendid interior, complete with angels and a sinister memento mori that apparently has been whitewashed over repeatedly but always reappears!
The second walk took us up and up until we reached the summit of Pen y Fan, where we looked down on the magic lake of Cwm Llwch. As we descended, cloud suddenly enveloped the summit, showing how dangerous the high ground can be even in perfect summer weather.
[Like most of you, I can’t visit museums at the moment, so I’m sharing objects from my own museum]
Nineteenth-century ceramic (bisque porcelain) doll parts are common finds on archaeological excavations around the (colonised) world. Originally attached to fabric bodies, which in most cases have decayed and vanished, the heads, legs and arms survive well. As so-called “evocative” objects, the usual explanation for their presence is that they were children’s playthings, but I have a suspicion that they were often valued and possessed by adults as “keepsakes”.
I am especially fond of the woebegone expressions of my complete examples, and their tousled and knotted hair.
The doll with a bisque body may have been a little more expensive than its fabric-bodied siblings, but I use it as an example of a “penny doll”, which had movable limbs.
[Every Friday I’m posting, for the fun of it, four photographs selected pretty much at random from my hard drives. They were captured with a variety of technologies, from analogue through early digital to my latest cameras, so their quality, both artistic and technical, may vary!]
Trees are beautiful creatures!
Time can be measured in layers of paint.
Old boundary marker, ancient moorland.
In late 2002 I acquired my first digital camera, a simple point and shoot Olympus. I decided to play with this new, albeit primitive in today’s terms, technology by taking at least one digital image every day of 2003. Being forced to explore my surroundings visually and to create 2D images, meant that I could look for patterns and pictures everywhere, however mundane the location. Here, the rusty scar around the padlock contrasts vividly with the geometric regularity of the shutter.
[Since I’m not able to ramble as much as I’d like at the moment, I’m remembering some hikes from the past.]
Along Derwent Edge
This hike begins and ends at Ladybower Reservoir, Derbyshire. After a steep climb it’s pretty easy walking across rolling moorland. It’s a great route, made even more interesting by the fantastic shapes carved into the gritstone outcrops.
I think we sometimes fail to realise that people in the past shared every one of our present-day foibles. Ribald senses of humour were just as prevalent as today, as much ancient graffiti can attest. People in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were certainly not po-faced. In 2004 Paul Mullins discussed the occurrence on archaeological sites of miniature figurines of people using chamber pots, and again with Lewis Jones discussed miniature chamber pots in a 2011 paper, pointing out that they were jocular references to a major concern at the time – lack of sanitation.
Here are a couple of similar examples from my museum. In the first a woman bursts in (deliberately?) on a partly-clothed gentleman who was in the process of washing. The ceramic was seemingly intended to be a container, and may have been meant for a bathroom (toothbrushes?).
In the second, a rather crude bisque figurine, a man opens a privy door on a seated lady. This was probably a souvenir figurine, made in Japan. Dating the object is difficult — suggestions range from 1920s to 1950s. Privies would still have been in use during this period, though in diminishing numbers, and the humour of this piece may have been coloured by nostalgia. Many examples feature a black man and woman, which may be a racist joke or represent a wry comment on the continuing use of “outhouses”, as they were called in the US, by poorer people, and therefore support Mullins’ papers.
Privy ornaments are still offered for sale online, though it is unlikely that many buyers will have ever used one. Privies also, of course, a necessary nudge-nudge-wink-wink exhibit at museums that look at the lives of working people. We continue to be fascinated by, and to joke, uncomfortably perhaps, about the less desirable aspects of the past (cf the latrines prominently displayed on Roman sites such as Housesteads fort), but should remember that they were held to be equally amusing at the time.
Mullins, Paul R., 2004. Consuming aspirations: bric-a-brac and the politics of Victorian materialism in West Oakland. In Praetzellis, Mary and Praetzellis, Adrian (Eds). Putting the “there” there: Historical archaeologies of West Oakland. Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University. pp 85-115.
Mullins, P. and Jones, L. 2011. Archaeologies of Race and Urban Poverty: The Politics of Slumming, Engagement, and the Color Line (Historical Archaeology 45/1: pp 33—50).
[I’m posting four reasonably random photographs every Friday, just for fun!]
As an archaeologist, my life is in ruins (and rubbish too), so I tend to pounce on them when I stumble across them. Though most have been pillaged, vandalised and used as lavatories, many still retain some evidence of the lives of the anonymous people who built and dwelled in them.
Talking of ruins, this arch has managed to survive several centuries on a Portuguese border hill top (perhaps it has been reconstructed). I like the way it frames the view of Spain, as indeed, as part of a border fortress, it was meant to.
I have a passion for abandoned, neglected, rusty, decaying, doomed and forgotten railway lines. Where once passengers travelled along them, I wonder about their thoughts as the train rattled along, their destinations, what their journeys meant. This line in Derbyshire mostly carried freight until 40 years ago, so fits with my interest in industrial archaeology.
One of my favourite photographs, one of those rare “right place and right time” moments. The colours haven’t been exaggerated. The badlands of Alberta is an area I’ve visited several times, and can’t wait to get back to.
[Since the lock-down means that we can’t hike very far at the moment, every Wednesday I’m remembering a walk from the past.]
The Burgess Pass, 2005
A long time ago L and I headed up and over the Burgess Pass, near Field, British Columbia, Canada. Not all that long a trail, but a long, long uphill trek on a warm day in 2005. It was a perfect mix: the physical activity, the fine weather, the views, lots of fungi, a glacier… And a downhill finish!
My attempts to understand miniaturisation cause me a fair degree of head scratching and beard stroking. Two of the strangest charity shop artefacts in my museum are busty ballerina figurines leaning against giant clocks. This is surely something one is unlikely to see in real life. These figurines beg a number of questions abut the complicated relationships between miniature fantasy and full-sized humans. What prompted the designers to create them? Who bought them and why? What is going through the mind of someone who choses to buy one of these. With their gaudy colours and unconvincing decoration, not to mention the unlikely anatomies of the dancers, they are hardly realistic reproductions of reality.
They feature full-length exposure of long legs. Are they therefore erotic images? If they are intended to be erotic, what does that suggest about our intended reaction to the child ballerina holding a bird?
I suggest that they represent “respectable”, perhaps even unconscious, eroticism.
Despite searching many charity shops, I have yet to come across another ballerina clock. I shall continue my search!
[Every Friday I’m going to post four photographs from my collection. Some will be very recent, others very old. There will be no theme, though of course they provoke memories, of yesterday and of past decades… They will be a varied quality and artistic value, depending on their age and the technologies involved!]
This rather poor scan of a faded 35mm transparency (I will repeat it when I acquire a better scanner) is my only record of my favourite archaeological section, cut through the Roman deposits that lay beneath the playground of what we called the “Schoolyard Site”, a small area behind a soon-to-be-demolished primary school that was my first supervising job. You can’t see them in this scan, but about halfway down the section there was a series of more than a dozen thin clay floors, each a couple of mm thick, that could only be distinguished from each other by breaking the rules and cutting the section at about 45 degrees, so each floor was shown in elongated section. But this vertical section shows that the floors had slipped into the large pot that had been placed deliberately, either to serve as storage or as a small cess pit.
Simply an upside-down mantis.
Lulu Line, 2004
The Lulu Line, that ran North-South through the southern suburbs of Vancouver, Canada, is no more. Its track ripped up, it now serves as a walk/bike trail. By 2004 it was already disused — I last saw and heard a train, a switcher, a single box car and a caboose, rattling along its rusty rails in about 1995.
Burro Creek, 1997
In April 1997 we began a seven-month road trip, down the west coast of the US to the Mexican border, back up, and then across Canada, from west to east coasts, returning via the northern US. The very beginning of the trip was chilly (it snowed in Nevada) and we didn’t linger, but after a long drive we reached warmth, at last, at Burro Creek campground in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. This was the first photograph, taken as we prepared breakfast.