In my pursuit of exploration in the world of visual media in archaeology I have decided to focus on a site which I have a particular affinity with: the Neolithic stone circle of Long Meg and Her Daughters. I’m not sure why this is. I guess from a young age I had a fascination with stone circles; their raw simplistic beauty and mystery seemed to appeal to the younger me, and indeed they still do. This is something I most probably share with many other people, as evident by the sheer number of people who visit sites such as Stonehenge and the Stones of Stenness at the mid-summer and mid-winter solstices each year. Why do we feel such an affinity with these places? And why do some people accept them as part of their heritage and others regard them as monuments belonging to other peoples (of the past and present)? I suppose I see Long Meg and Her Daughters as part of my heritage, as a local of the area.
I was lucky enough to grow up in Cumbria, a truly beautiful part of the world. My village is conveniently located on the border between the dramatic Lake District to the west and the rolling Eden Valley to the east, both of which have their fair share of prehistoric sites. It was my visits to Castlerigg Stone Circle, near where I went to school in Keswick, which first got me hooked. It might surprise you to know that, for years, I thought this was the only stone circle near to where I lived. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I found out Long Meg and Her Daughters even existed, after a conversation with my Dad. I immediately demanded that he take me there. Why I hadn’t discovered it before, I really don’t know.
The site is located near Little Salkeld in the Eden Valley. On visiting the site, apart from the obvious beauty of the place, it struck me how different it was from any other stone circle I had ever visited. We were the only people there. I’d never experienced this before. And it was huge – it is one of the largest stone circle in the country. So where were all the visitors? Why was it not well signposted? Do people know about this place? My research since tells me that yes, people do know about Long Meg and Her Daughters. Yet when someone asks you to name a stone circle in Britain, or in Cumbria even, I bet few people would say this site. I want to raise the profile of the site. I want to bring all the stories, drawings and photographs together in one place to build up a picture of the site. I want to document its influence over people’s lives and address the importance of archaeological visualisation. I want to discover the role of heritage and the place it takes in in our modern-day lives, through my own personal experience of Long Meg. I intend to use media such as photography and video to experiment with this.
The site has a fascinating history and over the course of the next few weeks I will explore all aspects of this. Long Meg has clearly captured the imaginations of countless people, judging from the folklore surrounding the site, the poetry written by poets including Keats and Wordsworth, the coloured ribbons tied to the tree in the centre of the circle, and the flowers often laid at the foot of Long Meg herself. I will argue that am one of these people, I can see the romantic appeal of the place. Yet my archaeological brain tells me to view the site differently, objectively, as something to record. Do I often wish to go back to the innocent days before the archaeological ‘sight’ when I could appreciate more fully the mysterious romanticism of the place? Perhaps. But then I wouldn’t have the appreciation of the site I have now, from this contextual standpoint I currently stand. Which do I value more? Whose view and interpretation of a site is the correct one? Who does a site like this belong to?
It is questions like these that I could easily get entangled in now, but then I would simply be rambling. For now, this discussion can wait until later on in this blog. I will endeavour to raise issues such as this – the dialogue between archaeologists and the true representation of the past, the debate between objectivity and subjectivity, the relationship between art and archaeology etc. – throughout this mini-project. Until then, I hope I have wetted your appetite and explained a little of why Long Meg is such a special site and deserves more attention than it currently receives…