Farewell, Long Meg

Hello folks! I hope the first week of 2016 has treated you well. In truth, mines been quite stressful. My final assessment deadline for the Visual Media in Archaeology module was last Thursday and, let’s just say it was down to the wire. But then, last minute seems to be what I do best! Anyway, I think the essay went well, although there were definite improvements that I could have made… but I’ll guess we’ll see how I’ve done in 6 weeks when I get my results.

Despite all that, it marks the end of the module which makes me a little sad. It was certainly one of my favourite modules I’ve studied at York so far, as I expressed in my last blog post. And with that, it’s time to say goodbye to the ‘mini-project’ also. I hope that I’ve succeeded in giving you a small insight into the wonderful site that is Long Meg and Her Daughters, and even inspired some of you to go and check it out for yourselves. I’ve enjoyed looking more closely at a site which I’ve known for so long, yet never bothered to learn much about. In truth, visualising the site was harder than I thought it would be, and I maybe could have done more. But let’s not dwell on what could have been. In all honesty, the ‘mini-project’ has been invaluable in helping me to understand and apply the theories in archaeological visualisation to a real site. And I hope you lovely readers have also found it interesting – maybe even learnt something new! And so, as we say farewell to Long Meg I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite photo’s of the site…

IMG_2554[1]IMG_2552[1]IMG_2168[1]IMG_2149IMG_20140924_235010

Don’t forget you can always visit ‘the mini-project’ under ‘Categories’ if you get withdrawal symptoms, and everything I’ve written about Long Meg can be accessed there. Never fear though, this isn’t the end of my blog; I will continue to post regular updates on projects I’m working on and things I’m interested in. And if you’re interested too then watch this space!

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Witches and Wizards

Just a quick one today… I thought it was about time I actually told you lovely readers about the folklore of Long Meg and Her Daughters and why the site has the name it does. I’m sorry it’s taken me this long, I’ve been getting carried away with archaeological debates and theories in visualisation, when really stories about witches and wizards are so much cooler right?!

I won’t start with ‘Once Upon A Time’ – that always implies a happy ending and, if you believe this story, it’s not really a happy ending. The legend goes that Long Meg was a witch who was practicing a Pagan worship with her daughters when she was found by a Scottish wizard (some accounts insist that he was a saint) named Michael Scott, who then turned them to stone. Not so happy then, I personally wouldn’t want to be turned to stone for centuries. There may be hope for them yet though; the legend says that if the stones were to be counted twice the spell would be broken and Long Meg and her daughters would be released from their stony slumber. It’s a common legend associated with stone circles, and it is integral to the identity of the site as a heritage place. If anything else, it gives the stones a certain agency and an identity of their own which exudes an ‘other-worldliness’ and a sense of longevity. The contribution of folktales to our sense of heritage and history is therefore of an importance which shouldn’t be undermined.

Folklore and archaeology are an interesting mix. They have a kind of love-hate relationship. Folklore and legends are often the first thing that gets people hooked on the past which has the potential to lead them into studying archaeology. Take the legends of King Arthur or Robin Hood, for example, which are loved so much by so many people. Yet archaeology tries to disprove these legends, claiming that there’s always a more logical reason for that circular ditch over there (“no way is it the Round Table!”) or that sword found in that lake (“its Bronze Age actually so, ya know, it can’t be Excalibur”). I’m an archaeologist, a fact which is now inescapable, so of course I believe that there’s always a more logical reason for sites and features to be there. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t value legends and find them intriguing, or believe that there isn’t a grain of truth in them. They often offer a form of escapism, a way of living in a fantasy, and if that gets people interested in the past then where’s the harm in that??

Speak Giant-mother!

Some thoughts for a Sunday:

The monument commonly called Long Meg

A weight of Awe not easy to be borne
Fell suddenly upon my spirit, cast
From the dread bosom of the unknown past,
When first I saw that family forlorn;
Speak Thou, whose massy strength and stature scorn
The power of years – pre-eminent, and placed
Apart, to overlook the circle vast.
Speak Giant-mother! tell it to the Morn,
While she dispels the cumbrous shades of night;
Let the Moon hear, emerging from a cloud,
At whose behest uprose on British ground
That Sisterhood in hieroglyphic round
Forth-shadowing, some have deemed the infinite
The inviolable God that tames the proud.

William Wordsworth, 1822

It’s not exactly ‘visualisation’ but isn’t it lovely. It is by the notable William Wordsworth (I’m sure you’ve all heard of him!) and it speaks of Long Meg herself looking over her ‘family forlorn’. Wordsworth describes his ‘weight of Awe’ and expresses his trouble at ‘the unknown past’ (something many archaeologists may sympathise with). He tells the story of Long Meg and how she came to be turned to stone: “The inviolable God that tames the proud.” He describes the elemental nature of the site in a way only a Romantic poet could: “…whose massy strength and stature scorn.” The poem is more than just a phenomenological account or a descriptive narrative.

Anyone who’s been to the Lake District knows that Wordsworth is a key figure in the history of the area. The associative heritage values which are forcefully inflicted upon every place which Wordsworth visited, or touched, or was possibly seen, make up a huge part of the Lake District’s overall heritage. Just the fact that he wrote a poem about Long Meg tells of the significance of the site to the poet, and this, through association alone, raises the profile of the site to the level of the wider heritage of the Lake District. On a smaller level, it also tells of a singular past perception of the site – that of Wordsworth’s himself. It is a significant addition to the layers of meaning entwined within the stones and provides us with a link to the temporal existence of the place – a moment in 1882 when Wordsworth trudged around the stones as we do today. It is a powerful document of this encounter.

Let’s briefly acknowledge the power of poetry and its potential in archaeological discourse. Recently in class we’ve been thinking about text in museum displays which has led me to start thinking about how we describe and inform visitors about what they’re looking at. Perhaps poetry is underrated as a means of narrative.

Surely, in its own semi-ambiguous way, poetry can encourage deeper thought – and therefore deeper engagement with the subject matter in hand? This comes back to the question of intended meanings and personal self-contextual interpretations. I could get dragged into the ‘Death of the Author’ theory here (I frequently get jolted back to my brief stint in History of Art and sitting in a stuffy seminar room learning about Barthes whilst drinking coffee which I inevitably let go cold) – but let’s keep this simple. Whatever meanings Wordsworth wanted to convey about Long Meg and Her Daughters, we as modern day readers read his words in our own ways, and we probably don’t read it as he would have wished. However we’re ‘supposed’ to read it though, it still remains subjective and we bring our own baggage to the interpretation table.

I want to suggest that poetry is more powerful in helping us to engage with sites and objects on a deeper, more meaningful level. Even the style of language elicits more work from the reader to decipher what Wordsworth is describing and what story he is telling us.  So should it be used more as a creative way of describing sites and collections in museums – in order to make the viewer work harder for their sought-after archaeological knowledge. and hence provoke a deeper level of engagement? Or shall we stick to the simple less-than-75-word plaques which get the job done and tell the visitor what the curators want them to know about the objects in from of them?

No doubt somewhere, at some time, poetry has been used in a museum as a narrative medium and this isn’t a novel idea at all. I congratulate any curator(s) who have used it – I just hope it gets used more often, especially at the premise of the ‘post-museum.’

Despite all that, it’s just a lovely poem about a lovely site!

The Beginning

The first post. Always a nerve-wracking moment. I always feel like there’s a lot riding on it. Maybe that’s why I’ve put off setting up an archaeology blog for a while. But happily, here I am, ready to share my work and musings on heritage visualisation with the big wide world which exists outside of my little archaeology bubble. So welcome to my blog!

Let me introduce myself…  My name is Katrina and in some ways I’m just another archaeology and heritage student, a third year undergraduate studying at the University of York, often preaching to all who know me how amazing heritage is and how much I love what I study. In others, I’m a unique heritage and archaeology student – I know, that’s quite a statement to make! –but aren’t we all? We all have our own unique interests and passions, our own individual backgrounds, our own heritage. So I’m unique just as you are, and heritage and archaeology just happen to be one of my passions, along with Yorkshire Tea and country music. Unfortunately, I can’t sing, so some years ago I chose to pursue my love of archaeology and here I am. I’m lucky that I have a whole career ahead of me doing what I love, and this blog exists so I can take you along for the ride.

Truthfully, this blog also has an ulterior motive. As part of my third year Visual Media in Archaeology module this is going to act as a place for me to explore my ever increasing knowledge on archaeological visualisation and heritage practice. I will start off with a mini-project of my own where I will do all this exploring I speak of. My mini-project will focus on a site close to my heart, near where I grew up in Cumbria – a Neolithic stone circle known as Long Meg and Her Daughters. Through creating my own representations of the site using different forms of media, and critically reviewing visual representations which have been produced before – from antiquarians and poets to amateur filmmakers – I hope to bring greater attention to this special site. I also hope I can bridge the gap between archaeological theory and practice by applying the debates and issues in heritage visualisation to the site, in an attempt to explore and make these issues clearer.

I’m painfully aware that I’m new to this, and I’m still only taking my first tentative steps into heritage practice. Hopefully this blog will allow me to be more critical of my work and operate as a platform for reflection, as well as keeping you updated with my adventures. If you’ve made it this far then I applauded you – stick around and I will hopefully give you a small insight into the world of heritage visualisation!