Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Megalithic, Mesolithic, The Past

I bought some reduced price books from the museum a few weeks ago and have been enjoying myself pondering life here several thousand years BC.  After the 'Ice Age' went away, and some occasionally fear may not have gone that far away, the land soon sprouted grasses, trees, animals and human life.  At that time the British Isles was connected to the European landmass until the melting ice caps flood water created the North Sea and flooded the area now known by some as 'Doggerland.'  Fishermen regularly collect bones of Mammoths and other long dead creatures from this area, the depth not being great.  

Peoples spread from the continent and made their way to the very tip of the land mass.  However it was not until around 6000 BC or so that they took to creating the many mammoth monuments that dot the land.  These often took the form of tombs, sometimes containing bones, sometimes not, and when bones were found these were often incomplete!  Later occasional pieces of pottery were to be found.  Different areas offered a variety of such tombs, some containing several niches, others additional tombs were added much later and the 'barrow' increased on size, often by a large mass.  Usually these comprised earth piled high, in northern regions stones expertly worked together creating very large barrows.  Many still remain almost untouched, others have been flattened by farming methods over many centuries.  

Questions remain regarding the ceremonies that took place at such places, no writing was left, and the lack of personal material implies we may never know what really went on there.  A few years ago a man from Madagascar was taken to one area of 'Standing Stones.'  He was informed that no-one could understand their meaning.  In surprise he mentioned that it was obvious, these were commemorating the dead!  That is what happens in his society, and it is a decent enough observation, although no other evidence appears.  Did thousands gather to remember their dead, the past generations?  Could it be that these Barrows and Standing stones were less to do with the solstice and more to bring peoples together?  Today we so similar.  Families gather at weddings and funerals.  Nations gather at Armistice Day, or around major national events.  Sometimes football matches can be used in this manner.  Did Stone age man use ceremonies, possibly sporting or other activities, and certainly feasting at some places, to unite the peoples of an area, sometimes a quite large area at that?  What a shame they did not write this down.  

What happened before such tombs were built is generally unknown.  Hunter gatherers left little in the way of memorials,and possibly were constantly on the move.  It would be a more static society that combined to erect large monuments.  Possibly these were stating this was their area to outsiders, possibly it helped them sink roots deep into the land through their ancestors.  Nations need a 'myth' to build their self esteem.  The Athenians held to the belief that they had 'always belonged in Attica,' even though historians indicate they actually moved in from the north some years before.  The 'Myth' keeps the nation together.  Whatever the reason almost suddenly things changed.  Possibly it was wealth, or an increased population, but most likely ideas coming through contact with the continent.  The large works, which may have taken generations to build, were no longer constructed.  These continued to serve as places for ceremonials however, but individual tombs began to appear, and these began to contain grave goods.  

All this changed when the Romans arrived.  Not only did the world around them become Romanised, the incoming gods accepted, but the arrival of Christianity saw the end of any connection with past ceremonials.  The Druids concerned were probably wiped out by Paulinus before Boudica began her revolt.  She and hers followed almost immediately.  Six, seven or ten thousand years ago people just like you and me wandered the land, hunting, farming, building shelters, developing tools, and going forth and multiplying, and evidence for that is found amongst some items left at the meeting places!  Did they have a philosophy?  Did they sit at the door of their round huts or cave dwellings staring at the sky and wondering?  Was the daily struggle such that little time was left for cogitation, or did they just wish they could watch TV and read the tabloid press?  One thing is sure, the women gossiped, the men boasted of their imported stone hammer from Poland, someone was proud of their expensive pot with intriguing design brought from far away.  Human nature never changes, whatever the culture.              

I find them fascinating, and several 'Time Team' programmes this week on one of the obscure channels have encouraged my fascination, with their existence in those days.  How trees could be felled by brute force and stone axes, flint could be made into a razor sharp knife, and deer antlers could be used to create the huge embankments and Barrows, and later hill forts, all makes me wonder at the human ability to make the best of the circumstances.  Great stuff, but I am glad I live in the days of photography and laptops myself.  Especially when the weather is rough.



Lee said...

It sure is fascinating, isn't it?

It'd be great to have one's own time capsule...a kind of Dr. Who, I suppose...and when you felt like you wanted to find out what a certain period of time was like...into the capsule you could hop!

Ummm...I've not yet sent of my letter to Santa....I could add another request to my list! I'm sure he'd find room on his sleigh!

Adullamite said...

I'd love a time machine!!!!

Unknown said...

Your article actually says a lot about yourself, and I am being completely serious with this observation.

Adullamite said...

Jerry, What?