Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Alright, I admit it, I was over-dressed in my all-weather coat with a fleece lining.  How was I to know that even in the exposed areas of the latest archaeological walking experience, the sun would be streaming down with great warmth.  Unlike the last walking party, this was an altogether fitter and larger group of people.  Even so, we all ended up taking off warm layers, panting and puffing at some stage. It was  an arduous guided walk around 'ancient feet', on land we would not normally have free access to.  Most of the area is owned by one landowner who 'gates' off this Northern section of it, and it was she who who easily bestrode this land as our guide.

"Maybe I should have done a risk assessment first", murmured the lady guide, as she swung her long rubber booted legs over a fence, expecting all of us to follow suit.  We also had to cross a raised loch, all the while holding on to a rail on a narrow concrete ledge, doing a balancing exercise.  (See below).

Our first stop was a ruined cairn, where, when I tried to sit on a piece of ancient mineral aggregate to gain my breath, I  tipped over and ended up prone.  The stone's positioning, would not allow for any dignified balancing act.  It was explained that the ancients exposed bodies here and the bones were then stored in a very orderly manner in the cairn.  I did not aim to emulate the experience!

We ended up at a couple of ancient standing stones, further on up the hill, likely, BCE, (Bronze Age perhaps). Most of us huffed and puffed from the work-out (more energetic than the stepper at a gym) with the guide  saying, she could take us on further.  We must have already covered three or four miles,  up hills, over peat ditches, hillocks, dale, rabbit hole, mole hill, gorse, heather and anything else that was difficult to negotiate. You needed lots of stamina for this tour.

The general consensus was that we probably had experienced enough excitement!  But, we all had to trail back the way we came. It was no easier, as all the lumps and bumps came at us in reverse.  One poor lady missed her footing, fortunately landing on soft springy peat turf,  and adamant she needed no help in returning to her usual perpendicular position.  The lady was okay, and in due course, balanced herself on the ledge across the loch along with the best and the worst of us.

My coat got mucky. I had attempted to tie it about my waist by its arms so I could cool off, but the weight of it would not hold the coat high enough from the vegetation, just below knee level. Eventually, I had no option but to put it back on, so I could  negotiate the trickier bits of the return trail. 



TG said...

Interesting adventure, overdressed somewhere in no (wo)man's land... LOL.

Which one is you? The one that has the head chopped off in the photo? :)

ZACL said...

You will not see me in the photos, I took them.

The woman, (one of them) with head chopped off, who is wearing rubber boots, was our guide.

Oh yes, where we walked, was a truly inhospitable place now that is likely not to have been, in prehistoric times. :)

TG said...

Are those standing stones dedicated to fertility? Did the old Britons worship a fertility God?

ZACL said...

I would love to be able to answer your questions but in truth, who really knows what prehistoric man worshipped or believed in?

There is enough present-day superstition around, much of it well-overlaid with religion through the centuries, which might help us guess at answers to your question. It is a very good question and one we discussed while at the site.

It is possible that fertility rites were practised but that the stones were not necessarily a fertility symbol in themselves. Standing stones may have been community/family/tribal meeting places.

As the stones we saw are likely to have been in position for about 4-5 thousand years, without disturbing the ground beneath our feet and their foundations,we cannot say if there were more of these stones. We did see a circular feature in the ground outside these stones, which suggests they were within a ring.

I have seen ancient stones that have not been within a ring or in a ring formation, but have been in a fan formation.

No-one is really sure of the true purpose of the stones, not even the well known Stonehenge in England. Any purpose suggested is conjecture.

Anecdotally, you can be no firmer than that, stone formations could have been linked to the solstices, the seasons, perhaps agriculture. And in the agricultural sense, there may be a link with fertility.

Vincent said...

"balanced herself on the ledge across the loch along with the best and the worst of us" - as in your last photo? - though she could have walked more safely on the footpath the other side of the fence. I'd do that too - like the child who wants to prove he's old enough to do something, or in this case, young enough.

"Did prehistoric man do risk assessments?" I must say your title is a draw, if not quite delivering its promise; for it doesn't even discuss the question.

But we can try here. From a Darwinian perspective, we can say "yes and no". If we refine the question to "Did our prehistoric ancestors do risk assessments?" we can say "yes", for we are the evidence - at any rate that they survived huge standing stones toppling on them, or falling in lochs, long enough to produce offspring.

ZACL said...

Hi Vincent,

The picture shows what we all needed to do to cross that part of the loch, including the lady who fell. There was no path on the other part that would take us to the side where we needed to be. The picture is not a wide angled one, so, does not show the whole scene. We did the crossing twice, once each way, no choice, if we wanted to continue on our explorations. The only other choice, if you can call it that, was to climb and swing over onto the ledge, as close as we could to the end point, to make for a shorter crossing. Most of the walkers, could not climb up and swing over at the highest point with so little space to work with. So, that was one risk assessment we all individually made, the point at which we as individuals, could comfortably, (and safely) make the crossing.

I totally agree with you, our ancient ancestors certainly made risk assessments about where they would settle, even if just for a season or two. Some of their activity was as transhumans, much as we see today in the Pyrenees, the Alps and other mountain regions. Why? Because they needed to care for stock, where the ground was best suited, hunt and feed for their and their families' survival. They also had to take heed of their safety. I haven't heard of much ancient marauding inland at that time, though, that doesn't mean to say there wasn't any. (Later of course, there are other histories).

Some places, like where you see a hut circle or two, may have been seasonal homes. There is evidence that shows our ancestors moving around from fertile sheltered places in our region, to more exposed coastal locations. It is thought that, as I mentioned, seasons were a major consideration in ancient peoples periodic movement.

As you rightly say, the evidence of homo sapiens basic survival 'risk assessments' are all around us.

Vincent said...

"transhumans"? The OED has only an adjective meaning "beyond the human: superhuman". From the context I assume you must be referring to seasonal migration.

Vincent said...

Speaking of marauding, I believe that our ancestors would seek far afield to find land to sustain them, and if it was already occupied they would undertake a peacekeeping operation - killing all the men, and adopting the women and children. Unless they were themselves killed, of course. Children's author Rosemary Sutcliff wrote a tale about those times: Sun Horse, Moon Horse, an imaginative account of the origin of the famous Uffington White Horse.

ZACL said...

I am surprised the OED doesn't define transhumans more broadly. Perhaps it is specialised term which is not catered for in the context in which OED (that edition anyway), details it. It refers to people who migrate, even today, as I mentioned. Shepherds, herdsmen, for example, take and care for their stock up in the mountains. Before the Winter sets in they bring them down to milder climes.

You account of 'peacemaking' by marauders around Uffington was interesting. I have no definite knowledge of what warlike activities may have occurred in the areas around where I live.

Vincent said...

I just discovered this bibliography of "prehistoric fiction":

ZACL said...

Thank you.

TG said...

You're welcome.

keiko amano said...


This post is so fascinating. I wish I can see it with my own eyes, but thank you for all the photos. Reading your post and all the interesting comments is the next best thing.

And I agree with your following sentence:

"the evidence of homo sapiens basic survival 'risk assessments' are all around us."

ZACL said...

Hello Keiko,

Thank you for visiting this post.

I have vivid physical and pictorial memories of the outing. I conclude from it that I am too softened from today's living behaviours, to be able to survive the times in which the ancients lived.

Vincent said...

Oh well, that's selective breeding for you. You're manifestly hardy enough to survive the present times. Long may it continue!

ZACL said...

Vincent, Hello.

You made me laugh, again. Thank you for your support