Annihilation

Artwork for Annihilation (by Eric Nyquist)

Our local bookshop has Dr A and me hooked on the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer.

The series is set in an unspecified point in the future, with the first book following a team of scientists as they enter the dangerous and carefully controlled Area X.

The landscape of Area X is dominated by lush vegetaion, but the ruins and remains of peoples lives and actions are to be found there too. Although she is a biologist, the narrator’s knack for observation and description would have made her an excellent archaeolgoist.

Near the start of the book, the team of scientists come across a structure – an inverted tower. Down the spiral stair case they find traces of living words written upon the walls.

The narrator describes  the writing and traces of former writing:

” there existed a ghosting of prior words…It was hard to read them – there were several overlapping strands that started and stopped and started up again. The number of such ghost scripts faded into the wall suggested this process had been ongoing for a long time.”

This passage made me think of Dr A’s paper on Irish passage tomb art. Discussing the art found inside the tombs he notes the “intense degree of superimposition” of images inside the tomb at Knowth, with primary images “providing a visual trace for subsequent reworking”.

Given a choice, I’d far rather take my chances with time travel and meeting the artists of Knowth and Newgrange than venture into Area X and risk meeting the author of the words in the tower.

Dr H

 

 

 

 

Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood

Dr A and I recently got our hands on an episode of the Stones of Blood – part of the Keys to Time series of Doctor Who featuring Tom Baker (broadcast 1978).

This has a cracking archaeology-themed storyline, which proves beyond doubt the animacy of archaeological remains.

The first two episodes are especially enjoyable. Filmed on location at the Rollright Stones, they feature a Druidic cult, a Celtic goddess, menacing corvids and two female prehistorians. What’s not to like?

I hate to give away a whole plotline, but it doesn’t take long to guess from their tendency to glow in the dark and their thirst for human blood, that there’s more to these standing stones than simple calcium carbonate.

While there’s a good deal of silliness in the episodes, there’s a good dose of atmosphere and horror too. The outfits and rituals are pretty effective and the sequence where two campers encounter the stones would have given me nightmares for days if I’d seen it when I was a child. Archaeologists – think twice before you pitch your tent too close to that stone circle…

The episodes draw on folklore relating to standing stones, name drops several genuine archaeologists and presumably draws inspiration from the pinnacle of archaeological TV drama Children of the Stones, which aired in 1977 and was filmed on location at Avebury.

Animism and animacy are topics archaeologists (including Dr A) have explored in recent years. The stones and rocks in the landscape around you now may not be randomly glowing or craving your blood, but people have recently been bombarded by beach pebbles, flung at their streets and houses by stormy seas. As the storms in SW England have demonstrated, the world around us is far from passive.

Dr H

Read more about archaeology and science fiction on the blog here.