Connecting Spirals

06 g macehead

The Garboldisham macehead is a remarkable Neolithic artefact fashioned from red deer antler and carved with three spiral motifs. The macehead was discovered in the mid 1960s in a tributary of the river Little Ouse, Norfolk and is one of a number of iconic decorated artefacts from Neolithic Britain. Dr. Marta Díaz-Guardamino and I have been studying it as part of the ongoing ‘Making a Mark’ project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Marta  recorded the carving on the macehead using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and it revealed some interesting features. It is clear that at least one of the spirals was carved over two phases, as the carving overlays at least two phases of polishing striations on the artefact’s surface. Detailed recording of the carved spirals using low powered digital microscopy also indicated that the carving of the spirals themselves were repeated more than once; possibly we might be looking at two craftspeople working on the same artefact.

 
Garboldisham 1

The date of this iconic artefact has been a mystery until now. A recently published project looking at these maceheads made from red deer antler decisively indicated that these artefacts date from the Middle Neolithic. We suspected this might be the case for Garboldisham too, but were delighted to be given permission to date the object. Following dating by the Oxford Radiocarbon lab, we can now report that the Garboldisham macehead dates from 3483 – 3104 BC (95% probability), placing it firmly in the same date range as the other antler maceheads. This is exciting as spirals occur in a diversity of locations, including Irish passage tombs, such as Newgrange, rock art in the Kilmartin region of Scotland and on Grooved Ware pottery from Skara Brae, Orkney. The early date for the Garboldisham macehead indicates that it dates from the same period as the primary use of Irish passage tombs. Indeed, the Knowth flint macehead is also carved with spiral decoration. The comparability of dates for the Garboldhisham macehead and Irish passage tombs suggests there were networks of interaction between eastern Ireland and East Anglia during the Middle Neolithic.

08 G macehead

We are currently writing up the results of this aspect of the ‘Making a Mark’ project, along with Alex Gibson (who was one of the authors of the antler macehead dating project) and Sylvia Cox (former curator at Moyse’s Hall/West Stow).

The Garboldisham macehead currently resides at West Stow Anglo Saxon village in Suffolk. We are very excited that as the result of these new analyses the Garboldisham macehead has been re-displayed. If you happen to be in Suffolk, and near West Stow, do drop in to see this intriguing artefact.

Dr. A.

Bath: Walks Within the Walls

Bath walks within the walls cover

About a month ago, I stumbled across a copy of Peter Smithson’s “Bath: Walks within the the Walls“. Peter Smithson and his wife Alison Smithson were key figures in the debate over shifting architecture in the 1950s. The uncompromising concrete style of New Brutalism championed by the Smithsons can be seen in their buildings at the University of Bath.

It’s therefore surprising to discover that Peter Smithson found so much to admire in the Georgian architecture of Bath – to the extent that he created this book of 5 walks around Bath in order to show architects, students and anyone willing to listen, the lessons that Bath has to teach us about architecture and landscape.

Dr A and I have been discussion the possibilities of Bath as a city highly suitable for flaneuring, ever since getting pleasantly lost somewhere between Sion Hill and the Circus sometime last summer. Also, Dr A’s research into prehistoric art has led to a new fascination with materials and marks of making. So with Smithson’s guide in hand we set out to hit the streets.

DSC_0035

Smithson has some pretty strict rules about how you should undertake these walks, a key requirement being that you should follow them “alone or with one other person, and that one should not talk.” This is because: “the reverie that Bath can induce is an important part of the lesson“.

Bath walks within the walls 2

Apologies to Smithson, but it was simply not possible for us to keep quiet for so long. Plus, I could not resist reading out Smithson’s forceful and often entertaining comments about the buildings and views we were encountering.

We had intended to follow the walks in order, but in the end we started with Walk 2, as it took us into areas of Bath we have so far failed to explore.

Over the next few months we hope to complete the rest of Smithson’s walks and post our findings on the blog.

Walk 2 will be posted tomorrow.

Dr H