Badgers' entrance on East Kennet Long Barrow
We are used to thinking of badgers as enemies of archaeology, pests that burrow into ancient banks and barrows and do great damage – as indeed they do. But we were intrigued by a piece in the admirable North Stoke blog which provides a reminder that in the wider scheme of things they have a place – and an ancient claim to ownership of these monuments that is just as strong as ours.
A tale: Once many thousands of years ago a great barrow was raised by men over their dead, nature grew its flowers and trees over the barrow, birds came and went, the little bones of their deaths adding to the fertility of the soil. Foxes, badgers and deer sheltered in the shade of its trees and bushes. All around the great downs stretched, softly rounded, giving semblance of the goddess that may once have been worshipped a long time ago.
But we are not concerned with the affairs of man, for they are soon over, it is the barrow, decaying gently over the years, the purple of violets and pale primroses in the spring, that would have grown on this mound under the shade of the trees. In the hot summer months, the scarlet poppies, the pale blue, butterfly blue of the cranesbill, the white ox eyed daisy would be seen in the fields around, and the sweet smells of crushed thyme on the path, the yellow of ladies bedstraw as it laced its way through the wheat, would perfume the air on hot afternoons. Flowers drifting through the seasons, then their lives spent, seed would fall to the ground, and the cycle would go on. Nature moving through time.
Many years ago, badgers moved into the barrow, this was a slow process, for badgers are territorial and home-loving and take many generations to build their small clans. They must create a great burrow deep in the earth, warm and dry with the roots of the trees hanging from the earthen ceilings. Their bedding would be the soft dry hay of the meadows, arranged in a soft comfortable pad for daytime sleeping. Coming out at night to hunt, they would raid the nearby farms, rustling through the gardens of the sleeping village below the hill on which they lived. Drink from the clear flowing river that wound its way past the church and the manor house…
As the generations of badgers grew in the mound, they would expand the tunnels deeper into the barrow, going down beneath the soft dark earth, through the layers of white chalk till eventually they came to stone. Now badgers are strong creatures, and if you look outside their entrances you will see the small stones dragged out of their setts. But for our badgers in the mound these stones were enormous, like the walls of the houses in the village below.
They would eventually dig round the stones, finding themselves in a small stone cave, unvisited for thousands of years, a sepulchral space, bones would be scattered on the floor. Luckily for the badgers they would be indifferent to such a find, bones are just bones, the last remnant of a living creature. We humans on the other hand, would be given to excited speculation, a reverence for our past ancestors that would make an animal look with complete astonishment at such foolishness.
But stop. Aren’t we more intelligent than the dumb brain of our black and white friends, we have a right surely to know everything that there is about the world. Inquisitive and curious we pry and turn over any new find that passes our way, and so we acquire learning, though where it gets us goodness knows.