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by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

I was looking for a book the other night, when I chanced upon one that I hadn’t read in a long time; ‘The Little Prince‘, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It’s a child’s book, in the sense that it’s a book about the world, as seen like a child. Reading it as an adult, the book seems achingly sad, but, then again, another adult might have a different perception of it. Years ago, I read it and had to put it away from me, because it was almost too much to bear. These lines, from a poem by Yeats; ’The Host of the Air’, describe the same feeling;

But he heard high up in the air
A piper piping away,
And never was piping so sad,
And never was piping so gay.

Anyway, to get to the point. The world, as seen like a child – to see exactly the same thing, but in a different way. In the very beginning of the book the airman describes his attempts, at the age of six, to make grown-ups see that his drawing was of a boa-constrictor digesting an elephant, and not of a hat. What are we always ranting about on here? Modern hands plucking unnecessarily at the works of ancients’ minds. Or, heedless, letting the same dreams crumble back to dirt.

You may look, perhaps, and instead see fortune, or jobs and progress, or some easily recordable information about the past, or nothing at all.

Did the developers at Bremore, for example, or the road builders at Tara, see the grass and the hills and the brushed touches of ancient life and death, or did they see a useful site? If they saw the latter, why were we so surprised that they never noticed the former, except as an obstruction? Only by regularly pointing out the boa-constrictor can we hope to make people see that it is not a hat.

“There will be more to come after us“; is really the point and how much will be left for them to look at?

“The stars mean different things to different people. For some they are nothing more than twinkling lights in the sky. For travellers they are guides. For scholars they are food for thought. For my businessman they are wealth. But for everyone the stars are silent. Except from now on just for you…”


Addenda (1)

This morning (March 17th) I received my Spring 2010 issue of Archaeology Ireland and, in the foreword, the editor Tom Condit makes pointed reference to the recently published ‘Condition and Management Survey of the Archaeological Resource in Northern Ireland’, a report that received a detailed pre-publication summary in their pages last year. Although I have covered this ground previously and in some detail, it’s worth quoting some of the findings again, in the context of Tom Condit’s remarks;

The report’s own summary indicates a bleak outlook for the survival of sites and monuments.

– Only 7% of the sites and monuments were found to be complete or substantially complete.

– 26% of sites had been damaged within the five years before the commencement of the survey.

– The sites in the poorest condition and with the worst rates of survival were located on arable land, in areas of improved grassland and within urban areas.

– 90% of sites in State care, Scheduled sites and those subject to agri-environment agreements were found to have survived well.

– Uncontrolled, new built development, heavy grazing and grassland improvement were identified as the most destructive activities.

– Sites located in unimproved grassland, in wetlands and in woodlands survived better.

Such findings should ring warning bells and demand an urgent response…

…Unfortunately, sites and monuments cannot be shifted with such ease and, unlike the humble ice cube, our outdoor archaeological heritage can never be replaced.”

There will be more to come after us and how much will be left for them to look at?


Addenda (2)

Yesterday (March 22nd), I saw this website mentioned on another forum (Great work, by the way). I’ve taken the liberty of quoting an extract here;

“In recent weeks I have encountered three cases in which Standing Stones listed in the Waterford Archaeological Inventory of 1999 appear to be no longer present in their location. At two of the sites visited it appears that modern development was the reason for their absence and particularly in one location where it seems the stone must have got in the way of  a new housing development.

Sadly, it appears that this is how 21st century Ireland is beginning to perceive our ancient monuments, seemingly regarding what may look like an ordinary stone, to be just an unnecessary obstruction to progress. Regrettably, there has been little thought given to those who erected these wonderful antiquities and placed so much importance and significance on them.

For centuries, farmers have worked alongside these standing stones and have always respected their presence on their lands. Perhaps, today’s modern generation being so pre -occupied with wealth and materialism have chosen to disregard their significance. Also, because of the modest size and stature of these monuments, they seem all the more vulnerable. Another contributing factor could be that a number of these monoliths have been thought of as just ” Scratching Posts” for livestock.

Hopefully, Prehistoric Waterford and similar websites, through documenting and recording of monuments, can help develop an appreciation and ultimately a respect for our ancient antiquities.”

Only by regularly pointing out the boa constrictor can we hope to make people see that it is not a hat.



March 2010

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