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Much is made of the “knowledge dividend” that digging a mile long scar through the landscape will deliver. But one has to ask: if it’s so beneficial why not do it anyway without building a road?! Clearly the dividend isn’t a true benefit it’s an excuse for supporting massive destruction.

In any case, as all archaeologists know, rushing to find everything in this generation is pure cultural vandalism because so much will be lost. Far better to leave it for the next generations – perhaps hundreds of years hence – who can then learn far, far more using better techniques in a gradual, unhurried, incremental and less damaging way.  There’s even a case for not uncovering some knowledge at all, as Jon Parton suggested in the Journal in 2009:


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A Guest Article by Jon Parton (first published in 2009)

The East Kennet Long Barrow is little regarded compared with its celebrated and far more visited neighbour, West Kennet Long Barrow. This inequality is unjust, firstly because East Kennet is enormous – a cathedral to the parish church that is West Kennet – and secondly because, unlike the opened, eviscerated West Kennet, graffitied, tealit and crassly modernised, robbed of its bones and mystery, East Kennet has not been opened.

This makes it very special amongst the Wessex monuments which have been repeatedly exposed in the name of science or greed, with another neighbour, Silbury, being the most famous example. Unlike in that case, no endless succession of inquisitive seekers has bored into East Kennet in pursuit of that which they destroyed and no-one has felt the need to apologise by writing “Bones of our wild forefathers, O forgive, if now we pierce the chambers of your rest”. Everything – and everyone – within East Kennet lies safe and secure, just as intended by those who sealed it 250 generations ago. Uniquely, miraculously, East Kennet hugs within itself a last precious cache of unsullied mystery.

Should it be opened? “Of course!” say some. “Who knows what treasures might be revealed for the enjoyment of all instead of remaining pointlessly hidden forever more? Who knows what knowledge might be recovered about those who built it and lie within it, providing them with a form of immortality rather than eternal obscurity?” Therein lies the obvious answer. And yet…

For me the choice is the reverse, and clear. For surely, all the gains combined could not compensate for one particular loss: the loss of the last and greatest of Wessex ‘s jewels – the last, true, flawless mystery. Where is the wonderment at West Kennet? What poet can sit alone on its turf and fancy he hears ancient whispers in rustling leaves? Who can visit the mysterious past by pausing at a display case of bones? Who can stand by poor Silbury without an uncomfortable feeling we have betrayed real people who created a private wonder and that we owe them a profound apology? Are we to assert that this is our time, not theirs, our hill, our barrow, our heritage, our mystery? Do we flout the wishes of other humans on the simple grounds that they are dust, we want to and can? Is this the future we want for ourselves?

But mostly, it’s the mystery. Let us not shatter it, as we have all the others, to satisfy our present, self-serving vulgar curiosity. Let us leave it pristine and unattainable forever and thereby of value beyond the wildest dreaming of those with eager or righteous spades…

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