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Jane is an artist, whose earlier works included many watercolours of ancient sites. She is a founder member of Heritage Action, and the partner of Moth, one of our previous respondents. They met at the inaugural meeting of Heritage Action at Uffington White Horse in 2004. Jane has provided the following responses to our standard questions:

* What is/was your day job?

Primarily, I am an artist. My paintings are inspired by the natural world, but history often creeps in. I love to hand-paint maps. You can see my paintings at janetomlinson.com. I also work part time as a marketer for a specialist IT training company.

* How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?

As a tiny girl in the 1960s, on our way back from a holiday in Cornwall, we stopped at Stonehenge. At that time, you could walk right up to the stones – and we did. I remember the overwhelming scale of the massive stones, and Dad telling me how long ago they were built. I think Dad’s own sense of wonder infected! 

* Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else?

My interest lies in the fact that our neolithic ancestors built such big and complex stuff, and so long ago with little more than their bare hands, basic tools, and sheer ingenuity. That so much of it still stands fills me with the same wonder as I felt as a tiny girl at Stonehenge more than 50 years ago.

I love how the monuments – broken remnants of our history – are in remote and wild places. I love their sculptural forms in the landscape. I love to wonder at the skills of the engineers who conceived and built such massive structures.

I don’t feel anything spiritual at ancient monuments, or indeed, anywhere else. I don’t really know what ‘spiritual’ means. Ancient monuments make me feel a profound sense of wonder. They make me realise that although the neolithic people didn’t have writing or the internal combustion engine, our ancestors were exactly the same as us – creative, organised, resourceful, thoughtful.

* What is your favourite time period or era? 

Neolithic and Bronze Age is the period I find most fascinating. What just a few generations did then – settling down, farming, building permanent shelters, domesticating animals and plants, organising themselves into successful and functioning societies, meant people had the time and resources to do more than just survive. They could think, create, specialise and experiment with new technologies, materials and ideas. Clay! Metal! Art!

* Which book has had the most influence on your interest? 

There are two. Julian Cope’s ‘The Modern Antiquarian‘ and ‘The Megalithic European‘. These have guided our travels for more than two decades. It’s thanks to Cope’s Modern Antiquarian website, that I met my husband. 

* Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on-site visits?

Even though they are singularly unsuitable as field guides, Julian Cope’s ‘The Modern Antiquarian’ and ‘The Megalithic European’ are essentials. More practically, Aubrey Burl’s ‘The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland, and Brittany‘ has enabled us to find some really lesser known gems, especially in hidden corners of France.

* What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why?

The most surprising day, which could so easily have ended in failure, was seeking out and eventually finding the Damiya Dolmen Field in the Jordan Valley. Armed with little more than an idea, a couple of very vague maps, and a general sense of where they might be, we hired a taxi for a day trip out from Amman. We didn’t really expect to find anything. The taxi driver spoke hardly any English and we don’t speak Arabic. He thought we were quite mad. But determination and a sense of where the ancient people might have chosen to build their tombs, and despite the screaming summer heat, unsuitable footwear, and steep rocky hillsides we actually found loads of fabulous dolmens. Built in the very Early Bronze Age, these were already 3,500 years old when Jesus was a nipper. The whole place was mind-blowing, not least its proximity to the heavily barb-wired Jordan/Israel border. I wrote a blog about it here: https://janetomlinson.com/jordan-valley-dolmens/
 
Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?

Göbeklitepe and Catalhöyuk in Anatolia. It would be a rare glimpse into early modern history and social organisation just at the time humanity was becoming settled. What those people did then laid the foundations for everything that came after.

* Which archaeological words or phrases caused you the most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now?

The phrase “ritual use” really gets my goat! On what basis is something ‘ritual’? And how would we ever know? So much supposition goes on and so often “ritual use” is lazy shorthand for ‘errr…. we just don’t know’. It’s OK not to know. But for goodness sake, be clear that ‘we’re not sure what this was for, but it might have been for … ‘

* What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?

Rupert Soskin’s and Michael Bott’s revelation about Stanton Drew being a kind of amphitheatre for hunting games really struck a chord with me. It makes sense to me.

* What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

Litter – and that includes tea lights and other plastic ‘offerings’ of utter tat. Take your rubbish home with you and dispose of it properly!


Many thanks to Jane for sharing her megalithic origins with us. Look out for further instalments of ‘Meet the Antiquarists’ in the weeks to come! Don’t forget, if you’d like to feature in this series, simply contact us with your answers to the questions above. To see other articles in this series, simply enter ‘Antiquarists’ in the search box on the left (or click the handy supplied link)

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