thinking about archaeology

Memorials

Easter statues

Spooky. No sooner had I written about our disappearing churchyards, than in the post this morning comes the latest Conservation Bulletin from English Heritage, featuring places of worship – cathedrals, churches and, yes, memorials. (If you have doubts about the value of English Heritage, you should read this bulletin, full of wise, informative stuff about the extraordinary range of skills and knowledge that is being applied to our historic fabric.)

A beach quarry for coral slabs used in megalithic tombs in Tonga

A beach quarry for coral slabs used in megalithic tombs in Tonga

A piece by Jennifer White (senior landscape adviser at EH) highlights the problem that some local authorities are still flattening memorials, believing them to be a public danger. Apparently eight people have died in the past 30 years as a result of falling stones, but I venture that only lawyers and public servants of a certain type would see that as cause for sweeping the stones away (how many people have died from falling TV sets, pictures and mirrors? Should we remove those from homes?). The very tests conducted to see how safe memorials are, are damaging them and rendering them unsafe. But such has been the public response, there is a page on the local government ombudsman’s website dedicated to complaints about safety tests! “When I made my yearly visit to my mother’s grave”, goes the opening question, “I was shocked to find the gravestone laid flat and a notice telling me to contact the council”.

A megalithic tomb in the highlands of Madagascar. It had recently been restored and tided up by the council, but the men were not impressed, as council had put the entrance on the wrong side

A megalithic tomb in the highlands of Madagascar. It had recently been restored and tided up by the council, but the men were not impressed, as council had put the entrance on the wrong side

I’ve always liked cemeteries and memorials, long before I came as an archaeologist to realise how precious these things are for helping us understand the mind as well as the world of societies long gone. So here are a few  pictures of some special places.

Seahenge, the memorial oak circle erected on the Norfolk coast in 2049BC, being excavated in 1999

Seahenge, the memorial oak circle erected on the Norfolk coast in 2049BC, being excavated in 1999

A life-size model ox going up in flames at a cremation ceremony in Bali

A life-size model ox going up in flames at a cremation ceremony in Bali

A wonderful carving said to be some 50 years old or more, commemorating a tragic canoeing accident off southern Madagascar, by the highly talented sculptor Fesira

A wonderful carving said to be some 50 years old or more, commemorating a tragic canoeing accident off southern Madagascar, by the highly talented sculptor Fesira

A Madagascan cemetery with standing stones and carved posts carrying the skulls of sacrificed cattle

An European grave in Tonga

An European grave in Tonga

Memorial poles and other markers in a cemetery in Alert Bay ('Namgis burial ground) on the coast of British Columbia, western Canada

Memorial poles and other markers in a cemetery in Alert Bay ('Namgis burial ground) on the coast of British Columbia, western Canada

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