thinking about archaeology

Fourth Plinth

Plinth 1.20am

At 1–2am on July 29 2009, the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square had something amazing on it: 10 pieces of stone. The plinth itself was carved from Aberdeen granite in the 19th century, but the stones on top were varied – dolerite, flint, limestone and sandstone. Between them they represented the entire span of humanity as then known in the British Isles – 700,000 years! They were all original artefacts which I chose for key moments in the story. It began with a flint flake from Pakefield, and via, amongst others, a beautiful handaxe from Boxgrove (500,000 years ago), a piece of Stonehenge (3000BC) and part of a block from Hadrian’s Wall (AD122), the people in this story were present in a few of the things they made. And I was there too, curating this extraordinary collection.

Each stone has a catalogue entry in 10 separate posts, which you can read by clicking herePlinth box 1 to 10.

You can watch the show by clicking on the image above. I was interviewed for The World Today on the BBC World Service (in the square minutes before I went up, courtesy of a nice man who arrived on his bike with a functioning recorder just in time) and my local radio at BBC Wiltshire.

The Council for British Archaeology held a vote for the most popular piece of stone, which, perhaps because many of the voters were probably archaeologists, turned out not to be Stonehenge or Hadrian’s Wall but the flint from the bed of the North Sea.

Many thanks to all those who helped make this possible – the people and museums who lent me their objects (listed in the catalogue), the people who came to see me and especially my family for putting up with it all. And the One & Other project itself, and, not least, the people of Britain.

Map

7 responses

  1. akhen3sir

    Hi Mike,

    Read an article about your plinth stint in the online Gazette and Herald today, where it says:

    “Mr Pitts said he was also hoping to lead a search for the quarries or pits from which the Avebury sarsen stones were originally excavated more than 4,000 years ago. The stones were left by the retreating glaciers but would have had to be excavated, he said.”

    I thought that the sarsens were native to the area being silicified Cenozoic sediment boulders, rather than glacial erratics transported from elsewhere.

    Can you comment?

    Regards
    Akhen3sir

    July 22, 2009 at 11:23 am

    • mikepitts

      Golly! Goes to show you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers. Yes, sarsens are local to the area, and as far as we know it has never been glaciated. What we hope to find (though it may be a long shot) are pits where stones had been removed in neolithic times. As they would likely have used antler picks to dig them out, there’s a good chance we’d find one or more we could radiocarbon date, offering a more reliable date for stone moving (and presumbaly erection) than we’re ever likely to get from Avebury itself. If we found signs of stone dressing, then the stone would have been for Stonehenge (the only site we know with carved stones), offering huge insight into the technology and transport issues of the site.

      July 22, 2009 at 11:43 am

      • akhen3sir

        Thanks – I thought that would be an odd thing for you to say (periglacial stripes at SH notwithstanding🙂

        It’d be fascinating to find some dateable evidence in an excavation pit. Look forward to reading about your progress in this quest.

        Regards
        Akhen3sir

        July 22, 2009 at 12:15 pm

  2. Tiffany Jenkins

    Brilliant plinth Mike. Someone who knows what he wants to say and says it well, and it’s fascinating. A joy. Thanks.

    Tiffany

    July 29, 2009 at 12:27 pm

  3. ereshkigal

    thank you: imaginative, intelligent, inspiring

    July 29, 2009 at 8:17 pm

  4. Susan Royce

    Perfect. Thank you.

    July 31, 2009 at 4:55 pm

  5. I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work

    September 3, 2009 at 1:05 am

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