A fascinating discovery by archaeologists in Sweden: poles with human heads impaled on them at the bottom of a pond, dating back to the stone age. Apart from the mystery surrounding the ritual, the academics are also scratching their heads about a stone burial mound found nearby – a kind that didn’t become common until much later.
When I was researching Jack of Ravens, I spent a lot of time at the hugely atmospheric Iron Age (and probably much earlier) settlement of Carn Euny in Cornwall. There’s a long sequence at the start of that book set when the village was still vibrant. As long time readers will recall, it plays a crucial part in the wider story of the Age of Misrule.
Now Cornish band Kemper Norton have recorded a mini-album, Carn, based around field recordings at the location. The heart of the music lies in the mysterious fogou, a stone tunnel running under the settlement. There are only around fifteen known fogous and no one is quite sure of their purpose – simple storage, refuge in time of attack or a ritual site. I’d recommend visiting – the atmosphere in the fogou is intense.
And Kemper Norton capture that haunting feel in this music. You can download it for £4 or take a listen here.
It’s a pretty major achievement to discover the location of the millennia-old quarry down to a few metres, but this also throws up some new mysteries. The rhyolitic rocks differ from all others in South Wales. The presumption is that they were chosen for a specific reason. How were they identified and why? There has been some interesting work done elsewhere into the acoustic qualities of particular stones at prehistoric sites. Is this important?
And this discovery has also kicked a hole in theories of how the stones were transplanted to Salisbury Plain. A consensus was growing that they were floated on rafts along the coast, but the exact location’s inaccessibility to water makes this unlikely. The old geologic theory – that the stones were pushed by advancing glaciers from Wales to Wiltshire during the ice age – is pretty flimsy as there aren’t any other Welsh rocks scattered around the Plain.
You don’t want to seem like a nutter when you’re on public radio. So when the host asks me – as they always do – where do you get your ideas from, I steer clear of the truthful answer: “psychic connections through the aether” or “hypnagogic messages dictated by our mysterious overlords“. I usually mutter something about stumbling across an interesting fact. Always go for the boring option. It keeps you out of the coats with no arms.
But we can speak honestly here. We all know about the mysterious connections in life. The stuff that goes on behind all those scientific processes. The weird, inexplicable occurrences lurking in the corners of day-to-day existence. The gods and imps and fairies and demons that we like to call other things because, you know, that whole coats with no arms thing…
When I say “the universe speaks to me”, I mean it speaks to all writers, all musicians, all artists. We each tend to put a different face on it, but it’s the same voice. So where do my gods and fairies and demons lurk?
In pubs with stone and timber and glowering locals and beer with strange names. In deep rural life which city folk think is backward, but is wild and dangerous and so removed it might as well be another planet. In bands that you might stumble across in the back rooms of pubs and never hear from again. In stone circles, crumbling ruins, lonely pools, old houses. Across those city liminal zones – industrial estates under sodium at 3am, empty, broken-windowed factories and wasteground with rainbow-streaked puddles. In black-faced, mirror-glassed morris men and biker gangs. In snatches of music heard after midnight. In moots and meets and markets held under moonlight. These are the places where stories are born. These are the locations where my writing gods live.
And for a specific example, here’s one of the inspirations for Age of Misrule…
The Dancing Did remain one of my favourite bands, a quarter of a century after they split up. Characterised as “neo rustic pagan bop” or “a cross between The Clash and Steeleye Span”, you can find out more about them here.
Their album, And Did Those Feet, is little-known but essential, particularly if you like fantasy or any of those things I listed above. The lyrics are clever, witty and poetic and deal with ancient things encroaching on the modern world – listen to ‘The Wolves of Worcestershire‘ or ‘Charnel Boy‘. A remixed version with a booklet and additional tracks is available from Cherry Red.
The Dancing Did’s thematic equivalent today may well be Cornish collective Kemper Norton though the music is very, very different. I came across them through the regular ravings of Warren Ellis, another fan. More inspiration. I bet they never imagined they’d be dragging a story about Elizabethan spies and Faerie into the light…
Archaeologist and Stonehenge expert Mike Pitts wonders if the hedges might have been to shelter the watchers from the power of the stones, as much as to ward off the observers’ “impious” gaze. The full story is revealed in British Archaeology magazine.
A new study of the stones themselves, meanwhile, confirms that the majority of bluestones came from hundreds of miles away, in the Preseli Hills in West Wales. However, doubts still remain over the origin of the largest bluestone, the Altar Stone – its composition reveals it cannot be from the Preseli region.
A “second Stonehenge” has been discovered, next to the River Avon and allegedly linked by a processional route to the “actual” Stonehenge. Archaeologists say this newly discovered circle was composed of Welsh bluestones.
The recent discovery is bringing about a major re-think of the entire site. (Thanks to CharlieFarlie of the forum for the link.)