Saturday, 13 December 2008
Finding links with the past.
Ronald Blythe in "River Diary" talks of one of the most sure ways of linking with the past being the scent (and sight) of flowers. I agree with this. If I was to walk down the side of a hawthorn hedge in early June, I could be pretty sure that the May Blossom on the hedge would look like it looked to our ancestors a thousand years ago - and that the smell would also be the same. I think the same could be said of birdsong. The sound of a skylark on moorland on a hot summer's day will not have changed one iota over the years - so we can be sure we are hearing exactly the same sound that our great-great-grandfathers heard.
Somehow these somewhat tenuous links with the past generations give me a sense of comfort and a feeling that nature perpetuates itself, that things - animals, people, plants- come and go in the giant scheme of things and each of us is just a small part.
Anyone who has read my blog for a while will remember me writing about the Neolithic Stone Axe that we found in one of our fields, and the silver and carnelian watch fob dated 1863. These were quite rare findings and, as such, very exciting.
But we often come across other links with the past which are much more common. Three of them are photographed above - the spindle whorl, the clay pipe and the flint knife - thousands of these lie about waiting to be found. If you type spindle whorl in Google you will find a whole list of recent finds, some of them beautifully decorated. Putting Clay pipes into Google will also throw up various examples - so they are not at all rare. But to me they are exciting links with the past.
Spindle whorls were used to hold down the thread with weight while the spinning was done - hand spinning. I saw these being used in Turkey in the Taurus mountains by nomadic women as they walked behind their menfolk. I find it exciting to think that at one time people walked in our fields spinning as they walked. It is made of lead and is quite heavy for its size and it has been beautifully decorated although most of the pattern has now worn off. But if I hold it in my hand I feel a link with the past which is hard to ignore.
We have picked up a few clay pipes - this is the most complete. The hole to the bowl is very narrow - smoking must have been quite hard. There is a hatched heart on the bowl which leads me to think it was made for or by a sweetheart. Not so, says Heather, an expert on clay pipes. This one dates from about 1860 - a time when farmworkers were feeling particularly disgruntled with their work conditions and when Trades Unions were beginning to be formed to help them. This heart signifies an allegiance to a Trades Union Movement. A bit more prosaic, but when I look at it I think, who held it in his hand before me, was he working the field, did it break and did he discard it, or did he drop it and lose it?
The flint knife was picked up in my garden. It is easy to think it is just a bit of old flint but for two things - this is not a flint area at all and this flint has been chipped away to give a very sharp edge - that edge is still capable to cutting today. How long that has been there is anybody's guess. Other flint knives have been found so it is not a rarity.
I have a friend with very sharp eyes which she has trained to look carefully as she walks. She has found countless little treasures and then done research into their origins - things from Roman times, Viking times. She is also a dab hand at finding and investigating owl pellets!
The links with the past are all around us, to be heard in bird song, to me smelt in flowers, to be handled and thought about in objects dug from the soil. One question remains - I wonder what I have lost, dropped or inadvertently left around that future generations might find. And if they do, will they pick the object up, hold it in their hand and speculate on my time here on earth?