Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: archaeology

Sightlines (2012)

My softcover edition of Sightlines (2012) looks like this.

While my first Kathleen Jamie experience, Findings (2005), came serendipitously while browsing the Halifax Central Library, my second was bought for me for Christmas by someone who knows me well. Dedicated “for the Island-goers” this spoke directly to me, fresh from the Falklands. Jamie is also a poet, and it is with such carefully chosen yet spare and modest language that she tackles these essays that work the vein between human and nature. Several concern remote islands and outcrops like St. Kilda and Rona, with historic human occupation that speaks of human ingenuity and fortitude, and where novel landscapes persist as a result. A favourite one conveys the zen experience of the Hvalsalen, the ‘whale hall’ in the Bergen Museum, its history and its renovation, which is recalled later in a meditation on the use of whalebone as memorial and in craft. One called ‘pathologies’ explores the human body as a habitat, for bacteria among other challenging organisms, inspired by our tendency to be selective about what we consider nature worth saving, or worthy of our awe. Yet another talks about Jamie’s experiences as a young archaeologist, excavating to ‘save’ history from development while erasing it. These are some of my favourites essays in this collection, which also have others focusing on natural phenomena like orca, aurora and seabirds. My preferences are not surprising given my interest in things social: after all, when presented with colonies of rockhopper penguins and black-browed albatrosses on West Falkland, I asked, “Can we go back and watch the shearing?”.  Jamie needs to go next to the Falklands, given her fascination for remote islands, wind, and the  history of human industry including whaling and agriculture. I think I’ll write and tell her.

Black-browed albatrosses patrol the rockhopper penguins, guarding their eggs, on a cliff at Dunbar, West Falkland.

A black-browed albatross patrols the rockhopper penguins, who are guarding their eggs, on a cliff at Dunbar, West Falkland.

Time Team

When I need to unwind I watch Time Team on YouTube. Tony Robinson (Sir, knighted in 2013), once comedian and actor and now activist and amateur historian, hosts this show that features three-day archaeological digs, generally within the UK. It is in its 20th season, which puts it in slim company. It is fascinating for anyone interested in landscape change, human modification and the meaning of place. Last night’s episode, Beacon of the Fens, was from Season 16, and examined a small rise on the edge of the English fenlands (marshy areas). It’s relative prominence has made it a beacon for millennia, but it is now farmed. They found pottery and remains of a burnt wattle and daub dwelling from a stone age settlement, bronze age axes, evidence of a wooden church, and a medieval stone chapel, as well as landscape modifications (causeway, enclosures) of manor houses, etc. These were all overlaid in situ over time, and then largely forgotten in all but the name: chapel hill. And what was winging away in the background for most of the shots? Massive wind turbines.

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