Detail of retouch on a burin

Mountains under the microscope


A day to hunker down, to watch the wind writhe into every nook and corner from within a warm workroom.

Flint today: a scatter of Neolithic and Bronze Age artefacts from a site on the east bank of the Severn, from which the Malvern Hills dominate the western horizon.

A sprinkling of snow tops the high hills of the Malverns today. It lends them a distinguished, Alpine air.

Snow atop the Malvern Hills

Snow atop the Malvern Hills

Under the microscope, traces of earth clinging to the steep ridges of retouched flint are like snowdrifts sheltered between high peaks. The overlapping scars reach up from the inner, ventral, ground-surface towards the upper, dorsal heavens. Turning under the microscope lens throws new shadows as if orbiting my tiny flint planet around a fluorescent sun.

Retouched flint

My thoughts drift to fractals, and people sitting in the shadows of the hills carefully applying their miniature hill-ranges, matching in flint the form of the ancient diorite peaks above. And how the intervening millennia split the two into separate realms: hills above, exposed: flint below, long-buried.

The reverie is interrupted by the return of the snow-chapped diggers, wearily tramping down the corridor. “We brought you a rock!”, they say, triumphant, pushing a trolley laden with burnt limestone masonry. No peaks here: just soft Cotswold limestone, reddened, blackened, and dull with the claggy soil of the ditch in which it came to rest.



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