Signals

New year, old light at The Hive, Worcester

Time, or its passage, is a concept that runs like an invisible thread through society and archaeology. We archaeologists routinely refer to periods of time or figures extracted from various dating techniques as part of our everday work with fluid familliarity. Yet, as humans, we cannot percive time beyond the abstract typologies and systems that we put into practice.  The scale of time passed in the context of human evolution is impossible to imagine and all before we attempt to place our growth against the background of geological time or Universal Evolution. Of course, perceptions of time are not fixed and this further complicates our understanding. We therfore search for anchors that can give us reference points.

I have been contemplating, and worriying, about time passing in recent months with a close family member approaching the end of life and my young family seeming to grow in front of my eyes. No, I cannot imagine all of the time that has passed since the Iron Age in Britain conveniently gave way to the Romano-British Period in 42AD. Suffice to say, I remain adrift in my own perception. The Iron Age? 1990 seems an age ago right now in 2017.

Winter moves on as part of the seasonal cycle of change giving those of us in a temperate climate the reasurrance of something familiar. We feel the cool, saturated Atlantic wind and maybe pause to contemplate a winter sunset. By early Feburary, the regular metronome of the working day is marked by sesonal shift. I aim to leave work around 5:00PM, which since November has been a nocturnal experience. Now it is marked by transient sunsets or the pale, silver light of the closing day. It is a signal that winter is maturing and light is returning.

Imbolc, a Neo-Pagan festival celebrated at the begining of February, evokes the ancient ritual of light returning to the landscape, which will soon resonate with the sounds of new life. Its roots echo through our times with lambing season, bird nesting and the steady emergance of buds, shoots and late winter wildflowers just a half-term break away.

Last week, I spent a day in local woodlands partially excavating a sawpit in Wyre Forest and then discussing conservation managment and potential public archarchaeology opportunities at a Woodland Trust site, Wassell Wood, a small ancient woodland with impressive earthworks! The sawpit had to compete with this leviathan of late prehistory, but held its own, not least due to the excitement of the local woodland owners who, as part of academic research, needed to expose some soil sections in the woodland floor. Why dig when you can clean? The section revealed a very thin organic layer and equally thin topsoil before giving way to natural clay and weathered sandstone. Time, was discussed. The site was not one given to problems of erosion and yet a great swathe of time has passed with little material evidence to illustrate its passage. Our perception of time was being tested. The light has returned to this landscape so many times, over an unimaginable timescale, and yes, formation processes have, and continue to modify our little section. However, to our human eyes, the soil and rock defied our imposed chronology, becoming timeless, adrift in our collective perception.

For this, my final contribution to The Human Seasons Blog, time has now run out.

Adam Mindykowski, Worcester, UK.

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