Giving form to thought

Old WaysDeep into Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways at the moment, and I came across this passage where he is talking about the writer Anna ‘Nan’ Shepherd and her book about the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland: “…the power of the HIghland landscape to draw people into intimacy with it, and [she] showed how particular places might make possible particular thoughts.” This connection between a place and the ideas that it ferments brought me back to my Goodbye Portland post, and how perhaps the isle and the idea of the pseudomorph are somehow entwined. It has also started me thinking about what associations there might be between The Verne prison on Portland and its location, at the highest point of the isle. MacFarlane continues: “…landscape has long offered us keen ways of figuring ourselves to ourselves, strong means of shaping memories and giving form to thought.”

Goodbye Portland

It is five am. I am staying in the tower of the Old Lower Lighthouse (now the Portland Bird Observatory, or ‘Obs’ as it is known) and have slept with the windows wide open. I need to leave soon to resume life elsewhere. Looking out the sky is clear, the air still warm, a half moon lights the sea and the Bill below, surrounded by bright stars. I can see right across to St Aldhelm’s Head, over the red and white lights of the occasional boat. To the right the four beams of the new lighthouse swing and probe silently out across the sea, silently returning every twenty seconds. The wind is strong and gusty from the west, the remains of a recent storm. This place has really got under my skin. I will be sad to leave. As I walk down the stairs, curving to the left, I start to thinking ‘what is the real link between places and ideas?’. Might it be that Portland, in some way, contains the idea of the pseudomorph? That ideas have places and places are ideas? (11/9/12)



OK. Here goes. I am not making this up. This is the ‘pelt’ of the microlith that I have been working on with archaeologist Gareth Beale of the University of Southampton. Pelt is his term, not mine, and the skinning of the microlith goes like this. First scan your microlith using x-rays to produce a 3D model of it, and at the same time take photos of the surface all around. Then stick the photos to the 3D model, so that the model becomes an exact replica, in shape and colour, of the original. Then, peel the colour surface off the model, allowing it to stretch and split so that what is a curved surface can be laid flat, just as an animal skin is stretched out. And there you have it, a pelted stone! It is in moments like this when I realise that there is nothing new; we progress spirally, round and round, revisiting the same point again and again, but each time with a slightly altered gaze. Thanks Gareth!

Lost and found

Rain, floods, cloudy – we almost didn’t go, but when we got out to the Race the sun came out! It was so good to get onto the sea at last. So necessary to shake things up. We set the raft floating with the waterproof camera attached and then backed off to let the tide take it through the Race. That was the last we saw of it! A hour and a half searching on the other side and nothing. So we headed home hoping that someone might find it washed up 0n a beach in the next few days, only to find the raft on our way back to Weymouth, five miles from where we had put it into the water. What a perfect day!  Whilst searching we had plenty of time to watch the currents and yes, now I know why the Race is depicted as solid: you feel it as such; the waves coming from every direction, suddenly a calm area, then a spot where the water is spitting up, standing waves all around, and the whole thing with a distinct outline. When we put the microphones underwater a strange clicking sound amongst all the watery sounds. Thanks Shaun for stearing us through, and Matt for all your support. 


It might not look much, just a shard of dark coloured stone, but this is, in fact, a Mesolithic microlith, a small piece of Portland chert that has been deliberately fashioned into a sharp barb, possibly to be used as part of a fishing spear. I have been hunting for a suitable microlith ever since I saw the one from the Culverwell site on the Bill. When you look up close, you can see that all of the edges have been worked. Its maker had a clear idea of what he, or she, was doing, and all this many thousands of years ago. To see such handiwork, and on this scale, is humbling. This microlith brings with it both wonder and a sense of calibration. Thanks Nancy, Nicole and Gareth for all you help with sourcing this. 


Great news: we have an exhibition venue for the project! It is going to be in the new Coastwatch training building, which is situated right next to the Coastwatch Station on the highest point of the Bill. You can see all three lighthouses from here (the old upper lighthouse is just behind). I am really looking forward to working out how to use it for the show, and am so glad that the work will be shown on the Bill itself, not elsewhere.

Spirals, swirls and twists

An amazing day today working with Jack on the roach stone scan. Now with all the levels adjusted in the software, the cylinder of stone dissolves away to reveal a cloud of air pockets within. I just couldn’t believe my eyes at time, the stone taking on the quality of the inside of a human body, and then the root system of a plant, before reverting to a crush of spirals, swirls and twists. And in the middle of it all our chosen shell, the one that we are extracting for 3D printing. I will leave you to guess which one! [Click on the image for a closer look.]