Saturday, April 9, 2016

Accidental archeology

'treasure chest' with pottery fragments and other 'finds'. 
In M. R. James' ghost stories the over-curious antiquarian, archeologist or scholar of ancient manuscripts, invariably a solitary academic bachelor, in his pursuit of hidden or forgotten knowledge or treasure, digs too deep into the past uncovering and disturbing a festering, half forgotten evil intent, locked inside seemingly innocent, inanimate objects or otherwise pleasant and innocuous places.  Seeming to feed off his obsessive fascination, it seethes with a generative power, haunting him quite literally with the manifestation of the supernatural in ghosts that are almost physical, tangible apparitions full of foreboding and psychological terror.  Had James been Roman Catholic, instead of Anglican, he might have found it easier to reconcile the rational to the supernatural without using the veil of fiction to explore these problematic states.

Septic tank finally in the ground !
Ghosts, oil on canvases.

Digging the terrace in the summer to place the new septic tank and drains revealed an evil, muddy horror reminiscent of the trenches of the first world war, in which a great uncle died at only 17 years old, the boy pictured right in the painting I made below entitled 'ghosts', which when I was making it felt like a 'haunting'. However, neither ghosts nor treasure came out of this excavation but what it did reveal is a small quantity of pottery, some of it almost certainly medieval and later and other curious things including bones, shells and rusty handmade nails. Clearly the pottery, clay pipes, bones and shells along with evidence of an old bread kiln shows domestic activity centered around food that included a diet of bread, meat and shellfish, and tobacco for smoking. The green salt glazed tiles and the decorated yellow and brown medieval style tile fragment and the fragment of Dutch style delftware all seem more interesting than the mostly brown crocks but I was delighted to discover a stoneware bottle neck with the face of what look like 'The Green Man'. I am hoping to identify each fragment more accurately with some local help and excited to begin digging the French drain against the back wall of the house to see what else comes up from the past. Scraping back layers of accumulated decoration from walls and cleaning mud off fragments of long forgotten or lost detritus is deeply satisfying because of its intensely physical nature and the sense that this is a direct encounter with the past as a continuous presence in the here and now. I think there is something of this in M. R. James ghost stories too.
The Green Man ? Bottle neck of stone ware jar or flagon

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