Broken Circles, Broken Dreams

It might seem to Julia an age has passed since she woke this morning beneath Dannyn’s ‘roof—the visions that warned, the stories that told of unlikely happenings (anachronistic, like everything here at Destination), her head full of newly-acquired knowledge (though not the accompanying understanding)—yet the afternoon is barely started. And, as promised, Dannyn is taking her to see Stonehenge.

Episode 24 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi-Fantasy

Dannyn still holds my hand, as if we’re young sweethearts. Memories flood—of Dave. I ‘ve not known emotions so strong since him, those four blissful months of my teens. I sneak a look up (he’s so tall, my would-be Neolithic lover). And the war inside me resumes. What’s he doing to my desires and affections with his impossible ESP? Lest I forget, he isn’t ‘normal’; he claims to be Brictish: a semi-immortal. Besides, what could there be, beyond a night? Okay, maybe a few, though not if Fliss knows. What, to run her precious machines just to keep me sated? No, according to her I’m here for one purpose only: to observe, to record and to report to her. For myself, I’m here to learn of a culture that long has fascinated me. Guess I’m still the girl on the bike whizzing along the country lanes to check out the sites. Only . . . Destination isn’t the place it’s supposed to be.

The isle’s long narrow gate channels a slight summery breeze. It’s needed, for the wide open isle now is hot as a pizza straight from the cooker. We keep to the shade, to the right. We’re almost through it when I remember my mental note, re Woodhenge.

I say to Dannyn of its existence. “It’s a timber-setting, concentric circles.”

He says nothing till we’re out of the tunnel. Then he gestures with opened arms (and him still holding my hand). “You see what is here. This is here.”

This is a holding pen for the family’s cattle. True, it is circular, and has timber posts—though slender. But—cowpats, trampled earth, small deep pits where their hooves have sunk deep in wet mud—there is no mistaking its purpose. A nearby ash-tree of massive girth offers late-afternoon shade for the beasts, though the pen now stands empty.

My eyes follow a foot-worn path that skirts the pen to lead down to the river, which here is wider than I’ve ever seen it. Wider, cleaner; I can see the chalk-rubble lining the bottom.

“Hegrea’s men did that,” Dannyn says, seeing the line of my gaze. “Here many people are wading, men with cattle, men with wares. And women, too, come with theirs.”

“The women here trade, yea?” Though Sapapla’s already said, at least of the Ulishvregan women.

“Yea, the Alisime women too.” Dannyn laughs (I do like his laugh) “They brings their rugs, their honeyed fruits. The granary-traders complain, yet . . . this comprises most of their trade. They bring their grains, too, when the harvest is good and they’ve more than they need. The granary-keepers give them tokens—notched sticks. I’m not a woman to know their system, yet I know when the harvest is poor and they’ve need of more grain, they bring their sticks and the keepers return what is here stored for them. Least, that’s how my mother explained it.”

My mouth is slow to close. So much information, unbiddenly given. And these notched sticks: could they be the origin of Ogham? Though, surely not: it couldn’t have roots that deep. Historians date it to only the third century or so—post Roman contact.

And Dannyn still talks of the ford. “It’s most used when they come for the feasts.”

“At Stonehenge,” I say.

“No.” He laughs. Then: “No, it’s not you,” he apologises. “I don’t mock. It is your strange ideas of us—what did you call our times? The Neolithic, because we are builders in stone. Da! Eblan Murdan, alone, is Neolithic. I think these Alsime and Ulvregan are not.”

We walk on in silence, his arm wrapped around me. He sneakily snaked it there when, in laughing, he pulled me close so I’d not be offended. It’s now having a disturbingly strong affect upon me (affect, as in ‘emotions’, not ‘effect’ as in actions). And the silence between us, easy, companionable, has taken the feel of an unbreakable bond. It scares me. I break it.

“So, um, if not at Stonehenge, where do your people hold their feasts?”

“Wherever.” He airily waves his free hand. “But, no, Julia-’fanteshi’, it depends which feast.”

I glance up at him. He knows my meaning.

Fanteshi, ‘she asks’. But you do. You ask and I must answer. You stretch my head; I dig into the softness exposed.” He groans theatrically and shakes his very-blond head. “Listen, there are many types—word, yea?—types of feast.”

“I meant the big ones,” I say. “The solstice.”

Apparently I’m stretching his head. He responds with a fully-blank look.

“When the sun seems to stand still?” I say.

“Ah! Feasts of Sun-Standing. They are held at the granary isles—though not all attend, unlike the big feasts—those of Summer- and Winter-Ending. Those, none will willingly miss.”

So instead I ask where these big feasts are held. The answer requires him using two hands to gesture ‘everywhere and nowhere’. I’m quick to seize the opportunity, to open the distance between us. There’s something of him overpowering. I’m unused to it, I need space to breathe. And I’m not sure I trust him. But deep in his topic, he seems not to notice.

He holds up a finger to serve as pointer for his lecture. “The feasts of Winter-Ending are society feasts; that’s what determines the ‘where’ of them. Any of the societies’ isles might host them—there’s always competition for it. To host the feast is good for their women. The men then come to show off their cattle.” He chuckles, says something I don’t understand, and vigorously nods.

Thereafter a while he seems deep in thought. He startles me when again he speaks.

“Say I am Skakem man, and in need of a woman. All women are open to me, except for my own Skakem women. These are not my sisters and aunts and cousins only but also my neighbours—for a society holds lands for far around. So, too, it includes—or rather excludes—the Skakem women of the other Alsime, the North and East. So, how might I find me this un-Skakem woman? I use the right word?”

I would have suggested ‘non’-Skakem, but he doesn’t wait for my answer.

“The answer,” he says in almost a pounce, “is to go to a Feast of Winter-Ending, but one held by a different, an eligible, society. My choice there might be nudged by my brothers and uncles and cousins who might say good things of this or that society women. So I go to this society’s feast—Ah! Hegrea’s fence is here.”

His change of subject totally throws me. Yet sure enough, there’s both fence (with stile to hitch over) and a territorial marker, i.e. a long barrow. And it is long (I’m guessing four hundred feet), standing ten-to-fifteen feet high.

Yea, I know, it’s a ‘long’ barrow, length is expected. But I’m unused to it. None of the long barrows peppering the (C21st) Wessex landscape can genuinely qualify for that sobriquet, all being heavily eroded. But this, as yet only a thousand years old, still holds its shape and size—though the quarry ditches either side, obscured by goose-grass and dead-nettles, are probably silted. Moreover, considering its greater age, the colonising greenery across the mound’s chalk-face is but a fine tracery, little more developed than that on the walls of Hegrea’s Isle.

“It’s not Hegrea’s,” Dannyn says, his arm snaking around me.

“What’s not Hegrea’s?” And I shouldn’t have stopped to see the barrow. It’s given him the chance to renew his hold. He pulls me in, now even closer. And how easy to drift into seventh heaven; how stiff the battle to resist him.

“It’s an Ancestral Boat Hump,” he says. “There’s an Alisime story. Eblan, I’m supposed to know, but . . . Besides, an eblan only knows what his eblan-guide tells him. Old Boney filled his head with tales of Eblan Hegrea and how she had—No, no mind. The Boat Hump, yea. ‘Because the time came when they pulled up their boats and went no more to sea.’”

“But their ancestors are buried there?”

“No,” he says—which brings my head round sharply to seek explanation.

He shrugs. I’ve noticed his shrugs are more of a high shoulder-lift. “Oh, a few bones, laid there as protection from spirits.”

“But the work of making this . . . I can’t imagine it.” I’ve seen the figures for Durrington Walls (man-hours), though the two sites don’t compare in scale. I’ve seen speculations, too, e.g. for Fussell’s Lodge. But even at this size, to complete it in just one season would be ‘all hands required’.

“The Ancestors,” Dannyn says, “—though the Ancients they were, I suppose—they used their upturned boats to say ‘here we are for the summer-half; this land is ours.’ They were simply turning wood into stone when later they made these white markers. The wood of their boats was of this world; the white of the rock is of that world, the world of spirits. This you now compr’end? So, come.”

I’ve no choice. Subject and lecture done, he steers me away, firmly but gently. We climbs a stile, we climb another, picking the way over well-churned track that lay between.

“Out of one, into another,” he says, again taking my hand as I descend for a second time. “This now is Bisaplan’s Land. That,” he gestures back to the long barrow, “was Bisaplan’s Boat Hump.”

That draws a frown. Surely Bisaplan’s marker should be to their side of the fence and track, not back there in Hegrea’s Land? Of course, he hears my voiceless thought, him with his weird ESP.

“Traders use that marker to know where to moor. You think Aldliks Sappaken wanted these traders to call at her isle? So she allowed it to be into Hegrea’s Land.”

Hmm, I grunt understanding.

Ahead, the path and the river take separate tacks, the river veering vaguely east, the path continuing vaguely south. To our right Bisaplan’s Land extends for far across the Plain. It’s given mostly to grazing, though there’s an occasional small fenced circular field. The pennings are more numerous, some of moveable hurdles (I’m guessing for sheep and goats), others more sturdily crafted to contain cattle.

Fences, for me they characterise the Alsime; no wonder the woodland now is gone. All that remains is a scatter of copses that separates pens, paddocks and fields. But, what’s this? There’s now a ragged belt of trees barring our way. I try to place us C21st. I’m guessing we’re level with Amesbury

The trees force our path to veer—directly to west. And as the trees fall away to my left, I see . . .

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Stonehenge Stage 1, ca 3000 BCE, comprised a circular ditch sandwiched between an inner and an outer bank. Closely hugging the inner bank was a bluestone circle, their sockets now known as the Aubrey Holes. (It’s believed it was they which were moved and re-constructed as Bluestonehenge, found by the Riverside Project, close by Amesbury.) At the northeast entrance of Stage 1 Stonehenge, but outside its ditch and bank, was a SW-NE alignment of standing stones—reminiscent of those at Carnac in Brittany. These stones marked an astounding natural feature, created during a previous Ice Age: a run of parallel grooves and ridges that, incredibly, align exactly to sunset at the Midwinter Solstice.

Imagine this to the Neolithic mind; it must have seemed that the Sun itself had marked the land. For while those grooves by then were buried beneath the topsoil, the overgrowing vegetation still betrayed their presence—in stripes of scant and lush growth. Hardly surprising, the Avenue, constructed sometime between 2500 and 2270 BCE, followed this same ’Path of the Sun’.

The building of Stonehenge Stage 2 occurred in the time-slot between 2620 and 2480 BCE. The five trilithons were erected in their horseshoe settings, the bluestones removed to Bluestonehenge (if they hadn’t been moved before), and the settings sealed with the lintelled circle of sarsens, as we see now (C21st). Oh, and outside the henge, at the northeast entrance, the famous Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone were erected along with two others. No mean achievement in a mere 140 years. It also occasioned the founding of the non-too-small town at Durrington Walls with its 1000+ houses.

All afternoon I’ve been trying to ignore where we’re heading. Fliss tells us the Destination-Date is 2500 BCE, though it mightn’t be exact. Makes no difference. Since 3,000 BCE there have been stones at Stonehenge. Since 2600 BCE there have been sarsens. I’m not close enough yet to see in detail, but I can see clearly there are no sarsens, only the smaller bluestones—the stones that ought now to sit down by the river.

I’ve had ample warning, I ought not be surprised. Yet I want to cry. Why is nothing as it ought to be here? Everything’s WRONG! And it’s not just here, at Stonehenge. It’s Durrington Walls. I’ve been floundering through, trying not to think. But now it can’t be avoided it. And deep in my subconscious I know the answer. I’ve glimpsed it several times now. But always it slips before I can grasp it. Perhaps I don’t want to know.

“Stonehenge is built on Bisaplan’s Land?” I ask my eblan-guide. And what else can I say?

“Your Stonehenge, I think no,” he answers, again closing the distance he’d briefly allowed me while I gawped at the structure. “But our Old Isle of the Dead, yes, it is on Bisaplan’s Land. And Eblan Hegrea’s Feast Stones, too, yes. And Eblan Murdan’s Broken Circles, yes. But the Ancestral Long Boat? I’m not so certain. Maybe. It forms the northern boundary. Beyond it is Eblan-Drukem land.”

“A-Ancestral Long Boat?” I want to doubly, trebly groan. Ancestral Long Boat, I’ve heard that phrase before. Hegrea applied it, amongst other aliases, to a stone-built structure at His Indwelling. Kara’s Cave, she called it. And there’s only one place that could be. West Kennet Long Barrow. But there’s nothing vaguely resembling that  north of Stonehenge. No, there’s only one pre-Bronze Age feature there. And that’s Stonehenge Cursus.

“I show you tomorrow,” Dannyn says.

He knows my thoughts, he knows my emotions. So, too, he must know my present turmoil. Yet he remains annoyingly buoyant.

“It’s where the Alsime held the feasts of Summer-Ending,” he says, “—till I changed their way of treating the dead. Still they call that feast the ‘Send-Off’, and I suppose that it is. Come. We’ll be late, and Aldliks Priäplan won’t feed us.”

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Next episode: tomorrow 1st April

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With Eyes To The Sky

In the previous episode of Feast Fables, Kerrid met an Asaric metallurgist who has devised a way to return them home. But he hasn’t realised how far away.

It’s not easy to tell him—Kerrid doesn’t want to disappoint him—yet truth is truth and must be said. But how will he take this hope-dulling news? Next episode, A Guideful Ladder, ready now.

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The Players’ Play

Julia had already guessed what happened between her and the shaman Dannyn at their first meeting, which she’s yet to have. Yet to hear him say it . . .

Episode 23 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi-Fantasy

The warning from Alsvregn comes too late. Whatever he is—shaman, Brictan—he can plant words in my head, can transfer, so it seems, anyone’s memories to me so that I then relive them as if they were real—real to me. What chance have I to refuse him?

I flick a look at him. Is this desire real, is it mine? And what of the need I feel to be close, to be held? It’s not something I’ve felt before, not with anyone else. Is it simply my fear of being here, alone, at Destination? Whatever its cause and origin I don’t want it. It’s too intense. If I ignore it perhaps it’ll go away, like a troublesome wasp. After all, I’m not here to enrich my sex-life. I’m a scholar—says he—here to learn. And I know I’ve said it before but it’s now said in earnest: since Hegrea’s Isle isn’t Durrington Walls I’ve no choice but to change my objective. I’ll learn all I can of the British Neolithic instead. And I’ll start with these anachronistic granaries.

The granaries aren’t native Alisime. Aldliks Hegrea created the first, and she was trained as a granary-keeper by the Kerdolan of Liënershi.

My thoughts chug along:

  1. The original keepers of the granary at His Indwelling were the Kredese (witness the reference of Murdan ‘chasing’ them away).
  2. Like Hegrea, those granary-keepers were Kerdolak-trained.
  3. But who are the Kredese? I’d say, almost without doubt, they’re descendants of the Cotswold-Severn group.
  4. The Cotswold-Severn group of megalithic tomb-builders were part of the wider Atlantic Seaboard culture.
  5. Conclusion: The Kerdolan of Liënershi are located some place south on the Atlantic Seaboard.

But why do I say south? Partly it’s the white linen shifts worn by Anachaël’s guard: they conjure up thoughts of the Eastern Med. And where better to find a prototype for the Kerdolak communal granaries than the Eastern Med, the Fertile Crescent, the ‘cradle of civilisation’? But I wouldn’t place Liënershi as distant as that. In this period the cultural exchange between the Med and the Atlantic is microscopic. No, I’d tentatively place it either along the western coast of Iberia. Or in Brittany. Yea, I favour the latter.

But Liënershi’s location is irrelevant to the founding of the Alisime granaries. Though Hegrea was Kerdolak-trained, she had the vital element, the ‘craft’, from some other source. If it had been otherwise, if she’d had it from Kared, the apparent Head of the Kerdolak granaries, then Anachaël could have legitimately claimed Hegrea’s granary.

So whence Hegrea’s ‘craft’? And what is it?

Taking the second question first (it’s easier answered): Hegrea, the only Alsime to have the secret of the Fathers’ Brew—and I’m betting that is alcoholic; and Hegrea, who serves the Mother’s Bread—which doubtless rises like a swelling pregnant belly (while the usual fare is the crisp pitta-tortilla-cross). Her ‘craft’, usually had off the ‘Head of Kared’, was none other than a roll of yeasty dough, a ‘starter’. As with yoghurt, once the starter’s acquired it can be divided and multiplied, ever more. And I’m guessing she had it off Luänha.

Witness: Luänha was trained as a holy woman, a ‘Servant of Brega’. Though no one yet has openly said it, I’ll lay money this Brega is an Ormalish deity. Moreover, she was probably ‘Mother of the Grain’, thus hated by the Ulvregan with their ancestral resentment of all growers of grain. And that, too, explains why Dannyn, as a boy, was shy and withdrawn. Is it a wonder, his devotion to his suddenly-discovered cousin Murdan, even though Murdan was to outshine him. Moreover, I remember what Dannyn said of the reunion between Hegrea and Luänha. He was jealous, fearful that Hegrea would take his mother from him. That’s an intense friendship considering their brief stay together in that Ormalin village. Yet it’s easily explained if they’re sisters in the ‘craft’.

The granary-traders aren’t so easily explained, though these, too, are a Kerdolak feature. Witness: Anachaël asked who was the trader at Hegrea’s Isle. At least their involvement makes the trade less anachronistic.

And this is as far as I get with ordering my thoughts.

“Come on, you young-uns,” Sapapla calls to Eldliks Erlunen’s boys. “Fetch me here the tale-teller’s sack.”

Apparently this is unscheduled. Their father, Eldliks Erlunen, looks askance at her.

“Well, did you not hear Dannyn say it? The English have a problem. And they’ve chosen us to help them solve it. That’s why this Julia Cannings is here—she must learn of our ways. So, what tale have we that’ll answer that? Why, none other than Eblan Murdan’s return, carrying his instructions the Ancients had given him.”

I look at Dannyn. Will he again give me her memories. I’m keen to see this boy-wonder, Murdan.

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“I have not the memories,” Dannyn says. “My mother, Hegrea, Murdan, I couldn’t take from them. And the others . . .” He shakes his very blond head. “Bits, just bits.”

I’m disappointed. But it doesn’t last long. I’m not to listen to another story but to be shown it. And the actors will be all the isle’s young generation. Nine in all, they range in age from six-ish to mid-to-late teens. They move into a huddle to discuss what’s to happen.

The two tallest—which includes Aplaälda, the only name I remember—will play ‘the Wall’. The next tallest—Bukeld, Dannyn supplies—plays Murdan, the star of the show. Though quickly done, the troop of actors effectively make ‘wild’ his appearance—dishevelled and grime-encrusted. He’s now alone outside the Wall. The others are within (backs turned).

Bukeld-playing-Murdan stops at the gate. He looks—amazed, puzzled, concerned—at the Wall. His frowning face becomes a picture of woe.

“He weeps,” says Sapapla in the role of narrator, possibly adopted solely for my benefit, the others here all knowing the tale.

Murdan dabs at his eyes, and cautiously creeps through the long narrow tunnel that is the gate. If he’s feeling intimidated, I’m not surprised. I’ve been there; I know its affect.

In case I’ve missed it Sapapla (narrator) supplies it: “Yet it’s by his own making. All the measures he said, Eblan Burnisen and Eldliks Bukfesen has kept them.”

Murdan’s eyes track up. He’s looking to the top of Old Boney’s Tower.

In those days they called it the Sun Tower, says Dannyn. Burnisen’s place, for few others would climb it. He would sit all day on that high platform, surveying the land far around.

But this day no one sits there. Bukeld-playing-Murdan looks disappointed.

Narrator: “Returning from his seven seasons in the wilds, Eblan Murdan wonders if Burnisen still exists in this world.”

Murdan’s eyes track the width of the eblan-lodge—as it was intended when it was first built. He looks beyond it at his mother’s granary. (I guess he’s wondering where everyone is. Miraculously, the waiting actors remain silent, unmoving.)

They’re not sufficiently skilled to show what he was feeling. But I know, for I felt it too when I returned. A conflicting and crossing tangle of feelings; memories tumbling each over the other; voices echoing from a forgotten past. Here were all things that should be familiar, yet he wants to return to the Wilds.

“As did you?” I part-ask, part-say.

Not fully at once. I lived here for a while, and longer still at His Indwelling.

Murdan scans the isle. Where is his family, where his kin? Will none come to greet him?

The youngest of the actors squeezes his body between the others as if emerging from the ‘roof’s hidden door. Though played by a boy, Sapapla, narrator, says it’s Berghata, and that when Murdan set out for the Wilds Berghata wasn’t yet in her mother’s belly. The lad does a convincing act of a terrified child, turning heel and fleeing.

From behind the wall of actors’ back we hear a woman shouting. Dannyn omits the translation, though he does supply the child’s reply. “There’s a beast-man in our isle!”

“Where are the men?” the narrator asks. “Eldliks Bukfesen has taken them this day to move the animals—Arith, Staëdan and Alsvregn; Erlunen, too, is helping though he’s young.”

She needs say no more. I get the picture. The women and children are alone at the isle.

There is whispering and jostling behind the human-made wall. Who’s to be the brave one? Who’ll go out there and see what’s so frightened their little Berghata?

It’s Hegrea’s isle, she’s the aldliks, let it be her. Yet two actors emerge.

Bajapa, and Hamfala, Bisdata’s two daughters, being Hegrea and my mother Luänha, says Dannyn.

“That’s aptly cast,” I say, quietly.

Hegrea leads, Luänha follows. And as soon as Hegrea sees her son she bursts into tears. I interpret that as relief at his return, but I’m wrong.

Hegrea is distraught at the shameful sight of him. Though it was forbidden, I’d seen him in the Wild, so I know how he looked. His gleaming white curls uncombed for seven years, and no hat worn. Grown long. Tangled. Matted. Full of bits of leaf and twig. And, for whatever his reasons, he’d stuck in feathers of every kind. A disgrace for any Alisime man. And his skin was no better, not touched by water in all those years. As to his clothes . . . they were not clothes. His mother always said of him that he shied from use of needle and awl. Rather he’d wear his shirt too tight than make a new one. Now, alone in the Wilds, he’d forsaken sewing; he had pieced together small furs off the fox and marten and their like and tied them together, no stitch in sight. And of course the skins all stank. A beast-man, Berghata said of him; a beast-man indeed.

Bajapa-playing-Hegrea peers hard at the returning Murdan. She says, “By the hair on your head, I see it is you, my Murdan, if by no other means.”

I’ve a feeling those were the actual words.

In return, Murdan says, “Is this the only greeting I have after so long away?”

Bajapa-playing-Hegrea makes a thing of hesitating, not wanting to hug lest she caught something from him.

But it was more than that, Dannyn says. Murdan now is an eblan-true, an equal in power to his mother. She fears that that will change their . . . how you say it? Hierarchy?

“I think ‘relationship’ covers it better,” I laugh as I answer—which earns me several Alisime hisses.

Whatever the fears, and whatever the facts, Murdan and Hegrea finally hug. The actor-formed wall breaks apart. Everyone rushes to hug and slap Murdan. The returning eblan is duly welcomed home.

But then Murdan pulls away. He stands apart. Again he looks up at the tower. “Is Eblan Head Man Burnisen still in this world? Does he still lodge with you? For I have much to discuss with him.”

Hegrea nods and answers, “He is old-grown and feeble and prepares now to leave for the spirit world. Yet he is still with us.”

Again, the acted words have the peel of veracity. I am impressed.

“And what of Dannyn?” Murdan asks. “My talk must include him too.”

There’s no narration, there is no need. All but one of troop shake their heads. Hamfala, the girl playing Luänha, weeps.

It was difficult for my mother that day. To greet Eblan Murdan and yet know nothing of me.

I can imagine it was. He slips his hand around mine. I let it remain.

Erlunen’s sons separate out, to await the narrator’s cue: “The men return to the isle.”

Erlunen’s sons , playing Arith, Bukfesen and Alsvregn, return. Another boy, the youngest there, hurries after them. I suppose he’s Erlunen, not yet the eldliks, not yet grown.

They do no justice to Arith, Dannyn says. By then he’d grown old, and it all so soon, while we were away. White haired and wrinkled, though still some strength left to him. But he slept—how he did sleep! So it was best to have a new trader. That’s when Alsvregn took his place. The visiting traders already knew him.

I want to know more but there’s no stopping the play.

“With all the commotion,” the narrator narrates, “Burnisen awakes.”

Burnisen, bent double and hobbling, says nothing. He simply looks at Murdan and nods. One of the women offers a share of the brew she’s prepared, but he refuses it.

“Tell me when the other returns,” he says, and with weary steps takes himself back to his bed.

Clearly this isn’t what Murdan wants. Bukeld playing him does a good job of portraying his rage.

And ever it was with Murdan. But as I hear it, it wasn’t so on this day. He sighed, yes. But he then turned to greet all the young ones of the isle. He especially fussed over my sister Jitjana, and so smoothed the moment.

The small troop of actors act out the ensuing feast. But Sapapla’s not happy with that; she adds narration. “Though Eblan Dannyn has yet to return, this night we feast for Murdan. All are happy. Only Luänha is sad, afraid for her son.”

I have to strain to hear her words—which is an odd situation since Dannyn is translating them direct into my head. Yet the noise of the actors is such as they sing and laugh and clap and generally make loads of din—one of them drums. All of which disturbs the aged Burnisen. Though he’s not seen by the others, he creeps to the door and stands there to watch.

“Now Murdan tells of his stay in the Wilds,” says the narrator. “And especially what happened the summer before his return.”

I look at Dannyn. I hope whatever happened didn’t involve me. But Dannyn’s not letting on.

Until now the narrator’s lines have been few, the actors able to effectively ‘show’. But now the action moves to the Wilds which, as Dannyn has been at pains to tell me, is an exclusive eblann reserve. Thus these actors never have been there and, though they might have been told, the land is beyond their imagination.

It is not they lack imagination. It is forbidden to see.

And so Sapapla narrates it. “In the Wilds there is a hill, tallest of all the others. Bear Hill. And upon Bear Hill there is a place—I am not eblan, I know no more of it, though Eblan Dannyn might say. Occasionally, at this place upon Bear Hill, the Ancients might speak to the eblann. There it was that the Ancients spoke to Eblan Murdan his last summer-half in the Wilds. They more than spoke to him—they guided him.”

Apparently they guided him out of the Wilds—handy that, for now the actors again can act. Aplaälda, now playing the Ancients’ Spirit, leads Eblan Murdan first north, and then westward.

“Here Eblan Murdan arrives at the west bounds of North Alsime land,” the narrator narrates. “Here our Alsime-land abuts the Krediche Ani Cobi—though first there is marshes.”

Marsh there might be, yet Murdan finds there a shelter—constructed of the arms and legs of actors.

“Here you must stay,” says Aplaälda-playing-the-Spirit. “Here you must watch the marsh.”

I look at Murdan. “Why?” But he shushes me.

“A few days pass,”  the narrator says.

Now along come some men in a boat. It’s shown to be a long-boat, unlike the round Alisime river-craft. As Sapapla explains, these men are Kerdolak mariners.

“Mariners?” I query. “But we’re talking of marshes and . . .” I quickly visualise the map “. . . the western Avon. They’re far from the sea.”

Yet Dannyn insists that they are indeed mariners.

These (misplaced) mariners lay-up their boat in the shelter quickly vacated by Murdan, and climb the ridge.

Again I’m visualising the map. They’re heading to Avebury, or at least to the Marlborough Downs.

They go to the granary at His Indwelling, using for a short reach First Water, says Dannyn.

Of course, I ought to have realised that. Kerdolak mariners, they’ll be going to the Krediche granary. But why?

By the puzzled look on Murdan’s face, he too is wondering that. He follows at a distance. He hides. He watches. He sees the mariners return laden with sacks.

“These sacks,” says the narrator, “are heavy with grain.”

They also carry furs rolled tight. All these they stow in their long-boat and make their way back to ‘West River’.

“There’s a Kerdolak trading-hold along that river, close to its gate,” says Alsvregn in an unscheduled aside. “The Kerdolan call it Cobi Go.”

The Kerdolan exits stage left. The scene returns to Hegrea’s Isle. The actors act out gasps of horror and surprise—except for Hegrea who smiles.

“Have I not told you?” says Bajapa-playing-Hegrea. “This is the Kerdolak way. Late every summer-half they come from Liënershi to collect grain from the granary-keeper.”

And that was the start of the trouble between them, mother and son, Dannyn says, though I don’t immediately understand him. Everyone there could see, that day, that Murdan weren’t pleased at her words. They could see him grow angry. Why hasn’t she told him of the Kerdolak, that they travel through Alisime lands to reach the granary? But, used to Murdan’s little furies, she remained unruffled. She told him, they could as easily use the Water of Waters, it only would take them longer.

None of this is shown by the actors. And I’m not sure what its significance. Yet Dannyn is insistent he tells me.

“I cannot show you,” he says, for once speaking out loud. “I wasn’t there.” It will disturb memories best forgotten to take from their heads. But, I tell you, the shouting, his anger—it had the younger children blubbing—Murdan was snorting fire like he was a bull. This wasn’t what they expected from a returning eblan. It all was to do with her child-days, and where she was taken before they took her to Liënershi. And she kept saying, but she was a child, ten winters-seen, what did she know of it. But it made no difference. She had known all these years that the Kerdolan trespass on Alisime land to reach the granary at His Indwelling.

“That’s how they brought the stones for Kara’s Cave!” I say—and suddenly I’m there. And we’re not outside as I’d thought, but in the inner, central courtyard. I’m at my chamber’s door, leaning for support upon the doorpost.

Silence, stunned, greets my words. Then Murdan greets me. “Burnisen! Welcome to my feast.”

I snort, not happy with the boy—for to me, that’s what he is.

“What’s Kara’s Cave?” Hegfelanha asks. I’m surprised she doesn’t know: she’s Alisime, not Ulishvregan.

“It’s a cave,” Hegrea quickly says, like me, wanting to disperse the anger. “It’s an entrance to the Land of Nod—Nod the Moon who is eldliks over all the seas. It’s to his land that the old and the ruined go to be made anew. But it’s a belly, too. It’s where the Kredese put their dead, once their bones are clean. But, too, it’s a ‘roof, though the Kredese don’t call it that. Yet the Mother Hare indwells there. Then again it’s a boat, an Ancestral Long Boat, just like ours here; it carries the sun on her winter journey.”

I nod. I don’t censure her for her excited telling. But that boy of hers, Murdan . . . the fury still is upon him.

Hegfelanha valiantly tries to cut the tension. She asks, “Why don’t they burn their bones and spread the ashes across the fields as we do?”

Hegrea opens her mouth to answer. But Alsvregn interrupts her. “Why bring stones to build this cave, or boat or ‘roof, whatever it is, when there are stones aplenty at His Indwelling?”

“They weren’t the stones of their ancestors,” Hegrea answers him.

“It’s not that,” I say—or rather, says Burnisen, his voice a croak. “It’s the North Alsime won’t allow them those stones.”

And now I’m this far, I pad my way across the courtyard to sit at the main fire in the place the Ulvregan here call ‘Dreld’s place’.

“There’s a story,” I say. “The North Alsime tell it. It concerns those stones.” I’m pleased that my voice is strengthening while I am talking. I might yet be able to tell the tale. It’ll keep that Murdan from murdering his mother. “It happened in the days of the First Ancestors, when the Krediche families hadn’t long been in our land.”

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I glare at Dannyn. I want to hear the story, blast him, but he chooses that moment to cut the memory. Doesn’t he know it’s important to me. It doesn’t take much to figure the stones, brought via West Avon, are the same bluestones that are used at Stonehenge. Except here, anachronistically, they weren’t set in a circle until Eblan Murdan did it some time within the last twenty-five years.

I’ll tell it to you another time, says Dannyn. There’s a story progressing. And they tell it for you.

So they might, but all that’s left  is the decision to await Dannyn’s return before they (the eblann Murdan and Dannyn) attack the Kerdolan who come for the grain. And, overall, I don’t see as Sapapla’s acted-out story has told me much at all.

I’m disappointed. And frustrated. To what kind of a mish-mashed, turned-around, upside-down place has the time-pod sent me? And what am I to tell Fliss upon my return?

But that return isn’t due for another day and a bit. And now Hegrea’s kin—I suppose that’s what I’m to call them—are drifting away, leaving Dannyn and me alone. I’m not happy with that, not now I know what’s to happen on that previous meeting, the one I’ve yet to have. For Christ’s sake, he announced it to everyone!

He turns to look at me and . . . I’m confused. Is it sexual? Is it something deeper? If I’d only had more of a love life (sex aplenty, but nothing emotionally involved) I might be able to handle this better. I might understand it. And what’s the point of it anyway. We live four and half thousand years apart, that’s one hell of a long-distance relationship.

He offers his hand. I wish that he wouldn’t, and I can’t refuse. He pulls me in closer. I fight to dam the panic, for I know what’s to come. His soft-soft ‘tache and his beard, his eyes of twinkling vinca-blue, his lips soft and yet not . . . and damn, and blast, I fear I might explode with the given pleasure.

“And you can stop that!” Aldliks Bisdata comes to my rescue, bless her. “Your Eblan Mistress Inspiration mayn’t mind that you’re bedding this woman, but I do. So there’ll be none of that within these walls. Which means, unless you’re here to lay new charms along that trench, Eblan Head Man, you and your ‘guest’ had best be gone.”

Dannyn laughs as she struts away. “Come. I’ll take you to meet Aldliks Priäplan at Bisaplan’s Isle. Then afterwards we can go see your Stonehenge.”

My Stonehenge? No, I don’t think so. Before I’ve yet seen it, I know it won’t be our Stonehenge.

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Next episode: Tuesday 31st March

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But Why Is She Here?

Julia has questions she wants to ask Dannyn—lots of questions. And so, apparently, has Aldliks Bisdata; she wants to know where ‘this woman’, Julia Cannings, has been kept these past twenty-five years.’ Julia can’t answer the question. She hasn’t the lingo.

Episode 22 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi-Fantasy

I’ve never rated myself an enthusiastic carnivore, veering, if anything, more towards vegan. So the thought of venison, twice in two days, does nothing to rouse my appetite. Yet the smell of the bake-pit hits me as soon as I emerge from Hegrea’s Roof and my stomach loudly begs me.

The beast no longer lies in its pit. Whatever the logistics of disinterring, the meat is now pleasantly presented as rough-hewn pieces arrayed upon leaves upon wooden plates. I accept my portion. Berghata’s daughter Apladata, a name uncannily remembered, places a basket of small-foods in my hand which, in my eagerness to eat, I promptly plonk on the not-so verdant grass beside me. Hamfala, the Aldliks Bisdata’s own daughter, offers me bread, still steaming. Wholemeal, of course (it’ll be four millennia yet before it’s white and refined). It looks like a tortilla-pitta-cross, and yet is neither.

“Sauce?” asks Bajapa, the elder of Aldliks Bisdata’s two daughters.

To spread on the bread, Dannyn says—not in my ear (though he again sits close), but directly into my head. I realise, he’s the source of the girls’ names (too many and too strange for me to remember from the brief introductions, especially with Sapapla’s story intervening).

We sit in a circle, joined now by the boys—three pre-teens belonging between them to Berghata and the Hiemen woman Lanarba, and two older youths (in the sixteen-to-nineteen bracket); one of these, too, is Lanarba’s, introduced as Eldliks Erlunen’s son; the other belongs to Aldliks Bisdata, (her eldest offspring). The rugs we sit on are similar to those Dannyn has in his ‘roof. They remind me of my grandma’s ‘hooked’ rugs, though the coloured wools that form the pattern have clearly been plucked  straight off the fleece (or, more likely, twitched off a convenient thorny bush). Too impolite to examine them closely, but I’m guessing the coloured wools were worked in while weaving the back-cloth and that the back-cloth is made of some hard-wearing coarse fibre, unsuited to clothing. The rug beneath me (I noticed before sitting) has a tree design, heavy with apples, and an indefinable four-legged beast browsing beneath it (though it takes a practiced eye to see it).

For all I prefer seeds and peppers, the venison proves the most succulent, flavoursome meat I ever have tasted. It’s been baked wrapped in herbs—though none of the herbs we use now. They, like our grains and cattle, pigs and sheep, originated in the Fertile Crescent. These are almost certainly local, now deemed unworthy of our dishes since the upsweep of merchant-trading in the Middle Ages. So much lost. Maybe I can nudge Dave into undertaking a special study?

While we munch and slurp and lick sticky fingers, Eldliks Erlunen regales us with Dannyn’s story of the three-legged deer: how it willingly sacrificed its leg to feed the beautiful stranger, Julia Cannings (his story, not mine). Its first telling was less public; now my face is fiercely burning. But the tale is well-received—judging by the hoots and clapping. I hear murmurs of ‘brave deer’; it’s like these people are really there with the deer. But not Aldliks Bisdata.

“I don’t suppose the deer realised that in giving its leg it must give up its life.” (My vegan sensibilities return in a rush.) “And now, Eblan Head Man Dannyn, you were to tell us of this woman—this scholar did you say of her?—this Julia Cannings, and where she has been these past twenty-five winters.”

“Twenty-six,” he corrects her. “It has been twenty-six winters.” He then says to me as an aside, ignoring the others, “If she says twenty-five, then I know it is twenty-six, for it was just the one season before I returned to here.”

That pleases me (I silently thank him). I have now a target date for Fliss to work with—though I’ve still to persuade her.

“But first,” Dannyn says, again to the circle, “I must say how first she arrived.”

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I’m hoping he’ll again transfer his memories. But, no, he merely translates direct into my head, as he tells Bisdata’s kin his story . . .

It was early in summer-half—though not so early the trees had yet to shade the woodland floor. Six eblan-seasons, so far, he’d been in the Wilds, and in those seasons he’d learned to survive by his wits, and by what he’d already learned from the Ulvregan in his child-days. He had his winter-roof, warm in winter, dry in the rain. He had water. He had food. But what he lacked was company—though this was part of the eblan-ordeal. It was Murdan he missed. Since both were six winters-seen he and his cousin had been inseparable. And now both were serving the eblan-seasons, they were forbidden to as much as glimpse each other. This loneliness cut deep into Dannyn.

He breaks his narrative to laugh with Alsvregn. “You remember how my mother used to fret over me?”

Alsvregn nods, and quotes his beloved Luänha, complete with wrung hands: “He does not speak to us. Only to Murdan. Such a solitary child.”

“She exaggerated,” Dannyn says. “And she knew it. I was as much in Old Boney’s company as I was with Murdan.”

Six eblan-seasons in the Wilds with no Murdan—and no Burnisen—Dannyn found other company. He talked to the trees, and to the birds, and the deer. At night he talked to the badgers. The trees didn’t answer, yet the birds had plenty to say. Though they were far from the Land of Dreld, yet they spoke with Dreld’s voice. Dannyn had only to learn the words. He was befriended by one particular bird (his tutor and  mentor): a blackbird whose mate had made her nest in a nearby oak-tree.

Again, Dannyn holds back his story, this time for an aside to me. “There is a belief amongst the Alsime that in dying some souls don’t want to leave their families, and so they inhabit whichever bird is willing. That almost always is the blackbird. And this, they say, is why the blackbird sings so sweetly, so happy to be here with all things familiar. But I am not Alisime, not even Ulishvregan, and this belief isn’t mine. Yet . . . yes, I can speak with the birds, and know what they say.”

To me, this supposed ability to understand the language of birds is a particularly Celtic thing. Perhaps they acquired it from the Alsime? I’m not sure if Dannyn expects a response from me but he’ll not get it for I don’t know what to say. But it’s okay, he returns to his tale. I listen. Intently. It’s not just that I want to know, but I need to know more of our first meeting. Though . . . will he tell the truth of it to the aldliks and her family?

Dannyn returns from the hunt, aglow with his spectacular success—he has felled a small bustard. Now, as he nears his ‘roof he hears the sound of the blackbird trilling. But the sun is still high—though, yes, it is slipping, but the air’s not yet cooling. What’s more, the bird is perched on the young apple-tree that guards the gate to his ‘roof. These things tell Dannyn to be alert. He listens to the blackbird’s call.

A stranger is here? Inside his ‘roof!

But that cannot be. His ‘roof is in the Eblan Freeland. None might enter but the eblann; it’s death to others. Yet the blackbird repeats of her. Perhaps she’s a spirit? Perhaps she is, for who else would come here?

He sets down the bustard outside his ‘roof, and cautiously eases open the door. Light streams out. She is a spirit, this is the proof! It doesn’t occur to him that maybe she’s human and has lighted the lamps.

“I thought her the Eblan Mistress Inspiration!” Dannyn declares, beaming even now as if it were fresh. So long he has waited, and now . . .

“Yet later, when I search my memory, I find no stories of her appearing. Not ever. Not even to the most inspired creators. She works while we sleep, to seed our dreams with her inspiration. She stirs her fingers through the eblan’s head until he creates. She does not enter his winter-roof,. She does not light his readied lamps and sit by his hearth looking . . .” Dannyn looks at me a very long time “. . . looking beautiful.”

My face now is roaring-red. He calls me beautiful, and by what criteria? Is it my beautiful healthy shiny hair (as said in the ad)? But something other is in his eyes too as he turns to look at me, something that causes inside me immediate turmoil. I remember what Alsvregn said of Dannyn’s mother Luänha. Caught. Hmm. Is that what this is? Is that why I want to snuggle close to him? Then I think I shall be like a squiggly eel. I’m glad when he returns to his tale.

Dannyn stands at his door, mute with shock. Then, as the ability returns, what to say to this vision, the spirit, this impossible person? It’s late into that night before he thinks to ask what my name. By then he has realised I’m a flesh-and-blood person.

I cut a glance at him. And at that moment I know how he knows.

“Julia Cannings is not of the Alsime,” he says, and allows me again to breathe. “Nor is she of the Ulvregan. Nor . . .not of any of the peoples whose names we know. She is English. And her English kin dwell far—far—away, their land so distant from ours that it takes . . .” he looks at me and grins “. . . it takes thirteen years to travel to there, and another thirteen years more to travel to here.”

In a physical statement of finality he slams his arms, folded, over his chest.

« »

Aldliks Bisdata isn’t happy (I wonder, is she ever). Perhaps she’d hoped to embarrass him? Her kin, too, are not over-delighted. Perhaps they’d expected a longer story and now feel cheated.

It’s Alsvregn who breaks the silence. “But why was this woman under your ‘roof? Why had she come? And why, now, her return?”

The aldliks nods, clearly satisfied at the question. She even smiles. Grimly.

Dannyn grins in answer. “Why, she was waiting for me! She brought me gifts, such wonders to see. She brought me fruit. Ha, their like! You think your honeyed berries juicy and sweet? You should taste her sweet sticky figs!”

I make a note for when I return to Destination-Date-minus-26, that I must remember to bring ‘ready-to-eat’ dried figs. I’m likely to anyway, they’re one of my favourites. But gifts, what gifts? I made a note to ask him, though I’m guessing it’ll be items of C21st technology (he said I had ‘shown him’).

But Aldliks Bisdata still isn’t satisfied. “But why her thirteen years travel, just to see you? And why now the return?”

Staëdan— Sapapla’s bed-man—flicks a dismissive hand at her. “If you washed your ears you’d better hear; our Dannyn already has said. This woman—Julia Cannings—is eblan, a scholar. She comes to learn of our ways.”

“Indeed, it is as I said,” Dannyn agrees. “Julia Cannings returns now to learn of our ways; ways that mostly are different from those of her English.”

“Every peoples’ ways are different,” Aldliks Bisdata says with an almost audible sniff. “But do they travel thirteen years across a land to crowd upon another, just to learn those ways? So tell me, I ask again: why does she?”

If her tone hasn’t told me, that word ‘crowd’ certainly does. She finds me intrusive. I wonder, does she fear I’m here to spy on her granary? I’m itching to see it, and to ply her with questions, but I think I shall get no answers there. And she’s still waiting for Dannyn to answer.

Indeed, I am still waiting for Dannyn to answer. Is there some way, perhaps, that I might help him? Maybe supply him with some suitable reason for why I so badly want to learn of their ways—other, of course, than the truth. But even the truth isn’t easily said. Why do we prod and poke into the past, trying to understand how our ancestors lived? With my work in museums, of all people I should be able to answer that. But all I can manage is a rehash of an old brochure I found in my out-tray when I was fresh into post: Through the study of the past we are better equipped to solve the problems of the present. Yea? But how does that apply here? How could my understanding of the development of the Alisime granary system in any way facilitate solving any, even minor, problems of our C21st?

Yet, actually, I suppose it is feasible. After all, the Alisime granary is a system, and at its inception it must have affected many people. What was it Dannyn said of Hegrea when she created the first granary here? That it went against the Alisime ways. So how did she solve that little problem? Suddenly a hundred questions race through my head. Yes, my coming here does have purpose beyond my curiosity.

Dannyn stands. That’s unexpected. “Bisdata, aldliks of this isle that you are, you have forgotten entirely who I might be.” He doesn’t raise his voice yet by his tone he lets it be known he’ll not be crossed. “I am Eblan Head Man here. And you, an aldliks, question me? But I know what’s in your crabby thoughts. ‘Is he bedding her?’ Huh? Don’t deny it; even now I hear you thinking it. And what if I am? Huh? What business of yours? That is between me and my Mistress Inspiration.”

He pauses long enough for the aldliks to splutter, insufficient for her to gather her thoughts and retort.

“I know what you remember of that day I returned from the Wilds. You remember how Old Boney took me up to the top of his tower. And you wondered, even then, though young, what we talked of there. Ah, surely the old eblan chided me there. Or berated me. Hammered his words deep into me—child of the hated Luänha. And that has festered inside you, festered all these years unsaid. So let me tell you what my eblan-guide said.”

He looks more at me than he does at her as he continues. And though his eyes begin as ice, they soon warm to embers.

“I told him everything of Julia Cannings. I told him of her promised return. I unfolded my concerns to him, laid them before him, bare. Was I going against the eblan-ways to want the scholar Julia in my bed? So there, it never was hidden.”

He flashes a smile, shared between me and the red faced aldliks.

“And here,” he says, “is what Burnisen said, that day at the top of his tower. He reminded me of Hegrea and Arith, how they so wanted to be together, but did it go against the eblann-ways. But that you wouldn’t know, because that was before you were born. Yet Alsvregn, here, remembers it—and Staëdan. Burnisen, Head Man of the River Alsime eblann, called an assembly. Oh, thick were the feathers that day. Every eblan from far around—for many were ready to criticise her. And the youngest of them was asked to step forward. And he was asked to recite the eblan-code. He knew it, he told it. But you, Bisdata, aldliks of a granary-isle, you wouldn’t know it. So let me recite it for you.

“An eblan’s first duty is to the Mistress Inspiration. The second duty is to his family of birth. The third is to his society. The fourth duty is to the Alsime of his birth, be it River, North, South or East. The fifth duty is to all of the Alisime people—no matter if they call themselves Ulvregan.

“Eblan Head Man Burnisen asked of that assembly which of these codes Eblan Hegrea would neglect by taking a man to her bed. Would her head thus be closed to our Mistress; would she no more be inspired? Would she turn from her family of birth, and no longer care for them? Would she close her ears to her society and no longer give judgement when asked? Would she turn away envoys from the Alsime, those of her birth, or any others throughout the land—from the Ulvregan? No, of course she would not. And so, though there still were those who said bad against her—”

“That old Eblan Head Man from north of the Wetlands,” Staëdan cuts in, to which Dannyn nods and continues.

“—none could say Eblan Hegrea did wrong to bed with Arith. Now, you, Bisdata, dare to suggest that I am less eblan—yes, I hear the words in your head—because, twenty-six seasons past, I invited this woman into my bed. And for twenty-five of those seasons you have judged me—dared to judge me, and you then but a child.”

The heat of his fury still is on him as, like a furnace, he slams down beside me. Without looking down he finds my hand. The way he clutches it clearly says I am his woman, end of discussion.

“Well,” says Sapapla into the ensuing stunned silence. “That wasn’t expected.”

There’s a strident cough from Aldliks Bisdata, though when she speaks her voice is small. “But that still doesn’t answer. Why does she come here, to Hegrea’s Isle, to learn our ways?”

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Next episode

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Ancient Wheat

The astounding headlines that hit the archaeological press at the end of February this year (2015) would have delighted Julia Cannings of Priory Project. No doubt her jaw would have dropped when she realised that the granaries and traders at Destination aren’t totally anachronistic.

I refer to the article quoted in full below, by Frank Jordans, carried by phys.org/news, Feb 26, 2015.

 

Ancient wheat points to Stone Age trading links

Britons may have discovered a taste for bread thousands of years earlier than previously thought, thanks to trade with more advanced neighbors on the European continent.

That’s the conclusion scientists have drawn after discovering that samples from a now-submerged prehistoric camp in southern England contained traces of ancient wheat DNA.

The findings, published Thursday in the journal Science, suggest that Stone Age hunter-gatherers weren’t always displaced suddenly by farmers, but that the two societies co-existed for lengthy periods of time.

Researchers say the study shows that other archaeological assumptions based on bones or fossil study could also be called into question by a thorough analysis of microscopic genetic material hitherto overlooked.

It’s known that the practice of planting and harvesting cereals arose about 12,000 years ago in the region where Europe meets Asia, and slowly spread across Europe. Britons didn’t adopt agriculture until 6,000 years ago, though—something many archaeologists have put down to the rising sea levels that filled what is now the English Channel.

This natural barrier was believed to have explained the delayed end of the Mesolithic—or Middle Stone Age—and the start of the Neolithic period when farmers replaced hunter-gatherers in Britain.

But researchers analyzing sediment samples from the Bouldnor Cliff underwater site off the Isle of Wight found the presence of wheat there 8,000 years ago—two millennia before any cereals were planted in Britain.

“These results suggest that sophisticated social networks linked the Neolithic front in southern Europe to the Mesolithic peoples of northern Europe,” the researchers concluded.

“There was a real cultural link between the ancient Britons and Europe,” said Robin G. Allaby of the University of Warwick, England, who led the study. “So Mesolithic people were not simply and quickly replaced by Neolithic peoples. Instead there was a long period—thousands of years—of interaction between the two.”

Greger Larson, an expert in ancient DNA at the University of Oxford who wasn’t involved in the study, said the findings seemed to be “pretty robust” and provided the first strong evidence for trading between hunter-gatherers and farmers.

Similar studies using ancient DNA could be possible, he said, but noted that there are few places in the world where fragile genetic material would be as well preserved as in the sediment at Bouldnor Cliff.

Simone Riehl, an archaeologist at Tuebingen University in Germany who also wasn’t involved in the study, said extracting DNA from sediment had the potential to revolutionize scientists’ understanding of ancient flora and fauna, particularly in locations were plant, animal or human remains are scarce or not found.

“The interpretation of ancient DNA signatures from such sediments however will probably remain debatable for a long time,” said Riehl.

Allaby said that since no grains were found in the sediment, it’s likely that the wheat DNA came from flour.

“Probably the people would use such a product to make a dough. It is a simple matter to add water to flour, resulting in a flatbread which they could eat,” he said.

By Frank Jordans, quoted from phys.org/news, Feb 26, 2015.

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Of course, it’s not quite the scenario found by Julia Cannings at Destination. 

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Fairy Nuff

There’s a fairy—Fairy Nuff
Who sits upon my bathroom shelf,
He’s a most annoying elf.
He strews the room with bits of fluff.

Always BLUE.
You know his brethren?
According to the Internet
His breed, worldwide, is spreading.

Oh, don’t belief us?

It could be, I suppose,
Blue fibres from our clothes.
Bathroom is a place of donning,
Of pulling up and pulling downing.

But why always BLUE
When I wear white or sometimes rose?
Haven’t as much as one blue collar.
Yet it’s true . . . I learned it at school,
Blue’s considered a fugitive colour.

So there’s the answer:
Fair Enough,
The BLUE has left us
To join the fluff!

 

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Crafter Of Stones

We left Kerrid, in the previous episode of Feast Fables 3 (A Glut of Dead Fathers), off to meet Nodlushen’s uncle—whose only interest, says his sister, is in his stones. That’s fine with Kerrid, for her only interest in him is as potential craft-master to her troublesome son. But that could soon change.

Next episode, Sun-Stones, Storm-Stones . . . And Ladders, now ready.

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