miércoles, 22 de enero de 2014

The Oswestry Hillfort Pegasus stone (United Kingdom)

Today the magnificent 3,000 year old Shropshire hillfort of Old Oswestry is in the news while campaigners fight to halt several proposed housing developments that threatens both the setting and archaeology surrounding the monument. But, as if to highlight the importance of this place, a new discovery from 2008 has been dubbed the Oswestry Pegasus Stone.
The  engraved stone currently stands in the Oswestry Town Museum and Professor George Nash was invited by Rodney Farmer to review the previous interpretation.
The stone was recovered during an archaeological watching brief in February 2008 from undergrowth near the main entrance to Old Oswestry Hillfort, close to the western outer ramparts.  The stone, along with another was found close to a mature hedge and their location may be the result of historic field clearance.  The stone weighs around 100 kg and was partially buried in top soil (Rodney Farmer pers comm.).  It was initially examined by Heather Hidden (Oswestry and Borders History and Archaeology Group) and Maggie Rowlands.  Later inspection of the stone by Margaret Worthington and Maggie Rowlands in late March 2008 noted potential engravings on two of its faces.

The Pegasus

The Pegasus Stone is so-named due to a probable bas-relief horse carved onto one of the faces of the stone of carboniferous millstone grit that measures c. 0.75 x 0.40 by 0.30m wide. One of the faces displays a large number of linear scratch marks, the majority of which may represent successive scoring produced from a plough before it was deposited near the field edge.
Initial inspection by Dr Nash recognised important engraving elements that helped shed light on its creation.  First the original surface (or crust) immediately around the horse outline had, during later prehistory, eroded away naturally, with the exception of the crust that survives immediately above the horse’s back. It is more than likely that the natural crust formed an ideal shape for an artist to form a bas-relief image of the side view of the upper torso and the head of a horse.
Along with the bas-relief (raised engraving) the rest of the horse is created with incised engraving; the latter using a metal tool. It should be noted that Later Prehistoric bas-relief engraving onto stone is an extremely rare technique in North-western Europe.
Between 15 and 20 horizontal lines, probably ploughmarks extend across the face, terminating to the right of the bas-relief line that forms the chest and shoulder of the horse. A distinctive incision line forms the withers, back and croup. This line is a clear intentional act of carving by an artist which successfully ties-in the head with the upper torso; it is certainly not natural or acidental.

An artefact rich landscape

Prior to removal, the stone was located close to two Scheduled Monuments: Wat’s Dyke and Old Oswestry Hillfort (see REID & MARRIOTT 2010; DORLING & WIGLEY 2012) and it is more likely that there is an association indirect or otherwise with one or both of these monuments. Based on data present within the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the area around Old Oswestry Hillfort has, not surprisingly, yielded a wealth of artefacts that date to the Iron Age, Roman and later Celtic periods (NASH 2013).
Later prehistoric [Neolithic and Bronze Age] engraved rock art can be considered a rare occurrence in Wales and the Welsh Marches.  What survives usually comprises mainly cupmarked rock-outcropping or occasional portable stones with single and multiple cupmark motifs (NASH et al. 2005). Recently, Nash has identified a correlation between later prehistoric abstract rock art and hillfort activity with a number of portable examples being found with the curtilage of at least four Welsh Marches hillforts (2011). As far as Prof. Nash is aware there are no representative examples in Western Britain that date from this period.  However, liberally dispersed throughout north-western Europe is a wealth of figurative engraved art that includes both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic images using a variety of artistic styles; these examples have their influences firmly embedded with the Hallstatt and La Téne cultures in central Europe. The date range for this phenomenon extends from the Iron Age and Celtic periods (c. 1000 BCE to AD 1000) and the subject matter usually includes deities, gods and mythical beasts.
The horse is prevalent in later prehistoric and early historic mythology and various notable representations are found across much of the Celtic and Roman Europe. The shape and size of the horse varies and is found within a number of contexts including coinage, metalwork, pottery and stone.  GRUFFYDD (1953) and, more recently HUTTON (2013) have suggested a possible association with the veneration of Celtic goddesses Epona and Rhiannon.
The dating of this piece of artistic endeavour is problematic; however, according to GREEN (2004) a horse cult was widely practised within the tribal area of the Cornovii and therefore one can consider the Pegasus Stone to be either of Celtic or Celto-Roman influence.  During use, probably acting as some form of (roadside?) shrine or ritual display, this unique engraving would have been a potent symbol of a warrior-dominant society; however, its original provenance and use can only be surmised.

A real and present danger

Now into the final stages of public consultation, Shropshire Council’s SAMDev plan includes the allocation of almost 200 houses within a stone’s throw of the ramparts of Old Oswestry acknowledged as one of Britain’s finest Iron Age hillforts, second in size only to Maiden Castle while also forming part of the Anglo-Saxon defence, Wat’s Dyke, also a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOOH) campaign group has published new objections which question whether planners’ assessment of the hillfort sites has been fair and consistent in comparison with other sensitive sites that have now been now dropped from the development plan. The objections are being considered by local councillors as they finalise their response to SAMDev this month and you can help add weight to this objection.
A spokesperson for HOOOH said: “Shropshire Council planners have rejected housing further away and to the west of Old Oswestry, stating unequivocally that it will have significant detrimental impacts on the hillfort’s setting. You would expect at least the same assessment for the development at Oldport Farm to the east, which is much closer, coming within 80m of the monument.”
John Creighton, Director of the Society of Antiquaries of London, has also expressed concerns in a letter of objection, stating: “Old Oswestry is without doubt one of the best-preserved multi-vallate hillforts. Its setting in the landscape makes it visually stunning, and crowding its fringes with buildings would be very detrimental to this.” He goes on to make this plea: “More housing is desperately needed in the UK but balance and careful curation of the unique assets of our landscape are the responsibility of the planning committee and council. Please reflect on how you are discharging them.”
“The people have made their feelings very clear through consultation and the petition. Oswestry’s community want the historical legacy and beauty of the hillfort preserved, and that rules out housing. The pressure is now on Oswestry Town Council to respect and not betray their electorate.”

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