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Thursday, January 21, 2010

MIKE HALLOWELL: (I'm always touched by your) Presence Deer

Back in 1808 a funny thing happened and as it happened, it happened at Bamburgh, Northumberland.

There were these blokes and they were employed as quarrymen. Their role was to take big stones, bash 'em, and make 'em into smaller ones; not the most intellectually challenging of pursuits, I'll grant you, but it probably kept them fit. In addition, they no doubt compared stones, swapped different kinds of stones, kept collections of stones and took aesthetically pleasing stones home for the missus.

"There you are, luv," they would say. "Feast your eyes on that! Know what that is? That is a piece of Grade 3 travertine, that is! That cost me three bits of quartz and a lump of striated magnesian limestone, that did."

Geordie quarrymen doted on their spouses, back then; they really did.

Anyway, back to the story: these blokes were digging in the ground, looking for stones to bash. However, as they dug down a bit they stumbled upon some Lumpy Pointy Things. They were not stones, but "horns of deer".

"That's a bit weird, like," said one.

And it was weird. But what was even weirder was that the "horns of deer" were attached to "the skulls of deer", which in turn were attached to the entire "skeletons of deer". Someone, it seems, had buried alive a load of deer standing upright in a huge bloody pit. The Head Stone Basher, otherwise known as the foreman, was called for. He in turn called in "an expert", who declared that they were the remains of red deer. How he established this I do not know, but as he was an expert I will not dare to quibble.

Unfortunately, almost as soon as the bones were exposed to the air they started to crumble. As one local historian observed, "they mouldered and fell in pieces". Which was a shame, really. However, two horns – both about three feet in length - stubbornly refused to succumb to such elemental exposure (I know not why) and remained in good condition. The quarrymen carted them off to Bamburgh Castle where they were hung upon a wall. For all I know, they may still be there to this day.

Curiously, the ground in which the deer were found emitted a foul odour of decayed flesh. Now I don't know how long carcasses buried in the ground stink, but my guess is that it wouldn't be for decades or centuries. That seems to indicate that the animals hadn't been there that long, although the rapid decay of the bones after exposure would seem to indicate just the opposite. It’s a mystery, really.

If anyone out there can shed a light on this curious historical enigma, I'd really appreciate it. Three pebbles* and a lump of dolomite** to the first one to crack the mystery.

*Pebbles may contain pebbles.

**This product may contain nuts. The proprietors reserve the right to substitute the dolomite with a high-quality dolomite substitute such a Dolomexine ® or Dolomexetite ®. Please allow ten years for delivery.


Dr Dan Holdsworth said...

I think this might be a good time to put you right on a few pieces of archaeological and antiquarian terminology here, Mike.

"Crumbled to dust on exposure to air" means "Some daft bugger caught it a right good hit with a sledgehammer and glued the bits back together with mud, which lasted about five minutes as anyone with a brain could tell you".

"The remains were not as extensive as was hoped" means "The remains were really very good indeed until dumbo there with the JCB put the shovel through 'em".

Finally, if you're doing archaeology and you don't understand something you find, claiming it to be religious is always a good move, especially if you can find an especially gullible journalist and pour a few pints of the local ale down him, then imply cannibalism might have taken place there. The fact that you've actually found where some centuries-past village idiot resided matters not in such cases, as long as you can spin a damn fine yarn to go with it.

Geordie Paranormalizer said...

I stand enlightened. However, it still doesn't explain how he managed to keep the deer still until he buried them, where they got a JCB in the early 19th century or - and this is the cracker - they got the mud from. It was illegal to possess mud in Geordieland until 1957. Before that you were obliged to use our own local substitute, technically known as "clarts". Clarts, as any fule kno, was useless for sticking deer horns together with.