There is a bit of a story behind this trip to Brittany…
It is possible to catch an overnight ferry from Plymouth (Devon, UK) to Roscoff (France). You arrive in France at about 5am and then you get to spend the day exploring the local environment before catching the ferry back to Plymouth at around 7pm that night.
For my hubby and I this was always a bit of an adventure and a chance to stock up on wine and cheese. Regardless to say this was in the time before children.
Well it just so happens that on one trip I convinced my hapless other half to drive just a ‘wee’ way down to Brittany to see the stones at Carnac. Anyway, the drive was longer than expected and I wish we had more time, it was quite literally a flying visit, as there was a very real possibility of us missing the ferry back to the UK.
The sites I visited were the stone alignments at Kerzerho and Le Menec as well as the Giants of Kerzerho.
Probably the most popular of all the stone alignments in this part of France, it is certainly the one everyone thinks of when talking of Carnac. The alignment consists of 12 lines of some 1100 stones. The orientation begins southwest – northeast and then about halfway makes a minor adjustment to its direction and ends in the east. The stones have an average height of one metre although the tallest stones are found at the western end standing at three metres and the shortest stones are at the eastern end measuring 1.5 metres.
The remains of a stone enclosure can be seen at the western end amongst some farm buildings. There was once a similar enclosure at its western end.
These have a similar layout to Le Menec and cover almost two kilometres. Today there are several hundred stones but it is believed the original number at least 1100. The alignment runs east to west and is intersected by a road and a village.
Two huge standing stones sit nestled in forest, they are six metres high and weigh approximately 40 tonnes between them. They are aligned north to south and are thus perpendicular to the Kerzerho alignment.
The following are the few photos I managed to take.
In 1999 I visited the fascinating island of Malta with my then boyfriend (now husband), dragging the poor lad around more archaeology than he had seen in all his life…
Whilst there is a huge amount of archaeology in Malta, from all periods in time, it was the megalithic monuments which caught my attention during this trip. Not to mention we only had a week on the island and you would probably need a whole lot more time to visit all the archaeological sites Malta has to offer.
Unfortunately at the time of our visit the Hypogeum or Hal Saflieni was closed for some desperately needed love and attention – much to my disappointment.
It is believed the first human inhabitants of Malta came from Sicily in the Neolithic. This early phase is named for the site that epitomises this time – Ghar Dalam, a cave site in the south of the island. This early phase begins approximately 5000BC and ends with the first temples being built around 4100BC. The Temple Period is divided into four phases.
Zebbug – 4100-3700BC
Mgarr – 3800-3600BC
Safliene – 3300-3000BC
Tarxien – 3150-2500BC
The temples for which the first two phases are named have now disappeared either under the urban sprawl of Valetta or as is the case of Mgarr subsumed into the backstreets of the town itself. The Safliene phase is characterised by Hal Safliene (Hypogeum), a subterranean temple carved out of the limestone bedrock to accommodate 7000 dead.
The final Tarxien phase is the one visitors to Malta will be most aware of. The temple complexes of Tarxien, Mnajdra, Hagar Qim on Malta and Ggantija on Gozo constitute the climax of the temple building phase.
Although the temples complexes span quite a period of time they do have some common features in terms of the architecture. To begin each will have a oval forecourt bounded by the temple facade constructed of large stone slabs. The doorways all consist of two large uprights topped with an equally large lintel. The passageways are always paved. Once inside the complex, the visitor finds themselves in an open area which then gives way to a series of D-shaped chambers or ‘apses’.
Plan of the main temple of Hagar Qim. (from ‘Malta An Archaeological Paradise’ by A Bonanno)
Plan of the lower and middle temples at Mnajdra. (from ‘Malta An Archaeological Paradise’ by A Bonanno)
Plan of the central part of the Tarxien temple complex. (from ‘Malta An Archaeological Paradise’ by A Bonanno)
The main variation from one site to another is the number of ‘apses’. Often the walls of the temples are decorated with carvings in relief of spirals and naturalistic forms of plants and animals. Cup marks are also a popular form of decoration.
Here are some of the photos of this trip.
Facade of Hagar Qim showing the main entrance.
Detail of one of the doorways of Hagar Qim showing the stone stippling which is a common decoration form at this time.
The back of Hagar Qim.
Inside one of the apses at Hagar Qim.
A porthole entrance encased by a trilithon at the middle temple at Mnajdra.
Another of the square entrances with stone stippling, this time at the lower temple of Mnajdra.
A low altar depicting in low relief a plant growing from a pot. In the background a spiral relief – From Hagar Qim.
Entrance to Tarxien – this temple complexcan be found in the suburbs of Valetta.
The remains of Tarxien (and a rather ‘over it’ boyfriend)…
A large basin discovered in the first left apse of the middel temple of Tarxien – it was hewn from a single block of stone.
In the first apse on the right of the south temple in Tarxien is the remains of this statue. It would have dominated the space standing at least two metres tall.
For the majority of the time I will be blogging about either New Zealand or Cornwall and if you read the page which tells you about me, you’ll know why. But as a first post I thought I would share a little of the early history of the place I call home. I live in a small suburb on Auckland’s North Shore – Birkdale. Wedged between the greater suburbs of Birkenhead and Beachhaven it tends to be forgotten a little or included into the either of those other suburb and to be honest, the story of Birkdale is inextricably tied to the stories of both Beachhaven and Birkenhead.
The isthmus of Auckland (Tamaki Makau Rau) is thought to have been first settled around 1350. A combination of fertile soil for horticulture and two harbours with abundant resources resulted in a thriving population. On the volcanic peaks (Mt Eden, One Tree Hill etc) which dominate the Auckland skyline there is ample evidence of these early settlements.
The area of Birkenhead, Beach Haven and Birkdale was densely forested and as a result not as heavily populated but it was the sea which drew people to the area. The sea provided an abundance of resources for Maori from flounder in the Kaipataki Inlet, shellfish from Oruamo Creek and the shark fishing grounds just below Kauri Point. Evidence for this can be seen in the form of coastal shell middens found all around the coast.
Occupation sites are difficult to pinpoint but there is some evidence from oral histories and archeologically of an important pa (hillfort) called Te Matarae a Mana in the area of Kauri Point/Quarryman’s Bay during the 1700s. In addition it is believed there is at least two other headland pa in the area, although all trace of these no longer remain.
The musket wars of the 1800s decimated the local populations of Maori and by 1844 the area of Beach Haven was sold to the new settler government and became deserted. Eventually, European settlers began to arrive hoping to carve out a new life for themselves. One of the first families to arrive was the Gruts from the Jersey Islands in 1857. But life was much harder than many anticipated, the heavy clay soils and dense bush took its toll.
Although the city seems so very close to this part of the North Shore, back then before the harbour bridge the only way to market was by ferry/boat as the overland route was long and arduous. The first ferries ran from what is now downtown Auckland to Birkenhead in 1854 and remained a vital lifeline for people up until the Harbour Bridge was completed in April 1959.
In the 1870s several families had a breakthrough in the form of growing fruit trees, and by the 1880s some thirty orchards were recorded in the area around Zion Hill in Birkenhead (then known as Woodside) with more being established towards Beach Haven and the present day Birkdale. During the late 1800s it was discovered that strawberries grew particularly well in the area. Strawberries and fruit in general, quickly became a major part of the economy.
The whole community were involved in the strawberry picking – Birkdale Primary School was known to be lenient about homework during the picking season. The strawberry fields became so well known that people would ferry over from the city at the weekend for strawberry afternoon teas and in 1898 the Thompson family began making jam in Birkenhead which eventually became New Zealands largest jam company of Thompson and Hills.
A mural at Birkdale Primary School depicts the areas settler history.
Birkdale Primay is the oldest school on the North Shore.
This prosperity encouraged even more people to settle the area and in 1888 Birkenhead (which then still included Beach Haven and Birkdale) became a borough and its first mayor was elected – Charles Button.
One of the most impressive features of the North Shore bush is the magnificent Kauri (agathis australis) trees. Around the roots of these trees it is possible to find a resin called Kauri gum. This gum forms when the resin leaks out of the cracks in the bark, it hardens when exposed to air and lumps will fall from the tree eventually fossilising. In appearance it looks very similar to amber.
Maori had many uses for the gum, fresh it could be used like chewing gum (kapia) and as it is highly flammable it made a good firestarter. When it was burnt and mixed with animal fat it became the dark pigment in moko tattooing.
For the European colonists the export of Kauri gum was of major importance, for Auckland as a whole it was the main export for most of the second half of the 19th century. Between 1850 and 1950 some 450,000 tons were exported to England. Its principle use was as a varnish. Kauri gum when heated mixed easily with linseed oil and at lower temperatures and by the 1890s some 70% of all oil varnishes in England used Kauri gum.
The people who harvested the gum were often transient living in rough huts or tents, it was hard work and not very well paid. Even so, in the 1890s 20,000 people were recorded as being engaged in gumdigging throughout Auckland, Northland and the Coromandel. At one point digging for Kauri gum even became a weekend activity for the city side dwellers of Auckland with many catching the ferry to Birkenhead to dig for gum around the suburb. It became such a problem with roads being potholed and private farms dug into, that local authorities brought in special measures to control the matter.
As it was the quality of the gum in Birkenhead was not as high as elsewhere and eventually the gum ran out, the last permit was issued to a Mr Wheeler of Verran’s Corner in 1931.
From this point on the history of the area now becomes one of entreprenurial settlers, families and a sugar factory.
Hinemoa St in Birkenhead – the original shopping precinct just up the road from the wharf.
Chelsea Sugar Factory
Archaeology, History and a little bit of time travel…