Recording the Folkton Drums at the British Museum – results

Considerable evidence of working on drum 1
Considerable evidence of working on drum 1

My last blog post concerned the recording and data capture of the three Neolithic artefacts known as the Folkton Drums at the British Museum. Thanks to the hard work and computing genius of Lena Kotoula and Marta Díaz-Guaramino, since then we have had time to process the data and have had some spectacular results.

Lena, Marta and I spent around six hours staring at the computer screen back in early June amazed at the results from this analysis, and picking out one feature after another that had never before been recorded.

The most spectacular results are that the base of the largest artefact, drum 1 has considerable evidence of working, with a series of parallel scratched lines, and a motif very like those found in passage graves in Orkney. Even more amazing is the face of drum 2, as we found evidence of an erased ‘eyebrow’ above the central motif – this indicates clear evidence of reworking, and the removal of an earlier motif before the creation of the present motifs.

Evidence of an erased ‘eyebrow’ above the central motif on drum 2
Evidence of an erased ‘eyebrow’ above the central motif on drum 2

One of the key aspects of the project is to record evidence for working and reworking. This was clearly evident on the side panel of drum 1, where we could see clear sequences of working, erasure and reworking. The digital imaging technique of RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) has been especially useful in highlighting fine-grained detail allowing us as researchers to understand the sequence, techniques and gestures used to craft ancient artefacts. The technique is giving us a whole new picture of these intriguing Neolithic artefacts.

Scanning the Folkton Drums

Scanning the Folkton Drums
Scanning the Folkton Drums

I am currently working on a project looking at the art of portable Neolithic artefacts from Britain and Ireland. One of the remarkable findings so far is the degree to which markings on these artefacts have been erased and reworked. This is especially true of chalk artefacts. These processes of reworking provide important information about craft techniques, and the significance of art and imagery in this period of prehistory.

To test these observations it was important to analyse the most spectacular chalk artefacts from the British Neolithic – the Folkton Drums.  By special request the ‘drums’ – carved cylinders of chalk from Neolithic Yorkshire – were removed from display in the British Museum for an intensive day of analysis. So on 4th April a group of researchers from Archaeology, Winchester School of Art, Central St. Martins Art School, London, and Cardiff University recorded the ‘drums’ using a hand-held laser scanner, photogrammetry, and using RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging). These techniques were used to analyse trace evidence of reworking or recarving. The techniques we used take some time to process so I will update this when they arrive. However on the day we also had lots of opportunity for detailed analysis of the three Folkton Drums, and learnt a great deal more about the variety of different techniques used to carve them. The ‘drums’ are one of a select group of Neolithic artefacts with representational features – they have faces – and by the end of the day all of us had become captivated by them.

Researchers included Ian Dawson and Chris Carter (WSA), Louisa Minkin (Central St. Martins), Marta Diaz Guardamino Uribe, Lena Kotoula, Andrew Meirion Jones (Archaeology, University of Southamton) and Andrew Cochrane (Archaeology, Cardiff University).

Meetings make History

At the end of May I visited Florø, western Norway as part of the scientific/steering committee for the ‘Meetings make History’ project run by Ingrid Fuglestvedt at Oslo University. The ‘Meetings make History’ project is based on Ingrid’s analysis and interpretation of the Stone Age rock art of Scandinavia, characterised by animal motifs.

She argues that the internal patterns on many animal motifs depict totemic relationships: motifs in different regions of Scandinavia are subtly different in form. We were in western Norway to visit one of the most spectacular rock art locations in Scandinavia (and possibly the world): Vingen.

I’ve always wondered whether the phrase ‘Meetings make History’ was meant to have a double meaning, as the project also incorporates occasional gatherings or meetings of archaeologists to discuss the progress of the project. The first day began with a superb set of papers from some of the people associated with the project. Astrid Nyland, a doctoral student on the project, began the day with a wonderful discussion of Stone Age quarry sites in Norway. The aim of the project is to map the relationship between quarry sites and rock art sites.

Continue reading “Meetings make History”

Ice Age Art and the Folkton Drums

During the Easter break I had the chance to visit the ‘Ice Age Art’ exhibition at the British Museum for the second time. I was there on the opening night, and will take a group of Masters students later this month; I can’t keep away! The objects in this exhibition have really captivated me to the extent that I’ve written a paper on the artefacts from the exhibition, to be published in a book on art and archaeology edited by Andrew Cochrane and Ian Russell; the artefacts offer us an intriguing perspective on the Upper Palaeolithic, c.40-10, 000 BC, not typically covered by the text books on Cave art. Although I was familiar with some objects, such as the Lowenmensch or Lion-man from Hohlenstein, others were unfamiliar. One of the things that struck me was the miniature size of so many of the objects carved from mammoth ivory. I’ve been working on aspects of miniaturisation for the last couple of years and had not realised that there were good examples of this from this period.

While I was at the British Museum I had the chance to visit some old friends, the Folkton Drums, three carved chalk cylinders from the Neolithic (c.4000-2300 BC) of Yorkshire. The Folkton Drums are on display in gallery 51, (Prehistoric Europe) in the British Museum. They were excavated over a hundred years ago, they are unique and we really know very little about them; something I am hoping to remedy in the future. I had written about these intriguing objects in my last book ‘Prehistoric Materialities’ so it was good to see them again.

I was lucky to be able to join one of the occasional museum talks given by curator Andrew Cochrane in the European prehistory gallery. It was great to be able to talk to members of the public about my ideas about these intriguing artefacts, with the artefacts sitting in front of me; a rare opportunity – I’m usually relying on slides when giving talks. People became really excited about these artefacts as we both explained their significance; are the representations of people? Why were they buried with a child? Why are there three of them? Were they made by the same person? Why are they unique? Some prehistoric artefacts captivate archaeologists. These artefacts have certainly obsessed Andrew Cochrane and myself. They are well worth taking a look at next time you visit the British Museum.

You can read more on my personal blog.