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Of Cups, Rings and Cultural Heritage
national | history and heritage | opinion/analysis Monday August 01, 2011 21:01 by Sean Moriarty / Edited by Dr. George Nash, U. of Bristol seanachai51 at earthlink dot net
"I KNOW THAT MOST MEN... can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their lives." Leo Tolstoy
Over the centuries, archaeologists have proposed numerous explanations on the meaning of Megalithic rock art, i.e., petroglyphs, found on thousands of stones throughout Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and other Atlantic European nations. Of those, two stand out. First, that the art is abstract, i.e., non- representational. Secondly, that theyʼre visions of form constants by shamans, likely induced by hallucinogenic substances. While on the surface, these might seem feasible, they fail to meet the criteria of a scientific hypothesis, as they have never, nor can they ever, be tested... unless of course the ʻexpertsʼ have found a way of communicating with the dead, or traveling back in time!
So if the art is representational, what do these cups, rings and numerous variations on a theme depict? Bearing in mind the principle of Occamʼs Razor, which states "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity", the simplest explanation is they depict the earthen and/or stone monuments constructed at sites such as Tara and the Boyne, i.e., cups representing mounds of various shapes and sizes, and rings, the ramparts or ditches. Beyond that, there are those symbols which depict features in the landscape. In short, theyʼre ʻmapsʼ.
In two online articles, ʻOrthostat, the Mound of the Hostagesʼ and ʻPetroglyphs, the Bend in the Boyneʼ, I was able to link the strategically-placed symbols found on several panels at Tara and the Boyne in County Meath, Ireland, to the monuments and landscape features they depict. (see links to PDF's below)
So what does all of this have to do with Irish Heritage? After all, being Irish is about all things Celtic, Gaelic football, Guinness and Jamesonʼs. Though that might be true to a degree, there are far greater things that are just as important.
Though many of the monuments within the Tara and Boyne complexes are still visible in the landscape, there are hundreds of sites where nothing can be seen, except for the panels that exhibit this enigmatic art. The spatial distribution of motifs at, say, the Mound of Hostages on the Hill of Tara, or on the stones at Knowth, is a way of drawing in the wider ritual landscape within, creating for the monumentʼs users and their ancestors, a way of connecting the physical landscape, with the realm of the dead.
While I understand archaeologists take no oath to protect their ʻpatientsʼ, like those in the medical profession, they nonetheless have a moral obligation, as theyʼre the only ones standing between our heritage and those who would so thoughtlessly destroy it. As such, a comprehensive plan to excavate, restore and preserve these sites, along with the panels of art work, is of utmost importance. Aside from the obvious cultural benefits, there are also the economic benefits which need to be considered. As Tara for example is now on the Tentative List as a World Heritage Site, this discovery would go a long way in support of its nomination. Moreover, such status for Tara, or any other site in Ireland and Western Europe, would generate millions of Euros in tourism for years to come.
That said, not one politician, government agency or archaeologist in Ireland whom Iʼve contacted over the past four years, has even considered this research, let alone its cultural and economic potential. Itʼs one thing for them to ignore the heritage and economy of the Irish people, quite another to ignore that of other EU nations, especially in view of the recent bailout of Ireland by the EU. Benefits aside, the mere fact that dismissing this ʻoffhandʼ could prove humiliating; should experts outside Ireland confirm it, one would think that would be motivation enough to investigate the matter.
Though thereʼs no simple answer, sense tells me that; at least with respect to the archaeologists, it gets back to the Tolstoy quote, in that if this ʻradicalʼ hypothesis were confirmed, then much of what has been taught and written about Megalithic art and sites like Tara and the Boyne, is incorrect. While no one welcomes being disproven, anyone who has ever put forth a hypothesis, has to know that at some point in time, new evidence may come to light that refutes their work.
"All truth passes through three stages: firstly it is ridiculed, secondly, it is violently opposed, and thirdly, it is accepted as self-evident." Arthur Schopenhauer