Thursday, 18 June 2009

Buckfastleigh shoot—a few more photos

Here's the next batch out of the digital darkroom from my recent visit to Buckfastleigh, and a continuation of the bones story.

Holy Trinity Church and cemetery

The grave of Thomas and Polly Elizabeth Luckraft on the north side of the church, surrounded by so many weathered and barely readable headstones. I thought the overhanging leaves, as well as helping with the framing, would give a feeling of intrusion into this other-worldly place of rest.

In this shot, I wanted to show the church in context. At the same time, I was hoping to be able to capture something of the former imposing nature of the church, and the fact that today, in ruin, it's rather impotent—almost a metaphor for the decline in the reach of the church in the present-day UK.

After the vandal-started fire that destroyed it, the church has been made safe and services are still held here from time to time. It's strange that without all the trappings of religious dogma, to me it still feels like a holy place, perhaps even more so.

Hopefully, I've captured something of that atmosphere in this shot.

Dem Bones, dem bones...

After a comment on my last post, asking about the finish to the caving dig story...

A bit of background first: A cave close by, called "Joint Mitnor", houses a talus cone (pile of rubble and dirt that fell from above, to you and me) that contains the bones (not fossilised) of bear, elephant, bison, hippopotamus, hyena, rhinocerous, lion... you get the picture. And, remember, this is the UK! [more here]

Bakers Pit, the dig

Ok, so as I said in my last post, we were on a dig in Bakers Pit, part of the same system as Joint Mitnor. The dig was drawn out over a period of around 18 months, visiting every couple of months or so. We'd reached a promising chamber that had what looked like part of a continuation passage, leading up and away at the top of a slope of rich, earthy mud and occasional rocks.

Revealing the way forward

Our approach to the dig in this chamber was to shift the mud and rocks at the bottom of the slope and let gravity do the rest. Then on our next visit we'd repeat the process. And this we did for four or five visits. On our second to last visit, a promising way forward was found at the top of the slope ...but it was all very precarious, and the walls / bedrock wasn't yet exposed.

The bone

And then I found the bone, vertebrae of maybe a deer or something, I thought? Conscious of the need not to disturb what could turn out to be an important archaeological dig site any further, we stopped the dig and left the chamber.

A contact I had in the museum in Plymouth was quite excited and sent the bone away to the British Museum for radio carbon dating.

Radio carbon dating results

About six weeks later, I got a call to go see my contact in the museum—he wouldn't say more over the phone, so I had to curb my excitement.

I hot-footed it there to receive the news, "well, it's recent". Wow! Recent in archaeological terms is maybe 10 or 20,000 years ago, the same sort of age for the bones already found in Joint Mitnor; my thoughts were racing, I could barely contain myself... "human" was what I heard next... fantastic, Iron Age baking utensils had been found at the entrance to the cave (hence its name, Bakers Pit)... "around the nineteen-twenties" came next.

Firstly, disappointment flooded over me... then the realisation hit home! We'd come up underneath the graveyard. Uh-oh! Unintentional desecration, ulp!

Last respects

So out of respect, we made a last visit to the chamber, made peace with the souls we'd inadvertently disturbed and, as we backed out of the very tight crawl that lead to it, we pulled and wedged rocks behind us to form a seal. Time and the slow movement of the settling mud would do the rest. Sleep in peace.


A few years later I was in the Breton Arms pub, where the Plymouth Caving Group used to meet (still do?) and I got talking with them. The subject of the church and Bakers Pit came up and it was then that I found out that the vicar had noticed, first subsidence and then a hole opening up in the cemetery. As he was filling it in from the top, we were apparently digging it out from underneath. Oops!

There you go Dusty Lens, beyond the four people directly involved, the full story for the first time for all to read.

comments on photos / desecration(!) welcomed as usual
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