A couple of months ago I applied for a bursary from Ginkgo Projects Ltd and Bloor Homes, as part of the Kings Gate (Amesbury) Public Art Programme. I am one of 6 Wiltshire-based artists developing new work through a bursary as part of the programme (see here for a post by poet Josephine Corcoran), in addition to the programme’s artist in residence Holly Corfield-Carr.
In my application I wrote that ‘I would like to draw on the recent research carried out on the Marden Henge and its relationship with the wider Wiltshire Neolithic landscape, by Reading University…to develop new work using sound and video in response to this research, and my own physical exploration of the site, which lies approximately 2 miles from my home in Chirton.
Here’s a few facts about Marden Henge (aka Hatfield Earthworks) for those not familiar with it:
- Marden Henge is the largest henge monument in Britain, enclosing an area of 15.7 hectares. The prehistoric site at Marden is 8 miles south east of Devizes and halfway between Avebury and Stonehenge.
- The Hatfield Earthworks are made primarily of a large, irregular-shaped henge enclosure, surrounded by a ditch and bordered in part by the River Avon. Within this lies a second Neolithic henge, a monumental mound named the Hatfield Barrow, and the remains of a neolithic building.
- Built around 2400 BC, the Hatfield Barrow’s purpose is believed to have been ceremonial. This mound was once around 15m high, and similar in structure to the 40 metre Silbury Hill near Avebury and the 19 metre high Marlborough Mound. The Hatfield Barrow collapsed as a result of a shaft dug in 1806 by Sir Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington, and by 1818 it had been completely leveled. Excavations in 1807 showed no evidence of burial, but later investigation in the late 1960s produced pottery, flint, animal bone and evidence of a round timber structure.
- Small-scale excavations in 2010 by archaeologists from Reading University, identified the remains of a well-preserved and internationally important Neolithic building, estimated to be some 4500 years old. Bone needles, flint flakes and decorated “Grooved Ware” pottery were found close to the building. The remains of a very large feast and two delicately crafted flint arrowheads were also recovered nearby. These excavations were continued and extended in the 2015/17 dig.
Despite the excavations at Marden continuing between 2015 and 2017 I didn’t manage to get along for any of the tours or open events. My research therefore has so far focused on online sources, the nearby Wiltshire Museum, and time spent on site.
Dr Jim Leary, who led the excavations at Marden and nearby Wilsford, has also kindly encouraged me to pick his brain as things develop. You can watch a video of Jim giving an introduction to Marden Henge here.
As the features listed above aren’t very tangible when visiting the site of Marden Henge, there’s not an enormous amount to film, in terms of the archaeology. What I am interested in is coming to know the place through walking to it and in it, and visiting related sites such as Avebury, Stonehenge and Durrington Walls. I am interested in how my body and senses relate to the land and to the materials that make it up or which have been found there. The chalk, the flint, the earth and charcoal.
I am particularly interested in the relationship between Marden Henge and the River Avon, which also passes close to my home on its way through Patney. As Dr Leary says in the video above, there is a possibility that late Neolithic henges that lie along the River Avon, from Marden and Wilsford to Durrington Walls and Stonehenge, might have supported a form of pilgrimage for people, moving along the river.
I have started my research by getting to know the software (Final Cut Pro) and the equipment – a Tascam DR 40 sound recorder as recommended by Adam Varney (AKA Finglebone – thanks Adam), and the video features of my digital SLR and iPhone.
Once I was pretty sure of how things worked and what was possible (I have made films in the past to document projects but not for many years), I walked to Marden, across the fields from my home, paying attention to my footsteps, their sound and rhythm, the voices of the wind in the maize fields and the jackdaws in the trees.
I am now experimenting with layering the different imagery and sounds together, in a similar way to how I bundle materials or combine images, pigments and texts, in my Walking Bundles and Walking Pages.
In Walking Back to Marden, I’m not looking to develop a film with a linear narrative, to tell the story of the site through facts and illustrative footage. I’m seeking to develop a way of recording and communicating my bodily and imaginative experience of the site, through blending the tangible here-and-now of its material reality with the might-have-beens of pilgrimage and ritual, to explore my and their spiritual and ritual connection with the land.
Please follow my progress on social media by searching for #WalkingBackToMarden on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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