To Become a Wayfarer: A Phenomenology of Duddo Stone Circle

By Francesca Dakin • BA Archaeology and Anthropology

It has been said that there are two distinct ways of moving through the world: by transport or wayfaring. We distinguish the two by ‘the dissolution of the intimate bond that, in wayfaring, couples locomotion and perception’ (Ingold 2007: 78). In other words, to become a wayfarer is to actively engage with landscape. This is what we anthropologists call a phenomenological experience, wherein engagement occurs through the body, relying upon the body’s sensorial capacity to experience. Interpretation thereafter relies upon the history, association and bias of the individual be they academic, social, political, cultural or religious. So, any description of phenomenological experience is entirely unique to the individual. Alongside this, the individual is also in discussion with factors of identity, biography, memory, materiality and community as derived and constructed over time through archaeological investigation, anthropological interpretation and the perceived experience of both the local community and its visitors. Thus exists simultaneously – for any place – a series of discrete individual and continuous communal perceptions of any locality. This is particularly true of historic monuments in contemporary use. These places exist in equipoise with conflating (and sometimes conflicting) experiences and perspectives.

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One site where such complex interactions of narrative and identity has (and continues to) occur is Duddo Stone Circle, located in the north-east of the Milfield Basin in north Northumberland. This is an Early Bronze Age stone circle that was constructed towards the end of the stone-circle building phenomenon in Britain, dated to 2200-1900 cal. BC (Edwards et al. 2011: 341), and is nested within a wider landscape of contemporary archaeology. It is significant not only in terms of its archaeology, but also its meaning to both the local community and visiting tourists. The beauty of the surrounding Northumbrian countryside –wherein the changing of the seasons and weather is clear – elicits a unique experience for every visitor.

The initial ‘journey to’ the stones follows a pathway dictated to the visitor – cutting through the natural landscape, yet seeming to fit and flow within it in what would seem a natural manner. Thus the tone is set for the entire experience of this monument, one which harmoniously straddles those two once-dichotomous phenomena of nature and culture. The curated landscape-path guides the visitor over the lip of an initial hill, away from the country road that plays host to cyclists, farm machinery and the parked cars of ramblers. A visual of the ancient stones atop their grassy hillock is slowly unfurled, and thereafter remain the consistent focus for the visitor during the entirety of the ‘journey to’ the monument. Descending into the land of stone leaves the roadside to be swallowed by the rolling hillscape – and likewise the monument masked from modernity. This allows the visitor to focus entirely upon their journey, connecting to both a natural and social history of the place in a moment of peace.

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The ‘journey within’ the monument begins when the visitor reaches the pictured grassy hillock – the actual site of the monument – and enters the liminal space of the stone circle’s interior. This is an area of obscuration from the outer world, where visitor’s conversations naturally cease in favour of introspection. Movement inside the circle follows – almost magnetically – the stones themselves. Thus creating a repetitive spatial engagement that transcends any one experience, connecting people, memories and ideologies through time. People will often pause to survey the landscape, which is visible in 360 degrees from the centre of the circle or to touch the stones, running their hands over the lichen-encrusted rillenkarren stone grooves. Through nature’s recolonisation of a cultural artefact the stones become indistinct ‘quasi-objects’ (Latour 2012: 50); thus tactile engagement with them bonds the agent to the nature and culture of both past and present.

The interaction between the physical landscape, cultural and personal narratives, memories and associations and the monument’s own agency breeds a multitude of discrete and unique interpretations of the landscape of Duddo Stone Circle. In this way the memory and agency of both people and stone interact and inform one another – as such engagement with the stones is an act of social remembrance. This may not be faithful to the agreed upon archaeological history, but rather a neo-remembrance of the new and ever-evolving social construction of the monument and its landscape.

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The site may no longer hold the degree of communal necessity as they did in prehistory, but it stands as ‘an enduring record of – and testimony to – the lives and works of past generations who have dwelt within it, and in doing so, have left there something of themselves’ (Ingold 1993: 152). This place gathers memories, ideologies and identities together in a highly personable and often social manner. Not only does the agent engage with their fellow visitors on the journeys to and from the site, but they also engage with the hidden hand of history and their own internal identity in their journey within the circle. Visiting a place such as Duddo Stone Circle – which forces a phenomenological interaction – a person may bridge that ever-widening gap between ‘Being and Being-in-the-world’ (Tilley 1994: 12). In doing so we are grounded in a mnemonic, tangible reality, and connected to an historic lineage of agency, identity and community. Or you could just Google it.

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References

Edwards, B., R. Miket, and R. Bishop. 2011. The Excavation of Duddo Stone Circle, Northumberland. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 77:321–353.

Ingold, T. 1993. The Temporality of the Landscape. World Archaeology 25:57–80.

Ingold, T. 2007. ‘Up, Across and Along’. In: T. Ingold. 2007. Lines: A brief history. pp. 72–103. Abingdon: Routledge.

Latour, B. 2012 [1993]. We Have Never Been Modern. Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tilley, C. 1994. A Phenomenology of Landscape: Places, paths, and monuments. Oxford: Berg.

 

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