#Solstice #Sunrise at the Barrow - a meditation on time, what litte, we know of #AngloSaxon "#Litha", and on what #livinghistory #history and #archaeology is truly "for". 🧵 Image
Very early yesterday morning members Æd and AlexP travelled to @SoultonHall @SacredStonesLtd Soulton Long Barrow to experience a unique moment in the solar calendar which, though concerned with the reckoning of time, is essentially universal and #timeless. 1/32
The Midsummer Solstice has always been a significant moment in the year, across many cultures, as far back as deep #prehistory. In Britain our landscape is dotted with #stoneage #neolithic and #bronzeage #prehistoric monuments which bear witness to this. 2/32 Image
Likewise, the Summer Solstice is likely to have been a significant feast for the early Anglo-Saxons; in Bede’s “Reckoning of Time” (early 8th century) the midsummer months (usually two, or three on a lunar leap-year) are called litha - meaning gentle, calm or navigable,… 3/32 Image
referring to the typical weather / sea conditions of these months, but in the Old English Metrical Calendar (c10th) these are called Ærra litha (before litha- June) and Æftere Litha (after litha-July) respectively, likely bookending a festival where the sun “turns… 4/32
…around”, just as the midwinter months Ærra Gēola and Æfterra Gēola bookend the winter solstice / Yule. From this it is inferred that an otherwise undocumented summer solstice festival called Litha was marked on midsummers day of comparable significance to Yule. 5/32
The skimming-over of Litha in Bede’s work is conspicuous and may conceal a festival too strongly “pagan” in nature for his approval. 6/32
The later Metrical Calendar connects the solstice to the celebration of the Feast of (the birth of) St John the Baptist, who, forerunning and heralding the arrival of Christ is remembered at precisely the opposite time of year to Christmas. 7/32
Later #medieval folk would observe #Midsummerseve with a mixture of religious observance, local traditions including the lighting of bonfires, plays & revelry. 8/32
The nature of the observance of the summer solstice by #AngloSaxons is likely to have been variable, with a range of local traditions, largely unknowable to us, so this is a festival we scarcely mark. 9/32
Instead it provides an opportunity to step back, outside of the historic cultures we represent & meditate on themes and experiences which are essentially universal. 10/32 Image
The particular cultures we represent were profoundly subject to the rhythms of the solar /agricultural year just as their forebears & descendants were, living in a landscape full of ancient monuments they, like us, could only partially understand. 11/32
At @SoultonHall the stones are newer: the neo-#Neolithic barrow, inspired by #prehistoric British #longbarrows opened in 2018 and expanded in 2019 with a huge vaulted chamber evocative of a #Mycenaean tomb - a dragon’s hall where we performed #Beowulf in autumn 2021. 12/32 Image
The Barrow is approached by a processionary way of modern #megaliths, and its entrance looks out along a moated causeway to a hengeiform earth #amphitheatre, all aligned to the midsummer sunrise. 13/32 Image
The monument and its landscape is designed to be sensitively evocative of various ancient monuments; to be deeply familiar to our cultural memory yet also universal and nonspecific; a blank slate on which visitors of all kinds can apply their own meaning. 14/32 Image
This is crucial, as this monument is a place of remembrance for loved ones of various faiths and heritage, interred in its walls, acting as a universal memorial designed to be timeless. 15/32 Image
With its solar alignment, a beam shot by the midsummer sunrise as it first peaks over the ancient sandstone bluff of Hawkestone Hill pierces the mist-filled valley - find site of an #IronAge hoard and where Charles #Darwin dug up his first fossils - and shoots up the… 16/32 Image
…causeway, through the barrow’s entrance stones. It travels the full length of both chambers and, part-reflected by a stained-glass panel, floods the inner chamber with light. 17/32 Image
The excitement and power of this moment is shared with gatherers across millennia who have waited in anticipation for similar experiences at other solar aligned monuments, from #Stonehenge to #AbuSimbel. 18/32 Image
There’s a feeling of connection not only with folk of the past, but, especially at Soulton Long Barrow, with people standing in the same spot, who will with any luck be sharing the same experience in 1000 years time. 19/32 Image
This is a stone-built time-machine which fully activates only once a year, and causes time to spin around it. 20/32 Image
Its potency is only amplified by knowing - as we now do - the number of hitherto secret threads of history which crossed here, with frighteningly monumental implications. This story is yet to be told. 21/32 Image
We’re sometimes asked why it is that we do what we do. From the outside, the devotion to #authenticity/ “getting it right” can seem obsessive, nerdy, or even elitist. ... 22/32
..& the coldly rational, critical, scientific approach we take, while -as an organisation- eschewing matters of politics or faith, can seem wholly academic -of the head- & not speak to the soul. Our archaeological work focuses on facts, not feelings. But under the right... 23/32
conditions, in the proper context and with sufficient attention to detail, a replica, an impression, or a set of experiences which truly feel “real” can trigger some special, deeply buried circuity; a unique, immersive, numinous experience; a "high five through time". 24/32 Image
This experience is personal, subjective, and in our modern, alienated culture such experiences come all too rarely; some never get to experience them at all. Underneath all the detail - from the painstaking reconstruction of objects from archaeological reports... 25/32
... to performances of poetry, to simply sitting at the mounds at Sutton Hoo by candlelight- it is pursuit of this subjective phenomenon & sharing it, which…is what powers our work. It is insufficient to merely study #history & #archaeology: sometimes one has to ‘feel’. (26/31)
Is #authenticity a necessary condition of that feeling?The Soulton Barrow’s influences & affinities are eclectic, but its anachronisms are unobtrusive & don’t impose any specific meanings. It is authentic unto itself, and somehow being ancient yet new, it feels ‘real’. 27/32 Image
#Heritage is the cure for alienation, but merely preserving objects and buildings so that they might be important for someone, some day in the future, is resignation to managed decline, and that that vital human feeling described above will only ever get further and… 28/31
…further out-of-reach. Real engagement with heritage necessarily requires creation. #Livinghistory, and projects like the Soulton Barrow at best offer an opportunity to grow a sense of connection to the past, to the landscape, and to the future. 29/31
Standing amongst ancient stones watching the midsummer sunrise we are sharing a significant universal experience with others across millennia, past and future, and with others of different beliefs and cultures in a way which is unifying. 30/31 Image
The stones will still be there in thousands of years; the sun will continue to rise; people will continue to gather here, and sense that there is still hope. 31/31 Image

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