My colleagues and I are currently very busy drafting text for the Ancient Worlds galleries opening on 30th October 2012. This afternoon I was working on the section dealing with landscape archaeology and Alderley Edge. An obvious person to refer to when talking about Alderley Edge is the writer, Alan Garner, whose The Weirdstone of Brisingamen celebrated its 50th anniversary a couple of years ago. The book, like most of Alan’s fiction, draws heavily on the landscape of Alderley Edge and the surrounding Cheshire landscape. Even the places mentioned in the text, where Colin and Susan have their adventures, can be traced on the ground. Places like Thieves Hole, Seven Firs, Golden Stone, Stormy Point and Saddle Bole are known to generations of readers.
I realised whilst working on the text that Alan had drawn his inspiration from the Edge for another aspect of his book. The weapons carried by the goblins or svarts sound suspiciously like the Bronze Age stone mining tools, known as mauls that have been found at the Edge in such large numbers. They were used to extract or process copper ores by breaking up the rock. On page 50 of the 50th anniversary edition of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen we read:
‘From a girdle around each of their waists hung a crude axe or hammer. The head was a roughly worked stone, kidney or dumbell-shaped; there was a groove around the middle, round which was bent a withy, lashed tight with rat-skin thongs.’
Compare this with the photograph of one of the Manchester Museum’s Bronze Age mauls. Leaving aside the rat-skin thongs, for an archaeologist with a background in literature this has the same level of excitement as reading about boar’s tusk helmets in The Iliad or the reference to helmets with crests in the shape of boars in Beowulf. I feel sure someone has noticed this before. Maybe I need to get out more….