Walking Against the Flow

I spent today walking along the River Wye with Professor Andrew Chamberlain in search of locations where riverside tufa was eroded and exposing a burial that might be the source of the Wye Skull.

We began on the shingle bank where the skull washed up in March to be retrieved by a walker’s dog.

Then we walked along the river, a defined form of landscape survey. Defined in terms of course of the river, and the valley it has created as it has cut a swathe through the Peak District limestone. Our course was set thousands of years ago, a meandering corridor of uncertainty marked by the eroding flow of fresh water running over rock and channeled through soils. We began against the flow, working backwards in time as if hoping to catch a glimpse of another part of human bone floating out of the past. The flow of time stopped at Lumford Mill where public access was interrupted by private estates and business parks amongst the sour-sweet smell of Thornbridge Hall Brewery. Time travel in a car brought us to Ashford-in-the-Water and the opportunity to walk with the river’s flow. Here was where we found the first tufa deposit, a crumbling yellowed cake amongst the finely turned over brown alluvium. Lumps of this calficied limestone tumble into the water and the possibility that some had exposed human bones began to take shape. These are the remnants of banks of tufa which formed across the river, not necessarily when following its present course, as limestone was deposited in the water. Shallow ones were often used to locate weira, deeper ones were eventually broken through by the river, while mounds on the banks were quarried for lime fertiliser. Andrew mapped the tufa outcrops as we came across them but none proved to be the source of the skull. We turned back against the flow upstream of Ashford finding more tufa deposits but no limestone-entombed burial site. We retraced our steps to Ashford.

Three linear journeys completed, each marking the edge of water. The burial the skull came from is, as yet, still unknown, perhaps waiting for someone else walking the interface between substance and fluidity, between certainty and uncertainty, in the future.

The photographs of Andrew walking and sampling are now in the Headwaters gallery, along with updated macro photographs of the cut marks along the top of the brow ridges.

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About Bill Bevan

Bill Bevan is an archaeologist, writer, photographer and heritage interpreter.
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