|The World's Heritage
||[Aug. 16th, 2008|08:58 pm]
Listening to the radio news a week or so ago, I heard that the Antonine Wall had been accepted as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Once upon a time I was a little sniffy about the proliferation of World Heritage sites; what had once been something rare and exceptional (like Durham Cathedral and Castle, for example) was becoming more usual. Why, at this rate, the whole world would soon be a World Heritage site! Then I stopped to think, and decided that that wouldn't be such a bad thing... Besides, the list of sites, though long (currently 878 properties), is full of good things (as this Flickr group demonstrates).
In fact, the inscription of the Antonine Wall is only part of the story, as I learned when D. came visiting last weekend, bringing with him that latest copy of British Archaeology magazine. This (web site currently not responding) carried a fascinating article by David Breeze, a leading member of the team behind the bid for WHS status, explaining (among other aspects of the story) that they were conscious of the desire to limit the number of such sites, and responded to it by proposing a single transnational site, the Frontiers of the Roman Empire. This would trace not only the northern limits of the empire across Britain (at both Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall) but also the southern boundaries across north Africa, and a line snaking south and east through Europe: a line similar in length to the Great Wall of China, surviving in three continents and over 20 modern countries. That's heritage on a world scale.
At a more local level, there's a learned paper to be written on how the presentation of Orkney's prehistoric remains has shifted. My impression is that when I first visited the islands the emphasis was on the extraordinary number of such remains, scattered everywhere throughout the islands. There were earthhouses down farm tracks and on industrial estates ("Call at Ortak Jewellery workshop to collect the keys and a torch..."). Now the focus is on shepherding the visitor through the great monuments of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney WHS, a genuinely extraordinary sequence of a chambered tomb, standing stones and the stone age village of Skara Brae.
There's a learned paper to be written, but I'm not the one to write it. What I retain from a day following the corridor of monuments, from our return to Mainland on the ferry from Hoy in the morning to arrival at our B & B in the evening, is a series of snapshots: bright sunshine and insistent winds; Maes Howe, a mound covered in violets; the path to the Ring of Brodgar through the kingcups. Skara Brae was shelter from the wind, and a late and welcome lunch, watching in disbelief as the staff opened the cardboard boxes (shipped through Felixstowe, made in China) and set to work assembling horned helmets for the gift shop.