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April 1, 2012 vol 8 no 1

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Claire Everett


West Stow

"a living, experimental reconstruction of the past."
~ Dr Stanley West, 197*

a chill at my nape
the weight of linen and
the cold clasp of time
from bright sunlight
we step into shadows

Stone Age hunter-gatherer and Neolithic warrior alike left his mark deep beneath the Breckland sand. Here, side by side, Roman and Briton made fine wares, white flagons and carinated bowls. When the army left for Gaul, it seems the place was abandoned. In around 420 AD, settlers began to graze sheep on the hills and till the water meadows.

a change in the light
needles of thatch
picked out
from a stack
of damselfly sky

The Anglo-Saxon village of seven buildings, including a mead hall, a weaving hut and a farmer's house, is the realisation of one archaeologist's dream, raised on the site of the original finds. We drift from one exhibit to the next. On this late summer day, the air in the mead hall is stifling and it is more than the crackle and hiss of flames that I hear.

woodsmoke
a memory of kindling
and firesteel . . .
whose shadow is this
in the hearthlight?

jet beads
for a necklace, warm
from his fingers
a comb and pins of antler
for my long, dark hair

Back outside, the blaze of sun on straw. For a few breaths, my eyes follow the flickering shadow of a butterfly, before daring to squint at the paper-glare of wings ascending into blue. I feel my husband's arm at my waist: "You ok?" I nod and we move on.

In the weaver's hut, I run my fingers over the half-woven cloth stretched across the warp-weighted loom. Wicker baskets are heaped with hanks of yarn, traditionally dyed with berries, nettles, bark and lichens. Most spinners and weavers would have been women, "wife" having its roots in the Anglo-Saxon word for weaver. The cloth started from the top and progressed downwards. Weavers worked in pairs, one on each side of the uprights. How many hours of conversation were spun fine like thread from the spindle; how much laughter rippled back and forth with the yarn on the loom?

what sends
this weft flying
across time's warp?
the finest threads of moments
weighted with amber

We take one last tour of the grounds. Everywhere, the scent of pine. Strange that those early village dwellers would not have known this particular breeze, these vast plantations being a more recent addition to the landscape. It is no surprise when I find a feather from a tawny owl on the path. The night hag to some of the ancient tribes, the Cailleach to others; the bird long associated with death, the underworld, ancestral realms and rebirth.

take out the pins
and let the darkness fall . . .
do you feel
how moonlight bristles
at the tawny owl's cry?



Note: Between 1965 and 1972, an archaeological team led by Dr Stanley West revealed a village of 69 houses, several halls and other structures. Dispelling the longstanding belief that the Anglo-Saxons lived in pits in the ground, West and his team discovered signs of post holes, gaps for doorways and a patch of burned sand indicating the presence of a hearth.




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