Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Q&A 2000ce — The Modern Antiquarian

I have recently moved to Wash Common in Newbury. Just around the corner from my house there is a Bronze age barrow/burial ground and it's not mentioned in The Modern Antiquarian. Any reason? (Jonathan)

Many of the Newbury sites were too close to the road for inclusion in The Modern Antiquarian. If you, or anyone else, has specific sites you want me to include in Let Me Speak to the Driver, please write/email me at Head Heritage.

You have walked many parts of the Ancient Wiltshire landscape Do you have a favourite walk you like going on? (Richard P.F. Hayward)

Any of the Silbury view walks give me a true sense of peace. Ironically, the walk along the Wansdyke from Adam's Grave to Tan Hill gives me the greatest sense of the past.

What is the strangest experience you've had whilst out walking on the Ridgeway? (Richard P.F. Hayward)

If I answered this question honestly, I'd be ridiculed in the tabloids and gain an even higher profile in Private Eye's Pseuds Corner than I already have.

You have many books on prehistory and books written by the antiquarians such as William Stukeley and Richard Colt Hoare. Of all these books is there one you would recommend to anybody interested in Britain's Megalithic past? (Richard P.F. Hayward)

I have all of Stukeley's books, including both editions of his Itinerarium Curiosum, plus all the stuff by Borlase, Colt-Hoare, King, and the modern Monumenta Britannica, which was never published during John Aubrey's lifetime. Yet the most useful of all these books has to have been A.C. Smith's History of the North Wiltshire Downs, which was published comparatively late, in 1883. This huge two-volume edition was so incredibly detailed that I had field slipcases made for both books in 1993CE, and I travelled around the area carrying both in a giant back-pack. The volume of maps is 6" to the mile and is a joy to behold; yet Smith never seems to have realised what an amazing feat he had achieved. He wrote a History of Yatesbury just a couple of years later, and this, too, is a marvellous work. Check it out - it's also far cheaper than any of the above-mentioned works because of its relative obscurity and late publication. Yet its experimentation in both loud colour and use of daguerreotypes inspired a great deal towards the design of The Modern Antiquarian.

If you were to list your 5 favourite ancient monuments in Great Britain which ones would they be and why? (Richard P.F. Hayward)

I'd never list my five favourites because Britain is my favourite place and I couldn't ever be so limited.

Do you think that the 'philosophy' of The Modern Antiquarian can become a realistic (for want of a better word) political or religious System, without turning into the natural law party? (T.T.)

I'm sorry, but I don't understand this question. There is no philosophy behind The Modern Antiquarian, just a series of observations that lead to assertions.

What are the most inspiring sites you've come across for the second book? (T.T.)

It's a secret.

Have you been up to the Cregennen Lakes in Wales? - apparently there's a high concentration of standing stones up there and on the other side of the valley above Barmouth there is a 'fortress of light'! (T.T.)

Llynau Cregennen does have standing stones, but I've not found particularly impressive ones. Please email me if you find any. The 'fortress of light' you refer to may be up at Cerrig Arthur, but those stones are mainly gone despite its marvellous position.

If there is one place you can stand and feel most at peace, where is it and why? (T.T.)

I suppose I feel most at peace on the Marlborough Downs, which is my home and within sight of Silbury.

Hey Julian, thanks to you and The Modern Antiquarian, I've finally convinced my planephobic husband that we have to visit England. We'll only have one week, so what would your "essential" itinerary be? (Crazy Farm Girl)

Come directly to the Avebury area and spend the time checking out this sacred landscape. That way, you can see the biggest stone circle in the world (Avebury), the greatest Neolithic hill altar (Silbury), the best example of a chambered longbarrow (West Kennett), the highest longbarrow (Adam's Grave), the oldest road in Europe (The Ridgeway), the original stones from Avebury AND Stonehenge (Delling/The Mother's Jam), a single perfect dolmen (Devil's Den), the Mesolithic proto-centre (Windmill Hill) and a wonderful Neolithic causewayed enclosure with its main ring in tact (Knap Hill). Wherever you are in this area, you'll be looking at ancientness without having to drive, and you'll also be within spitting distance of antiquarian phenomena such as the white horses (Uffington, Cherhill, Broad Hinton, Marlborough, Walker's Hill and Devizes) and legendary other places such as Wayland's Smithy (14 miles). Then your planephobic husband will feel the visit was worth it and you may be able to come back.

Have you ever travelled to Peru and seen any of the Inca ruins? (Markybov)

No, and I'm not sure I'll ever do so. I'd like to go to the Mayan ruins, too, but there's so much stuff that's more pertintnent to my particular trip. I have to go back to Sweden for Let Me Speak to the Driver. I have to re-visit Ireland, Portugal, Greece, and Brittany, too. I also have to get to Malta and parts of Germany, so it becomes a question of time.

A number of the sites you have visited have associations with Arthurian legend. Do you believe he existed and if so, around what time and where do you think Camelot was? (Alan Tonge)

I need to finish Let Me Speak to the Driver before I can come up with an answer for this question.

You have a well-known scepticism about ley-lines. Why and ignoring the pseudo-spiritual powers placed upon many supposed lines, do you think that they could realistically have been an alternative form of avenue, guiding to or marking sacred destinations? (Jason)

I believe a leyline is a delusion caused by people having too much faith in the accuracy of the Ordnance Survey and their system of maps. As the Ordnance Survey is part of our military establishment, I don't share that faith and will not be so deluded. Indeed, The Ley Hunter magazine has just closed down because the editor decided that he couldn't define what it was - too many different things to too many people. Some people saw them as invisible power lines linking up various parts of the land. Some saw them as alignments of ancient sites. Some saw them as a link of ancient and modern sites. Some even included caves and farms and churches, without going there and seeing for themselves; as if the leyline is a physical proof to be drawn across OS Landranger maps. But look at a Landranger map while you are in the landscape and that straight line soon disappears.

When you ask if they were alternative avenues, how can that be? If the ancients had cleared the forests enough to create straight line pathways in order to draw us to sacred destinations, as you suggest, then surely the Romans would have built their roads on top of these avenues to save themselves cutting down great swathes of forestry for their own military roads. And if this was the case, then all Roman roads would link prehistoric sites together, which they clearly don't. Leyliners still invoke Alfred Watkins and his hoary old examples to 'prove' their point. But if it was real, surely modern science would have revealed far more extreme examples than those of Watkins, what with all their superior technology and use of aircraft for landscape observation. Ultimately, the leyline is just a manifestation of modern humanity's trust in itself via its mapping - in reality, the map is not nearly as accurate as people believe it must be.

The Interpreter album has an illustration of the St. Michael Line, but you say you don't believe in leylines. Can you explain this, please? (Chas)

The St. Michael Line appears to track a very straight geological path across southern Britain. I don't believe it is anything more than what Robert Graves would have called "poetically true", but within that category (and without trying to pseudo-science it up) it's a beautiful thing.

What has been the response of 'establishment' academics and historians to Julian's work? Has Julian ever been asked to write papers on subject? (Roger)

The Modern Antiquarian had a marvellous response from archaeologists, and I was asked to speak at Southhampton, Manchester, Aberdeen and Glasgow universities. Mark Gillings, who recently discovered the Beckhampton Avenue, asked me to sign his copy and said that they even teach my 'Silbury Game' at Leicester. Timothy Darvill, the editor of Antiquity and The Archaeologist, asked me to write for both magazines, and I'm now in constant contact with Aubrey Burl, who recently suggested that I write a book on Callanish. Ronald Hutton of Bristol University is the foremost scholar of pre-Christian Britain, and he called The Modern Antiquarian, "the best popular guide to Neolithic and Bronze Age sites for half a century."

But now I have to take the etymologists on for Let Me Speak to the Driver, which will be fun but take just as much energy. The archaeologists have opened their minds considerably and I just hope that the rest of scholarship will get out of its Classical Greco-Italian straitjacket. It's this kind of Patriarchy which will destroy the world. Education is the only way forward.

I know you visited the Serpent Mound. Have you visited any other "sacred sites" in America, and have you documented any of your other explorations? How about Ireland? Sedona's a TRIP!!!!! (Jeanette)

I visited Mound City near Cincinatti, but I haven't yet been to Mystery Hill or Cahokia. Ireland will need a lot more exploration for Let Me Speak to the Driver, but I managed to get most of the sites pertinent to The Modern Antiquarian. I guess a return to Ross-Carberry will be the next big Irish trek.

Can you give me any info on where the design on the front cover of TMA originated from, and if it has any especial significance? I collect sun/star shaped designs for tattoo ideas, and intend to add it in ink next weekend. (Alistair Deering)

The coming of agriculture is the central significance of the front cover of The Modern Antiquarian. It was drawn as a wheel of the year with the Winter Solstice at the north, Imbolc at the north-east, Spring Equinox at the east, Beltane at the south-east, Summer Solstice at the south, Lugnasadh at the south-west, Autumn Equinox at the west, and Samhain at the north-west.