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O.G.S. Crawford, Inventor Of Aerial Archaeology

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Author Topic: O.G.S. Crawford, Inventor Of Aerial Archaeology  (Read 744 times)
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« on: July 10, 2008, 11:02:12 am »

Southampton was flattened by bombs in November 1940: the flames were indeed visible from Salisbury. Crawford buried money and tins of food in his garden and made plans to dispose of "his library of red literature" before the Nazi invasion of Nursling. He worked as a photographer for the National Buildings Record and made 5,000 images of Southampton, whose destruction uncovered layer upon layer of its history. In the late 1940s he tardily realised that Soviet communism was as squalid as Nazism but, a believer to the end, sought solace in pursuing the ocular symbols (in corn dollies, trinkets, bon dieuserie, mariolatrous shrines, churches, rock carvings) of the archaic religion of the Old World - which he had more or less made up.

This is a most engrossing piece of work, written in supple prose that now and again approaches the rhapsodic. Kitty Hauser is driven by curiosity rather than idolatry. Through the tetchy figure of Crawford, she broadly illumines archaeology's progress throughout the first half of the 20th century. Rather, the progress of field archaeology; its triumph over antiquarianism; its paradoxical affinities, through Antiquity, with architectural and sculptural modernism and English surrealism; its oddball patrons such as the marmalade tycoon Alexander Keiller, whose reconstruction of Avebury was described by Stuart Piggott as "megalithic landscape gardening"; its popularity in the first telly age when the primly bow-tied Glyn Daniel and the raffish Mortimer Wheeler became nationally known.

Although Crawford was probably the first archaeologist to discern the route of the avenue from Stonehenge to the Avon, he goes unmentioned in Rosemary Hill's entertaining whirlwind scrutiny of that monument's reputation and interpretation over several centuries. Jacquetta Hawkes observed that every age "has the Stonehenge it deserves - or desires". It is, ultimately, unknowable and devoid of definitive meaning, an empty vessel, like the late Princess of Wales, to which countless parties can lay claim - archaeologists, of course, and antiquarians, astronomers, druids, government agencies, heritage operatives, hippies, novelists, painters, poets, policemen, security apes, soldiers, tourists, traffic planners, ufologists. Hill quotes the Cambridge archaeologist Christopher Chippindale. He describes J M W Turner's melodramatic rendition of the stones as "hopeless" - which misses the point of a work of art as surely as Crawford was liable to. He also asserts that the site "belonged to the archaeologists, as the experts in these matters". Such professional certainty borders on the smug, especially when there is no archaeological consensus about the original purpose of Stonehenge.
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