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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 814 times)
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« on: July 10, 2008, 10:56:53 am »

                                                                 Ancient and modern

Jonathan Meades
Published 10 July 2008

In the 1920s O G S Crawford invented Aerial Archaeology, one of many services this eccentric Marxist misanthrope performed for the study of antiquity.

Jonathan Meades on a man who loved the past and hated his contemporaries

                       "Bloody Old Britain: O G S Crawford and the Archaeology of Modern Life"

Kitty Hauser
Granta Books


Rosemary Hill
Profile Books

Archaeology was a comparatively new discipline in the early years of the 20th century and, like the antiqua-
rianism from which it derived, it had thitherto been exclusively the domain of gentlemen amateurs and their

O G S Crawford (1886-1957) belonged to the same generation as Mortimer "Rik" Wheeler and Gordon Childe
and was thus among Britain's earliest professional archaeologists.

He founded and edited the quarterly journal Antiquity. A tireless recorder, he was a sort of one-man Mass Observation movement. From 1920 until 1946, he worked for the Ordnance Survey at its headquarters in Southampton, a city whose chapels, warehouses and hoardings he photographed relentlessly.

A socially gauche, obstinate, often ill-tempered bachelor who reeked of roll-ups, he lived with numerous cats in
the outer suburb of Nursling where, in his garage, he stored much of the OS's archive, having correctly anticipated that its offices, situated not far from the port, would be bombed. A 1931 photograph shows him looking like a dotty ancestor of Magnus Pyke. He stands beside his bicycle, which was parlously adapted to carry five bags and countless rolled maps. He wears a leather pilot's helmet, a jacket, a cardigan, a waistcoat, trouser clips.

Orphaned at the age of eight, he had been brought up by five pitifully pious maiden aunts who sent him to Marlborough College. He hated it - but it is, of course, close to Avebury, West Kennet, Fifield Down and so on.
He proceeded, conventionally enough, to Oxford, initially to read Greats; he would later write that telling his
tutor he was taking up geography

                                "was like a son telling his father he had decided to marry a barmaid".

During the 1914-18 war, while commissioned in the Third Army topographical section, he had begun to realise
that aerial photography might be as effective in revealing henges, barrows, field systems, and so on, as it was
in identifying the enemy's whereabouts. While he rejected the religion of his aunts, he did not throw off a capacity for credulousness, and became an enthusiastic fellow-traveller. Victor Gollancz's Left Book Club declined to publish his record of a 1932 journey, A Tour in Bolshevy - which was perhaps just as well, for it seems, even by the standards of the low dishonest decade, to have been an unusually naive monument to gullibility and elective blindness.
« Last Edit: July 02, 2009, 08:08:17 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2008, 10:58:53 am »

A subsequent unpublished book, Bloody Old Britain, gave Kitty Hauser the title for this wonderfully captivating biography. With startlingly crass timing, he submitted it in 1943 to Methuen, which described it as "quite unnecessarily bitter . . . like hitting a man when he is down". Hauser adds that it is also "appallingly misanthropic and misogynistic . . . hysterically funny . . . you fear for the man as you laugh. He is so very angry." It is to be hoped that it will now at last be published.

Crawford's grandiose aim was to analyse Britain of the early mid-century as an archaeologically inclined anthropologist: he was, in spite of himself, an artist, and predictably loathed art though many artists revered him. He scrutinises Britain's often malfunctioning, invariably cosmetic consumer products: the fire irons and ornaments of the showplace front parlour; ergonomically hostile tumblers and soup spoons; industrially produced foodstuffs such as Krusto. He rails against hotels, the "hospital corners" on the beds, the nasty cooking, the disobliging staff. He hates gravel pits, arterial road ribbon development, jerry-built houses, the Forestry Commission, advertising, the depiction of England as quaintly bucolic (H V Morton, Batsford, et cetera). Most of all he hates his compatriots. "If ever a people wanted a sound thrashing it's the English." Save that they are crudely expressed, his attitudes were orthodoxly bien-pensant. Despising England was, and remains, a characteristically English trait.

Crawford did not let his Russophilia get in the way of an admiration of Nazi archaeology. By 1939 prehistory was taught at 25 German universities. As Hauser observes, the unworldly Crawford seems not to have realised that the archaeologists whose funding he envied were puppets of Darré's and Himmler's Ahnenerbe, the "ancestral research" department of the SS, which also measured heads, carried out medical "research" and manufactured brand new prehistoric pots at its Allach factory in its effort to prove the primacy of Aryanism. As late as December 1938, he told the (British) Prehistoric Society that he hoped that Germany's "eastward drive, already begun in other spheres, may be accompanied by archaeological activities". That "other spheres" is comically terrible. Yet he also financially supported the German Jewish refugee Gerhard Bersu, who excavated Little Woodbury, just south of Salisbury.
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« Reply #2 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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« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2008, 11:03:16 am »

The current Stonehenge Riverside Project aims to link the monument to its landscape and adjacent prehistorical sites such as Durrington Walls, Woodhenge and Sidbury (not Silbury) Hill near Tidworth. Its leader is Mike Parker Pearson, whose speciality is archaeological tha natology. It is not surprising, then, that he is persuaded of the probity of his Madagascan colleague Ramilisonina's observation that it is "blindingly obvious - this is all for the ancestors". It will do until the next conjecture is mooted. What won't do is the persistent governmental failure to address the problem of traffic, preferably by rerouting the A303 to the north through Bulford and Larkhill, army camps which are aesthetic disgraces and entirely expendable.

Hill is dauntingly comprehensive and often drily funny. Stonehenge has long been a magnet for devotees of extravagant belief systems. She gives us many species of druid, including some in false beards, the Universal Bond of the Sons of Men, whose leader was the inventor of Sanatogen tonic wine, Inigo Jones's assertion that the monument was Roman, and James Fergusson's amendment that it was a post-Roman Buddhist temple. She is by no means dismissive of John Michell's once-reviled theories and notes how they are now accepted by academe as they were by the untidy but harmless New Age travellers assaulted in "the Beanfield" at Cholderton crossroads in 1985 by 1,400 uniformed, helmeted bullies from six forces under the command of Wiltshire's deputy chief constable Lionel Grundy.
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