melting earth

Landscapes are made up of lots of different things and one of the most fascinating aspects of earth buildings is the cyclical ways in which they are made, un-made, remade and un-made. The process of making is linked to the geology of the landscape and the unmaking creating the ‘product’ of those human:nature interactions – cultural landscapes.

This year’s Earth Building UK conference (Clayfest) ran in partnership with the Tay Landscape Partnership and so lots of different activities and events took place to celebrate the vernacular building heritage of the Tay Landscape. One of these, un-melting is a series of interventions in the landscape undertaken by The Red Field (a community interest company). It explores the process and loss of habitation – here the sense that buildings ‘melt’ back into the landscape from which they were made.


This ‘melting’  lies at the very heart of the creation of landscapes. This ‘process’ of earth buildings is explored in my chapter in The Future of Heritage as Climates Change: Loss, Adaptation and Creativity (edited by David Harvey and Jim Perry). Taking very different evidence from this Scottish example, the chapter reflects on work in Turkmenistan and Abu Dhabi to consider the ways in which we look at earth buildings, and how ‘looking’ allows us to understand the process of change in different ways and can enable us to challenge conventional approaches to conservation.

Earthen cultural landscapes can be on such a vast scale they stretch our perception of the culture:nature debate (such as the example below from Peru) – but they are clearly ‘re-making’- ‘melting’ into a landscape that is changed and changing as a result of the past and present human uses.


A hillside in Peru scattered with stone and earth buildings.



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Archaeology and shoes in the Vale of Pickering

This is a brilliant ‘new’ find not of really old archaeology – but of the material culture left behind by archaeologists.

This is a pair of boots left behind by archaeologists at some time between 1978 and 1984 when the Cook’s Quarry site was backfilled. They have just been found again in starting up further excavation.

Here the boots have another afterlife as a demonstration of 3D modelling of archaeology, and represent the ’embeddedness’ of archaeology in the Vale of Pickering due to to lifetime(s) of engagement with excavation and research undertaken by the Landscape Research Centre.

These boots were made for digging – enjoy

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Women and mothers

International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday just got me thinking about some of the remarkable women I’ve encountered when I have been researching earthen architecture around the world.

With some lovely images of women doing what women do in Bairam Ali, Turkmenistan …

Baram Ali Market

And I’ve always been intrigued as to where this young girl was going in Bukhara.


If you want to be inspired by words rather than images follow this link to the North York Moors National Park Conservation Blog – to my blog post on another remarkable woman, Gertrude Bell.

I like to think Gertrude Bell also provides a tangible connection between my time spent in the Middle East and my time spent now working on cultural landscapes of mineral extraction in North East England!

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15 books …

In the style of Caitlin Moran ‘the lists of my life’ 15 books I’m thinking I should crack on with right now seeing how I haven’t written them this year!

  1. The little book of mud
  2. Materialities of Earth (the academic version of 1)
  3. Homes not quite for Heroes: how sustainable building emerged in the aftermath of the first world war
  4. “An archaeology of …,” “Curated by ….,”: lost words in an interdisciplinary age
  5. The transition movement and heritage: how communities got a voice
  6. All the houses: production, consumption and afterlives of buildings
  7. After Downton: the creation of the English Country House in the 21st century
  8. From space race to conservation race: how concrete didn’t make the past last forever
  9. All Creatures Great and Small: the creation of a ‘Yorkshire’ Landscape
  10. The Gruffalo’s child: the reinvention of heritage destinations in the Mumsnet era
  11. Location, Location, Creation: ‘places’ and the impact of the film industry on heritage
  12. Walking down the lane: repetition, commitment and understanding how places work
  13. Toast: vernacular buildings, crumbling plaster and selling pyjamas
  14. Face cream and other miracles: women conservation of the past
  15. Cardigan: a social history

one of many possible illustrations from the little book of mud …


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All about the weather

One of the best things about the weather is that it provides an instant talking point. Sunshine, breezes, wind, fog, rain, mud, warm and cold there is always something to talk about (and I don’t think it is just me who thinks in this way).


The last few days in the Vale of Pickering have been really foggy, and as a result silent and enclosed, and its setting (the North York Moors and Yorkshire Wolds) invisible. As a result we look inward rather than outward – and don’t even see other people to talk about the weather.

I’m trying to work out how weather and climate (an areas long-term weather patterns) impact our perceptions of landscape.  In the Spring, Summer and Autumn places can be warm and inviting – open and connected to the outside world, but when seasons change places can soon become unconnected and bleak. I suppose the most dramatic circumstances of this in the 21st century are the ways in which transport connections are impacted in bad weather (ferry services disrupted, bridges closed and roads made impassable).

But it does mean that places ‘mean’ different things at different times of the year – rather than a ‘fixed’ set of values or meanings a place changes – and that goes alongside our perception of heritage as a process rather than a fixed product.

And it also means that I might need to do a bit of proper library research to find out more.

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Bricks, stones and industrial heritage

Last year was all about very, very old structures in Turkey, and slightly less older structures in Peru.  Since April I’ve been much closer to home looking at conservation and management of  Industrial Archaeology on the North York Moors.

I couldn’t resist this pile of bricks, stones and other things on Institute Row in Grosmont.


Institute Row, Grosmont

You can find out more about the development of the project on the North York Moors Conservation Blog (and some more of the great work across the National Park by my splendid colleagues).

There will be much more to follow, including (I hope) research into the Navvy Camps (which were soddies – turf built buildings) associated with the builders of the Victorian railway systems that were crucial for the extraction of Ironstone from the North York Moors.

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earthworks and dog walks

Not very spring-like but I managed to re-visit Chris Drury’s modern earthworks Waves and Times in Thixendale.


The modern earthworks have been in place for 2 1/2 years (I did the watching brief in mistly-rain in August 2012) (and you can see more of the before and after snaps here:

After just a few winters I’m amazed by how stable the spiralling banks are, they were dug and shaped by mini-digger and then re-seeded. The whole valley is grazed by sheep and rather than looking ‘temporary’ have rooted and ‘looks’ part of the landscape. And visiting it does make me think about the banks and ditches that characterise so much of the UK’s earthen landscape archaeology – both how small interventions must have made a big impression and how they soon became more permanent features within the landscape.

More information:

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