Monday, 19 July 2010

Human sacrifice.

I was crying in my sleep.

In the upper world my husband was holding me saying "It's only a dream" loving me and trying to pull me out of my deep sorrow. But I didn't wish to come up into awake consciousness because then I would lose the understanding the dream gave me. Unless I could drive the feelings into words, the understanding -crazy and non-sensical as it may appear in the upper world of 2010- unravels; but finding words isn't easy to do when ones heart is breaking and I, journeying the path of both the victim and the murderer, cannot see through my own eyes.

Within the dream; the boy must die because his father's father of many years ago drowned in the river. Even within the context of the dream this may not be true, but that is of no importance, belief alone justifies and makes it so. Lines of logic that to us seem so illogical and plain wrong, make sense in the presence of a story that pulls the threads together into a different patten, one we no longer use or even see.

It is as complicated and as simple and as stupid as that.

This is something humans do.

The symbolic-truth has becomes bigger than fact, and as a consequence the symbolic gesture is too important to abandon.

I ride the dream into the implacable, immovable, completely true.

I see the river a thousand years deep.

I see the man fall and know that this condemns his line stretching into the future.

And now as I dream it, the boy is to die because it is his right to become a guardian at the entrance to Woodhenge.

No one knows the truth about human sacrifice -I'm tempted to say anywhere- but that's not entirely true. It's more a case of ignorance on my part because I've never been anywhere where it happens, nor do I know anyone who has seen it first hand.

But it is true to say that no one knows the truth about human sacrifice in Britain during the times when Woodhenge, or Stonehenge, The Sanctuary and Avenbury were constructed.

The times these places where built in and used, spanned several centuries; there were changes in society; eventually there were Romans, Saxons, Normans..Christianity. But the bones,  now divested of their story remain. There were and probably still are bodies buried within henge monuments and ritual murder may account for their deaths.

The boy I was dreaming of was found in the ditch of Woodhenge and sent to The British Museum and, like the skeleton of the child at the center of Woodhenge, it was believed to have been destroyed in the blitz. But, due to some excellent research work done by Mike Pitts the skeleton of the boy has recently been found and examined by Jackie McKinley.

The boy was found by the Cunningtons in their east Woodhenge section, lying crouched up, his head facing South in a pit dug on the ditch bottom (Mike Pitts. Hengeworld. 2001. Page 132). Unfortunately I don't have a comprehensive description of what was found either by the Cunningtons or Jackie McKinley. All that I know for sure is that Jackie described the skeleton as having  'long legs' and would have been 5 foot 7 inch in height (Mike Pitts.pp132)  not much of his pelvis remained, but the long bones 'looked male'.

Regarding pathology, he had troublesome teeth -his 'milk teeth' in the back of his mouth (molars) had not fallen out and his adult teeth had not erupted to push them out.

This makes me think of cleidocranial dysplasia, a genetic condition which delays the fusion of the long bones (bones generally 'fuse' at the age of twenty one -it depends which bone of course) but someone with cleidocranial dysplasia would have a different 'bone age' to his 'real age' if you see what I mean?

If he had cleidocranial dysplasia his bones would be younger than his actual days lived.

Jackie describes him as ' a young adult, eighteen to twenty-five, perhaps no more than twenty-one (some of his epiphyses, the articular ends, are not quite fused to his long bones' (Mike Pitts. pp 132) . His skull size isn't characteristic of someone with cleidocranial dysplasia, though. It is dolichocephalic with a cranial index of 67.3 people with cleidocranial dysplasia usually have brachycephalic skulls.

On the other hand Jackie describes the skull as 'long between the nose and teeth. His mandible's very narrow, too. He's got a narrow face with a flat forehead. Quite distinctive...' (Mike Pitts. pp132) . The mandible could indicate cleidocranial dysplasia?

Without all the information being available, I've no way to make an informed guess.

He also had what most archaeologists take to mean as a sign of poor nutrition, cribra orbitalis. This is a pitting in the top of the eye sockets and taken to be a sign of a lack of iron in the diet (leading to anaemia), though as other have pointed out, lack of blood cells may be due to other things. There may be a link between cribia orbitalis and scurvy and megoblastic anaemia (lack of B12) in which case it is interesting to ask what does this tell us about living conditions at the time this boy died?

It tells a story of a restricted diet, not enough meat, dairy products or eggs or of too many incidents of diarrhoea -especially when young.  I guess, anyone who has experience the Glastonbury festival could understand this.

The question remains though, was it human sacrifice?

Frazer's The Golden Bough. is full of stories reported to him by ex-pats and missionary clergymen, in short his prime sources of data were ancient histories, and questionnaires mailed by himself to missionaries and Imperial officials all over the globe. Frazer was championed by The Cambridge Ritualists who were instrumental in transforming myth into legend -taking myth and reading it as if it were a half remembered account of a true occurrence- the Cambridge Ritualists were sure meneads once ran wild at night tearing animals into bloody chunks -Sparagmos- because that is what the myth (or rather Euripides in The Bacchae) had said....but Euripides was writing plays (often to make political points) and using mythology as a metaphor, never as history.

The Golden Bough, with its many recorded incidents of bloody sacrifice seemed to make a convincing argument for this life-death-rebirth ritual -for there was so much information and plenty of descriptions of natives dancing wildly around fires and the victim's inevitable and horrible demise- that appealed to a post Victorian Britain. The Golden Bough is shocking and reassuring at the same time. It reassured by showing 'us' how far we had come and yet what darkness still surrounded us, reassuring to know that 'we' still have work to be done, to bring natives into the light...It shocked by portraying Christianity as just one more form of the same, fundamental myth.

I will be returning to the Golden Bough, but for now I leave you with this:
But the best known case of human sacrifices, systematically offered to ensure good crops, is supplied by the Khonds or Kandhs, another Dravidian race in Bengal. Our knowledge of them is derived from the accounts written by British officers who, about the middle of the nineteenth century, were engaged in putting them down...continue.