‘The face of a Stone Age man from the North West… about 40 years old when he died’ The Harris Museum
They’ve given you a face.
Taken your 5,500 year old skull, added facial tissue and facial muscles – temporalis, masseter, buccinator, occipito frontals, nose, lips.
Decided upon your expression.
It’s 2019 and the ‘ug’ caricatures and Flintstones references are behind us yet there is flint and stone in your jaw. Your shoulders are like a boxer’s
so I imagine you ‘putting them up’.
Fists of stone – you were a prize fighter. You would have been the strong man of your day, felling old bog oaks with your rough stone axe,
pulling them two at a time,
the muscles in your back – trapezius, rhomboideus, serratus, teres minor and major, thoracolumbar fascia straining as your broad feet sucked in and out of the marsh.
Your children swinging from your broad arms like long-tailed tits – countless, twittering, as you tossed them like juggling balls into the air.
Your wife liked to massage out your knots and twists – tighter more oaklike as you aged, treating each muscle in turn like a polished stone,
tending to your calloused hands –
bathing your blisters, dabbing ointment on your cracked knuckles, mending your broken fingers with oaken splints.
When you fell like a tree, not in battle but quietly on your way back from the woods, little birds in your branches,
muscles knotting one last time,
she did not carve your head but your fists in stone, cast them into the river with the oaklike log of your corpse.
The little pebbles of your pisiform bone, metacarpals and phalanges can be found on the riverbank where she once grieved.
‘This is the oldest skull so far dated – to between 3820 and 3640BC… This woman may have suffered from anaemia, indicated by an area of pitting in her left eye known as cribra orbitalia.’ The Harris Museum
You were a pale child.
Always the first to tire on the walk from camp to camp, struggling for breath, clutching at your chest. You said your head was light as a wisp of smoke before you lay down and floated away. You said you were a feather.
The reddest of meat failed to bring a blush to your cheeks, to keep you to the ground.
Often you touched the ridge of your left brow and pressed as if probing for the lesion.
When your skin turned yellow as the beak of a whooper swan, your eyes eerie and wolf-like,
you were exalted and they listened
to your visions of flying white-winged to the distant north where frost giants fought with fists of ice and the claws of bears were hungry for your children.
When you returned with seven cygnets ghosting from beneath your right wing
they walked on egg shells fearing you were the daughter of the God of the Otherworld.
When you were found with a single feather on your breast it was said you flew with him to Cygnus, rising on your last swan’s breath.
Now instead they point to the pitting of your left eye and speak of cribra orbitalia – the hypertrophy of red bone marrow, megabolasts, megabolastic anaemia, lack of intrinsic factor, the uptake of coblamin (vitamin B12).
And I try to hold both science and myth in the cavelike porosities of your left orbit….
Shades of Blue
‘an older man who may have lived in the Stone Age as there is evidence that he has been killed with a stone implement, similar to the axes displayed’ The Harris Museum
You had a violent reputation.
It travelled with you across the Water Country like the flies on the back of the aurochs
who buzzed around the heads of your enemies clotting like blood around their pecked out eyes.
She always knew when you were coming back by the noise of the bluebottle… zzz…???
A flicker across the rush light. Zzz… zzz…. zzz… unmistakeable. A rush of dread as it was lit up on the wall shiny iridescent blue.
When she was little she counted its colours and gave them names like New Dawn Blue, Noon Blue, Happy Blue, Deep Waters, Dwellings in the Sea-Sky Blue. As the shadows of her marriage darkened she named them Twilight Blue, Indigo, Bruise Blue, Black Blue of Murder.
Her hand went to her broken cheekbone.
She took the children to the Whistler in the Rushes.
In her hands she took the sharpened stone.
Nobody questioned or regretted your death: “A crash in the night – so many enemies.”
Except the bluebottle who buzzed in circles around your head, spiralling, spiralling upwards. Death Blue, Decision Blue, Tear Blue, Last Bruise, River-mirror Blue, Bright Blue of Freedom.
It disappeared as you sunk into eternal blue.
‘Experts disagree whether it is a skull of a woman or man. It’s smaller than other skulls found in the dock, but it has distinct male eyebrow ridges. There is evidence that this person may have died by from a weapon entering their skull. It may be the skull of a Roman settler or someone born in Iron Age Britain.’ The Harris Museum
No-one knew if you were Roman or Briton, noble or commoner, male or female, only that you were not from the North. The names of the gods mixed on your tongue like wine and mead in the fortresses of the Otherworld. “Vindos-Dis, Mars-Nodens, Apollo-Maponus, Belisama-Minerva, Taranis-Jupiter.”
Your tongue got you into trouble stirring the desires of the young but allowing none to lift up your robe.
Everywhere you went there was gossip.
You’d come to the High Hills in purple wearing sandals, golden bangles, golden rings on your fingers and toes and a jewelled golden crown. Come back down like madness to the Water Country, ragged as a beggar, preaching of a world where Roman and Briton lived in unison with no divisions between man and woman or wrong places to put one’s tongue.
A parochial chieftain hated your androgyny and the hateful looseness of your tongue so it was not long before you were stripped naked and fishlike beside the river before the gods.
The spear thrust into your mouth did not stop your brazen tongue from wagging on as the water embraced you as both daughter and son.
*With thanks to the Harris Museum for use of the photographs.