… or is it Dumnonia? I refer to the land of the Dunmonii, the ancient Brythonic tribe that hung around in Devon during the Iron Age and early Roman period.
I have been spending the last few days cooped up with nasty admin tasks, whilst outside the sun has been shining, and spring has once again arrived -with the lovely racket of crows and gulls, the chorus of small garden birds and flowers everywhere bursting into bloom. It was good to get out the other evening to the rather cold musty Countryside Centre at Braunton, further along the coast. Yes, we certainly know to live the high-life here in Devon! We were there to hear a talk from Dr Chris Carey, who is leading an archaeological survey of an Iron Age hill enclosure at nearby Knowle.
I was interested to be reminded that the deciduous forests that covered this part of England had been exploited and largely wiped out by the time of the Bronze Age – leaving the uplands of Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin with seriously depleted soil that has never regained fertility. Sounds familiar, just like modern times… and Chris warned us not to harbour romantic ideas about prehistoric peoples living a harmonious integrated life, at one with their natural surroundings.
Fine – and I must admit that in the past, I have held romantic notions, and still believe there is much we can learn from further study of our ancient ancestors. But from my interest in cave paintings and what we know as Rock Art, I know this drive for power and domination over nature is by no means the whole story.
Just because our ancestors may have been prone to greed and power, that does not necessarily mean they didn’t also have a sense of the sacred and the transcendent. It does not mean that the two tendencies, just like today, could not reside uncomfortably together within a single individual.
Was there ever a time when we lived in reciprocal harmony with nature? If so, when did our sense of being separate and superior begin? And why are there some traditional cultures today that are certainly living simple integrated lives. How have they managed to avoid the malaise?
Who knows! It is fascinating to weave stories around our ancient ancestors, and fun to connect back in time with the place where one lives.
Searching the internet for an image of a Devon hilltop enclosure to show you, I came across just the thing: this short video clip called Ancient Devon History, from Day’s Devon.
You will have noticed, as I did, that the video is a little… well … idiosyncratic. I had to investigate further, I couldn’t help myself – and I discovered there was a whole series of these Day’s Devon videos. Phil Day, the narrator/ director says on camera that they are not like any other travel film. ‘He is right’ I thought, ‘These are quite the worst travel films I have ever seen’.
A few minutes later though, and I realised the man was in fact a genius in his field. Grouped together, his movies give a real sense of what is so special, so particular and so peculiar about Devon: indeed much of what I have grown to love and cherish in the couple of years or so that I’ve been living here.
If you have some time to spare, or are looking for a way to avoid getting down to work, there is the main Day’s Devon site itself , or you could try these YouTube links: Day’s Devon – Official Trailer; The Cream Tea Movie (unmissable), and Michael’s Secret: What is at the Bottom of the Combe? (gripping).
Also see my post: Ancient Sites.