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Incised Chalk Pieces from Windmill Hill

by Donald Cyr

[ED: This article appeared in Vol. 12/13, 1988-9 Midwestern Epigraphic Journal and was republished by permission from D.L. Cyr, editor, Exploring Rock Art, Stonehenge Viewpoint, Santa Barbara, CA, pp 118-122. ]

After a baseball game, for the self-styled umpire of the conflict to write down his opinions would be unseemly. In this write-up of the confrontation between Rock Art people and Epigraphers, I can hardly maintain that I have been an unbiased "umpire." Hence, any commentary that I might add about the conflict itself would be superfluous.

Indeed, I propose to relate an incident that occurred during the preparation of the foregoing text, and incident that is most poignant. It started by Barry Fell asking me where I had found the illustration of the Windmill Hill (Ogam) amulet that is shown on page 22. Not only was it wrong, he said, but he provide the correct configuration for his commentary. I answered by stating that our daughter Annette had made the drawing for me using the illustraton (a photograph) that was Plate XX in Alexander Keiller's book, entitled Windmill Hill and Avebury, Excavations by Alexander Keiller 1925-1939.

Seemingly, Barry Fell had used a drawing by Piggott and Ida Jane Gallagher had taken a photograph of this artifact at the museum in England where the item is on display. Daughter Annette is an artist, so I chided her subsequently over the telephone, although I agreed that artist should be allowed a bit of leeway in their renditions. Of course, the Windmill Hill Ogam artifact is terribly important, having been dug up in a professionally managed excavation from layers dated at about 2200 B.C. This one artifact goes a long way towards proving that Ogam has been around a long time. I had somehow missed reading about it in Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications, Volume 15, but I had recognized the artifact when I saw Barry Fell display it on Scott Monahan's television program entitled History on the Rocks. Windmill Hill was also the site for another artifact (a surface find) that shows a scale redition of an ice-crystal halo configuration (see page 66).

To show Barry Fell that my source was legitimate, I got the Keiller book from my library shelf and took another look. As I subsequently reported to Barry Fell, "It's an ill wind that blows no good!" I found the illustration of Plate XX just as Annette had pictured it, and then across from it I saw Plate XXI, showing another example of Ogam datable to 2200 B.C. I suddenly realized that the Keiller team had dug up more than one example of ancient Ogam. So then I read the text that accompanies further illustrations of the incised chalk artifacts from Windmill Hill. I was setting myself up for a further shock.

"Incised Pieces. There are seventeen flattish pieces which bear series of scored lines on one or both faces. Ten come from primary levels, four from upper levels, and three are unstratified. Four of those from primary levels are of Lower Chalk, which splits naturally into suitable thin slabs. Most of the pieces are irregular and show little evidence of shaping, but a few have been carved to oval, discoidal or roughly rectangular form. The scorings vary from light incisions to deep grooves. The "design" consist, with two exceptions, exclusively of groups of straight intersecting lines."

"In three instances, small conical pits, 7-10 mm. in diameter, have been drilled or scraped in one or both faces."

"The most elaborate piece (Plate XXa) comes from a primary level. The designs of curving and straight lines on both faces have been compared by Piggott with the Irish megalithic carvings of the Hommes-sapins class, and with certain Breton and Scottish rock-carvings. The object may bave been intended for use as a pendant or amulet, since the two pits near the edge are aligned. However, they do not join to complete the perforation and it may be that they were not in fact made for that purpose."

"The date and affinities of C15 (the halo design, Ed.) are uncertain, since it came from the top of a ditch. The object is fossil sponge, with a small natural pit in one face. An incised cross enclosed within a circle is centered on the pit. This design also appears in Irish megalithic carvings, but is perhaps too simple and widespread for comparisons to be of much value."

Think of it, seventeen examples of Ogam, potentially datable at 2200 B.C. Not all seventeen are illustrated in the Keiller book although several are. And as inexperienced as I am in epigraphic translations, I am tempted to try to decipher them myself. In any event, if the Museum in question still has the chalk pieces in storage, then have a treasure that may now be used to ransom Ogam translators into respectability.

Incised chalk Slabs from Windmill Hill, About 2200 B.C. (After Keiller) The partial Ogam transliterations shown on the right are provisional. However, it may be important to note that in addition to the seventeen potential Ogam-bearing artifacts suspected at Windmill Hill, others from nearby sites may also have been found. Maumbury Rings produced incised blocks (see Stuart Piggott and C.M. Piggott, "Stone and Earth Circles in Dorset, Antiquity, XII, p. 158). Woodhenge produced incised pieces (see M.E. Cunnington and E.H. Goddard, Catalogue of Antiquities in the Museum of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society at Devises, Part II, p. 77, Devised, 1934).