Tuesday 10 April 2012

Two images – what do they have in common, and how are they connected ?


The top one was taken at Olerdola, in the mountains near where I live. Olerdola is an ancient hilltop fortified site, in constant use according to archaeological evidence from 800 BC to around 1300 AD. Now it's a silent, peaceful place, with a simple little museum, beautiful views all around, and smelling of thyme and pine. Out on a spur of the mountain to the east are the ruins of the church of Santa Maria – and around the tumbled stones, there is the Pla dels Albats. This Catalan name means something like 'the place of the children', but 'albat' has a very specific meaning: it describes “newborns and children who died before the age of discretion”, to quote an information placard at the site. It is a curious thing that there is general human agreement that the 'age of discretion' is around 7 years of age …


… as one can see today, because the photograph shows two of the many graves, or sepulchres, cut into the rock of the mountain. Almost all of them have this recognisable human shape, and are pathetically, tragically small – cut to the size of the little corpses laid into them so many years ago. Now they fill with clear rainwater, and drifts of pine needles, and the lichen grows undisturbed …


The lower photograph was taken in the Museo Nacional Arqueológic de Tarragona, which has a magnificant collection of Roman artifacts from the period when Tarraco was the administrative centre of most of the north of Spain. Many of these artifacts come from the Romano-Christian cemetary, the necropolis which would have lined the road out of Tarraco towards the south. This doll was found in the tomb of a young girl who died in the early 2nd Century AD, probably before she was old enough to have her hair piled up in the elaborate adult fashion of her beloved doll. She must have come from a well-off family, since this is an expensive little figure – made of ivory, with clever joints to make the figure sit up and stand and walk, and very carefully carved. What clothes did it wear, this Roman Barbie? And what name did the little girl give the doll who ended up lying beside her in the grave ...


Notice how the shape of the doll fits the shape of the Olerdola sepulchres.

Only a game
26 May 2012


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