Archeology for Beginners
Updated: Jan 27, 2022
My Mam always comes to see me on a Saturday. It’s always been that way. My Da never tells me much about why they don’t live together, only that her work is very important. I sit on the old stone wall by the house so I can greet her when she arrives. The old walls are everywhere near our house. They stretch out for miles over fields and roadsides like sleeping stone dogs. Mam says the walls are older than we know. The stones are rough and jagged under my legs but I don’t mind. I like old things, they have the best stories. So I sit and wait and wonder how someone stacked them to stand for so long.
How many people did it take?
How long did it take?
How heavy was the first stone compared to the last?
Someday, when I’m big, I’m going to find them. All the stories from hundreds of years ago, I bet it’ll be like doing a big jigsaw puzzle. I like those too. Da says that someone who looks for old stories is called an… Archeologist. It’s a hard word to say. He says it’s a very hard job too, but I can work hard. I always finish my chores on the farm and keep my room tidy.
Some old stories are easy to find when you can still see them. Like the old church in the village that still has bullet holes in the marble pillars. But the best ones, my Mam says, are hidden deep in the earth. I really wish I could look right through the earth and see what it hides, without disturbing it or making a mess. Sometimes I feel like I could just reach in with a hand and pull out the roots of stories, like a magician pulling a coloured ribbon from thin air. I told my Da that once, and I thought he might tell me off for saying silly things, but he just gave me a strange look. It’s the same look he has when one of the cows is sick.
It’s really sunny today, which is good because today is also my birthday. I’m 7 years old today. That means we can go to the big park near the village and name the trees or count ducks in the lake. My mum knows all the names for everything. She’s really clever. I can’t wait to see her. This spot is the best place to meet her, I will be the first thing she sees when she rounds that corner. The sun is high in the sky when Mam arrives. She smiles and runs down the road to me, her long blue dress swirls around her like water as she moves. She scoops me off the wall and gives me a big hug and I bury my face in her long golden hair. She smells like lavender and fresh cut grass today, last week she smelled like salt and rain soaked earth.
“Hello little bear.” That’s what she calls me. She sits me back atop the wall and I see her look past me to the house, where I know my Da is standing in the front doorway.
“Hello Fergal, will you be joining us for birthday celebrations in the park?” she asks and I hear my Da’s gruff voice reply.
“Not today Danu, it’s calfing season. But Nan has a fruitcake made for tea later.” That makes her smile again. Sometimes, when Mam smiles at someone, I think I can see the sun shining in her skin. I’ve never told her that though.
“Ask her to save me a slice!” she says in a sing-song voice. I turn my head and see my Da smiling too. That’s good, he doesn’t smile very often. Nan says if he’s not careful his face will be stuck looking grumpy forever. We say goodbyes to Da and set off from the house to the village. We get ice creams from one of the shops on the main street (I get chocolate and Mam gets strawberry) and we eat them as we walk to the park. Walking through the park, I remember all the different names for the trees when Mam asks me, and she shows me where all the new bird’s nests are hiding in the branches. When we get to the lake, we sit at Mam’s favorite spot under one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. It’s an oak and the bark is so gnarled that sometimes you can see faces in the patterns on it’s trunk. Sometimes they’re smiling, sometimes they’re scary.
My Mam asks me if I’ve found any more stories. I tell her how old the big tree stump in the back field is (I counted all 77 rings). I tell her about the new calves at the farm (two were born this morning) but the most exciting story I have is in my pocket and I take out the small black arrowhead and show it to her. It’s rough and worn but the tip of it is still sharp.
“I found it when I was helping Nan plant cabbage seeds in one of the big fields. She thinks it was dug up when the field was being tilled.” I say, turning the small thing over in my hands.
“I wish I knew who it belonged to...” Mam takes it from me carefully, and looks at it for a long time with her eyes full of something big.
“Dathai,” she says softly, “if you like we can find out. We can find it’s story.” At first I think she’s joking, but she’s looking at me very seriously now.
“Really?” I say, trying not to sound too excited.
“Of course! As a special treat for your birthday.” I get a giddy feeling, I just know that arrowhead is full of all kinds of stories. But I’m still not sure how we’re supposed to find them right here and now.
“How do we find it?” I ask. Mam looks at the branches of the tree above us, they rustle softly in the breeze.
“This place is very special to me. And special places can sometimes have a certain magic to them. All we need to do is look into the earth and pull out the right story.” My jaw drops. It’s just like what I told Da, can something like that really be done? She puts the arrowhead back in my palm and holds my hand in hers. “I’ll need your help though, is that okay?” I nod slowly, not knowing how I can help. I’m only 7. She places my hand on the grass beneath the tree, and puts her own hand over mine. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do, so I just close my eyes and think about the arrow and it’s story. It feels strangely cold under my palm.
Who made it?
How did it end up in our field?
My Mam starts speaking softly to me again.
“The earth connects all of us Dathai, the soil beneath us is just the phoenix flesh of fields under fields. From where we sit to where this little arrow carelessly wandered down into the bogs and muds of the earth. Are you ready, little bear?” I nod again, suddenly kind of scared. But I feel her hand over mine and the strange feeling that starts creeping all over my skin isn’t scary at all because Mam is here. “Open your eyes, love.” When I do, we are not in the park. Everywhere around us is a lush forest covered in snow. Excitement tears through me, I want to jump up and look around. But I look at my Mam, and she raises a finger to her lips and points to someone standing just behind her. And I realise what she’s trying to show me...
The young man in furs strikes sparks into the air as he sharpens the weapon. He stops every so often to check his work. Smiling when he thinks of how proud his father will be. He fastens the sharp arrowhead to the shaft, places the new arrow in a quiver with several others and runs off into the woods.
I feel another shiver in the air and think something must be wrong as the scene warps out of focus around us. My Mam squeezes my hand.
“Don’t fret, little bear. It’s only the Winds of Time shifting into place.”
It is dark now, deeper into the forest. The moon is high and makes the frozen land shimmer. A tall man wrapped in a heavy cloak aims a bow at a stag in the distance. He has tracked the beast all day, as silent as a shadow. When the arrow is let fly, the sharp point glints in the darkness right before it’s buried in the old stag’s neck.
The air stirs again while my eyes are fixed on the stag. My mother’s voice is almost an echo now.
“The next part isn’t pretty.”
A huge fire roars in the forest clearing dotted with wattle huts. The tall man prepares his kill. The animal has been skinned up to the neck. Blood stains the hunters skin and clothes. There is pride in his eyes. As he pulls the arrow from the stag's neck, the tip comes away from the shaft and falls to grass below. Already forgotten.
This time when I feel the strange winds blow, it continues and doesn’t settle. Neither does the scene around us. As we sit in silence the world shifts and changes around us.
Winter melts into summer, spring, autumn back to winter. The hunters leave their huts to decay. Trees are cut down. The ground is dug up, planted over and dug up again. As the forest dwindles, towers and buildings rise and fall in the distance. People come and go, so many people. People and their stories.
There is so much happening my eyes can’t keep up, I see that my mother is beaming across from me. The sunlight is shining brightly through her now, green eyes alight and the water in her dress undulates in the godly glow of her. Danu. And I suddenly know what she is. I have always known, I think. But only now I truly begin to understand what that means. She lets out a high laugh that sounds like bells.
“You see, Dathai?” she says, her voice thrumming with old power. “A seed planted can grow, be observed and cared for under the oath of the gardener. It’s fruit or flowers the final payment for it’s luxurious life in the ground. We cannot pot a year or twenty, but in this place we can watch it sprout in a matter of seconds. We can watch the stories tell themselves.”
I feel the power in her now resonate in me, and the giddyness creeps back into me with all the wonder of what I have seen, what I now know. And all I can think of as I draw on the power that runs in my blood is one thing...
“I want to see more!” I cry as the strange new power consumes me and I pull my hand away from hers. Turning my back on her to the fast flow of time. The light suddenly fades from my mother as she reaches out,
“Wait, no!” she cries.
But it’s too late. The winds blow faster and louder than before. All the greens and blues and greys of the changing landscape, sunrises and sunsets blur together as the soft earth ripples underneath my legs. I’m scared again, I didn’t mean for it to go this fast.
“STOP.” I scream into the chaos. And just like that the winds of time settle, and so does the world. We are back in the park, but something is different. I stand up, still clutching my arrowhead, my mind swimming in confusion. It’s noisier, the people walking past are dressed strangely and stare into little black squares they hold in their hands. But the strangest thing of all is the old man that stands right in front of me. I have this aching feeling that I know him. His skin is creased, his eyes look tired and his brow is furrowed. I see that he’s holding something in his hand. Something small and sharp. I look back to my mother, expecting her to be angry but she looks sad, very sad. I start to feel dizzy. I only realize I have fallen when I hit the ground hard and everything goes dark.
The images were weak, a brief flicker that any other old man would pass off as dying eyes playing tricks. But there was no mistaking what I had seen. A young boy and his mother. I had forgotten just how young I was. I remember that day with different feelings everytime the memory surfaces. It had been good to see her face again, even though it had only been a spectral glimpse. She stopped coming to visit after that day. I don’t know if it was because she feared me or her influence over me. My father became silent about her. Barely acknowledged her to the point where I thought he may have forgotten about her completely. But before he died, I heard him whisper her name in a prayer. I hope she heard it. So few people pray to her these days.
Though I can no longer sense it, the memory of how her power felt will stay with me until the end. Archeologists don’t put much stock in magic, so instead I focused on my original plan. Finding all the stories in the world. I really wanted to tell Her story. But she is the oldest of all the stories there are, and those are the hardest to tell.
It begins to rain and a cold breeze floats by... I can’t help but imagine that it’s her doing. The old Gods are always present after all, I think as I put the old arrowhead back in my pocket. I look over the tops of the trees and buildings in the distance and wonder if she could have enjoyed life at a human pace. Where the skyline moves higher and the ground is dug deeper one day at a time.