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Bust of Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the Library at the Institute of Archeology at UCL
[Wikipaedia user MidnightBlueOwl CC BY_SA 3,0]

thePipeLine can exclusively reveal that it has recently obtained the sole surviving copy of a previously suppressed article by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, which we believe offers a sensational new insight into the methodology and social network of the famous archaeologist.

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Written in 1935 and originally destined for the Illustrated London News, the article was never published because of the intervention of the Society of Antiquaries and the Dorset Field Club who, it appears, feared for the impact the article would have on the credibility of their then ongoing excavations at the great pre-Roman hill fort of Maiden Castle outside Dorchester.

In the article Wheeler described a fascinating and previously unrecorded meeting which brought together the great archaeologist himself, with Alfred Watkins, author of “the Old Straight Track” which popularised the concept of Ley Lines criss crossing the countryside linking places of mystical and historical importance and Aleister Crowley, the self proclaimed “wickedest man in England”, who had visited the Dorset site on account of what he perceived as its occult connections with the Druid order of the Pre Roman Iron Age.  A meeting which gave rise to what may be one of the weirdest and most fascinating archaeological experiments ever undertaken.

In this early example of experimental archaeology and comparative ethnography, Wheeler describes the three men seated around a camp fire on the summit of the iconic Iron Age Hill Fort at midnight on the eve of the Mid Winter Solstice, while three naked witches, supplied by Crowley, poured libations of local Eldridge Pope and Co. ale to the four points of the compass and cast six trowels from Wheeler’s excavation into the ashes as the men chanted a series of questions to the genius loci.  The subsequent patterns formed by the trowels were then interpreted as predictions of the future.

In order to peer review the work of Wheeler, Watkins and Crowley, by making a series of predictions for events world archaeology in 2015 thePipeLine has attempted to replicate their methodology. 

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We used standard 4″ WHS Archaeologists trowels supplied by a major on-line archaeological retailer picked at random.  Then,  while Eldridge Pope and Co no longer exist we used libations of an equivalent modern “real ale”.  Shepherd Neame “Spitfire Ale”was chosen in acknowledgement of the place of mythical Spitfires in archaeological folklore, particularly in Myanmar.  Then a randomly selected a group of masked, skyclad, full members of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists first invoked the genius loci and then the original members of the “Time Team”, at all four points of the compass.  They then cast the trowels into the ashes of a TESCO family sized, disposable barbecue while chanting a randomly selected research question.

The results of the experiment are given below in the original transcript written by the archaeologists as they channeled the spirit of the great antiquary William Stukely to record the answers.

The research team began with some questions about the Local and National Government in the United Kingdom and the following predictions were recorded.

  • “And the Museums Association and the Arts Council shall publish a set of rules and punishments for Local Authorities which treat their museums as a bank:  and these shall be called “The Mackintosh Memorial Rules” in honour of the Leader of Northampton Borough Council who did oversee the sale of Sekhemka unto an anonymous private collector.”
  • “And Lo the Nightingales of Lodge Hill shall rise up to peck the bottom of Planning Minister Brandon Lewis because he be not a member of the RSPB and thus doth qualify as dung magnet for the Green Lobby and human shield for his boss Eric Pickles.  And so his sleep shall be haunted by visions of protests past, of Swampy, of the Winchester bypass and myriads of undercover policemen infiltrating subversive organisations like the Nationel Trust.”

And on the 7th inst of May, being the feast day of St Flavius the martyr,  shall come the General Election in Great Britain and on that day

  • “the restless and angry shade of Sekhemka shall walk the blasted cultural wastelands of Northampton South where standeth for Parliament Cllr David Mackintosh, with the result, we know not what.
  • And voters up and down the land shall look out upon green fields, SSSI’s, Scheduled Ancient Monuments and Registered Battlefields and be greatly pleased.  And they shall then cast their vote according to who can best eat a bacon sandwich and offers the biggest cut to taxes and immigration.  And there shall be a great wailing and gnashing of teeth in the heritage community which will say, “but how shall we better communicate our message?”
  • And whoever wins property developers throughout the land shall be greatly pleased and say “Our money spent in lobbying was well spent-  now Minister, can we make just a few adjustments to the NPPF for it is still too complicated and needed developments can yet be stopped by Nightingales?”

The team then turned to international maritime archaeology and recorded the following.

“And we see the great waters, deep and dark,  part and reform into a reality documentary on the Discovery Channel whereby…”

  • “It shall come to pass that the Chief Executive Officer of Odyssey Marine Exploration, Master Mark Gordon shall be instructed by the Chair of the Board, the Great Entrepreneurial Leader Gregory Stemm,  to appear on Bloomberg and Fox Business.  And lo he shall announce that OMEX hast discovered a genuine “Secret Cargo” of untold riches at the bottom of the sea and saide cargo actually does belong to Odyssey and it shall be monetized.  And this time ye story shall actually be true [for the Amsterdamsche Courant doth say so] and archaeology shall be done and trade goods [duplicate items, the crew’s private property and high quality commemorative products] shall be sold and so the shareholders shall be paid back tenfold for their faith and optimism this twenty years past.”
  •  “and as a consequence the Great Entrepreneurial Leader Stemm shall be elevated unto the furthermost reaches of UNESCO whereupon he shall ascend there with a can of petrol, some matches and a grin like unto a demented Santa Claus.”
  • “and forsooth this shall all come as a huge surprise to Green River Asset because nobody had told him in advance so he faileth to post a puff piece upon Seeking Alpha.”
  • “and my Lord Lingfield and his old friend and colleague Minister Fallon shall again come together as they hath done before and together embark upon a degree in Maritime Archaeology in order that they can become full members of the CIfA and between them direct the policy for maritime archaeology of the UK and the World.”

Meanwhile elsewhere

  • “An excavation at the University of Bologna shall discovereth a great tower made entire of ivory.  And lo an inscription shall prove conclusively that it is the World’s first Department of Archaeology, but only those with a university library log-in shall ever hear about it for it is not published in open source.”
  • “As His Majestie Kynge Richard the third is reburied in a greate church next unto a car park at Leicester a, great Universitie of the Middlelands shall use secret DNA evidence gathered from the Tower of London to prove that not only did Richard the Third do it, he strangled the Princes in the Tower with his own hands.  And in “the Richard the Third Society” there will be a great wailing and gnashing of teeth and a commenting that “…of course DNA is never 100% accurate.”
  • “and another team shall announceth that they have found the left patella of Kynge Alfred the Great.  They also suggesteth they have found the bones of Kynge Aethelred the Redeless, but that they be unready to make an announcement just yet.
  • “and somewhere in ye countryside a farmer will taketh a JCB unto a scheduled section of Offa’s Dyke, or a henge, or a Roman Villa and shall redistribute it across the fields for the members of the NCMD to find and declare unto the FLO and challenged by English Heritage [or Historic England whichever existeth at the time] the farmer shall say

    ‘You what?  I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never heard of Offa’s Dyke//a Henge/a Villa.  We bought this from a bloke next door and want to put stables on it. Nobody said anything to us about a historic monument.'”

and finally the team asked the spirits about what might happen in the archaeological media in 2015. They were told

  • “and somewhere in the land of the media shall a commissioning editor arise and say that ye worlde has had enough of reality formats where metal detectorists and antiques dealers pretend to do archaeology by the dyging up of stuff.  For it is unethical and a travesty of what archaeology is. And lo I shall commission a series whereby a charismatic groupe of qualified archaeologists [CIfA members all] shall visit a fascinating historic site and try to understand it using proper archaeological process and plain language in just three days.  And lo the Network Controller shall say  “The audience will never buyeth that one because audience research says they just want to see glittery stuff and be told how much it is worth.  Our demographic can’t even spell archaeology.  If you put the word “Nazi’s” in the title and make it about digging up stiffs and bombs you might have a chance.   But the budget for proper archaeology is great and who do you think you are a national icon with the audience appeal of Saint David bloody Attenborough?  I careth not if Sir Tony Robinson does have more free time these days and might be available.  Get thee to ITV3 and work on the next series of “I’m a celebrity…” for that is the modern media way to do natural history and science.”

At this point Mr Stukely departed for the Elysian fields and unfortunately, in spite of many attempts, thePipeLine experimental team were unable to get any of the spirits to comment on the fate of the Borchester to Hollerton Relief Road, Route B.

While only time will tell if any or all of our predictions come true, thePipeLine has every confidence in the scientific rigor of our method.  However, we are obliged to point out that in Wheeler’s experiment the predictions included a “long and successful reign for King Edward VIII,” that a new comic book hero called “Superman” would not last more than one issue of DC Comics, and the suggestion that the recently elected Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, would be a major force for international reconciliation and World Peace.  They also predicted that one day archaeologists would be seen as the equal of Architects, Planners, Lawyers and Chartered Surveyors.


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thePipeLine is an independent news publication that investigates the place that heritage, politics, and money meet.

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