Lead Image: A clandestine photograph purporting to show the aftermath of the 2018 ceremony of the casting of the trowels at the Horiba Mira
Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) [thePipeLine]
It is the ceremony no-one in the most senior echelons of British Archaeology will ever admit takes place, but every year since 2015 a confidential source has tipped off thePipeLine about the annual “Casting of the Trowels”. The secret gathering to commemorate that first ceremony when Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Alfred Watkins and Alasdair Crowley met on top of Maiden Castle and, amid rumours of feasting and debauchery which would make the court of the Emperor Caligula blush, attempted to devine the future of British Archaeology by casting trowels into the embers of a midwinter fire.
Eighty years later the great and the good in UK archaeology still come together in the days between the end of TAG and the Midwinter Solstice to try to devine the future of the heritage sector in the coming year. However, what actually happens at the ceremony is meant to remain a closely guarded secret. Even full members of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists are not permitted to know the full details of the ritual.
However, shortly after Christmas thePipeLine received an anonymous account of this years ceremony of the trowels, purporting to come from dissident members of the Richard the Third Society.
At first the story we were told seemed to incredible to be true, centered as it was on the idea that a nationally important historic site could be destroyed and replaced by a computer model. However, following extensive fact checking we are now able to publish this open access peer reviewed account of the Ceremony of the Casting of the Trowels 2018 in the public interest because it is like no previous ceremony we have reported.
We learned from our source that this years ceremony was originally intended to be hosted by Historic England and that it had been scheduled to be held on the south pier of the London Garden Bridge. The venue had been chosen to enable the participants to view for the last time the historic view of St Paul’s cathedral painted by the Venetian master Canaletto, before the new opportunities for viewpoints on Thomas Heatherwick’s copper clad masterpiece and corporate event hosting opportunity, came into being. Historic England having used the existence of these new viewpoints to justify the destruction of Canaletto’s view in its report to the planning committee of the London Borough of Lambeth.
However, the Government’s heritage regulator was forced to change the venue after the new London Mayor Sadiq Khan, defunded the Garden Bridge project, confirming what everyone else from the Architects Journal to the Transport for London office cat already knew; that the Garden Bridge was in fact an attempt by Mr Khan’s predecessor, the [thankfully former] Foreign Secretary Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, to create a pair of memorial planters for his two term mayoralty, by using tens of millions of pounds of tax payers money to indulge and employ his friends.
Fortunately another venue was available as Japanese owned Tech giant Horiba Mira stepped in to offer their Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) as the venue for the ceremony, as a corporate thank you to Historic England for telling the Hinkley and Bosworth planning committee that the heritage body could see the public benefit in the test track being built, even though it would cause harm to a heritage asset of the highest importance, the battlefield of Bosworth, which saw the death of the last Plantagenet King, Richard III and, many historians say, the birth of modern England.
Marking the change of venue, and this year’s sponsor, there was a break in tradition as a group of non-archaeologists were invited to join the casting. These very special guests were the selected members of Hinkley and Bosworth Council who had been substituted onto the Planning Board and passed the planning application for the Test Track after the original line up of the planning board had voted to postpone the decision.
After enjoying a hearty buffet of Bosworth Butties, Plantagenet Pasties and Tudor Trifles, laid on courtesy of the Battle of Bosworth Visitor center, the participants in the casting ceremony were able to take advantage of the on seat charging points for mobile devices, free Wi-Fi and e-leather luxury seating as they were taken to the Horiba Mira Technology Park by the low emission bus service, provided jointly by Horiba Mira and Hinckley and Bosworth Council.
As they approached the site of the casting the visitors were somewhat underwhelmed at first by the flat expanse of tarmac, forming the CCAV, with its bland landscaping, and unprepossessing control tower. A few of the more independent minded archaeologists even began to mutter, was it for this that a crucial part of the internationally important and nationally protected battlefield of Bosworth had been sacrificed forever?
However, the initial disappointment was replaced swiftly with a rising sense of excitement and anticipation as an army of attentive Horiba Mira visitor hosts, clad in full fifteenth century court livery, ushered the archaeologists and other guests to a squadron of autonomous, electric, 4×4 vehicles, each dressed in the colours of a different archaeological organisation; the red and white of English Heritage, the purple of the Chartered Institute of Archaeologists, and the aquamarine white and yellow of the Council for British Archaeology. Plantagenet leopards adorned the vehicle reserved for the Richard the Third Society while bringing up the rear was the Battlefields Trust with its crest of a green oak tree over crossed swords, representing the struggle to preserve Britain’s battlefields and the speed at which the trust takes action.
On each seat was a complimentary brochure in which Transport Secretary Chris Grayling explained how Horiba Mira’s three dimensional virtual battlefield of Bosworth had been key to the company getting planning permission for the track and showed the way towards the similar preservation of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site; a healthy sugar free beverage; a selection of travel mints in a reproduction medieval reliquary and a top of the range Oculus Go virtual reality visor to present the future facing world which Horiba Mira inhabits.
Also including in the gift pack was a specially crafted WHS archaeologists divining trowel, with the entwined corporate crests of Horiba Mira and Historic England inlaid in the handle.
As the visitors settled in their seats the headsets blue-toothed automatically and seamlessly to the site Wifi, opening up a virtual world which was quite breathtaking.
By the simple act of donning the Oculus Go and swiping left, the stark grey flatness of the test track was replaced by the low unspoiled ridge of sun baked grass of 22 August 1485 and the sound of engines and rubber screeching on tarmac faded across time to be replaced by the neighing of horses, the crash of cannon and the sound of soldiers shouting orders and swearing in Welsh and Medieval French as a virtual Henry Tudor placed his troops.
With a slight jolt the near silent 4×4’s began to in wide curves across the test track and in the eyes of each viewer a rakish mustachioed figure, familiar from photographs in a hundred archaeological text books and re-runs of Chronicle on BBC4, formed from the swirling gunpowder smoke which had begun to fill the virtual battlefield.
“Let the Ceremony of the Trowels begin!” said the computer representation of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, voiced by Harry Enfield in tones fruitier than a grocery stall in Covent Garden Market, before tearing off his tweed safari suit to go sky clad as demanded by Aleister Crowley’s detailed instructions for the Casting of the trowels, as first described in the infamous secret annex to Wheelers report on the Maiden Castle Excvations.
As tradition further dictated, Sir Mortimer/Harry next invoked all the names of the original Time Team and, taking up a specially made reproduction Midland Purple Ware ewer, poured a libation at all four points of the compass.
In a further break with tradition, in place of the usual libation of a locally brewed Real Ale, the jug contained Red Bull and Coca Cola to honour of the computer coders who had created the electronic miracle of the better than reality Horiba Mira Battle of Bosworth 3D Experience.
All seemed set for the ceremony to proceed as normal, but before the participants could even press X on their PS4 style controllers and begin to move their own sky clad computerised avatars into position to perform the main ceremony of the casting of the trowels, there was a mighty thunderclap which shook the entire site like a top of the range sound bar, and the surface of the test track began to crack asunder while the smell of sulphur filled the air with an awful reality which was anything but virtual.
Before the awe struck visitors the very earth of Leicestershire began to form into the flaming figure of a medieval King in full Gothic armour and with the letter R emblazoned resplendently in Tarmac Sable on his shield, the hooves of his mighty white charger striking lightning from the surface of the test track, which began to bubble and melt.
“Blimy, this is more realistic than “Red Dead Redemption 2” exclaimed a young archaeologist from Museum of Leicester Archaeology Service, only to be struck silent by the King’s terrible stare.
“Two can play at this 3D computer model lark!” said the spectral King, “Now you are going to find out what it’s like to spend eternity trapped inside a hard drive when you have only just been released from that bloody car park!”
And then, like that scene from the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, great streams of vivid blue light flowed from the extremities of the phantom King’s body and filled each of the antonymous cars with the terrible electric beauty of St Elmo’s Fire and the watching archaeologists with awe and dread.
A few of the more quick witted and independent minded archaeologists managed to force open the doors of the vehicles and run for the darkness beyond Horiba Mira’s floodlights. Tragically, others were not fast enough.
“Don’t look!” shouted the head of the CIfA delegation in one of the cars, adding “If we shut our eyes and don’t say anything to rock the boat this might all just go away!”
While in another car, the party of senior managers from Historic England pleaded with the awful spectre that none of this was their fault,
“We are just archaeologists, we don’t take positions.” said the Inspector of Ancient Monuments for the East Midlands. Adding, “Well OK, we do sometimes say we can see the economic value of a project, but that doesn’t mean the local planning authority is actually supposed to take what we say at face value.”
“That’s right, we just say on the one hand this, and on the other hand that and let the local planning board take the actual decision.” cried
Duncan Weldon, the Chief Executive of Historic England, desperately, at the same time lifting surreptitiously one of the divining trowels and drawing it back as if to strike a blow at the smirking glow of the King’s face which had appeared in the touch screen of the car’s slick, state of the art, graphical user interface, as programmed by the University of Leicester.
[The same University which had also done the archaeological work on the battlefield and come up with what everyone had agreed was the brilliant idea of preserving the battlefield in a 3D computer model, instead of preserving the actual battlefield.]
“I wouldn’t do that Duncan.” said the King’s computerised voice with soft menace, as the horrified Historic England senior management team heard the locks on the doors of the autonomous 4×4 click home.
“You’re mine now.”
Like characters from Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” the surviving group of traumatised archaeologists, shuffled wearily into the dawn of the new distopia where heritage is a 3D computer model. But their fate was kind compared to that suffered by the senior managers and directors of Historic England, the Battlefields Trust, the Richard the Third Society, the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, and the Hinckley and Bosworth Council Planning Committee.
Trapped in their autonomous cars, the King’s captives went round and round the Horiba Mira CCAV Test Track, going faster and faster, but in ever decreasing circles until, like the fabled Royal Air Force Shitehawk which once circled the airfield upon which the Horiba Mira Technology Park is built, they all disappeared up their own a***holes.
And with them vanished not just a key section of the battlefield of Bosworth, lost forever under tarmac. The faith of the wider archaeological community in the ability of their regulators to actually protect even the most important and sensitive of the nation’s heritage disappeared too.
Regular readers will have noted that this years Old Mort’s Almanack contains no actual predictions for Archaeology in 2019. The reason for this is simple.
With the UK due to leave the European Union on 29 March, not even the combined efforts of the Delphic Oracle, the Druids of Ynys Mon and the Witch of Endor, would have a cat in Hell’s chance of predicting what happens next.