Remember the Alamo

Many years ago, when I was a kid, I saw the film The Alamo, starring John Wayne. I seem to remember enjoying it, but I wasn’t altogether sure about the events it depicted, whereas other films dealing with Waterloo, Cromwell, the Battle of Britain and the voyages of the Argonauts, for example, contained material that resonated with me far more.

As such, I pretty much forgot about the place for over a decade until late February 1982, when I learned through the pages of a music paper that the former Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne had found himself in very deep mire indeed after he was caught pissing on the Alamo by an outraged member of a Texan law enforcement body. The event immediately took on legendary proportions and while I can’t remember exactly how I learned of it in those far-off, pre-internet days, I was taken aback to discover that the Alamo compound was surrounded by many modern roads and buildings, as I’d imagined that this ‘sacred land’ in America somehow still sat in splendid isolation in the midst of some relatively inaccessible dusty prairie.

In the profound ignorance of youth, I formed a largely negative idea of the American heritage industry as a result of this, while my prejudices on this broad subject were reinforced when I learned of fast food restaurants and suchlike despoiling the sites of Civil War battlefields and others. I fondly like to think that enlightenment would have dawned sooner rather than later, but as I came to realise to what a shocking degree the ‘sacred’ Stonehenge landscape had been systematically despoiled, then so it occurred to me that my views on the treatment of the Alamo and other sites were ill-informed and hypocritical.

This much is surely obvious, but despite my belated realisation of my wrong-thinking, the desecration of Stonehenge and its landscape continues as I write this. A few months ago, I was appalled when I was sent a link that supplied details of what the English Heritage staff had been forced to deal with after one of the Open Access events at Stonehenge, because the summary made clear that every form of fluid and solid waste produced by the human body had been deliberately left on and around the stones.

And while the very heart of Stonehenge has been wantonly befouled, the wider landscape itself is in danger of being eroded by the construction of a proposed tunnel, although I’ll leave the reader to look into this matter for themselves, as I find it too wearisome to revisit the details and the attendant arguments.

From a personal perspective, I can see that the Stonehenge landscape is home to just about every tangible and intangible treasure that it’s possible to imagine, and I’ve looked into this matter carefully for more than a decade. However, despite the very real existence of this cornucopia, it seems to me that all that stands between the heart of old England and the metaphorical bulldozers is an online petition, which I suspect will be carelessly swatted aside like a gnat then forgotten when the day of reckoning arrives.

Despite the undoubted fact that this landscape is a Wonderland in every sense and probably has been for millennia, I suspect that there’s more chance of the territory claimed by ISIS being recognised as a state than there is of Stonehenge’s landscape being regarded as sacred and inviolable for ever more.

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“What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down…”

The Doors, When the Music’s Over.

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8 Responses to Remember the Alamo

  1. From a personal perspective, I can see that the Stonehenge landscape is home to just about every tangible and intangible treasure that it’s possible to imagine, and I’ve looked into this matter carefully for more than a decade.

    It’d a funny old world Dennis. Five years ago I would have said exactly the opposite about almost any heritage issue: There are a large number of associated issues which prevent our society from adopting a more sustainable means of development (though everyone’s definition of ‘sustainable’ is slightly different). I doubt I would have gone so far as to support a recent suggestion that Stonehenge should be relocated to avoid the traffic issues, but I know a few people who would see that as an entirely viable course of action.

    Subsequently, I fleetingly came to the conclusion that an understanding of Stonehenge might possibly represent a remarkable way of turning round people’s perceptions: If so, its treasure might be in understanding how we came to be rather than the discovery of buried objects (albeit that understanding would make the objects invaluable).

    But I’ve become a bit confused about the social purpose of archaeology. If the value of it is in objects, then digging it up would produce more objects. As an object in its own right, a landscape such as Stonehenge is just as valuable as other landscapes, but many others are far more untouched so could be argued to be more worthy of preservation. If the value is in understanding, then preserving the landscape perhaps makes more sense, but only if resources are devoted to understanding it.

    Probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.. starting to ramble.

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    • eternalidol says:

      I think it’s for the archaeologists to produce this elusive definition we’re all searching for, Jon, so I don’t feel bad about rambling and neither should you.

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      • Thanks Dennis. I hope so too. In the world of infrastructure assessments, it is virtually impossible to defend disused curiosities if the arguments for retaining them are poorly constructed. As seen from the outside world, the discipline has made no significant advances for many decades; so the argument that archaeology has any real treasures to offer (other than the odd trove of coins) is gradually being eroded.

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      • eternalidol says:

        I don’t know for how long archaeology proper has been deemed to have been in existence as a ‘legitimate’ discipline, but I’d guess that the time period in question is well over a century. I might be wrong, of course, but I’m not aware that anyone in all that time has come up with a handy reason for explaining its value that most reasonable people would go along with.

        For my part, I suppose the reasons I’m interested in discoveries from the past, whether or not archaeologists unearth them, is because they tell me something I didn’t previously know about my ancestors, whether it was their value systems, their trade, their ingenuity, their beliefs etc, which in turn allows me to contemplate these long-dead people at my leisure, a simply practise or pastime that I find intensely pleasurable, gratifying or otherwise rewarding. However, I’ll leave it the one or more of the professionals to attempt to codify their own reasons why archaeology and what archaeologists dig up/identify/evaluate is of worth to us all.

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  2. Juris says:

    When I first became interested in British pre-history, many years ago, I came across an aerial photo of Avebury. It showed the circle with two modern roads crossing it and the village built in the middle. I remember being shocked that such a unique piece of the ancient past was despoiled in that way. At least the size and construction of Stonehenge preclude that kind of thing within the circle itself.

    Then this. Last July I visited the Little Big Horn battlefield in Montana where Custer made his Last Stand. On the way there within view of the hilltop where the battle took place was a dilapidated roadside sign advertising “Sitting Bull’s Campground.” And that certainly left a bad taste in several ways.

    From these perspectives – and there are many others, Gettysburg comes to mind – the Stonehenge vicinity is relatively clean except for those vexing roads. The practice of active farming such as that around the Normanton Down barrows is also troubling but at least it’s a lesser visual irritation.

    I have no wisdom on any of this other than I don’t like it.

    But let me add: I have visited Avebury a number of times including stopping at the Red Lion pub at it’s very center. Excellent British beer, excellent. So at least that is a small comfort.

    Juris

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    • eternalidol says:

      Juris,

      Little Big Horn and Gettysburg may well have been cheapened and despoiled to some extent, and this is of course a shame. Stonehenge has been similarly violated in the past, but it’s an ongoing process and there comes a point, when I think of the various shenanigans that are actively going on, where I find myself losing the will to live.

      As for Avebury, I think you’re right again. The monument is a shadow of its former self and it’s been violated in many ways, but there are a great many worse things to have at the centre of the place than a more than halfway decent pub selling decent beer.

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  3. Austin says:

    I spent precious moments last summer absorbing the SE corner on Luxenborough plantation looking over Stonehenge bottom and NW at a higher elevation in sight of the monument itself . A large field of barley was being harvested to the West ( and north of Normanton barrows ) .. Lost in the thoughts of a slumbering late summers afternoon with hares , crows, skylarks and butterflies and an occasional deer and fox company, I watched a farmer harvesting this crop . For a blissful moment it seemed as if he was offering a timeless prayer to nature somehow in keeping with and in the same vein as the ancestors. .That afternoon farming the land to this day in sight of the monument itself so right .

    My father would be pleased to hear that you enjoy British Beer Juris !…Eldridge pope and Huntsman ales were his staple beers .

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  4. Austin says:

    ‘for’ company ..
    itself ‘seemed’ so right
    ..Sorry .

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