What Planet is This?

09 Jul 2005

The Antiquarian

When I was reading about pheasants recently, I came across a page detailing the hunts of Arthurian legend. That page mentions Tristan and Isolde, and in reading about that I was led to a page at The Modern Antiquarian about the Tristan Stone, near Fowey in Cornwall.

The Tristan Stone is a menhir with a 6th century style latin inscription carved on the side and heavily worn down. It reads "Drustans hic iacet Cunomori filius", marking it as the burial site of one Drunstanus, who was the son of Cunomorus. This Drunstanus may be the source of the legendary Tristan, the circumstantial evidence being that Cunomorus is the latinized name of Cynvawr, King of Cornwall, who Nennius in the 9th century along with another Welsh poem writes as being the same as Mark of Arthurian legend. Mark in Arthurian legend is the father or uncle of Tristan, and cousin of King Arthur.

Historically speaking, it is nigh on impossible to prove or disprove this level of legend from the post-Romano-British period, but it is accepted that Drunstanus is feasibly the source of the tale of Tristan that has then, of course, been heavily embellished over time. The embellishments themselves are now in deepest antiquity for us, so the spin added by Chretien de Troyes et al. is just as difficult to reconstruct.

There are quite a few sites on the Web now devoted to antiquarianism of the megalithic kind. This modern interest mainly stems from the researchings of Alfred Watkins, a landscape photographer who was the first to discover the phenomenon of ley lines. Ley lines are still dismissed by many as a statistical phenomenon, and the new age mythos that has accrued round the subject tends to get it labelled as a pseudoscience. Whatever the case, the humble origins of Watkins's studies are more along the lines of traditional antiquarianism.

Watkins was, as mentioned, a pioneering photographer and also an amateur archaeologist. His first publications of the ley line phenomena such as Early British Trackways were very much focussed around the possibility that the lines were simply a left-over of ancient trading routes, and he did several etymological investigations of place names along the leys to suggest that there were traces of the types of produce traded left over in the place names.

My taxonomy for antiquarians is that they fall into three categories. The quack, the amateur, and the professional. Though obviously we all pander to the professional as being the authoritative source on all matters historical, there are still, it seems, a higher ratio of things for the amateur to be involved in in the field of history than there are in, say, philosophy or computer science. There's more archival material than people to sift through it, and the amount of local historical groups dedicated to things such as the etymology of place names is heartening: people are always interested in their own local histories, but not so much the histories of anywhere else, so it is left to the local to research the history of their house, their street, and sometimes even their own town.

I like to consider myself an amateur, though I might one day seek to be a professional. I'm probably, in fact, more of a beginner given that I'm not associated with any local or national organizations, such as the English Place Name Society, and the extent of my research is a little light online reading about the post-Romano-British and Elizabethan/Jacobean periods.

Perhaps we could do with a chirpy ragtime anthem. Entertainers have one, so why shouldn't Antiquarians?

Cite: Palmer, S.B. (2005). "The Antiquarian", in: What Planet is This?
Archival URI: http://inamidst.com/notes/antiquarian


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