Monday, 19 January 2015
assemblage at the BM
Goddess (registration no. 1959,0712B.96) and phallus (1959,0712B.97) from Grime's Graves
These two objects were found by A. L. Armstrong during his excavations at Grime's Graves in the late 1930s. The first to be discovered was the goddess, upright on a pedestal of flat chalk slabs near an original platform of closely packed blocks of mined flint, the apex of which pointed to the figure. On this were several antler picks and at its base a small, well-made chalk cup. Nearby were the chalk phallus and three natural flint nodules, arranged, according to Armstrong, 'in the form of a phallus'. The lack of any close parallels from other Neolithic sites has led some to doubt the authenticity of these pieces.
Indeed, it was rumoured at the time of discovery that they had been planted in order to fool Armstrong. It is unlikely that their status will finally be settled until similar objects are found elsewhere, or someone writes their memoirs.
During the inter-war years a number of individuals, particularly Leslie Armstrong, continued to try to find evidence for a Palaeolithic date, even after publication of the 1933 paper written by Clark and Piggott which conclusively demonstrated the Neolithic date of flint mining.
Armstrong's work at Grimes Graves reached its climax when he excavated Pit 15 between 1937 and 1939. This shaft was relatively shallow - the 'floorstone' was encountered at a depth of 6m - and nine galleries radiated out from the base of the shaft.
The excavation of this flint mine was one of the most controversial at Grimes Graves, particularly because of the discovery of the famous chalk 'goddess'. This carved figurine appeared to offer belated support for a Palaeolithic origin for flint mining, a view that attracted few supporters by the 1930s. However, although this figurine echoed the style of Palaeolithic carvings, it was greeted with scepticism - as were the Palaeolithic-style etchings found in 1921 - as the weight of evidence argued overwhelmingly for a Neolithic date.
Recently, the authenticity of the figurine has been questioned again, and there are strong grounds for believing that it was made during Armstrong's excavations by persons unknown, probably to deceive Armstrong. Armstrong held firmly to his belief in Palaeolithic mining - but this proved to be his last excavation at Grimes Graves.