Layers in the Landscape...
..Deep Mapping in Cardigan Bay
"According to quantum physics, you cannot ‘just’ observe something….to make an observation you must interact with the object you are observing.” (Hawkins, S. 2010, p.80).
Stories about rising sea levels, flooding and the drowning of coastal settlement are interpreted by the popular media to be disasters which place our coastal communities under stress. Our interactions with these events are therefore coloured both by this sense of dramatic doom and by the discipline through which we are engaged. Nowhere is the evidence for this more visually apparent than in the submerged forests and peats which border the coastline of West Wales. Often these forests are lost beneath our beaches, generally appearing only periodically after storms. These storms create a context of chaos with which the forests are then associated.
We propose that the regular rebirth of these submerged trees through the challenges of flooding and erosion offers opportunities to observe such events through a wide angle perspective that sees past the chaos. Utilizing a range of experts in diverse fields from within science, humanities and the arts we have combined to form a new understanding regarding the interplay of flooding facts and fictions through the layering of time. Our interactions with one another were in shared transparency as we learned from one another’s expertise, presenting our culmative observations in an interdisciplinary format that weaves the various layers into one cohesive, video narrative - one that focuses not upon the normative product; but on process.
This process comes under the remit of deep mapping, where disparate narratives are unified within a single platform. They do not dissolve into one another; but rather, they harmonize and polyphonize - they build up layers in and of the landscape into a palimpsest of experiential conversation.
This deep mapping project grew out of my earlier work on the deluge myths of submerged forests in West Wales, which in turn, come from my undergraduate research into the realism of stories and places in the Mabinogi.
From Bendigeidfran to Seithennin the characters have been as varied as the weather, the ales seeped in Medieval understanding and yet still living in today's society; geomyths speaking across centuries.
We were financially supported in this endeavour by the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF), with six of us in the team, under the umbrella of the University of Wales, Trinity Saint Davids (UWTSD). The ISRF specializes in funding social science projects that don't adhere to the usual pattern of things, with a particular emphasis upon interdisciplinary thinking. They were unafraid to break new ground or to examine the whys and hows of doing, as oppose to being hung up on forcing action into a predetermined direction.
We began with the submerged forest at Borth, where the most well known tales are still being told and the science shows itself to locals and visitors alike.
We discussed the animal hoofprints, the peat and clay. We heard about Cantre'r Gwaelod and divers with glass wetsuits.
We drew and painted, filmed and photographed, dug and huddled against the wind. It rapidly became apparent that despite our diverse disciplines (phililogy, philosophy, art, music, literature, geology, quaternary science, heritage), we all began our thinking in the same way: with pictures.
Between our first fieldwork day as a team and our second, a discovery was made, right where we had been stood filming that freezing cold Spring afternoon. The discovery was a set of deer antlers in the swirling sediments of Borth beach. Spotted by Julien Culham and Sharon Davies-Culham, the find was reported to the correct authorities and eventually located under the hungry sand once more by Dr Martin Bates, seen here pictured with them. They are dated to the Bronze Age.
Thus when we all met again, this time a little further south at Tan-y-Bwlch, we had a collective focus; the Imperial Stag, a Bronze Age king who had been sleeping beneath our feet from before the beginning.
Dr.Maria Hayes and Peter Stevenson drew the antlers as passers by stopped passing and came to talk, becoming involved in our evolving narrative.
Meanwhile we also augered, dug a test pit and took samples to understand how the sea's influence waxed and waned over the site.
Whilst we did this Peter asked questions and sketched the work as it unfolded, beneath the consistent gaze of Jake's camera.
The cores and monoliths were taken back to the laboratory
Peter also drew a story line in ink, with pictures for titles; a linear map of folktales leading along the coast.
The monoliths were cleaned, recorded and sampled for any plant or animal remains.
This story line resembled a Crankie and became the inspiration for a piece of artwork that he and Maria later created together, observed by Jake's lens. It drew from a geoscience timeline that Martin had made, upon songs and medieval literature, languages and artefacts. It took the myth, King of the Sea Trees, and breathed dancing paint into the narrative of Cardigan Bay.
Now we are in the final stages of completing the short film which has recorded our journey through time and sediments, personalities and disciplines, languages and literature. A deep map is not a destination, it is not even a direction, it is an amalgamation of all that can be said about a space, a place; like the sea, it is constantly coming-into-being.
In November 2016 I took the making of 'Layers' to John Moore's in Liverpool as part of a symposium on transmedial storymaking through participatory culture .
Then, in December I showed a draft version of the film at TAG'16 and on March 10th 2017 the finished version will have its first airing at Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival , in sight of the bay of (for?) which it speaks. Book your tickets soon, that promises to be a legendary weekend...
And from the storms
In this bay a new tale goes, that The King of the Sea Trees,
Once a keeper here before the forest was submerged,
Doth in the spring time, when tides are low,
Walk ‘round about the ruined oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he tends the trees and fairy cattle
And makes dry the flood and cuts a drain
In a most considerate and patient manner.
You may not have heard of such a spirit, but now you know
The land has born a myth
Received and delivered in our age!
Although he is older than the King of Longshank’s woe and wears many a layer,
If we listen, close as thieves,
We may yet hear his voice, calling above the waves…
On March 1oth, 2o17, the final draft of our film was aired for the first time during Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival. Since then, it has to be shown at the following places:
Germany, at the Open International Workshop (Geoscience), held by Christian Albrechts University, Kiel – requested as part of a panel on Memory. March 22nd 2017.
Jersey, requested as part of fieldwork for Birkbeck students (Archaeology). March 30th 2017.
Wales, at a meeting of the Taliesin Historical Society, 25th April 2017 (Local History).
Canada, at the intercongress for anthropology held by CASCA/IUAES at the University of Ottawa. Requested as part of a panel on innovative methodologies across the ontological turn (Anthropology and Social Science). May 4th 2017. This has led to another publication being commissioned, by the Max Plank Institute.
Wales, at a meeting of the Aeron Valley Vintage Society, 17th May 2017 (General Public).
Wales, at the INTMATE conference in Aberystwyth University, 6-9th June 2017 (http://intimate.nbi.ku.dk/) (Sci-Art/Deep Mapping).
Amsterdam, in exhibition for the ISRF Workshop, June 21st 2017 (Social Science).
Ireland, in exhibition for a conference on Peatlands at University College Cork, July 7th 2017. This will include a paper on the science poetry which bookends the film (Art’chaeology). Scotland, at the Orkney International Science Festival, September 7-13th 2017 (Geoscience).
England, in a Seminar Series talk to doctoral candidates by invitation of York University, Autumn Semester (Education).
Wales, at Archaeology Day in Aberystwyth, 17th March 2018.
IGW workshop on engaging with peatlands, Bradford University, 26th March 2018.
Lampeter's Custard Queens (WI), 12th May 2018.
Over the summer of 2017 Layers in the Landscape had an exhibition at Borth Station Museum. In only two months we had over 3,000 visitors, many of whom had come especially to see the display. Further information can be found about this here:
We currently also have an exhibition running at the Old College in Lampeter (SA48 7ED), you can find out a bit more about that here:
There are also academic publications pending (these things don't happen quickly...) and a current exhibition at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's Lampeter campus - featuring the antlers, poem, Seithennin translation, stratigraphic sequence, deep time and responses from an earlier exhibition - plus, of course, the film itself. Which you can now view online, here:
If you wish to use this film, engage us for a workshop/walk/performance/lecture or be involved in developing new layers to the deep map of Cardigan Bay, then please do get in touch at: We are also looking in particular for more students and educators - and are open to suggestion!
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