Sunday, 1 April 2012

Time for a Sea Serpent Sculpture?

New archaeological evidence, published last month, suggests that there may be more to local legends about sea serpent worship than we previously thought. The original discoveries are detailed in Skelmorlie : The Story of The Parish Consisting of Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay (Walter Smart).

In Skelmorlie is one of the most remarkable antiquities in Scotland a ‘Serpent Mound’, supposed to have been used by the  ancient Britons in the worship of the Sun and the Serpent, and other religious rites. The head of the Serpent lies behind Brigend House and the ridge forming the body is now severed by the road running up the hill at Meigle. In the 1870’s Dr. Phen√© of Chelsea made some interesting excavations, discovering a paved platform some 80 feet long, and evidence of early cremations. The details were fully reported in the Glasgow Herald and the Scotsman at the time and there are specimens in the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow.

Recent examination of the pieces at Kelvingrove confirms that they are indeed burned human bones, something which was always disputed about Phene's original findings. Artefacts found at the Kempock Stone during similar excavations in the 19th Century are now also due to be tested alongside items found during the controversial excavations at Langbank, recently rediscovered at the National Museum Edinburgh. It is suggested that dating of the artefacts and remains will show them to be contemporary, and that the strange serpentlike drawings uncovered on stones at Langbank are linked to the "serpent mound" at Skelmorlie, via some sort of celtic river or serpent worship cult.

Sadly at this point no one has discovered any evidence of a big monster in the river. But of course there is certainly plenty of myth and legend linked to serpents and the West of Scotland, believed by many to be largely due to our links with Ireland. Certainly we have our own "Saint banishing serpent" legend for the area, and of course the washing up of the mysterious "Gourock monster" at Cardwell Bay during the Second World War.

The discovery has prompted local calls for a sculpture of the beast to be sited somewhere on the riverside, with space adjacent to Newark Castle, or locations at Cardwell Bay or Lunderston Bay being suggested.An online petition to pledge support to the potential sculpture has been set up.

Public art is itself a strange beast, wee Annie Kempock seems very popular, debate is still raging on the Endeavour sculpture up the Port, and its largely safe to say no one is altogether fussed about Ginger the traditional Greenock Arabian Stallion carthorse. We still think we've missed a trick on a Captain Kidd statue. But I'm happy to pledge support to this one...though I think the good people of Skelmorlie might have something to say about it...but who doesn't like sea serpents? Apart from sailors obviously.

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