Saturday, December 31, 2016

blue beads

                           Blue Beads

         mismatched and mysterious
     a sea bead from a midnight pool
     a sky bead strung with music of the air
         played on the lyre of wind-whipped trees

     twin notes of evensong caught in glass
         or two wild sloes
             demure Madonna blue

      intriguing as Ile Agois’ cragged slope
          where they were discarded
          then no one’s
              now pinned here to charm us

This poem was written as part of a 2016 project by Jersey Heritage, in association with Jersey Festival of Words, when 25 local writers were asked to write a label for an object in the Jersey Museum, with a limit of 60 words.  
I walked towards Ile Agois one very blustery day in January to get as close as possible to where the beads were found - thought to once be an early Christian monastic site. I got a great sense of how challenging it would have been to live there - including for the valiant members of the Société Jersiaise Archaeology Section who climbed and camped there to dig and investigate the site, and who found the blue beads.

The Ile Agois is a tidal stack which lies off the north coast of Jersey in the Parish
of St Mary. Although at one time a part of the headland which encloses Crabbe Bay on
its eastern side, it is now separated from the mainland by a narrow gorge 12m wide. The
island rises to a height of 76m above sea level and has an area of 417 square m. Three
of its sides are sheer but the fourth, the south-western, slopes steeply down to the sea.
A loose, black acidic soil overlies the bedrock which is comprised of two granite types, a
coarse and a fine grained, intersected by numerous small dykes. A dense growth of
blackthorn covers much of the upper surface of the island. Access to the Ile Agois is
difficult and may be gained only at low tide by descending the coastal cliff, crossing the
rocky beach and climbing the south-west face...

...Two beads were discovered in association with a lense of charcoal...
...near the base of the north end of the west wall to Hut 1.
The beads are of blue opaque glass, and are drum shaped with fluted edges. They
measure 5mm in height by 2mm in circumference. The perforation, which is very fine, is
through the long axis of the beads.
They conform to no known parallels of pre-historic or Roman beads. Neither do
they closely resemble Anglo-Saxon types except perhaps those recovered from late-Pagan
Saxon burials of the pre-seventh century.

Margaret Finlaison & Philip Holdsworth - Excavations on the Ile Agois, Jersey ABSJ Vol 22 1979

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