One thousand stones

What is the future of the past ?

Erme Valley Row. Photo: Dartmoor Trust Achive
Photo: Dartmoor Trust Archive

In September 2022 we started One Thousand Stones, a durational artwork which will take several years to complete, involving the individual portrayal in drawing and writing of one thousand of the visible and invisible stones that make up the Upper Erme Valley stone row, the longest in the world.

The row is over 2.25 miles long and made up of at least 922 stones with many more buried, scattered, removed. Briefly domesticated 4,000 years ago these 280 million year old granite boulders were hauled from the river valley below. They started becoming feral as soon as they were placed – lichenous, rotting, dispersing, buried, becoming china clay, becoming geological again.

The resulting artwork will be 1.5 kilometres of drawing and writing, but is more a meditation on time than distance:

“There is the time of the upwelling of the granite, the time of the row’s laying out, the time of its connection to the sky, the seasons, the solstices and the harvests. There is the time of peat, the time of lichen, our time of conservation and the time of the erosion of stone, disintegration, sedimentation and subduction.”

Upper Erme Valley Stone Row Type: Single; Length: 3,386m; No. of stones: 922; Size of stones: Small, medium and large; Orientation: 1° Altitude: 474m; Upper end: Cairn; Lower end: Cairn; Straight (Yes or No): No; Sea View: Yes; Context: Cairns and prehistoric settlements; Notes: Longest row in Great Britain; Other Information; Public Access: Yes; Land Status: National Park; Scheduled Ancient Monument: Yes; Category: Plausible. No substantiated doubts have been expressed regarding the prehistoric interpretation of this row; Type: S12 long single rows composed of 10 or more different sized stones. Extract from The Stone Rows of Great Britain.

There is a tradition that every time the row is counted there are a different number of stones. However nine hundred and twenty two stones, above and below the surface, were recorded in a GPS survey of the Upper Erme Valley Row by archaeologists Sandy Gerrard & Dave Parks on 24th July 2020. Five hundred and forty seven stones were recorded in a visual survey by lithicality on 28th September 2022. The others, and many more besides, are covered in vegetation, buried in the black peat, gradually dispersing underground over four thousand years– stone above and anti-stone below. Anti-stones are currently hidden, cannot be excavated and so must be extrapolated, must be dreamt.

One Thousand Stones will be made up of five hundred and forty seven drawings of stones and four hundred and fifty three dreams of the anti-stones, drawn and written.