The Rocks of Inis Mor

TEAM FIRE visited Inis Mor the other day. I asked to be taken to see the following: (1) a castle (2) an irish pub (3) a cliff by the sea (4) ROCKS; the first three were easy to find and on the last item, George exceeded himself by deciding to take us to Galway and then to THE ARAN ISLANDS! Galway on its own deserves a whole post to itself but the Aran Islands was completely unreal. Picturesque, completely isolated, harsh weather and extremely beautiful terrain, the island of Inis Mor was apparently the model for Father Ted’s Craggy Island, and also the star of the documentary Man of Aran. We were to stay at a cottage that had been built for the filming of this fictional documentary about life on the islands, which had apparently represented a kind of traditional rural irish lifestyle, now lost in time…

To begin, the ferry ride was already something out of a storybook. One unaccustomed to the seas might be compelled to write home immediately after experiencing the life-changing highs and lows of the ferry from Rossaveal to Inis Mor. Seemingly death-defying, stomach-churning multi-storey heaves and drops over ridiculously high rolling waves of the Atlantic, at some points actually eliciting involuntary high-pitched screams from tourists onboard, clutching the armrests of their seats with white knuckles. With each roll, the horizon would completely disappear and reappear from view. We had already taken the largest ferry, a 400 seater, as we were told that the smaller ferries would not sail on days with poor weather. Indeed I’d imagine a smaller boat being easily swallowed by the waves. Having sat on a fair number of boats in my time but only in the relatively sheltered waters of Singapore, this kind of extreme sea-crossing was something I had never witnessed before.

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After some confusion and having to call for help to get a taxi after we wandered away from the pier (into what we realised was a completely sleepy town) – we were eventually received with much hospitality at the Man of Aran Cottage by Joe and Moira. We read that the cottage had been built for the documentary “Man of Aran”, hence its moniker. It is curious to think that it was probably built with the intentions of making it seem as authentic as possible, but now some 80 years on this house seemed as ancient as the others, perched on this unlikely point of the island.


The cottage is situated a fair distance from the “main town” area and this also meant there was absolutely nothing around us at night. The nearest shop (a SPAR, which closes at 6pm) and pub (Joe Watty’s) are close to the port, whereas the Man of Aran is located at the centre of the island, close to the fort. But in the morning, the view from the Man of Aran Cottage is fantastically spectacular. You know like when you hear the frightfully loud sound of a heavy wind whistling on the window when you sit in your city flats and pretend you’re far out in the wilderness? WELL PRETEND NO MORE! This is the real thing.

We were fortunate to have met Andrew at the Man of Aran Cottage; another guest at the Man of Aran at the time. He had spent almost a year on the island back in the 60s, and had penned a book about his experiences in a book, “An Aran Keening”. (We later went down to the bookstores in Galway and tried to find it). He was very kind to show us the way to the Pool na Bpeist or Pool of Serpents, and as we walked there I realised it was very very fortunate that he brought us there the way he did, for we would never have found it otherwise, and the approach he took was very much better.

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For the most part, it is simply covered in this endless face of rock, cracking at the surface. Most of the rock is patterned in bold grykes. The rock itself is similar to that of the limestone at the Burren across the ocean; Burren from “Boireann” which means “a rocky place”.

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Rocks

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Glacial Erratics
Glacial erratics are rocks which do not belong to the rest of the rock below it and is thought to have been deposited on top of the surface when they were carried on a giant iceberg that floated over the rest of this island during the ice age. Then when the ice melted these large odd stones were deposited on top.

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Another glacial erratic

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Green moss on Glacial erratic
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The plants that lived in the environment were also incredible. You would see these lovely little plants everywhere, growing between the cracks in this almost inhospitable environment and they would look so downy and soft and inviting but if you ever tried to peel one off you would discover they were ROCK SOLID. Tough as nails! Impenetrable! Unchewable! Teeth-breaking! Not to say I tried to chew them but attempting to dislodge a tiny corner of it was more like trying to chew on a car tire.

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We were buffeted by strong gusts of wind, fit to blow a person off the cliff face, so we were sometimes crawling slowly towards the edge; creeping over the wet rocks of Aran, over an endless maze of low stone walls, endless landscape of nothing but craggy rock.

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This is the Pool of Serpents (Poll na bpeist), a naturally formed geological feature which looks like a rectangular olympic sized swimming pool. Although this is not evident in the picture, as the winds were high (and we so unaccustomed to walking on wet rocks) we were terrified walking so close to the edge…

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Dun Aonghasa can be seen at the top of this cliff. It is the one of the most important prehistoric forts on the island and a UNESCO world heritage site. It is basically a very very old fort that is thought to have been used since 1100 BCE.

We also discovered that an entrance fee was actually being charged for people entering Dun Aonghasa, but the point at which they charged travellers was down below. But because we had come from a more ‘extreme’ walk along the rocks and strong winds and then climbed over a low rock fence to get into a well-worn path covered with many tourists in hiking gear, we slipped through without passing that checkpoint. I find that it is a very curious thing to fence up all the rocks and set opening and closing times – we saw the same thing being practiced at Stonehenge. It is baffling because I think me and George operate more along the lines of the “let’s walk in this direction until we find the rock” sort of manner, without care of the “opening or closing time of the tourist attraction”. The rocks on this touristic path were rubbed smooth and very hard to walk on, unlike the rough rocks of the rest of the island.

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Dun Aonghasa

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The view from Dun Aonghasa

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Finally I wanted to add that we found a large rock that had been intentionally placed on the road to stop cars from driving down it as it is used by children frequently. Not a glacial erratic, but I love how it has been placed there with a purpose, on a road. How lovely, to imagine a place where they put a rock to block up the road so that cars won’t drive up and down it, so that people can walk on it freely!


I’ll stop here for now but… NEXT UP: The plants and wildlife of Inis Mor!

Very-nearly but Not-visiting Stonehenge

TEAM FIRE not-visited Stonehenge on a day trip the other day. We took a train from London Waterloo to Salisbury (around £36 return), then the X5 bus (£6.40 for day return) from Salisbury to Amesbury, and then walked from Amesbury and almost got to Stonehenge. This is an account of the non-visit to Stonehenge.

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Salisbury


Salisbury and Amesbury both look very pleasant, amply catering to the tourism in the area. Hippy daytrippers and tourists with big cameras. Quaint cafes and people having their all day full english breakfast. We walked from the train station to a bus terminal a short distance away to take the X5 to Amesbury which was a little bit up north. From there our plan was to walk up to the highway and then to the left until we hit Stonehenge.

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Stonehenge Road in Amesbury

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This way to Stonehenge…

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Crossing the river Avon on Queensberry Bridge which was built in 1775. The river brings water to the area and is thought to have been used to transport stone for Stonehenge.

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This strange cow was staring at us. So we stared back at it.

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There was a dead bird on the road.

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I was very amused by these flowers growing everywhere. They seem to be some sort of wild orchid, but I had never seen such flowers before.

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A small ladybug hitched a ride on George’s pant leg whilst we had stooped down to look at the orchids. It must have taken a yen to George’s trousers, because it could not be detached initially, causing some trauma as I didn’t know how to remove it without hurting it.

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Another ladybug having a crawl on George’s hand.

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We found another strange sight – a snail on another snail on a poppy flower?

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The dandelions got more and more massive. They were even… crunchy? Made a raspy sound, they were so big.

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The road was just ridiculously long.

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Finally, Stonehenge came into view from the distance.

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The approach by foot to Stonehenge via Amesbury does not lead you to a proper entrance, but rather a sheep gate. Basically they’ve built a massive fence around Stonehenge. Another important discovery we made as we finally got there at 6.30pm was that Stonehenge closes at 6pm. You must be thinking, how can Stonehenge close at 6pm, well before the sun sets? Well it does. It just does. I find it completely absurd that such a policy should stand. Its still there but someone says its shut at 6pm. It doesn’t mean you can’t walk up to Stonehenge or see it behind the fence, but the security won’t let you in, and attracted by us disturbing the sheep and walking up to fence, the security gravitated to us, as we pressed our sticky hands and faces between the gaps in the the human-sized fence.

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We also bumped into some other eastern-european-sounding tourists trying to get in but also had been turned away.

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Eventually I turned my attentions to chasing sheep. Unfortunately, sheep seem to be engineered to run away from people. So I did not get to touch any sheep.

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And so that was how we not-visited Stonehenge, yet there it is, behind the construction sign…

The Chert of Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River

I must confess that I had not thought much about the chert of Southeast Asia until now. Is there a lot of chert in Southeast Asia? I don’t really know firsthand. Most of the accessible beaches of Singapore are artificial and made of recent sand depositions from other places, and there are no points at which I can simply casually wade in and around the gravel of the Singapore River – much unlike the Thames in London, which has many wide banks upon which one can wander about without disturbance. I have, on past occasions, observed the proliferation of chert in the River Thames, and also, the endless amounts of chert/flint on Lyme Bay. So, what sort of rock is to be found in the rivers of Southeast Asia then?

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Chert/Flint with cute echinoid in Natural History Museum, London

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Chert/Flint on River Thames (London, 2012)

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Chert/Flint on Lyme Bay (Jurassic Coast, 2012)
To be honest, to this day I still feel that my definition of “chert” is a bit fuzzy, despite having several encounters with chert and having read up on chert before. I do know at very least that Chert is formed by the recrystallization of siliceous skeletons of marine animals into microcrystalline sedimentary rock. From what I have read so far on it, I’m going to just take it to be a more inclusive term for most of the microcrystalline quartz or silica. And as from what I saw and read at the Natural History Museum in London, flint refers to the chert commonly found in chalk or limestone…

From Wikipedia: “There is much confusion concerning the exact meanings and differences among the terms “chert”, “chalcedony” and “flint” (as well as their numerous varieties). In petrology the term “chert” is used to refer generally to all rocks composed primarily of microcrystalline, cryptocrystalline and microfibrous quartz. The term does not include quartzite. Chalcedony is a microfibrous (microcrystaline with a fibrous structure) variety of quartz.

Strictly speaking, the term “flint” is reserved for varieties of chert which occur in chalk and marly limestone formations. Among non-geologists (in particular among archaeologists), the distinction between “flint” and “chert” is often one of quality – chert being lower quality than flint. This usage of the terminology is prevalent in America and is likely caused by early immigrants who imported the terms from England where most true flint (that found in chalk formations) was indeed of better quality than “common chert” (from limestone formations).

Among petrologists, chalcedony is sometimes considered separately from chert due to its fibrous structure. Since many cherts contain both microcrystaline and microfibrous quartz, it is sometimes difficult to classify a rock as completely chalcedony, thus its general inclusion as a variety of chert.”

I am fed up with local people having the name “Chert”, thus foiling my attempts to investigate whether Chert rock naturally occurs in this region. Anyway, the reason why I am wondering whether there is a lot of chert in the Singapore River is because of this chert specimen in the Singapore River. Knowing that some of the slate comes from the UK, I realised I had never seen THE CHERT OF SINGAPORE in person before, although I have many Chert specimens from the UK, so I wondered if this chert rock had actually come from elsewhere….

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Chert rescued from Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River
How do we tell this is “chert”? Largely because of its “waxy luster” and conchoidal fractures, which produce a sharp edge. Brittle materials such as chert have this quality, allowing it to be shaped into knives and tools.

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Conchoidal fractures

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Waxy Luster
Today I was very fortunate to be able to spend a few hours at the Archaeology Lab at NUS, where I attempted to do a preliminary photoshoot of certain artefacts from Pulau Saigon, and began running some shots through Autodesk’s 123d Catch in order to produce 3d models of some of the objects. Thank you to John Miksic and Goh Geok Yian for letting me occupy their pantry for the entire day and sharing with me about their work. It will take me some time to process all the information captured today, but you can expect more posts on the topic in coming weeks… (They always need more committed and responsible volunteers at their lab to help them sift through, sort through, and wash material, so if you’re interested in archaeology in Singapore and are available to volunteer your time on Fridays between 10-5pm, leave me a note and I will pass your contact on to them.)

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Pulau Saigon (PSG) Stone and Rocks

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Crates

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Earthenware

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14th C Stoneware

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European Porcelain


Oh and another strange thing that happened is that I encountered the word “Diatomaceous” twice within one hour today. Whilst reading the comments to an instructable about building a solar food dryer to find out if others were worried about insects getting into their solar food dryer, I discovered a comment suggesting that “Diatomaceous earth” be scattered because its tiny, light yet highly abrasive nature makes it suitable as a mechanical insecticide, making it unpleasant for tiny ants to walk upon – basically getting inbetween their tiny exoskeleton joints and absorbing lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects’ exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate from the inside out rather quickly, leading to the death of the insects. A few minutes later I read that chert occurs in diatomaceous deposits and that kind of chert is known as diatomaceous chert. The word diatomaceous refers to diatoms, which consist of tiny microscopic marine phytoplankton, along with their fossils…

Which brings me to…. MICROPALEONTOLOGY, and the study of microfossils! Anything that you can study with the naked eye is probably considered a macrofossil. Micropaleontology is surely a field of study that is after my heart. A micropaleontologist might typically be a specialists in one or more taxonomic groups because it is something that requires so much specialisation to study the fossils of tiny tiny creatures. Speaking of tiny things, this reminds me of micrometeorites. And subsequently… astrogeology. I think this week if you asked me what is my dream job might be, it might be to study to become a micropaleontologist or an astrogeologist. Yeah, I can dream, can’t I?


See also:

The Mineral collection at the Natural History Museum, and Flint Nodules along the River Thames
Bone, Metal, Wood, and Other Artefacts found on Pulau Saigon
Made-up Road Names and Temporary Islands
Ruins in Reverse

Secret Compartment Rocks

Speaking of rocks, I saw some rather interesting rocks in Pompei. Obviously, we went to see a lot of rocks in Italy, especially what with all these ruins and archaeological sites. But sometimes what you need is just a little rock camouflage.

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Soundbox Rock (at Il Principe, a restaurant in Pompei)

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Powerplug Rock (at Pompei Scavi)
Yeah, I am thinking I should investigate further on how to hide things inside rocks or make secret compartments inside rocks…


See also:

A Presentation of Ethnographic Fragments (Aliwal Street, 25 August 2012)

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Lee Wen addressing the crowd
The Collection and Exchange of Ethnographic Fragments travelled to Aliwal Street the other day, under the invitation of the Independent Archive & Resource Centre. This is an independent archive of materials and documentations of visual arts, performance arts, and other events, and some may also remember this archive previously being at the Singapore Art Museum. It has found its new (temporary) home at Lee Wen’s new place, where we had a kind of “soft launch” or private event to introduce it to people.

About the Independent Archive: “The independent Archive and Resource Centre (working name), is intended to be developed as a professional archive of visual art practices and other cultural manifestations in Singapore. The focus of the archive, especially at its initial stage, is art practices that benefit from archival support — such as visual art practices that are ephemeral, time-based, event and/or specific or that may not be conserved in conventional institutional environments or practices.

A project proposed by Lee Wen, June Yap, Kai Lam, Jason Lee, Hafiz Nasir, Koh Nguang How with the assistance and collaborations of various artists, cultural workers and friends. Many serious minded colleagues of repute and note, younger ones of intense enthusiasm and courageous energies, famed and unknown spirits of inspired momentary wisdom, even dissenting doubters of authentic integrity have contributed to our destined desire in setting up the independent archive and resource centre.

We who prefer to appreciate art in the essences of meaning, values, ethics, aesthetics, whether unilaterally or multilaterally propagated beyond our subscription to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, calls for an independent archive for reflection, review and research what we have done, what we do today.”

We aim to serve: The maintenance of an archive and resource centre open to the public an access to these materials.

The project is research-driven, to facilitate access to significant art materials (documentation, objects, images, correspondence, etc) and the production of critical discourse that interprets and creates forms of mediation of the archived materials.

The archive is to be open to the public. However its key audience are students, institutions, researchers, curators, artists and academics for further academic, artistic and historical production, that in turn will also be archived, thus expanding the knowledge-base on performance practice and history in Singapore and the region.

The development of the archive and resource centre requires the building of a sound foundation in archival practice. The infrastructure of such an archive and resource centre — and in this, its key value — lies in building an environment and set of practices where these artworks can be reliably and securely archived. Such an infrastructure includes: archival venue with climate-controlled storage, technical facilities for the transfer, backup and editing, indexing, cataloguing and referencing, as well as the development of public access frameworks and channels.

Under the backdrop of this great archive (of which I have found great use for, to watch video documentations of ephemera and performances), the fragments were here for a show and tell.

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I gave a talk on the Singapore Psychogeographical Society and its various independent archives.

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This was followed by a conversation with the rocks (ie: Lee Wen investigating the sounds the rocks would make with a guitar). And following that, it was an evening of improvisations and jams with Jordan Rais, Reef, Kai Lam, Rahman, Dennis, and many others who had come down that night.

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Many thanks to Lee Wen for his amazing archive and for hosting this, and Mike for helping to organise all this and helping with the logistics of all the rock moving! If anyone is interested in getting involved with the Independent Archive & Resource Centre, they are always looking for people, so please get in touch with them.

For more images, see the [Flickr Set]