Saturday, September 26, 2009

On hoards, hiding and history – a personal memory

Still on the discovery of the golden hoard: Reading the discoverer's (Terry Herbert, metal detectorist (thank you, Karen : ) thoughts reminded me of something quite amazing that happened in my childhood.

Mr Herbert tells in a BBC article that there is "… this phrase that I say sometimes; 'spirits of yesteryear take me where the coins appear' … 'I don't know why I said it that day but I think somebody was listening and directed me to it.' "

When I was about eight years old, in the late seventies, our family lived in Lappeenranta, a small, old military based town close to the Russian border in South-Eastern Finland. Lappeenranta was founded in 1649, and being a strategic spot between East and West bears a stormy and colourful history under both Swedish and Russian rules. Many of the town's old military structures are still intact, alongside the current base (which was still famous for its garrison with horse stables and the handsome cavalry when we were kids).

Part of the Lappeenranta fortress is built around an old church on a hill, on the edge of town. Our guide group used to get together at the basement there, and often also spent time on the surrounding grounds. One evening in the spring (I remember that leaves were just appearing in the trees then), there was still light and we were playing hide and seek in the dusk. I climbed down to one of the old trenches with cobblestone walls, 6 ft deep or so, labyrinthing around the park, and ran along the soft grassy bottom as far as I could. I must have done a good job hiding, as I waited there for a long while but no-one came.

Sitting there alone and quite happy, I thought about the soldiers and townspeople who had been huddling in the same shelters, and wondered if anyone had ever stopped on the same spot as I was now. All of a sudden – it really was a flash-like thought out of nowhere – something made me look at the stone wall I was leaning into; my hand lifted itself up and went directly into a little opening between two smallish, mossy rocks. There, at the back of the tiny cave, half-filled by sand and pebbles, I felt a rusty pile of metal. I pulled it out and saw six or seven very old keys bundled together!

I don't have a photo of the keys (they are not with me anymore), but they were the simplest type of old key, with one or two straight teeth at the end of an iron rod, and an oval with perhaps a little lip to hold them by. All of them had obviously been lying there for a long time as they were covered by a deep patina of brownish rust, some of them slightly etched, stuck, together.

So it still moves me to think that I happened to be at the exact place where someone, perhaps a hundred or more years ago, had stood and thought to hide their keys for a while. They had quickly scanned the stones and decided on a place, pushing the keys as far into the crack as they could. But they never came back … or maybe they forgot the exact location. I wondered for some time what to do with the bundle; we even spoke to my friend's mum who worked at a local museum, but eventually I just kept them, and played with them from time to time. However, I sometimes ponder, did I too somehow connect with a "spirit of a yesteryear" – was there something particular someone wanted me to do with the keys …?

Maybe I should attempt to forge one and see what happens. After all, while we're making, many of the tools and the processes still very much, strongly and vividly, proudly, connect us with the past, thus bringing it to our presence. Maybe that is the whole point, something to think about, that daily connection and what it means for us, and for those in the future who stumble upon our pieces.
Somehow, somewhere …

Some bits and pieces on the history of Lappeenranta fortress

PS. If anyone knows about the history of keys and how to date particular makes and materials, please let me know.

PS 2. I was wondering why I found the news about Terry and the recent gold hoard slightly comical (in a good way). And then I remembered: The Mildenhall Treasure by Roald Dahl, fantastic illustrations by Ralph Steadman (yes we're sure he only ever drank water : ) It's a true story about an English farmer who discoveres a treasure in his field.

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