Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reinventing the Wall


Back in prehistory there were many attempts by early stone age enthusiasts at creating something close to what we now know as the archetypal 'dry stone wall'. Prototypes were dreamt up and built long before they even learned how to make fire. 

These random stone piles were balanced every which way. The contours and the various 'wall' shapes were probably all over the map. Who knows what the early versions might have looked like? They may have been inverted triangles, spheres, cones, hourglass shapes, skeletal-like or perhaps rainbow shapes. They didn't really know what they were building or why. They were just enjoying building things with stone. 

Somewhere along the line a singular design began to prevail and they decided to give a name to this generic loop shape which everybody was building. They called it a dry stone 'weel'.  And not long after they came up with that name, certain more developed neanderthals imposed regulations on how weels should be built and who should be allowed to stack them and what exactly they had to look like. 

(Above, is an archaeologist's scaled-down 'model' of what an early stone weel might have looked like)

But it was thousands of years later that the thing we now know as the wall actually got reinvented.

It was a good thing too because by this time the old weel was an unnecessarily difficult shape to build, but more importantly, someone had already stolen the name , albeit changed the spelling slightly to 'wheel' (but pronounced the same) for something they were experimenting on with large flagstone slabs to make them easier to drag around. (The revolutionary single-stone 'wheel' was a clever departure and a more useful application of stone than what the weelers had been drearily making for years ) As you can imagine, the old guard were not a little put out by having the name they had come up with years ago taken to mean something completely different. After much bickering they finally agreed amongst themselves to change the name of what they had been making and the shape of it, so that people in future generations wouldn't be confused.

History takes takes some strange twists and so we shouldn't be surprised by the irony that the name they came up with was a very similar sounding word. As you can imagine, there was a lot of confusion at first, but eventually most people agreed that everything had probably turned out for the better, especially as the old ring-shaped structures started disappearing from the landscape and the dry stone 'wall' began to take on the familiar shape that we associate with the word today.

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