Whirling and twirling, the dance of life goes on

Flashing past the Wiltshire village of Fyfield on the old A4 just west of Marlborough, I knew not that  Fyfield down has “the best assemblage of sarsen stones in England, known as the Grey Wethers” (Wiki). Now I know that a sarsen stone is a silicified sandstone block, naturally occurring, favoured by the ancients for the monumental, and called “ sarsen” in Wiltshire dialect from “saracen”, used in Europe to denote folk of the Islamic faith who opposed the crusades. According to the shorter Oxford, the word came to denote any pagan and hence its application to the stones used by the ancient Britons, dimly illuminated and exotic.

It’s given though as sixteenth century, which seems very late to stimulate dialectal usage linked to the crusades, but it can, of course, have kept its head down, crept through the undergrowth of communication, without attracting attention. Knowledge I’m glad to have, gazing soulfully at the downs on my way to take the waters at Bath for my gout.

The ancient also made its presence felt with “polissoir”, a polishing stone or whetstone, dismissed by my inexperienced eye as old stone but in fact not just stone but an artefact with a polished indent where the ancients have sharpened their tools. One such 5,000 year old polissoir has recently been discovered in Dorset. Why the French name I don’t know, presumably some French academic grappling with the grooves in the dawn of science.

And another link with Islam, a reference to Ishmael and learning that he was Abraham’s first son and an important prophet in Islam. Abraham’s other children were Nebaioth, Basemath, Kedar, Mishma, Adbeel, Mibsam, Jetur, Kedemah, Naphish, Tema, Dumah, Hadad and Massa. A fine collection of names. I should like to go through the Dorset church registers and make a note of all the more unusual biblical names used for naming children, although I can’t recall having seen the above.

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