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  • The Golden Ghost of Mold #2: Walter Johnson Debases Gold August 14, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern, Prehistoric , trackback

    folk memory

    Beach has frequently enjoyed before the power of oral transmission: information skipping across the centuries like a flat stone spun over a pond. Here is a supposed memory of oral transmission concerning the Golden Ghost tomb from Mold in northern Wales. This time the account comes from Walter Johnson’s Folk Memory and Archaeology (1907)

    A most astounding instance of the endurance of folk memory is related by Professor Boyd Dawkins. Near the town of Mold there was a cairn known as Bryn-yr-Ellyllon, ‘the hill of the fairy or goblin’. Country people averred that the spot was haunted by a ghost clad in golden armour, and that from time to time they had seen him enter his abode. A day came when the tomb was opened by the antiquary [1833]. Within was the skeleton of a tall man equipped with a corselet of bronze, overlaid with gold. The corselet, which was of Etruscan design, probably belonged to the Romano-British period. Unless, as some one has naively remarked, the ghost did walk, the tradition must have been handed down for at least fourteen hundred years.

    Here Beach would modestly suggest we have a problem not of oral but of literate transmission and WJ, who was usually a careful and stimulating writer should have gone back to the first sources. Let’s concentrates on the ‘untruths’ in this passage. First, people had not seen a golden ghost and there was no tradition: one old woman accompanying her drunk husband home had seen the ghost. Second, the tomb was not opened by an antiquary, it was ripped apart by some country-workmen trying to fill in a hole. Third, the skeleton was not a tall man, it was almost certainly of a slight woman. Fourth, though this is not WJ’s fault, the corselet dates 2000-1500 BC so if he were right the good folk of Mold had been swapping stories about Herself for four thousand years.  WJ could not have found a better example than his own paragraph about why you should never trust information passed down without controls and, more importantly, the way that we mould information into good stories. Our first aim, indeed, is not to make ourselves look good, or to cover up crimes, it is to tell a tale: a lot of human weakness and human failings can be found in the perfect symmetry of a lie. Any other thoughts on the Golden Ghost: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com