Black Rock Cave
Nick Shepherd, 30 November
Well, this is a surprise: my hands. They look worn, archaeological. It’s not often that we have a part of our own body presented to us in this way, as the point of such focused looking. We see photographs of faces, in which case our gaze is drawn to the eyes. There is the slightly misleading sense of intimacy and collusion, the sense of traffic with the image (the eyes interpolate us). Here the hands appear as something alien, as specimens. There is something strange about the positioning of my left hand, an awkward articulation of the fingers. I have fragments of newspaper in my palm, and I’m trying to prevent them from blowing away. There is also an irony to this image, which has to do with the appearance of text in an archaeological setting. The story goes like this. We are in Black Rock Cave in the Cape Point Reserve, a site of hunter/ gatherer occupation with a dense accumulation of shell debris, bedding material, ash, and so on. Bits of shell and bone erode out of the sediment, and something else… What do we have here? Bits of decayed newspaper: words, text, pretty much the last thing we would expect to find in this context. A rule of thumb: archaeology begins where text leaves off. The fragment that I am holding says “Personal” (or “Personals”), which I find slightly unnerving. The literary scholars in the group are all encouraged: you see, the entirety of human experience is actually comprehensible through written text as medium. A vague sort of defeat for archaeology, and another moment to add to the thick file headed “strange encounters”.