The cones were originally placed in a line across two fields on the north side of Snape Warren to mark an imaginary path from a Roman-period salt-making site down on the edge of the Alde estuary to the south towards the Anglo-Saxon burial mounds east of Snape church. This creation was very much in the spirit of another of my ‘heroes’, Richard Long, who has spent his life making lines and circles on and in the landscape. The Snape cones were a piece of ‘land art’ sharing an outdoors art exhibition including two ceramic figures, part of an Arts Festival called ‘Ebb and Flow’ organised by Suffolk Coastal District Council in 2007.
A resident artist at the Festival was Jonathan Keep, now an internationally recognised ceramic sculptor with exhibitions world-wide. He conceived the ‘path’ from one archaeological site to another; and he arranged for the cones to be made by local children (as were Gormely’s little figures for the ‘Field’ a few years earlier – see previous blog). Keep’s idea was that the cones should just be left to the vagaries of time and land-use and that in due course an archaeologist would notice and pick up one of the reddish sherds resulting from their breakages over time, just as an archaeologist might see and pick up in the early 21st century a reddish sherd of Romano-British pottery glinting in the estuarine mud. How do I know this detail? – I spoke to Jonathan Keep last Sunday in his studio at Knodishall, a village only four miles from Snape. He remembers his Snape cones very well.
So that has solved the ‘mystery of the cones’. Artistically, I slipped up badly by not recognising straight away that the cones were collectively, not individually, significant and that they were part of an art installation. In part this was because they looked a bit as if they could be utilitarian, which made me persist in trying to come up with a functional interpretation; but I failed even more archaeologically by not recognising that they were indeed based on the sort of briquetage found on salt-making sites, specifically cone-like vessels to hold salt water while it evaporated to leave salt to be scraped off interior surfaces. My experience had never taken in such sites so the cones exactly hit a gap in my knowledge.
Anyway, I’ve now been back to the central area of the ‘sheep field’ and collected what is probably all the large chunks of cone; though there are still many smaller sherds left which I might collect if I make no progress in fitting together most of the 11 cone bodies that I have. My friend John, who first put me on to the Art Festival interpretation, and I have fixed fairly accurately the original cone-line across the fields: this has been possible by using the shapes of the trees and bushes in the background of the photos of the cones on Keep’s webpage for, perhaps surprisingly, those shapes have not changed much in ten years. Our line passes through the area where I have found the cones, so I was right about at least one thing i.e. that their occurrence was over a confined area. Now that we know the line crossed a second field, however, there is now have a new area to search.
I hope to meet Jonathan Keep soon and look forward immensely to going over the ground with him. and exploring his memories and ideas further. And all this because I accepted an invitation in 2016 to keep an eye on a National Trust flock of rare breed sheep which just happened in late 2017 to have been put temporarily in a field which, ten years earlier, had been the scene of a land art creation based on ideas about landscape archaeology …..