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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Expressive Form

Thirteenth century arrowheads from Montfort Castle

Since childhood I have been fascinated by nature, by creatures and plants. But, like most people I have a detestation for certain small creatures that are regarded as constituting a possible threat, particularly those of multi-legged form. They awaken in me a range of senses, mainly fear or disgust, and often a combination of the two. On observing those lucky people who are not similarly afflicted, I become aware of how unjustified these sentiments are. On one occasion during an archaeological dig when I encountered a scorpion at close quarters I was accompanied by an entirely fearless friend, and I watched with a mixture of trepidation and admiration as he carefully picked the creature up in his bare hands. It was very early in the morning, at first light, and the air still carrying the chill of night. He told me that there was nothing to fear as the creature was quite drowsy and would not react, but I politely declined his offer that I give it a try. Had it been a beetle I would perhaps have done so.

We are programmed through our education to react with fear to certain things because of an awareness of the very real threat that they can indeed pose, and that programming is primarily based on appearances. That is the reason why - I hope I am not alone in this - the photograph of a spider can send a chill down our spine very much like that experienced when observing the actual creature (I use this reaction when leafing with my grandson through a book of animals and insects illustrated with realistic colour drawings, when with embellished fear I quickly withdraw my hand when it comes close to an illustration of a large spider - but the reaction is not entirely pretence). Form is one of the prime activators of our emotional and subsequent physical reactions.

I would exaggerate if I were to say that when I come upon a well-preserved arrowhead this creates in me any sense of fear. Unlike spiders, arrows are not generally regarded today as constituting a threat. Very few people in the modern world die through being struck by an arrow. And there is the great advantage in that they don't move on their own (one of the frightening aspects of spiders and scorpions is that they do so, and indeed quite rapidly). An arrow fired from its bow and flying swiftly through the air in one's direction would certainly create a sense of fear. But spent arrowheads, somewhat rusted, their points slightly bent as a result of having once struck a rock, or a bone perhaps, but now lying motionless in the dust, are quite a different story. None the less, if it is not fear that I feel when observing these objects, their form can on occasion raise in me other emotions. We have found hundreds of arrowheads in the field, often so corroded that they are almost formless, but occasionally, remarkably well preserved. When I find one of the latter it sometimes is capable of igniting my imaginative faculties, and then the emotion that I feel can be one of, if not personal fear, a closer understanding of what its presence had once meant - battle - with its excitement, tension, noise, pain, pity, and death.

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