The geography of human history comes in layers. We are often drawn to the same spots over time for the same reasons, building on what came before – often literally “on”, as in “on top of”. Or we come to the same spot because that’s where the people already are.
But the historical layering of my own country, the United States, is thinner than here in Great Britain, especially the layering in the US southwest. It’s reasonable to think I could dig down in my backyard at home and find that my house, built in the 1950s, was the first human habitation built on that spot. You can find places in the Rio Grande Valley that have more layers, especially Pueblo communities. But they’re relatively fewer. So I’ve been fascinated by the historical layering here.
In the east end of York Minster, the great cathedral in northern England, you can go down into a crypt below the church’s eastern end. The church is medieval, built in the 1200s and 1300s (building cathedrals was a long game). The crypt still has the rounded Norman arch work predating the great Gothic minster, and in a hole in the floor you can see down to the footing of a Roman column below. Historic preservation, a relatively recent cultural adaptation in the communities I’ve lived in, has been going on here since the late 1700s.
Upstairs, as our tour guide John (a devotee of history’s layers) explained the 13th century wood case used to hold the clerics’ cloaks, two workmen in bright safety vests crawled the floor on either side. They were feeding Ethernet cable through a channel in the floor that went beneath the cloak case. One of the characteristics of this sort of historical layering is that one does the thing one does today atop the old. So York Minster is still a working church, with the tourists kicked out of the quire for evensong and tours halted for prayer. And Ethernet.