Rebuilding the Sweet Track

The Sweet Track is around one and a quarter miles long – a raised wooden trackway that ran across a part of the Somerset Levels the best part of 6,000 years ago.

I have a thing about reconstructing Neolithic timber structures, so I thought I’d give this one a go. So far I’d largely done reconstructions of timber circles. And seeing as I don’t see much evidence for them being lintelled, the reconstructions have in all truth been straight poles of various heights sticking out of the ground. Not, as I’m sure you’ll agree, the height of complexity.

Sweet Track Sunset

Sweet Track Sunset

And in all fairness the Sweet Track, when broken down into components, isn’t all that complex either. Put them all together though and you have 340 sections covering one and a quarter miles. And as each section is made up of 8 components, that’s a total of 2,720 parts. Which still doesn’t make it complex – it just makes it very long and very party. And anyway, I had a notion in the back of my mind that seeing as the model itself would follow the contours of the Somerset Levels (or a patch of them at any rate) that I would be able to clone long stretches of the model, as it was destined to be dropped onto a flattish surface.  The clue is in the name – Levels. Like spirit levels.

When I started constructing the model I was pleasantly surprised to see just how flat the terrain was. I’d imported the terrain data from Google Earth into Sketchup and positioned the model as precisely as possible – for most of the run it is either on top of the original, or within a couple of feet of it. So I stuck to the plan and cloned great stretches of it, finishing the initially laydown must sooner than anticipated. I tried an experimental upload into Google Earth to see how it matched up, and when it had finished loading I was puzzled that I couldn’t see it. Hmmm. When I hit the ‘play’ button on the tour it duly ran through the motions, but still didn’t display the model. I checked back in Sketchup. Ugh. I’d forgotten to turn the terrain on. TIP: Don’t do that. And when I turned it on it became clear why I couldn’t see the model in Google Earth. It was below ground. Bugger. So now I had the terrain on I could see there was a lot more variation in the topography than I’d bargained for – however, there were large stretches of flatish looking ground, so all was no lost.

Sweet Track Reconstruction - South End. Henry Rothwell.

Sweet Track Reconstruction – South End. Henry Rothwell.

Actually, it was. Because it was important to get each segment flat on the ground, and the ground undulates (with a big hump in the middle) there was no way of doing it other than laying each segment individually and the making sure it was level. In short, I had to do it how they did it. Well, admittedly my segments came prefabricated, and I was doing it from a warm office, not knee deep in a sucking swamp, and I didn’t have to lift anything heavier than a mouse (which obviously I didn’t even have to lift – they stop working when you do that), and it still took me the best part of a day to complete. John Coles, the excavator of the Sweet Track, reckoned that once the resources had been gathered and prepared, it could have taken as little as a day to construct and lay the whole run of the Sweet Track.

I must say I began to question this estimate as the hours dragged on and my world began to shrink to the output of a monitor and whatever was playing through my headphones. Still, he, along with a number of other volunteers, actually built a section of the Sweet Track down on the levels, accompanied by all the straining muscles, lost wellingtons, bashed thumbs and unexpected soakings that almost certainly went along with it. So perhaps I’d better take his word for it.

Anyway. It got done. The Google 3D Warehouse people rejected it however, on the grounds that it wouldn’t fit in their warehouse. They didn’t seem to be terribly sure why it wouldn’t fit in their warehouse, but they were quite apologetic, and assured me they were working on it. So if all I’ve learned from this exercise is that the Google Warehouse is less than a mile and a quarter in length then, well, it would have nearly been worth it.

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