When I first met Tom, he was Copperage all by himself. I didn’t ask why, or what it signified, although every so often someone does. The Copper Age is also, historically speaking, the Bronze Age – that pre-historical time when our ancestors were moving from stone tools but had yet to discover the lethal potential of iron.
Today, we stood in the remains of a 5000 year old long barrow – whose top was destroyed a long time ago, but whose core and layout are present and exposed. People have been on this land for a long time. Those ancestors are so remote that it’s easy for us to impose any desire, fantasy or aspiration upon them. We don’t know a great deal about how they lived, the remains they have left are tantalising clues. To what degree were they like us? How different? Looking back at our ancient Pagan ancestors, under-informed and over-romantic as we so often are, they can be whatever we need them to be.
Walking an ancient hill fort and visiting the barrow today, I was conscious both of this incredible geographical closeness to the past, and also the huge distance between myself and the barrow makers. I looked out at the river. It would have been marshy down there 5000 years ago, the river occupied more of the flat land then, but people farmed there from whenever it was people started farming this part of the world. In many ways, not much has changed. I had a moment of thinking that the differences humans have created maybe aren’t as big or impressive as we think they are. If we were wiped out tomorrow, that landscape would revert to wilderness soon enough.
Looking backwards, we can dream and imagine a better time, when the aurochs and wild cranes still roamed the land, before the wolves, boar, bears and beavers were driven from the UK. A wilder time, a more heroic time when people were free. We can glaze over the messy bits. Perhaps it gives us a moment of warmth. But every time we look back, imagining it was better then, we do ourselves a disservice.
Because we ought to be looking forward. In many ways, what went before is unknowable, but we can shape what is to come. Maybe there was no golden age of peaceful matriarchy. Maybe there was. Maybe our ancestors were just as greedy, short sighted and materially hungry as we are today. Maybe very little has changed. How much does that matter? Things can change. We can go forward. The golden age should always be something that lies ahead, attainable and worth working for, not something lost to the past so that it’s bound to be all decline from now.
What is Copperage? Aside from being a team that makes a webcomic, and other things, it’s an aspiration. An idea that things could be other than they are. Knowing the past is good and worth taking as far as we can, but shaping the future is more important still.