To cut a long story short, involving chekcing logs, pulling hair, and googling I determined that at least the partition table was seriously destroyed on the drive somehow; I tried a few things, but I didn't have anywhere to put a full device dump so couldn't be too radical with experimentation with what I tried in case I made the problem worse.
Enter a tool that Google stumbled me upon, TestDisk , what a little ripper, in a few simple key-taps it had found the partition, and was letting me browse the files on it to ensure it was correct, confirmed, and it writes a fixed partition table.
Thanks TestDisk, if I wasn't an atheist, you'd be giving god a good run for his money in the miracles department.
Now to e2fsck.
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