Dec 29 2009

Celtic Scottish Sweat Lodge/Sauna saved and re-built

Moving Stone at Bressay
Pic: Bronze Age Bressay
News at the reports that a Bronze Age structure thought to have been used as a sauna has been saved from destruction by the sea after a team of archaeologists moved the entire find to a safer location. The building, which dates from between 1500BC and 1200BC, was unearthed on the Shetland island of Bressay eight years ago. It was found in the heart of the Burnt Mound at Cruester, a Bronze Age site on the coast of Bressay facing Lerwick.

But earlier this summer (2008), because of the increased threat of coastal erosion, local historians joined archaeologists to launch a campaign to save the building and to move it somewhere safer. A third of the mound had already been lost to sea erosion.

The central structure was carefully dismantled and each stone numbered before being moved to a site a mile way next to Bressay Heritage Centre.

And today (23/8/2008), following the completion of the unusual removal scheme, the Bronze Age building will be officially opened at its new location by Tavish Scott, the MSP for Shetland. Douglas Coutts, the project officer with Bressay History Group, said the structure was one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made in the Northern Isles.

The building was hidden in a mound of burnt stones and is thought to have been used for feasts, baths or even saunas.

The structure comprises a series of dry-stone, walled cells, connected by two corridors. At the end of one corridor is a hearth cell, thought to have been used for heating stones, and at the other end is a tank sunk into the ground which is almost two metres long, more than a metre wide, and half a metre deep.

Burnt Mound at Cruester,  at Bressay
Pic:Bronze Age Bressay

Mr Coutts said:

Burnt mounds don’t usually consist of very much more than a hearth and a tank and a heap of burnt stones. But in Shetland, we seem to have much more complex structures with little rooms or cells leading off from a main passageway which connects the hearth and tank.

He added:


We think these cells may have originally been roofed over in a beehive shape. One theory is that these structures may have been used for cooking meat or tanning hides. But it is possible they could have raised steam by heating the water and that these little cells could have been used as saunas.

Tom Dawson, a researcher at St Andrews University who also worked on the removal project, said coastal erosion was threatening thousands of archaeological sites around Scotland.


The local group here came up with a novel idea for dealing with the problem. It is great to have had the chance to give new life to this particular site and make it accessible to future generations, while also learning something new, not just about Cruester, but about burnt mounds in general.

This structure is important in world terms. There are thousands of burnt mounds in Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia but only a handful are known to have structures within them.

Mr Scott praised the partnership between the local history group and outside archaeological bodies.

He said:

This exhibition will be a great asset for visitors to Bressay and local people. The more we understand about the past, the better informed we are about the future.


Look out tomorrow for more details on how the re-construction of the Burnt Mound is helping Education in 2009.

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Dec 18 2009

The Power of Pictish Women

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Pic: ‘Pictish Woman’, one of the Pictish Nation
collection by F. Lennox Campello

There is a great blog written by an author of medieval biographies, Melisende, called Women of History. Here, I would like to point to a post that she made back in October 2008 in which she quotes from an article about the role of Pictish Women in Pictist Society. Melisende is probably better known for the superb Pages from History Wiki that she has set up and we’ll hopefully be highlighting in the future.

She quotes from an article found in "British Archaeology" (Issue 3, April 1995) written by Dr Ross Samson, Editor-in-Chief of Cruithne Press, in which he says:

The idea that women may have had unusually high status in medieval Pictish society has long been the subject of scholarly fascination – and dispute – even though there has never been much evidence on which to pin opposing views.

The idea started with the 8th century English historian, Bede, who wrote that, whenever the Pictish royal succession was in dispute, kings were chosen from the female royal line rather than the male. Although dismissed by some scholars as a myth, others have taken the absence of sons succeeding fathers in the Pictish king lists as supporting evidence for Bede’s words. Several scholars have gone further, arguing that if women had a decisive role in succession disputes, their power doubtless extended to other areas of society as well.

An entirely new line of evidence, however, may be provided by Pictish symbols. These are carved on rough boulders or cross stones, and about 400 examples survive. They have been taken, at different times, to represent inter-tribal marriage instructions, estate boundary markers, records of personal professions, Pictish `flags’, simple artistic expressions, even pagan altars–but never on the basis of much hard evidence. In my view, the symbol stones were memorial stones, and the symbols represent names – either the name of the dead person, or of the person who had the stone erected. Moreover, I believe that a fifth of the names belonged to women. Compared to other contemporary societies, this would represent a very high proportion– in Ireland, for instance, we know the names of about 10,000 men dating from before AD1000, but of only 200 or 300 women.

The symbols almost always appear as pairs, and in several contemporary societies names were produced from two themes. In Anglo-Saxon, for instance, we have Aethelgifu (`Noble-gift’), Aethelstan (`Noble-stone’), and Wulfstan (`Wolf-stone’).

I believe Pictish names may have worked in the same way, and that feminine endings on the Pictish carved stones were represented by the mirror and comb symbols that follow one in every five symbol pairs. A mirror and comb appear to the left of the only unmistakably Pictish woman represented on a cross stone – there are several biblical females – that from Hilton of Cadboll, dating from about AD800.

If this theory is correct, 20 per cent of Pictish stones were erected for or by women, which is between five and 20 times more often than in any other contemporary Celtic or Scandinavian society. One motive for commemorating the dead publicly is the statement it makes – I am inheriting this person’s wealth, power, authority and prestige. If women held 20 per cent of the power and wealth in Pictish society, it is no wonder Bede heard such stories about their dominant role in the royal succession.

To read the full argument, please let me refer you to the original post on Women in History.

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Dec 17 2009

More stone art from Westray in Orkney

Pic: Orkneyjar

Orkneyjar reports that it’s been a fine summer for stone age artwork in Orkney.

After examples turning up almost daily at the Ness of Brodgar, now a large piece of decorated stone has been discovered at one of Orkney’s most threatened sites — the Links of Noltland prehistoric settlement, in Westray.

Returning to Westray, for the Historic Scotland sponsored excavation, was a team from Edinburgh-based EASE Archaeology. The archaeologists concentrated, this year, on the unusual structure discovered last year.

The exterior of this building had been carefully “decorated” using neatly-laid horizontal bands of masonry. While other houses of the period tended to be created with function, rather than looks, in mind, the Westray structure was built using dressed stone and was clearly meant to look impressive from the outside.

Continue Reading »

Originally posted 2008-10-22 09:42:59. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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Dec 17 2009

£2.7 million for Gaelic education

Pic: MOD Falkirk
Gaelic is a unique vehicle for passing Scottish understanding from one generation to the next, First Minister Alex Salmond said on the 10th October as he prepared to formally launch the Royal National Mod 2008 in Falkirk on that evening. The Scottish Government announced their support for the Gaelic language.

The Mod is Scotland’s premier Gaelic festival, celebrating Gaelic language and culture, which will today be strengthened with the announcement of more than £2.7 million funding for a range of Gaelic education measures.

The First Minister used his address to announce:

  • Support for a Gaelic Parents Advocacy Scheme to promote Gaelic education and provide support for parents
  • £2.6 million to assist local authorities with the renovation and construction of dedicated Gaelic schools in the next two financial years
  • Extended funding for the Gaelic Teacher Recruitment Officer based at Bord na Gaidhlig
  • £70,000 to support a Youth Scheme that will create employment opportunities for young Gaelic-speakers

Looking forward to the official launch the First Minister said:

The Gaelic language is a vital way of seeing and understanding Scotland. It contains the symbols and metaphors, stories and landscapes, that help define Scotland’s unique culture and history. As an essential part of our life, lore and language – Gaelic provides a valuable vehicle for passing Scottish understanding from one generation to the next.

That is why the Scottish Government is committed to promoting Gaelic education, and why I’m delighted to announce more than #2.7 million of funding to support the development of this strand of our cultural matrix. This money will help young learners by supporting parents, schools, teaching and youth training.

This year’s Mod provides a vibrant example of the enjoyment that can be found in Gaelic learning, with people of all ages competing across a range of disciplines including Gaelic Music and Song, Highland Dancing, Instrumental, Drama, Sport and Literature. Tonight’s launch gives a taste of the talent on show.

For talented Gaelic-speakers this is an exciting time, with a newly launched Gaelic language channel BBC Alba, the Fàs Centre established at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig to attract and support cultural enterprises, and a Gaelic Language Plan being developed. There should be no limit to the ambitions of modern Gaels.

With Scotland’s Year of Homecoming fast approaching, I hope we can harness some of our Gaelic ambition to encourage even more people to travel to join us in Oban for our Homecoming Mod in 2009. As an opportunity for Gaels and non-Gaels to renew old friendships as well as forging new ones – the Mod is the perfect way to reconnect with Scotland, in any language.

The Mod is organised by An Comunn Gàidhealach (The Highland Association) which was founded in Oban in 1891 and which has HM The Queen as its Patron.

Attending the Mod opening ceremony will be President of Comunn Gaidhealach John Macleod, National Mod Convener Janet Macdonald, Falkirk Provost Pat Reid, Convener of the Mod 2008 Local Committee Angus MacDonald, and Deputy Premier of the Legislature of Nova Scotia Angus MacIsaac.


The Mod

Am Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail was first held in Oban in 1892. It is the Scottish Gaelic community’s annual festival celebrating their language and culture, and is mostly competition-based. An 8-day festival with a strong language emphasis, it attracts around 1200 competitors, focussing on junior competitions at the beginning of the week and adult events at the end of the week, culminating in the awarding of Gold Medals (Non-trad and trad) for solo singers and the Lovat & Tullibardine trophy for the top choir. The current Bàrd (Martin MacIntyre) is serving a 3-yr term of office. The Mòd is comparable to the Welsh National Eisteddfod. In the course of the week, around 20,000 people attend the Mòd and it is estimated to bring up to £2m in economic benefit to the host area, at an off-peak period in the tourist season. Future Mòds will be in Oban (2009), Caithness (2010) and Stornoway (2011). The host area for 2012 will be announced at this year’s event.


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Aug 26 2009

Archaeologists unearth Black Spout nobles

Pic: BBC
Archaeologists and volunteers working at a Perthshire forest claim to have uncovered a “very exciting” find.

Excavations have revealed a stone entrance to the Black Spout enclosure, which workers believe indicates an important local person lived there.

Radiocarbon dating has also shown the site dates back to about 200 BC – it was originally though such homesteads were from the early centuries AD.

It is thought a large extended family would have lived there. Continue Reading »

Originally posted 2008-06-27 08:35:56. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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Jul 29 2009

Bid To Save Scottish Jewel Of The Iron Age

Pic: Dun Dornagill Broch by orionforumpics tells us: Discovered only 13 years ago, the remarkably preserved ancient settlement at Old Scatness on Shetland (Scotland) forced experts to completely rewrite the history of Iron Age Britain. Old Scatness Broch, a mile from Sumburgh Head, was a pristine time capsule which enabled archaeologists to date the chronology of an Iron Age site in northern Europe with unprecedented accuracy. It has now been revealed that ambitious plans are being championed by the Shetland Amenity Trust to turn Old Scatness into a world-class heritage centre in a boost for the tourism industry on the islands.

The site is currently open to the public for a only limited season and large parts have to be covered up during the winter to protect it from the elements. But the trust aims to transform the settlement into a year-round visitor attraction with the addition of a dome-shaped building with a grass roof. Jimmy Moncrieff, the general manager of the amenity trust, said:

“This project could be huge for Shetland. There is nothing else like it anywhere in Britain; Old Scatness is the best preserved Iron Age village in Europe and the jewel in the crown of archaeological Shetland.”

Continue Reading »

Originally posted 2009-02-05 05:58:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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Jun 22 2009

The Bone Caves are a window on the past

Pic: BBC

The four Bone Caves of Inchnadamph in the north west Highlands, which are protected by SNH, contained a physical record of Scotland’s ancient beasts, reports the BBC. They are a window in to the past, according to Alex Scott, an officer with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Since the late 1800s remains have been excavated from the underground complex.

Last week an almost complete skeleton, recovered over a period of years by cavers, was confirmed as that of a large male brown bear (see our earlier post).

It joined a long list of creatures whose remains have been retrieved from the darkness. They include bones from a polar bear, lemming, arctic fox, reindeer, tundra vole and wolf. Some may have been washed into the caves during Ice Age floods.

Most exciting

The polar bear skull found in 1927, and held in the collections of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, continues to fascinate scientists. Believed to the only remains of its kind found in Britain, a sample was taken last year for DNA analysis.
Ireland-based genetics expert Ceiridwen Edwards had hoped to compare the DNA of the animal found in a cave in Scotland with that of modern polar bears.

However, she said there was not enough DNA left in the sample for an analysis to be done. According to SNH’s leaflet on the Bone Caves, one of the most exciting finds was the skull of a Northern lynx dated at about 1,770 years old and also found in 1927.

The caves were also a burial site and the bones of four people found there have been radiocarbon-dated to being between 4,515 and 4,720 years old.

The recovery of the newly-confirmed brown bear was a painstaking process. Caving club, Grampian Speleological Group, retrieved the first pieces of bone in 1995. Cave divers then spent the next 12 years wriggling through narrow spaces and moving soil to unblock entrances in their effort to recover all they could.

Their efforts have paid off with another valuable addition to the record of Scotland’s long gone residents.

You can read the full article on the BBC website

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Jun 20 2009

Rare fishing dialect from Scotland recorded

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A dialect known and used by a dwindling number of people in Cromarty has been recorded in a new booklet reports the BBC. Researcher Janine Donald, from Highland Council’s history and culture website Am Baile, has compiled a booklet of words and phrases.

The initiative is part of an effort by Am Baile to preserve the community’s fisherfolk dialect.

The 40-page publication also has weather lore, biblical expressions and local tales and customs.

Included is the word "tumblers" for dolphins and harbour porpoises and phrases such as "At now kucka" for a friendly greeting. Continue Reading »

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Jun 18 2009

Brown Bear bones found in Scottish Cave

Brown Bear Bones
Pic: Grampian Speleological Group

The BBC reports that an almost complete skeleton recovered after years of work from a cave in the Scottish Highlands has been confirmed as that of a male brown bear. The pieces of bone were recovered by cavers exploring a network of caves at Inchnadamph in Sutherland. Previously the remains of a polar bear were found at the site.

The National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh said tests have established the most recent bones found were those from a brown bear.

The first pieces were discovered in 1995 by cavers exploring a network of caves at Inchnadamph in Sutherland.

But it was only last year that caving club, Grampian Speleological Group, reached some of the final fragments. Continue Reading »

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Jun 06 2009

Merlin was born and bred in Glasgow, Scotland

Merlin The BBC reports that the legendary wizard Merlin has been added to a list of famous Glaswegians, it has emerged. The council included the wizard, who featured in Arthurian legend, on a list of well-known figures from the city. A council spokeswoman admitted that like most mythical figures, it was difficult to trace Merlin’s origins. But she said the wizard had been added to its website list after an amateur historian suggested Merlin had lived in the Partick area of the city.

He joins Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and comedian Billy Connolly on the list of famous characters, both real and fictional.

‘Glorious history’

Merlin has his very own category on the list – filed under wizard.

The council spokeswoman said:

Recently an amateur historian has pointed to the fact that the legendary Merlin lived a ‘comfortable life’, with his wife Gwendolyn, in Partick, not Camelot and I’m sure most Glaswegians think that’s just magic.

Tradition has it that King Arthur’s magician was either English or Welsh.

But in the book Finding Merlin: The Truth Behind the Legend, author Adam Ardrey claimed he actually hailed from Scotland. [Amazon]

Mr Ardrey, who spent six years researching the subject, told a newspaper he believed the wizard had lived in Partick “where the River Kelvin meets the Clyde”.

He told the paper:

I am thrilled that Glasgow has recognised Merlin as a Glaswegian and that almost 1,400 years after his death he can take an official place in Glasgow’s glorious history.

Read the original article at the BBC site.

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