Orkney Odyssey 3: Time Tells

Feeling the need to return.

City Jackdaw

There is a romanticism and a melancholy to the islands.

An echo of times past. A hint of meaning that lies just beyond the wind. Meaning whose origin is adorned by labels: Norse, Pictish, Neolithic. A procession of markers that will outlive us all.

I wonder if living here day after day, year after year, causes you to be blasé about it all? Do the markers become invisible, blending in with the rest of the storm-shaped landscape?

I remember seeing a documentary a few years back about people living in the Scottish Highlands. Among all that natural beauty and dramatic vistas, the young ones were bored to death. They said that visitors would tell them how lucky they were to be living there. They would reply that there was never anything to do. They would amuse themselves by sending travelling tourists in the opposite direction of the landmarks that they…

View original post 543 more words

Richard III

I spent the morning watching the burial of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, live on tv, an amazing 530 years after his death. His remains were discovered during an archaeological dig in a council car park. They were found, implausibly, beneath a letter ‘R’ printed on the tarmac.

You couldn’t make it up.

Beneath the ‘R’ lay the long lost Richard. The ‘R’ indicated a reserved parking space for the Director of Social Services. It also stood for, as it turned out, X marks the spot.

In the very first trench, archaeologists discovered a skeleton. The very first skeleton, in the very first trench, was a skeleton which was found to have a marked curvature of the spine. In Shakespeare’s depiction of Richard, he was a hunchback. Having been hidden for so long, the archaeologists had hit the jackpot straight away. (Examination would later reveal the King was not a hunchback, but had Scoliosis.)

It was like everything was being engineered favourably in Richard’s favour. He was rediscovered in a remarkable window of opportunity. A window where the technology was available to test his DNA against surviving descendents. A window where his last two descendents, neither of whom have children, were still living and available for comparison.

The reconstruction of Richard.

The reconstruction of Richard.

I’m not a monarchist, in fact I’m quite ambivalent when it comes to royalty. I’m neither pro, nor anti. But I do love history, and the place the Kings and Queens fit into our nation’s past. Richard is an important figure. He was the last of the Plantagenet Kings, and the last ever English King to be killed in battle. Lines come to an end in him. New beginnings occur after him.

The last few days, from when the body of Richard was taken to the Cathedral along crowd-lined streets, to today’s service of burial, there has been many symbolic moments. Soil from three different places was placed in the coffin:from the place he was born, from the place he spent much of his childhood, and from the place where he suffered his final end.

Even after being found, there was conflict: Leicester and York laid claim to him, battling for the right to hold his remains, with Leicester eventually winning. There were arguments about what type of man he was:was he the murderous uncle who killed the Princes in the Tower? Or should he be remembered as the man who in his short reign introduced aspects of law and justice which are still with us today? The odds are that both are applicable. He was a man, a King, of his time.

There were other symbols used in the ceremony, especially symbols of peace and reconciliation:in the coming together of the Roman Catholic and the Anglican Churches, in the use of white and red roses representing both sides in the War Of The Roses. Being buried in an Anglican place of worship, Catholic rosary beads were placed in the coffin with him. Laid before his coffin was the actual prayer book that Richard used in life.

The service was solemn and dignified, and, yes, historic.

I  loved the poem written by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, commissioned by the Cathedral, and read by actor, Benedict Cumbersnatch. I share it here for you to read:

Richard

My bones, scripted in light, upon cold soil,
a human braille. My skull, scarred by a crown,
emptied of history. Describe my soul
as incense, votive, vanishing; you own
the same. Grant me the carving of my name.

These relics, bless. Imagine you re-tie
a broken string and on it thread a cross,
the symbol severed from me when I died.
The end of time – an unknown, unfelt loss –
unless the Resurrection of the Dead …

or I once dreamed of this, your future breath
in prayer for me, lost long, forever found;
or sensed you from the backstage of my death,
as kings glimpse shadows on a battleground.

40,000 year-old lion relief confirmed to be 3-dimensional

I love things like this. I saw this when it was part of the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum. I’m sharing it with you guys because my wife’s eyes tend to glaze over. A little. Putting my faith in you all 🙂

The Heritage Trust

 
40,000 year-old mammoth ivory figurine of a lion (right) and missing fragment (left)
Image credit: Hilde Jensen, Universität Tübingen
 
Phys.org reports last month that –
 
Archaeologists from the University of Tübingen have found an ancient fragment of ivory belonging to a 40,000 year-old animal figurine. Both pieces were found in the Vogelherd Cave in south-western Germany, which has yielded a number of remarkable works of art dating to the Ice Age. The mammoth ivory figurine depicting a lion was discovered during excavations in 1931. The new fragment makes up one side of the figurine’s head…
 
The 40,000 year-old figurine is one of the most famous works of Ice Age art. It was on show at last year’s Ice Age art exhibition hosted by the British Museum. According to archaeologist Nicholas Conard of Tübingen University’s Institute of Prehistory and Medieval Archaeology, and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution…

View original post 102 more words

Orkney Odyssey 3: Time Tells

There is a romanticism and a melancholy to the islands.

An echo of times past. A hint of meaning that lies just beyond the wind. Meaning whose origin is adorned by labels: Norse, Pictish, Neolithic. A procession of markers that will outlive us all.

I wonder if living here day after day, year after year, causes you to be blasé about it all? Do the markers become invisible, blending in with the rest of the storm-shaped landscape?

I remember seeing a documentary a few years back about people living in the Scottish Highlands. Among all that natural beauty and dramatic vistas, the young ones were bored to death. They said that visitors would tell them how lucky they were to be living there. They would reply that there was never anything to do. They would amuse themselves by sending travelling tourists in the opposite direction of the landmarks that they would pull over and ask directions for.

On my first trip to Orkney, an enthusiastic Historic Scotland warden told me that they had a saying there: scrape away a bit of soil and the land bleeds archaeology. I think that this is a generally held view.

On my second visit, in the winter months, I intended one morning to walk part of the coast, dressing accordingly. However, en route to the starting point, I recieved news that the mother of one of my best friends had just died. I felt so far away, so remote. I decided to change my plans and head for Kirkwall Cathedral to light a candle for the woman who I had known for twenty five years. On doing so, I got talking to a guy who worked at the visitor center next door, and he offered to put a documentary film on for me in a side room all about St.Magnus and the founding of the Cathedral. Of course I was still dressed for the coastal walk, and had to begin to shed my layers in that small, heated room.

He looked on with amusement as first my waterproof coat came off, followed by a fleece jacket, then a zip-up top. Then a jumper. A t-shirt. And a thermal vest.

“You’re not as big as ya look are ya?” he exclaimed with a twinkle in his eye.

I gestured to my legs:

“Beneath these waterproof trousers, I’ve got on jeans and longjohns. My legs are really like pipe cleaners.”

With a shake of his head he gave me a look that said ‘you southerners’ which being a native of North West England I have never considered myself before. But in relation to these islands, I suppose I am.

After watching the film I told him of the historic sites that I had visited up to then. In a similar line to that taken by the Historic Scotland warden, he said that the whole mainland, and the surrounding islands, were “infested with archaeology.”  He told of farmers that he knew of who had accidentally uncovered some kind of stone remains on their land, and then hurriedly covered them back up before anybody else spotted them, not wanting the inconvenience of conservationists and archaeologists (or tourists such as I) interrupting their work and calander year.

Later, on the bus journey back to Stromness, I looked over in the direction of the Maeshowe tomb, the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, and more. I thought of the secrets being revealed at the current dig at the Ness of Brodgar which is blowing all pre-conceived ideas out of the water. Of my visit the day before to Skara Brae, the Neolithic settlement that nobody knew was there until a great storm in 1850 stripped back the layers of sand covering it and exposed it to a sky it had not seen for 4,000 years.

All these tunnels and tombs, standing stones and runes.

How much more is there, hidden out there beneath those flat fields? My eye strayed unbidden to every mound and hint of uneven ground.

A landscape infested. A land that bleeds.

Eventually the earth will give up more of her secrets.

In the end time tells.

 image