Unstan Neolithic Chambered Cairn

Orkney, Scotland. Day 26, 24th July.

 

Just outside Stromness I saw a signpost to this cairn, a short distance off the road, that I was not previously aware of.  I had a plane to catch but I still had time to investigate….

 

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Outside, the tomb is an oval grass mound.  After crawling in through a tunnel entrance (lower right corner of the image) and looking to the right, we see this view.  The tomb probably dates to between 2800BC and 3200BC.  It was excavated in 1884 and 1934 and the concrete roof and skylight was added in 1934.

 

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This is the entrance to a small side cell.  Two crouched skeletons were found in this cell during the 1884 excavations.  These probably date to a later period because it was not the usual method of neolithic burial in such cairns.

First the bodies were left out in the open until there were only bones left.  Then the bones were deposited in the cairn but not by keeping the skeleton together.  They could be randomly arrayed or in some cases similar bones stacked together.  There were many such bones inside this cairn.

 

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At the left corner of the lintel above the side entrance is a carving of a diving bird and what may be some runes.  I can also see the body and head of a larger bird behind the diving bird. It may just be my imagination though.  It is not known whether these are of great antiquity or relatively recent origin.

 

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This is at the right-hand end of the tomb from the entrance way.  There was originally a shelf at each end (presumably to hold bones) but the stones for this are no longer in evidence.

The stone on the left unfortunately has a lot of graffiti and not from the Vikings.  Dates I can see are 1901, 1890, 1857 and 1891.

 

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Turning around, this is looking to the other end of the tomb.  There were many pots found in this tomb in 1884, finely made neolithic bowls some of which had grooved patterning below the rim.  The cairn gave its name to this pottery which is known as Unstan ware.  There is another type, grooved ware, which some suggest evolved from Unstan ware but they are mainly found on different islands in the Orkneys so it may be there were two groups of people living here.

 

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The other end of the cairn, with the entrance passageway again on the left.

 

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From the information board at the site, this is how the cairn may have looked when it was under construction.

 

Bibliography for Orkney:

Orkney by Patrick Bailey

The Other British Isles by David W Moore

Orkneyinga Saga

Orkneyjar web site.

Stromness

Orkney, Scotland. Day 26, 24th July.

 

I had a plane to catch to Shetland that afternoon but I still had a few hours to spare so I decided to go to Stromness and see whether I could find a cafe.

 

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Stromness is the second largest town in Orkney with about 3,000 people.

 

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It is the terminal for the vehicular ferry from Scrabster on the Scottish mainland and there is also a ferry from here to the island of Hoy.

 

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Stromness is essentially a Napoleonic War boom town.  During that period the Channel became dangerous for shipping so many ships went all the way round past the north of Scotland instead.  Stromness was developed as a convenient stopping place along the way.  Consequently, though there would have been a small port here before then, most of the houses are from that period.

 

History, Landscape, Orkney, Photography, Scotland, Stromness, Travel .

Corrigal Farm Museum

Orkney, Scotland. Day 26, 24th July.

From Tingwall I drove to Corrigal Farm Museum. It is described in some of the Orkney web sites as an intact nineteenth century farmhouse but it is much more than that. For one thing there is a broch nearby and the area has been farmed since neolithic times.  For another, the farmhouse itself is an Orkney adaption of a Viking longhouse, so perhaps it even started as one.

 

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And here is the office and behind it to the left, the museum.

 

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Going past the office, here is a collection of old ploughs and farm machinery arrayed on the lawn.  The actual museum is the second building and the entrance to it is the first door in the distance.  I didn’t take a closer shot of the building from this side so I’ll talk about it here.  Also known as a but and ben house, there are a series of rooms along its length.  First is the ben or bedroom, then the but or kitchen/ living room.  There is a door between these two rooms and the rest of the house to prevent unwanted access by animals.  Next there may be a byre (for cattle) and a stable (for horses), then a grain preparation area and finally a kiln for drying the grain.  Some young animals or animals in special need of attention might also reside for a while in the but.

 

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Here is a space between the two buildings where peat is stored, for use in burning on fires.

 

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This is the ben or bedroom.  The structure behind is a cupboard or wardrobe but the structure in front is a box bed.

 

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This is the but or living area, and probably some bread simmering over the fire.

 

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This is a trap for some small animal, I don’t remember what, but it looks very similar to traps I would later see in Greenland that the precursors of the Inuit set for foxes.

 

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A loom.

 

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A rather elegant-looking cart.

 

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Stacked piles of dried peat for the fire.

 

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Threshing machines.

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A small hand grinder on the right and it must be the furnace for the kiln on the left.

 

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Looking through to the kiln.

 

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And finally, a view of the farmhouse, looking back from the outside.

Tingwall

Orkney, Scotland. Days 26, 24th July.

I arrived in Tingwall hoping to have time to catch a ferry to the Broch of Midhowe on Rousay but I think I had misread the ferry timetables and this was not to be.

The name Tingwall indicates there was a Thing here, a local Viking Parliament. This is probably the Thing where Earl Haakon and Earl Magnus agreed to the fateful meeting on Egilsay where Magnus was killed. The Thing was probably at a mound near where the pier now is. This is believed to conceal a broch but I was not aware of this at the time so did not photograph it.

 

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Here we have the Tingwall Weather Forecasting Stone, a form of weather forecasting that may have been in use since the neolithic.  The green building at the left is probably the local Meteorological Bureau.

You could click on the image to read the sign but since not many seem to do that, I’ll tell you what it says:

  • Forecast: Condition
  • Stone is wet: Raining
  • Stone is dry: Not raining
  • Shadow on ground: Sunny
  • White on top: Snow
  • Can’t see stone: Foggy
  • Stone is swinging: Windy
  • Stone gone: Jimmy Tulloch pinched it.

 

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And once again, we have an assortment of fetching dwellings, mostly with sea views, that you might be able to get for a very cheap rent if you get on well enough with the local farmer.

 

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Architecture, History, Landscape, Orkney, Photography, Scotland, Tingwall, Travel

I think this was a trailer for a boat.

 

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Massive slabs on the roof.

 

Architecture, History, Landscape, Orkney, Photography, Scotland, Tingwall, Travel

 

Architecture, History, Landscape, Orkney, Photography, Scotland, Tingwall, Travel

 

Architecture, History, Landscape, Orkney, Photography, Scotland, Tingwall, Travel

 

Architecture, History, Landscape, Orkney, Photography, Scotland, Tingwall, Travel

I’d say that car has been waiting for the ferry for a long time.

 

Skara Brae

Orkney, Scotland. Day 26, 24th July.

Skara Brae is a remarkable neolithic village, five thousand years old.  It was rediscovered when a great storm stripped turf and blew away covering sand in 1850.  It was excavated between 1850 and 1868 and slowly filled again with sand after that.  Then in 1925 another great storm whipped away sand again, uncovering some more buildings and also damaging some.  This lead to the building of a sea wall to protect the village, and further excavation between 1928 and 1930.

 

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Here, we are inside a recreated house in the visitor centre.  This is one of the later designs because it is a rounded rectangle rather than being circular.  We can see the stone dresser against the wall  and what we see on the right is a bed.  There is a recess in the wall behind the bed, like an open cupboard.  The hearth in the middle was used for both heating and cooking.   In the roof, whalebone or driftwood beams probably supported a covering of turf, skins, thatched seaweed or straw, held down by straw ropes and stones.  The smoke which would have suffused the interior is not shown in the recreation.

This is luxury accommodation for the neolithic period.

 

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Here is a view of the village.  It is now beside the sea but five thousand years ago would have been some distance away, with fields in between.  There were six to eight dwellings at any one time, housing up to 50 to 100 people.

The patch of sand in the foreground is the remains of House 10, one of two from the earliest period.  Later houses were built over the top of earlier ones and also into middens.  While they appear to be subterranean, they were actually built up and roofed over, appearing as a mound from a distance.

 

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This is one of the passageways between the houses, also roofed over so that you could travel between the houses without being exposed to the elements.  Orkney’s climate could be wild, cold, windy and wet, so effective shelter was very desirable.

 

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This is House 9.  You can see the central hearth and there are beds on each side of it (which would have been filled with bedding material).  The small round area in the foreground is likely to be one of the walk-in annexes that had drainage underneath and which appear to be neolithic toilets.

 

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Another view of the village.  From left to right, where the people are, is House 8 (“The Workshop”), House 2 and House 1.  The village was occupied from around 3200BC for more than six hundred years.

 

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This is House 8, or the Workshop.  It is somewhat separate from the rest of the village and of a different design to the other houses.  It has a central hearth but it does not contain beds or a dresser; instead there are numerous small alcoves and when excavated, the floor was found to be littered with fragments of chert and debris from the manufacture of stone tools.  Thus it is thought to have been a workshop.

It has an opening for use as a flue to assist in making stone tools from the local chert.  By heating stone up on a fire, then letting it slowly cool, it was easier to make flakes.

This interpretation as a workshop dates from the objects left from the period in which it was last occupied.  It may also have had other uses, including as a community centre.

 

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This is House 2.  There is the hearth in the middle, a bed to the left and at the rear is the door.  The houses all included a stone that could be slid in place as a door and held there with a beam, thus locked from the inside.

 

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This is House 1, the largest House, perhaps the house of the village chief.  The small boxes beside the dresser are thought to be for storage of fish, either to keep them fresh to eat or for bait.

 

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Stepping back a bit at House 1, we can see an overview of the design of the houses, which all followed the same plan.  We are above the door.  From the door you look past the hearth to the dresser which would contain an array of special objects.  The Head of the household might be sitting on a stone in front of the dresser.  Beds on the right are larger than those on the left.  Men slept on the right; women and children on the left.

 

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This is house 5, with the door below us on the left.

 

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Finally, house 4.

Another house, House 7, which I did not photograph, is different from the rest in that the door locked from the outside.  There are a number of speculations as to why this may have been so.  It may have been for tiruals related to death, or for childbirth, or for initiation rituals, or as a place of incarceration.

Cattle and sheep were the main part of their diet and they grew barley and wheat in surrounding fields.  They also ate fish and shellfish and would have hunted the island’s red deer and boar.

In the background at the left of the image above is Skaill House.  In 1615 Bishop George Graham received the estate after the execution of Earl Patrick Stewart.  He built the central wing of the house in 1620 and it has been passed down through his family ever since.

Dounby Click Mill

Orkney, Scotland. Days 26, 24th July.

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“Welcome to Evil Village.  Please drive carefully.”

The two young couples thought they were making good time when their car shuddered to a halt as they were passing the village.  They went to seek assistance at a nearby house and the front door was open so they went in.  There was hardly any furniture and the rooms seemed to belong to a bygone age.  Then they heard the front door closing and locking behind them.  It was getting darker.  The strange noises were getting closer….

No, hold on, it’s not Evil Village and we’re not in a Hammer horror movie from the 70s.  It’s Evie village in a rustic corner of Orkney where the locals are likely to be friendly and bad things are unlikely to happen to strangers.  The next three images are in Evie Village.

 

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My accommodation wasn’t far away but I wasn’t staying here.  Probably quite cheap budget accommodation though, with light and airy rooms.

 

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Here’s another potentially fetching place to stay, still with the original slate roof.  Very conveniently right on the main road.  Maybe I should be starting a real estate blog.

 

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A group of farm buildings beside the road, some maybe hundreds of years old, including the shed above.

 

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A few miles away, here is the signpost to the click mill, with a picturesque ruined farmhouse behind it.  In Orkney and in Northern Scotland generally, ruins like this are fairly common.

 

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This is the click mill.  It is a horizontal click mill, so called because the blades the water turns to drive the grinding are horizontal.  It probably dates from the early nineteenth century and was renovated in 1932.  The flour it produced would only have supported a couple of families at most.

The door is the opening at the left.  Water from the stream the mill sits beside was diverted behind it and came out through the chamber at the right.

 

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Inside the mill, here is the grinding mechanism and in front of it a large wooden box to collect the ground flour.

 

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Underneath the grinding mechanism, this is where the water comes through to turn the horizontal blades and grind the grain.

 

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The cereal most commonly used in this click mill would have been bere, a type of barley with four rows of grains instead of the usual two.

The term “click mill” comes from the projecting peg where the grain comes down from the feeder, that clicks away a little at a time to feed a small continuous amount of grain into the central hole of the grinding disk.

Standing Stones and a Chambered Tomb

Orkney, Scotland. Days 24 and 25, 22nd and 23rd July.

In the West of Mainland in Orkney, on a spit of land between two lakes, is a remarkable array of megalithic monuments and settlements. We will briefly look at the Stones of Stenness, Maes Howe, the Ness of Brodgar and the Ring of Brodgar.

 

the Stones of Stenness

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I appear to have discovered the original reason for building the Stones of Stenness, that no other sources have remarked on. They are clearly intended so that sheep can rub their backs against them.

 

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The Stones of Stenness form one of the earliest stone circles in Britain, at 5,000 years old. Originally there were eleven with an unused place for a twelfth and they are up to six metres high. There were five different kinds of stones used and it appears that the stones came from all around the island. There are only four stones now, plus a few smaller ones. In 1907 the horizontal slab beside the small stones was mistakenly reconstructed on top of those stones as a dolmen (a small megalithic tomb). It was placed on the ground again in the 1970s. A wide water-filled ditch surrounded the circle with one causeway entrance. There was also a hearth at the centre of the circle.

 

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There is a recently discovered neolithic farm settlement about 200 metres away and a nearby mound is thought to be a broch. There was a magnificent stone called the Odin Stone not far away until a tenant farmer (not himself a native Orcadian) dynamited it in 1814. It is variously asserted that he was annoyed by all the visitors who kept turning up or that he wanted a straighter path for ploughing. He was going to destroy the Stones of Stenness too. He pulled one down and destroyed another but was stopped after a public outcry by the community which included legal action and attempts to burn down his house.

 

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Even the more recent buildings are of some interest. Here is a nearby farmhouse complex, at a guess dating from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.

 

 

Maeshowe

Maeshowe is a chamber tomb dating to about 2700BC but photography is not allowed inside, so I cannot show you any images. Instead here are a couple of drawings from the information board.

 

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The entrance is long and low but the interior chamber is large, with space for maybe twenty people to stand around. For several weeks around the time of the shortest day in mid-winter, rays of light may seep through to the chamber at the rising or falling of the sun, at least providing the weather allows the sun to shine. There are small side chambers for storage of bones though any bones that were there have been removed many centuries ago.

 

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When the cairn was first excavated in “recent” times in 1861, they gained access through the roof and discovered that Vikings had also done so many centuries ago. There were at least two occasions when Vikings stopped for a while at Maeshowe and left runes behind, carved in the walls. The first was in 1150, when Earl Rognvald Kali Kolsson was gathering men to go on a Crusade. He and his men spent some time at Maeshowe and left runes behind. The Orkneyinga Saga relates some of their escapades but essentially, they would have been too late for the Second Crusade (1145-1149) which was generally a disaster for the crusaders. They returned in 1153. Also in 1153, around Christmas, Earl Harald Maddadson and a party of men took refuge at Maeshowe during a snowstorm. Two of the men are said to have gone mad there but the party left some runes behind.

Amongst the runic statements left by the Vikings are the following:

  • Crusaders broke into Maeshowe. Lif the Earl’s cook carved these runes. To the north-west is a great treasure hidden. It was long ago that a great treasure was hidden here. Happy is he that might find the great treasure. Haakon alone bore treasure from this mound. (signed Simon Sirith).
  • Ingebjork the fair widow – many a woman has walked stooping in here a very showy person (signed by Erlingr)
  • Thorni fucked. Helgi carved.
  • Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women (carved beside a rough drawing of a slavering dog)
  • This mound was raised before Ragnarr Lothbrocks her sons were brave smooth-hide men though they were

It may be that Maeshow was used for a Viking burial in the ninth century in which case the references to treasure would be Viking grave goods.

 

the Ness of Brodgar

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In use for about 1,000 years from 3200BC to 2300BC, the Ness of Brodgar was a remarkable ceremonial centre that was only recently discovered and is still largely unexcavated. It includes a massive “temple”, externally 25 x 20 metres (82 x 65 feet) though with walls five metres thick, so rather smaller inside. It appears to have been the centre of activities rather than the stone circles.

 

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I arrived five minutes before closing and consequently just had time for a few pictures and can’t tell you any detail of what is visible.

 

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As identified on the Orkneyjar site, this is Andy Boyer, an American student working as a volunteer on the site.  She perhaps appears to have found a stone axe.

 

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I think this is either part of the Lesser Wall of Brodgar or a section of the Temple.

 

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the Ring of Brodgar

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The Ring of Brodgar is thought to date from 2500BC to 200BC. The ring is much larger than for the Stones of Stenness but the stones are smaller, between 2.1 metres and 4.7 metres in height. There are currently 27 of them and may once have been 60. It is thought to be the last of the great neolithic monuments built on the Ness.

 

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This last image is from the Stones of Stenness again.