A bonus from visiting Cairnsmore of Fleet is seeing one of only 20 copies of ‘Voices from Glentrool and Merrick‘. A beautiful portfolio of prints by Silvana McLean and poems by Mary Smith stemming from another art project exploring the relationships between people, heritage and landscapes.
The power of the place became apparent long before the burning began.
When the final timber was erected, we knew there was something potent at this location.
Perhaps it was the result of our physical labour, of breaking earth with antler pick, heaving timbers into place. Or maybe it was the growing mood of anticipation amongst those who built this place about what was going to come next: a nervous excitement, an uncertainty of what exactly would happen as night fell, and what the following morning would witness.
And then there was the creation of a central focus, a figure head, a guardian. Around which deposits were placed, pottery made by the roundhouse located lower down the hillside.
And, as the sunset, we were ready to commence.
It was time, the right time, to burn the circle.
As the light faded, as day was stolen by night, we seized back the light, as the timbers began to blaze.
It was transformed, another world, another place, of night and fire.
For nearly four hours, we fed more fuel, creating an insatiable heat.
The guardian in the centre of the circle looked on.
Glowing sternly, in quiet contemplation of the events.
In the centre, did it sit between one world and another, night and day, past and present, the sacred and the profane. What strange things did the guardian see ?
Hours passed so quickly, months of planning, collection of masses of wood, moving soil and timber, the other world we temporarily created burnt less brightly, faded…
Yet we were left the next morning with the proud timbers, survivors around the guardian.
Only two companions had fallen in the night, others had burnt nearly through but stood on, what seemed to be precarious bases, slender charcoal sticks.
Then we left the other world.
Trowel our instrument of divining the past. A past so recent, its smell permeated our hair and clothes, our eyes still blazed with a reflection of the night before.
So, faithful trowel revealed that, despite masses of fuel (nearly five hours of burning in the night), once the wind had blown ash away and when ground was eroded away, beneath the topsoil there would be no significant trace of the burning to the archaeologist of the future. In time, only the post-holes, would reveal we were ever there at all.
Yet as we departed, we knew we left something more behind, a tangible place overlooked by the mountain.
They say the guardian still watches from the hillside,
most times it stands a lonely vigil.
But I am sure it has visitors, who mark special times,
who seek a place of quiet contemplation,
a place permeated by a vivid, visceral, vibrant, burning past.
———————————————————————————————————————Burning the Circle was a festival of the Bronze Age delivered in July 2013 in partnership with Northlight Heritage, the National Trust for Scotland, the University of Glasgow and the Isle of Arran Brewery to raise awareness of and celebrate the prehistoric remains on the Isle of Arran. There is evidence for timber circles having been built on Isle of Arran, on Machrie Moor, over 4000 years ago. There are some excavated examples of prehistoric ceremonial monuments in Scotland and beyond where the soil has scorched deep into the ground when they were destroyed by fire. As part of the event, the timber circle was built for experimental firing to begin to explore what archaeological traces the burning of timber structures may leave behind and to better understand what circumstances are most visible to the archaeologist. Many thanks to Marvin Elliott for undertaking the fantastic carving with bronze tools. The event was greatly helped by the expertise, in other forms of pyro-technology, of Graham Taylor and Neil Burridge: amazing insights from both. For another perspective on the events, please visit the Urban Prehistorian. Big thanks to Corinna, Kenny, Richard, Joss, Steven, Katy, Katie, Kate, Ingrid and Derek they made it all possible. Looking forward to next years event….!
The Serpent Flows,
Through Time and Stone,
Journey Onward, Return to Source.
I recently visited the Dunbeath Heritage Centre for the first time and was greatly impressed by the way in which art, archaeology and landscape have been blended. A high standard of artistic works, which are particularly sensitive to the broader landscape and heritage, was on display. Two contemporary sculptural stone pieces have been set into the floors and walls, complementing some of the artefacts on display. A contemplative shrine room has been created, with tiles by local potter Jenny Mackensie Ross, for a 7th century carved cross fragment: the Ballachly Stone. There are two beautiful pieces of contemporary stained glass, and a powerful glass wall installation by Alexander Hamilton. On the walls are black and white photographs of the wider landscape by Paul Basu. The glass of the windows is etched with literary quotes, evoking the powerful landscapes of Caithness beyond.
It has been painted, by artist Tim Chalk, with the serpent river, as viewed from above by the buzzard,
and relates a range of places, which appear in the semi autobiographical novel Highland River by Neil Gunn, encountered by the main character Kenn when the Dunbeath Water is followed to it source. The serpent head design is derived from an 8th century brooch found at Dunbeath in the 19th century.
So now I feel compelled to return to Dunbeath, explore the places alongside the serpent river, to journey to the source.
Do I go to this source of inspiration and read the works of Neill Gunn before I return, should I then carry the stories, characters and places when I eventually explore, do I loose myself in the literary landscapes first?
Or do I return first to Dunbeath, undertake the journey to the source, and then read Gunn’s works?
Perhaps this dilemma stems from a pretense about landscape. A pretense that there is a possibility of my authentic experience, unmediated by other literary, cultural or historical references, of the landscape out there. When the very joy of landscape is that our perception through our presence is an act of co-creation, mediated through our knowledge and our imagination, with the rich textures and legacies, people and places which went before us.
‘Within You Will Find The Spirit Of The River’ (N Gunn)
Neil Gunn spent most of his boyhood at Dunbeath and many of his novels engage with the different pasts of the landscapes and communities of Caithness. You can get more information about and hear several short readings by Neil Gunn. Dunbeath Heritage Centre is the old school house where Gunn would have been taught as a boy, where he may have sat during lessons and stared out of the windows at the landscape beyond.
My unexpected visit to Dunbeath Heritage Centre was greatly enhanced by the warm welcome I received from the manager and the time which they took to discuss things with me, many thanks. I was very pleased to learn the displays were conceived by Paul Basu. You can take a virtual tour of the Dunbeath Heritage Centre, there is also a wonderful explanation by Paul about the way it has been designed to create a dialogue with the broader landscape and its multiple perceptions. But I would recommend if at all possible you visit in person and go explore Caithness where land, sky and sea meet so powerfully with the past.
There Was No Need Of Celtic Cross
Or Sculptors Art for Me
To Wake Membrance of the Past
Or Turn My Thoughts To Thee…
The text above is from Priscilla McLaren for her husband Duncan McLaren upon the memorial overlooking Loch Awe. The memorial sits at the mouth of Inverstrae, upon the footings of a longhouse, where he stayed for two years when a boy: ‘He was born poor, and never forgot or strove to conceal the fact’ (Mackie 1888 v1, 8).
Priscilla McLaren was founder of the Scottish division of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. Duncan McLaren was a liberal reformer who was elected Lord Provost of Edinburgh and then served as MP for Edinburgh. Further details of Priscilla McLaren (1815 – 1906) and Duncan McLaren (1800-1886) can be found via archives hub. The engraving of the McLaren monument is from the 1888 ‘The Life and Work of Duncan McLaren’ by John Beveridge Mackie, which can be found at Archive Org.
The McLaren monument is an exquisite piece of sculpture but is clearly deteriorating with conservation management issues. It was produced by Mitchell Wilson architects of Edinburgh and made by W Beveridge, Sculptor, Edinburgh, probably at a workshop on Dalry Road just before 1900.
Beware This Is A Modern Art Meets Archaeology Mash Up Post.
Text reports on presentations at a conference session with interspersed images found on streets of Pilsen & Prague, Czech Republic.
Archaeology met modern art in a conference session ‘Archaeology meets modern art: artists’ approaches to prehistoric data‘ at the recent EAA in Pilsen.
The presentations included Dragos Gheorghiu’s work on Artchaeology. He presented examples of work in Romania which combined artistic modes of practice, reconstruction and experimental archaeology, and creation of digital environments which are blended to generate an augmented reality: ‘immersive transport to the past’. One such example was the reconstruction at Vadastra of a fragment of the workshop of a Roman villa rustica and associated ceramic kiln, glass kiln and iron furnace.
Artist Sebastian Walter explained the approach to the development of the Schoeppingen time-machine for the Schoppingen Art Foundation, Germany. Part art, part interpretation, part archaeological synthesis, the piece presenced the past and future at 20 locations with timespies (Zeitspione). A playful way to get people to reflect on their relationships with the town of Schoeppingen.
Curator Marko Mele discussed several art projects within the Universalmuseum Joanneum, Graz, Austria which had an archaeological component. These included ‘A cross-departmental, pan-Styrian, polyphonic project’, entitled Super Eggs, by Simon Starling & Superflex. In another, artist Sharon Lockhart, explored the The Beginning of Time in response to the palaeolithic remains from Repolust Cave. This resulted in video installation and exhibition of the finds: in part a reflection on systematic archaeological practices. Most powerful, perhaps, was the example of the installation VZPOSTAVITEV (Reestablishment), a piece outside the walls of the museum, by RHIZOM and e.d.gfrerer. It was intended to promote awareness of an exhibition in the museum ANS LICHT GEBRACHT (BROUGHT TO LIGHT), as part of a cross border Slovenia-Austria exchange project InterArch-Štajerska. The street installation comprised the creation of a sculptural piece of 1200 sandbags in the city of Maribor, Slovenia, which was due to be moved through the city on three occasions. However, the Vice Mayor of the city had the piece removed to a junk yard, which provoked protest until it was reinstated, ultimately in the form of a ‘bunker’ in front of the City Hall.
There was a great presentation by David Connolly (Connolly Heritage Consultancy) and Kate Sloan (Peter Potter Gallery) of collaborative work in the landscapes and sites of East Lothian Scotland. Much of the collaboration relates to the Lost Landscapes project which: ‘traverses boundaries between art, ecology, archaeology and local history to explore historical ways of life through the lens of contemporary art’. This has included a variety of exhibitions, such as Return to the Earth: The Poetry of Fragments, and Nicky Bird’s Archaeology of the Ordinary. The Peter Potter Gallery continues to commission striking pieces that have been informed (at least in part) by archaeology and heritage, highlighted by the current exhibition WITCH by Liz Adamson and Alexa Hare.
Archaeologist Anna Zalewska then reflected on her difficult encounter with two pieces in Poland about ‘The Archaeology of Crime’ in relation to the mass graves, such as Katyn, from the 1940′s. In one case, there was an interpretative exhibition in the streets with photographs by Piotr Krol about Bykivnia which has witnessed several episodes of archaeological investigation and exhumation. In another, case the challenging imagery of photographer Maksymilian Rigamonti presented encounters (e.g. Butterfly and the Bones) with the exhumation of victims : in part by an absence. These encounters raised issues relating to the ethics of different aesthetics and subversive practices, which were explored further in the presentation.
Then archaeologists Rebecca Younger and Kenny Brophy explored several examples of replica Stonehenges from across the world. These included the inflatable Stonehenge SACRILEGE by artist Jeremy Deller, the illegally constructed concrete Achill-henge, and the Stone Henge Aotearoa in New Zealand which was constructed to as an educational facility combining ‘modern scientific knowledge with ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Celtic, Polynesian and Maori starlore’. They reflected on how wide ranging the appropriation has been of a four thousand years old monument to create potent places with contemporary resonances. For 76 examples see Clonehenge blog.
In a final presentation, the session organisors presented the preliminary results of interviews with six artists, Brian Graham, Markus Hofer, Louise Tait, Jeremy Deller, Paul Musgrove and Michael Jarman, about their relationship with archaeology in their practices.
All in all, an excellent and inspiring session, organised by Estell Weiss-Krejci, Edeltraud Aspӧck and Mark Hall, which clearly demonstrated the value of the ongoing conversation between archaeology and modern art.
One year of heritagelandscapecreativity has just passed, so this post has a celebratory tone to it.
there on the stair, …
A few steps further up, we then encountered another sleepy mouse content to loll about in the sun before us.
Upon descending from the fort, we spotted a further cluster of mice at the side of the path, and scratched our heads at what appeared to be a strange lack of timidness amongst the (brave ?) Mice O’ Mote O’ Mark.
Ah the tipsy Mice O’ Mote O’ Mark, continue the ancient tradition of feasting and drinking, which this site had almost certainly witnessed before…
…long may their celebration of heritage and landscape continue.
Many thanks to all of those who have followed, commented, liked, tweeted, blogged, in relation to heritagelandscapecreativity over the past year. Your interest, enthusiasm and encouragement has been greatly appreciated.
Three times I have been to this place, I should have been more…
The first time was in 1994 to take part in excavations on the site before the Archaeolink Prehistory Park was built. The second time, a few years later, was during a research visit to study the recumbent stone circles of Aberdeenshire.
I could barely walk and had to go to casualty in Insch to get my leg seen to: a trapped nerve from sleeping on the hard ground without a camping mat….! So I hobbled amongst the structures…strong pain killers and looking at too many stone circles leave my memories hazy…but it was clearly a vibrant place, where reconstructions of prehistoric structures were used to bring pasts alive.
The third time I visited was a few weeks ago. I had heard that the centre had closed over a year ago but was surprised by what I encountered.
At the heart of the Archaeolink Prehistory Park was the award winning visitors centre by Edward Cullinan Architects. The clean lines of the green mound evoked prehistoric mounds and barrows (but has a subsequent Teletubbi-esque cultural reference): now a thatch of gorse, elder and willow, begins to reclaim it for the woods.
Like many heritage centers, it had been designed to take you on a journey through space and time ! From the reconstructions of structures which may have been occupied by the earliest settlers in Aberdeenshire.
The empty eyes of a wooden Ballachulish style figurine, adjacent to a clootie well.
Helpless, the house now slowly decays, doors open to the elements.
Until recently, this reconstruction of an Iron Age round house, was a place for people to learn, and celebrate the rich heritage of north east Scotland. The ash of the last fire, the faint echo of voices, is slowly disappearing.
Fragments of material culture, broken reconstructions of pots, clay loom weights, wooden artefacts, are slowly becoming archaeology within the interior: this time we can witness the end of a prehistory.
I encountered the slightly surreal patchwork of abandonment fragments of a recreated past. Tinged with a melancholy for the end of the hopes of a future to be informed and sustained through reference to fundamentally important elements of the archaeology, history and heritage of north east Scotland. I hope this is not The End of Prehistory.
It is clear that the site has a latent energy and verdant potency from established woodlands, matured landscaping, and the invasive weeds following (temporary ?) abandonment.
Perhaps, we will be left with a modern ruin, to add to a contemporary archaeology of heritage centers and museums. Or perhaps there is an opportunity, to learn from the recent past, and to reinvent and revitalise.
Perhaps, there has never been The End of Prehistory.
For more Gallus-ness see The Gallus Games
The shape of the piece, two monoliths of Kilkenny Blue Limestone, and form of incised lines evokes Pictish carvings. The piece also refers to the Aberdeen built sailing ship the Thermopylae, launched in 1868: apparently the fastest sailing ship ever constructed.
At the foot of the monoliths is an inscribed poem by Peter Davidson:
It clearly evokes the maritime heritage of Aberdeen but also refers to the standings stones which can still be found in the wider landscape referring to the ‘crow stone’ and ‘maiden stone’.
For more thoughts about this piece, from the artists Will Maclean and Marian Leven, please watch the video. Well worth watching about Past Inspired Sculpture: markers in the landscape.
Sawney Bean, the legendary Scottish cannibal, who is said to have lived in a cave on the Ayrshire coast with his family in the late 15th century: preying on over 1000 passing travelers. Artist Adam McEwen’s ‘Sawney Bean’ exhibition at The Modern Institute playfully explores the mythology, materiality and geography of ‘Sawney Bean’ as mediated through personal biography. Most striking perhaps is the poignant representation in graphite of a wooden coffin carrier found in a family barn on the Ayrshire coast.
For centuries people have been coming to the cave, a place of contemplation and prayer on the Machars. Many have inscribed crosses, names and initials on the walls of the cave. Some set coins in cracks in the rock which tarnish and slowly corrode.
To reach this special place traditionally you would travel along the pilgrimage trail through the Machars via Whithorn. This long association started with St Ninian’s mission in AD 397, then resulting in pilgrimage to a shrine at Whithorn from the 7th century onwards.
For there protection many of these important Medieval stones were gathered together at the museum in Whithorn. For over 30 years The Whithorn Trust have been researching the archaeology and heritage of the Machars and revealed some amazing things. Most recently they have undertaken an exciting project investigating the archaeology of the Machars.
It was however announced earlier this year that The Whithorn Trust and Whithorn Story Visitor Centre may be closed due a lack of funding, a situation which leaves the future of this significant heritage centre and many important artefacts it curates uncertain. Importantly for the visitor experience The Whithorn Story Visitor Centre forms part of a hub with the Historic Scotland Whithorn Priory and Museum. The stones in the museum were redisplayed in 2004 in partnership between Historic Scotland and the Whithorn Trust, with Heritage Lottery Funding.
Please help by adding your support to the petition to save The Whithorn Trust.
or add your support through the facebook
In the current economic and political climate, we need to value and support our museums and heritage centers. Like other forms of art and culture, which make our society far richer and more vibrant, they can be soft targets at such times. As places of communal memory, we are poorer without them and our relationships to the landscapes we inhabit will be even more difficult to maintain, grow and enhance.
The Whithorn Priory and Museum micro site has further complementary information about Whithorn and the Machars.