And again, should we wash upon, Loch Awe shore …

Vicarious serendipities, perhaps, could have only ever occurred at this location?

It started with a couple of images from 1970. I would encounter them once every few years or so, but they haunted me over several decades. It may not seem like a significant rhythm, too irregular, unpredictable, to have any substance? But like a slow burning ember, which with the slightest breathe of air can briefly flash bright before returning to dormant slumber under ashy coat, the potential to fully ignite remained. Each time I saw the images, it was always like being reminded of something I had forgotten, but couldn’t remember what or why!

Many times before I had driven along the shore road, glimpses of tree covered islands, crannogs and unsettled water, no more than fleeting impressions. And then I found myself, on a hill side overlooking Loch Awe for several weeks. From here the stone husk of Kilchurn Castle provides a vivid reminder of the history of Scotland’s landscapes: a favourite picturesque centerpiece, providing seductive views for quintessential yearnings of Scottishness.

But looking down, with different perspective, hands covered in peat and mud, trying to make sense of the Medieval period from broken fragments, I wondered. Wondered why Beuys responded to the shore side and what motivated him to create such a humble sculptural piece.

It is said that a lump of peat, length of pine branch and copper pipe were discovered by Beuys on these shores. These were combined, crozier like, and placed in a lead vitrine, to become ‘The Loch Awe Piece’. Perhaps it deliberately presences the symbolism of early Christian missionary regalia, tangled with the shepherd’s crook, both of which changed this landscape physically and conceptually.

But what I struggled with was the discovery of the copper pipe. Peat and pine expected, the vedigris tube troubled me, and I didn’t know why. So I resolved, to revisit, to return to the 8th May 1970.

I carried further expectations of the shoreline. Remote(ish), relatively unvisited (a few roadside stopping places are hasty insta-locales), slight and fleeting this should be a place of little trace. And the dirty truth, where water washes, we expect our detritus is tidied away, like some debris removal ecosystem service. And so, I found myself on the shores of Loch Awe, naively surprised at the rubbish. Camping gear residues, fishing tackle tangles, barbecue libations, carbonised outdoor activities, all evidenced from fire pit scatter patterns of objects.

But then there was another range of materials which I doubted anybody would bring camping, broken window handles and tools, more akin to dumping of materials from a house refurbishment. It felt like a forensic archaeology of the anthropocene, almost unnoticed, an aggregation of tiny acts of aggression littered the shoreline.

Such patterns of behavior have perhaps accelerated since May 1970. With a fifty year period of marketing frenzied consumption, crashing willfully across our shores. So it was now no surprise that, among the broken bits of screw driver, handles and cans, a copper pipe had once been discovered here. No caring crook or inspiring crozier but a length of domestic waste sanitation.

So I gathered and crafted, to bear witness perhaps, to the unintended consequences of our material entanglements. A trophy of our times, hybridized bio-mechanics, as anthropocene assemblage. And when you look in its quartz eyes, do we see death or a feint flicker of hope?

I can’t help wondering, fancifully, is there now a moment on the 8th May 1970, where my faint spectre like figure can be briefly seen, perhaps out of the corner of Beuys eye, purposively scouring the shoreline.

Perhaps decades of glimpses of Beuys accreted, with other moments around the shores of Loch Awe, like some plastiglomerate, which could only have occurred in such anthropocene times. Perhaps in such times we need to find new aesthetics, beyond the picturesque ?

And are there other places you know, where we need to be sensitive to spectres of the future haunting us?

————————————————————————————————————————–

I wonder, why should this matter in times of environmental and climate crises? Perhaps an archaeological sensibility to the anthropocene (its origins, manifestations, asymmetries and more-than-human entanglements) could be important at such times? Could an #AnthropoceneArchaeology #ContemporaryArchaeology which reveals and challenges our assumptions about how and why we consume be a vital component in adaptation and resistance?

On 8th May 1970, Joseph Beuys traveled ‘the Road to Meikle Seggie’ through Argyll, Scotland, with Richard Demarco and Sally Holman. Some good accounts of Beuys work in Scotland can be found in Richard Demarco & Joseph Beuys A Unique Partnership published in 2016 by Luath Press and Joseph Beuys and the Celtic Wor(l)d by Victoria Walters

The two images of Beuys have been created through rephotography at the closest location I could find and merging with the originals held in the Demarco Archive, which can be found in the Argyll Demarco Archive Folder.

All elements of the piece, apart from the pins, were found on the shore of Loch Awe. It was produced for the XR Summerhall 2019 Exhibition and was accompanied by a short performance and discussion about Anthropocene Archaeologies. My thanks to the XR Summerall team for accepting my work, particular thanks to Natalie Taylor, Johnathan Baxter and Felicity White for support. I have also been privileged to work with Clan Gregor and Dalmally Historical Association, and all the wonderful volunteers who participated, in the investigation of a Medieval settlement overlooking Loch Awe and through many years of archaeological excavations in the area have learned a great deal from all those who are so passionate about the heritage and landscapes of Glen Orchy, Glen Strae and Loch Awe side. Such archaeological encounters have also informed the work: And Again, Should We Wash Upon Loch Awe Shore …

Dark Enchanted Isle

The small ferry left Stromness as the storm began to rise. With the distant island mountain already backdropped by troubled skies and foregrounded by rising waves, it struggled to land briefly at Graemsay, spilling out people and packages hurrying to avoid the incoming tempest.

By the time we arrived on Hoy, cloud and rain was racing angrily towards the shore. I zipped my waterproof tight, stooping, rain driven into my face by an unforgiving wind I began to make my way uphill through the storm. With an hour or more walk along the old moorland road to Rackwick, I had resigned myself to being soaked by the time I reached my destination but began to worry about the practicalities of pitching a tent in these conditions.

And then a white van pulled up, surprised and slightly confused I hesitantly opened the door, to find a black and white collie sitting on the seat. ‘I was looking for you’ said the driver ‘Its not a night for walking’. With this kindness, I arrived at Rackwick somewhat sooner and drier than I had any right to expect.

Sea cliffs, funneled foam and fury, into the bay. Swollen waves, crashing against already saturated shoreline. Imagining scenes of chasing my tent, tattered though the night, any thoughts of canvas was abandoned, and I turned to the Bothy.

* * *

The next morning I stood between Trowie Glen and the Nowt Bield Corrie. The names reveal something deeper about this place. Trowie is an Orcadian term, derived from Norse, for Troll: important folklore and literary figures often associated with particular mounds or distinctive stones. While Nowt Bield, I think means nothing built, evoking a harsh and inhospitable character but place names can be fickle and subject to change. The Ordnance Survey name book of 1879 shows the burn was thought to be called the Burn of the Horned Bull but was crossed out and written as Burn of the Nowt Bield. Perhaps the cartographic slaying of a sacred bull?

There had been sightings of the sea eagle chick at this location. Now old enough to be left by its mother, I watched it hunt tentatively, more of a hop and glide, than a majestic soar. But this vulnerability was humbling to see, a more elemental being still learning the power of the air. It seemed appropriate it was this location, hovering between sacred bull and sleeping troll.

Perhaps five thousand years ago, people cut into a massive boulder slab, creating a short passage to a small chamber, off which are two smaller cells. The entrance had been blocked, and probably remained so for perhaps up to 4000 years, till about 1500 AD.

The Dwarfie Stane, as it is now called, may have been used for mortuary practices, with fragmented human remains being, probably temporarily, kept within. Elsewhere on Orkney, bird and animal remains have also been found in chambered cairns, perhaps showing that the rites were more complex than burial as we would understand. For example, at Ibister the remains of 14 sea eagles were also present among the bones of people.

Entering the Dwarfie Stane is a slightly claustrophobic experience but sealed in stone, the eyes and ears quickly attune to different spectrum. You can’t help but wonder who entered here and what activities took place. I lay down for a while, shrouded in stone, and let my imagination drift.

As I left I wondered what changes occur

when you emerge from a sandstone cocoon?

As well as cartographic concerns, the Dwarfie Stane was increasingly in the 19th century consciousness: referred to in Walter Scott’s 1822 The Pirate; with the Geologist Hugh Miller having carved his name in one of the cells in 1846; and on the outside carved in 1850, backwards in Latin, the name of Major W Mouncey, accompanied in Persian by ‘I have sat two nights and have learned patience’. Beneath these recent accretions of ‘men making marks’, there may be a Norse inspired Medieval folklore of Trolls. But there is a deeper horizon which can still be encountered here.

The Dwarfie Stane lies on a slope below a striking cliff line, now called the Dwarfie Hammars. The cliff line is pocked with regular indentations where the rock has split and tumbled down in blocks. Caves have also been discovered on the cliff face, in one of which a polished stone was found, suggested as perhaps akin to some prehistoric artefact.

The tradition of sky burial is known in many cultures, with bodies being exposed, to deflesh through elemental wind and rain and carrion beak. There are also many traditions of using such cliff faces, and caves or ledges, as the site for burials or ossuaries.

I now want you to imagine, people moving carefully but confidently (well used to collecting sea bird eggs) along the cliff face. There may have been cloth or hide banners hanging down or totems erected at points marking the entrance to particular caves. The cliff face may also have been covered with bags of bones and baskets of skulls, looking down at the Dwarfie Stane.

Now smell the smoke and distant sea spray.

Can you hear the songs and chants?

From up on the cliff, with the call of the Sea Eagle still higher, you would have views to the north and east to Mainland Orkney and to the west to the setting sun on the north side of Rackwick Bay.

And on days, when the banners flapped and bones rattled above with the fury of the elements, and you stood at the Dwarfie Stane you knew you were truly alive.

————————————————————————————————————————–

Upon reflection I wonder why this matters, why these enchanted places are important in such troubled times. Perhaps it is they remind us of other times and ways and extend the possibilities of what we can work towards in the future? Our relationships to those who have gone before us, the terms we use (? ancestor, family, stranger, people) are powerful components (at least implicitly) of many contemporary debates about identity and politics. Our death cultures also matter: the way we treat our closest at times before, during and after death, how we celebrate and mourn are also fundamental aspect of cultural practices which over centuries became increasingly individualising and corporate. While there are all kinds of legal and ethical issues, at least knowing there were different mortuary and funerary practices, I hope cultivates awareness, sensitivity and respect for the variety of human and more-than-human life ways too.

For more Inspiring Island Explorations,

please have a look at some other HeritageLandscapeCreativity posts:

Imaginary Island of Ailsa Craig

Witches Whispers of St Kilda

Hoy has a remarkable series of stories of people and its landscape. Thanks to Antonia Thomas and Dan Lee for some great advice and information before my journey to Hoy. I greatly appreciated the kindness of Jimmy and Diesel and the stories shared of the Dark Enchanted Island.

The title of this post refers to the book Hoy, the Dark Enchanted Island by John Bremner – which alas I was unable to get a copy.

If you are lucky enough to be able to visit Orkney, rather than dash from monument to monument in peak season across the World Heritage Site, visit other Islands rather than just Mainland Orkney and if you can, please go out of peak season when the weather is wilder.

#SlowArchaeology #WildPrehistory

Thracian Dreamings

Months later I still daydream in Thracian,

Albeit, fragmented glimpses, a light,

Almost imperceptible, awareness.

But I still find myself wondering,

About sky temples and sanctuaries,

Among juniper scented mountains.

————————————————————————————————————————–

I started Dreaming in Thracian due to an Erasmus+ study trip to Bulgaria. A short report on the study trip can be found here: Glimpses Of Thracian Landscapes

Many thanks to Archnetwork for organising the Bulgarian trip and to our hosts at the Devetaki Plateau Association for such an insightful experience.

On both a professional and personal level the opportunity to take time out and learn was immensely valuable. There will be further exchanges in 2020 by Archnetwork about which more details can be found here: 2020 Archnetwork Destinations

In 2020 cultural exchange and shared learning may be more important than ever to help respond and adapt to some of the great challenges we currently face. If you work in the Natural or Cultural Heritage sector in Scotland I would highly recommend undertaking an Archnetwork study trip: you may start dreaming differently after.

Ghost Pines

 

rooted

Hush land scape listen,

absence on wind

do we hear, gentle rustle.

rustle

stand

Fresh pine stand christen,

presence in land

do we smell, needle bristle.

sentinel

dismal

Mulch hide shape risen,

substance of plant

do we taste, peat dismal.

substance

mulch

bind

Wash Loch water glisten,

disturbance of bind

do we feel, rooted sentinel.

disturbance

wash


 

About 4000 years ago the climate became cooler and wetter, the Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) struggled to cope, essentially its roots suffocating, and died back.

The fallen trunks and tree roots became preserved within the forming peat.

These skeletal remains are found in remote places like Rannoch Moor, Scotland.

Once witnessed, the wider landscape appears haunted with Ghost Pines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amulets, Charms & Totems

Talisman Reveries

Some places distinguish themselves,

first glance,

part curve & coastline roll,

nothing more,

still, slow

lift the veil

Rubha na Caillich

glimpse deeper,

feel texture, smooth unique forms,

practice geological crafts,

caressed ocean rise & fall

Bather

torso twist & turn,

with millennial restlessness,

some settle,

Congregations

in slumber,

life-form

aggregates,

flocks, herds, names & stories

Flocks and Herds

hover, rest, soar & plunge,

surge in your liminality,

 

flow land & sea

Cailleachs

sinuous figure,

washed & soothed,

rise paps,

taste cloud & rain

Sentinels

rest upon her

sanctuary

with gifts returned

Offerings

dive deep

 

seek

 

 

macabre collections,

 

 

offer chitin charms

share exoskeleton

amulets

Paint box  1.JPG

upon her flanks,

now she bares

palette pools

 

 

yellows,

browns

&

greens

 

mix & wash

Seascape

with cumulus brush

cyan coating

maritime hues

Recline

in time

we can drown,

 

draw down,

Submerge

wash & wave

Paps of Jura

escaping

solar bleached

realities

Enchantment

before

winters

first flurries

Feather Flight

with

gentle

poise

discover

new

totems

Totem


 

The distinctive point, Rubha na Caillich, is a weathered rock outcrop on the coast of the Kintyre peninsula.

To the north, the seascape soon leads to the Corryvreckan (Cauldron of The Plaid) Whirlpool,  where it has been said the Caillich washes her cloth at the end of Autumn and when cleaned becomes the white winter snow covering the land.

To the east, across the Sound of Jura, are the Paps of Jura (Beinn an Òir, Beinn Shiantaidh and Beinn a’ Chaolais)

Immediately, to the south of Rubha na Caillich, is Dun Cragach, where a small community dwelt beside the Caillich figure about 2000 years ago.  I am sure they would have recognised the distinctive form next to them and would in some way have incorporated her presence into their ceremonies and stories of the landscape they inhabited together.

They would have also interacted with the other birds and animals of the landscape, with perhaps different perspectives from today : how they understood, otter (or diving sea birds), who brought sea urchin and crab to eat on her flanks, leaving exoskeleton amulets, would be fascinating to explore further.

Travel south a further kilometer and you reach Carraig nam Bodach but that is another journey together.

 

 

 

Ben Griam Beg – a speculative archaeology

Source

Coblaith furiously lashed the flank of the mud splattered beast as it stumbled up the slope. They had already lost two of their bulls. The first had plunged into a bog pool, thrashing and roaring as it sank deeper, until its silence was claimed by the underworld, the other fell off a narrow path threading though the rocks, crashing on slabs below, a twisted mix of leg and horn. Its remains were quickly butchered before pushing to the summit.

Deep Pools

Another lash, lead ropes nose bleed pulling, the bulls heaved to the top where this early in the season there were still patches of snow and wind bite with the last presence of the Cailleach. 

Cailleachs Breath

Early yet, dangerous, but the summit needed to be enclosed before she fully returned with the first new snow. The mountain top was where the deities stored powerful stones, treasures and trinkets, through which their energies could be drawn.

Trinkets and Treasures

Coblaith quickly set the teams to work, iron chisels ringing on stone, thump of mallets on wedges as they split the rock. The bulls were spirited, oxen would have been easier, but the gods understood their power.

Sacred Top

The persistent wind tugged at her braids, Coblaith sighed, looking north to the Orcades, it had taken years to persuade the group to encircle the mountain top. To go deep into Dithreabh Chat, to the peaks where the deities played, had been unthinkable but she had persuaded, threatened and promised and now they were greedy for power.

Top

Seize the sacred top and all peoples of the Chat would fall beneath them. By Autumn she would know if her plan had worked.

* * *

Every Summer from birth the twins had traveled up from the mouth of the Strath to Dithreabh Chat. The journey started each year when the second light spark shower (lyrids) was seen high in the night sky.

Journey

With the cattle’s slow swaying pace, passing by spring lush hazel coppice’s and birch stands, they would take three nights to travel inland to the first grazings. In two moons time they would reach the pens on Ben Griam Beg, where the big gathering would begin.

The Pens

Eithne shouted ‘Look there, the red ones, they are running down too quickly’. Uvan stopped scampering along the banks of the river, pausing together they watched the group of hinds, heavy with fawn.

Red Ones

Even at the distance, they could see the fear in their eyes, nostrils flaring, as they fled from two grey wolves. The riverside burst into sound, barking and growling from the groups large hunting dogs, cattle’s bellowing and calves alarmed bleats. With flashes of light, spears lifted and swords unsheathed, horns sounded and the wolves turned.

Lying on their backs, looking up at the clear night sky, they would see who would be first to spot a light spark. Uvan liked to tease his sister, pointing to the side ‘Look, there, two sparks at once !’. Eithne turned her head to a still empty sky, then thumped his arm ‘Uvan !’.

* * *

Raven Clouds

Among the mist, above his head, the ravens skipped and swirled along the raw shattered stone wall top. Gabran looked up and spat at the birds, an unwanted presence who reminded him of where those building the great wall had come.

Raid

In grey predawn light, his raiding group had burst into the small settlement of round houses, wielding iron sword and fire, they quickly torched roofs, then seized people as they exited. Cattle and people were herded alike to the great pens to the north. The youngest children had been taken in by members of his group, raised as their own, they would soon forget.

Thin Soils

He felt little for them, clinging to the old ways, with their myths of the goddess and her black birds of time and death. Each night he chained the adults in the small hut on the mountain side and reveled in every unkindness.

Hut

Sooner they had his section of the great wall complete he could get off this sodden lump and return to his family on the coast.

The Great Wall

Before Winter, the builders would know their fate, of those that survived, one in three would be taken into the group, the others would be sacrificed.

Sacrifice

The dark birds played over head, Gabran spat.

* * *

Ancient Trees

I remember when mother would sit with us, when the miking was done, and the evening sun still warmed our skin. We would spin and chat at the side of the burn, a smoky fire keeping midges away. The low Summer sun, would dance through the leaves of the last stand of trees in the glen.

Last Trees

I would pester Maithgemm, all Summer, to tell of the beginning. Of the times before mothers mothers, when Coblaith took the mountain top from the deities. Every year, it would always be on a night after several long hot days when distant storms raged to the north and the sky flashed with light, she would remind us.

By The Burn

‘When Coblaith drove the great bulls through the upper glen to the sacred top the ancient trees hid them from above. Choosing the strongest bulls, Coblaith, wrapped their feet in cloth so the deities wouldn’t hear them coming.

Coblaith also knew that the deities spent much of their time on the top staring north at the green shifting skies above the Orcades, which mesmerized them, so she approached from the south.

Orcades

When the lights stopped, they would wander across the Chat and interfere in the world of people.

Interfere

The horned god loved to collect heads and horns leaving them in special places.

Day and night, without rest, they labored. At first the deities fought back, covering them in cloud and continuous rain, but as the days got longer and warmer they had to leave. When the deities returned, the wall was completed, and they couldn’t reach the sacred top.

Enclosed

All Winter the deities crashed furiously against the highs stone walls, flinging ice spears and sending there messengers of ill omen. But Coblaith had spilled the bulls blood across the wall tops and they could not enter. Every Winter the deities try to take back the sacred top and like Coblaith we must stay to hold it.

Now the deities are old and tired, like me, and perhaps we must be kinder to them.’

* * *

Distant Strath

Standing in the citadel Talorc wrapped the heavy cloak tighter around himself. He already felt the early Winter deep in his bones. As a young man he had relished staying on the top telling stories, nålbinding and drinking with the small group who had to remain. Their continued presence resisted the gods, holding the top for generations, since Coblaith’s founding.

Despite the continuous peat fire burning in the round house, ice crystals formed from his breath and the smell of rot and damp pervaded everything. And now he doubted he would wake this spring.

Stalker

Talorc’s thoughts drifted to his first year leading the group, a life time ago, when the gatherings were still large. When people traveling from across the Chat to maintain the fortifications, make exchanges and confirm marriages, and the top echoed with laughter and song.

The Gathering Place

Now the ground wetter and summers colder, the thin soils were sliding down, and the pools of water were getting darker and deeper.

Maintenance

For years there hadn’t been enough people to repair the great wall and many of the huts were now sagging or collapsed.

Collapse

He doubted whoever followed him would be able to hold Ben Griam Beg from the deities much longer.

Chill Rock


 

This is a response, a speculative archaeology, to walking in from Strath Naver to Ben Griam Beg in March 2018.  Wildcamping below its southern flank, perhaps one of the few people who have slept in this landscape for over a thousand years, I woke up the next day to find after rainfall during the night the whole outer surface of the tent had a frozen skin. Carefully I opened the zip but the slight movements caused ice to slide, leaving a ring of water crystals around my little domain. It felt like a small moment of magic in this vast landscape.

Why did this particular archaeological site fascinate me so much?

Why was I drawn to travel to it?

In part, as Ben Griam Beg is one of the most difficult to visit prehistoric sites in Scotland, and as its highest hill fort, it captured my imagination, as a prehistorian, I felt compelled to experience where people lived 2000 years ago.

In part, because the site has never been investigated properly and I wondered what insights could be gained on the ground as opposed to scrutinizing a plan of the site, supping frothy coffee, in a library.

In part, to see what the Flow Country was like at this point and how the site related to its wider landscapes of Strath of Kildonan and Strath Naver.

In part, because I was seeking solitude and a night wild camping in a remote location is a freedom and privilege I treasure.

All these were important but what I keep coming back to

thinking about

wondering is

[when I visit rural and upland landscapes

so rich

in

prehistoric

remains]

how does the survival and presence of such archaeological sites inform debates about the future of communities and the challenges the world currently faces.

I worry, yes worry, that we do not engage enough with the rich prehistoric resources

(largely unknown, misunderstood and unvisited)

to be found in rural and upland places and how it should challenge us to reflect on our relationships with such landscapes. It seems to me that there is a missing wider dialogue about the ramifications of such ancient remains, what do they potentially tell us ?

The only full account of survey of Ben Griam Beg by Roger Mercer (1991) makes interesting reading, not least with the account of ‘challenges’ faced by the survey team due to the weather on the mountain. But as a ‘statement of fact’ the author is careful to present the evidence of survey and, largely due to limitations in knowledge (i.e. there has been no excavation, no dates are known for the different elements – some could be early Iron Age others could be early Historic period), it is difficult to interpret the site meaningfully in terms of anything other than a speculative archaeology.  What is clear, however, is there are several phases of return and maintenance at the site, entangled memories of previous generations and former ages, which the account tries to evoke.

One of the few interpretations posited in the CANMORE record of Ben Griam Beg is:

‘The extreme remote and exposed situation of the complex probably indicates

a temporary refuge of man and beast under threat of attack,

rather than a permanent settlement.’

In the lack of evidence, and in the face of such statements, could a speculative archaeology challenge us to think differently.  There has been so much focus in Scotland in recent years, and understandably so, on our relationships with rural and upland landscapes through the filter of the ‘Clearances’ or ‘Rewilding’. I do not belittle the importance of events in the recent centuries which have led to huge levels of rural depopulation, and recognise that there are historical injustices manifest in the ways our landscapes are managed. I do not underplay the importance of the debate about how we perceive, access and manages landscapes, in relation to degrees of ‘wildness’ and the complex range of ecological entanglements historically manifest in landscapes. But I wonder, why doesn’t the ramifications of the presence of prehistoric / deep time dimension of such landscapes appear to get meaningfully addressed in such debates.

Perhaps then there is a need for those of us who study, interpret, visit and are passionate about prehistoric sites to be more vocal about why they matter more broadly? #PrehistoryMatters

Our relationships with the prehistoric, have largely been mediated by academic research, often esoteric and obscure subjects which (until recent ‘impact’ agendas) had little interest in broader resonance or meaning.  So perhaps speculative archaeology can close the gap and act as a method of formulating research questions. 

How do questions we ask and the stories we tell change when we approach sites such as Ben Griam Beg, rather than random survivors of other eras, but as seeds of the future?

Ghost


Thanks to Jo Clements and Timespan for inviting me to contribute to the Practicing Deep Time event.  Preparing for the event and discussion with participants was an important contribution to formulating some of the views expressed here.

Mercer, R J 1991 ‘The survey of a hilltop enclosure on Ben Griam Beg, Caithness and Sutherland District, Highland Region’ in Hanson, W S & Slater, EA (Eds) Scottish Archaeology, New Perceptions, 140-52. Aberdeen University Press.

 

Past Inspired Sculpture 8

Prehistory and public art

frequently entangle.

Monumental forms

referencing deep

time of places,

expressions of

hoped for

futures,  accrete.

 

Menhirs of Peace

On a coastal headland,

aggregation of ancient sites

Trilathon Inspired

Evoking trialothonic brutalisms of Stonehenge dreams

Glacian Menhirs

Gathering granite, megalithic family forms

Modern Megaliths

Pierced, broken and reassembled

Time Depth

Providing glimpses of distant futures.

 


Menhirs for Peace is by Galician Sculptor Manolo Paz.

It can be found in A Coruña, Galicia and is located in the landscape around  The Tower of Hercules World Heritage Site.

It is situated on a headland, with ancient rock art on the outcropping bedrock, which has been washed by waves and sea spray for millennia.

Tower of Hercules

 

For other examples of Past Inspired Sculpture please see:

Past Inspired Sculpture 7

Past Inspired Sculpture 6

Past Inspired Sculpture 5

Past Inspired Sculpture 4

Past Inspired Sculpture 3

Past Inspired Sculpture 2

Past Inspired Sculpture 1

Witches Whispers

St Kilda Beach

Despite it remoteness, St Kilda, is globally connected.

St Kilda Village

Through shared histories, oceans and skies

St Kilda Airport Lounge

with flight                                maritime transports                          we congregate

nearly 1 million birds

Northern Gannet, Atlantic Puffin, Northern Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Leach’s Petrel, Kitiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Great Skua

summer

at the archipelago

Hirta, Dun, Soay, Boreray.

St Kilda Seabird

Remote Life

Collect Bird

Cleit Dry

Boreray Wave

Yet we wont linger on Hirta but head to the world of Boreray

Boreray Revealed

Through

wave

wind

Boreray Splash

and wonder

Boreray closer

we reach

Stac Lee

Stac Lee

look back

Hirta

with anticipation

St Kilda birds

before crossing

beneath

sea cliffs

thrumming

krok krok krok krok krok krok krok krok

krok krok krok krok krok krok krok krok

krok krok krok krok krok krok krok krok

soaring

Flight

sweeping

crucifix

Flags

filled

vision

Teaming Skies

wards

Residues

pulse of the world

Nesting

receeding

Brooding

further

Seascape

from

Depths

memories

Archipelago

navigate dangerous waters

Navigable

voices voiceless

witches whispers

Fortress

kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroKk roK kroK kroK kroK

Stac An Armin

‘a great noise like that made by a gannet,

but much louder when shutting its mouth’

Stac an Àrmainn

‘A storm rose, and that, together with the size of the bird

and the noise it made led them to think it was a witch.’

Stac an Àrmainn

‘they were beating it for an hour with two large stones before it was dead’

Torment

‘he was the most frightened of all the men, and advised the killing of it.’

Rupture

‘they killed the bird on the third day after it was caught’

Regret

Can we ever leave

the world

 

 

of birds and witches,

St Kilda Stac Lee Boreray

now unclear

which is which,

St Kilda and Stac Lee

Bird as person,

bird sustains life

person as bird.

 


The collection of eggs and hunting of birds provided a significant amount of sustenance to those living on Hirta.  Stone shelters, Cleits, were built and used to air dry the birds for consumption later.  Climbing cliffs and seasonal stays in bothies on the archipelagos other islands and stacks to hunt was part of the strategy for sustaining life.

Stac an Àrmainn is the highest sea stack (196 m) in the UK and is the location of at least two powerful tales.

One tells of the group of three men and eight boys from Hirta who were stranded here in 1728 for 9 months.  Upon returning they were to find that during their absence most of the community had died, all bar 4 adults and 26 children, from small pox.

The second tale, from about 1840, is of the death of what was probably the last Garefowl (Great Auk) in Scotland, when three men allegedly thought it to be a witch, only a few years before the species became extinct.

The quotes above are details of the St Kilda witch account, taken from a letter by Henry Evans, and can be found in:

Harvie-Brown, J A 1888 Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides p 158-59.

How faithful the details of the story are can be debated but there was certainly a strong folklore which may have provided a context.  An interesting overview of witches can be found here:

 

and a broader context can be found here:

Campbell, J G 1902 Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland : Tales and Traditions collected entirely from Oral Sources. Glasgow.

Seeing a Great Auk in Scotland in the first half of the 19th century would probably have been a rare occurrence, numbers already depleted, and with the last small colonies on Iceland some distance – so there may have been no familiarity with this species of bird among the men on Stac an Àrmainn.  Whether the killing of the last Great Auk in Scotland as a witch (presumably in a shape shifted form) is true or not, today we are faced with the certainty if we do not do things differently other species will become extinct and St Kilda and the wider world it represents will be poorer for such losses.

How will we explain to future generations, what will undoubtedly seem 170 years in the future as, unjustifiable behaviours which lead to such losses.  Seemingly enlightened, we may not fear witches, but through our behaviours we make our offerings to other gods of consumption and waste.  They may not be so overt but our brutalities can be small, long  and incremental.

Listen for the whispers….


I was privileged to journey to St Kilda earlier this year with the wonderful Kilda Cruises a great highly knowledgeable team.

For more details about St Kilda, please visit, the National Trust for Scotland website, the St Kilda website  and the UNESCO St Kilda World Heritage Site

If St Kilda is not possible for you, another option to consider is the journey to Ailsa Craig, some details can be found in another post

Imaginary Island – journey through the south west.

 

Sherds Shards Shorelines

East Coast

With Holocene sunsets

Shore

New materials wash

across

our shores

Beach Sediments

Continued sedimentation of humanity

Diverse Materials

Ancient intermingling

salt,

stone,

seaweed,

shell

Sherds

Cast wide –

a strange catch of sherds

Shards

Cast deep –

a strange haul of shards

Worn Faces

Fragmentary people

Fragments

With broken vessels

Sherd deposits

Cross the line,

tread with care

Tideline

Tide hides,

washes removes

different ways

Sherd and Shard

Tide Reveals,

recedes deposits

new realities

 

with

plastic in our hands

mould marine disrespects.

 


The Sherds and Shards were found in July 2017 on the shoreline of a small cove on the east side of Eilean Na Hearadh (Isle of Harris) in the Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles).   Overlooking the cove is a house, that originates from the late 18th century, the waste from which was probably flung by its residents into the sea for over two hundred years.    The sherds and shards have remained upon the shoreline and have become transformed by tidal rhythms and storms, scoured and smoothed, sharp edges blunted and bright surfaces dulled, all now more rounded and pebble like.

What I found most striking was the high proportion of materials, which were clearly worked through the beach deposits.  Two hundred years of human refuse disposal from one dwelling had transformed the shoreline geo-morphological sediments of the cove.   The pieces of ceramic and glass forming the installation on the shoreline were only collected from the surface of the beach, below the surface are much greater numbers of sherds and shards.

Sherds of ceramic and shards of glass are relatively stable as materials, unlike the floating and volatile plastic containers, nurdles and microbeads, which are now permeating our water and littering our beaches, the chemicals from which are extending through the food chain with building levels of toxicity to all life forms.

We walk upon the sherds and shards of different shorelines now …

 

Through the Eyes of the Ballachulish Goddess

The Ballachulish Goddess was discovered in 1880 beneath about 10 feet of peat.

When she was lifted from lying face down,

her quartzite pebble eyes stared forward,

unwavering.

How remarkable it would have been, when she was first lifted to gaze upon her, or rather for her to see again, to gaze upon us, for the first time in over 2000 years.

ballachulishfigure-originalphoto

Whether deliberately so, her eyes seem different.  Her larger right eye appears to have a distinct pupil marked, as if staring directly at us, or forward into the distance. While her small deeper set left eye, evokes an inward contemplation, perhaps a second sight to other places and times. Her mouth appears poised, as if about to speak to us, perhaps of some wisdom from the past or I can almost hear the first notes of a song emanating.

Taken back to Edinburgh, she was uncared for, and as she dried out, her fabric twisted and split, presenting a countenance which differs greatly from her appearance of 2600 years previously.  Now a look of shock, or worry perhaps, a permanent rigor mortis – her eyes pleading to be freed from permanent public display.

ballachulish-figure2

Many have speculated, who she is and what she may have represented.  Others have noted that the location she was left was a special place, next to a narrow water crossing, the successful navigation of which allowed travel on land up the west coast of Scotland.

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Some have noted, with the proximity to Beinn a’Bheithir, that the Ballachulish Goddess may in some way be related to the Cailleach Bheithir.  Described by some as the winter storm goddess, responsible for sudden changes in weather, which even in April with snow in the corries and successive bands of icy rain sweeping across Loch Leven still seems within the Cailleach’s purview.

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I cannot contribute much to the story, like many before I wonder who she may have represented – an individual, an archetype, a goddess, named or nameless – perhaps all these at different times.  However, I can reflect on the landscape she was found within and how earlier sites may reveal something of her nature.  Other archaeological sites including cairns and burial cists suggest this part of the landscape had been used for ceremony and ritual by people in the third and second millennia BC.  So the Ballachulish Goddess was located in a landscape which had a depth of story before she was created about 600 BC.

The location where she lay beneath peat for over two thousand years is on the brow of a raised beach.

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A shore line, when following the last ice age, sea levels rose rapidly and water lapped many meters higher than today.   However, about 600 BC that raised beach line was already a distant memory and much of the ground below had been revealed by falling water levels.

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Where she stood, she looked over a small islet An Dunnan. When the water lapped at the raised beach line where the Ballachulish Goddess was placed An Dunnan would have been totally submerged. By the time the Ballachulish Goddess was actually placed at the raised beach An Dunnan had been emerging for several thousand years.

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Others before had marked these profound changes. On this islet, there is a small group of cup marks, a distinctive form of rock art dating from the the fourth millennium BC.

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As the water retreated and the island became accessible, perhaps a thousand years later people modified the rock with cup marks.

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Most striking perhaps is that they are adjacent to significant outcrops of quartz, which even today seem to flow or drip into the sea below.   But in heavy tide or winter storm, they will be washed and partially submerged by the sea.

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Where the Ballachulish Goddess was located was not only liminal in terms of the distance across a short, but potentially hazardous, stretch of water.  The liminality was also temporal, a place of deeper time where sea and land played out a dance through millennia, as sea levels rose and fell, and then land sprang back up after the weight of an ice sheet lifted.

The Ballachulish Goddess stood poised above An Dunnan, with one of her eyes looking back to when people, perhaps two thousand or more years before had marked rocks revealed by watery transitions.

One quartzite eye staring back calmly at the quartz which marked this place of rock-water which had been birthed as the sea levels fell.

Yet as she stood on the raised beach, she also looked forward with another quartzite eye, to a time

when sea levels may rise again, and

the dance of water-rock continues.

——————————————————————————————————————————-
The images of the Ballachulish Goddess are from the National Museums of Scotland website where more information can be found.
Further information can be found at the Canmore
The original publication of the discovery can be found in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
While further thoughts on the ritual context of the Ballachulish Goddess can be found in an article by Jeff Sanders  ‘The sky almost never falls on your head – why ritual rarely fails’
in
Koutrafouri, V G ‎and Sanders, J (eds) 2013 Ritual Failure. Archaeological Perspectives. Sidestone Pres
And a brief introduction to some of the geology of the wider region.

Among The Dead Dunes Some Trees Glow Like The Sun…

 

Among Dead Dunes

Primordial Arboreal Gold

Washes Upon Baltic Geographies.

Millennial Boundaries Shift

With Faint Traces

Of Ancient Rites,

Through Weaving Light & Shadow

We Can Glow Like The Sun.


I was privileged to stay nearly three weeks in Lithuania spending much of the time exploring aspects of its heritage and landscapes.  The first week was spent at the wonderful Nida Art Colony, a creative center from which I explored the landscape of the Curonnian Spit.   Located on the Baltic coast, the spit is about 98 km long, the northern part of which is within Lithuania and the southern part in the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation.  I was drawn back to the Curonnian Spit, in part due to my interest in a Neolithic amber hoard, within which are a range of unusual figurative forms, that had been discovered in the 19th century at Juodkrantė.

However I very quickly became more interested in a series of tensions and entanglements that the forested nature of the landscape and the elemental nature of amber began to reveal.  The Curonnian Spit has a remarkable natural and cultural significance in part recognised with its inscription as a World Heritage Site in 2000 and its status as Kuršių Nerija National Park and as the Kurshskaya National Park of the Russian Federation.  So interesting tensions can be encountered between geo-morphological forms, climatic processes and the movements of other species which do not recognise political boundaries and the management of designated landscapes.

The landscape of the Curonnian Spit has been subject to major changes in character, sea level, deforestations, erosion and drifting of sands, and then reforestation and management. People have responded for millennia, and in part caused, some of these changes. For millennia they have encountered timeless gifts cast up from the sea. At times they reworked these gifts, and sent them back, perhaps in an attempt to make sense of or intervene in the world of change around them.

While there I worked on a piece through researching the history of the landscape and those who have dwelled within it for nearly 5000 years and by creating a series of small temporary installations in the landscape. This resulted in the development of a piece Among The Dead Dunes Some Trees Glow Like The Sun which was performed the following week in Vilnius.  The 12 minute performance explored the ongoing inter-relationships between people and landscape, and invited us to re-imagine the way we interact in the future.   Rather than try to reproduce that performance here I show some of the elements which I responded too.