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.

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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.

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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.

Drilling The Winged Bull

Recent images of the deliberate destruction of archaeology in Mosul Museum are very difficult for many of us to witness.

The 2700 year old Assyrian Winged Bull, like many of the other items destroyed, represent important components of the heritage of those who live in Mosul but are also part of a global heritage shared by us all.  Images of sledge hammers and drills being used to deface and destroy such wonderful objects, are to my mind a crass form of behavior, which as intended, exerts a form of political power which I find deeply chilling.

In one sense, such behaviour, is no surprise.  Archaeologically we readily see the rise and fall of civilizations, different ages and expressions over thousands of years, littered with a myriad toppled figures and headless statues, lie behind us.

Yet there is a contradiction, with where we currently find ourselves, in our age of austerity.  Further cuts in public funding in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe) will only mean that aspects of our art, culture and heritage, which are recognised as important to the character and quality of peoples lives, will be lost or irreversibly damaged by neglect.

Choices are being made by politicians, which to many seem only to be looking after short term interests of social and economic systems which appear to have failed us.  So if politicians and people want…

…vibrant, resilient communities, if we want a better more equitable society, then you cant keep cutting away at

what distinguishes us,

what gives us a sense of place and identity,

what contributes to health and well-being,

what makes the heart soar and soul dance :

you cant keep trimming away at arts, culture and heritage.

There are choices we make in relation to our values, they range along a continuum from deliberate purposeful intervention to passive indifference, but they all have a consequence.  As a sector, as a society, we have to question what is worst for our heritage:

Active Destruction or Active Neglect ?

Drilling the Winged Bull

was overt destruction

but by neglect

we

can chip away

our Winged Bulls.

As I have said several times before in this blog, if we truly value art, culture and heritage as a society we have to protect, conserve, enhance, share and celebrate it : and this requires adequate and proportionate funding.  Only by doing so can we ensure the things that matter are sustainably managed.  For some people, they may only realise they matter when they are destroyed and gone.  For some people, they may feel it doesnt matter at all, but will their childrens’ children wish we had looked after their heritage better?

 Have we still learned nothing as a society about why understanding and sharing

the

past matters?

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For those of you who have not seen the images of destruction there is a news report from the BBC.

Apologies to any followers if this has been a bit too political but I suppose it all is really!  In part it stems from genuine distress at seeing what is happening elsewhere in the world but it holds a mirror up to what we do.

Cultural Capital – the Santiago Pilgrimage

We move to the final panel of the Santiago triptych,

upon which I found myself drawn to

The Two Towers

on a distant hillside.

BeyondMoving through the city…

Crossingbeyond the dual carriageway,

into the peri-urban,

stone marking transitions.

Peri-UrbanityTrafficless I ascended.

RouteAn uncertain entrance.

Entrance Light dancing on the polished steel of hope.

SignageEngineering Culture

amongst steel beams and rods,

Bones watery inner belly exposed,

Bowelswaiting

encasement in concrete

before facadification.

CladdingOld Distant Towers.

CityscapeSignal to the New.

Glimpses Glass and granite clad

organic forms

flow

across the hillside.

Cultural Capital 4Baleen   The Two Towers                   drew                      me                              towards them.

Cultural Capital 3 Cultural Capital 2Twin TowersBefore I realised,

I had crossed the

threshold.

ThresholdBroken shadows danced across the raw concrete.

Cut by ShadowsFalling shards.

FallingTrapped

the body

beneath.

FallenDescending to another level,

traces of others

before

me.

EmbellishedUnfinished displays.

RevealedHidden from site,

I found The Three Towers…

Micro-towersReturned,

to the city

boundary

marked by

standing stone.

Standing StoneAnd thus my pilgrimage ended.

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The Two Towers are part of The City of Culture of Galicia (Cidade Da Cultura de Galicia) which when I visited was a building site partially open to the public.  It became apparent, however, as I was ushered out by a workman, that the degree to which The Two Towers were open to the public was ambiguous ! 
The Two Towers are conceived as a memorial to architect John Hejduk (who designed them in 1992 for another project) but also function as a means of ventilating underground galleries and will act as a information centre.  The void between the towers is an exact inverted profile of one of them: so in a sense there are actually Three Towers.
The City of Culture Galicia was designed by architect Peter Eisenman in response to a design competition in 1999.  Based on overlaying a morphed ground plan of Medieval City and five main pilgrimage routes across the hillside of Mount Gaiás.  The City of Culture was conceived as comprising buildings for several major Galician cultural institutions.  It is a remarkable project in many respects, a modern assertion of confidence in Galician cultural identity which converses with the historic environment of Saniago de Compostela.
However, construction commenced in 2001, with a budget of 109 million Euros.  The project required another intervention in 2005 ’12 Actions to Make the Cidade da Cultura Transparent’ by architect Andrés Jaque to raise its awareness in the public consciousness. By 2011 400 million Euros had been spent on construction and in March 2013 work was stopped.    It is unclear as to whether all elements will actually be completed, and how well it will articulate with the Old City.
The standing stone encountered at the end of my journey was erected in 2006 to commemorate the opening of a new suburb, others can be found around the margins of the city.

New Cultural Landscapes

New Cultural Landscapes

Landscapes are a dynamic complex sets of relationships and interactions between natural and human factors, tangible and intangible.  Landscapes always change, some times almost imperceptibly in a human lifetime, other times there is rapid flux which we can readily see.  At times people have actively created new forms of landscape, in some cases by physically transforming them and in other cases by changing perceptions of them.

The future of cultural landscapes is explored in a recently published volume New Cultural Landscapes edited by Maggie Roe and Ken Taylor.  The volume emphasises the lived nature of the multiple relationships, values and qualities which comprise all of our landscapes.

Many of the papers in the volume highlight the active role people have in (re)imagining and (re)creating new cultural landscapes.  Exploring a wide range of issues and case studies, from: the remediation of post-industrial landscapes; the ‘rebranding of landscapes’ by an ecomuseological approach; the transformative nature of conflict on landscapes; the appropriation and use of wastescapes and disasterscapes; the role of film tourism in creating commerical and dream landscapes; landscape urban – rural interactions in developing countries; the rapid growth of New Urban Landscapes in China; through to the challenges of increasingly rapid change in landscapes due to climatic pressures.

For those of you who are interested in the lived and dynamic nature of landscapes, this academic volume, is a useful contribution to the ongoing debate about how we value, manage and enhance all types of landscape.

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You may also be interested in Resilience and the Cultural Landscape.

Archaeology Meets Modern Art

Flow

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.

DoveArchaeology met modern art in a conference session ‘Archaeology meets modern art: artists’ approaches to prehistoric data‘ at the recent EAA in Pilsen.

Theatrum MundiThe 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.  

Flea StencilArtist 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.

Heaven and HellCurator 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.

Star CrownThere 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.

V StencilArchaeologist 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.

Nail HeadThen 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.

FragmentIn 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.

Hanging Around PragueAll 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.

Sawney Bean – coffin carrier

Sawney Bean - coffin carrierSawney 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.

Ballantrae - Coffin  Carrier

Whithorn and the Machars Heritage

Pilgrim CoinFor 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.

Offering Crosses and StonesOthers place stones with dedications on them, around the cave, and a few lean crosses against its walls.

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.

Pilgrims JourneyFor 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.

An important relationship between people and the heritage of the Machars is in danger of being severed.

Please help by adding your support to the petition to save The Whithorn Trust.

or add your support through the facebook

Save The Whithorn Trust

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.

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The Whithorn Priory and Museum micro site has further complementary information about Whithorn and the Machars.