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.

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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.

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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.

There Is An Equilibrium Here… ?

Five days and fifty miles I traveled by foot.

Narrating the journey, as a linear movement would be possible, but my experiences were more complex, more entangled, with a range of eruptions and encounters in the changing landscapes which continue to resonate.

Some sense of the journey may be gained, however, through the images below, some of which were incorporated in a joint exhibition held in Caithness, Scotland, in 2016.  Each image, a compound of particular serendipitous conditions, mediated by subsequent selective sensibilities, represents moments of revelation.  Brief entanglements, enchanted, with the rich flows of time and the dynamic inter-relationships between people, other species and landscapes.

The Flow Country, a patch work of Lochs and Lochans, stitched by burns and rivers, often offered views to the distinctive peaks to the south of Morvern, Maidens Pap and Smean.  These peaks guided my journey, topographic beacons, which drew me onward and inwards.

birdland

Bird-land encounters were prevalent, when I couldn’t see birds their song was ever present, even at night my sleep was disturbed by their ghostly clicks and calls.  Only once did bird-land go silent, during my last morning heavy rain confined me to the tent, but it was the energetic call of song birds which told me it was time to depart.

Before my journey commenced, I encountered the realities of the avian beach, where angels wings littered the foreshore : stripped of flesh, divorced pairs of wings, perhaps the work of skuas.  Five peewits mobbed a buzzard ; a heron leaving the Strath, frantically avoids being pulled down by gulls, its elongated body bending unnaturally in utter terror desperately dodging the beaks of kindred.

beach-dream

Stooping for water at Allt nam Beist (Burn of the Beast) there is a huge splash nearby.  I quickly turn to see an Osprey breaking from the water, a fish hanging from its feet, it ascends and turns to the south : I did not exist.

The loch is fringed with deposits of sand, beneath which is sealed peat, erosion reveals the stumps of ancient trees.  No arboreal fantasy but revelations of possibilities.  Moments later, fragments of flint, reveal themselves from where these deposits are being gradually worn by the gently lapping waters.  The forms of the worked flints suggest they were left by hunter-gatherers who also rested at this location, perhaps 7000 years ago.  We probably drank from the same burn, in which small fishes still leap to catch flies, and rested at the shores of the same loch : I almost heard the whisper of their voices.

Abandoned farmsteads in the uplands were prevalent, part of a  widely known story of the depopulation (the deliberate removal of people and change of landscapes) of Caithness and Sutherland, and much of Scotland.  Sheep played their unwitting role in this story, introduced by landowners, with landscapes and communities being re-organised in part to accommodate them on the land in the 19th century.  It seemed appropriate to sleep where the sheep had been penned, so for one night my tent nestled within a small sheep fold.

cotton-grass

The low red sandstone walls gave some shelter to the wind which whipped along the Lochside.  Then I wondered, it was a very small pen, perhaps too small for sheep.  Earlier inhabitations are also found in the uplands, hut circles perhaps four thousand years old, within which I think I slept.   I wanted to mark my brief dwelling at this spot, cotton grass, evocative of fleece, nestled in the cracks of the walls.

aumbry

Many of the longhouses (and shielings) have stone boxes built into the walls.  Aumbries perhaps for cool storage of foodstuffs, or safe display of treasured items.  Years later the soil reveals, the signs of former fertility, a flush of nitrogen, often ring such settlements, a sharp reminder of our loss : stinging nettles (Urtica dioica).

Those rich deposits can also be found in buildings which have been abandoned as sheep shelters – hard won ground, hard won places, lives and loves no more… !

hearth

Deer-land, dear-land, our-land.  For much of my journey I traveled through deer-land.  At first it was their multiple footprints, along shared tracks, least resistance across ground that you would sink deep in peat and water, still used by estates.  Then I encountered the herd, aggregations of stags and larger groups of does.  They watched, with flick of ear and rise of nose, my every move.  Brief silhouette on skyline, flash of white tail, gone.  A few watched longer, the last small groups of does and hinds, tenderness grazed patiently if I kept a respectful distance.  I continued to follow the deer paths, a different form of route along edge of river and burn, their path cutting more directly across loop and meander, a quicker more confident travel which I learned to trust.   One night I was woken by the grumph and roar of stags, so close it seemed they were next to the tent.

iron

Shelter can be found in these lands, a range of corrugated iron bothies, huts and boat houses.  Often a focus for hunting or fishing they are open to all who respects the spaces provided.  In some cases, a chronology of rubbish suggests it has been 20 years since properly used.  Brown rusted skeletal beds, and broken seats greened with age, a reminder of comfort and company long afforded by such places to those who make the journey.

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A tradition of visitation was marked upon the wall of the few I visited, written in pencil, etched in pen and scratched with pen knives, a stratigraphy of dates and names going back to at least the 1930’s.

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R Hendry 11th May 1931 Killed Fox Last Night – there is a reality to this landscape, foraged, browsed, managed and changed with time.

My preconceptions of the Flow Country as empty lands was being challenged by the encounters, with the liquid landscape, I could only readily traverse where others had created track and bridge.  Many of the burns were wide and deep enough that a bridge was needed to cross, and if not maintained routes will shut and landscapes become less accessible.  In one case, I balanced precariously, with a full pack, on old railway sleepers which were the only remains of the long gone timber bridge.  Upon which I couldn’t turn back and if I continued was likely to take an early bath.  They bounced and swayed as I slowly edged over, not believing I actually made it to the other side.

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Lichen colonises wood-land above peat quenched waters. They lead us to places of contemplation.  The aggregation of the fishers bothy, the curation and discard of meaningful journeys.

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Around the huts, slowly sinking into the peat, clinker hulks rotting on the shores of distant lochs.  Small rowing boats, in the main, but evocative of the sea and a wider tradition of boat building.  Rose headed copper rivets, copper nails, plank and cauking, paddles and playful catch.

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For a moment, upland water, settles on the hull of the boat.  I drift, carried on the thermals, dip and rise like the cycle of the swifts, and soar in the gyre.

copper-nails

Woodland disappears beneath peat and the hooves of herbivores. I flow, return to the source.

clinker-beach

We are riveted to the changes of the foreshore, inescapably we are bound to the cycle.

sand

Imagine if we should be able to see worlds in grains of sand…

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In July 2016 I walked solo from Thurso on the north coast of Caitness south, through farmlands and into the watery interior of the Flow Country. Camping for four nights I arrived five days later in Dunbeath. The walk was my approach to developing content for a joint exhibition, with Ian Giles and Andy Heald, at North Lands.  It resulted in a series of photographic prints, texts and sculptures by me which responded to the encounters.

installations

Thanks to Dunbeath Preservation Trust for kindly providing accommodation at the Old School House in the days before and after the journey.  Many thanks to North Lands for their support and to Andy and Ian for the collaboration and companionship to produce the exhibition There Is An Equilibrium Here…

Sun Voyagers

Sólfar Sun VoyagerSólfar by Jón Gunnar Árnason is a striking piece of art in the public realm known to many, often pictured back dropped by stunning sunsets.  Its graceful form undoubtedly evokes the Norse ships which brought settlers to Iceland.  Indeed, perhaps the name Sólfar (Sun Voyager) playfully refers to the much debated sunstones (sólarsteinn) potentially used to aid their navigation.

I was just relooking at the photos of Sólfar I took early one morning whilst exploring Reykjavik.  To my surprise I spotted other travelers on the prow and stern of the vessel which I hadn’t noticed when I was taking the photographs.  So intent was I on the art piece that I had shut my eyes to another important aspect of the landscape of Reykjavik.

Sun VoyagingThese stowaways had no need for a vessel.  These perched Arctic Terns, called Sea Swallows by some, have a remarkable migratory cycle, travelling approximately 80,000 km a year to ensure better weather.

Arctic TernThey truly are

Sun Voyagers.

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Ironically, later on that day, despite my inability to have spotted the Sun Voyagers on Sólfar, I spent time photographing the Arctic Terns as they flew playfully above Reykjavíkurtjörnin, one of the photos of which I have inserted above.

Past Inspired Sculpture 6

Freedom

was

perhaps one of the most controversial pieces of public sculpture in Scotland.

It was created by sculptor Tom Church and once stood at the foot of the

Wallace Monument,

Stirling.

Freedom

Unveiled in 1997 by Nigel Tranter, the piece portrayed the figure of William Wallace, at whose feet was the head of the Governor of York.

Spirit of WallaceThe piece provoked a strong ‘marmite’ response, to the extent it was vandalised (the head of the Governor of York is still to be discovered !) on sufficient occasions to merit it being closed in a metal cage every night.

It would appear that those strong negative responses largely stemmed from the remarkable resemblance between the sculpture of William Wallace and the actor Mel Gibson in the 1995 movie Braveheart.

However, the likeness was in all probability in part derived from the circumstances of its production.  Following heart surgery, during recovery sculptor Tom Church, watched Braveheart, and was inspired to create the piece from 12 tons of sandstone.

Faded SignThe piece stood at the foot of the Wallace Monument for ten years before being removed in 2008.  It now resides as the center piece of a remarkable display at the sculptors house in Brechin which can be seen in an interview.

Bronze Hands

The sculpture ‘Freedom’, and its entanglement with other appropriations of historical figures in contemporary culture, is a remarkable example of the series of gaps between

‘historical reality’,

authenticity of representations of the past,

and

the scope of imagination inherent in all art forms.

Above all, however, it shows how an acute sense of the past can inspire an individuals creativity.

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For more examples of Past Inspired Sculptures:

Past Inspired Sculpture 1

Past Inspired Sculpture 2

Past Inspired Sculpture 3

Past Inspired Sculpture 4

Past Inspired Sculpture 5

Contemporary Prehistories – the Santiago Pilgrimage

Inexorably, flowing lines led me to the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea (CGAC).

As I explored the CGAC collection, synapses sensitized to entanglements with a deeper past, I encountered a few pieces by artists who are clearly informed by their relationship to the ‘archaeological’ which I hope you may find of interest:

Paisaxe con ósoPaisaxe con óso by Galician photographer Manuel Vilariño

In the tryptich by Manuel Vilariño, the landscape with bones is a series of pipe joints and a human femur.  Understated tone and texture make it at first difficult to immediately distinguish the artefactual from the skeletal. Yet the unique qualities of bone, emphasized by the composition, evoke a subconscious understanding that something is wrong in the landscape : fragmentary and disjointed  : something of our humanity is present amongst the detritus of industry which we bear witness to.

Atrabilarios I, II, IIIAtrabilarios IIAtrabilarios I, II, III by Columbian sculptor Doris Salcedo

Doris Salcedo’s powerfully haunting piece presences a series of ghost like shoes.  A vellum is stitched, in an operation to seal women’s shoes : captured in an organic vitrine.  A state of being, leaving them out of focus, unresolved, trapped in the timelessness of the gallery.

Estudio para De CapoEstudio para Da Capo

by Francesc Torres

Power Contested

 Power Contested (Three Graces In Unstable Equilibrium)

by Francesc Torres

The pieces by Francesc Torres have incorporated a Venus figurine (a c 25 – 30 thousand years old ‘art’ form).  Not just any Venus figurine, however, as it would appear to be (so distinctive as many are) representations of the Willendorf figurine from Austria.  In one piece, Estudio para Da Capo, the image is drawn on text printed : text printed twice so one set is partially superimposed over the other (palimpsest like !) but having rotated the paper first, one set of text appears upside down and running right to left (confounding our attempts to read meanings).  In the other piece, Power Contested (Three Graces In Unstable Equilibrium), three Bronze replicas cluster together (evoking Neoclassical summonings of the daughters of gods) upon a racing tyre.  Ancient forms, seemingly stable, a deep rooted source of inspiration and appropriation of the female form.  Yet resting on high speed modernity, vulnerable to falling…

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The pieces I have highlighted in the CGAC collection variously engaged with the archaeological (the human bone within Vilariño’s piece, the shoes within the pieces by Salcedo) or explicitly evoked prehistoric remains in their work (the Venus Figurines appropriated by Torres).

But the expression, contemporary prehistories, could as much relate a particular kind of experience of visiting a gallery space (when undertaken without referring to catalogues or labels).  The mediation of meanings (either intended or unintended) through these materialisations has much in kind with (as a prehistorian) the first encounter with an object from the distant past.  There is no other voice of testimony, no text to read, it is a raw, exposed state of response ‘to the things themselves’.  We then reflect from other frames of reference, from our experience, from our knowledge, and develop a sense of, an understanding, an interpretation of…. …. …. …. …. …. …..?

What such gallery pieces express is an ongoing dialogue which partially reveals, not a text which delivers authoritative meaning.

Perhaps contemporary prehistories are practices by which we remember the forgotten, by presencing in ways which do not privilege text, and are contingent and open to dialogue and reflection.

Such pieces perhaps challenge the authority of those who would choose we forget.

The conversation with the past should not be forgotten.

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I have highlighted the pieces by Manuel Vilariño, Doris Salcedo and Francesc Torres but there were also several other works by artists in CGAC whose relationship to the ‘archaeological’ is perhaps better known, this included an aerial photographic piece by Andreas Gursky ‘Thebes, West’ and an installation by Mark Dion ‘Boxes of the Paleontologist’. 
Only when I returned from the Santiago Pilgrimage did I try and find out more about Doris Salcedo’s sculpture and was not surprised to learn that there is a powerful ‘back story‘ to the piece and of the practices of Salcedo more broadly.  In Andreas Huyssen’s excellent essay on Doris Salcedo’s piece ‘Unland: The Orphan’s Tunic’ he evocatively describes her works as Memory Sculpture. To be found in ‘Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory’.
Equally the work of  Francesc Torres, from Barcelona, has a deeply political dimension around memory and forgetting.  Another project he was involved in comprised a photographic piece responding to the exhumation of a mass grave with a forensic anthropology team at Villamayor de los Montes and was entitled ‘Dark Is the Room Where We Sleep‘. 
A good account of the changing inter-relationships between artists and the prehistoric can be found in ‘Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory’ by Lucy R Lippard
 

Power of the Picts

‘History is Silent on The Meaning of These’

I have been reflecting over the past few months on the Power of the Picts.

No I am not referring to the 1969 album ‘Power of the Picts’ by Writing on the Wall.

Rather on a visit to the recent laser scanning of Johnathan’s Cave as part of the Visualising Wemyss Caves Project I was reminded of the rich artistic legacy which has been left by the Picts and its continued ability to inspire creative responses.  The caves at East Wemyss, Fife, have a range of Pictish carvings dating to c AD 300 to 800. These include a series of familiar motifs, including abstract symbols such as double discs and z-rods.

Court Cave CarvingsThere are also more figurative forms of animals including fish, birds and beasts embellishing the walls.  The potent orders of sea, sky and earth combined in the otherworldly darkness of the cave.

Doo Cave Symbols

I must confess it was not these carvings, in the first instance, which started this line of thought.  Rather I had the opportunity to purchase (for a very reasonable price) a tea towel adorned with Pictish Symbols from Wemyss Caves.  I was informed that the piece has been undertaken in support of Save Wemyss Ancient Caves Society (SWACS) in 1999 by the artist Marianna Lines.

Pictish Tea TowelThe work of Marianna Lines has involved a technique using natural dyes to produce images directly from Pictish and other stone carvings: she can be seen speaking to comedian / presenter Craig Ferguson in a (long forgotten?) Pictish themed episode of the Dirt Detective ‘Artists with Attitude‘.

Figurine and ClubAs I was thinking about this, I was reminded of another manifestation of the Power of the Picts, I saw nearly ten years ago in a suburban garden.

Clustered SymbolsMirror StoneModern PictThe Power of the Picts had inspired somebody to carve symbols on stones and arrange them in the form of a stone circle.  Evoking perhaps (? unintentionally) the relationship expressed in the early Historic period, where there was often a reuse of earlier prehistoric sites.

Reflecting on the power of Pictish symbol stones to inspire creative responses, I then decided to returned to stones in the National Museum of Scotland and pondered what I saw…

the ‘classic’ symbols…

Symbol Stone, Invereen, MoyThe remarkable Hilton of Cadboll Stone, with exquisite carving in c AD 800 and extended biography: toppled in the 17th century; the carving on the back face was chipped off and commemorative inscription to Alexander Duff and three wives was added; moved to the grounds of Invergordon Castle in 1860; then to the British Museum in 1921; and rapidly returned to Scotland. With a copy being produced in 1998 by sculptor Barry Grove to be placed at the original location.

Hilton of Cadbol Symbol StoneTo a broken slab found from a Fife hilltop not far from East Wemyss: one of my earliest memories of learning about Pictish art was when Professor Leslie Alcock took a class to the top of East Lomond Hill and explained that a fragmentary carving of an ox or bullock had been discovered within the fort at the top (I still remember pondering why, what was it doing up here !).   The discovery in the 19th century of 30 such carved bull stones from the harbour of Burghead, in close proximity to Burghead Pictish fort and remarkable subterranean well, is also highly evocative of the complex relationships to different kinds of place in the past.

East Lomond Hill Symbol StoneSo I was reminded that Pictish symbols on stone, had been deployed across all areas of the landscape from fortified hilltop, close to lowland settlement, in coastal cave and deposited in the sea.

I had not appreciated, that as well as the permanent collection at the National Museum of Scotland (NMS), there is currently a temporary exhibition Creative Spirit.

Creative SpiritA wonderful example of artists and craftspeople being inspired to ‘create again’.

RecreationPictish ThroneThis fantastic project has explored how artist and craftspeople can be informed by past objects but reinterpret them in new ways.  There are some great insights into this process of ‘Bringing the Past to Life‘ on the project website in relation to the wooden Pictish throne, Pictish drinking horns, early Medieval bells and the Loch Glashan leather satchel.

Also amongst the exhibition was portion of a hoard found in Fife, not far from East Wemyss Caves. The Norrie’s Law hoard, is the largest ever hoard of Pictish Silver, and was found in 1819 from the top of a Bronze Age burial mound.  When discovered the hoard was largely plundered and dispersed, but the surviving portion is still remarkable for the quality of craft displayed.

Norrie's Law HoardIntriguingly in 1839, 20 years after its discovery, a silversmith was commissioned to produce pewter replicas of the pieces by antiquarian George Buist: in hope seeing them would encourage people to provide information on the missing pieces.  A silver hand pin and plaque, apparently from the looted hoard of 1819, were then handed in to him.  However recent analysis by X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) has shown these were made from silver so pure they had to date from the 19th century: they were fakes !

Trio of 'Pictish' Pins

Original Pictish Silver Pin, 19th Century Pewter Replica Pin & 19th Silver Fake Pin

Now there is further use of technology by NMS to better understand and piece together the fragments of the past.  With the emergence of new forms of digital heritage, the copies of past sites and objects we can now make can be explored and manipulated in a remarkable range of ways.  For example, the remains of the face of the Hilton of Cadboll stone, which was chipped to pieces in the 17th century, were excavated and have been digitized.  You can spend hours on the Pictish Puzzle from the NMS in an attempt to establish how it may have looked originally.

Pictish PuzzleYet even as I was leaving the museum I encountered another example of the Power of the Picts.  A series of prints by Leslie Reid of Pictish symbols, which are created by carving replicas in sandstone then rubbed with handmade beeswax crayons onto calico cotton.

Burghead Pictish BullI am sure I have only encountered, and mentioned in this blog, a small proportion of the artists and craftspeople whose work is inspired by the legacy of the Picts.  It is clear from archaeological evidence that the Picts were aware of, related to and evoked a more ancient past through their practices.  From what I encountered, there is still a remarkable Power of the Picts in continuing an ongoing conversation through art and craft about our relationships with past and place !

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History is Silent on the Meaning of These’
appears on the interpretative signage for the Moy symbol stone in the National Museum of Scotland, referring perhaps in part to the huge debate about what individual symbols may ‘represent’ and whether they had been combined in some form of grammar.
More information about Pictish Stones can be found here as can some three dimensional models of The Maiden Stone , Sueno’s Stone , Aberlemno Stone , Cossans Stone and The Duplin Cross.
The remarkable story of the Hilton of Cadboll Stone is presented in:
A Fragmented Masterpiece: Recovering the Biography of Hilton of Cadboll Pictish Cross-slab
The illustration of the Doo Cave Carvings originates from Stuart, J 1867 Sculptured Stones of Scotland v2, Plate 33 & 34. Edinburgh but displayed on the RCAHMS CANMORE entry for the site.   The picture of the three Norrie’s Law ‘Pictish’ pins is from the National Museum of Scotland Creative Spirit website.

 

Flowing Lines – the Santiago Pilgrimage

A few weeks ago, I found myself traveling to Santiago De Compostela, Galicia.  A journey along lines which hundreds of thousands of pilgrims before me will have made over the centuries.  For most an act of faith, along the Way of St James, leading them to the great cathedral overlooking Praza do Obradoiro.  Faced with limited time, my dilemma was, do I experience the ecclesiastical riches that this World Heritage Site has to offer or do I seek contemporary intersections between heritage, landscape and creativity.

Some cities reveal a creative pulse as you arrive on their outskirts, the first indications of life can often be tagging and stickers, as you travel further in you may encounter murals and other street art, which then blends and blurs with public art in the heart of the city.  In the short time I had spent in Santiago De Compostela there was already enough signs of playful creativity…

Dali's PeekEmbelishmentThus I found myself outside the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea (CGAC) before it opened, and to fill a few minutes began to explore a park adjacent to it.  I soon encountered a large piece by Basque Sculptor Eduardo Chillida, Porta da Música: it is said there is a peculiar sound when the wind blows against it !

Porta da MúsicaInevitably, I was drawn to the ruins of a building,

Wash House ?which appeared to be a wash house,

Flowingand then I began to weave and flow up hill.

Past another ruined building,

A Number of Ruinsthe floor of which the stone slabs had been inscribed with numerous numbers.

Numerous NumbersWhether these stones were an artistic intervention, interpretative device or integral to the work of Medieval numerologist was not revealed.

As I flowed further up, a succession of devices led the water down the hill,

Chain FlowFlowFlow 2Until I encountered a stone cut hole

possible water cistern, grotto,

entrance to an underworld.

GrottoSo having flowed to the source, I was led downhill by a different path,

autumn leaves nestled in dry flowing meanders.

LinesLeading to the remains of a contemporary stone circle, what ancient rites have taken place here?

Stone CircleBut despite the joy of finding traces of contemporary prehistory,

moth-like I was drawn towards the walls of white beyond, to be immersed in a cemetery.

CemeteryI was looking so hard at what I was meant to see, the emptied recesses, names and numbers variously inscribed, that I nearly missed the continued flow of lines, no longer in water but this time a flow of stone.

These tiny traces, I first spotted adjacent to the entrance, and could follow, in one

Stone Flow 1two

Stone Flow 2three

Stone Flow 3four compartments

Stone Flow 4Before they turned the corner.

Stone Flow 5The stone then flowed along the length of another four tombs.

Occasional traces of embellishment punctuated the flow.

Stone Flow DetailAnd round the corner they continued.

Stone Flow 6Meandering across another recess

Stone Flow 7and splashing to the other side.

Stone Flow 8Stone Flow 9And then they stopped… was there no more….it made no sense, why only on this side…

Eyes frantically danced across the compartments, and rested on a plume of feathers on the other side of the cemetery.

Feather DetailsStone Flow 10And there the line was…

And across the gap broken by steps,

Stone Flow 11a sherd of brown glass, marked another point of departure.

Meandering through another recess.

Stone Flow 12Shells caught in the flow of stone.

Stone Flow 13Round another corner it continued, then stone upon stone it flowed up the wall…

…beneath shiny marble progressed

Marble DetailsFurther embellishment of feathers…

Feather DetailAnd there, in the fourth compartment along the flow ceased….

Stone Flow 14

Why do stones flow through the cemetery?

There is intent.  There is an order of stones in the cemetery.

The stones are small, discretely positioned, but not hidden.  In the higher, longer runs of stone, they have been placed at the very front edge of the compartments.  Perhaps seeking to be spotted, yet precariously living on the edge. In contrast, the lower flows of stone which meander and splash across the gaps, hug the wall closely, nervous of being disturbed by passers.

The evident dislocation and obscuration of some stones by small plants, suggests they originally flowed some time earlier this year, it is clearly in a process of decay, but not totally ruinous.  The traces of feather embellishment have a regularity, which suggests further feathers may have been placed to create an overall pattern or design.

We can imagine how it may have looked when first completed, resplendent ! But even in its full glory, how many have noticed the flow of stone within the cemetery.

We can only speculate as to who may have produced this, perhaps furtively, with no one else aware of their repeated visits to the cemetery: an individual act, contemplative, obsessive, beautiful in intent ?

Or was this created collectively as part of an art work, a publicly made installation ?

Widely known, much celebrated in the city,

and very occasionally revealed to the

flowing pilgrim.

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I flowed through the Parque de San Domingos de Bonaval.  It was was the site of a 13th century convent, and after years of abandonment and neglect, was converted into a public space in 1995, about the process for which more details can be found here.
The core of the city is a World Heritage Site, Santiago de Compostela (Old Town),  characterised by a rich ecclesiastical architectural and continued cultural heritage traditions of pilgrimage. There is also further World Heritage Site designations of locations associated with the pilgrimage routes, comprising Route of Santiago De Compostela and Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.  

Creative Winters

Creative WinterSeasons greetings,

and many thanks to all followers and supporters of HeritageLandscapeCreativity.

Winter is a great time to get creative with snow and ice.

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The picture is of frozen spheres of water.

Recipe:

  • Fill balloon with water, tie top.
  • Leave outside over night to freeze.
  • Peel in the morning.
  • To avoid bubbles in frozen shapes, boil water first and allow to cool before pouring into balloon.
  • For variation try adding food colourings to the water.

Past Inspired Sculpture 5

– stand upon
this footprint made for everyone

The Stones of Scotland was created in 2000 to celebrate / commemorate the Scottish Parliament being re-established but also attempted to mark its spirit.

Stone CircleIt is a potent sculptural piece by artist George Wylie, which is redolent with Scotland’s past and full of hopes for its future.

Stone and steel rung around a solitary Scots pine: young and fragile in the urban realities of the modern era.

Thirty two stones were gathered into the circle, drawing on the geological diversity of the country.  Many show signs of quarrying, and working, seemingly in different states of finish, presencing the industry and craft which has contributed to the heritage and character of Scotland.

Old Red Sandstone

From East Ayrshire, a fossil pocked surface of old red sandstone, splits visible celebrating the quarrying, the mining, the sculptural versatility of a material.  Evoking tenements within which many generations of families have lived within.

Polished GraniteFrom Aberdeenshire, the polished granite, cool, smooth but hard won, reliable.

Hugh MacDiarmid

These fragments of Scotland’s regions, drawn together, like the words of verse, are bound by the lines from poet Hugh MacDiarmid: a celebration of our differences which we share.

Incantation

And also in the centre of the circle, is a stone with a foot print carved on it.  Evoking the sites and ceremonies of the early Historic period of Scotland.

The words before it  ‘…whose the tread that fits this mark?’

come from a poem ‘Incantation‘ by Tessa Ransford.

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Ten years later from when the above photos were taken, I revisited the piece in the fading twilight of a winters day.

Most visibly marking the changes of the past ten years

was the solitary Scots pine

10 years laterTaller, fuller, I was pleased to see it had grown and matured since I last visited.

In another ten years, I will visit again.

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The foot print in stone can be paralleled most strikingly at Dunadd, in Kilmartin. The seat of the Dalriadic Scots, it is said the ceremony to crown their kings required the individual to place their bare foot on the rock: a real connection to land.  The depth of the footprint sculpture is a powerful device suggesting, with the slight wear on the rock this single act would have, to all those who took part a long time depth to the ceremony, and deep connection to the land.

For more examples of Past Inspired Sculptures:

Past Inspired Sculpture 1

Past Inspired Sculpture 2

Past Inspired Sculpture 3

Past Inspired Sculpture 4

Burning the Circle

Burning Before the Mountain

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.

Antler Dig

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.

Spoil Or perhaps it was the way the mountain top back-dropped the site.  Or maybe it was knowing that you had created something tangible, solid, yet nothing more than a series of fleeting frames.

Wooden Circle

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.

Carving Head

And, as the sunset, we were ready to commence.

Sunset

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.

Ceremony 2

It was transformed, another world, another place, of night and fire.

Burning the Circle

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.

Guardian of Fire

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 ?

Other Worlds

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…

…our past.

Worlds Below

Yet we were left the next morning with the proud timbers, survivors around the guardian.

Survivors

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.

Fallen Stump

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.

Excavation

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.

Fragments

Yet as we departed, we knew we left something more behind, a tangible place overlooked by the mountain.

Place of Fire

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.

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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….!

Memory Sculpture

There Was No Need Of Celtic Cross

Or Sculptors Art for Me

To Wake Membrance of the Past

Or Turn My Thoughts To Thee…

DSC_0138McLaren MonumentMcLaren Bronze

Bronze Flow———————————————————————————————————————

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).

McLaren MonumentPriscilla 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.