Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Circle, An Oval, Some Flints, and a Post

I sleep later in the morning than my husband does. When I come downstairs, I can deduce from cabinet doors left open and silverware drawer askew that he has had a cup of tea and made some porridge. I can quickly confirm my hypothesis by feeling the relative warmth of the tea pot and opening the microwave to reveal the porridge left for me.

It is easy to reconstruct those minutes in the morning that I don't actually see because I am a few steps behind, I know my husband, and I can touch the teapot and eat the porridge.

Monday night we went to a lecture by an archaeologist excavating a henge near Strath Cool. I emphasize henge because up here the brochs (neolithic stone structures) have received more attention than any of the other archaeological bumps in the ground, of which there are many.

The professor spoke well and engagingly to a mixed audience: some members were extremely knowledgeable, some had a middling knoweldge, and some were just curious about the hole they dug on George McDonald's farm. The speaker first clarified the term henge and lamented how inappropriately it is used. Stonehenge conjures images of the great looming stones on the horizon, but henge actually refers to the ditch and the raised bed around the ditch--both of which appear to be lacking at stonehenge.

Once having estalished what a henge is, he was able to describe some other examples of henges along with some examples of how not to do a field excavation, which led logically to what they had found in a quick exploration of this particular henge.

The story will be revealed in more detail after they have some carbon dating results of the stump of a wooden post found in the opening of the circle. The date of the post will be their equivalent of touching the tea pot. The professor said that he estimates that it was placed there about 1500 BC. My guess is that his hunches are pretty good, but it was a crowd pleaser. You could almost hear an ooh from the audience.

Some time later--long enough that the porridge would not only have grown cold but also have vanished without any trace, probably about a thousand years later, people came back to the area of that circle and made from the original circle an oval. Perhaps the archaeologist managed to capture some pollen samples for testing, but the pollen specialist could not get to site because of weather delays down south, so the stalwarts in the dig in a snow storm were trying to collect pollen samples with directions over the phone.

The last intriguing detail of the excavation of this grass covered mound in the middle of nowhere is a scattering of flints. Some time in the mesolithic era, someone spent enough time working on what was the top of the mound at that time to leave behind 70 fragments of flint. The nearby Thurso river made the site throughout the millenia an attractive spot for hunting and fishing and gathering food. Perhaps in time excavations around this site will find more fragments of flint. Until then, they just fell into the dough like raisins in a Christmas cake and confounded the diggers by settling into the firmament of the previous millenium.

Two days after the lecture we went to visit the site as they were filling in the trenches they had dug. The professor was impeccably charming as he climbed back to the site with us to show the colors of the layers of soil and the place where the stump of the pole had been found. The weather has been too dreadful during their short excavation to say with certainty where the alignment of the poles directed the eyes but there are intriguing possibilities with other nearby sites. I look forward to hearing the rest of the story, but in the meantime since they were filling in the site, we were allowed to step on the soil that had last been stepped on about a thousand years ago.


At 11:59 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

ohh. Shades of the book Seahenge! How very intriguing and thrilling.

At 5:13 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Wish you had been here, ampiggy, you would have liked seing the site.


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