Sunday, July 20, 2008

Looking for Vikings: Week 2

Last night we had the second public lecture in the ongoing series of the Looking for Vikings Project in Caithness. We got an update on what they have found so far and some background on pre-Viking archaeology. As you could well imagine, Caithness has been an active place for several thousands of years. Oddly, archaeologists were very active up here in the 1860-1910 time frame and then just sort of forgot about Caithness.

Caithness has more than 200 brochs--iron age towers made of stone. Now the proper term for them is either a simple Atlantic round house or a complex Atlantic round house. I would be willing to bet that despite that overwhelming number of brochs up here, if you Google "broch" you'll get an example from Orkney or Shetland and no mention of Caithness.

We also have several chambered cairns (neolithic), a couple hill forts, and probably the largest stone circle in Scotland--maybe in the UK, all of it waiting to be "discovered."

At the heart of the Vikings in Caithness project is a paradigm shift. The archaeologists are committed to doing good work and to training us-- the community-- to do good work on our own. Some sites here have been subject to what Andy Heald last night dubbed "garden party archaeology"--a landowner dug out the interesting bits, chukked all the other stuff into a heap and erected monuments to himself on top of the old site.

Partly in reaction to that kind of amateur digging, professional archaeologists went through a period of "Don't touch" during which members of the communtiy were not even allowed on site. A friend who suffered through that era is now having a hard time being convinced that the AOC folks and the Castle Hill Heritage Centre really really want us to be involved. In fact, hand in hand with sharing their information about the discoveries is training us to do good archaeology.

It is very very exciting. Check out their web site ( and look at the web diary about what we're doing and take a look at the map--of the nearly 40 sites they have marked, we already know anecdotally of many others. And maybe just maybe they have found the walls of a rectangular building. We'll find out more about that next weekend.

First you have to make a hole. This is the very first hole of many. The auger cuts through the grass in a field in Dunnet.

This tool results in a core of about 20 cms. Each core is looked at for colour and texture and any changes either within it (a boundary) or in its inclusions--shells, bones, pebbles, clay.

Check out the web diary on www. for descriptions of what they found in the coring last week.

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At 9:00 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

I find the possibility of learning about people of very long ago who lived not far from where one lives, very exciting. I'm glad you plan to keep posting on this. My second cousin married a Mackay and both husband and wife have read the Outlander series.

At 3:06 AM, Blogger Hayden said...

how exciting! there is such a world of mystery beneath your feet.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

I am so glad to have others share my enthusiasm. The AOC folks are so committed to giving their knowledge and sharing in the adventure. It is just great fun all around.

When you come to visit we will have even more things to show and do.


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