Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Busy, Busy, Busy.........

Apologies for the lack of posts of late. I have been rather busy with projects over the past six months. I am also in the process of re-designing my website at present and hope to integrate this blog into the format. Wish me luck with that one!!! So until then........

Friday, July 11, 2014

Clickimin Broch, Lerwick, Shetland

Since my last blog post I have been on an 'adventure', so to speak, and one of many more to come I hope.  This particular trip into the unknown featured one of my personal 'bucket list' destinations, the Shetland Islands. I must say it lived up to all my expectations, both rugged and wild, and appeared pretty much untouched by today's modern world. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Shetland, or its location, in short it is a subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies in the North Sea, just to the west of Bergen, Norway. Regarded as a haven for all kinds of wildlife, it also houses some of the most important archaeological sites in the UK, such as the famous prehistoric/Norse settlement of Jarlshof and the nearby Old Scatness. It would only be fair of me to share with you some of the remarkable 'sites' Shetland has to offer. So to start with I will ease you in gently and give a brief introduction and a few images of the rather well situated Broch of Clickimin just outside Shetlands main town of Lerwick.

On Shetlands southern 'Mainland', located on a small islet in the Loch Of Clickimin, some 15 minutes walk from the centre of Lerwick, lies the well-preserved and easily accessible Clickimin Broch.  Now connected to the southern shore of the loch by a walkway, the site was originally  a Bronze Age farmstead, later developing into a Iron-Age ring-fort and finally becoming a broch in the 1st century AD. The broch was originally up to 12-15m high and came with the usual rooms, enclosures and stairs within its thick, dry stone walls. The site was first uncovered in the 1850s yet professionally excavated between 1953 and 1957 by J.R.C Hamilton, who discovered two fragments of Roman glass in the excavation dating from the early 1st to mid-third centuries AD.


The Approach to Clickimin Broch, Lerwick

The broch itself is situated within a walled enclosure and unusually features a large "blockhouse" between the opening in the enclosure and the broch itself. Another unusual feature is a stone slab featuring sculptured footprints, located in the causeway which approached the site. 

Walled Enclosure Surrounding Broch

 Broch Encircled With Entrance Mound

 Entrance of Broch Looking Out Towards The 'BlockHouse'

Interior of the Broch

The site is currently in the care of Historic Scotland and access to the site is FREE. There are a couple of interpretation panels, to assist in the identification of specific features, but let us just say their 'interpretation' beggars belief in certain aspects!! Well worth a visit though and I would give it an 8 out of 10.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Art of Stone Carving

I received a lovely email this morning from Irish stone carver Tom Pollard, who is hosting a unique stone masonry weekend this coming 5-7 September in Tipperary, Ireland. Special Guest is internationally acclaimed letter-carver Karin Sprague form Rhode Island, USA. Regrettably I will be unable to attend in person, as I am otherwise engaged, but I would highly recommend said event to those who may be interested. The possibility of a future collaboration has been mentioned. Further details can be found by visiting Tom's website, or please feel free to contact me here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Settlement Egyptology on Social Media

I have just been asked by a colleague to take over the day-to-day running of this rather wonderful Facebook Page on Settlement Egyptology. It has some wonderful resource material so please feel free to pop over and 'like'

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Archaeologists at Work

Excellent new blog post from my colleague Robert Chapple illustrating how we archaeologist work at times.  As Robert states: ‘This is what we’re like. These are the spaces and places that we have created. They are where we work, where we think, where we write’. A great read folks and my own 'workstation' can be viewed among the many wonderful examples.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

New Article in The Heretic Magazine

Just to let people know I have a new article on genetic memory just published in Issue 5 of The Heretic Magazine. Further details can be found by clicking on the link

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On the Pictish Trail

Well as the summer is fast approaching and my rather nasty 'injury' is finally healing, I have decided to devote my time to visiting as many small museums and archaeological trusts as I can muster. So for my first foray I would like to introduce you to this remarkable little museum on the North-East coast of Scotland - the Groam House Museum - which I visited recently when it opened its doors for the new summer season.

The Groam House Museum, the word Groam is an old term for a bog or marshy place, can be found in the small village of Rosemarkie in north-east Scotland. It is an award winning local museum, renowned for its collection of  Pictish stones, many of which were discovered in the adjacent old burial ground. Very little is known about the Picts, named first by the Roman invaders, their territory extended from the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland to the heartland of Scotland.

The centre piece of the collection is the beautifully-carved Rosemarkie cross-slab, thought to date to the late 8th century. A 19th century black and white etching is shown left. Although it is unclear where it was originally erected, it had been placed in and outside the local church at times, it was given to the Museum in 1980 for safe keeping. Currently reaching a height of 2.9m x 0.75m x 0.18m, this particular cross slab is carved on both sides in shallow relief, Christian symbols of the front, Pictish markings on the back, whilst the bottom is buried in a concrete base. The top part of the slab is now missing. The 'Rosemarkie Cross' is rather unusual as both of the narrow sides of the stone are also carved with ornament, filled with interlaced serpent-like creatures and strange fish like animals.

A close-up section of one of the Rosemarkie Cross panels, to the right, illustrates the excellence of Pictish craftmanship. This particular panel sits in the middle of the carved stone, on the back of the slab, and consists of an equal-armed cross, placed within a deep border of a key type pattern. The cross itself has a square placed in the centre of the design together with a series of stepped terminals. The background of the cross is filled with a fine interlace pattern, which continues throughout the middle panel.
Though the Rosemarkie Cross is without question the highlight of the Museum, and takes centre stage in the gallery, there are a number of other fine Pictish stones and slabs on display. One is in fact a cast, the original artefact was found in the adjacent churchyard and was presented to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1885. It is now in the care of the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Measuring 250mm x 270mm x 70mm, and decorated on only one side, the relief it depicts a bearded man surrounded by five wolf-like beasts. Some have argued that this particular scene may represent the biblical Daniel in the Lions Den but Pictish experts think it is more likely that the carving is more likely to represent a native heroic story of some kind.

Situated in another corner of the museum is a larger carved relief, this one has a rather more Christian feel to it. Measuring 488mm x 530mm x 113mm, again it was uncovered in Rosemarkie Churchyard in the late 19th century. The accompanying information states ' the decoration consists of a stylised plant with two pairs of tightly coiled shoots ending in lobes, growing from a central stem. The stem itself terminates in a triple arrangement of stylised fruits. The plant is framed on the two vertical sides with an edging of a simple key-pattern. The bottom border is gently curved so as to give an impression of a shallow mound. The lower moulding is plain and there are traces of what may be a similar moulding just above the plant'.

This particular fruit-like design is often referred to as a vine-scroll pattern and reflects the passage in the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 15, where Christ compares Himself to a vine, and his disciples to its fruit, each dependent upon each other. The grapes of the vine also relate to the wine associated with the Sacrament of the Eucharist into the Blood of the body of Christ.

The final example I would like to share with you all is perhaps my favourite artefact in the museum, which may be somewhat surprising considering its lack of decoration. However, I have a penchance for so-called 'Cavalry Stones' come gravemarkers and recently had a article published with regards to their design and origins (see my website for further details). It may not surprise you to discover that this rather early 9th century example was found, yes you've guessed it, in Rosemarkie Churchyard in the late 19th century (oh to be a grave-digger in Rosemarkie during this time period!) Originally displayed as three individual fragments, it soon became apparent it was in fact one singular slab, probably a recumbent funerary slab. When joined together this impressive stone measures a whopping 1461mm x 448mm x 93mm and consists of an incised double-outlined shafted cross, with curved hollows at each arm, terminating in a complex cruciform stepped base. A recessed panel follows the contours of the base. There is no carving on the back of the stone and if you look closely you can still see the original tool marks at the bottom.

So there you have it folks. A wee peak at a rather splendid collection of Pictish artefacts on display at present at the Groam House Museum. In addition to which there is a replica Pictish harp, a collection of Pictish symbols for people to create their own designs, a comprehensive collection of photographs of Pictish stones in Scotland for research purposes. and a well-stocked museum shop. Admission to Groam House Museum if FREE, opening hours are Monday-Friday: 11am - 4.30pm, Saturday and Sunday: 2pm - 4pm. Further details can be found on their website at