Christmas Spotting With A Difference – UHI Archaeology Institute’s Christmas Deccies!

By Bernie Bell

I don’t do a lot on t’Internet, but I do check certain websites/Facebook pages regularly – one of these being the Orkney Archaeology Society Facebook page, and, on the 20th of December, just before the shortest day…….this is what I saw……….

I thought these deccies were brilliant, so Mike and I went along to see for ourselves, and Dan Lee – Community Archaeology Person and general good egg – was kind enough to show us round.  I got very excited – I do get excited – age and experience don’t change that.  So,  just as the light was beginning to return for another year, Mike and I found ourselves stepping back in time, in the corridors of the UHI Archaeology Institute, to when the importance of the sun return each year, was truly appreciated by the people of these islands.

The UHI Archaeology Institute’s 12 Ages of Christmas…….

archaeology Christmas Bell

……begins with  the Age of Stone, and of rock art – note the Ba’ on top of the Christmas tree!!!

Then, what I see as a couple of Shaman’s head-dresses – but I am a self-confessed weirdy–lady………

Fitting for the time of year  – nature spirits, life force, the Wild Hunt

These decorations have so many echoes of other things, including Aaron Watson’s looking up through Brodgar painting.

archaeology Christmas Bell

Aaron Watson is an archaeologist who does a lot of work on the use of sound at ancient sites, and he also produces art work.  He had an exhibition at the Loft Gallery, St. Margaret’s Hope  a good few years ago now.  One of his images was as though the Ring of Brodgar was a pool, and the viewer was under the pool, looking up, through the Ring.  This image was the first thing the visitor to the gallery saw, on climbing up the stairs to the Loft.  Stunning.  He has many other images of stones and stony places, some on Orkney, some not.  He has a web-site  where you can find out more about his work, in general.

The Standing Stones deccie, also reminds me of one of Leila Thomson’s tapestries, which you can see in this article, where you can also specifically find out more about the art/archaeology courses available at UHI, led by Antonia Thomas, who‘s book   ‘Art and Architecture in Neolithic Orkney: Process, Temporality and Context’  contains some examples of carvings from the Ness of Brodgar, very like this one ……………..

Christmas archaeology Bell

– maybe those mysterious zig-zag shapes were meant to represent Christmas trees?

And, not just one Westray Wifie  – but a whole string of Westray Wifies!

archaeology Christmas Bell

And so to the Bronze Age, where these axe-heads took me back to our holiday in Kilmartin Glen ,  where one of the burial sites has some very clear carvings of axe-heads, much like these deccies…….

archaeology Christmas

Someone has taken a lot of care, to produce copies of the wonderful golden discs found at the Knowes O’ Trotty

archaeology Christmas Bell

The Age of Iron, in Scotland, was the Age of Brochs………….

There were slightly fanciful copies of some of the combs which were found at The Cairns dig, South Ronaldsay

The Romans didn’t leave much of a mark on Orkney, mostly bits and pieces found at sites – presumably traded goods?  But, well, it is Christmas, so, UHI archaeologists made a very sweet wee nativity crib.

archaeology Christmas BellThe Pictish Boar….I must admit, reminded me of the loo in the Kilmartin Glen museum!

Them Vikings get everywhere!  He’s got home, put down his sword, taken off his helmet and jumper, and he’s ready for Waes Hael!!!

One of the most impressive discoveries from the Norse era, was the Sanday boat burial with its Scar Dragon Plaque, which now has an added Norse ‘wish list’ for Santa.

Our amiable Santa  could well have his origins in a wilder character from Norse mythology?

The Medieval period in Orkney, was dominated by the Norse Earls – who appear to have been unable to agree with each other about anything much, and were most disagreeable to their relatives.  It was an unsettled time, but from it came the building of St. Magnus Cathedral.  I’m a bit hazy about this, as the Vikings and the Norse Earls tend merge in my mind as a source of hardship to the people, who were simply trying to make a living, while the high-ups, fought each other, with little thought for the working people, except as a source of food and taxes.  I’m always on the side of the working …person, so I’m not keen on those ‘Earls’,  and  I’ll pass them by……..

Post – medieval, was a more settled time, when folk could get on with farming and fishing – and I’m sure they appreciated the change!

And so, we leap forward in time, to The Modern World, with the Italian Chapel on South Ronaldsay , the ships of Scapa Flow

…….. and, the UHI Archaology Institute’s Cabinet of Curiosities!

archaeology Christmas Bell

Come to UHI Orkney – learn about archaeology – work with groovy people who do things like this!

Waes Hael!!!

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