Culture

Something Good In The Ness Shop!

By Bernie Bell

Pics by BB & JBR

Or, should I say, something especially good – there are lots of good things!

In the year 2013, an extra-ordinary object was un-earthed at the archaeology dig at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney https://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/trust/

A clear round stone ball had been found previously, but the one found in 2013 was….something else.

Illness prevented me from going to the dig that year, but Jeanne (Bouza Rose) brought a camera-full of photos for me to see – taken on the day when the ball was found!   Originally, it was a bit mucky, but still a wonder to behold.  Jeanne then made photo-cards of some of her pictures, to sell to help to raise funds for the dig…..

In the year 2014, we did go to the Ness, where Nick Card (Director of the dig) was good enough to let me hold a replica of the carved stone ball, which had been carved by Babette Barthelmess, a lady from Germany who, on retirement, devoted herself to the study of ancient sites, all over the world.

Babette did a lot of work at the Tomb of the Eagles on South Ronaldsay http://www.tomboftheeagles.co.uk/ , producing a book ‘A Celebration of Sunrise at the Tomb of the Eagles‘, which is available from Tankerness House Museum, in Orkney or, on-line …… https://www.abebooks.co.uk/9780954886202/Celebration-Sunrise-Tomb-Eagles-Babette-0954886208/plp

Babette has also been a good friend to the Ness of Brodgar, in many ways.

Holding Babette’s reproduction of the carved stone ball, and turning it in my hands, was when I noticed its strange a-symmetry – turn it one way, there are four ‘knobs’, turn it another way, there are three ’knobs’. And so, I called it the Extra-Ordinary-A-Symmetrical-Six-Knobber, and became mildly obsessed with it. https://theorkneynews.scot/2017/12/29/mathematical-musings-of-the-neolithic-kind/

Credit B Bell, Orkney Museum


The next part of the tale, for me, was when Babette had made some bronze copies of the EOASSK –  I call them Babette’s Bronze Beauties, one of which was exhibited at Tankerness House Museum as part of the ‘Conversations With Magic Stones‘ exhibition, put together by archaeologist Mark Edmonds https://theorkneynews.scot/2017/07/24/conversations-with-magic-stones/  where the original EOASSK was there, next to one of Babette’s Bronze Beauties …

Photo B Bell

For me, the trouble was, by this time the EOASSK had become inaccessible.  The original had only been handled by a very hallowed few.  I had held, and played with, a copy, and would dearly have liked to hold, even a copy, again. But – how to do so? 

It seemed a shame it was only to be seen in a case, in a museum – needs must – but – when it was made to be handled – seemed a shame.

Then, one year, we were told that the Ness shop had some replicas carved from stone by local archaeologist Chris Gee https://brodgar.co.uk/archaeological-art-from-orkney/  – we got there too late – they’d all been sold!

And then…..deep joy….local artist Joan Rodwell made ceramic copies, which are very authentic-looking, and ….we got one from the Ness shop!  It now sits on top of my sun-jar on the dining room window-sill, displaying the three/four a-symmetry……

The sun-jar catches the sun in the day time, then, when the sun goes down, glows with the captured sunlight – it seemed like a fitting ‘throne’ for the EOASSK.

Most recently, I read that copies of the EOASSK would be for sale at the Ness shop, made by local ceramicist, Robin Palmer https://www.robinpalmerceramics.com/about/4580923552  , and wondered at  the change of artist.  It turns out that Joan has passed on her moulds for the EOASSK, to Robin, so that he can continue the work.

This got me thinking of all the hands that this object has passed through – even just the ones we know about. There is the original carver – a completely un-known individual, to us. And all the hands it will have passed through during the Neolithic, until it was carefully placed in its niche in the wall of Structure 10 at the Ness, until it came to light again when discovered by archaeology student, Molly. Then Nick and the folk in the finds hut, at the time. Probably others that I’m not aware of, for example the folk arranging  museum exhibitions.

It pleases me that the original, the copies, and even the mould for making copies of the EOASSK, has passed through different hands.  Babette and Chris carved their own re-creations.  Joan made moulds to make copies, which she has now passed on to Robin.

All – hands – passing the object, and the copies of the object, on, with thought and reverence, from one to another. 

The Ness dig couldn’t take place this year, so the shop isn’t there either – but – there is an on-line shop https://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/shop/ selling, among other things, Robin Palmers copies of the EOASSK – but they do sell fast.

There is also a competition to win one….. https://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/win-a-carved-stone-ball/ 

Am I going to enter it? No – I have one, and I believe that one is all a person, or a community back then, needs.  I feel myself to be fortunate to have one.  I’ve given it to a couple of troubled folk, to hold. They turn it and turn it in their hands – calm descends, and a balance enters their soul.

It may be a-symmetrical, but, I believe that balance is something of what it is about.

The world is losing its balance in these times – is that why these objects are being discovered?  To remind us of what we’re forgetting about the essentials of LIFE?

I don’t know, but I do know the effect which holding that wee copy can have on a person.

It’s extra-ordinary, and an extra-ordinarily  GOOD THING, in all its manifestations.

Hands – Holding

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