‘The Stones of the Ancestors – Unveiling the Mystery of Scotland’s Ancient Monuments’

By Bernie Bell

We very rarely buy new books – we mostly get our reading matter from charity shops, then, if we like them, we keep them, if not, they go back to the charity shop – everyone’s a winner.  However, having read Douglas Scott’s article ‘The Temples of the Sun and Moon, Orkney’……..

….I thought I’d like to read the recently published book co-authored by Douglas and Stuart McHardy, and so we bought it – new!

The book arrived, and what first caught my attention are the images – starting with the striking front cover….

With a book such as this the temptation is always to start by flicking through and looking at the pictures – getting down to the nitty-gritty can wait!

Browsing through the images in this book whets the appetite for starting on the text, and, to whet your appetite for the images, I’ll list a few, chosen at random….

The first illustration is ‘Moonrise At Stenness Stone Circle, Orkney’….picture it……

‘Looking Along Maes Howe Passage’.  If you can’t get to Maes Howe to see the sun shine down the passageway – this image gives a good idea of what it’s like – a golden glow, in the darkness.

‘North-West View Of Schiehallon From The Hill Above The Circle’ – I’ve never been there, and now I want to go!

‘Kintraw Standing Stone’ – from different view-points – all of them impressive.

‘Calanais And The Moon’ – ‘nuff said.

And then, I settled down to read…..

The authors begin with a very helpful glossary of terms used in the text which the general reader might not be familiar with, and then the book starts in earnest with  ’Interpretations’ –  giving the reader both information, and the author’s own interpretations of what they have seen and researched. 

This is all done in a very readable way – the information is presented in a way which means that either individuals involved in this field of study, or those who are just interested, will feel ‘at home’ in this book.

There are plenty of books which focus on the monuments as evidence of the abilities of the ancients to observe the stars and planets, and also their abilities in engineering.  Dougie and Stuart also relate these monuments to folklore and myth – how they may have been perceived at the time when they were raised and carved, and how they have been perceived and interpreted through time since then. 

They deal with archaeology, archaeoastronomy and geomythography very thoroughly and intriguingly.

I have mentioned something of this in a previous article for The Orkney News….  https://theorkneynews.scot/2021/01/18/cup-marks-past-and-present/

They follow this with ‘Surveys’ – the real nitty-gritty. Years, indeed decades, of walking, observing, measuring, photographing.

For the ‘armchair archaeologist’ this is a gift.  Most of us can get to visit the sites, look about us, and have our own ideas, but only the truly dedicated, and robust, spend so much time – often at uncomfortable hours of the morning and times of year – surveying.

Finally, they bring us to the ‘Re-use of Monuments in the Pictish Period’, and I’ll mention one striking image which I failed to ‘catch’ in my initial flick through the book – ‘The Whitebridge Linear Pictish Cemetery, Highland.’  Page 167 – have a look!

This book has introduced me to a whole new set of places that I want to visit, and some ideas which I hadn’t come across before. And………..the photographs!!!

I’ll finish with my own picture of some Pictish stones in Tankerness House Museum, Kirkwall, Orkney – just because……

Pictish carved stones Orkney Museum Photo credit: Bell

‘The Stones of the Ancestors’ is available from many bookshops, including this one…… https://theportobellobookshop.com/product/stones-of-the-ancestors-the-unveiling-the-mystery-of-scotlands-ancient-monuments-9781912147809/

Never mind Amazon…..support small bookshops…….please!

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