By Bernie Bell
We received the latest Kilmartin Museum Newsletter, and this particular section mentions two aspects of archaeology/history which are always worth considering……..
Firstly – that some major features are now invisible in the landscape and take new technology, plus imaginative presentation, to make them ‘accessible’ to the people of today.
Secondly, that question which crops up at all archaeology digs – what did the people who lived there look like? How did they live their lives?
They were human – probably looked pretty much as we do – had similar concerns about life – getting enough food, shelter, being safe, having families, keeping The Gods on their side.
The more I see of the work done at and around sites such as the Ness of Brodgar https://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/orkney-prehistory/around-the-ness/ and The Cairns https://theorkneynews.scot/2018/10/22/brochtoberfest/ in Orkney, the more I feel that I can ‘meet the ancestors’.
Work such as that described here also adds to a clearer perception of the past, and its people. With thanks to Jenny Pendreigh for permission to re-print the article.
Picturing Kilmartin’s Past
The development of the content and presentation of Kilmartin Museum’s redeveloped exhibitions involves a close collaboration between our curatorial, interpretation and design teams. A diverse range of skills is involved, from text writing and graphic design to lighting and audiovisual production. Our Interpretation and Engagement Manager, Aaron Watson, is presently working on a series of illustrations that will help to bring Kilmartin’s past to life.
The illustrations will visualise how ancient artefacts and monuments once appeared. Kilmartin is one of the few museums where visitors can see artefacts on display and then go out into the landscape and visit the monuments where they were found. Still, even here, the surviving traces are often, quite literally, in fragments. Fragile pots such as the remarkable early Beakers in our collection were in pieces when they were found. The traces of some sites, including the vast Upper Largie timber cursus, are invisible above the ground. What did they once look like? To recreate aspects that have not survived the test of time, Aaron uses digital modelling to recreate artefacts and architecture, picturing how Kilmartin Glen once appeared.
While archaeological fieldwork and scientific analysis have revealed many aspects of the past in amazing detail, some details remain virtually unknown. For example, excavations at the Upper Largie cursus have revealed precisely where many of the enormous posts once stood and even the species of tree used (it was oak). But we know few details about the appearance of the people who revered this place six thousand years ago. How did they dress or style their hair? Did they express themselves by wearing lavish ornaments or colourful decorations? Did they stand in respectful silence or dance to the beat of a drum?
These questions pose significant challenges. In archaeology, there is a saying that ‘an absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence’. So, unless we leave large blank areas across the illustrations, how do we fill in the gaps where knowledge is incomplete? Like every facet of the exhibitions, Aaron’s illustrations will be the product of an extended and rigorous research process. This entails consulting with specialists and gathering evidence to help make informed decisions about what is portrayed.
So what did Kilmartin Glen’s six thousand-year-old Neolithic cursus look like? You’ll just have to wait until we re-open to find out!
Please donate to support our Redevelopment Project!”
And here’s something of how I see the folk from The Cairns, Orkney….