Friday, 2 September 2011

Old Scatness

Managed to squeeze a third visit to Old Scatness broch and iron-age village in before it closed for the season. Now, I am not good with archeology. I can't hold those great swathes of time in my head. But Scatness is kind of different on account of its living history approach. You get the tour of the aisled wheelhouses and the massive broch that was discovered by accident when diggers building an access road to Sumburgh airport ploughed into its side, but what I love about the place is that the archeologists and historians there also devote time to demonstrations of Pictish crafts, such as the tablet weaving above (photo by Susan Timmins), woodturning, pottery, soapstone carving, silverwork, rope-making. They're making some beautiful work: artists as much as archeologists.

You can also, in quite a casual way, hang around the replica wheelhouse, with its fish-oil lamps and peat fire burning: a quiet, safe, warm, smoky place to hunker down out of the wind and try to imagine what the Pictish life might have been like. That's tricky, because Pict seems to be more a cultural term than a temporal one...the Picts 'appear' later in Shetland than South. That makes it sound like the Picts arrived from somewhere else: not so. The late Iron Age people just start being called Picts when certain decorative artefacts, like Scatness's carved bear stone, begin to show up. It's this cultural definition that makes me long to be able to relate to this lost community. And after all, some things about Pictish Shetland haven't changed much. It's still a place rich in resources, and in its creative and expressive folk.

What I took from this particular visit was a metaphor, but I don't want to speak about it until I see if it's going to become a poem or the meantime, I've got a terrible yearning to build a turf kiln...

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