The Great and the Small

Stonehenge in low winter light, December 2004

women at work
Those who work to unearth the smallest of archaeological sites make no less a contribution than those whose research will grace our television screens and newspapers.

There is no shortage of television coverage of ‘big-name’ sites like Stonehenge. As I write I am still digesting the ‘new’ revelations of last week’s programme on Channel Five which presented a detailed breakdown of research on the big pits surrounding Durrington Walls. Continue reading The Great and the Small

False Boundaries

The interior furnishings of Skara Brae elnd themselves to many interpretations

Archaeologists like to pigeonhole things. It helps us to categorize and interpret the data we find. But life does not always conform to quite such clearly defined ways. We have to be careful that our organizational need for boundaries does not Continue reading False Boundaries

Interpretive Whispers

The magnificant cathedral built by Earl Rognvald in the twelfth century takes on additional meaning when you have detail of those who built and used it nearly a thousand years ago.

I’ve been enjoying some time with others, exploring the archaeological sites of Orkney. I always appreciate the variety of monuments here. There are sites relating to all the major periods of prehistory and history and it is a great Continue reading Interpretive Whispers

Hindsight

The more we can shed the trappings of twenty-first century thought processes, the better we can think about the past. Reconstruction of a Mesolithic settlement, by  Jan Dunbar.

Hindsight, we are told, is a wonderful thing. In many ways, it is. But in some ways, it can hinder our view of the world.

Over the past few years, I have been part of a team researching the changing Continue reading Hindsight

Warts and All…

Our interpretations of the past are often very rosy – it rarely even rains! Reconstruction, by artist Jan Dunbar, of an Early Neolithic farmstead in the east of Scotland.

I am old enough to remember the introduction of immersive ‘time travel’ type heritage displays. They often involved using electric ‘cars’ to progress through a reconstruction, or series of reconstructions, of the past. There were even sounds, and appropriate smells, along the way. I, along with many others, loved them. Continue reading Warts and All…

Good Pictures

Any image has so much to say. The Mesolithic characters for Into the Wildwoods were drawn by Alex Leonard.

One of the really fun things about my work has been the opportunity to work with artists on reconstructions of the past. Usually, but not always, these have focussed on Mesolithic communities. I’ve been doing it for nearly 40 years, and it has been so interesting trying to bring the world of prehistory to life. I thought it Continue reading Good Pictures

Naming the parts: the basic framework for the past settlement of Scotland

Reconstruction, by artist Jan Dunbar, of an Early Neolithic farmstead in the east of Scotland.

Our understanding of the past inhabitation of Scotland is constantly changing as our archaeology becomes more sophisticated and new interpretations are developed. That is part of the fun of archaeology: there is always something new Continue reading Naming the parts: the basic framework for the past settlement of Scotland

Finding the right words

Cave painting.
Communication can be a complex business. Figure from the cave of El Castillo, Spain.

I love writing, I love playing with words to make them sound right and convey meaning. But I’ve become increasingly aware that the way I hear them inside my head, and the meanings I am trying to communicate, may not be same as the meanings and sounds received by those who read them. Continue reading Finding the right words

Defining our terms

Farming landscape.
The field boundaries with which we are familiar are all modern constructs. Archaeological sites transcend them. Careful recording and terminology is necessary when we do fieldwork.

Sites are key to the work of an archaeologist. But what, exactly, do we mean by a site? It is a term that we use all of the time, but it has become so commonplace that we rarely stop to consider what we are talking about. It is worthwhile Continue reading Defining our terms

The Power of the Past

Logos from different parts of the British Isles that draw upon prehistory and look remarkably similar – how can this be?

I have two tokens for the lockers at my local swimming pool. One from the sports centre itself, one from the Prehistoric Society. Only recently did I realise how closely these two, apparently disparate, organisations are related. Both draw Continue reading The Power of the Past

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