A very archaeological vacation—Ireland to Norway, part one

Okay, most every vacation I take is going to feature some kind of archaeological content; you can take the girl out of the field, but… This year’s vacation featured loads of prehistory and archaeology, from the northwestern European Neolithic to the Viking period. Mr. G and I have always wanted to visit Viking period sites in Ireland, Britain, and Scandinavia by water, and this was chance to do it.

Glencoe, Scotland, which was lovely even when it started raining.  This is right before.

Glencoe, Scotland, which was lovely even when it started raining.  This is right before.

We started in Dublin, to visit friends and revisit a city we haven’t seen in twenty years. The highlights for me were the National Museum of Ireland (for the prehistoric and Viking collections) and the Chester Beatty Library (if you have any interest in the history of books or writing, this is one of the most amazing collections in the world. I’m not exaggerating.). From there, we flew to Glasgow, where we met up with our tour. First, through the Highlands, where the weather promptly turned Highland-y, that is, wet and cold. We took The Jacobite, a steam engine, from Fort William to Mallaig, and I’m told the scenery was gorgeous—it was cloudy and rainy, and we could only see bits. What was really cool was that, being a Sherlockian, it was great fun to travel as Holmes and Watson would have. Getting genuine train soot in my eye was less fun, but very period-accurate.

Okay, yes, it was also used as the "Hogwarts Express."

Okay, yes, it was also used as the "Hogwarts Express."

From Mallaig, we cruised to Orkney (Mainland). This for me was one of the big goals of the trip, because I’ve always wanted to see Skara Brae, a Neolithic village site that is older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids, with the origin of the settlement dating to about 3180 BCE. It’s fascinating to see the adaptations to a place where the weather is brutal and wood is very scarce: the stone walls survive, and it’s conjectured that the roofs were made of hides. When we visited Turkey in 2011, we had the privilege of sailing on the Euphrates River, so it was fascinating to see one part of the world, where agriculture probably began, and an example of a settlement where agriculture caught on, millennia later.

Skara Brae.  It looks small and unimpressive, but with a little imagination and some research...

Skara Brae.  It looks small and unimpressive, but with a little imagination and some research...

...you can get an idea of what it was like to live here, from this reconstruction.  Note the roof of hides.   

...you can get an idea of what it was like to live here, from this reconstruction.  Note the roof of hides. 

 

The Ring of Brodgar was nearby, a Neolithic henge (a circular ditch and mound) monument and stone circle, probably erected between 2,000 and 2,500 BCE. Twenty-seven of the original sixty stones are still standing. There’s a lot of archaeological work still to be done to discover whether there were standing stones in a center ring, whether there were wooden structures, etc. It was such a beautiful site; if we’d stayed any longer, I might have run away to join the crew working there!

The best shot i have of the Ring of Brodgar.  The cows make it official. ;-)

The best shot i have of the Ring of Brodgar.  The cows make it official. ;-)

After we returned to the ship and set sail for Shetland, I set my alarm to wake up around two a.m., so that I could live Tweet during the premiere of “Site Unseen: An Emma Fielding Mystery.” Two in the morning isn’t really my cup of tea—is it anyone’s?—but thanks to a good satellite system, I was able to hang out with friends, readers, and viewers from the middle of the North Sea!  

You can see more pics from this part of my trip on my Facebook page:  http://tinyurl.com/ycld8efc

Next: Shetland and Norway