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Irish and Scottish Archaeology, a deeper look

When I was a kid I glazed over when viewing a sociology and archaeology text books showing the remains of ancient civilizations. I thought it was boring. But no more. Traveling inspires me to learn and seeing ruins in person is exciting.

In Dublin, our first stop on the trip, I wanted a little orientation to the ancient sites we would be seeing on our journey, so we walked over to the famed Archaeology site of the National Museum of Ireland.

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Immediately upon entry you are presented with the earliest relics, stone tools discovered from the paleolithic period, the earliest stone age.

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1. Flint Hand Axe Dun Aonghasa, Inishmore, (Dun Aengus, on the Aran Islands), County Galway 400,000-100,000 BC. 2. Flint Flake Mell, County Louth, 400,000-100,000 BCA

Wow, that’s old. This is not boring. My excitement at getting to see sites of early humans was growing. Here they are starting to use tools. Later, we would make it to Dun Aengus where we didn’t see such ancient relics but did get to see the approximate iron-age (circa 600 – 200 BC) hilltop fort.

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Dun Aengus, Aran Islands, Ireland. Iron Age fort circa 600 – 200 BC.

Here’s information about the Paleolithic Period.

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The earliest stage of the Stone Age – the Paleolithic – began with the emergence of humankind and the use of stone tools more than one million years ago. It covered most of the last great Ice Age until the final retreat of the ice sheets around twelve thousand BC. During part of the last Ice Age human groups could have settled in parts of Munster, but no material comparable to the Paleolithic settlements of Britain and mainland Europe has so far been discovered. Three objects of Paleolithic Age which may date between three hundred thousand and four hundred thousand BC have been found in Ireland but there is no certainty that they represent evidence of human settlement here. A flint flake from Mel, County Louth, found in glacial gravel, is thought to have been transported to Ireland by moving ice during the Ice Age. A hand-axe from Coolalisheen, County Cork, found two-feet down in a garden, resembles hand-axes found in southern Britain. This object and the second hand-axe from Dun Aonghasa, a large promontory fort on Inishmore, Aran Islands, County Galway, may have been brought to Ireland in recent times.

I especially love the paleo period, it’s so elemental without a lot of social structure and belief systems, or maybe none, just the struggle to survive and getting better at it by turning rocks into tools. However it looked like we weren’t going to see a lot of Paleolithic relics in Ireland.

After that was the Mesolithic era.

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In 2006, at the edge of a raised bog in Clowanstown Co. Meath, four conical fish traps were excavated. Organic Mesolithic artifacts like these are exceptionally rare in Ireland and, due to their fragile nature, a large-scale conservation project was undertaken. Although flattened when found, the traps retained a distinctive V-shape with evidence for constrictions at the open ends. Slender rods and twisted wefts of alder, birch and rosewood were woven together using an open-twined technique. The traps would originally have been positioned on the bed of a small lake adjacent to a mooring or walkway. Also found at the site was a possible model boat made from a pomaceous fruitwood such as apple, pear or hawthorn, dating to between c 5300-5050 BC, and a number of lithics.

The most important period for this trip was the Neolithic era because this was the timeframe of the relics and ruins we visited.

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Neolithic settlement (3700 – 2500 BC): Neolithic settlements in Ireland were adapted to the mild but moist climate of the time. Family units lived in rectangular houses and practiced mixed farming. The walls of the houses were constructed of split oak timbers set in trenches and held in position with small stones. These houses were used for a short period, perhaps a single generation. Remains of wheat, barley, sloes, blackberries, crab-apples and hazelnuts have been found and bones of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs also survive. Household goods included undecorated, often shouldered, pottery bowls used for storage and cooking. Small tools of land such as arrowheads, blades, knives and scrapers were in use for a range of functions well-polished stone axes and adzes were in use to clear woodlands for and for carpentry.

People began to farm in the Neolithic stone age, and they have left behind ruins of their civilizations. Here are some the impressive passage tombs of Carrowmore in Sligo County, which are dated to 3700-2900 BC.

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A Neolithic tomb at Carrowmore, Sligo County, Ireland

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Another monument at Carrowmore

This is going to have to be continued because I wanted to get this posted, and it’s going to take a while to work through all of this archaeology. And I know you don’t have much time to read either! Have a great week.

 

Meaning

I condemn the brutal attack on innocent human beings in New Zealand. Those who seek a few laughs and approval from their like-minded invisible audiences on social media are empty. Their violence against those who seek meaning through their spirituality and rigorous devotion to a higher calling is horrifying, an affront to humanity, and a heartbreaking tragedy, but it does not create meaning, nor does it obviate the meaning of their victims or their lives.

Acts of violence and hatred are meaningless, and the perpetrators are the manifestation of the lowest levels of human nature. Those who strive to be more, to create meaning through devotion to spirituality, knowledge, rightness, kindness, art, family or community are the manifestations of the highest levels of human nature. It is to these human beings, they are not just victims, they have lived honorably, and it is to them and to their ideals, that I devote my attention.

Update and photo

I’m working on what has turned out to be a long and complicated post, and I’m also finishing my first draft, so it’s taking a while to finish that post. I thought in the meantime I’d share a photo from recent adventures.

I snapped this with my phone while on break from some volunteer work I did at a ski race in Alpine Meadows.

I haven’t been skiing this year, and this day went from sunny to stormy. I was reminded just how cold skiing can be! But during the break between the two runs, I had a chance to take a picture. Then Google stylized it for me, so it’s a little more intense than in real life, but I kind of liked it and hope you do too.

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Yarrow’s Archaeological Trail and the Angry Farmer

Yarrow’s is a trail of multiple brochs, including a fascinating one that is half underwater. We parked and studied the map in the parking lot then stared around us at a loss. Nothing was as depicted. We walked up the road where we noticed, lower down the slope and off to the right, a rundown farmhouse with a sloped corrugated tin roof. A few dark windows made it look lifeless or like someone was watching us. It was creepy.

To the left was was a gate, unlocked, and we went through it, climbing through a very rough field past some sheep and horses.P1200298P1200317

We arrived at the amazing half submerged broch.

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The ruins are the stone foundations of what is thought once to have been tall wood and thatch structures. The stone foundations show how the neolithic people lived, with multiple rooms, sleeping areas, a central fireplace. And the people reused their refuse, shells and so on, in other ways. Quite sustainable and cooperative!P1200299Next we tried to climb to the top of a ridge on the other side of the road, but the ground was broken into large chunks as though a herd of horses or cows had been driven over it after a rain. It was impossible to walk over it, so the three brochs up there remained out of reach.

We figured the farmer was forced to preserve the historic sites and let visitors onto his land to looked at them, but they couldn’t be forced to make it easy!

We left, grateful for seeing the best broch and thinking about how all these ruins are national treasures or a big pain in the neck, depending on your situation. How they are preserved and shared and the impact of tourism on today’s farmers as well as on the sites would seem a bit complicated. Of course more funding would make a huge difference, and I hope that comes about, so all the remains can be preserved formally with support for the local farmers too.

A Break in the Clouds, Duncansby Head Scotland

I’m tired of rain, so I’m going to share some photos from a rare semi-sunny day on our Scotland leg of the journey.

After getting off the ferry from the Orkney islands, we drove out to the eastern tip of the highlands, Duncansby Head. It was windy there, as it probably always is,

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but there was some sun, and it was beautiful. The area is known for its “stacks,”

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but it also has a lot of seabirds. We looked for puffins but didn’t see any, however being above seagulls and being able to observe their nests as well as their hunting way below, was fun and interesting, a different perspective, for sure.

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Those pictures don’t show the perspective but this one does a bit:

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The Duncansby Head Lighthouse is also a sight listed in the book for the intrepid traveler.

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I know that’s a cliche, “intrepid traveler,” but you need to be fearless to drive the North Coast 500, as this popular route is called. The trouble is people go over the line. Okay, let me back up for a long story, which you are welcome to skip, now that you’ve seen the photos. :–)

On the trip, it came quickly to the point that I was fired from driving because I had a weird tick. Driving on the left side of the road, every time I saw a car coming in the opposite direction, for some reason it looked like we were going to collide, so I’d swerve. My husband in the passenger seat would get a jolt of adrenaline as the left-side wheels would almost go off the road. Let’s just say it wasn’t relaxing for him when I drove, LOL! He took over the driving, and that was great, but any time we had a near head-on, his adrenaline would spike. In his case, they really were near head-ons, it wasn’t his imagination. That really happened twice, once in Northern Ireland and once right after this beautiful morning visit to Duncansby Head.

I had a huge day planned. We would stop at a half dozen archaeological ruins on our way back down to Inverness. The area is full of brochs, the neolithic ruins. But on the way to the first sight after Duncansby, someone came over the line, and my husband had to go onto the shoulder, which isn’t paved, just a bit of gravel then a ditch, at about 50 miles an hour. He held the wheel rock steady, and we were fine.

I decided to count how long it was after a near-death experience before the adrenaline dissipated, so I asked him a few times how he was feeling, and it took 15 minutes for his adrenaline to abate. Once it’s gone, so is all your energy, and all the driving after that is exhausting, because you have to stay highly focused, but the adrenaline spike and then whatever happens to your body after it goes away, is really tiring. I figured out that once you have an incident like that, your long driving and sight-seeing day is shot.

So I narrowed down the stops to just one, the Yarrows Archaeological Trail, which I will go into next post. After that stop we counted down the minutes until we could get to the hotel. It was the longest two or three hours ever. Once at the hotel, we headed straight for the bar for a whiskey. (It was a really cool hotel, a converted castle, and the dinner was amazing, kind of formal and delicious.)

I think the North Coast 500 is incredible, but it’s become popular and doesn’t have the infrastructure, so it’s basically a nightmare for driving. We saw small tour buses, and that would be easier, but I’m not sure they’re any safer. And I’m not totally crazy, there was a brutal accident on the drive from Inverness back to Edinburgh, and someone who had been on a motorcycle was airlifted out by helicopter. We thankfully did not witness it, but sat for a long time in traffic while the accident was cleared, and when we passed the mangled bike, I was pretty sad. I have a friend who wants to motorcycle through Ireland, and my advice is, stick to the US. Then again, maybe the back country roads are easier on a motorcycle. All I know is, I’m really NOT an intrepid/fearless traveler, but I did have an incredibly good time, despite not seeing everything and being scared a few times.

If you do the North Coast 500, that eastern side above Inverness is staggering in its number of archaeological sites and breathtaking scenery, but I recommend taking at least a week to do it, really creep along stopping for just a couple sites a day before relaxing at your hotel.

 

Rainy days and…Wednesdays

We had more glorious rain today which, if you’ve been following me for a while, or if you live in California, you know is a really good thing.

When we went through the drought a few years ago, it was actually pretty hard to cut water back to the level each of us needed to do. Of course most people don’t waste water here in California, not even when it’s raining, after going through drought like that.

The rain has put me in mind of our visit to the Killarney National Park and the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. We had to skip the Ring of Kerry (sadly!) because of the storm, but we saved one sight-seeing goal that day. Ladies’ View is one of the most-photographed places in Killarney. Here’s the info from the official site:

Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting visited here during the royal visit in 1861. They were so taken with the view that it was named after them.

https://www.killarneynationalpark.ie/visit-us/ladies-view/

Here’s Ladies’ View on that day with a pano shot:

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On the way there, it was so rainy we really needed our umbrellas and were grateful to be able to duck into a pub in Kilmare for lunch. We walked up and down the street, fighting the rain, we were cold and wet, yet still taking time to read the posted menus so we would choose the place best for us. We selected a pub connected to an inn, and it had the coziest bar. We had the place to ourselves. It was an off hour, off season, and very off weather, so we could really relax in the prime location next to the fireplace.

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It was kind of odd, there was a tradition of Americans passing through signing a dollar bill and tacking it to the rafters. We did not participate in that.

I was so grateful to be warm and dry. I think I had soup and hot chocolate and my husband had Shepherd’s pie or something like it.

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Finally we pressed on to the Dingle Peninsula, which must be spectacular in good weather. In our weather, we were lucky to survive. Ha ha! It was a bit harrowing when Google Maps took us to the top of a mountain where the road turned into a precipice leading to a one-way road that clung to the side of a cliff so high you couldn’t even see the water, and then said, “Lost connection.” I didn’t take a picture there, so you’ll have to believe me, it was terrifying. We backed out, and the people behind us had to back out, so we could get by. We thought they’d be annoyed because they’d be in a hurry to continue on the road. No…they all turned around and followed us back the way we came! There were a few brave (stupid) tourists out that day and Google sent them all to what would be a scary country road in the best of weather, especially with tourists trying to figure out how to negotiate oncoming traffic and trying to remember who has the right-of-way.

I did manage to get this photo on the way back at a restaurant where we stopped to use the bathroom.

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On the Dingle Peninsula Ireland

And I took a zoom shot from the car window when we reached the head of the pinunsula, LOL. Nothing like a zoom when it’s pouring rain.

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Dingle Peninsula

I had more ideas for the book I want to write about going to Ireland. I’m making notes; I’m going to write that as soon as I’m done with my WIP.

Donegal Ireland

This county on the northwest of Ireland continued a trajectory of magic that I experienced in Western Ireland. It’s hard to explain the feelings I had in Ireland, but I will try to share it a bit as I explore these photographs with you and because I think that this is something I’m going to try to capture in my next book (not my work in progress, which is already FULL of other travel locations!)

I was sick with a cold the last week, and when I have a cold, I rest. While resting I discovered a new (to me) TV show called Room to Improve with Dermot Bannon, an Irish architect. The first episode was set in Donegal, which when I first heard pronounced properly by an Irish person, sounded musical to me, and the Sligo taxi driver who said it was delighted when he heard we were going there next. He said we’d love it.

We plan our trips ourselves, and this one was ambitious. I planned four hour driving days sometimes, which is nothing here, but it is WAY too much in Europe. The roads are not the same, and it’s exhausting. The outcome of that planning error was that many things I had planned had to be thrown out the window, but I’m still thrilled with everything we accomplished.

The planning had to account for driving time and working in sights along that path. We booked all our hotels and B&Bs in advance and we sometimes had to choose them based on where we needed to get to that day to be set up for the next day.

We chose to stay in Dungloe because of just such math. We found a wonderful B&B.

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Our B&B

Tired of driving, we walked to town and saw this view. I hadn’t brought my camera, but we both snapped photos with our phones. I was so happy to have a camera on my phone, the light was just right!

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Here are two views of the town of Dungloe.

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Dungloe from the road above

By the way, I recommend Room to Improve and especially that episode set in Donegal. It really gives you the sense of the people, the architecture, and the countryside. Plus in that episode the way the house turns out is lovely, a bit hard in some of the interior finishes for my particular tastes, but I love the way he lets in light, opens spaces, creates a sense of peace, and optimizes for the views and “bringing the outside in.” In other words, a lot to love in the finished product.

 

Funny thing is, I’m wearing my Aran Islands sweater today, and I didn’t even know I’d be writing this post when I put it on! It’s toasty warm and brings back good memories of meeting one of the women who knit the sweaters from local wool. I am warmed on the outside by the wool and the craftsmanship and on the inside by the memory of our interaction with the lovely woman in the little shop.

Ring of Brodgar

Standing stones from prehistoric times, henges, are so mystical. I love them! And the Scottish Highlands and islands have so many of these sites. One Neolithic Orkney site is called The Ring of Brodgar. It was breathtaking. Maybe it was set up for practicing Astronomy, or perhaps for ritual.

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