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.



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

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.

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

Here’s information about the Paleolithic Period.

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.


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.


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.


A Neolithic tomb at Carrowmore, Sligo County, Ireland

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.


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,


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


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.



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


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


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.


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.



The Mysteries of History: Orkney Islands Scotland

We took a thrilling trip to Ireland and Great Britain last year, and I’m excited to share some photos with you. I’ll start with my favorite, the Orkney Islands. You really have to travel far to get there, and once you do, it feels pristine and untouched except for the magnificent job the Scottish people have done with preserving one of the most amazing stone-age sites of all time. It’s called Skara Brae, and here are some photos to show you what we experienced. Note: It rained a lot while we were there, but we were undaunted!

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Fortunately, my camera survived. That wasn’t smart to take photos in the rain!

This trip is not part of my current book, but it will be part of a future book. In the meantime, I plan to share the photos and stories with you, so stay tuned .