Saturday, 30 August 2014

Sparking the writing muse

Happy Saturday to you!

I'm over at my 'every-second-Saturday' slot on WritingWranglers and Warriors today. You'll find the post there is fairly similar to here, but I can wax lyrical a bit more on this one. 

Scottish Crannog Centre
What sparks your writing imagination?  

Earlier this week, I returned to a highly specialised museum /visitor centre named The Scottish Crannog Centre. This visitor attraction is located at Kenmore, Loch Tay, Perthshire, Scotland. Opened in 1997 to the public, this amazing facility contains a reconstruction of a crannog - a late Iron Age dwelling. Crannog evidence has been found in Scotland and Ireland almost exclusively, with only a few known examples in England.

raised cots- sleeping and storage use
After various archaeological diving expeditions in Loch Tay, over a period of 20 years (approx 1980-2000, the lochside was designated as a site of multiple crannog dwellings. It’s believed that the art of crannog building occurred over a very long period of time, from pre-historic times through to perhaps the 16th or 17th centuries, in some form or another. 

Artificial islands are now to be found in the loch, some of these having evolved as debris from collapsed wooden dwellings after abandonment. Scottish lochs are peppered with similar artificial islands. Whether they all once supported a crannog has yet to be discovered.

How were archaeologists able to organise the re-creation of a pre-historic dwelling? 

Underwater surveys of the area near the village of Fearnan have provided evidence so well preserved that image interpretation of the crannogs were possible. Even using carbon dating, the habitation dates of the Oakbank Crannog at Fearnan isn’t easy to determine, but it’s thought to have been occupied from pre-historic times and into the Early Iron Age in Scotland

Some evidence indicates that the site was also occupied during the late first century AD and then abandoned. I liked that bit of knowledge since it ties in with activities I wrote about in After Whorl- Donning Double Cloaks, Book 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series when the advance of 10,000 Ancient Roman legionaries and auxiliaries forced Celtic tribespeople to abandon their homes and flee to the hills.

The way of life in the crannogs can be interpreted very accurately since the wood used in the construction has been well preserved under the water. For some time after the Oakbank Crannog was abandoned, after approximately 200 years of use, stones systematically covered the largely wooden debris on the loch bed. The covering of stones has helped to preserve what lay beneath for many centuries. 

Bit by precious bit, the area was excavated under water and surprising result were found. The support timbers of the roundhouse were easily discernible. From other timber evidence, it was possible to build up a picture of how the flooring was constructed. Three layers of alder tree trunks were used to create the floor, the poles lying parallel on top of each other. On top of that, brackens and ferns were used as insulation and to make it easier to walk on. Evidence of mosses were found which were used for insulated packaging between wall supports, for sanitary use (tissues?) and for medicinal uses, as in padding for healing wounds.

Many wooden and stone objects were uncovered under bracken remains which demonstrate daily cooking and storage usage – some of these artifacts available to see in the small museum.  

Being inside the crannog at the centre is an incredible experience. When I’ve described a crannog village, or a Celtic roundhouse, in my Celtic Fervour Series it was my memories of the Kenmore Crannog which made it possible for me to imagine those scenes.

Re-enveloping myself in the atmosphere of the crannog earlier this week was an indescribable joy- the curator taking a box of my novels and setting them up for sale in the souvenir shop was another. I just hope that the international visitors to the Crannog shop will buy my novels and will appreciate my efforts to recreate late Iron Age in northern Britain. 

During the launch of After Whorl - Bran Reborn,  Book 2 of my Celtic Fervour Series I wrote many different blog posts about some aspect of late Iron Age living. The following passage (in red) was written by me for guesting at Sarah England's blog in 2013 (apologies -I don't have the URL), to give readers a taste of what living in a Celtic roundhouse was like. 

Roundhouses being very similar to crannog construction there are definite similarities, but I now realise I didn't ask enough questions about life in the crannog. My guide, Dirk, at the Scottish Crannog Centre (I think) told us that the cooking processes were done near the open doorway during pre-historic times. What I failed to ask was if the late Iron Age dwellers worked out how to use a central hearth without setting the crannog flooring on fire.

The following passage describes the central hearth in a roundhouse, which would have had a beaten earth floor beneath it.

"The fire sits centrally on the beaten earthen floor, with rushes underfoot to soften the hard earth and to ‘warm’ the floor area. By that, I mean keep the cold, seeping- earthen-dampness from the feet of my characters. The smoke from the fire drifts up and escapes through the thatched roof, except my own small experiences of being in a roundhouse were such that the cloying, choking smoke tends to drift around before it heads up and very slowly out. Sometimes the wood gathered for the almost-perpetually-lit fire will be damp and very smoky. Yet, depending on the type of firewood used, there might be a nice fragrance wafting in the air to mingle with the herbs which are suspended from the roof beams to dry out.

However, regardless of smoke or smell, the fire is a much needed life essential. There are no windows in the roundhouse to give any light and there is considerable dampness from the roof after inclement weather, which northern Britain has its fair share of. The fire gives off some light but gives off much needed warmth, on most days and, of course, it is the only source of cooking food. 

There’s a simple cast iron tripod over the fire with a chain and pot dangling down to sit just above the burning wood. Some simple fire iron tools are laid down nearby: a poker for stirring the blaze and ashes; tongs for lifting pots from the ‘hot stones’ set alongside the blaze. Some slow cooking will be done on those stones, for example the simple unleavened oat bread bannocks will be made there, or they might be used to keep roasted food warmed on metal platters till required. The cauldron style pot hanging centrally over the fire will have some sort of stew, soup or porridge bubbling away in it. Simple food, but enlivened by the addition of some herbs.

Simple wooden stools might sit around the firesides or piles of skins as alternative seating. Around the inside walls of the roundhouse are raised platforms constructed from wattled sides, in-filled with natural packing materials and with a slatted wooden top. These platforms served for beds and for storage of goods needing to be raised off the earth. Where used for beds there would be mattresses of a sort - simple wool or material sacks filled with straw or some other semi-soft packing materials like heathers or mosses. I imagine whatever was used would initially have been reasonably fragrant when new. Woollen blankets, skins or furs top the beds.

Some simple eating utensils would be near the fire – wooden bowls and spoons and perhaps some made from metal copper alloys. A free standing drop-weight-loom might stand near the door entryway with carding and teasing tools nearby in woven wicker baskets. The door entryways varied according to size of the roundhouse but a low rectangular doorway would be curtained with a hung blanket or furs to keep out the draughts.

Larger roundhouses seemed to have a short, low, wattled, tunnel which served as a defensive mechanism- delaying the entrance- and also probably kept out more draughts as it was like an entrance porch with an inner and outer door to it. Unfortunately, Meaghan’s roundhouse (in After Whorl- Bran Reborn)  was simple and entry to the living space was …immediate and could be threatening. 


Also from, KOBO, and other ebook retailers.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for reading my blog. Please pop your thoughts about this post in the comment box. :-)