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Sacred secrets; new finds from Orkney
November 4, 2010 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Mr Mowatt said he had always wondered what lay under an 8ft stone in the garden and eventually curiosity got the better of him, "On the screen... I could clearly see what I thought was a white skull, with two eye sockets, looking back at me."

The recent revelations about the Neolithic continue on Orkney. A dig at the Ness of Brodgar, inbetween the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness, has, unsuprisingly started to uncover some quite incredible buildings. 'Structure 10' is one of the most enigmatic and potentially important neolithic structures discovered.

On the other side of the mainland, the rescue dig at the Links of Notland has turned up some remarkeable examples of preservation, and the first known figurine in Scotland.

Then, just when the digging season had finished and reports were being written, a neighbour to 'The tomb of the Eagles', Mr Mowatt, dug a small hole by the car park of the Skerries Bistro.
The dig reports are being posted to YouTube
posted by BadMiker (39 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome post.
posted by saladin at 10:02 AM on November 4, 2010


Wow! I love how he was as careful as he could be, and called in some experts once he saw the skull.
wish I could brag I found a tomb on my property
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:05 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a skull and the descendant of Orcadians, I would just like to say, "Stay the hell out of my Great-Granddad's hot tub!"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:06 AM on November 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


This sounds like a movie. [Some Hero's Name] and the Pool of Skulls.

Or a Harry Potter fanfic, maybe.
posted by cmyk at 10:12 AM on November 4, 2010


Fantastic. Thanks for posting this.
posted by Artw at 10:18 AM on November 4, 2010


fantastic post. thank you!!!
posted by supermedusa at 10:23 AM on November 4, 2010


{mumbles}
it's my first post to the blue; I wanted to wait for something special.
posted by BadMiker at 10:26 AM on November 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Bad-ass. I don't have time to check all of these links right now as I'm at work, but I'll be getting back to this later.

Thanks for posting!
posted by Pecinpah at 10:33 AM on November 4, 2010


Very, very cool.

Here in the U.S., of course, we'd have found out about this after the spirits in the tombs invaded the house via the television.
posted by bearwife at 10:39 AM on November 4, 2010


Awesome post! To think how long that stone had been in somebody's garden...
posted by vorfeed at 10:40 AM on November 4, 2010


Is is it bad that I would call the police before the archeologist? Better yet is it bad that I do not have one on speed dial?
posted by Felex at 10:41 AM on November 4, 2010


Good job!

I do like how everyone involved has the most British names imaginable.
posted by klangklangston at 10:42 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why not just let the remains remain? Grave robbers?
posted by Cranberry at 10:46 AM on November 4, 2010


I love this stuff. Thank you.
posted by mareli at 10:50 AM on November 4, 2010


He dug a small hole close to the stone to see how thick it was. He then managed to get a thin wire pushed under the stone and confirmed there was definitely a space underneath. While doing this, a finger-hole size appeared in the earth to his right.

When the tomb is disturbed and then something starts digging OUT at YOU, it's time to go.

Alternately: "You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones!! YOU ONLY MOVED THE HEADSTONES!"
posted by FatherDagon at 10:53 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


the car park of the Skerries Bistro

Indeed.
posted by exogenous at 10:58 AM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why not just let the remains remain? Grave robbers?

Grave robbers? Maybe if the people excavating it were going to sell the artifacts for a profit. Not so much if engaged in legitimate archaeological research.

Great post thanks for sharing.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:58 AM on November 4, 2010


This is where Forrestal cashed in.
posted by Artw at 11:01 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Great post, thanks for making it.
posted by Rumple at 11:01 AM on November 4, 2010


Bit confused about why there is a race against time. Presumably they've been in water for the past 5000 years? I tend not to be great at reading comprehension on my phone though so might have missed something.
posted by doublehappy at 11:06 AM on November 4, 2010


Great post, fascinating stuff. Thanks!
posted by Gator at 11:07 AM on November 4, 2010


Why not just let the remains remain? Grave robbers?

What use have the dead for such things? Much better, instead, to excavate carefully, and learn.

Even if there's nothing to be learned, there's little reason to leave things in the ground that could otherwise bring joy or entertainment to the living. It's not like the grave is that of someone with still-living relatives, or an invasion of an organized cemetery.

This is more like finding a 200-year-old sunken treasure chest, and suggesting it should be left alone because its owner might be upset that you took the contents.
posted by explosion at 11:30 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


there's little reason to leave things in the ground that could otherwise bring joy or entertainment
posted by kuatto at 11:36 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


neat, thanks for posting this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:36 AM on November 4, 2010


there's little reason to leave things in the ground that could otherwise bring joy or entertainment

Yeah, I tried that line, but the judge took a rather dim view of it.
posted by rusty at 11:49 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


klang: Really? I mean, clearly Hamish Mowatt is a Scot, but the writer is called Sigurd and the archaeologist is called Julie Gibson. Am I misunderstanding something about America or is Julie Gibson really an uncommonly British-sounding name on the tither side of the pond? I mean, reading on I find folk called Carole, Hazel and Graeme. Do you not get those names in Yankistan?
posted by Dim Siawns at 11:51 AM on November 4, 2010


Oh, and great post BadMiker! Cheers much.
posted by Dim Siawns at 11:52 AM on November 4, 2010


there's little reason to leave things in the ground that could otherwise bring joy or entertainment

Sometimes dead is bettah.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 12:08 PM on November 4, 2010


So very cool to see. I remember as a kid being very, very excited when the Windover archaeological site was discovered in Florida; it was only a few miles from where I lived and ended up being one of the more astounding burial sites in the new world. Very heady stuff for a twelve-year-old kid. Come to think of it, I think the Windover find was what lead me to study anthropology in school. Maybe some local kids will be inspired in Orkney.

It's nice seeing people do the right thing—calling in the experts—as archaeological work is inherently a one-shot destructive process and you only have the one chance to get it right. In the Windover case, the developers not only did the right thing, they changed their development plans and paid for the first archaeological work.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 12:19 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Very nice post...thanks.
posted by lobstah at 12:36 PM on November 4, 2010


Ah, the UK. Sure wish I lived in a part of the world where digging in my backyard had a reasonable chance of yielding awesome stuff.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:40 PM on November 4, 2010


Why not just let the remains remain? Grave robbers?

When we are buried, its best not to think that we will be their permanently. We're just rotting time capsules.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:44 PM on November 4, 2010


I've been to those places. The Orkneys are gorgeous, and all that ancient stuff is just sitting out there in farmers' fields. You park your car on the side of the road and just walk around it. No huge paved parking lots, or gift shops, or uniformed university students doing tours with rehearsed speeches. Just cows staring at you through the mist. Wonderful. Skara Brae was amazing.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:17 PM on November 4, 2010


Why not just let the remains remain? Grave robbers?

Possibly, but probably not. You've actually hit on a HUGE issue in archaeology -- namely, that as soon as you've dug something up, you've essentially destroyed it. The context can't be recreated, the soil around it has been aerated and moved and mixed up...basically, you need to have a really, really good reason to dig something up, because of all of the above and as soon as an object is removed from the burial environment, it begins to decay quickly. (And, I mean, of course one records and samples and photographs and etc etc etc, but that doesn't account for unknown future technology.)

From the article, it sounds as though there are very few Neolithic tombs in the Orkneys, and fewer with bodies still in them. It will be a huge boon to those studying that time period in that place, and so it becomes worth it to disturb how the grave was laid, in order to learn things like how the skeleton was laid, what (and who, possibly) it was buried with, and so on. In the 'to excavate or not' debate, it becomes very worth it to excavate.


Presumably they've been in water for the past 5000 years? I tend not to be great at reading comprehension on my phone though so might have missed something.


They don't really clarify it in the article, just saying that the guy noticed a pool of water when he stuck the camera down there. My barely-educated guess (I'm doing a course in archaeological conservation right now, for what it's worth) is that now that there's an entryway into the tomb, oxygenated air can get in, and feed decay processes, as well as contributing to fluctuating moisture and temperature which will also speed decay. Frankly, the water may be helping preserve it, depending on acidity/alkalinity. Bone tends to survive underwater reasonably well as a kind of hydroxyapatite matrix after the collagen has decayed away. I don't know enough about Neolithic pottery to predict whether it's mud yet or not.
posted by kalimac at 1:32 PM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


it's my first post to the blue; I wanted to wait for something special.

Um, yeah....you did that in spades. Awesome, thanks for posting this.
posted by nevercalm at 2:04 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why not just let the remains remain?

The implication is that 'remains' are inviolate and should not be disturbed. The original owners don't seem to have had that attitude; neolithic remains were dIsmembered, defleshed, inferred, disinterred and generally passed around. Modern cultural mores aren't applicable to ancient history. Although the treatment of Treehenge (sorry cannot link) is maybe taking it too far.
posted by BadMiker at 2:05 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love Orkney - chuck a rock and it'll likely land on something interesting archaeology. Actually, if you pick up a rock, best make sure that it's not a Neolithic handaxe before you go chucking it about the place willy-nilly.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:19 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


When we are buried, its best not to think that we will be their permanently. We're just rotting time capsules.

Their what, Joey Michaels?

(Just teasing. I agree. I'm only borrowing these chemicals.)
posted by IAmBroom at 5:47 PM on November 5, 2010


Dim Siawns: Those are uncommon names here in Yankistan (and uncommon spellings: Carol and Graham, yes. Carole and Graeme, not so much). And yes, even Julie Gibson sounds pretty British to my ears.
posted by audacity at 9:43 PM on November 6, 2010


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