Location: Kirkwall, Scotland Orkney Islands
Sites Visited: Skara Brae 3180 BC , The Ring of Brodgar 2500 BC,
& The Stone of Steness, 2500BC
Today was actually one of my better days physically. I didn’t feel exhausted from lack of sleep and surprisingly had a lot of energy. This morning we visited Kirwall, Scotland in the Ornkey Islands. As I woke to look out my porthole, I realized the boat had come to a halt and we were dockside. Instinctively, I knew everyone on board was going to be excited about this realization. Even I, though I really don’t mind the zodiac rides to shore.
In the background I could hear the familiar sound of a bagpipe. I smiled knowing this was our first day in Scotland. I was immediately reminded of my travels of China and New Orleans, waking up to the sights and sounds of the region. These moments are priceless. From inside my cabin, I noticed there was older white male, around 60, fully clothed in traditional Scottish garb playing his bagpipe. After peering about the shoreline, I could sense he was there for our group- as the other locals on the dock seemed to be hard at work, not really paying attention to affairs of the explorer or the musician. I thought, what a beautiful treat. What a way to enter a country, I thought to self. Nice touch Linblad, nice touch.
Like all the other mornings, I rushed to breakfast-same omelet eggs, sausage, and potatoes. I went back to the cabin, grabbed my things and rushed to checkout. This time it was my badge. I always seem to leave something in my room. Always! If it were not for the doctor, I would not be ready for anything. She always reminds me, “Dawnetta, you need your life jacket? Dawnetta did you bring your badge? Dawnetta, aren’t you glad you have your water pants?” Those small reminders of care really make a difference on an experience such as this one. She told me that having been on several expeditions, she has become quite familiar with the routines, and in times past, she too needed reminders. I am glad to have the support.
After exiting the ship, we boarded the bus and traveled to Skara Brae. This is a Neolithic site that dates back to 3000 BC. Though the site is older than the pyramids, to my surprise it was not as I had imagined from the pictures online. Like the other places, I did some research on the location. I was eager to visit, however in my mind I thought the site would be so much more spread out and that we would actually be able to go in and explore the archaeological settlement. I’ll admit, this did put a damper on my experience, and even though I understand why the area is sanctioned off, I guess there is nothing like “being in it” or standing in the same place those human beings stood over 5000 years ago. It didn’t stop me from envisioning what life would have been like had I lived during that era, you couldn’t help but try to imagine life in these harsh conditions. If anything, it added to my curiosity of the people-who were they? What were they like? What were their traditions and customs? Questions, questions, and more questions. There were so many little crevices and hideaways, I swear this place would be the ultimate playhouse for a child. The houses were rather small in size, I wonder how many people resided in this space. The houses appear to have been built into the ground, but were they? I wish I would have asked. Perhaps it just appears this way because the sand and dirt have covered it over, I mean it has only survived 5000 years. Random thought-these people had no privacy what so ever. Bathing-I mean where did it take place-the ocean? What were their thoughts on cleanliness? Where did they obtain fresh water? So it makes me wonder about the context in how they viewed the body/water?
In addition the beds, or what I thought may be the sleeping quarters were to quite tiny, which then caused me to speculate about the size, height, and weight of the early humans. What foods were part of their diet, what did they consume on a daily basis, what was the life expectancy? All those thoughts raced through my mind. And when I imagined if I could survive then, I quickly reminded myself that I probably could worst case scenario-but would not want to.
I took several images, I mean I was standing right over the mounds, literally. I tried to capture them from different angles so the students could see the depth and shape of these houses. At one point I even veered away from the tour guide to capture these images. Granted, I should have stayed with he and the others, but in all truth, I am going to have to go back and conduct my own additional research on this area anyway. It’s not like I am an expert, and even after speaking with those that are, as a teacher it simply becomes habit to fill in missing gaps. And when you are rushed for time as in today’s tour, there are many gaps to fill. So google awaits.
After lunch we took the bus to the The Ring of Brodgar, this too was just as fascinating. Stones in one large circle, different from Callanish, but clearly built by the same group of people, as the designs were quite similar. A perfect circle, yes this must have been ceremonial in nature. While strolling around the site, I was quickly reminded about my location; I am in in the northern part of the UK, the Ornkey Islands in Scotland. Here the weather is quite cold even in May. Everywhere in the UK it feels cold in this region around this time of year. I could feel the brisk wind against my face, and though I was wearing a wind breaker, it didn’t seem to help. I was freezing once again, but still managed to walk through the worn path that led to the center. Upon arrival in the center, I decided to take video of this site. Of course I took photos, but the area was just too large to capture in a single frame. I thought that for teaching purposes and gathering information, video footage of this location would be the best use of my time here. We didn’t have much time to stop at the Stones of Stenness. It is also called the Temple of the Moon. Five minutes to be exact as we needed to report back to the ship. I quickly raced off the bus, snapped a few shots, and jumped back on the bus. I’ll find out the story later.
On the ship, Jim Richardson (National Geographic Photographer) and I spent some time recapping the day and discussing the interconnectedness of these sites. He said that if I looked at them each individually, it would just be a place I visited- a historic site so to speak. Nothing real significant to a degree, just an element of the past. He challenged me to look at them collectively, holistically to paint a picture of this time period, this area, the people. This was a thriving Neolithic socieity 5000 years ago. He explained, they had customs, traditions, homes, ceremonies. We then traced the visited sites: Skara Brae, The Stones of Stenness, The Ring of Brodgar and of course the Stones of Callenish from the previous day. Talk about a wow moment. I get it, Jim, I get it.
We talked about how this was a community, a group of early farmers. Skara Brae was their home, but religion and/or ceremonies too were an everyday part of their existence. Perhaps the Ring of Brodgar was a place where the elders gathered for sacrifices or even where people from far away made pilgrimages. Maybe they passed by the stones of Stenness as part of their visit to there sacred sites. I don’t know and the story isn’t written down. Most of Ireland’s ancient history is oral, but there is much speculation based on the evidence that I had right before me, evidence that was centuries old, that I had to somehow make sense of on this small island.
How do I teach this mystery? I recorded video, I took pictures, I know I can call Vinnie, email him when I need things to be clarified. The question is how much information do I share with students prior to teaching this concept? I really don’t want to give them any, well background of course of the life of an early farmer, but that is all. I think there is a beauty when you have to figure things out on your own.
You know there is no right or wrong answer in learning, well there is, but when you want students to critically analyze information before them, it takes few wrongs to realize how to get to the right or at least close. And you can’t get to the right until you have realized the wrongs. Well that is unless you study the wrongs of others so that you can get it right, and don’t repeat the same mistakes. Anyway, it’s a part of the journey and I know I will figure it all out in due time, it never fails.