Sunday, 27 July 2014

New article at Mother Earth News

"Under the green and rolling hills of Scotland, several people lay buried for four thousand years. Around them lay what we guess to be their keepsakes; beads, a bronze knife, tools and a battle-axe. Most interesting, though, was that at least one of them – a teenager when he died, curled up like a baby – lay in what was guessed to be a wicker coracle, like those used on these islands into the 20th century. He was buried in his boat.

Stop and consider a few things about this. First, its antiquity: Before the Ancient Greeks or the Hebrew prophets, before all but the earliest pyramids, there were Scots. Also, you don’t see boat-burials every day; perhaps it was the youth’s most prized possession, the Stone-Age equivalent of being buried in your Rolls-Royce. Finally, consider this was a giant basket, woven together by hand, and that it carried people safely across the cold waters."

My latest article, "A Short History of Woven Boats," is live at Mother Earth News: check it out. 


Ronald Langereis said...

An appropriate opening sentence, Brian, rolling like the Scottish hills itself.
Amazing, isn't it, that our ancestors braved the waves of even the ocean to so frail a craft as a curragh.
It reminds me of Tennyson's 'The Voyage of Maeldune', a ballad I so much cherished as to translate it into Dutch and publicise it.
Here's a link to the original.

Brian Kaller said...


Good to hear from you again -- it's been a long time. What a magnificent poem; I'd be curious to hear it in Dutch. How difficult was it to retain rhyme or metre?

P.M.Lawrence said...

Ah, well now, here's the thing. Those weren't Scots that were buried there. Though some of their line may have been assimilated by later incomers, Sabine women fashion or otherwise, the Scots themselves came later and trace back to Ireland - with its own similar pattern - and through that to peoples leaving what is now northern Spain or south-west France, and from thence back to early Celts and yet others, so whoever was buried there was at most only part of what made the Scots (though there was always a tendency for physical types with an admixture from elsewhere to breed back towards types that flourished better in their areas, if the blend still had some of those). All this is attested by archaeological finds, by the pattern and language of place names, and by traditions surprisingly consistent with the other two kinds of evidence even with the traditions' poetic rather than historiographical approach, e.g. in the Declaration of Arbroath that set forth the Scottish claim to independence on the back of just such a displacement of those who were there before. I myself am of Irish ancestry on my mother's side and Scottish on my father's, and it turns out that, like many Scots, I have the distinguishing Dalriada gene from my father; that would have been wholly absent from those in that grave.

By the way, if it is not too impertinent to ask, I notice that your many photographs of the girl always have her facing away, so that we do not see her face. I was wondering why this was, whether an aesthetic choice or something else? If it is a matter of respect for her privacy, I will quite understand that I am intruding too much and should not ask.

Brian Kaller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Kaller said...


A fair point -- and of course they would have had a different language and culture then, and not called themselves Scots. As you say, though, immigrant peoples usually mix somewhat with the people who already live there, so they were probably among the ancestors of today's Scots, and they lived in Scotland. It depends on your definition, but I see what you mean.

As for The Girl, I don't mind your asking. I knew I would be writing about our conversations, but also wanted to grant her a modicum of privacy in this intrusive and dangerous age. My compromise was to never say her name, show her face or say exactly where we live, and not to go into any other details of our family or life. Thanks for reading,