Books, Prehistory, The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland by Daniel Wilson

The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland by Daniel Wilson is in Prehistory.

The Archaeology Prehistoric Annals Of Scotland. Daniel Wilson Honorary Secretary of The Society Of Antiquaries Of Scotland."

"There is in the world no kind of knowledge whereby any part of truth Is seen, but we justly account it precious; yea, that principal truth, in comparison of which all other knowledge is vile, may receive from It some kind Of Light." Hooker.

Edinburgh. Sutherland And Knox, George Street. London: Simpkin, Marshall, And Co. And J. H. Parker. MDCCCLI.

Books, Prehistory, The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland by Daniel Wilson, Chapter III Sepulchral Memorials

The raising of sepulchral mounds of earth or stone to mark the last resting-place of the loved or honoured dead may be traced in all countries to the remotest periods. Their origin is to be sought for in the little heap of earth displaced by interment, which still to thousands suffices as the most touching memorial of the dead. In a rude and primitive age, when the tomb of the great warrior or patriarchal chief was to be indicated by some more remarkable token, the increase of the little earth-mound, by the united labours of the com- munity, into the form of a gigantic barrow, would naturally suggest itself as the readiest and fittest mark of distinction. In its later circular forms we see the rude type of the great Pyramids of Egypt, no less than of the lesser British moat-hills and other native-earthworks, until at length, when the aspiring builders were rearing the gigantic monoliths of Avebury, they constructed, amid the tumuli of the neighbouring downs, the earth-pyramid of Silbury Hill, measuring 170 feet in perpendicular height, and covering an area of five acres and thirty -four perches of land.

Priority has been given to the primitive relics of naval skill, which the later alluvial strata of Scotland supply, for reasons sufficiently obvious, and pertaining exclusively to the antiquities of our insular home. But for the surest traces of primitive arts and a defined progress in civilisation, the archaeologist will generally turn with greater propriety to the grave-mounds of the ancient race whose history he seeks to recover ; for, however true be " the words of the preacher," in the sense in which he uttered them, there is both device, and knowledge, and instruction in the grave, for those who seek there the records of the dead. This fact is in itself an eloquent one in the evidence it furnishes, that in that dim and long forgotten past, of which we are seeking to recover the records, man was still the same, " of like passions with ourselves," vehement in his anger, and no less passionate in unavailing sorrow.

No people, however rude or debased he their state, have yet been met with so degraded to the level of the brutes as to entertain no notion of a Supreme Being, or no anticipation of a future state. Some more or less defined idea of a retributive future is found in the wildest savage creed, developing itself in accordance with the nide virtues to which the barbarian aspires. While the luxurious Asiatic dreams of the sensual joys of his Mohammedan Elysium, the Red Indian warrior looks forward to the range of ampler hunting-grounds, and the enjoyment of unfailing victory on the war-path. All, however, anticipate a corporeal participation in tangible joys, and, to the simpler mind of the untutored savage, affection dictates the provision of means to supply the first requisites of this new state of being. Hence the bow and spear, the sword, shield, and other implements of war and the chase, laid beside the rude cinerary urn, or deposited in the cist with the buried chief Refinement, which added to the wants and acquirements of the warrior, in like manner furnished new means for affection to lavish on the loved or honoured dead. Personal ornaments were added to the indispensable weapons, that the hero might not only stand at no disadvantage amid the novel scenes into which he had passed, but that he might also assume the insignia of rank and distinction which were his right. The feelings prompting to such tributes of affectionate sorrow are innate and indestructible. They manifest themselves under varied forms in every state of social being, and may be readily traced amid the struggle for decorous and costly sepulchral honours, no less universal now than in the long forgotten era of the tumulus and cinerary urn.

From the contents of the tumuli we are able partially to apply to them a relative system of chronology, the accuracy of which appears to be satisfactorily borne out. No archaeologist has yet done for any district of Scotland what the intelligent research of Sir Richard Colt Hoare effected for "Wiltshire. No other single district, indeed, offers the same tempting field for the study, and few archaeologists possess his ample means for carrying out such investigations. He has adopted a subdivision, which distinguishes fourteen different kinds of barrows, classified according to their shape, and furnishes a systematic nomenclature, which is of general avail. Observations since carried out over a more extensive field enable us in some degree to modify this system, and reduce the number of true barrows, while even of these some are probably only the result of accident, or of the caprice of in- dividual taste. The following are the best defined among the varieties noted by Sir R. C. Hoare: — 1. The long barrow, resembling a gigantic grave ; 2. The bowl barrow, from its similarity to an inverted bowl ; 3. The bell barrow ; 4. The twin barrow, consisting of two adjacent tumuli, one of them generally larger than the other, and both inclosed in one fosse or vallum ; 5. The Druid barrow, generally a broad and low tumulus, surrounded by a vallum. The last name was given on insufficient evidence by Dr. Stukeley, Sir R. C. Hoare's predecessor in investigating the antiquities of Wiltshire. The latter has subdivided the class into three varieties, and there seems some reason to think that such indicate the place of interment of females ; but more extensive observation is required to establish so interesting an inference. The remaining distinctions appear to be either accidental, or referring to earth- works, certainly not sepulchral. Among this last are the " pond barrows," hereafter referred to as the remains of primitive dwellings, and the conical mounds or moat-hills, of which Silbury Hill is probably the largest in the world, designed as the lofty tribunal where the arch-priest or chief administered, and frequently executed, the rude common law of the northern races. The laborious excavations carried out under the direction of the Archaeological Institute during the Salisbury Congress in 1849, have at least put an end to any ideas of Silbury Hill being a sepulchral mound.

Much similarity is naturally to be expected between the primitive antiquities of England and Scotland, where the imaginary border land that so long formed the marches between rival nations presents no real barrier calculated to interpose an impediment to the free interchange of knowledge or arts. Nevertheless there are many of those distinctive peculiarities observable in Scotland which are well calculated to encourage further investigation, though, for the purposes of a just and logical distinction, the Scottish archaeologist ought to include the ancient kingdom of Northumbria within the region of his researches, and draw his comparisons between the antiquities found to the north and the south of the great wall of Severus.

Books, Prehistory, The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland by Daniel Wilson, Chapter IV Dwellings

The Aberdeenshire weems are constructed of huge masses of granite, frequently above six feet in length, and though by no means uniform either in internal shape or dimensions, a general style of construction prevails throughout the whole. Some of them have been found upwards of thirty feet long, and from eight to nine feet wide. The walls are made to converge towards the top, and the whole is roofed in by means of the primitive substitute for the arch which characterizes the cyclopean structures of infant Greece, and the vast temples and palaces of Mexico and Yucatan. The huge stones over- lap each other in succession, until the intervening space is sufficiently reduced to admit of the vault being completed by a single block ex- tending from side to side. They have not infrequently smaller chambers attached to them, generally approached by passages not above three feet in height ; and it affords a curious evidence of the want of efficient tools in the builders of these subterranean structures, that where these side apartments are only separated from the main chamber by the thickness of the wall, the stones, though placed flush with the walls of the latter, project irregularly into the small cells, giving them a singularly unshapely and ragged appearance. Similar structures, but of smaller dimensions, have been discovered in Lanark- shire, at Cartland Craigs, in the neighbourhood of Stonebyres, and at a place called Cairney Castle. In these last were found quernes, deers' horns, and bones. In one uncovered in the parish of Auchter- house, Forfarshire, a brass ring was discovered ; and both there, and in another in the same parish, were ashes, bones, and quernes.1 The Rev. Thomas Constable furnishes a very interesting description of one near Lundie House, in the latter county, which was minutely surveyed by the eminent antiquary, Lord Hailes. Its contents were of the usual description, including several quernes about fourteen inches in diameter.2 So also, in a minute account of similar structures in Caithness and Sutherland, furnished to Pennant by the parish minister of Reay, the writer remarks: — " We found in them nothing but hand-mills, or what the Highlanders call quernes, which were only eighteen inches in diameter, and great heaps of deers' bones and horns, as they (the Picts) lived much more by hunting than any other means."3 The discovery, indeed, of the primitive hand-mill in these ancient dwellings is so frequent as to be worthy of special notice, and might seem to indicate that their original destination had been for store-houses or granaries, did not the constant occurrence of the bones of domestic animals, or of those most prized in the chase, and frequently in considerable quantities, leave no room for doubt that they must have been occupied as places of habitation. They agree very nearly with the description furnished by Tacitus of the winter dwellings of the Germans, whom he represents as digging- caves in the earth, in which they lay up their grain, and whither they retire in the winter, or on the advance of an enemy to plunder the open country! The entrance to such of these subterranean dwellings as have been found sufficiently perfect to afford indications of their original character, appears to have generally been by a slanting doorway between two long, upright stones, through which the occupant must have slid into his dark abode. Occasionally a small aperture has been found at the further end, apparently to give vent to the fire, the charcoal ashes of which lie extinguished on the long-deserted floor. In some a passage of considerable length has formed the vestibule ; but so far as now appears, a solitary aperture served most frequently alike for doorway, chimney, ventilator, and even window, in so far as any gleam of daylight could penetrate into the darkened vault. One is forcibly reminded, while groping in these aboriginal retreats, of Elia's realisations of the strange social state to which they pertain, in his quaint rhapsody on Candle-light, "our peculiar and household planet! Wanting it, what savage unsocial nights must our ancestors have spent, wintering in caves and unilluminated fastnesses ! They must have lain about and grumbled at one another in the dark. What repartees could have passed, when you must have felt about for a smile, and handled a neighbour's cheek to be sure that he understood it ! This accounts for the seriousness of the elder poetry. It has a sombre cast, derived from the tradition of these unlanterned nights \" The grave humorist goes on to picture a supper scene in these unlighted halls, rich with truthful imaginings, mingled with his curious but thoughtful jests:— " Things that were born, when none but the still night, And his dumb candle, saw his pinching throes."

Note 1. Sinclair's Statist. Ace. vol. xiv. p. 52

Note 2. Pennant's Tour, vol. i. Appendix, p. 339.

Note 3. Sinclair's Statist. Aec. vol. xiii. p. 117.

Similar subterranean structures have been discovered at different times in Orkney, some of them of considerable extent, and including various recesses and chambers branching off from the chief central apartment. An unusually minute and interesting account of one in the parish of Shapinshay is given in the Old Statistical Accounts1 by the Rev. Dr. George Barry, the historian of Orkney, in which was found a beautiful torquated ring. In 1855, James Farrer, Esq., M.P., effected a thorough exploration of a weem on the Isle of Eday, Orkney, recovering from it a variety of implements of stone, horn, bone, bronze, and iron ; among which one of the most interesting is a large drinking-cup (Fig. 4) made from the vertebra of a whale.

Note 1. Sinclair's Statist. Acc. vol. xvii. p. 2

Structures of the same character, on the mainland of Orkney, were explored by Captain F. W. L. Thomas, R.N., in 1848. In the course of his investigation of one of these at Savrock, about a mile to the westward of Kirkwall, and close to the sea-shore, some curious evidence was disclosed, showing the primitive arts of its builders, and their inability to overcome an obstacle requiring unusual skill or effective tools. In excavating the site for this subterranean dwelling they appear to have cleared away the soil till they reached the natural rock, which forms the floor of the vault. Pillars constructed at irregular intervals admit of the vvliole being covered by immense slabs resting on them, where the width is too great to be overarched at so slight an elevation by converging walls. A long passage leads from this chamber, floored, like it, with the natural rock. In one place, however, an irregular elevation of the strata occurs. Such an obstacle was either beyond the skill of the laborious architects, or demanded more exertion than they cared to expend on its removal ; and the roof has accordingly been elevated so as to admit of free passage by ascending and descending over the irregular surface of the rock. The passages, as in nearly all the structures of this class which have been carefully explored, are extremely straitened. Unfortunately this primitive dwelling supplied materials for building a neighbouring farm-house and offices before Captain Thomas had an opportunity of exploring it ; so that what remained was in a very imperfect and dilapidated state. Portions of the roof still entire, constructed of masses of unhewn stone, — one of them measuring about five feet long, — afforded abundant evidence that no amount of mere physical labour was grudged in the completion of the edifice, and seem to justify the probable assignment of it to a period prior to the introduction of metallic tools. In another of these subterranean buildings, however, situated on the Holm of Papey, Captain Thomas observed some doul)tful indications of the use of tools. " On the side wall, near the entrance," he remarks, " and about six feet from the floor, there is a neatly engraved circle, about four inches in diameter ; there is also another stone, with the appearance of two small circles touching each other, cut upon it ; but it is so common to find geometrical figures upon the Orkney flags, arising from a semi-crystallization of the pyrites whi^h they contain, that I am unable to decide whether these are natural or not." The height of the passage where it remains perfect is only two feet seven inches ; but nearly one-half of it is unroofed, and heaps of large stones lying scattered about afford evidence of the great extent of the building when complete. Within and around the area of this ancient structure abundant indications were discovered of its havino; been used as a dwelling-place. A large accumulation of wood or peatashes showed that it must have been occupied for a lengthened period ; and this was further proved by the great quantity of the bones of domestic animals scattered about the place. Those of sheep, apparently of the small northern breed still found in Orkney, were the most numerous ; but besides these, there were skulls and bones of horses and oxen, the skull and portions of the horns of a deer, and a large bone of a whale. A thick layer of the shells of the periwinkle, covered the building and the adjacent ground, mixed sparingly with the oyster, the escallop, the common whelk, and other edible moUusca, which had evidently been consumed in great quantities on the spot. Along with those were also found the antler of a deer artificially severed from the tyne, and a few extremely rude implements, roughly fashioned from the thigh-bone of an ox, and designed apparently as handles for some weapon or cutting implement, most probably of shell or flint. Other Orkney relics of the same class, but exhibiting more completeness of design, and accompanied with attempts at ornament, are described and figured in a subsequent chapter.

This large, though very imperfect example of the dwellings of primitive communities of the ancient population of the Orkneys, may be properly classed with the weems of the Scottish mainland, though it is not entirely subterranean. The floor is nine feet below the natural surface of the ground; and from the mode by which the whole appears to have been invoofed with immense overlapping stones, it must have projected somewhat above the surface, and was probably covered over with a raised mound of earth. In this respect it approaches, in some degree, to another class of buildings, chiefly met Avith in Orkney and the neighbouring districts of Caithness and Sutherland, but which may have been at one time no less common on the whole Scottish mainland. These structures, for which it may be convenient to retain the popular name of Flctd houses, are not, strictly speaking, subterranean, but erected generally on the level ground, or, at furthest, excavated in part out of the side of a hill, so as to admit of a level entrance. Externally they are scarcely distinguishable from the larger tumuli, but on dioorino- into the screen mound it is found to cover a series of large chambers, built generally with stones of (H)nsiderable .size, and converging towards the centre, where an opening appears to have been left for light and ventilation. These differ little from many of the subterranean weems, excepting that they are erected on the natural surface of the soil, and have been buried by means of an artificial mound heaped over them. Barry has minutely described one, which he calls an "ancient Pick House," opened at Quanterness, near Kirkwall.1 Another relic of the same class was explored by Mr. George Petrie of Kirkwall, through whose kindness I have been favoured with a minute account of the result of his labours.

Note 1. History of Orkney, p. 99.

In the month of October 1849, Mr. Petrie's attention was directed to a large tumulus or green knoll, which stands about half-way up the western declivity of Wideford-hill [Map], overlooking the beautiful bay of Firth on the mainland of Orkney, and within a short distance of the Pict's house of Quanterness, described in Barry's History of Orkney. Being on a steep and unfrequented part of the hill, it appears to have almost entirely escaped observation. An opening, however, had been attempted at some former period, but abandoned after an excavation of about a couple of feet in depth had been effected. Mr. Petrie employed men to make a section into the mound, and himself superintended and assisted in the operation, which proved one of considerable time and labour, from the large stones and the quantity of clay used in completing the external mound, as well as in the masonry of the structure found underneath. The building appears to have been con- structed in the following manner: — A place for the site having been scooped out of the side of the hill, the cells or apartments were built of large uneven stones, the walls being made gradually to converge as they rose in height, until they approached to within a foot at top. Externally the work was bounded by a wall of about two feet high. The entire structure was then brought to a conical shape with stones and clay ; the stones being disposed with considerable regularity, and over all a thick layer of turf or peat had been laid. The mound which encloses the whole is about one hundred and forty feet in greatest circumference, and forty-live feet in diameter. The work of exploration was commenced by making a cut, six feet in breadth, upon the north side, and clearing away the stones and clay in the direction of the highest part of the mound. On penetrating towards the centre, at about six feet from the top, a stone was exposed placed on edge, about eighteen inches long and nine inches thick, underneath which lay another, which was found to cover a hole of about a foot square, at the top of the chamber marked D in the plan. (Plate I.) On obtaining entrance to this chamber or cell, it proved, like those subsequently opened, to be constructed with walls gradually converging on all sides towards the top, and to measure five feet nine inches in length from north to south, four feet eight inches in breadth, and five feet six inches in height. On the west side of the chamber, the small passage, marked h, was observed appearing to communicate with another apartment, but it was so blocked up with stones and rubbish, that excavation had to be resumed from the exterior. After working for upwards of an hour, the large stone, marked m, was reached, and on removing it an entrance was effected into the central chamber A. This was about three-fourths filled with stones and rubbish, heaped up under the opening marked i, on digging into which bones and teeth of the horse, cow, sheep, boar, &c., were discovered mixed with the rubbish, and also some which were supposed to be those of deer, but not a vestige of human bones.

The general plan will convey the best idea of the form and arrangement of the chambers. The central apartment, A, is an irregular oblong vault, ten feet long, five feet in greatest width, and 7½ feet in height from the bottom to the lower edge of the stones marked o o. Above this extends the opening i, which had no other covering than the outer layer of turf Mr. Petrie came to the conclusion, after a thorough examination of the whole, that the rubbish found in this large chamber was the debris of some later building erected above the mound, the materials of which must have been precipitated through the narrow opening, as no pai-t of the subterranean structure was found imperfect with the exception of the passage g. From the floor of the chamber to the extreme height of the mound is twelve feet. At the north end of the central chamber the passage e leads to the cell C, measuring five feet seven inches long, four feet wide, and six feet high. From the east side of this a passage extends a considerable way, until it is abruptly terminated by the native rock. The chamber D, which was first entered, communicates with the central apartment by a short passage h, directly opposite to which is the long gallery 6, which formed the entrance to the building from the western side of the mound. A third passage, a, proceeds in an oblique direction from the central chamber to a cell B, the proportions of which are six feet in length, three feet seven inches in width, and 6 ½ feet in height. Nothing found in this or any of the previously explored " Picts houses" gives the slightest countenance to the idea that they were designed as places of sepulture. The most remarkable feature about them, however, and the one least compatible with their use as continuous dwelling-places, is the extremely circumscribed dimensions of the passages; The whole of them measure about fifteen inches in height by twenty-two inches in breadth, so that entrance could only be obtained by crawling on the ground. The arrangement affords a very striking confirmation of the barbarous state of the people, who were yet capable of displaying so much skill and ingenuity in the erection of these cyclopean structures. It is curious indeed that as civilisation progressed, primitive architecture became not only simpler but meaner, the ingenious builder learning to supply his wants by easier methods ; while also the gregarious social ties which such laborious and extensive structures indicate were exchanged for the more refined separation into families, with, as we may assume, the gradual development of those virtues and affections which flourish only around the domestic hearth.