The Memory Code by Lynne Kelly

The Memory Code by Lynne Kelly


Author:Lynne Kelly
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Published: 2016-05-13T16:00:00+00:00

Skara Brae

For over 4000 years, sand covered the tiny village of Skara Brae, preserving it in near perfect condition. It was only exposed in 1850 during a severe winter storm. Walking around the village of Skara Brae, you can see the houses exactly as they would have been in the Neolithic, each a single large room with a hearth at the centre (see Plate 6.7). A single low entrance door could be bolted from the inside and a large stone dresser with heavy stone shelves sat against the wall. Thin stone slabs were set on their side to define the beds, with small shelves in the wall above. Each house had at least one cell set into the thick stone wall with drains leading away, suggesting that they were used as toilets. Interconnecting covered passageways allowed movement between different houses without going out into the notorious Orcadian winter wind and rain.

One building stood separate from the interconnected houses. It has been interpreted as a workshop or possibly some kind of communal house. Although it may well have served these purposes, every small settlement requires some location for the elders to perform the knowledge and for the formal oral tradition to be retained, or the risk of loss of information is just too high. One of the most revered genres of knowledge in all societies is that of medicine. At Skara Brae, archaeologists have found many small puff balls, a plant known as a blood-clotting agent and used in the past to dress wounds.

In a severe climate, such as the Orkney winters, preservation of food would have been essential. There is ample evidence of whaling, which would have provided essential fat in the diet but also whale oil for lighting. Techniques for cooperative hunting of such large animals are performed in the ‘hunting magic’ of contemporary indigenous cultures, ensuring that everyone going out on the hunt is reminded of the animal’s behaviour and the group dynamics needed for the challenges ahead.

Because of the often extreme conditions, elders would have needed incised art to act as a memory aid. Using standing stones and other landscape structures would have been impossible at times and something smaller and internal would have been used instead. Neolithic art is found within the buildings at Skara Brae and the building at the Ness of Brodgar. It is likely that the art was coloured with haematite, ochre or other substances found in Orkney sites.


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