Major Archaeological Discoveries on Orkney

Long-time readers of this blog will recall that I’ve mentioned the excavations of the Ness of Brodgar site on a couple of occasions. Situated on the strip of land between two lochs and between the famous Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness as well as the nearby Maes Howe, work started there in earnest in 2007 after earlier digs in 2004 had hinted at something major.

I confess that through pressure of work I’d rather lost touch with the latest developments until I caught a TV programme on the BBC last night. Neil Oliver, well known for the Coast programme and a series of Scottish history programs, is actually an archaeologist and in this special edition of A History of Ancient Britain: Orkney’s Stone Age Temple he outlines the astonishing discoveries that have been made on this site in the last few years. If you are in a country that can view the BBC iPlayer I urge you to take a look while it’s still available to view. This could well be THE most important stone age discovery, eclipsing everything else on Orkney (which takes some doing!) and even the Stonehenge and Avebury complex.

If you can’t see the program then take a look at the Orkneyjar site – particularly and  and for a couple of panoramas of the dig site try  and

The discoveries are too numerous to attempt to list in the slightest detail here – a series of complex stone structures which suggest a temple complex which may have been associated with ancestor worship, two large (2 metre wide) walls which appear to have run the width of the Ness and funnelled people into a predetermined path, the first examples of painted neolithic walls in the UK or northern Europe, a number of mace-heads apparently broken deliberately, a number of “dressers” similar to the ones found in domestic areas of Skara Brae but here appearing to be free standing and possibly used as altars, a figurine which has been nicknamed the Brodgar Boy, and a mass of cattle bones which appears to suggest a large ceremonial feast.

There are probably decades worth of work still to be done on the site and an anonymous benefactor has bought the land on which the site stands along with the house for the people of Orkney. I look forward to reading of the discoveries and theories around this site for many years to come.


Getting Reaquainted with the Scottish Highlands

No, not the landscape itself, though it’s far too long since I went hill walking in the north and west, this is the name of the pictorial book that Dorothy and Alastair wrote together along with photographer David Paterson in 1988.

Although immersed in all things Dunnett and with a house full of multiple copies her books, I don’t quite have a full set of every title she produced. Specifically I only have two of the Dolly series – at least in English, I do have some copies in German but unfortunately that’s a language I don’t speak. The other gap in my collection was The Scottish Highlands, which I’d always meant to buy a copy of during my time at James Thin, when I sold a fair number of them, but which unexpectedly went out of print and denied me the chance. Until today.

Having unexpectedly received a cheque from a client instead of being paid by electronic transfer, I had to visit the bank in Morningside, not far from the old Dunnett home, and having paid for 20 minutes extra parking than was required something told me to nip into one of the many secondhand bookshops in that area. Scanning first the history books and then the Scottish books I suddenly spotted a familiar cover and happily acquired a copy of the missing book for a mere £3.99 and in good condition.

Memory sometimes plays odd tricks – there is a little more text than I remembered, both the initial section by Dorothy and the chapter descriptions by Alastair, and it’s interesting to find that in this context their writing styles were very similar. It’s lovely to read snippets of stories of their travels by hill pony, yacht and motor cruiser, and their clear love of the Scottish countryside, even though they explored it in different ways. It seems that unlike Alastair, who wandered the hills with friends like Michael Powell and Seton Gordon, Dorothy was no hill walker.  We also learn that although she enjoyed skating she hadn’t good balance and wasn’t very good at it. Apart from cooking that must have been about the only things she wasn’t good at!

I’ll enjoy dipping into this old friend of a book after so long. Finding the other Dollys may prove a bit harder!

Dorothy Dunnett’s death – 10th anniversary

As most of you will realise, today is the 10th anniversary of Dorothy’s death. It is not a day I will ever forget, and the letter to everyone announcing it was the hardest I ever had to write. In some ways it seems only weeks ago and in others a lifetime. So many things have changed since then, yet the memories of her effervescent intellect and kindness are as fresh as ever.

The important thing is to remember the continuing fellowship of countless Dunnett readers throughout the world which she made possible, and the immense and lasting pleasure she gave to us all; changing lives, educating us while entertaining us, inspiring travel and studies of myriad aspects of history and other related subjects.

She was the best, and she will not be forgotten.

Thank you Dorothy.

International Dorothy Dunnett Day – 15th October 2011

The first International Dorothy Dunnett Day will take place on the 15th October. It has special significance as it marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dorothy’s first book – The Game of Kings – which started The Lymond Chronicles and was responsible for all our wonderful journeys into the history, geography and culture of the Renaissance.

There will be meetings all over the world; in Belgium, Canada, England, Spain and the USA, and of course here in Edinburgh where we’ll be gathering at the Makar’s Court off the Royal Mile, next to the stone that commemorates Dorothy’s life and work. If you’re attending any of the meetings then when you raise your glass (which I hope will contain the best malt whisky that you can find!) to her memory then you’ll be doing so together with many others.

Do enjoy the memories, whether they are of reading the books for the first time, of the first time you communicated with other readers, of any gatherings you may have attended, or, if you were lucky enough to meet her in person, of that warm smile and sparkling wit that she graced us all with. And if you wish to share any of the stories or photos old or new then I’d be more than happy to receive them.

Have a very good day!