Pictish technology: Something old and something new

The reconstructed axe created by SSW
The reconstructed axe created by SSW

I’m having a look through some of the photos Anne has been taking over the past few months; ones that stick out for me are the ones with tools in them.  The SSW reconstructed axe is amazing and gave the makers and archaeologists a chance to get hands on with the weight of the object as well as experiencing and seeing the sheer amount of effort it took to transform ground into metal.

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Another interesting place was at Timespan in Helmsdale, where they have reconstructed a smithy and other spaces from

150 years ago (that) capture many aspects of a way of life – now long gone.  Each reconstruction has its own audio narrative including a Gaelic lullaby and recollections about one of Helmsdale’s best loved blacksmiths.

The blacksmith’s space was the one that brought back the most amount of memories, it’s sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere were encapsulated into the narratives and video and took me right back.

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The 14 second video gives you an idea of the sound an anvil makes.  Imagine a lot of them being used in the landscape of Rhynie and the Northern Picts.


When I talk to people about the Picts in the landscape, they imagine the stones, and maybe people doing their daily work, but few think about the sights, sounds and smells of what would have been there.  Imagine the sound of the bellows…

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the roar of the fire…

Lumsden turf to tools (11)

and the smell of Rhynie Woman baking, cattle being cooked, possibly a tannery not to mention the latrines!  The sound I miss the most is the sound of the wind, something that Barflats has a lot of and on very special days, the sound of birds and smell of the Gorse.

//embeds.audioboom.com/boos/3425396-listening-to-the-wind-on-barflats-field/embed/v4?eid=AQAAAIZ-u1V0RDQA gorse sunshine

Returning to the smithy, can you see any familiar shapes?  do you recognise any of the tools in the Symbol Stones? like this one at Abernethy in Perthshire?  what do you see?  a tuning fork, hammer, anvil? or something else?  http://canmore.org.uk/collection/936493

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Perhaps us Picts weren’t that different from the people of today?  even though you’ve moved on in your making techniques the traditional crafts were around for thousands of years before the industrial revolution.  ‘Modernisation’ broke the tasks of making into their component parts and aimed, in the pursuit of profit, to disconnect people from making objects and ultimately their connection to where they were made completely.  What would happen if you had to go back to this way of working in the future?  How would you manage?

Have a look at some of today’s Traditional Skilled Makers in the Northern Picts area, these skills continue to be used and could link back directly to the Picts and other groups of crafts people that lived before and after us in the landscape.

Pictish technology: Something old and something new

From Turf to Tools

Last August I went along to visit Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Lumsden, just down the road from Rhynie.  SSW was established in 1979 by sculptor Fred Bushe, RSA OBE.  Their website describes their purpose.

SSW is a making and thinking facility – offering the time, space, support and facilities to artists from all backgrounds to develop their practice, with an emphasis on experimentation and exploration of sculpture within the expanded field.

The project they have been working on at the time was called From Turf to Tools, it is an ongoing investigation into landscape, material and craft, inspired by local archeological investigations in Rhynie, Aberdeenshire.

The collaboration of Scottish Sculpture Workshop artist Eden Jolly and master blacksmith Darrell Markewitz, with Dr. Gordon Noble, archeologist at University of Aberdeen, will seek to recreate a ceremonial axe – as seen on the Rhynie Man standing stone – through smelting and forging locally sourced materials. Two writers, Maxime Hourani (Lebanon) and Deirdre O’Mahony (Ireland) will document the collaborative research process

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The event was spectacular and reminded me of when I was growing up in Rhynie, not just what they were doing but the sounds, sights and smells were so evocative.  What a great way of bringing our history alive.

@SSW photo of Darrell Markewitz with the axe and my good self – not a bad likeness

The axe let the experts and public see how it could have potentially been used and they concluded that it was more likely to be ceremonial and not an axe for cutting wood, perhaps it was for knocking beasts over the head with!  I’m still keeping them guessing, but through the making process they are getting a closer understanding of how we lived and the considerable effort and skill we employed in making our tools.  We were a sophisticated bunch!

From Turf to Tools