Category: archaeology

Proleek Portal Tomb, Legananny Dolmen and Binder’s Cove Souterrain

On our short trip to Northern Ireland we ended up seeing prehistoric and historic sites (as usual) and these are three of them. 

The first one is just South of the border in the Republic of Ireland. Proleek (’obscure’) Portal Tomb is a large structure over twice my height, which was likely built by farming communities around 3000 BC and would have had a burial mound around it. The large stones served as an entrance to the tomb. 

The second one is called ‘Legananny Dolmen’ and is found in County Down. It is much smaller, but also impressively held up by pointy stone pillars. ‘Dolmen’ probably comes from the Breton word ‘tolmen’, meaning ‘stone table’, which refers to the flat stone on top. Again, built by the same type of people around 2500 BC to 2000 BC. The surrounding area derives its name from this dolmen, which means ‘The Pillar Stone of Anya’. Anya is a mythological mother goddess, who the legendary warrior Finn MacCool fell in love with.  

Just a few miles from Legananny Dolmen is a souterrain, known as ‘Binder’s Cove’ or locally as ‘Finnis Souterarrain’. This is probably a left-over from early medieval Christian times, when people lived in ring-forts. Souterrains generally ran below or near ring-forts and were likely designed to protect people from raids with a narrow entrance, which could be easily defended. This particular one is likely from the 5th century AD. The main tunnel is 30 meters long and about 1.5 meters high (ducking is essential) with some alcoves branching off, which may occasionally have been used for storage. 

Northern Ireland vlog on Youtube. 

We went for a short trip to Northern Ireland in October and visited quite a few prehistorical sites, such as dolmen, burial cairns and a souterrain (crawling into a badly lit tunnel basically). I couldn’t help myself to include the interesting history of the Brontë Family since we visited a place on the Brontë Homeland route. I also attempt to play the folk tune ‘Brian Boru’s March’. Enjoy! 

Slieve Croob and the surrounding countryside, Northern Ireland

Slieve Croob can be translated to ‘Mountain of the Hoof’ and though it is not very high (534 m), it is apparently over 380 Million years old, even older than the Mourne Mountains, which you can see looming on the other side. This whole area was once shaped by big ice sheets pushing down from Donegal during the Ice Age. On top of Slieve Croob you find the 12 Cairns, which are Neolithic burial chambers (possibly put together from one big one originally). Neolithic farming communities would settle in the fertile valleys below between 4000BC and 2000BC and they have erected many impressive stone structures all around the area. Slieve Croob was also traditionally the place where Lughnasa was celebrated, the festival dedicated to the Celtic sun god Lugh. It was celebrated in August to prolong the period of sunshine into the harvest months. People would pick bilberries (also known as ‘blaeberries’, giving it the name ‘Blaeberry Sunday’) on the way up and then sing, dance and play the fiddle. This was done on Slieve Croob well into the 1950s.

A Northern Ireland vlog is up on Youtube. 

St Andrews Cathedral

Built in 1158, the cathedral became the centre of the Medieval Catholic Church and seat of the Archdiocese and Archbishop. At a length of 119 meters (390 ft), the ruins suggest that this was the largest church built in Scotland. So what happened to this once magnificent church? On the 4th of June 1559, the preacher John Knox, the central figure of the Scottish Protestant Reformation, held a sermon in the nearby Church of the Holy Trinity, which incited a riotous mob to march on the cathedral and strip its insides of its wealth. As a result of the Reformation, Catholic mass was outlawed during the 16th Century and the church fell into disuse. People would carry off the stones to re-use for new houses and the cathedral quickly turned into a ruin. It is now under the care of Historic Environment Scotland, but most of it can be seen for free. 

St Andrews road trip on YouTube

Unst, Shetland, a paradise for archaeologists

In the South of Unst we visited the Bordastubble Standing Stone, which was very close to the Underhoull Broch and Viking Longhouse. There are even more sites in the area which we didn’t get to see due to having to catch the ferry back. 

St Ninian’s Isle, Shetland

This island can be reached via a ‘tombolo’, which forms this interesting X-shape. (A ‘tombolo’ is a strip of land, often created through deposited material over time, which attaches an island to the mainland, creating a ‘tied island’.) There you find the remains of a 12th Century chapel, dedicated to St Ninian. On the 4th of July 1958 a local schoolboy by the name of Douglas Coutts discovered treasure under a slab marked with a cross on the chapel site. It turned out to be 28 pieces of Pictish silver artefacts, many of them jewellery, and the jawbone of a porpoise. This treasure was likely hidden during a Viking raid around 800 AD. The original items can be seen in the National Museum of Scotland.  

Video footage here. 

On Day 5 we visit the Shetland Museum & Archives in Lerwick and then go hillwalking to the top of  Shetland’s highest hill, Ronas Hill. Lots of museum footage for those who like history. Enjoy!

Shetland Museum & Archives, Lerwick

This is a very enjoyable museum with just the right amount of things to see without being too over or underwhelming. Also, it’s free to visit! It spans from prehistory to modernity. I included some of my favourites here, but I also filmed plenty more.  

Shetland Day 5 on Youtube

The Viking Unst Project, Shetland

The Viking Unst Project consists of a reconstructed Viking longhouse based on the nearby archaeological site at Hamar and the ship ‘Skidbladner’. The design of Skidbladner is based on the Norwegian Gokstad ship, which would have been used to travel from Norway to Shetland. It is near Haroldswick, which was named after Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway according to the sagas. He probably was one of the first to come to Shetland from Norway. The Viking Unst Project is out in the open, but in the Summer there is additional reenactment.

Some footage here. 

Shetland Day 4 – We’re exploring the island of Unst and hiking up to see the northernmost point of Britain.