Now that I am in Dublin attending another conference (this one on Lebor na hUidre), I better get some of my notes from the last conference up here! It has been weeks now since I was in Sligo for Archeology of Darkness, but I have had guests in the meantime so do pardon my tardiness. Now, without further adieu….some of my notes (they will be posted in parts):
The gods of darkness come bearing gifts
This lecture will outline areas that have perhaps been under-theorised in archaeology. These include the use of dark places for the purposes of ritual retreat; archaeological landscapes by night; emotional reactions to dark places; the relationship between the darkness of winter and mental health; and darkness as a crucial feature of the construction and use of a wide variety of archaeological monuments.
Robert introduced the idea that perhaps ancient peoples viewed themselves as “seed” going into the earth, when they journeyed into the great mounds and tombs, and even caves. He also brought up Oiche na Sprideanna (Night of Spirits) and touched on this time of year (samhain) being a time when the Tuatha de Dannand collected their tithe..as the living Irish chieftains later did, as well.
He reminded us not to slide into bias, as not all cultures view the dark as scary or evil. He also pointed out an area of research (which I informed him of) still to uncover: how seasonality (SAD) may have contributed to the use of dark spaces and ancient peoples’ perception of the dark.
The dark side of the sky: architecture and the dead in Bronze Age Ireland and Scotland
For many years it was tempting to consider megalithic tombs and stone settings as a single phenomenon, elements which were shared between communities on either side of the Irish Sea. That is no longer tenable. Recent research has shed new light on the chronology of these monuments and has identified distinctive changes in their architecture during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods. It has also shown how some of these traditions might have been renewed during the Late Bronze Age. One feature that transcends different styles of buildings is their orientation towards the south west; another is their association with human remains. In the past both features have suggested a link between cremation burial and observations of the moon, but it is possible to account for a wider range of evidence if this is treated as evidence for a new emphasis on the night, the use of fire, and the dark side of the sky. There is an important contrast with older structures, some of which emphasised the direction of the sunrise. Examples of the new developments include Irish wedge tombs, and Scottish recumbent stone circles and Clava Cairns. The same preoccupations even extend to Stonehenge.
This talk was incredibly informative and entertaining! He urged us to think of cosmology when we consider the direction the monuments are facing. There was a major change in ancestral shrine (tomb) building, with chamber and court predominant until 3500 bce, with the majority facing the rising sun (predominantly E, but also all along the spectrum of NE, E, SE). There are passage tombs with solar and equinox alignments, toward both the source and the “loss” of light. Wedge tombs are later, at the end of the neolithic / beginning of metal age and they face the declining light – or the dark side of the sky (SW and W).
Professor Bradley listed several examples, including: clava cairns, raigmore, and croft moraig. Raigmore cairn was built on top of an existing house, and mimics its design,with a HUGE and notable exception. The original house (of the living) favored the rising sun. The cairn (house of the dead) favors the decreasing sun. This represents an exciting direct alignment change! This site has a recumbent stone circle, with the recumbent (altar stone) in the SW.
Late bronze and middle iron saw lots of cremated bone, lots of burning – but no bodies. There is a supposed connection between the reduced light (tombs facing the dark of the sky) – the dead – lighting of fires. There is no sign of feasting at these sites (which puts me in mind of the Drombeg circle in cork).
At croft moraig the first phase of use was recognition of a glacial mound and a glacial erratic (large rock laying on top of a natural mound, away from other rocks). There is some alignment when sun phenomena are viewed from this rock and an adjacent mountain. The second phase of use at this site was a stone circle, followed by a house, and finally an oval enclosure now turned to a sunset alignment at midwinter.