I had a fantastic time this weekend helping out at the Highland Archaeology Festival. 

This is, I think, the third time or so that I have been. And honestly I always really enjoy it, there are lots of interesting talks and there are stands filled with more detailed updates about what people have been getting up to. There’s even someone from Treasure Trove who sits in the lobby accepting finds from the public, which must be a great job for hearing lots of weird and wonderful stories from people.

The first day was particularly good, I knew a couple of the people speaking so it was great to see them doing their thing. Plus I always leave HAF with a dozen half thought up story threads because it’s just so interesting. 

This year the key points on the Saturday for me were a talk about childhood nutrition and death in Medieval Scotland, another talk about Viking Thing Sites, and a talk about a newly discovered Pictish carved stone. This is a bit of a mix, and some of it got fairly grim (especially in that first talk, yikes!) but it is fantastic to learn all of this and I really enjoyed myself.

There were lots of other talks, including one early on in the day about a dig in Inverness with some odd ties to people I know, but those were the ones that grabbed me this time around. Not to say that everyone’s stuff wasn’t really interesting if I didn’t mention them, but after a long day my brain turned into mush so I will presumably remember something really interesting and important in about a month. Probably at half past four in the morning when I will awake from my slumber with the entire transcript clear in my mind.

It’s always interesting to hear about how interconnected the societies were, there’s a lot of belief that the borders between these communities (Pictish, Gaelic, Norse, for example) were rigid things that stood for centuries and were clearly signposted and known about. But that is very clearly NOT the case, and people were also travelling a lot more than people might think. It’s always weird to remember that Orkney and Shetland have been parts of Scotland for a lot less time than the rest of the mainland, on the one hand I should know it by now, but it never seems to sink in just how recently this jumble of what we see as Scotland came together. 

But then, I should have probably known this was the case, I did, after all, grow up in an area with three or four different languages visible in the names of the places around me. My primary school had a Gaelic name, my high school had an English/Scots name, and the nearest reasonably sized town to me has a Norse name. Also there are a surprising number of houses around here with Welsh names because people have moved here from Wales. It’s a bit weird, but fair play to them.

I also always love hearing about how the Norse were not the hyper violent stereotype most people have in mind when they think of them. It just tickles me to know that they were actually a very bureaucratic society with court and legal systems reliant on the assumption that a peaceful resolution was the goal. It’s not exactly the image most people have of the Vikings, is it?It’s funny to see what gets remembered and what gets forgotten. 

Hmm. Something to be thought about when you are writing Fantasy, I think.

Annnd, then Sunday happened and I got to hold a sword.

It was a replica of a Bronze Age sword that had been made during some workshops on experimental archaeology. It was really pretty too. I mean it was very simple (not sharpened for obvious reasons) and the only addition to the metal was a simple wooden handle. But it was pretty.

Bronze is such a nice metal, with a lovely colour. It was also a lot lighter than I thought, which meant that I was probably a little over enthusiastic with my poses as I was swinging it around. 

Of course, now I face the issue that I really want one for my own. Or at least a LARP safe version that I can play around with. But that is a thing that future me will have to figure out, because I cannot imagine that they are cheap or easy to come by.

As well as swords, there was an interesting talk about Iron Age skeletons found underneath someone’s kitchen a few years back. The place was getting renovated and as the builders were digging into the floor of the kitchen they dug up a skull!

When people find skeletal remains they obviously have to call the police, even when it is fairly clear that they are pretty old. And once the police were out there they called the archaeologists who arrived to find that the skull had been hastily returned to more or less where it had been found – after it had gone on a trip around the local area, which it was definitely not supposed to do! It turned out to be the grave of several men from a couple of centuries in the Iron Age. Which is interesting, since it means that they were probably not just some locals who happened to get a buried there. One of the theories, is that because it is a coastal area there, that these were victims of the sea who had washed up back then and were then buried by the locals in a specific spot for such people. Another option is that they were raiders who had attacked the local community and had been buried in the local, “We don’t like you” plot.

This talk really makes me think about what a weird parallel it is for people in the modern era to find these bodies by digging up a kitchen, when a  couple of thousand years ago they might have been found washed up on the beach. Oh, it makes me want to write a murder mystery set in a prehistoric time, but that might be a bit ambitious for right now! That is another thing for future me to do, buy a sword and write historical murder mysteries!

Anyway, I had a fantastic time and I would talk about what I got up to and all that I saw a lot more, but it is Sunday night and I am tired out. It has been a very busy couple of days, but they were super fun too! I find events like this really inspiring, partly because you hear about a lot of interesting stuff, but also because you get to see people ho have dedicated their lives to these subjects. So, if you have a local Archaeological festival or something similar you can get to, I would really encourage you to go and enjoy the experience. It can be really tiring to have all that new information pushed into your head, but it is also a fantastic opportunity.