I had the privilege of serving as supervisor on the Big Dog Scotland trip this year, the first trip of its kind – teens touring the Scottish Highlands and Orkneys to uncover the many layers of Scottish history. Like most Americans, I saw Scotland as an extension of northern England. I prided myself as knowing more than Braveheart and Outlander could provide, yet I lacked the exposure to truly understand how different Scotland is.
-The ancient Orkneys are a historical enigma. The Ness of Brogdar, a massive site believed to be ceremonial, predates most of the ceremonial sites in the ancient Near East. The standing stones, cairns and dolmens predate Stonehenge and even the Old Dynasty Egyptian pyramids. What prompted them to build ceremonial circles such as the Ring of Brogdar, the Ring of Stennis, and other sites, and then abandon them?
-The Pictish world view is recorded on their monuments, yet we’ve lost all context for their interpretation. How many “Picts” were there? — to the Romans, they were all “painted people” but how did they define themselves?
-The Vikings came much later. At the ancient tomb of Meshowe, they took shelter by stooping into the tomb just as I did — there is no other way– and wrote Runic graffiti such as “This mound was raised before Ragnarr Lothbrock’s. Her sons were brave smooth-hide men though they were”.
-Mary Queen of Scots and the Jacobite Rebellions deserve their own post– their own class, even.
-After the Battle of Culloden in 1745, Scotland witnessed one of the largest deliberate ethnic cleansings in history. We don’t know how many Orcandians and Highlanders were massacred and starved out in the 18th century, but we do know it that it was a British model for how to handle Native Americas, Africans, and everywhere Empire moved.
-People still identify as Jacobites. One of the guards at Stirling Castle identified as one, and cleared up the history from what he called “Victorian claptrap”.
-Our hotel in Thurso was haunted. No doubts.
I hope to post deeper pieces about Scotland, its wild history beyond the pubs and bagpipes, but for now, please enjoy this photo, showing sheep grazing next to a 5,000 year old supposed sacrifice site: