Friday, 16 February 2018

Pharaohs and Chambers and Cairns, Oh My!

View from inside Maeshowe, 1900. Orkney Archive Reference D32/2/2 - Magnus Spence Collection.


On this day in 1923, Howard Carter unsealed the tomb of Egyptian boy-pharaoh Tutankhamun.


In 1861, James Farrer opened Maeshowe, an Orcadian Neolithic burial chamber dating around 1400 years earlier than the Egyptian tomb. Unlike the fully intact and treasure-stuffed cavern which greeted Carter, Maeshowe was empty but for a few fragments of human bone.


It did however, contain Viking graffiti dating from the 12th century and, every winter solstice, visitors huddle in the tomb to watch the winter sunlight slice along the tunnel and paint a strip of light up the back wall.


For more information see here and here.



Pencil drawing of Maeshowe interior after excavation. Artist and date unknown. Orkney Archive Reference D8/3/11.



Dusty says that I should post this image from the Walter Grant Archaeological Collection too. It is of the Midhowe Chambered Cairn on Rousay, thought to date from 3500BC - even older than Maeshowe.
Midhowe Chambered Cairn, Orkney Archive Reference D138/8 - Walter Grant Archaeological Collection.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Of Moons and Mould.

On this day in 1966, the Soviet Union sent space probe Luna 9 to the moon which sent back photographs confirming that the surface of the moon was firm, not dusty and that in fact the rocky terrain resembled chocolate-hued volcanic rock. How thrilling...


We have previously despaired over the Orcadian newspaper's determined disinterest in man's first forays into outer space and a brief check of the papers which followed this momentous day for science confirmed this stance.


There was a moon-themed article (see below). 'Ah-ha', I thought, 'this must be it.' But no. It was instead an amateur photography article about taking photos in the moonlight. The author exhorts his readers to photograph their family while they sleep. 'There's no need for the sleeper to know you've even been...'


Orcadian 7th February 1966

We are extremely thorough in the Orkney Archive and so I checked the next week's paper just in case their staff had been so completely overwhelmed by Luna 9's voyage they found themselves unable to write about it for over a week. Nothing. They did find time to include this piece about some slime on a fence post though.

Orcadian 17th February 1966


Thursday, 25 January 2018

"They Have as Much Idea of a Rhinoceros as a Poet..."



We've written about Robert Burns a couple of times before but we have not yet shared this letter. It is a copy letter (before carbon copies, people often copied out letters by hand) and was found, loose, in a book of health reports several years ago.

It is from Robert, writing from his farm at Ellisland, to John Beugo the artist who made the above engraving from the famous portrait by Alexander Naysmith.

In it, he confesses of being bored by Dumfrieshire society; 'I am here at the very elbow of existence' and complains that his neighbours 'have as much idea of a rhinoceros as of a poet.'

He asks Buego to keep in touch and to send him proofs any portraits the artist completes.

Orkney Archive reference D1/15/6 - Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


Dusty is our resident Rabbie expert because he is her boyfriend but she got all huffy after reading that he was back with his 'darling Jean' and is currently sulking in her office with a bottle of gin.

A transcription follows:

To Mr.John Beugo,

Ellisland, near Dumfries Sept. 9- 1788.

My Dear Sir,

There is not in Edinburgh. above the number of the graces
whose letters would have given so much pleasure as yours of the 3rd
inst., which only reached me yesternight.

I am here on my farm, busy with my harvest; but for all that most
pleasurable part of life called Social Communication I am here at the
very elbow of existence. The only things that are to be found in this
country, in any degree of perfection, are Stupidity and Canting. Prose
they only know in Graces, Prayers, etc., and the value of these they
estimate, as they do their plaiding webs, by the ell; as for the muses,
they have as much an idea of a Rhinoceros as of a Poet. For my old,
capricious, but good-natured hussy of a muse,

  By banks of Nith I sat and wept
   When Coila I thought on,
  In midst thereof I hung my harp
   The willow trees upon.

I am generally about half my time in Ayrshire with my "darling Jean,"
and then I, at lucid intervals, throw my horny fist across my
becobwebbed lyre, much in the same manner as an old wife throws her hand
across the spokes of her spinning-wheel.

I will send you the Fortunate Shepherdess as soon as I return to
Ayrshire, for there I keep it with other precious treasure. I shall send
it by a careful hand, as I would not for anything it should be mislaid
or lost. I do not wish to serve you from any benevolence, or other grave
Christian virtue; 'tis purely a selfish gratification of my own feelings
whenever I think of you.

You do not tell me if you are going to be married. Depend upon it, if you do not make some damned foolish choice, it will be a very great improvement in the Dish of Life. I can speak from Experience; tho' God knows my choice was as random as Blind-man's buff. I like the idea of an honest country Rake of my acquaintance who like myself married lately - speaking to me of his late steps "L--d man" says he "a body's baithe cheaper and better sairt!"

If your better functions would give you leisure to write me, I should be
extremely happy; that is to say, if you neither keep nor look for a
regular correspondence. I hate the idea of being obliged to write a
letter. I sometimes write a friend twice a week; at other times once
a quarter.

I am exceedingly pleased with your fancy in making the author you
mention place a map of Iceland, instead of his portrait, before his
works; 'twas a glorious idea.

Could you conveniently do me one thing?--whenever you finish any head, I
should like to have a proof copy of it. I might tell you a long story
about your fine genius; but, as what everybody knows cannot have escaped
you, I shall not say one syllable about it.

If you see Mr Nasmith, remember me to him most respectfully as he both loves and deserves respect; tho if he would pay less respect to the meer carcasse of greatness, I should think him much nearer perfection:

My best direction for four or five months to come, is "at Mauchline"

I am truly my Dear Sir, yours to command

Robt. Burns






Saturday, 20 January 2018

My name is archiver and I am a tea drunkard...





This may not be the weirdest old advert ever and it may not be the most depressing or bewildering but it is certainly up there with the funniest. (Although this one still makes us laugh after many years...)


If you or a friend know of anyone who was driven to murder by too many eggs, do let us know.




Taken from an Orkney Herald dated 21st September 1898.