It’s been an interesting month or so, with creative workshops and school visits in Leslie, Freuchie, Falkland and Cambo.
I was invited by Dr. Oliver O’Grady to be involved in a set of ‘creative archaeology’ sessions in primary schools around the Lomond Hills, exploring the life and art of the Picts, those mysterious tribes who lived in our part of Scotland 2000 years ago. The school children (and me!) were very excited to get a close look at some of the recent finds from Oliver’s community archaeology excavations up on the shoulder of East Lomond. It turns out this hill was a major tribal fort and settlement – not all that surprising when you think about all the places it can be seen from. A stone spindle whorl and curved piece of black shale bracelet made a big impression on the children, and from their reaction you could see the value of bringing real ancient artefacts into the classroom. The people who spun with the spindle and wore the bracelet became a little bit more real.
I introduced the children to Pictish art, as seen on the beautiful carved stones found in Eastern and Northern Scotland. We talked about Picts’ fascination with intricate patterns – mazes, spirals and curves – and speculated about why they made them. I liked one child’s suggestion that perhaps they were puzzles and games to keep the Pictish children entertained.
Oliver asked the pupils to work out their own ‘Pictish’ names using old Scottish naming traditions (I was Janice Nic Sam) and to choose a role for themselves in Pictish society. There were many warriors and queens, also jewellers, blacksmiths and musicians. They invented and drew their own personal symbols, inspired by the Pictish patterns we’d been looking at and their own lives and interests. Their designs are beautiful, full of energetic spirals, curves, animals and artefacts. We mono-printed them onto cotton in the classroom and I later embellished the bold prints with details from the original pencil drawings. I used gold, silver and copper ink to bring in some of that Pictish love of ‘bling’ seen in their gorgeous brooches and silver chains.
I stitched the prints onto long lengths of cotton to make a banner for each school and showed them at a gathering for pupils, parents and teachers at Leslie Primary School, along with a set of sculpted plaques made by local artist Penny Sinclair from three of the children’s drawings. The plaques are lovely, very like Pictish carvings, and will be kept by each school to celebrate the project. (I’ll post photos of these at a later date). The banners will be shown again at the next Big Dig, at Lochore Meadows Country Park later this year, and then the prints will be returned to the children.
(see the ‘Discover the Ancient Lomonds’ pages on the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership website for more info about archaeology projects happening 2015-16: www.livinglomonds.org.uk)