Scotland’s Iron Age: Into The Underworld

There has been a lot of recent discoveries about the Iron Age period in Scotland, which shows us the mystical and magical way of living in those times, how people act when the people closest to them died, how they treated their dead and also the their daily ways of living. One of the recent findings, perfect to talk about the Iron Age, was in the Isle of Skye, such a wonderful place rich in Iron Age culture and History, and of course a good insight of how people traditionally interact with subterranean spaces. The place is called  High Pasture Cave, where people once carved steps leading down into a cave where they used to deposit the remainings of butchered pigs. Well we know that people all over Great Britain in the Iron Age and before, had specific places where they would poured the remains of what they ate, some kind of ancient recycling acts, away from the community, in proper places where the smell couldn’t spread and attract wild animals and possible threats, and also a place where those remainings would undergo a change and feed the earth with the minerals that come from rotten things in decomposition ( this reminds me of the post i have written about Nidhog in the month of April of 2013, you might want to check it ). The High Pasture Cave wasn’t just the place to deposit such things because also a woman and her two children were left there, a new born and one still a fetus. Well this might seem strange, but it isn’t rare to find these things especially in places that gave origin to the Celtic Myths of the Underworld, by entering a cave, a tomb, a hole in the ground, well any place that could lead to a dark chamber, the symbolism of two places completely different, the world outside, and the dark places on earth below, the entrace was the boundary between the two worlds, and such a myth comes for the Neolithic times as such – these were the places of transformation, where things passed through the process of transformation, in these tombs in addition of being found the remains of animals and also people, it is often found pottery, and this has tree meanings that always comes to mind, the need to leave with the dead their belongings so they may take with them to the afterlife, objects according to their social lifes, their place in the community, their works and their gender, another meaning is that they used to feast with their dead especially on seasonal celebrations in order to be in touch with their loved ones, closer to understand the true meaning of death, to ask aid and wisdom to their ancestors, also the other meaning ( which is exactly the purpose of this post ) is that these people use to make their cooking here, not only because of the reasons i have written previously but also because of that i have already said, this was a place os transformation, where the raw fish or meat apparently inappropriated to be cosumed, would become something  life-sustaining, the carcasses of animals would become food, the remainings of what couldn’t be eaten, would feed the earth and the recently dead of these people’s communities would also pass through the transformation of death, when they leave their body and start a new way of life and are united with their ancestors. In many places in Scotland we find a Broch right on top of a neolithic tomb, this isn’t a coincidence, of all the places to build, they had to build right on top of these ancient neolithic chambered tombs and caves, and also the entrances of the Brochs were aligned exactly with the entrance to the tomb, also the people that build the Brochs in most places when these tombs hadn’t an opening on the top, they would build an entrance right to the tomb again, so it is possible that the people in later times were still using the neolitich tombs to place their dead, because the newly built passage had carving symbols associated with death and the burial rites, as it is the good example of the Broch at Howe on Orkney. Some tombs where also found, that were not covered by later houses, such as the Calf of Eday, also in Orkney, seem to have been the focus for feasting during the Iron Age, as pottery and animal bones were discarded around them. Moreover, at Unival on North Uist, the chamber of a tomb was incorporated into an Iron Age roundhouse and used as a cooking pit. This also matches High Pasture Cave, with its collection of butchered pig remains. Such places are an interesting view of the the mind of these people in ancient times, places laced with symbolism and meaning, the opposite of two worlds and how people naturaly interacted with them.

Note: A Broch is an Iron Age structure of a type only found in Scotland, great examples of the most sophisticated architecture ever created. The theory was that these buildings were defensive military structures, the Iron Age equivalent to castles but as you can read in this post, was also more than that.

Note2:  If you have any questions for me or if you want to see my artistic works, check out my Facebook page and make a Like if you can by following this link –>

2 responses to “Scotland’s Iron Age: Into The Underworld

    • Well, I’m glad you pointed that out. I know that the name of the isle is Skye, but the article I read was of the National Geographic and it said “Skype”- I thought it strange and must be some other tiny Isle near the Isle of Skye. Their error (which was probably in the first prints of that magazine where I read the article), convinced me that there was an Isle of “Skype” and not “Skye”. These things happen. Thank you.

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