Monday, June 1, 2015

Comparing Vaulted Stone Chambers

We visited this impressive dry laid 'dove cote' on Saturday. Although Rendall Doocot isn't an ancient Neolithic tomb it's still impressively old (1648) and particularly inspiring for its shape and commanding profile on the Orkney landscape. We saw it off in the distance from our small tour bus and just had to go look closer.

Pierre and I bent down and went through the stone opening to see inside. The pattern of corbelled dry stone vaulting had a network of niches built into the ceiling for pigeons to nest in. 

Then, yesterday morning we visited another dry stone chamber. Maes Howe has a commanding presence on the landscape too with its unusual large mound shape protruding above the undulating but decidedly flatter surrounding Orkney countryside. 

This 5000 year old structure is not that different from the Rendall dovecote, in that it too has a small entrance that you have to duck down to get through, an impressive corbelled vaulted roof when you look up inside, and several openings (niches ?) set into the inner walls. However experts agree that Maes Howe probably wasn't built for pigeons.

Carved into the stones, on the chamber walls there are ancient marks reckoned to be Viking graffiti, written by Norse men seeking shelter there a good 4000 years later than the time period when scientists believe it was originally constructed. 

Many of these historic 'runes' scratched on the walls have been painstakingly decoded. Our guide rather apologetically translated some of them for us as we huddled there listening expectantly in the dimly lit chamber. 

I guess we'd all hoped for something more profound. 

None of the translations gave any clue to the actual purpose of this impressive stone structure nor alluded in any way to the chamber's obvious importance historically. 

Thousands of people come here day after day and are informed that the ancient Viking writings, when translated, say things like "I can carve my initials in stone better than anyone else" and "Gretchen is hot!"

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