In the Footsteps of 5-thousand-year-old Man

I hold the human skull carefully in the palm of my hand. I am in awe. It is almost sacrilegious as I contemplate that this was a human being at one stage. Someone like me: with feelings, emotions and a life. Now the remnants of what used to be a person living in the Bronze Age is being passed around the small circle of tourists standing in the private museum.

I am on the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland, in a place called the Tomb of Eagles, a privately owned archaeological site complete with burial chamber, in addition to these bones and whole skeletons on display in the museum room.

Excavated to reveal just enough to entice tourists, the site is a short scenic walk along the rugged coastal cliffs. The burial chamber is entered via a low narrow tunnel, which requires skilful manoeuvring. Lying flat on my back on the wooden board, small wheels underneath, I pull myself inwards feet-first with the aid of a rope dangling overhead. Inside there is just enough room for four of us at a time. I sense the excitement of being in the same space where bodies had been laid to rest some five thousand years ago.

The Tomb of Eagles is just the beginning of my magical archaeological tour of Scotland.

I arrive at the Standing Stones of Calanais (previously Callanish) on Lewis Island just before sunset when the light is perfect, adding another layer of mysticism to the atmosphere. Even the slight drizzle of rain does not diminish the poignancy of my experience. I have visions of Druids dancing between the stones as I weave in and out of the 13 large upright stones that form a large circle. Forty smaller stones radiate outwards in the form of a cross.

The highlight of any archaeological tour of Scotland would have to be Skara Brae, on Orkney, and so it is mine too. Northern Europe’s best preserved Neolithic village. I walk around the excavated ruins and peer down from the viewing platforms onto an array of stone-age remains; of houses with stone shelves, stone beds, a central hearth, and long passageways – and contemplate what life would have been like when this place was a hive of activity.

Significantly, the homes are the same design, indicating conformity and a sharing of attitudes, values, rules and regulations. Inter-connected by the passageways, they suggest a close community, yet individual and private. The midden is the only communal structure and is believed to be symbolical of something more important than its obvious role of village rubbish dump. Perhaps like our modern day tips they represent wastage, excess, pollution, irresponsibility, and all that is garbage in our society.

My trip over, I wear my souvenir Skara Brae t-shirt proudly – to prove I’ve walked in the footsteps of 5-thousand-year-old man. And at a special place, in a moment in time, even held his skull.

In the Footsteps of 5-thousand-year-old Man

Amy Hing-Young

Coogee, Sydney, Australia

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