The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and Orkney International Science Festival (OISF) will be hosting three memorial lectures attributing our late Fellows: John Hedges, Raymond Lamb, and Euan MacKie, in recognition of their works in the archaeology sector. You can find their obituaries on this page. This will be a series of virtual events available on the OISF website, or you can watch on their YouTube channel shortly after. Please see the following details and links to the three talks below:
In the 1970s and 80s John Hedges transformed our view of Orcadian prehistory. He began with the Tomb of the Eagles, in South Ronaldsay, where he provided a narrative account of the Neolithic based on scientific evidence.
His work on the brochs of Bu and Howe near Stromness were for their time unique. Both were mounds in fields that were threatened. At Bu, he found a stone-built roundhouse, a low broch, with surprising detail of its floor and the internal arrangements of the building. At the larger mound of Howe, it was evident from the beginning that amongst the stone was the remains of a broch, ‘that tower of prehistory’ as John termed it.
His work on the broch of Gurness in Evie, investigating the finds as well as the clearance of the broch and surrounding structures, enabled him to approach the excavation of Howe in a completely different manner. His discoveries of post-broch structures, and also buildings contemporary with the broch, led to a much wider understanding of them. With John’s lead the excavation team discovered more exciting details at Howe. These, together with other researchers’ subsequent work on Shetland at Old Scatness and South Ronaldsay, Orkney, are described by archaeologist Dr Beverley Ballin Smith. She worked with John at Howe, and brought the results of that excavation to publication.
The archaeologists are back in action at the Ness of Brodgar this summer, with an audience worldwide wondering what may emerge next from the site. Meanwhile some fascinating insights are coming from the study of the finds, including the various stone artefacts, as excavation director Nick Card of the UHI Archaeology Institute team at Orkney College explains. Dr Martha Johnson highlights the rocks that don’t fit the local geology, and shows clues to their origins. Ann Clarke looks at the stone tools and their uses and users. Dr Antonia Thomas describes the main themes that have emerged from research on the carved stones. Several of the speakers are Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland who are hosting the session.
Meticulous studies of stone circles by Alexander Thom and Euan MacKie have shown they were laid out in geometrical patterns, often aligned to movements of the sun and moon – but why? Dr Howie Firth approaches the question from a background in mathematics and physics to put it the other way round. Starting from the picture of the Neolithic put together by archaeology and social anthropology, what branch of mathematics would most appropriately express such a worldview?
It turns out that a question related to this was asked more than 150 years ago by the Irish mathematician Sir William Hamilton – and his answer leads the way to a mathematics of time as fundamental, from which a mathematics of space emerges. This opens the way to look afresh at the possible reasons for the construction of the circles and shed light on the development of science over five millennia.
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