Pot boiler in the midden
Westray has more archaeology than archaeologists. That means we are losing the most incredible evidence of previous civilisations with every tide and storm.
There’s a favourite ancient rubbish dump of mine on the Island. Archaeologists call them middens. They’re now covered in sand and soil from thousands of years of wind and nature.
This one shows a really clear dark band where the organic matter of hundreds or thousands of years of human habitation is concentrated. It has bones and limpet shells and the occasional ornate bone comb.
And at the foot of the slope? I’m utterly thrilled to find a pot boiler.
This is a stone which was placed in the embers of a fire over a thousand years ago. It was moved using wet green wood from the fire to a clay-lined stone trough.
The repeated heating and rapid cooling they received means these pot boilers have suffered from thermal stress. That’s what’s caused this pebble to crack. I’m the first person to touch this stone for over a thousand years. It’s a fabulous feeling to hold it.
I wonder if they used them to cook beef and limpet stew for large communal feasts? Or maybe there was a fabulous sauna or bath house with hot stones making steaming freshwater bathing for them. Potboilers were used by Bronze Age people on Westray. Excavations on mainland Orkney have shown that large ‘burnt mounds’ are full of pot boilers. They all tend to be near substantial buildings and near freshwater sources.
Last time I found a pot boiler I didn’t keep it, and regretted not taking it back to the house with me.
This time I’m keeping this one.
Here’s another one:
I can see why this one would have been discarded.
This one’s still whole:
As I walk back to the car I see a thoroughly modern midden. I wonder who will be here in a thousand years’ time to rummage through this one?
Given the likely sea-level rise and the threat to human life from climate destruction, maybe no-one.
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