The return of the pot-boiler
There’s a spot on Westray where a buried ruin of a house is being lost to the sea. Whenever there’s a storm or a wandering burrowing rabbit, there’s more erosion from the soft, sandy bank and a part of the archaeology is lost. There’s a well-made stone wall on one side and a clear line of dark organic material in the layers of sand on the other. Here, there are pot-boilers.
These stones have been cracked by repeatedly heating them up in an open fire, picking them out with green wood sticks and then plunging them into cold water in a clay-lined stone trough. That’s what we had to do before we had metal pots which could withstand the direct heat from an open flame. It’s the traditional method of communal cooking, where a trough of beef stew, possibly beef stew with limpets, was gradually heated up from cold by adding stone after stone after stone. It’s also the traditional method of having a bath or sauna in the stone age.
That dark line of organic matter is a midden – a rubbish dump – complete with everything the community here threw away. There was part of an ornate bone comb, hundreds of thousands of limpet shells and the occasional whale or dolphin bone. Their trash is now our treasure.
What treasure will the people of the future find in the rubbish we throw away?
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