Bits 'n Bobs Author Blog
We had a wonderful guide at the crannog centre. She was interesting, knowledgeable, and knew how to start a fire.
Surprisingly, though the crannogs are of wood construction and the walls and floors are stuffed and spread with dried bracken, there is little evidence of crannogs catching on fire. As we sat in the crannog amid sparks and little gusts of wind, I was certain they burned on a regular basis. But apparently not.
Most often, fires were not extinguished at night, merely damped down. As our guide illustrated, fires could be difficult to start, and why add one more problem to an already busy day? There is even a hard fungus (conch fungus, I believe) that has a circular interior chamber where live embers could be stashed if you wished to take a bit of fire with you. That's ingenious!
To create fire, she first filled a small 'boat' with bits of dry grass and tender. She then set a flat piece of wood with a circular divot that was the same size as the stick she would use onto a small piece of leather. (This one was meant to be used over and over, and with different size sticks)
She then wrapped the string of her 'bow' around the upright stick and drew the bow back and forth. And back and forth. Until we saw smoke!
She carefully transferred the tiny glowing embers to the 'boat' and blew gently. Fire!
Though it took several minutes to get the fire started, this was not something anyone wanted to do every morning before breakfast, not to mention in damp or cold or stormy weather.
Thanks to our guide for letting us experience life in a crannog!!
What is a crannog? A crannog is a manmade or modified natural island found throughout the lochs of Scotland and Ireland.
A dwelling over the water.
Why would you do such a thing? For several reasons, really. First, how lovely would it be to enjoy a home situated over the water? Lulled to sleep by the lap of water against the pilings. Fresh fish and other water delicacies literally on your doorstep.
But in 500 B.C., the inhabitants of this and other crannogs had other reasons.
Perhaps safety was a reason. Crannogs typically didn't have a pier stretching to the land, and were reached only by boat. Or, if they had one, there was a substantial gap to discourage unwanted visitors such as wolves, wild boar and two-legged villains.
Actually, crannogs were a status symbol. Anyone who has spent the summer in Scotland can attest to the fact that midges are a torment to people stuck on land. So, wealthy people escaped the irritating, blood-sucking midges by building their homes on the water.
They were quite durable. Many crannogs have been found to have outlived the supporting timbers. New ones were added over the years until they simply could add no more.
And, there was, in 300 B.C., a lack of suitable building sites. Land was difficult to clear, and such was generally used to grow crops.
A single crannog could house quite a few people. Its woven walls were stuffed with dried bracken for insulation, and a fire pit in the center helped keep the place warm. As did the cows, sheep, goats, pigs and perhaps ducks that lived inside as well.
(an aside: there were no chickens at this time. They were brought to Scotland by the Romans)
The floors were also covered with brackens to minimize the draft beneath your feet. The tall, conical roof shed rain and snow very well. Smoke would rise, escaping through cracks in the thatch. There was no hole in the center of the roof, but doors on either side could be opened to draw the smoke if necessary.
Perhaps you can see the activities in this diorama.
Archaeologists have found (or found evidence of) hazelnuts, butter, cheese, smelt oats, barley, strawberries, raspberries, cloud berries, cloth, jewelry (swan-neck tunic fasteners, pins, beads and even jet--which would have come from Yorkshire), and opium poppy seeds (which indicates trade with the far east).
In one of the above photos, you will see a cloth loom. Natural coloring agents were used, such as dog's mercury, wild carrot, dock leaves and agrimony or yellow and orange; cleaverroot, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and tormentil root for reds and pinks; blueberries to create blue, and various roots for browns.
At the crannog center, we were given the opportunity to use three different types of lathes, grind grain, and operate a device for drilling holes in rocks. And our guide explained the process for making fire. (But that's tomorrow's post)
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