July 18, 2021

What’s the Point of Preserving Evidence of an Ancient Past?

Roderick Milne

Tomnaverie, 2021

The Tomnaverie stone circle, near Tarland in Aberdeenshire, marks a burial site dating back some 4500 years, to the Neolithic period that marked the end of the so-called Stone Age. Such sites photograph well for tourism purposes, but to visit them, on the Orkney Islands, in northeast Scotland or even Stonehenge, is often to be underwhelmed by the structure, yet overwhelmed by the telescoping of time and the sense of what has taken place at the site over such a long period of time. Our expectations can run ahead of what we encounter. I think that is particularly true of ruins and, in the case of Tomnaverie, the meagre remains of what must have been a potent space when it was used in earnest. Such places serve as potentially inspiring portals to the distant past––one reason I will always appreciate the efforts to preserve them. This write-up reminds me of a story I heard about George Mackay Brown, the Orcadian poet, who, when asked why he didn’t leave the Orkney Islands, explained that he did a great deal of travelling and travelled great distances. Speaking of time rather than physical distance, he pointed to the ground and said, ‘Right here‘.