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Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Spotlight: Scarlett Valentine

Inspired by Archaeology

I can’t believe it! My last day is here so soon. And just when I was getting used to the place. I hope you’ve enjoyed visiting with me as much as I’ve enjoyed chatting with you. Keep sending me photos. I love seeing your projects and your own interpretations of my recipe.

For my final piece today, I’d like to talk to you about archaeology. I sometimes think in another life I would have liked to have been an archaeologist. But that’s the great thing about being a writer. This week I can be medieval lady living in a big stone tower, and next week I can dig up the tower looking for artifacts from the medieval lady who once lived there. But what the average reader doesn’t know, and most writers don’t realize, is that if it weren’t for archaeology we couldn’t have the understanding of the past that enables us to appreciate historical novels.

Almost daily I read articles about something newly discovered somewhere in the world. Just when you think every inch of the planet has been excavated, explored and trodden upon, a lowly digger in a bog somewhere in the Irish midlands uncovers a book touted as the Irish Dead Sea Scrolls. Now called the Faddan Mor Psalter, radiocarbon dating estimates the psalter was written sometime in 800 AD on sheets of velum {animal skins}. A couple years into preservation and investigation, scientists discovered Egyptian papyrus in the folds of the leather cover! That leads to the question of how Egyptian papyrus got into an Irish religious book.

Irish bogs have also given up human remains dating back millennia. Bogs are incredible at preservation, as with the psalter. Bog bodies are no different. Facial features, hair, nails and garments are usually still very distinguishable and offer us a glimpse into that person’s life and of the times.

Clonycavan Man was discovered in an Irish bog too. Evidence suggests he was placed there as part of a ritual about 2300 years ago. Radiocarbon dating suggests he was about twenty years of age, and he was probably killing in the summer months, a time when crops were harvested. Tests on his hair show his diet at the time was vegetarian, which is was typical back then as meat was consumed mainly in winter months.

Feature-wise, he had a fine beard and wore a Mohawk hair style which had been treated with a resin made of oil and pine resin to make the hair stand up, possibly to make him look taller. Incredibly, in those times hair resin had only been seen around Northern Spain in the Galicia region {Spain’s Celtic region}. This simple hair ‘gel’ gives rise to the notion that Ireland traded within Europe well before Romans had any influence. This also indicates that the man was probably fairly wealthy, as he could afford imported hair products.

Most recently one of the most unusual finds in all Irish archaeology was discovered in a forgotten graveyard in the north Irish midlands. This is a typical religious graveyard where people were buried by loved ones in an east-west fashion. Gravesites are all parallel to one another and there’s nothing remarkable about the place other than the site contains an estimated 3000 burials. Yes, 3000! And a graveyard of this size, used from approximately 700-1400 AD, to disappear so thoroughly is also unusual. More so were two graves excavated just this past September—two had stones wedged in their mouths!

Similar remains have been found in burial sites in other parts of Europe, rumors running rampant about zombies and vampires, and that the stones were wedged in their mouths to prevent the person from chewing their way out of their coffins or shrouds, or depriving them of feeding on subterranean creatures to keep them alive until they could dig their way to the surface and find humans to feed upon. Ireland has a long and interesting past. It’s a country where spirits, fairies and Leprechauns are part of the culture, fantastical as they are. But there really hasn’t been a history of vampirism until recently when old stories have been unearthed, so to speak, and now these unusual burials. It makes one wonder if such stories are what really gave Bram Stoker his inspiration for Dracula.

It’s not only bogs and burial grounds being excavated. Thanks to modern road works, ancient settlements and long lost castles have been unearthed, the artifacts of which give us a glimpse into the past—

A settlement at Wood Quay in Dublin City dates back to Viking times and is the largest ever discovered in Ireland. This excavation lasted nearly ten years and resulted in thousands of finds, each telling us how the people lived back then, what they ate and how they dressed. Postholes indicate where homes were and how large. Paths and roads indicated routes in and out of the settlement. And the most important were middens, or refuse heaps, which revealed items people of the time deemed unwanted—food scraps, broken household items, bones, etc.

Carrickmines Castle was the largest medieval settlement of those surrounding Dublin City. It formed part of the perimeter of a region known as The Pale, an area completely under English government. The term ‘pale’ comes from the Latin ‘palus’ meaning a stake to support a fence or indicate a perimeter or boundary. This gave us the term ‘beyond the pale,’ meaning anything outside the boundary. Within the Pale were laws and government. Beyond the Pale was unrest and lawlessness. Carrickmines Castle was eventually destroyed in the 17th century and buried by Mother Nature. Its location forgotten until road works unearthed it.

And let’s not forget the famous Shinrone Gown which was also unearthed in an Irish bog. It dates back to the 17th century and is the best preserved garment every discovered. Until its discovery, we could only rely on paintings from the past to see how people dressed so long ago. And those paintings were generally all of wealthy merchants and their families, not of the poor or peasant classes.

And hoards of goods are still being found around the country—

In County Waterford few years ago, a hoard of coins and gold were discovered in a cave estimated around 800 years old.

During street works in Cork City, small medieval cottages were discovered, and inside one of them a small jar filled with dirt. It was set aside until it was knocked over and out spilled handfuls of coins. Makes me wonder what happened to make a person leave their home and forget so much money. I can understand hiding it in a cave and hoping to return for it later. Loads of hoards of money and gold have been found in bogs, too. But to leave a jar in a wall niche and walk away?

It’s the past that draws us to reading and writing stories set in historical times. And the more our tastes develop and mature, we demand stories be as accurate as possible. We don’t have to get into an excavation site alongside archaeologist though because the internet gives us a fly on the wall view of just about anything we care to research.

There’s no denying the upsurge in the demand for historicals. Just look at TV programming these days with series such as The Tudors, The Borgias and to some degree Game of Thrones. And we’re seeing an upsurge in historical novels, too—Elizabeth Chadwick, Bernard Cornwell, Edward Rutherford, Sharon Kay Penman, Phillippa Gregory, etc.

I could go on, and probably would if I thought I could get away with it. My point here is that without archaeology, we wouldn’t have an appreciation of the past. Because of archaeology, every historical book we read and every historical show we watch puts history in the palms of our hands and it allows us to participate in history rather than just speculate. And for me, every interesting tidbit I read lights a creative fire in my head and inspires me to write.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings on archaeology . . . and the rest of it over the week. I’ve really enjoyed spending this time with you and hope I’ve given you a peak into the life of a writer when she’s away from the keyboard.

I’ll leave you with this, as the holidays are upon us. Have a wonderful season. Knit some. Eat some. Explore some. And read lots!

~ Scarlett
“What’s a little bondage between friends?”
Available now – Awakening, book one of The ABCs of S-E-X: Love by the Letter series


Sandi Stolle said...

Dear Ms. Scarlett,
I have so enjoyed your blog on Archiology and how it inspires your work! I have finished your first book of the A-B-C series and found it brilliant.
So very much looking forward to the "B" - Beguiled upon it's release.
Thank you so much for offering me my escape-time in your works, both as Scarlett Valentine, and as Kemberlee Shorland! You're the best!

Maureen said...

Thank you for such an interesting week of posts. I never thought of how historical novels are influenced by archaeology but it makes sense and I enjoyed reading about the different finds in Ireland.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Sandi! You make me blush :-) (very difficult to do, so kudos!!)

You know me, as soon as Beguiler is out there, you'll hear about it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Maureen,

I'm glad to know my ramblings make sense to someone ;-)

Seriously, without archaeology, how would be know how people lived back in the times we love to write in? Or read!

At the moment, I'm researching for Beguiler at a location near where I live. It involves exploring castle ruins on foot, researching site history (including any finds on the site), and local legends. Personally, I'd love to take part in a real dig sometime in my lifetime. I know I'd learn so much more.

If you enjoy archaeology in stories, keep your eye open for my book, Shape of My Heart, written as Kemberlee Shortland, which includes some info on an interesting dig ;-)

Nancy said...

Please enter me in this contest. Thank you.