When matching Bute Noir books to artefacts for the forthcoming crime writing festival it occurred to me what a long and fascinating history our small island has.
We are very lucky at this year’s event to have Yrsa Sigurdardottir, one of Iceland’s top crime writers. One of her 10 books is ‘Last Rituals’ and that title seemed to match very well to the rituals of the Bronze Age people who buried their dead with objects from life.
The history of Iceland starts around 870 AD with the arrival of Viking settlers (although Irish monks may have beaten them to it).
Bronze Age burials were individual either in the form of cremation or interment with the body placed in a cist (a sort of stone box made of slabs and covered with a capstone.) The dead were interred with grave good such as food vessels, tools or jewellery. These cists have been found under specially constructed mounds such as those at Ambrisbeg and Scalpsie - the easiest one to see, as it is in the field right beside the parking place. They were also inserted into existing Neolithic monuments such as Glenvoidean and Cairnbaan.
The museum has on display a number of different food vessels, from different Bronze Age sites. The vessel pictured is from Little Kilmory where the farmer discovered three cists in 1933. There are also ones from Kildavanan, Montford, Craigmore. Kilmichael and Scalpsie. They are displayed together in the one case which makes it easy to compare the shapes and decoration from the different periods of the Bronze Age on Bute.
It is fascinating to think of these early potters using cord or specially made bone combs to press into the wet clay to create patterns unique to them.
The museum also has other items from the Bronze Age including flint tools, an axe mould and the fabulous spacer-plate necklace belonging to the Queen of the Inch. These tell the story of Bute from a period long before that first Viking set foot on Iceland.
Yrsa Sigurdardottir will be at two Bute Noir events on August 4. She will be in Bute Museum with Alexandra Sokoloff, Sarah Hilary and Mari Hannah discussing violence against women in crime fiction. In the evening she will be with Alex Gray at Rothesay Library for ‘Northern Stars’.