DigIt! 2015 meets Scottish International Storytelling Festival #SISF2015

Over the past week (and a bit) I have had the pleasure of volunteering for a couple of events hosted by DigIt! 2015, in conjunction with the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. This festival seems to have eluded me over the years, possibly due to increase in intensity of university work during this time because deadlines were looming- and I must say this was really my loss. The 2015 programme offered an eclectic mix of myths, legends, folklore, current events, international relations and the occasional bit of archaeology thrown in for good measure.

The first event I volunteered at was the DigIt! At Cramond event, jointly hosted by DigIt!, the Cramond Association and the Cramond Heritage Trust. This event featured local experts showcasing the wealth of archaeology and history in one small village.

Beautiful Cramond and the mouth of the River Almond before our visitors arrived.

Groups were led through the story of Cramond: from the accidental finding of a Mesolithic scatter (at the time of finding, it was the earliest evidence for human occupation in Scotland), through to the impressive and relatively large Roman Fort of Cramond and Roman Bathhouse (found whilst constructing a car park) before talking about the discoveries of Dark Age burials and murder victims.

The Mesolithic remains are on display in both The Maltings Museum in Cramond as well as the National Museum of Scotland and tell the story of a time before farming, where semi nomadic groups of people were using the resources of the Cramond seafront (much higher than today). The excavation was undertaken in 1993 by the Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society, further explored in 1995, and they have dated this phase of occupation to c. 8500 B.C. Flint microliths, charred hazelnut shells and stakeholes (assumed to be supports for a structure) were found at this site- giving us a glimpse into the occupation at Cramond. At the time of excavation, the Mesolithic site at Cramond provided the earliest evidence found for human occupation in Scotland- although this is no longer the case, it is still a fascinating site and begins our story of (pre)historic Cramond. You can find an article summarising the finds and interpretation by Alan Saville of the National Museum of Scotland here (if you are that way inclined!)

Some of our visitors listening to the story of the Cramond Roman Fort.
Some of our visitors listening to the story of the Cramond Roman Fort.

If Romans are more your thing, Cramond is crammed with Roman finds and at one stage had its very own Roman fort built in the second century A.D.- which was comparatively large in size compared to contemporary forts and possible a supply base for the surrounding area. For those regular visitors to the NMS, you may have seen the Cramond Lioness on display- a large stone carving found amongst the mud by the Cramond Ferryman in the River Almond. Roman stones can be seen in the Kirk building, especially large stones reused in the building of the tower (the fort underlies the Kirk building and Kirkyard) and throughout the village. The discovery of the bathhouse in the 1970s during the building of a new car park adds even more to the picture of Roman Cramond and it is clear there is more that could easily be found to build up our picture even further.

The Dark Age burials feature as part of a free exhibition at the Museum of Edinburgh: Dark Goings On In Cramond– currently at the Museum of Edinburgh. They were originally discovered in the latrine of the aforementioned Roman bath-house, and dated to the sixth century A.D. Nine bodies were found, along with at least five infants. It has been identified that three of the burials were killed by blows to the head- and two of these have been identified as woman (with the third still to be identified).

After the stories were told, groups headed the the Maltings to look at the local exhibition there, as well as hear a presentation from the Open Virtual Worlds project at St Andrews. The Open Worlds team have developed an app and website to tell the story of  Historic Cramond- to enable visitors to appreciate the huge concentration of archaeological and historical sites, finds and information within this one place. This was nicely washed down with some tea (from the largest teapot I’d ever seen) and wonderful homemade goodies from the brilliant, knowledgeable and welcoming folk of the Cramond Association and the Cramond Heritage Trust.

One of our young visitors getting into the spirit of things! After learning about Romans at school, and listening to our stories- our visitor was keen and inspired to lead her own tour!
One of our young visitors getting into the spirit of things! After learning about Romans at school, and listening to our stories- our visitor was keen and inspired to lead her own tour!

Cramond really is a hidden gem of Edinburgh. Easily accessible on the 41 bus from the centre of Edinburgh, it boasts a lovely beach (often with an ice cream van), a causewayed island full of wildlife and wartime remains, quaint cafes with amazing cakes and picturesque strolls along the River Almond- where you can take in waterfalls and old water mill structures. The Maltings hosts a fantastic local museum, with interpretation boards and finds on display so you can learn even more about Cramond, and also (if I haven’t convinced you enough) it has one of the nicest- and cheapest- village pubs.

I’d like to thank the Cramond Association, the Cramond Heritage Trust and the DigIt! team for organising such a great event, and for letting myself, and the other group leaders, be a part of the day.

The second event was an event held between DigIt! and Surgeons Hall Museum. I volunteered with as part of Scotland’s Urban Past Youth Forum with other volunteers Alice and Sami, for which Sami has photographed and blogged this for our SUP blog which can be seen here. The event begun looking at specimens of tattoed skin in the newly refurbished Surgeons Hall before hearing a story from storyteller Elinor connecting the specimens we saw, Edinburgh and our second location of Greyfriars Kirkyard. The Kirkyard provided atmosphere for the culmination of our tale- naturally featuring curses, death and syphilis- so close to Halloween. Please do have a look at our SUP blog for a wonderful retelling of the story.

The proceedings of the evening were recorded and filmed by wonderful DigIt! YouTube Channelers (is that a real job title? I’m going with it…) Sam and Josh- which includes an interview with our wonderful storyteller Elinor. (The channel also features a lot of great short videos about other DigIt! events and projects- so I urge you to take a look!

It was the first time I’d seen the inside of Surgeons Hall since the museum reopened, and I must say it was looking brilliant. It was difficult trying to get our group out of the museum as we were surrounded by so many fascinating specimens, feeding the different interests of many. It really has given me the incentive to go back and visit the museum in my own time, as well as explore the variety of talks and events the museum has to offer.

So overall this past week (and a bit) has been great for introducing me to the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. It has led me to the discovery of the fantastic Cramond Association and Cramond Heritage Trust and rediscovery of my love for Cramond. It has also reminded me that I have to visit Surgeons Hall to fully take in the amazing displays (although I am a wee bit squeamish!) as well as appreciating and being transported to different times by the talents and abilities of storytellers such as the wonderful Elinor who captured our imagination- which is exactly whatthis festival aims to share, showcase and celebrate.

Me looking very happy (because I'm listening to stories about the Mesolithic)- picture courtesy of Jeff Sanders
Me looking very happy (because I’m listening to stories about the Mesolithic)- picture courtesy of Jeff Sanders

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