Glow in the Archaeo-Dark | World Heritage Day with #Digit2017

April 24, 2017

If you didn't see all over my social media the other day - I popped on the plane up to Orkney to spend the day celebrating World Heritage Day in one of Scotland's six beautiful World Heritage Sites. A couple of weeks ago I shared on here how I was involved with Dig It 2017 to join 2017's World Heritage Day celebrations.

Dig It co-ordinate efforts across Scotland to showcase our World Heritage Sites, alongside Event Scotland as the signature event for Scotland's Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. New Lanark was covered in colourful knitted patterns, Picts and Romans raced at the Antonine Wall before having a bake off, Edinburgh's Old Town and New Town battled it out with a battle of the bands, the Forth Bridge travelled back to Victorian times with a steam punk extravaganza, and St Kilda was rebuilt through Minecraft. All the while, I was up in Orkney where we lit up the heart of Neolithic Orkney with lights and glow sticks.

I arrived up in Orkney, after hopping on a tiny plane from Edinburgh, around midday and immediately set off on my journey to explore the sites at the heart of Neolithic Orkney. Being an archaeology student, I've learnt a fair bit about these places already, so I was familiar with the names and the history behind each of the spots. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney comprises of 4 sites - The Stones of Stenness, Maeshowe, The Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae - which were built c. 5000 years ago. These sites demonstrate Neolithic settlements, burial practices and ritual. If you know me, then you know how much I like learning about death (that sounds weird right?) but I love finding out about the ways that the living interacted with death, and in Neolithic Orkney you've got great evidence for the interplay of these different elements, all within viewing distance of one another.

So of course, I was taking the opportunity to explore these sites and really experience the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. My first stop was the Stones of Stenness, where I shared my first #WorldHeritageDaySelfie, then I walked back down the road to the Maeshowe Visitor Centre, where I was greeted by very friendly tour guides who were eager to share the history with me. Here I joined a tour into Maeshowe - you can only go into the chamber of Maeshowe with a tour guide from Historic Environment Scotland, and tours cost c. £6, but it was definitely worth it. We had to bend double and shimmy through the tunnel entrance into the chamber tomb, and inside we were able to stand in the chamber to see the area where they would have laid their ancestors, as well as viking graffiti over the walls.

I then made the walk up to the Ring of Brodgar where I was able to walk around the whole circle, taking in the beautiful scenery surrounding it, and appreciate the history behind it. I wanted to make the trip up here during the day so that I could take it in with daylight and really appreciate it in its landscape before seeing it lit up for the main event at night.

So what was the main event? How did we light up the Ring of Brodgar and celebrate World Heritage Day in Orkney? A group of us met - consisting of members of the Orkney Youth Cafe and coordinated by Sara from Dig It, with the help of Dan from the University of the Highlands and Islands, and the leaders of Orkney Youth Cafe. First stop was Skara Brae, where we had a look at the exhibition and learnt about some of the finds at Skara Brae then we were treated to some stories while sitting inside a reconstructed house, to get a feel for Orkney's history.

While we were at Skara Brae, we started to paint our faces with glow in the dark paints. We had a huge selection of designs to draw on - all inspired by the designs found at the Neolithic sites in Orkney. Sara drew on what's called the Orkney butterfly on one side of my face!

We then hopped back on the bus and travelled to the Ring of Brodgar, where the main event of the night was taking place. The thirty or so of us were kitted out with led lights to wrap around our bodies, and given light staffs - wooden sticks with LED globes on top. We also met a group of drummers and fire throwers - who exchanged the fire sticks for led sticks for the event. We had a small wait until it became dark enough, and then began our march to the Ring of Brodgar.

Ever thought you'd see the Ring of Brodgar lit up with by multicoloured lights and drums? Well neither did I, nor did the tourists who just so happened to drive by as we started our trail. It was an incredible event to be a part of - we circled the ring, before performing a wee routine at the entrance, dancing in and out of one another, all the while with the steady rhythm of the drums egging us on. It was amazing to see the different colours dance around the stones, and hear everyone having fun. It also made us appreciate the remains in a totally different way - of course the Neolithic people wouldn't have danced around with led lights, but some ritualistic activity was occurring here, and it was incredible to put our own spin on it.

You could tell by the excitement and energy of everyone taking part, that everyone loved being involved. It's one of those things that I think will be great for everyone to look back on - not many people can say that they got to lit up the Ring of Brodgar at night! It was also a great way to spend World Heritage Day 2017. It gave us all a deeper appreciation of Neolithic Orkney, and helped us understand why these sites are World Heritage Sites.

Being able to visit some of the sites was a real privilege for me, considering I've been learning about these sites for years and trying to understand them through the articles I read, it gives me a whole different understanding of them, and the landscape that they are situated in. Not to mention, it has provided me with some inspiration for an upcoming exam this May!

If there's ever an opportunity, I'd really encourage you to go up to Orkney and see these sites for yourself. And if you're in Scotland, then you have a chance to see our other 5 World Heritage Sites. Dig It have launched a bucket list to see how many of Scotland's World Heritage Sites you can tick off. I'm only on 3 out of the 6 - but am determined to be able to tick them all off soon. How many can you check off?

If you're looking for inspiration for your visit to Scotland, then why not join Visit Scotland's online community, and become involved in conversations about our World Heritage Sites and more!

How did you celebrate World Heritage Day 2017? Have you had the chance to visit any World Heritage Sites?

Now that World Heritage Day is over, Dig It 2017 are celebrating some of Scotland's Hidden Gems, to showcase some of our less well known sites. Have you got a spot within your community that you think shows some of Scotland's history and character? Then make sure to let Dig It know! Follow Dig It on social media to find out how you can be involved!


*This is a sponsored post, however all opinions are my own

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  1. This looks AWESOME! I love reading your blog so much. x

  2. This whole event sounds brilliant. From the historical information to the stunning location! I bet you had a blast x

  3. Fantastic pictures and your article is so well written. Its really great information about the historical places.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Kintan XO,

  4. So want to explore Scotland, been on my to do list for so long but fabulous read!