Archaeological Discovery In Dumfries & Galloway Inspires At International Poetry Festival

Remains of rural life from a remote ‘Raiders Road’ farmhouse affected by the Lowland Clearances have been brought to life in a new poem for StAnza, Scotland’s Poetry Festival.

In 2019, archaeologists and volunteers from the Can You Dig It (CYDI) community archaeology program investigated a deserted farmstead named Upper Gairloch along the Raiders Road in Galloway.

Looking to showcase a fresh perspective on Scotland’s past during the pandemic, Dig It! – a hub for Scottish archaeology – commissioned Mae Diansangu to write a poem inspired by the site.

Diansangu is a spoken word artist and performer based in Aberdeen who’s work centres on anti-racism, intersectional feminism, and LGBTQIA+ rights. They worked online with Claire Williamson, an archaeologist from Rathmell Archaeology and Project Manager for CYDI, who provided the details.

In use as a steading since the 17th century, the surviving remains of Upper Gairloch consist of a farmhouse rebuilt in the late-18th or early-19th century and a kiln barn of similar date.

The CYDI team – who have reworked their programme of talks, workshops and excavations to an online offering during the pandemic – were able to marry up the site’s archaeological record with written sources, such as maps and census records, to piece together the lives of the people who once lived there.

A broken slate stylus, for example, was found on the site of the farmhouse and may have been used by the children of Elizabeth McQueen who listed herself as head of the household in the census record of 1851.

Following the Lowland Clearances when many land workers were compelled to leave their settlements due to changes in land use, this particular ruined settlement later became part of a larger sheep farm cared for by a shepherd named William Little, who used farm ruins like this one as sheiling huts. Many such steadings, like the Upper Gairloch farmstead, survive today hidden in dense vegetation waiting to be uncovered.

Dr Jeff Sanders, Project Manager at the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’s Dig It! project, said:

“Despite the pandemic continuing to postpone community-led archaeological activities, we’re still finding ways to take inspiration from Scotland’s past inhabitants. Diansangu’s creativity and empathy helps us reflect on what was important to the these people and ultimately re-examine what is still important to us today.”

Helen Keron, Community and Education Officer for the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership Scheme, which hosts CYDI, said:

”We were delighted that one of our sites was chosen as the inspiration for Mae’s poem. Can You Dig It is all about connecting people with their heritage, and this is such an innovative way to do that – a great idea by Dig It!. Mae’s poem is fantastic and really evokes the hardship of life in Galloway as it was then, but also the connection that archaeology gives us to our predecessors. It’s well worth a listen – in both languages!”

Jennifer Storrie, Grants Team Leader at Historic Environment Scotland, said:

“We are pleased to hear that the Dig It! team are working in partnership with the CYDI project and with StAnza to deliver this poem about uncovering untold stories through archaeology. It’s a great way to inspire and engage people with heritage in a creative way and we encourage everyone to either read or listen to it.”

Diansangu’s poem, ‘nuhin new unner the sun’ has been released in Doric and English to coincide with StAnza 2021 (6 –14 March 2021) and can be read or listened to on the Dig It!, StAnza and CYDI websites.

Dig It!, which advertises online and in person archaeology events for members of the public throughout the year, is coordinated by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and primarily funded by Historic Environment Scotland.

For more information, visit DigItScotland.com

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