Rachel: Chris and I have been busy working on grant applications for next year, writing up the dig from this summer, and presenting a paper about the dig at the Bronze Age Forum last weekend in Durham.
For the next couple of blogs we are going to do something different. One of the people who taught me to dig was Marion Hasting, she is an expert digger (now retired) who volunteered on many Manx excavations. Marion has visisted the dig every year and keeps up to date with our reports and blogs and has used this as inspiration to write some fiction. So we present to you
Aerla’s Gift Part 1
Aerla’s gnarled hands cradled the boar’s hide amulet bag.
“Grandmother, are you with us still” whispered a gentle voice. Erith was anxious that her
grandmother’s recent dreams of her passing to the spirit world had come true before farewells could be said.
“ Just remembering my life my beloved child” came the strong-voiced answer.
Erith’s father was killed on a hunting trip not long after her birth. Her mother was wounded to death by a rampaging boar when Erith was only three summers old. Aerla had guided Erith into adulthood and taught her all her skills and wisdom over time. Continuing the family’s long line of shamanistic service to the clan, there had been much to impart.
As Erith joined Aerla on the mat, she gently mulched herbs for a poultice while begging for the retelling of the boar story for the uncountable time.
“ We strove to save your mother but she was too badly gored to survive. The hunters left to find the beast. With its tiny red eyes and pointed sharp tusks it was a dangerous quarry but the men finally cornered it and speared it to death.”
All parts of the deadly boar were used. The meat made a filling mourning feast. The marrow was extracted with great suckings and slurpings by all the clan. The bones were pounded into powder which was used to clean the living areas with the besoms. The tendons were slowly pulled out to form thread to sew clothes, tie up bundles, affix axe heads to wooden handles and a myriad other uses.
“The digging stick you were ceremoniously offered on reaching womanhood was one of the boar’s tusks” Aerla reminded her.
The women took the intestines to the river to scour them clean and, when dry, used them to store food. Even the hooves were heated on the stones and the residual gloop smeared onto woven cloth to keep the weave tight and damp proof.
“The hunters carefully removed the skin and then it was our job to scrape the inner part to remove the bristles sticking through. A long, tedious task. We carried the hide down to the water’s edge and weighted it down with big stones. It was left to soften and be cleansed by several tides. Now very heavy, we needed many of the clan to carry it up to the nearby waterfall where we rinsed and pounded it to remove the salt and extraneous material. Everyone enjoyed frolicking in the water, throwing handfuls of water at each other while the children jumped off the rocks and ran behind the waterfall. Finally, the men hauled the hide up over a strong branch and left it to dry in the wind, shaded by the leaves.”
Erith stroked the mat they sat on. It was part of the sturdy hide and her life history.
All this had happened many many moons ago. As the season’s turned, Erith’s aptitude for herbal understanding increased; identifying the plants, knowing when to pick them and how to make unguents, salves and poultices. Gradually, she also developed an instinct for the aura of the spirits surrounding the clan and which herbs to be burnt in ceremonies. Aerla gently nurturedthese skills as Eith had no parents or siblings so would need to be strong and have a distinctive voice to survive in the clan. The only other path was to be paired with a member from another group. Aerla felt that, with her accomplishments and empathy, Erith deserved to be more than a tribesman’s mate. It was with great joy that Aerla had handed the role of medicine woman over to Erith with the acceptance of the clan.