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Sacred geography – Picts – Wheelhouses 02 - A’ Cheardach Bheag South Uist

Identifier

026621

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

A description of the experience

There are numerous wheelhouses that are well known and which we could have used as an example, but we have chosen to use the description written by Dr Horace Fairhurst of A’ Cheardach Bheag on Drimore Machair, South Uist.  In the first place the report is still accessible, so for those who would like to explore this more thoroughly they can, and in the second place the description is detailed enough for us to be able to point out the symbolism and likely uses of the site.  At the time of excavation the effect of sea level rises, had almost made the site impossible to excavate, but in the end persistence paid off:

The Wheelhouse site A’ Cheardach Bheag on Drimore Machair, South Uist – Horace Fairhurst M A PhD [in Glasgow Archeological Journal using work of 1960s]

The site was formerly known a A’ Cheardach Bheag meaning the Little Smiddy [Smithy] contrasting with A’ Cheardach Mhor, The Big Smiddy excavated by Mrs Alison Young half a mile to the north…. Important changes had occurred in the machair since iron Age times.  In the first place the water table had risen above the wheelhouse foundations; even after a spell of dry weather, the saturation level in the sand did not fall appreciably below the primary occupation level and exploration downwards merely resulted in a trench full of water

The site

The site at the time of excavation was almost on the beach and was in marshland in-between dunes and the beach itself.  It had a number of wheelhouses which were connected by passageways, some of them very narrow.  The largest wheelhouse was a perfect representation of the Wheel with 12 spokes, and furthermore had a central area [which we will explore more fully shortly] which was the ‘hub’ of the wheel.

The Wheelhouse site A’ Cheardach Bheag on Drimore Machair, South Uist – Horace fairhurst M A PhD [in Glasgow Archeological Journal using work of 1960s]

The larger wheelhouse conformed closely to the pattern of other northern wheelhouses built with an aisle, as Sir Lindsay Scott described it, between the outer ends of the radial piers and the peripheral wall.  The internal diameter varied between 31feet 2 inches from north north west, to south south east. And 28 feet 6 inches from north east to south west.  The twelve bays have been numbered I-XII counting clockwise from the entrance bay as I.

 

The use

The Wheelhouse site A’ Cheardach Bheag on Drimore Machair, South Uist – Horace fairhurst M A PhD [in Glasgow Archeological Journal using work of 1960s]

There seems no means of dating the complex independently of the Wheelhouse culture in general, except vaguely through the ploughshare, but A' Cheardach Bheag was probably not one of the earliest settlements of the Hebridean group. The sequence recognised in the pottery as a whole suggests a span of many generations, even a period of as much as four centuries. Coupled with the structural alterations, the conclusion seems obvious that the site was occupied over a long period but only at intervals.

Confirming the conclusions drawn in the introduction that this was a ritual site, a sort of church and teaching complex for aspiring mystics.

Passageways and entrance passages were designed to be ceremonial and this shows in the narrowness of the passages between wheels, these may simply have been for children moving up classes!.

The Wheelhouse site A’ Cheardach Bheag on Drimore Machair, South Uist – Horace fairhurst M A PhD [in Glasgow Archeological Journal using work of 1960s]

The main entrance lay in the east in Bay I, and was 3 feet 3 inches wide on the inside, increasing to 4 feet 2 inches; the peripheral wall was here about 3 feet thick and stood to a height of 3 feet 4 inches.  The stone slabs were larger than usual and more carefully selected… A second passage 1 foot 10 inches wide gave access to Wheelhouse II from Bay XI at the same floor level and it also was constructed with large, carefully laid slabs.
Since, late in the occupation, an elongated passage served as the only entrance to the complex, one wonders why the inhabitants remained content with such a warren-like dwelling.

Some symbolic objects found

One of the finds in the wheelhouse above were a number of quern stones each in different bays.  Generally speaking, quern-stones are used for hand-grinding cereals. They are normally used in pairs. The lower, stationary, stone is called a quern, while the upper mobile stone is called a handstone.  But there were no handstones.  This leads us to believe they were being used to teach the principle of the Cosmic egg and the Torus.  The principle of energy recycling.

The Wheelhouse site A’ Cheardach Bheag on Drimore Machair, South Uist – Horace fairhurst M A PhD [in Glasgow Archeological Journal using work of 1960s]

Five or six fragmentary quern stones were found. In general, the stones are 20 to 23 inches in diameter and only 2 to 3 inches thick; the central perforation is noticeably small. The handle holes are missing.

So they weren’t quern stones at all.

The source of the experience

Picts

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Sacred geography

Activities and commonsteps

Activities

Commonsteps

References