Half Life - Journey Into The Neolithic In Kilmartin Glen, Argyll

By Caroline Lewis | 31 August 2007
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photo of a stone built chamber in a rural landscape

Nether Largie Cairn. &169; Alan McAteer

Fusing ancient features of the beautiful, rugged Argyll landscape with artistic interventions and an intriguing theatrical production, major new landscape work Half Life: Journey into the Neolithic promises to be a fascinating experience.

Running from September 4-16 2007 at Kilmartin Glen, the show offers new and unusual perspectives on the Neolithic features scattered in the area, from rock drawings made by long-gone inhabitants to their mysterious burial chambers.

The project is presented by environmental arts organisation NVA, in their first collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland. The latter have produced a piece of theatre that will take you on a slightly dark journey into the mindset of our forebears.

photo of circular etchings in stone

Cup and ring marked rock at Ormaig. © Kilmartin House Museum/David Lyons

The experience begins during the day, when you are invited to take self-guided walks around myriad henges, burial complexes and etched rock formations in an area not much more than 6 miles long (9.5km).

Between the Neolithic Period and the early Bronze Age, the settlers of Mid-Argyll were pretty busy carving abstract drawings into rocks and raising standing stones. They were perhaps more fond of building than their contemporaries elsewhere, too.

One of their most interesting constructions is a unique ‘linear cemetery’ in the bottom of the Glen, with chambered cairns (stone burial mounds) lined up one after the other. One is believed to be 6,000 years old – older than the Pyramids.

Your tour of these landmarks is enriched with previously unpublished archaeological field notes shedding light on the structures and strange cup and ring marks.

photo of two standing stones with a string of light in the background

Standing Stones, Kilmartin Glen. © Alan McAteer

At the heart of the project are ideas about the complex burial practices carried out here thousands of years ago, which resulted in the ritual landscape that survives to mystify us today. The special atmosphere, heavy with memories, provokes the question: what was the relationship between the living and the dead like back then?

Meandering on your way through the 16 sites, audio installations and visual manipulations, from the subtle to the striking, will catch your attention and frame the way you see these reminders of ancient ways of life. Lifeless burial chambers will take on a new eeriness; tiny living things in the natural environment will be animated by micro-acoustic soundscapes; trees will be shaped to create new entrances into dense plantation forest.

A couple of days is recommended to thoroughly appreciate the daytime walking and cycling routes, which take between just 15 minutes and three hours, but you can decide how much you want to explore.

graphic impression of a circular framework made from logs in the centre of a glade of trees

An impression of the stage area for the evening performance, by James Johnson. Courtesy NVA/National Theatre of Scotland

Return on any evening to see the performance produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, which is staged in a sculptured circular set within the forest, constructed from hundreds of felled logs.

The production brings alive the remarkable beliefs that focused ritual activity in our earliest societies. The audience will see through the eyes of an archaeologist, while a live, ethereal soundtrack is provided on harp and violin combined with bones, slate and stones, echoing the physical surrounds.

NVA, founded in 1992, has produced a long list of groundbreaking site specific events, with the aim of transforming natural landscapes and urban settings. Notably, they brought us The Storr: Unfolding Landscape in 2005, utilising the grand vistas of the Isle of Skye.

Half Life is a ticketed event (£20/£12 concessions). To book, visit www.halflife.org.uk or call Hub tickets on 0131 473 2056. Tickets are also available from Kilmartin House Museum, Argyll.

Wearing proper outdoor or walking gear is recommended to keep out the weather and comfortably get round the sites.

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