Poem from the Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Shadows of Our Ancestors was both a performance in the landscape, and an edited collection of poems, to celebrate UNESCO World Heritage Day 2011 in Orkney, Scotland.

shadowsofourancestors_rosieandlauraPoets and writers from Orkney, including myself, stood in the centre of the Stones of Stenness (part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site) and performed work inspired by prehistoric artefacts and remains from the site. The wind-blown readings in the monument, amongst the artefacts, created an open-air museum experience, which was followed by a reception and discussion about our work with the audience.

The event and subsequent publication was organised and edited by the wonderful Yvonne Gray, with funding from Historic Scotland.

(Photograph of poets, Rosie Alexander and Laura Watts, Stones of Stenness).


Inspired by the Carved Stone Ball artefact, found at Skara Brae, Neolithic village.


Their Use is Wholly Unknown

One too many dimensions for this world,
slipped loose from steady time and space,
polished angles worn smooth of their story;
now a lodestone for possibility
and unshed dreams, a granite outline
for all our archaeological futures.


Laura Watts
* Title from archaeology paper on Carved Stone Balls by Mark Edmonds (1992) ‘Their Use Is Wholly Unknown’, in Vessels for the Ancestors: Essays on the Neolithic of Britain and Ireland in Honour of Audrey Henshall. N. Sharples and A. Sheridan (Eds). Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.


Watts, Laura (2011) ‘Their use is wholly unknown’, in Shadows of our ancestors: poems from the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, edited by Yvonne Gray. Braga Press, Stromness.