Neolithic Village imagined

HIF 2010 178 (1)

The corridors linking the houses are dark, black-dark, and yet the children run back and forth giggling and jostling as children have always done.  They barely pause in their running with the narrows and curves of the corridors.  They laugh in and out of the houses, running amongst the groups, tribes, families.  Outside, beyond the houses, the sea and the wind roar, and strange creatures prowl the earth.  But not in here.

In the houses themselves, the central hearth is the main light and although bright enough to prepare the food by, the illumination doesn’t reach to the farthest parts of the room where the animals are safely housed against thick stone walls.  Their soft noises and comfortable smells lull the elders who sit by the fire to prod the embers or stir the cooking-pot by turns.

Soon the eye becomes accustomed to the dimness and it is possible to see not just vague shadows but the bodies of the cattle in their pens, or the shapes of the drawings in the sand of the fireside floor, the simple outlines that accompany the story that is being told.  A half-grown child, listening to the stories with wide eyes, is given instructions and items of interest are brought from the dresser to the one who speaks, who holds each thing up for all to see and recounts all that is known, the history of the item, the way it happened to be found or created, all that makes it special is told now to those who are gathered.  They’ve heard it before.  Even last night. But still they all look and a discussion takes place, even the child speaks.  He will be a fine man one day soon.  They look on him with pride.  One day, he will be the teller of stories.

The food is passed round, grain and meat and fish and coarse bread, flat and hot from the stones by the fire.  Everyone eats and a strange hush falls over the house for a time.  There is a ritual about eating.  There is a ritual about being in the safety of a warm and solid home with the cattle and the fire.  To be with the kinfolk and listen to the stories. This is what it means to be at home.

It is evening, the day has drawn to its close and everyone is gathered in the safe warmth of the roundhouse. Nearby, there are other houses, with other people gathered, and the children are the running link between them.  More stories are told, more conversation and discussion over the nature of the stars and their brightness, of the tides of the sea, of the path of the moon who guides the hunters and blesses the crops.

And nearby, in another such house, the bones of the ancestors are keeping watch over the living. The ancestors listen to the old stories and smile as the brightness of the moon creeps in at the doorway of their resting chamber.