Kayaking Greenland to Scotland

Two adventurers, Olly Hicks and George Bullard, have just landed in Durness in North-West Scotland after kayaking 1200 miles from Greenland to Scotland. Their voyage took over six weeks, including spending 12 nights at sea paddling by the light of the midnight sun.

Their voyage was inspired by 300 year-old stories which might refer to kayakers reaching Scotland. One account, by an Orcadian minister, talks of these men which are called Finnmen; in the year 1682 one was seen sometime sailing, sometime rowing up and down in his little boat at the south end of the Isle of Eda, most of the people of the Isle flocked to see him, and when they adventured to put out a boat with men to see if they could apprehend him, he presently fled away most swiftly.

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Seal-skin kayaks from Greenland held in the University of Aberdeen Museums’ collections

Another account records someone who landed with his kayak at Belhelvie, North of Aberdeen. He was ‘all over hairy, and spoke a language which no person there could interpret. He lived but three days,  although all possible care was taken to recover him.’ This kayak is still preserved in the University’s museum collection, along with hunting equipment.

The story has inspired much speculation and wonder. Would it be possible for anyone to kayak from Greenland to Aberdeen or would such a voyage only have been possible with the help of whaling ships that were working in the Greenland Sea? Were the ‘Finnmen’ actually Inuit kayakers?

Although the mystery continues, the adventure by Olly Hicks and George Bullard shows that the story of an Inuit Kayaker reaching Scotland 300 years ago might well be true. If so, it shows how amazingly well-designed was the Inuit kayak made from seal-skins attached to a driftwood frame – this year’s voyage depended on a kayak made of carbon fibre with Kevlar in the bottom of the hull for ice protection, with navigation and tracking devices that use the latest satellite technology.

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Pictish Stone on Loan to Dundee

 FairyGreen Piciths stoneAs part of the ‘Reflections on Celts’ spotlight tour from the British Museum and National Museums Scotland, a Pictish stone from the University Museums’ collection will be going on display in the McManus in Dundee.

The exhibition will be on display in Dundee from 31st August 2016 – 26 March 2017 alongside the two Iron Age mirrors from the British Museum and National Museums Scotland.

The Pictish stone from Fairygreen, Perthshire, contains various symbols including a Pictish beast, a mirror, a comb and a decorated rectangle. Unusually, on the hind leg of the beast, you can see where the carver has made a mistake and tried to erase it.

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Beakers and Bodies


Image from the University of Aberdeen Musuems’ Collections: a stone cist excavated in 1923 which holds the remains of a man and a beaker

The latest issue of British Archaeology features and image from the University of Aberdeen Museums collections; a stone cist excavated in 1923 at Upper Mains of Catterline, Aberdeenshire (former Kincardineshire) which holds the remains of a man and a beaker.

An article in this issue of British Archaeology discusses the results of the ‘Beaker People Project’, in which the University Museums was a partner. Using the latest scientific techniques for radiocarbon dating and stable isotopes, the article discusses the movement of people living over 4000 years ago in Western Europe.

A future edition of the magazine will feature related work, the ‘Beakers and Bodies Project’ funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which focused specifically on Beakers in North-East Scotland, of which the University has an impressive collection.

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Student Object Highlight – WWI Medals

Student curator of our current exhibition ‘The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life’, Sebastien tells us about his favourite objects in the exhibition and why he finds them so fascinating:

ABDUA 10327 - Medals.jpg‘These four objects are part of a collection of First World War medals awarded to Charles Luther Gordon, a 2185 Private Gordon highlander soldier. Private Gordon served in 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders and later joined the regiment in Accrington, Lancashire. These medals include the 1914-15 Star, a British War Medal 1914-20, a Victory Medal 1914-18, and a ‘Dead man’s penny’ for a soldier killed in action on 2nd March 1916.

ABDUA 10327 - Dead Man's Penny.jpgI chose these objects as I wanted to research something a little different from the objects that highlight home-life in North East Scotland which make up a large amount of the exhibition. While these objects represent an integral part of the history of North East Scotland, I feel the medals are equally as important. The Gordon Highlanders were an integral part of the British Army since the Napoleonic Wars in 1794, under Duke Gordon’s tutelage. In my opinion, these medals are a very important to exploring north East Scotland’s importance as a region in a wider context.

I found the link of these medals to the novel Sunset Song particularly interesting as well. For example the 1914-15 Star is used to represent Chae Strachan and his excitement when the war began, resulting in his early departure to the Western front. This early period also represent’s Chae’s brief exposure to the traumatic experiences of war and how this completely changed his personality, frequently questioning the Kinraddie community’s behaviour and wrongdoing. Moreover ,the British War Medal and Victory Medal could both represent Long Rob and Chae for participating in the First World War itself. Finally, the Dead Man’s Penny represents Long Rob and Chae’s commemoration of their brave deaths.

Thanks you for reading and stay tuned for more discoveries at the exhibition, hope to see you there!’

Written by Sebastien Raybaud, Student Curator



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‘The Land Endures’ Review

With the opening of our latest student exhibition ‘The Land Endures: Bringing sunset Song to Life’, Andy Hall, a director of the Grassic Gibbon Centre tells us what he thought of the student’s efforts.

ggb 8As a director of the Grassic Gibbon Centre in Arbuthnott, I was delighted to attend the opening of the exhibition “The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life” at King’s Museum, Old Aberdeen Town House. I was particularly impressed by the imitativeness of the presentation of the exhibits, the meticulousness of the display and the rigour of the research behind the project. 

Most, if not all, of the students hadn’t read Sunset Song before this project but had become very knowledgeable and had a clear understanding of the essential relationships between the characters, their community and the landscape of the Mearns. The work of these young people from all over the world has made a valuable contribution to the appreciation of Sunset Song and to perpetuating the memory of James Leslie Mitchell. 

Sunset Song for webThe exhibition remains open until the 30th of November 2016. For those people with an interest in Scottish literature or in the social history of Scotland, an hour would be very well spent appreciating the efforts of these talented young people in the appropriately historic and characterful surroundings of Old Aberdeen.”

Come along to see the exhibition for yourself in King’s Museum, The Old Townhouse, Aberdeen.

Opening hours Tuesday-Saturday 11.30am – 4.30pm

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Museum Students Visit to the Grassic Gibbon Centre

With the opening of their new exhibition today, one of our Museum Studies students tells us about the class trip to the Grassic Gibbon Centre in order to find out more about the theme of their exhibition, Sunset Song:

‘In preparation for the new student curated exhibition The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life the team took a daytrip to Arbuthnott to visit the Grassic Gibbon Centre in order to gain a deeper understanding of Lewis Grassic Gibbon as a person and what inspired him to write his iconic Sunset Song.

ggb 4The exhibition space of the centre tells the life of the author, describing the most important events of his life through the use of original objects and items from the period. Among the many facts that we discovered on our trip what we found particularly interesting was that although Lewis Grassic Gibbon was his pen name, his real name was Jamie Leslie Mitchell and published 18 novels and short stories, an impressive feat for a man of only 34!

ggb 6After visiting the centre, we visited a rural church nearby in which a grave is set in the memory of Lewis Grassic Gibbon. This gave us the chance to explore one of the local settings used in the film adaptation of Sunset Song (2015) by Terence Davies, which was partly shot in Aberdeenshire.

Thanks to the sunny weather the countryside of the North East appeared hard and astonishing at the same time, with a breathless combination of warm and cold tones. Seeing this amazing countryside was a great opportunity for an adventure for the team and has inspired us even more in our mission to bring Sunset Song to life.

The team strongly recommend a visit to the Grassic Gibbon Centre for the accuracy of the exhibition space and the friendly staff!’

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The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life will be open in King’s Museum from 7 June – 30 November 2016. Opening Times Tuesday – Saturday 11.30am – 4.30pm.

Written by Museum Studies Student, Marianna D’Onofrio



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World’s first whole body MRI scanner now on display in Univeristy of Aberdeen

The world’s first whole-body MRI scanner – the Mark 1 – has just been put on display in the Suttie Arts Space in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) was developed in the late 1970s by a University of Aberdeen team. The revolutionary technology allowed the team to analyse an entire body – inside and out – in what was a medical first. MRI is considered to be a safer diagnostic tool than X-rays and is more suitable for soft tissue, building up a picture of the human body by using high frequency radio signals.


Mark 1 with Professor Jim Hutchison and Dr Meg Hutchison. Meg is now and Honorary Curatorial Assistant with the University Museums carrying out research and documentation of Scottish prehistoric human skeletal material.

On its first use in 1980, this machine obtained the first clinically useful MRI image of a patient’s internal tissues. Although initially an experimental machine, it was then also used by Aberdeen Royal infirmary, scanning more than 1000 patients as well as being used for further research. The technology is now in use throughout the world as a staple of medical diagnosis and study.


Mark 1 has now been acquired by University Museums, and is on display in the Suttie Arts Space thanks to the Grampian Hospitals Art Trust, who have also commissioned filmmaker Rob Page to create a documentary film of the people involved in the making of the Mark 1 and also those who now work in the modern day service of MRI imaging.


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