HOW do you know when someone doesn’t own a TV? They’ll tell you. For the benefit for such self-righteous blowhards, Game of Thrones is a wildly imaginative fantasy series depicting a broken, chaotic world where walls are built, demons run amok and only megalomaniacal psychopaths gain positions of political power.

In the fictional kingdom of Westeros, solemn protagonist Jon Snow is often conveniently found at the forefront of world-changing wars. Unlike his real-world Channel 4 namesake, who just solemnly announces when such incidents have taken place – from the comfort of a chair so luxurious that it cosily moulds around his raw haemorrhoids like warm candy floss.

In a world where truth adopts exotic new shapes each dawn of the news cycle, the Snows have perhaps become the last indisputable way to differentiate between Westeros and reality. Even the fictional substance ‘obsidian’, colloquially known as dragonglass in the series, has a real-world equivalent in Scotland – strange and unnatural rock formations usually found within rare man-made structures known as ‘vitrified forts’.

This phenomenon dates to around 700 to 300 BC and examples of ‘vitrified glass’ can be viewed at the O Noth fort in Aberdeenshire, Dun Mac Sniachan in Argyll, Benderloch in Oban and various spots around Inverness. Which is fortunate, as it’s said to be the only substance that can kill Nessie.

What we know is that these intriguing discoveries all owe their existence to the alchemical oddness of vitrification, where rock is exposed to temperatures so extreme that it turns to glass. Around 60 examples have been discovered across the country, and all boast the same intriguingly odd, shiny exterior – mainly in brickwork, mysteriously sealed against the elements without the use of mortar or cement.

Vitrified rocks require exposure to at least 1100°C for the process to work and although this particular Iron Age technique may be lost to history, the smelting of rocks was indeed the main technological focus of the period so such aesthetic oddness was likely a common sight back in the day. Maybe archaeologists will simply have to look back in awe at the ingenuity of our ancient ancestors without being privy to all their secrets.

Engineer Albion Hart, owner of the most Brexit name ever, won’t be joining them however. The academic from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology speculates something altogether more fantastical has taken place – not only in Scotland, but in the Libyan desert too. He claims, strap in tight now, that these weird glass formations closely resemble material left behind by 20th century nuclear tests in Alamogordo, New Mexico, USA.

Evidence for a prehistoric nuclear cataclysm is scant, of course. Ancient Hindu texts do describe a global disaster caused by an “unknown weapon, a ray of iron” and fragments of vitrified glass have been found in such exotic places as Tutankhamen’s brooch. More level-headed scientists suggest, however, that these were the result of meteors entering the Earth’s atmosphere, heating up sand to extreme temperatures.

There’s also the fact that nuclear blasts are many thousands of times hotter than what’s actually required to vitrify stone. Such an event would also have left an uninhabitable, barren wasteground in its wake.

In Hart’s defence, however, anyone who has visited Coatbridge main street recently may be forgiven for considering the validity of his outlandish theory.


HEAVY rain often exposes the bones of poor unfortunates who were once unceremoniously tossed into shallow ‘plague pits’ within Edinburgh’s weel-kent Greyfriars Cemetery. In a theory likely to offend fans of the classic family movie, it’s highly probable this is the real reason that wee dug loitered around the graveside of his dead master.

Disney could possibly weave this macabre phenomenon into the inevitable remake, perhaps sneaking in a post-credits scene with Greyfriars Bobby chewing away at Greyfriar’s boaby. Or at least the pelvis to which it was once attached. If a successful franchise is launched, perhaps Bobby can join the Avengers or even become the first canine Jedi. You wouldn’t have to change the film’s name much for the ‘adult’ remake either.

Hollywood fame aside, it’s highly unlikely the original owners of these countless disease-ridden corpses ever thought their ultimate fate was to become a dog chew or macabre tourist keepsake. Yet, Greyfriars’ inhabitants have actually enjoyed a rather dignified final rest compared to thousands of prehistoric dwellers of Orkney and Shetland. Around 5,500 years ago, thousands of these Neolithic denizens of Caledonia were unceremoniously crushed en-masse into tiny tomb ‘cairns’ to lie for all eternity. Or at least until curious archaeologists came along to borrow their bones for research purposes.

Of course, desecration of graves is perfectly acceptable when academics do it, and their efforts may have shed some new light upon this mystery. Whereas water can only be blamed for revealing skeletons beneath the capital’s topsoil, the pesky element is now being accused of actually killing the folk discovered inside the Northern Isles cairns. In a new paper, scientists point the finger at a freak weather phenomenon which apparently took place around 5,500 years ago – no, not Noah’s flood, but the apocalyptic ‘Garth tsunami’.

Such cataclysmic events usually occur around the planet’s major tectonic plates, but seismic tsunamis have occasionally caused carnage around Northwestern Europe, thought to be caused by either underwater landslides or Cthulhu.

In the new Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory paper, researchers suggest “the nature, chronology and location” of the burial sites chime perfectly with the estimated timing of the Garth tsunami. They also highlight several similarities between tsunami-related mass burials following the Indian Ocean tragedy in 2004 and a similar event in 1896, which took place at Sanriku off the Japanese coast. Experts believe if such an event occurred in ancient Scotland there would have been a very high death toll, rapid burials, depletion of resources and abandonment of settlements. All of which seems tie in with the archaeological evidence at hand – and also proves not much really changes in Scotland.

This new theory doesn’t arrive without dissenting voices on its tail, however. One unconvinced academic is Rebecca Crozier from the University of Aberdeen, who suggests the cairn tombs’ architecture is too sophisticated for rushed mass burials.

It must be noted this opinion is based on the assumption that the ancients were similar to us in quickly entombing corpses before they rotted. It’s just as likely they left piles of their former loved ones outdoors for a few years to fertilise the fields, making the task of filling those wee cairn tombs all the easier with only some discarded bones left to toss in.

And like a modern-day office worker tempted by the stationary cupboard, perhaps a perk of the job for these ancient undertakers was sneaking a wee something home to keep their dogs happy. Or boil up as stock for a particularly exotic soup.


HUMANS often condemn nature as a malevolent force when it blindly wreaks devastation upon our fragile habitats, yet to borrow such anthropomorphical delusion, the elements also often conspire to reveal great hidden secrets of past civilisations. Such accidents of nature are rare, but perfectly typified by a legendary 19th century storm on Orkney that blew away enough sand to reveal a perfectly-preserved prehistoric village underneath.

Sometimes referred to as the ‘Scottish Pompeii’, Skara Brae had been hidden under dunes for 5,000 years and currently boasts some of the world’s best-preserved artefacts of early humanity. Seemingly frozen in time, it’s an endlessly fascinating site older than Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Giza.

This ancient settlement consists of about ten distinct ‘homes’ connected by sheltered passages that made neighbourly visits for sugar, spears and casual sex achievable in all weather conditions.

Such sturdy shelters were vital for survival – it’s rarely ‘taps aff’ in the Northern Isles. One Orcadian man was reported to have once woken up next to a small ice cube and when he threw it into the fire, he heard a fart.

Despite 170 years of archaeological study, Skara Brae remains a place of deep intrigue – mainly due to the odd nature of two dwellings. The first wasn’t linked to the others in any way, with odd nooks on its walls and artful carvings. It was the second ‘house’, however, that threw up a real head scratcher for archaeologists – a bull’s skull sat on top of a stone ‘bed’ next to two female skeletons. Sacrifices to the Gods perhaps, or maybe victims of Scotland’s first serial killer.

But some academics believe Skara Brae is actually not a village at all, rather a ‘sacred sauna’ where folk would gather and, it’s speculated, attempt to commune with the spirits of the dead. There’s clearly only one way we’ll find out the truth – a Most Haunted seance with Derek Acorah, a man very familiar with creepy old ruins which draw the crowds under the masquerade of unknowable mystery.