An archaeologist peers into a stone box with an open urn in one corner, the pit he stands in is above his shouldre height and is lined with stonework. Across the cist lie planks leading you into the photograph.


film canisters with hand-written labelsTwo undeveloped black & white films were sitting in Gunnie Moberg’s aluminium camera case, an Ilford HP5 and an Ilford FP4. They were marked ‘Skail Kist’ and ‘St Magnus Festival’,  so we had a rough idea what might be on the films but not exactly what they might contain.

What scenes of light and shadows had travelled through Gunnie’s lens and made their impression on the film inside the camera? The history of photographic film is a fascinating one and if it interests you, find out more by clicking here. Here at Orkney Library and Archive there is a darkroom run by Colin, so we asked him to process the films. What would he discover? What would he unearth, what would he bring out of the dark in to the light?

A contact sheet of strips of negatives of an archaeological site.

‘Skail Kist’ revealed the 1989 excavation of a stone cist at Sand Fiold, Skaill in Sandwick, Orkney. Our find lay undiscovered for 25 years, the cist for millenia.

‘Discovered during quarrying the capstones of the cist collapsed under the weight of a lorry, revealing a rock-cut pit forming a large chamber, at the W end of which a free-standing stone cist had been inserted. The pit was narrowed and a passage created along its eastside.
The cist contained both inhumed and cremated burials; one of the latter being placed in an urn. Stratified evidence suggests that the cist had been opened at least once. Also contained the remains of organic fibrous material of vegetable origin.’
From M. Dalland  A rock-cut tomb at Sand Fiold, Orkney, Historic Scotland, Archaeological Operations and Conservation Annual Report 1989 Edinburgh

The site is recorded here.

Gunnie Moberg used her camera for many things, one being in her work as a press photographer. It is possible that this film was one of many she shot that day to send off to newspapers south. That was the way then, shoot a film, send it off undeveloped and wait to see if it made the paper.

The other film we can now date to 1990. Our friends at the St Magnus Festival office uncovered most of the names of faces in the frames. In a flurry of email contact across Kirkwall yesterday we gleaned the following (thank you Glenys and Tanya).

The man with Peter Maxwell Davies (and his then Manager Judy Arnold) is the pianist Peter Donahoe. The photos of the production are from ‘All the King’s Men’, an opera by Richard Rodney Bennett, performed by Kirkwall Grammar School  at the Festival that year. The girl on her own they think is Queen Henrietta Maria played by Abigail Foulis.

But still a mystery remains. The woman with the lovely face. The festival office are going to ask Max this weekend so enjoy the mystery while it lasts.  

A contact sheet of strips of negatives of performers.

A woman looks off she is in mid converstaion, a strap of a handbag hooks the shoulder her tunic has slipped from. She wears a dark polo neck and has silver hair.

3 thoughts on “Unearthed

  1. Pingback: Step forward | The Gunnie Moberg Archive

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