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Mousa Broch
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Renaissance Carving Contains Secret Musical Score

Some 56 carved oak roundels originally adorned the ceiling of King James V's royal apartments at Stirling Castle in 1538: classical heroes, nobles of the day and mythological fairies and demons. Historic Scotland, the guardian of the castle, is now rebuilding this ornate ceiling in the King's Presence Chambers and has commissioned local woodcarver John Donaldson to replicate the 3-foot-across roundels, known as the Stirling Heads. Last summer, Mr. Donaldson noticed what seemed to be a deliberate sequence of "0"s, "I"s and "II"s around the edge of one of the pieces. Curious about them, he contacted Barnaby Brown, a lecturer at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama who specializes in early Scottish music, and Brown confirmed the marks were a sort of musical score, similar to a rare Welsh notation previous discovered. The markings, Brown explained, were not an exact score but would have given guidance to musicians who then improvised. Armed with the historic musical notations, Bill Taylor, a world authority on medieval harp music, played the piece last August in the castle's Chapel Royal for an audience that included Mr. Donaldson. "Having the chance to hear it played really helps draw back the veil on what life at the royal court would have been like," the woodcarver-turned-musical-detective said.

Cathedral As Old As Stonehenge Unearthed

Archaeologists have unearthed a massive Neolithic "cathedral" on Orkney, unlike anything ever before seen in Scotland. Standing between two of Orkney's most famous Neolithic landmarks, the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness, the 5,000-year-old building is 82-feet long by 65-feet wide; 16-foot-thick walls surround a cross-shaped inner sanctum where examples of art and furniture created from stone were found. "A building of this scale and complexity was here to amaze, to create a sense of awe. The perfection of the stonework is beautiful to look at," said Nick Card from the Orkney Research Centre. "A structure of this nature would have been renowned right across the north of Scotland -- and is unprecedented anywhere in Britain," added Dr. Colin Richards, a leading expert on the period.

A complete roundup of news from Scotland is available in the Winter 2009 issue of Scottish Life.

Preview our feature article on Owning A Scottish Castle by Jim Gilchrist.

Click here to preview our feature article on The Magic Of Raasay by Terry Williams.