Books Letters from Elsewhere

Letters from Elsewhere: Sam Longmore

Palynology is the most important and useful scientific tool available to archaeologists and climate scientists today.

Letters from Elsewhere

My visitor today is Sam Longmore, son of the main protagonist in The Calgary Chessman series by Yvonne Marjot. He’s going to have a lot more to say for himself in the next volume of the Calgary Chessman series (The Ashentilly Letters, forthcoming from Crooked Cat).

March 28

Montrose University

Dear Mum,

What do you mean, what does pollen have to do with archaeology? According to Prof. Heyes palynology is the most important and useful scientific tool available to archaeologists and climate scientists today. To be honest, he’s a nice old bloke and he really knows his stuff. He’s almost managed to convince me he’s right.

Palynology is the study of pollen grains, and it works like this: You take a core sample or two from your site of interest. That’s a cylindrical plug of soil about 2cm across and as deep as you can possibly get it to go. In a nice bit of old swamp you can get three or four metres of core.

Soil builds up slowly over time, and the different layers correspond to changes in the local conditions at the time that the soil was laid down. So you can get a pretty quick look at the development of the site by seeing if there are changes in the colour and texture of the soil layers. E.g. a layer of sand might indicate that the sea had covered your site for a while, or series of stony layers could mean that a river or glacier once flowed over the area.

Then you take samples of all the different layers and make them into microscope slides. (Remember to add the proper stain, as I will never ever forget to do again!) You take a look at your slides under the microscope and, hey presto, instant information.

If your slide has a lot of grass pollen, that could mean that there was a prairie-type landscape, although grass types mixed with certain herbs might mean a swamp. Birch pollen is cute. It’s a rounded triangle with a hole at each corner, and every time I see one it makes me think of an ocarina. Seeing lots of that indicates a seral stage, where trees and shrubs are beginning to colonise an open landscape. Hazel pollen comes later in the succession; it’s triangular with dimples, a bit like tiny prawn crackers. And if you see pollen that looks like a scrotum, that’s Scots pine, which tells you there was a proper forest near the site you’ve sampled.

What’s interesting is that pollen has given us evidence for a worsening of the climate at the end of the Neolithic. The spread of uncultivable land and the change in the distribution of cereal crops coincided with changes in human behaviour: more building of fortified structures, more warfare, and eventually the emergence of the Bronze Age, which was all about the new metal weaponry and the opportunity it gave for a few individuals to gain authority over large numbers of people.

That’s your pocket lecture for today. I promised to tell you a funny thing that happened. Well, it wasn’t funny at first. In fact, Niall and I had a little tiff. At least, I shouldn’t say tiff. I called it that to Niall’s face and he was really upset, because actually it was quite serious for a while.

You know my friend Pete, the one I play darts with? Well, we’ve been playing a lot. He’s the one who got me into rowing, too. A few weekends ago Niall turned up to see me, but I’d forgotten he was coming and Pete and I had gone to a darts match in town. We had a few drinks and then we rolled home in the early hours of the morning and there was Niall waiting for me. I felt really bad because I should have remembered it was his weekend, but Pete just laughed and told him not to be such a boring old fart, we couldn’t help it if he’d forgotten what it was to be young.

Anyway, I did say sorry. Niall was really angry though. He told me Pete fancies me, and he wasn’t so sure that I didn’t fancy him back. I told him not to be an idiot and he told me I was so innocent I couldn’t see what was under my nose and I accused him of being jealous. Well, I won’t tell you the rest. You can imagine, I’m sure.

We made up in the end, and we’ve been all right since, but I still had to worry about what I was going to do about Pete. Because he’s my friend. There isn’t anything else in it, but I can kind of see where Niall was coming from. After all, he doesn’t know what I’m getting up to the other twelve days of the fortnight, and he just has to trust me. I told him that I have to trust him too, but he says that’s different. Just because he’s been around a bit and has found the man he truly loves, doesn’t mean that I’m ready to settle down. So he’s afraid of losing me, but he’s also scared that if he holds on too tight he’ll lose me anyway.

Well, in the middle of all that going on Dr Rigby gets a new post-graduate student. At least, he really came to work with Prof Heyes, but Tim’s his official mentor since the prof is due to retire next year. Guess who it is: Rick Mason that we met on the Lismore dig. I bumped into him down at the Student Union, and Pete was with me so we invited him to come to darts with us the next Friday, and guess what? Now Pete and Rick are going out.

It’s great. It’s like I’m some sort of lucky charm for people, because I sorted out a fight between Becky and her boyfriend the other day and now they’ve got engaged. Then the next weekend Niall turns up and there’s Rick and Pete all over each other, snogging for Scotland. Honestly, could they at least get a room? So Niall and me are okay again.

Other than that it’s pretty boring here in student land. How’s the old homestead down under? Please tell me there’s a hunky man living next door and you’re having a wild fling? Or was I right all along about Ewan, and now you’re pining for him madly? I know – you’re my Mum and you’re never going to tell me. Are Nanna and Granddad okay? Your last letter was a bit scary – I hope the news is good. But anyway, let me know you’re all right. Miss you.

Lots of love

Your Best Beloved


About The Calgary Chessman Trilogy

 The Calgary Chessman

YMarjot TCC TBL picsDiscovery is Only the Beginning

On a windswept beach on the Isle of Mull, Cas Longmore is walking away from loneliness when she unearths a mystery in the sand. To Cas, torn between Scotland and her New Zealand home, the object seems as odd and out-of-place as herself.

Intrigued, she begins to search for its origins, thinking it will bring a brief respite from isolation. Instead, the Calgary chess piece opens the door to friendships and new hope. Her son, meanwhile, brings home his own revelation to shake her world.

The Book of Lismore

The Past is a Lost Book

While visiting the beautiful Hebridean island of Lismore, Cas and Sam stumble upon a new chapter of the island’s past. Once again, they are confronted by the ghosts of the distant past, and ancient tragedy combines with present danger as each is faced with a fresh challenge.

Archaeology provides a strong bond between Cas and her favourite men, but the mystery they uncover proves easier to solve than the ongoing conflicts in her personal life, and love seems as fragile and elusive as ever.

About Yvonne Marjot

YMarjot profile 1Yvonne Marjot was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and now lives on the Isle of Mull in western Scotland. She has a Masters in Botany from Victoria University of Wellington, and a keen interest in the interface between the natural and human worlds. She has always made up stories and poems, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition (New Zealand Listener, May 1996). In 2012 she won the Britwriters Award for poetry, and her first volume of poetry, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.

Her archaeological romances The Calgary Chessman and The Book of Lismore are published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

She has worked in schools, libraries and university labs, has been a pre-school crèche worker and a farm labourer, cleaned penthouse apartments and worked as amanuensis to an eminent Botanist. She currently has a day job (in the local school) and teenage children, and would continue to write even if no-one read her work, because it’s the only thing that keeps her sane. In her spare time she climbs hills, looks for rare moths and promises herself to do more in the garden.

You can follow her work via the Facebook page and group The Calgary Chessman, @Alayanabeth on Twitter, or on the WordPress blog The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life. Social anxiety warrior. Cultivating a Fuji, edition 3, a poignant, humorous and uplifting tale, published with Ocelot Press, January 2023.

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