Where did the Neolithic potters, whose fragments are found at various Orkney sites, get their clay? Andrew Appleby has combined his own expertise in pottery with a lifelong interest in understanding the ways of Orkney ancient inhabitants.
Could they have used local clay? That at first sight looks a challenge.
”This clay in its natural state is extremely difficult to make reasonable pots with,” he says. “It also collapses if built at angles slightly off vertical.”
He tried a series of experiments, finding that grass cuttings helped the clay to bind, while fine shell sand also helped but led to fissures, and the results were still coarse.
He needed a further additive, and the breakthrough came when he remembered how Leonardo da Vinci had mixed olive oil into his clay to get a finer texture. Could he find something in the world of Neolithic Orkney that would provide equivalent assistance?
He could and did – duck fat or goose fat provides the binding agent to turn unpromising Orkney clay into a quality raw material for Neolithic pots. He told the story to an audience in the Harray Community Centre – and then the Neolithic pottery that he has created was used by chef Sam Britten from the Lynnfield Hotel to serve up a meal of ingredients available to the Orcadians of 5000 years ago.