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Published: 24 May 2019

By Andy Ross

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The not-so-humble birch

This week a friend gave us an amazing find.

The gift comes from the island of Yell, just along from the studio, where a new electricity line is being run underground, into the sound and onto Unst. As is usual in these cases where digging in sensitive areas is concerned, an archaeologist is present to look for unexpected finds. This time around the archaeologist is our friend, Samantha, who came into the studio one morning to say hello. During the conversation we talked about the not-uncommon finding of birch wood in the peat in Shetland, and I asked if there was a chance to see some. And this is what the gift is! A small bag with three pieces of birch wood, sodden and muddy, but unmistakenly birch wood because one of the pieces still has its bark. 

It is incredible that these things survive. Hidden in the peat for two thousand years, they give us a glimpse of a different world where Bluemull Sound was much narrower and where small coppices of birch grew right down to the water's edge. It made me think about what Yell looked like then. I have those small fragments of history stored in the 'fridge but have been warned that on drying out the pieces will just turn into dust.

Birch is an amazing species.. Not only can it be used for different medicines but in Finland a new type of textile is being made from the trees. Have a look at this article to find out how. And to find out more about Shetland's fascinating history head over to this site.