Steatite… aka Soapstone… aka Talcum Powder

As I said yesterday I was off today to look at the Viking and Norse Steatite quarry down in the South Mainland.

This is down at Catpund, just a bit below the village of Cunningsburgh. The actual quarry is a bit of a climb up a hill, it is only 150m up, but it is a steep ascent, luckily a modern talc quarry ran a track up there in the 90’s so at least it was a dry walk. The quarry was used to make industrial Talcum Powder… from what I remember they removed over ten tons in the time they were in operation.

The historical strategy is about 50 – 60m away from the more modern site.

So we got up there and had an explore around the site.. we spent most of the time in a small area, but the actual original quarry went up and down the burn… so anyway here we have some spots where the Norse workers removed some blocks…

As you can see, these are rectangular gaps, this is pretty specific to the Norse period. More circular gaps are either earlier or later.

We also found evidence of where the chisels had done their work in removing the blocks…

The above photo was a pure fluke as the light was pretty rubbish due to cloud and mist. Just when I was about to give up, the clouds parked and the chisel marks leapt into focus.

I took a photo down the burn to show some of the Mills and associated buildings, including a planticrub (a walled raised bed).. this is the squarish structure on the left of the photo.

So if you would like to learn a bit more about steatite on Shetland then please have a look at the following blog post all about it (written by my wife)…

I got myself a couple of bits from the modern spoil heap and will try and make an oil lamp and a spindle whorl.


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