Evidence and artefact: utility for protohistory and archaeology in Thomas the Rhymer legends

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An historical figure of the thirteenth century, Thomas the Rhymer, is recorded as poet and prophet but rarely merits mention in Scottish historical studies. This essay argues for the importance of the Rhymer as liminal figure for Scottish history and prehistory, as much for broader insights offered by him than for history of the individual. The Rhymer is commemorated in song and story, and is linked to the supernatural from where his gift of prophecy is said to derive. Markers in the landscape, especially in the Scottish Borders, may be ‘memorates’ serving present needs rather than original evidence, and prophecy may be indicative of cultural and political resource rather than individual cult. The extraordinary longevity of the Rhymer story is demonstrated by evidence in Scottish Gaelic in the twentieth century showing how tradition shifted in response to circumstances or realpolitik. The subject has been developed in the research domain of a national museum with ready access to both historical and archaeological material and the benefit of a measure of independence from the constraining boundaries of academic disciplines and institutions.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAncient Lives. Object, People and Place in Early Scotland.
Subtitle of host publicationEssays for David V Clarke on his 70th Birthday.
EditorsFraser Hunter, Alison Sheridan
Place of PublicationLeiden
PublisherSidestone Press, Leiden
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)978-90-8890-376-2
ISBN (Print)978-90-8890-375-5, 9088903824
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2016


  • Prophecy, liminality, memorates, Thomas the Rhymer


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