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 The Ness of Brodgar Excavations

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Priscilla
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PostSubject: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Tue 21 Aug 2012, 09:27

Being somewhat naive and ignoran about this area of History, through the messages, Ferval has been helping me to glimpse into the Neolithic and thrown some crutches. I had caught by chance a reshowing of the documentary about these excavations and was fascinated.

Thank you, ferv, for your patience and help. I am filled with questions - simple ones, you understand but relevant to my understanding. For instance those large 'ashy mounds.' My first thought was what was the fuel? This is a huge and extraordinary complex, with hearths many and large possibly used in rites but to my mind as likely for daily domestic use. Ferv and I have discussed this a bit - does any one have any knowledge on this? Cattle in large numbers were kept - but dung needs to be thoroughly dry to be of use as a fuel. This I know about from its widespread use in the subcontinent. Did the islands ever have trees? What about peat there? Does seweed make a useful fuel? So that's the first question..... there are more.
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Tue 21 Aug 2012, 10:54

Good P, I'm pleased you've started this one.

There were plenty of trees on Orkney in the mesolithic but, like the rest of the country, they were felled to clear land and by the mid 4th millenium BC, there were far fewer and finally almost all disappeared during the Bronze Age and have never regenerated.

The climate in the Neolithic is not thought to have been much warmer than now but generally drier so, given the almost constant wind up there, dung would dry without too much difficulty.

Peat didn't start to form in quantity until the climate deteriorated in the mid Bronze Age as it got colder and wetter and killed off the remaining trees. At the start of the Iron Age it got even worse. Since peat takes centuries to form, it would not have been a major fuel source in the Neolithic or for hundreds of years after.

I don't know about seaweed as a fuel but I can't see why it wouldn't be effective, particularly the thick stems of kelp that wash up after storms.

Hearths are very important apparently. There's an enormous one at the stones of Stenness that seems to have been moved there from the village of Barnhouse so must have been highly significant and as you saw, hearths in doorways is a recurring, if puzzling, feature.

This is a doorway hearth in the very large structure at Barnhouse

That's enough from me just now.
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Tue 21 Aug 2012, 13:16

The blog from the site is interesting and informative:

Ness of Brodgar at Orkneyjar.com

However I also found this site whose author, Edward Pegler, has a magnificent go at Neil Oliver (one of my pet hates too). Here's Eddie thrashing a programme Oliver presented about the dig - doesn't Oliver talk pure shite sometimes!

Quote :
The field archaeologists on the site appear to have done an excellent job of recording their finds, using the latest in scientific and visualising technology. This means that although much will, inevitably, have been destroyed in the process of digging, most of the raw data will still be there for archaeologists to interpret in years to come.

And this is where I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Because many archaeologists in Britain currently seem to have no sense of where raw data ends and where stories start. To quote Neil Oliver, archaeologist and presenter of “A History of Ancient Britain”:

“[the walls were] too great to be domestic or even defensive.”

“a monumental structure unlike anything anywhere else.”
(obviously not true)

“it’s easy to imagine the world within. A stone age world of ritual and religion… but when was this temple complex built?”

“for the farmers who lived here, quarrying, moving and constructing these stone buildings was a massive show of devotion.”

“stone slabs created secret spaces”

“our temple complex wasn’t only the beginning of a new belief system but of a new social order as well. The people who mediated the beliefs that went along with all of that, the priests for want of a better word, were in control. They were the theocratic leaders of Neolithic Orkney.”


Admittedly, he’s often reading from a script, but… . Anyway, sadly, he’s not the only one to merge fact and story. To quote Alison Sheridan:

“it’s surrounded by this wall so it’s a kind of sacred precinct”

To be fair, she and other archaeologists in the programme have made statements based on their years of archaeological experience with the prehistory of Britain. However, to say that Neolithic Orkney was a ‘theocracy’ or that a site was a ‘sacred’ ‘temple complex’ or that farmers were ‘devoted’ is just story-telling. When any one of us, be it professional or amateur, makes up a story about how the past was, we should, somehow, keep in mind that what we’re telling is just a story, even if we quite like it.

The site is here:

Armchair Prehistory
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Tue 21 Aug 2012, 14:20

On a related theme,has anyone figured out what Brochs were?



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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Tue 21 Aug 2012, 14:24

As I was told once when I asked the same question of a native: "If you've ever stood here on a mid-winter's day with the icy wind gusting at 150mph and horizontal rain slicing your face open you wouldn't need to ask that question."
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Tue 21 Aug 2012, 14:31

Very Good.... Smile
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Tue 21 Aug 2012, 14:40

I hasten to add that he wasn't an archaeologist, just a local. And what would they know about it?
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Wed 22 Aug 2012, 01:16

I don't care what Neil Oliver actually says: he looks and sounds so good I just let the words drift over me. But I suppose I expect this sort of speculation anyway in an archaeological programme; I don't know enough myself about what specific items might signify, so some guidance from people who have presumably studied (or are reading from scripts of people have presumably studied) these things is quite welcome.

Surely one of the points of archaeology is to gain some insight into how people lived in the past, and that requires some imaginative leaps. Or at least extrapolation from what is known to what might have been. Stories is history, really.
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Wed 22 Aug 2012, 05:22

I don't have a problem with supposition, there is much from the past that can be nothing but speculation, it is when supposition is presented as irrefuted fact that it becomes annoying. And it is not only the presenters who can and do indulge their own flights of fancy, quite often it is also their guest experts who can voice the most inane comments.


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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Wed 22 Aug 2012, 08:07

Neil Oliver's breathless awestruck delivery while relating speculation as fact is particularly annoying. It's bad enough being fibbed to, but being fibbed to by a cheap Ewan McGregor impersonator (and impersonations don't come much cheaper) is a tad over the boundary.

The Ness of Brodgar presents the same problem as Newgrange in Ireland, and all the more so since its enrolment into the tourist cause. Having dragged people all the way there, there is then a compunction felt on the part of the dragger to reward the unsuspecting tourist with fantastic fact. The problem is that there is little or no "fact" which can be asserted with confidence in either case. I noticed with some satisfaction that the Board of Works guide in Newgrange last year now admits this, and in fact the tour round the monument is actually quite well narrated - leaving a certain brand of American tourist perplexed, but for those of us who have half a brain is a thoroughly welcome and indeed informative hour or so. Oliver, as a so-called archaeologist, should really be on the side of us half-brainers, not the enemy.
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Wed 22 Aug 2012, 18:52

Have a look at this, about the 23min mark Neil speculates on an iron age mirror. Good grief, why can't a mirror be just a mirror? Such an item in itself is fascinating and would have been rare and valuable enough at the time to warrant burial with the woman, without all the added tripe of portals to ancestors.

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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Wed 22 Aug 2012, 19:13

Moving a hearth, ferv? Not clear on this. It's a stone edged rectangualar pit. I assume the stones withinn were from hot stone boiling - using a hide to hold the stew over slow ashes.Just a guess, of course. Doorway hearths may just have needed a if over a hot ashes. I further assume that fires were not heaped an d laid as we might but large single boughs/logs. These burn slowly for economical fuel use .... I've seen Cherokkee fires thus burning within their large clan houses and outside.

I further assume that meat was dry smoked above them - hence the large number of leg bones found ... I further wonder if salting was used at the time - or a slow brine boil for preservation

And yet another thing; I asume that the Neolithic people - and cattle - came from the mainland by boat. Though - and we have discussed this, ferv, fishing was less important or cannot be determined from the evidence so far unearthed, towing in timber was surely an option.

The site is being geared for tourist visits - and Oliver's ornately scripted commentary would be a lure, I suppose but there is so much that is not known or has not yet been substantiated from lab work t show other than the digs.

Then there is the 'art work,' if criss crossed striations on interior stone walls can be thus labelled. Rather that 'what' my first question about them would be 'how' and that followed by 'why.'

Walls - ancient and modern' everywhere surely have marks where someone has tried out a tool?.......my old Primary school now being sold off will cause someone to ponder about the deep rubbing into the lower window sill bricks. Several generations of children rubbed almonds there until a flat edge with a small hole was made and thus a making a useful whistle - of course. Nota lota people know that now.

One last thought. Where ever there are large structures - or ditches - which according to commentaries took yonks to construct, slave labour comes to my mind. In more modern times it was empire building using very cheap labour. Tribal slave labour from captives was common in ancient times - and a reason for the to and fro of tribal warfare. Thinking on this possibility always puts the community under question into a different and tougher perspective.

Like I said ferv, in another post ages ago, I would not be of much use aa an archaeologist. My imagination is just as bad as Oliver's script, I guess - though not temple or rite prone, just trying to understand how people lived in the context of what little I know.
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Wed 22 Aug 2012, 22:21

P, imagination is not something to be dismissed, it's inescapable if any attempt is to be made to make sense of the enigmatic remains of the past, but there caveats. With your anthropological analogies you'd be very much in the vein of a great deal of interpretation.

All interpretation must necessarily be an act of imaginative projection but it must be rigorously based on the evidence and constructed as dispassionately as possible. It can only be a hypothesis and must be presented as such.
The danger is, once such a hypothesis is produced, the existing data are shoe horned in to fit and future investigations are conducted with that in mind so that, surprise, surprise, the supporting evidence is often found.

Neil O is just one of a tribe of presenters who over dramatically give what may be a perfectly reasonable interpretation of the record but fail to mention that there are others and that none of them are able to be securely verified. On the other hand it's a TV programme not a seminar and the producers are looking to entertain as much as educate, probably more, and are reluctant to say that that not only don't we know, we quite likely never will. Although I wouldn't go quite as far as Nordmann in describing them as 'fibs', statements of what is largely opinion should be admitted as such and I wish they could ban words like 'ritual' and 'temple' when describing these sites.

Ness of Brodgar may be being put on the tourist trail but it could be only during the excavation season, it's covered up for the rest of the year, and any interpretations are only provisional. In fact, any interpretation of anything, anywhere, is necessarily only provisional. That's the point of detailed recording of an excavation: so it can be re examined and reinterpreted with or without any further data being recovered.

The hearth at Stenness is huge and the large stones which form the edge can be traced back ,according to the excavator,to its original setting in Barnhouse, which is quite close. It's a while since I read Colin Richards' book so I'm going from memory.

Certainly any large structure must need an directing mind to organise materials and labour but whether or not that labour was forced is unknowable. The concept of a slave as we understand it may not be appropriate in these societies.

ID, there's a great article called 'Too Many Ancestors?' and it proposes that 'the ancestors' have become the fall back explanation for anything not quite understood nowadays. I've a lot of sympathy with that view, it's too easy a get out - like 'ritual'. I haven't watched any of that Ancient/Celtic Britain series for ages, I must have a look at your link. Was it the Portesham mirror?
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Wed 22 Aug 2012, 22:53

Understood, ferv. Most media documentaries should come with an attached 'Truth Warning.' Different views are rarely given - only those that support the most dramatic one....... and when anyone begins agreeing by saying 'Very much so,' I sense warning and reach for my nicotine gum.

One further question though - if the climate was very much warmer in Neolithic times, why wasn't the sea level higher?. One source mentions remains under water now in the bay. This is a geographer's question but in your field you have to know a lot in many diverse areas of knowledge so I'll toss it your way. Thank you again for your patience.
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Wed 22 Aug 2012, 23:28

It was only slightly warmer then, P but drier and the sea level was lower than today, it's been rising since the end of the last glaciation. This must imply that Orkney's sinking, unlike Scotland which is still rising after the weight of ice was lifted. Any geographers out there know why Orkney (and I presume Shetland) isn't spring back up as well?
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Thu 23 Aug 2012, 05:13

No I don't think it is the Portesham mirror ferval, Portesham is in Dorset right?
This mirror was found amongst the grave goods of the Wetwang Woman in Yorkshire, from 300BC and she was found buried in a chariot. Brilliant and fascinating find even without Oliver's added dramatics.

Edit. There used to be a geologist on the old Beeb board, for the life of me I can't remember his name (my memory is shot), but he always had interesting comments and I enjoyed reading them. Could it be that Orkney is sinking because Scotland is rising, like a see-saw?
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Thu 23 Aug 2012, 08:38

@Islanddawn wrote:
Could it be that Orkney is sinking because Scotland is rising, like a see-saw?

I think that essentially correct. Glaciation developed outwards from the mountainous regions in the centre of the Scottish landmass - basically outwards from what is now the Scottish highlands. The Orkneys were on the edge of this and at lower altitude. What are today the Orkneys were then mountain peaks surrounded by dry land at lower altidude compared to central Scotland. Then they were covered by glaciers but now they are covered, all except these peaks (the current islands), by a great weight of sea. Hence overall the centre of rebound is located further westwards around central Scotland: the Orkneys and the north-eastern tip of Scotland are now experiencing little if any rebound. Additionally since they are adjacent to an area showing marked rebound they are affected by a "see-saw" effect and they are sinking as the mantle under them slowly flows back under deglaciated and uplifting mainland Scotland.

EDIT : I've used the word "see-saw" too but that can be a bit misleading as it implies something like a rigid board - and on the grand scale the rocks underlying Britain are not rigid. A better analogy is people lying on a water bed albeit one filled with a very viscous liquid, and how they move when one of them throws off their personal very heavy blanket. The movements of the others are not just up and down but lateral and rotational as the fluid moves in from the sides to fill the space under the now, much-lighter, body.


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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Thu 23 Aug 2012, 10:11

Thanks for those MM, I'd never thought about it much other than being aware that the GB mainland was, as it were, tilting with, broadly, the the north west rising and the south east sinking. Up here we always say "Going down to London" and that's getting more factually correct all the time!
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Sun 26 Aug 2012, 12:01

The structure with the hearth in the doorway also has two other doorways, or am I wrong?

I ask as I was just wondering if this was not simply a clever use of thermals much like busy modern department stores use in winter for entrances which, being open so much, would otherwise let all the heat out. A fan is used to create a heat barrier over the doorstep which grabs inducted air and heats it on the way in before its inward momentum has dissipated thereby acting as both a seal preventing the escape of warm air from within and as a pump inserting even more warm air into the immediate space behind it. Moreover its effectiveness as both seal and pump gradually increases over time as long as a critical temperature is maintained.

The doorway in this case is not therefore an actual doorway, just an aperture with the same dimensions as one. Its primary function is as a flue directing heated air inwards?
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Sun 26 Aug 2012, 12:20

Which structure Nordmann, at Ness or Barnhouse? Structure 1 at Brodgar does have 3 doorways but structure 8 at Barnhouse just has one long entrance passageway with the hearth right in the middle.

This is house 8 at Barnhouse
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Sun 26 Aug 2012, 12:36

It was the one at Ness of which I was thinking.

Is there a possibility that the excavations reveal material re-use which might seriously challenge any presumed integrity of structures as they might be revealed now (a la Ian Windsor's excellent crtiques of the assumptions regarding Stonehenge and Newgrange in recent years)? Could House 8 at Barnhouse represent a portion of a structure?
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Sun 26 Aug 2012, 13:21

I'm afraid I'd need to reread 'Living among the Monuments', Colin Richards' excavation report, to make any really informed reply there.

This is the precis from RCHAMS but it doesn't seem to have been updated since the provisional results from 1989 and doesn't include the 1990 season.http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/2151/details/barnhouse/

This is general piece about prehistoric Orkney http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/orkney-agenda-part2.pdf

I don't kow if you've come across ScARF at http://www.scottishheritagehub.com but it's pretty new and packed with good stuff and open access. I think you only need to register to contribute but that's easy.
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Sun 26 Aug 2012, 19:30

Back on the subject of speculation presented as fact and wilfull misrepresentation by experts, this is an interesting site by a group of archaeologists who are fed up with myth presented as fact and who are attempting to set the record straight

http://www.badarchaeology.com/
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Sun 26 Aug 2012, 20:03

That's a really good site, I've enjoyed it before and it's a great source for refuting some of the wilder fringes' claims although that's usually a total waste of breath.
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Wed 29 Aug 2012, 17:18

I like nordmann's notion of the doorway fireplaces being for heating purposes. My own thoughts were that it was a useful place to cook stuff that smelled strongly - rendering down blubber, for instance - but if it is conducted inwards not a bright notion. Surely - even if it is wrong - looking for reasons of practically are better than charging into this 'portals to the other world' stuff. I am surprised that hardened archaeologists come up with such stuff so often and allow it to be embroidered into lengthy tales. of course it is current even today. Left to over see the feeding arrangements for Islamic mourners who had stayed up all night in prayer I was told there should be no fire in their house for 3 days.... least it invoke the evil force. Anyway, with 50 to feed and having asked a neighbour to fry 50 eggs - she did too - I put the 3 toasters on. This evoked such lengthy discussion that I managed 50 slices before it was decided that perhaps it was a form of fire but no one was certain. I noticed that the eggs on toast were soon eaten. Next day there was not a murmur when I repeated the idea with the other neighbour next doing scrambled eggs for us.
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Tue 04 Sep 2012, 00:28

Quote :
Surely - even if it is wrong - looking for reasons of practically are better than charging into this 'portals to the other world' stuff.


P, you might be interested in this short article which may well resonate given your familiarity with societies which have a less westernised and secular world view.
http://maneypublishing.com/index.php/journal-of-the-month-eja-joanna_bruck
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Tue 04 Sep 2012, 00:47

Interesting article, ferv. However, I must admit that superstition in even the most educated in some cultures never ceases to astound. When my sec - from a very modern family - caught chicken pox, she was not allowed to eat anything round shaped for weeks - no eggs, tomatoes and so on in an effort to avoid more spots. She was distressed by my silent astonishment - I tried hard not to let it show but she sensed it. 'That's what we believe,' she said. That was peculiar to her family not her religious cult group - later she was to tell me of some of those beliefs and customs but I was sworn to secrecy and have never told anyone..... much as I would like to; a promise is a promise. 'Good luck' was the spur for those. I suppose that is a coorner stone of most ritual.
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 09:54

Another article on the Brodgar complex. I don't think there's anything particularly new but quite nicely put together. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/oct/06/orkney-temple-centre-ancient-britain
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 10:25

That is the best piece have seen on the subject. Though it might be general, there is are answers to all the simple questions such as I might ask.

I am interested in knowing something of the boats used to transport the people and livestock to such a place and so long ago. People trust to very small craft and methods, however, transporting cattle is another matter - unless taken young to be raised there. In the case of heifers, very young, I suggest. Whereas, as children we would cross a bull's paddock, the great dare was to cross the heifer field; they being as daft and as frisky as March hares. The sea may have been calmer too. I have no charts of this area but there is a 'sea race' there I think.

Thank you for keeping this topic alive, ferv. It is such an interesting one..... or should that be I would like to thank you... nah! Regards, P.
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 10:49

Does anyone know how far cattle can swim? In the neolithic sea levels were much lower and today the shortest distance between Orkney and mainland UK is about 6 miles. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-12430571

The Strangford Lough log boat is about 9 ms long so calves wouldn't be too much of a problem especially if they were tied up.
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 11:31

Cattle can't swim very far. They are sometimes moved between islands and the mainland in western Ireland but never unless they can wade the best part of the journey. If they must swim we're talking hundreds of yards at a stint, not miles. There are still cattle "ferried" in Scotland by an old farmer from Straffin Island to Skye across a strait about three hundred yards in width.

Iain McDonald's floating cows
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 12:10

Snap!
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PostSubject: Re: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 16:25

Blown up goat skins are used get stuff - and people across rivers in subcontinental remote areas. Not sure about cows ferried thus - and buffalo must be able swim since they seem to prefer standing neck deep in water for hours. can't say that I ever stayed long around them to find out; have had nasty encounters with buffaloes.
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