As an archaeological linguist working in Dublin, Nora White has spent her fair share of time digging through archives and poring over manuscripts. But when she wants a real taste of Irish history, she skips the library altogether. She heads to a hilltop or a secluded field, and she looks for a weathered old rock with slashes cut into the sides.
White studies Ogham—a mysterious Irish alphabet found on hundreds of scattered stones all over the country. Also called the “Celtic Tree Alphabet” due to its unusual letter scheme, Ogham dates back to at least the 4th century, when Gaelic speakers created it in order to translate the unique sounds of their language into written form. Today, they’re fonts of linguistic knowledge and scholarly mystery, and lightning rods for cross-millennial empathy. “There is no doubt that you get a feeling of connection with the past,” says White. “You can’t help but wonder about the person commemorated and the one commissioned to carve the stone.”
Read more: Atlas Obscura