A Summer of Finds at The Ness of Brodgar

Aerial view of The Ness of Brodgar. Photo: Scott Pike

Located in Orkney, the Ness of Brodgar is one of the largest and most important Neolithic excavations in Europe.

As the eight week dig season comes to an end, the international team working at the site uncovered an incredible underground structure that sheds more light on the sophistication of the first farmers who built the stone structures 5000 years ago.

With over five thousand finds recorded this year, and over 100 archaeologists from all over the world participating in this years excavation, ranging from students from the University of the Highlands and Islands to others from the American Williamette University, one could definitely argue that the Ness has been a very busy site this season.

Looking across the Ness of Brodgar towards Structure 8 where the drain was found. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

Archaeologists working at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute research dig adjacent to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site in Orkney found a massive drain running underneath several of the stone buildings at the site.

The team of archaeologists including ex-students of the UHI Archaeology Institute and volunteers from across the globe uncovered this Neolithic structural gem two weeks ago while working at the rear of Structure 8, and under midden and rubbish deposited in this area.

The team initially found what appeared to be a void, but when the archaeologists removed one particularly large stone, a stone lined drain was unearthed. The drain can be traced directly for over 1.8m, but potentially extends for at least 30m across the site perhaps heading for the Loch of Stenness. It is 50cm wide and at least 70cm deep and there is nothing quite like it on site. Other drains found around the structures are significantly smaller which may highlight its importance as a main drain for the site.

The drain opening at Structure 8. Photo: ORCA Archaeology

The Ness of Brodgar Site Director Nick Card said, “This is an important discovery as it reinforces the complexity of the architecture in the Neolithic at this 5000 year old site and indicates the high degree of planning required in their construction. The only other drain of similar size known in Orkney is the one found at the World Heritage Site at Skara Brae – located just five miles north of the site here at the Ness of Brodgar.”

Nick continues, “This discovery is thought-provoking as it further adds to the grandiose and complex nature of the architecture of the buildings as they are interlinked with one another. Furthermore, it displays the level of planning involved in the construction of this site. This is without even taking into consideration the work required to build and maintain such a drain!”

Nick believes that the drain was built during the primary phase of construction of the later piered structures and taking this into account, it places the construction of the drain at a very early period of the site itself, and means that it played a very important role in the more complex phases at the Ness of Brodgar which followed.

Trench T at the Ness of Brodgar. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

This year also saw the continuation of work in Trench T; a trench at the very tip of the Brodgar peninsula that has uncovered one of the most complex buildings on site: Structure 27. This structure is extremely large compared to many other buildings on site, highlighting its importance and significance, and is unlike any other building at the complex or indeed elsewhere. The inner wall faces were built using large orthostats, both upright and on edge instead of the usual dry-stone construction. Even the outer wall faces were exquisitely built, with fine masonry and stepped foundations. The building was abandoned as the remaining structures continued in use and covered with domestic rubbish to form a huge midden mound which could have been seen from a considerable distance – perhaps a reflection of prehistoric conspicuous consumption, and the status and affluence of the Ness!

2019 also found the archaeologists on site unearthing a great selection of incised and beautifully decorated stones that have come to be such a feature of the Ness of Brodgar. One found by Structure 12 was particularly fine with delicately made incised motifs including chevrons and opposed fan motifs.

Macehead found at the Ness of Brodgar. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

Another breath-taking find this year was a beautiful yet unfinished macehead found in Trench X by first time University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology student Aqsa. This macehead is made of olivine basalt, a rock type which is believed to originate on Hoy. To add to the excitement excavators found a further axehead on the same day and seems to have been discarded before it was completed.

In true archaeology style, as the site was beginning to wind down, a truly amazing find was uncovered: a human bone. The bone is an ulna, which is part of the lower arm, and is most likely from a young adult.

The human bone being unearthed by Andy Boyar at the Ness of Brodgar. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

The bone itself was found in a foundation deposit relating to the remodelling of Structure 10, which is the last major and grandiose construction built around 2900 B.C. This structure required reconstructing within a generation or two of its construction, which is the point at which the builders added a new internal south wall and corner buttresses. Intriguingly this seems to be the point when they deposited the arm bone into the structure’s foundations. It is contemporary with another human arm bone found close by in 2016, along with the leg bones of several very large cattle.

Site Director Nick Card said, “These bone deposits all seem to be part of a votive foundation deposit associated with the rebuild of Structure 10. Other unusual finds from related foundation deposits such as a carved stone ball, one of the largest and most complex decorated stone blocks from the Ness, and unusual pottery forms, all point towards the importance of this remodelling of the largest building at the Ness.”

Further in-depth analysis of the human bone including DNA may hopefully determine if the two arm bones are from the same individual or if not, were they related?

Work on site will continue next year in order to shed light on this site and the amazing discoveries that keep on coming.


The Ness of Brodgar continues to be a major tourist attraction on the island with over 18,000 visitors to the site in the eight week dig season, 200,000 hits on the website and over 1,000 people attending each Open Day. This project is being part-financed by the Scottish government and the European Community Orkney Leader 2014 – 2020 Programme.

Swartigill Dig – Week Three

The Swartigill team 2019

The community archaeology excavation at the Burn of Swartigill is now nearing completion for this season.

The dig itself is organised by the Yarrows Heritage Trust in collaboration with the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and ORCA Archaeology. Rick Barton, Project Officer with ORCA Archaeology, talks us through the finds of the week…..

We have begun our third and final week of excavation for this season at the Burn of Swartigill in Thrumster, Caithness, and it’s time for an update from week two.

The theme has been one of rubble removal and soil sampling! Much of the later rubble within our round house, Structure B (or squashed rectangle house, to be more accurate) has been removed to reveal more of the courses masonry on the north and south arcs of the building. It is rewarding to see the shape and form of this building emerge after being obscured by rubble for so long. Work along the entrance way into Structure B on the east side has revealed a threshold stone!

The site at the end of week two. Photo: Bobby Friel

In the centre of the structure, we are starting to see more ashy deposits associated with tantalising hints of edge set stone underneath the later hearth feature. This could be an earlier, more formal hearth, perhaps associated with the original occupation of the building.

We have also been sampling deposits on the west side of Structure B, which we know to be rich in charred plant remains, charcoal and magnetic residues from preliminary analysis of samples from 2017. With a more extensive area of this deposit exposed, we intend to do a more detailed soil chemical analysis with the samples from this season. This could give us some insight into what sort of activities were undertaken on this surface in the Iron Age.

Whetstone unearthed at Swartigill 2019

Artefacts were thin on the ground in the first week of the dig, as we focussed on removing alluvial soils and rubble deposits. This past week, the artefacts have started to appear, with a spread of pottery near the hearth in Structure B and a brace of quern stones to add to those recovered from previous years. We have also recovered two hone stones or whetstones. Unlike the previous example of this artefact discovered on the site back in 2017, which looked distinctly Viking in shape, the two found from this season appear distinctly prehistoric in form.

We have been helped out by school children from Lybster, Dunbeath, Thrumster and Watten primary schools, who have been doing sterling work on site to help uncover Structure C on the south side of the dig. This is an area we have only partially exposed in previous seasons, so we are delighted to have to have had the children lend a hand in exploring this building.

We bade farewell to the majority of our stalwart student volunteers on Thursday, they have worked extremely hard and, we hope, have learned a lot about archaeological excavation and the North of Scotland Iron Age. Thanks to Leia Tilley from the University of Durham, Kenny McElroy from the University of Glasgow, Iona Cargill from Oxford University, Sierra Renna from Willamette College in the USA and Calum Hall and Mary Renshaw from the University of the Highlands and Islands. We hope to see you all again next year!

Thanks also to all the volunteers and visitors who have contributed their time and efforts to the dig so far. If you haven’t seen the site yet or still want to come and take part, there is still plenty of time!

We will be working on site every day until Sunday the 8th of September, though Saturday the 7th will be out last full day of digging as we need to spend some time on Sunday putting the covers back over the site and making sure its secure for the winter.

Come along to see our progress any time this week, and even join in the excavation! No previous experience is required.

New Research Examining Impact of St Magnus Published

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to announce the publication of an important research paper on the impact of medieval saints on the Orkney landscape.

The paper, written by UHI Archaeology lecturers Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon and Dr James Moore, is entitled ‘Storyways: Visualising Saintly Impact in a North Atlantic Maritime Landscape’ and examines the impact of the cult of St Magnus and its veneration throughout the Orcadian landscape and how this can be seen by investigating multiple forms of evidence.

The research presents a new methodological and theoretical approach with which to explore the way veneration and remembrance can be seen within the landscape. There are three churches that carry the St Magnus name, one of them being St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, and there are many altars and dedications to the saint in Scandinavia and Britain, and yet we know very little about his veneration.

A Mansie Stane marking the route of St Magnus’ shrine procession

A multi-source approach examined not only the structural evidence, but also a range of sources such as place names, folklore, history, archaeology and hagiographic evidence. Utilising a GIS (Geographical Information System) Sarah Jane and James were able to explore the ways in which different types, and sources of evidence reflected the spatial distribution of the cult of St Magnus in Orkney, in turn enabling them to investigate how memories and stories link with the landscape features of both past and present.

Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon brought experience gained during the ‘Mapping Magnus’ project completed last year, which included a multitude of events and activities led by the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute revolving around the story of St Magnus, recounting his funerary and shrine journeys from where he was killed on Egilsay, to his final resting place in the cathedral in Kirkwall.

Sarah Jane and James mapped ‘remembered’ route ways, or story ways, since much of the evidence comes from stories and traditions, which display the impact Magnus had as a saint on the communities living in Orkney and his continuing influence within the wider landscape well beyond the churches dedicated in his name.

This paper establishes a new way to research the impact and scope of belief in a community and shows the embeddedness and layering of multiple-beliefs in the landscape. The paper is now freely available online for everyone in Open Archaeology through De Gruyter in a topical issue on Unlocking Sacred Landscapes: Digital Humanities and Ritual Space.

Swartigill Dig – Week One

Opening the site up for the season

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, in partnership with the Yarrows Heritage Trust and ORCA Archaeology, have completed their first week of excavation at the community dig, near the Burn of Swartigill.

Rick Barton, Project Officer with ORCA Archaeology, talks us through the first week at this intriguing dig in Caithness, Scotland

We are at the end of the first week of excavation at the Burn of Swartigill. The covers and tyres came off to reveal that the site had survived well over the winter. The team wasted no time, extending the trench to the east and west to further explore the extent of the structural features present.

So far, we have made some interesting discoveries about the nature of the site. Structure A, the passage around the north side of the site, widens out on the east side, while to the west, it terminates in a small rubble filled cell.

The site under excavation showing the landscape

In the centre of the trench, we are further defining the shape and form of Structure B, which appears to be a squashed rectangle in shape. The hearth in the centre of the structure, initially encountered during last year’s excavation, appears to be a later feature. The hearth setting overlays rubble, which appears to be the post abandonment infill of the building.

The ashy deposits from the hearth mingle with peaty layers within the structure, suggesting that after the building was abandoned, it was open to the elements and people still used the shell of the building as a shelter – perhaps as a seasonal shieling, a temporary shelter used while pasturing animals. The remains of the structure continued to gradually collapse around them. This may also account for the presence of a distinctly Viking or Medieval looking whetstone, recovered in a previous year’s excavation on the site form rubble overlying this structure.

Elevated shot of the site at the end of the first week of excavation

The site was then inundated with alluvial soils, deposited by the adjacent watercourse over several centuries, covering the structures. On the east side of the site, this overlays a paved surface, which may represent a yard outside Structure B.

Elsewhere in the trench we are preparing to sample more of a deposit that appears very rich in charred organic material. Hopefully the analysis of this deposits will give us some valuable information about the sort of activities undertaken on the site during the Iron Age, and the lives of the people who lived there.

Drone footage from the site. Thanks to Bobby Friel @Takethehighview

The Archaeologists will be on site until Thursday the 29th of August and then back on site from Tuesday the 3rd of September until Sunday the 8th.Come along to the see the site, and even have a go at excavation – no experience is required.

Thanks to Bobby Friel @Takethehighview for drone footage

The Hidden Histories of the Ness of Brodgar

The Mystery Trench T at the Ness of Brodgar

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute MSc student Will Lowe is undertaking his work placement with us in the Marketing Department here at Orkney College.

As part of his project Will is looking at post excavation processes and the ways in which information is shared across both the academic and wider community.

Over to Will……

Hi everyone! My name is William Lowe and I’m a MSc student at the University of the Highlands and Islands and in this blog post I will be writing about the 2019 Ness of Brodgar dig and some of its discoveries. Now for those who don’t know what the Ness of Brodgar is, it is an extensive Neolithic site in the centre of an area known as the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney”, a world heritage site situated on the mainland of the Orcadian archipelago.

If you are interested in reading up on the site I would recommend either the team’s daily blog or even the National Geographic article on the Ness of Brodgar

Bone unearthed from Structure 27 in Trench T at the Ness of Brodgar

The aim of this blog is to show off some of the finds made this year and how by carefully examining them we can piece together the overall history of this site and the people connected to it. In order to do that I have selected 3 finds in particular.

For the first objects I will disregard the rule that I just set and discuss two objects in particular, these are a piece of bone and a piece of pot that were discovered in the new area, known as Trench T…the “mystery trench”. These may seem like mundane finds compared to some others, but sometimes it is these mundane objects that tell the best stories. They were found in Structure 27, a new structure that has no parallels on the site, let alone Scotland!

Pottery sherd from Structure 27 Ness of Brodgar

These objects were part of the “trash” from the rest of the site that was thrown in the structure after it was abandoned, but not put out of use it seems. The mound was far larger than what the diggers first envisaged, so much so that it must have been clearly visible from far away, and Cristina, the trench supervisor, believes this was done on purpose in order to show off to whomever was in the vicinity!

Macehead unearthed at the Ness of Brodgar

The second object is a macehead that was found on Friday. It is a stunning find that was never finished, which is unfortunately a mystery we don’t know the answer to. What we do know is that it’s made out of olivine basalt, which may be from another Orkney island to the south-west called Hoy. This is important because it shows that the inhabitants were being extremely selective about their rocks. Similarly other objects from previous seasons known as a “pitchstone” – a volcanic glass from the island of Arran several hundred miles to the SW of Orkney and similar to obsidian was knapped using a technique similar to that found in south Scotland, showing the links the site had and how far they spanned.

An example of a decorated stone found earlier this year at the Ness of Brodgar

The last object is a decorated stone. A myriad of decorations have been found in the past years by Nick and his team, and although similar decorations have been found in Maeshowe, they are still a mystery. Maybe as we find more and through a little research, we will be able to discover more about their hidden histories!

If you are inspired to take the plunge and apply for an undergraduate or postgraduate course with us at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute then drop us a line on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or give us a ring on 01856 569229 and ask for Sean. If I’m not there then leave a message on my voicemail and I’ll get back to you.

Archaeology Dig to start at Iron Age site in Caithness

Aerial view of the Swartigill site. Photo: Bobby Friel @Takethehighview

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, in partnership with the Yarrows Heritage Trust, are preparing for a fourth season of excavation at the Burn of Swartigill in Thrumster, Caithness, Scotland.

Previous seasons of excavation at the site have uncovered a complex of Iron Age structures, which are providing an important window into Iron Age society away from the monumental architecture of the Brochs.

This season the team led by Rick Barton from ORCA Archaeology hope to continue to reveal the extent of some of these structures so that they can better understand just how complex the site is. We will also be aiming to recover more information about what life was like for the Iron Age people who lived there two thousand years ago. Analysis of the precious remnants of people’s day to day lives will not only help us to understand the environment and economy of the site at the Burn of Swartigill, but also potentially that of Iron Age Scotland in a much broader context.

The landscape of the Swartigill Burn site. Photo: Bobby Friel @Takethehighview

The 2019 excavations commence on 19th of August and will continue until 8th of September. The site is located near Thrumster House, a few miles south of Wick. To get to the site, you need to take the Haster and Tannach road from Thrumster and look out for our signs just before the bridge crossing at the Burn of Swartigill. There is limited parking at the roadside, and the dig is a short hike across boggy moorland.

Tours are available and the archaeologists will be on site every day of the week between Monday 19th and Thursday 29th of August. The excavation will then continue from Tuesday 3rd of September until Sunday 8th of September 2019.

The community dig at Swartigill. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

Volunteers are welcome and you don’t need any archaeological experience to take part. Contact studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk for more information or arrive on the day!

Norse Hall Discovered at Skaill, Rousay, Orkney

Skaill farmstead looking towards St Marys kirk and Midhowe Broch. Photo: Bobby Friel @Takethehighview

A large Norse hall has been discovered during excavations at Skaill Farmstead, on the island of Rousay, Orkney. The hall probably dates to the 10th to 12th centuries AD and was discovered below a more recent farmstead.

A team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Rousay residents and students have been digging at the site for a number of years, investigating the later stages of the farm complex and its middens (waste heaps), with a particular focus on past diet, farming and fishing practices.

Project co-director Dr Ingrid Mainland said “We have recovered a millenia of middens which will allow us an unparalleled opportunity to look at changing dietary traditions, farming and fishing practices from the Norse period up until the 19th century.”

Skaill Norse Hall below present farmstead. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

The exciting find this summer, was that walls extending from below the extensive settlement mound have been confirmed as a large Norse building, which is likely to be the hall. Substantial 1m wide stone walls were found 5.5m apart with internal features such as stone benches along either side. The building appears to be in excess of 13m long. The hall is oriented down the slope towards the sea. Finds have included steatite (soap stone from Shetland), pottery and a bone spindle whorl. A fragment of a Norse bone comb was also found.

Although only partly uncovered at this stage, the Skaill hall has parallels with other Norse halls excavated in Orkney, such as Snusgar, and elsewhere in Scotland. The find provides tantalising evidence for the earliest phases of habitation on this farm and settlement mound which may well have been inhabited for over 1000 years. It provides another piece to the 5000 year jigsaw along this archaeology rich stretch of coast at Westness on Rousay – the ‘Egypt of the north’.

Skaill Norse Hall exposing more of the northern wall. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

The excavation is part of the Landscapes of Change – Archaeologies of the Rousay Clearances and Westness Estate project. The aim of the project is to explore the farmstead at Skaill from the Norse period to its abandonment in the nineteenth century. The present farm at Skaill dates to the 18-19th centuries and was part of the Rousay clearances during the mid-19th century; however the name Skaill suggests the site was home to a Norse hall or drinking hall, and was a high status site.

Skaill Norse Hall exposing the southern wall and benches. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

Westness is mentioned in Orkneyinga saga as the home of Sigurd, a powerful chieftain, so it was always likely that a Norse settlement was located somewhere at Skaill. Earlier structures have been found below the present farm during previous seasons, and this season explored more of the Norse phases of the site.

Skaill Norse Hall showing the northern outer wall. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

Project co-director Dan Lee said “The exciting news this season is that we have now found the hall at Skaill, as the place name suggests. You never know, but perhaps Earl Sigurd himself sat on one of the stone benches inside the hall and drank a flagon of ale!”

Skaill overhead view of the trenches, Norse Hall on the left. Photo: Bobby Friel @Takethehighview

The project is led by Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dan Lee ,Dr Jen Harland and Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon from the UHI Archaeology Institute, based at Orkney College. Funding is from the Orkney Islands Council Archaeology Fund and the Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust. Many thanks to landowners Russell and Kathryn Marwick.

Drone clip showing the Norse Hall and surrounding dig. Thanks to Bobby Friel @Takethehighview

More project information click here.

3D models of farmstead click here

UHI Archaeology Students Work Placement Experience

Placement with the Arran Rangers at Brodick Castle

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute undergraduate programme offers a professional placement in a commercial or academic organisation.

This provides students with the vital experience of working in the often demanding environment of an organisation and we believe equips students with an insight into the requirements of an employer.

Stromness Museum. Photo: Marzagalli

This year, eight of our third year undergraduate students opted for the module that included a placement of several weeks in heritage and commercial archaeology organisations across Scotland. The students themselves had an opportunity to suggest areas of interest in which to work and in collaboration with their tutors narrowed down potential employers likely to offer placements.

Helping to maintain the Bronze Age Roundhouse reconstruction at Brodick Castle

The areas of study were wide ranging and included such diverse organisations as SUERC Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, Stromness Museum, National Trust for Scotland, The Crannog Centre, Alder Archaeology and the Museum of London Archaeology.

I was involved in researching the history of the artefacts in a small museum in Orkney in addition to contributing to the outreach activity with local schools….Because it was a small museum I felt that I had a good opportunity to learn about a wide range of curatorial tasks and this positive experience has led me to consider this path as an eventual career.

Gianluca
Felsite axes examined by Paul on his work experience with Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology

I gained an understanding of the steps required to obtain dates and the strengths and weaknesses of using radiocarbon dating…I found that this placement also gave me the tools to apply to my research requiring dating and chronologies

Gary
Surveying roundhouse remains in Arran

After the placement…..I developed a broader understanding of the various sites within the local area and the evolution of environmental archaeology within Perth and Kinross….and have a greater understanding of how commercial archaeology works

Kyle

Following their placement the students presented their experience with the group and reflected on how the exercise contributed to their research and career progression.


If you are inspired to take the plunge and apply for an undergraduate or postgraduate course with us at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute then drop us a line on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or give us a ring on 01856 569229 and ask for Sean. If I’m not there then leave a message on my voicemail and I’ll get back to you.

Cata Sand Dig now Underway in Sanday Following Online Appeal

One of the Neolithic houses at Cata Sand from the dunes

The archaeology dig at the Neolithic houses found on the beach at Cata Sand, Sanday, Orkney is now underway.

Teams from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the University of Central Lancashire arrived on the island last weekend to uncover the site and begin a series of excavations centred on the sites at Cata Sand settlement and Tresness tomb.

This is the third year of the excavation and could not have taken place this year without the support of donations that flooded in following an online appeal. Sufficient funds to commence the dig and to undertake assessment of the animal and plant remains were raised and the team would like to express their gratitude for the donations from people all over the world.

Professor Jane Downes said, “During 2017 and 2018 we excavated a much as we could of the early Neolithic houses, but progress was slow due to the never ending blowing sand, and working between tidal inundations. Sea level rises and increased storminess (both relatable to climate change) mean the site will very soon have vanished completely. Our aim is to complete the excavation of the house floors and associated pits and hearths before they disappear completely.”

She continued, “We had planned to return to Cata Sand to recover the final parts of the Neolithic houses in summer 2019, but had not been able to secure funding to enable us to rescue the last deposits and carry out final recording. These donations now allow us to complete sampling of the floor deposits which in turn will help to give a full picture of how these earliest farmers lived inside the houses.”

Hearth emerging from the sand at Cata Sand

The archaeological site at Cata Sand on Sanday was discovered by four archaeologists – Prof. Jane Downes, Prof. Colin Richards, Chris Gee of the University of the Highlands and Islands, and Prof. Vicki Cummings of the University of Central Lancashire as they trekked across the sands one December day in 2015 on their way to inspect the tomb at Tresness.

The team had been spotting coarse stone tools along the sands, which lie in the lee of a huge sand dune, as they walked along. Close to a point in the huge dune where it was breached during a storm in 2012 sits a small tuft of dune around which clustered an early Neolithic house complex (c. 3,300-3,400 BC), and a deposit of dozens of 18th or 19th century AD pilot whales dumped into pits cut through the Neolithic house.

When the team first discovered the archaeological remains, they saw they were in a vulnerable situation, exposed to winds and lying in the intertidal zone. Both the actions of wind and sea were causing visible erosion, and it became clear that the site had been exposed only fairly recently. The team also knew therefore that they had to move quickly, and so returned in 2016 (March, bitterly cold and snowing!) to work with the Sanday community to obtain a better idea of what the site was, and how extensive it was.

Excavations over the next two seasons in 2017 and 2018 showed that the remains of a series of early Neolithic houses, more than 5,000 years old, with fragments of stone walling and stone-built hearths.

The exposed site at Cata Sand showing the Neolithic houses uncovered on the beach.

This was a first for Sanday and although the house remains are incredibly fragile and disappearing fast, floor deposits survive, and bones survives very well – this level of preservation offers a rare opportunity to be able to analyse plant and animal remains and find out how people sustained themselves in this dynamic environment. Two tiny and beautifully crafted shell beads were recovered from samples from the 2017 excavation: these give a rare glimpse into the exquisite craft skills that are lacking from other early Neolithic house sites.

Photographing the Neolithic houses at Cata Sand

The team encountered a big surprise during the excavation of the Neolithic house when it became apparent that the scattered whale bones that we have seen on the beach surface came from two huge pits that had been dug in more recent times through the corner of the Neolithic house and set at right angles to one another. Long lines of exposed rib and back bones could be seen helping to identify that the bodies of many whales had been buried.

The funding page is still open by clicking here if you would like to donate towards the post-excavation at the site. The 2019 excavation is supported by public donations raised via the Swandro-Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust.

Cata Sand and Tres Ness investigations are run jointly by University of the Highlands and Islands (Profs Jane Downes and Colin Richards) and University of Central Lancashire (Prof. Vicki Cummings), with National Museums of Scotland (Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark).

Funded MRes Opportunity at UHI Archaeology Institute & University of Aberdeen

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the University of Aberdeen are offering a funded MRes Archaeology to start in January 2020.

The research is entitled: Out of the Round: a palaeoecological investigation into human-environmental interactions of hut circle communities at Gairloch, Wester Ross.

The area of Gairloch, Wester Ross in the north-west Highlands of Scotland has been the subject of recent archaeological survey by the WeDigs community archaeology group. The survey identified a number of prehistoric hut circles (roundhouses) in the area, which radiocarbon dates have shown were occupied during the Bronze and Iron Ages. However, little is currently known on how the people who lived in these structures interacted with their local environment, for example what agricultural methods did they employ (pastoral and/or arable), what woodland resources were available (for construction and fuel), what environmental impact did they have through processes such as metalworking?

In order to answer these questions this project will seek to investigate the human-environmental interaction of the hut circle communities through the application of pollen, non-pollen palynomorph (e.g. fungal spores) and microscopic charcoal analyses, together with geochemical analysis.

Training will be provided to the student in all of these techniques, which will take place at the universities of the Highlands & Islands and Aberdeen. As part of the project, the student would be expected to liaise with the WeDigs community archaeology group to inform of research progress and results.

Some previous experience in pollen analysis is desirable but not essential. Applicants should be able to display knowledge of Scottish archaeology and Holocene environmental change, and will be expected to work both independently and with a supervisory team. Applicants should be enthusiastic with the aim of contributing to the expanding research environment within the Archaeology Institute UHI.

Project supervisors
The student will be supervised by:

Deadline for applications
Friday 30th August 2019, mid-day BST; Candidates may be interviewed by Skype, VC or telephone.

Mode of Study
Available as Full-time (12 month) or Part-time (24 months) study

Location of study
This project will be based from Archaeology Institute UHI, Orkney.

To apply click here or contact Dr Scott Timpany studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk for an informal chat.