CHAT conference in Orkney – RURALITY

Archaeologists in Residence

Register for CHAT 2016 now!

Registration closes 7th October

Draft programme available on CHAT website

Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT) conference 2016

21-23 October


Place: Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland

Venue: Orkney Theatre, The Meadows, Kirkwall

Host: University of the Highlands & Islands Archaeology Institute



Download a registration form and draft programme from the CHAT website ( ). Registration closes 7th October. We have a great line up including themed plenary sessions, film night and 3M_DO discussion. We also have exhibitions, installations and videos and poster presentations in the theatre foyer.

Fieldtrips: Why not get here a bit early?

Thursday 20th (all day) – Alternative tour of Orkney West Mainland (free for delegates, book on registration form)

Friday 21st (am) – Kirkwall walk (free for delegates, no booking required)

Halls accommodation is nearly full, so best check with us first for…

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Community Marine Archaeology Project in Sanday – Surveying The Utrecht

Diving is to start on Phase Three of The Utrecht Community Marine Archaeology Project. This phase aims to involve the community in further surveying of the wreck and contribute to the growth of dive tourism in Sanday.

Built in Rotterdam as the Irene by Glavimans, The Utrecht was a 38-gun frigate that was owned by the Dutch Navy. Several sources (Canmore; Ferguson, 1988; Larn and Larn, 1998; Whittaker, 1998) offer contradictory information regarding the number of cannon on the vessel with numbers ranging from 32 to 44. The first phase of the project can confirm she had 38 cannon comprising twenty-six 12-pounders, four 6-pounders and eight 20pounder carronades

On the 15th February 1807, The Utrecht was sailing to Curacao from Helvoetsslus, near Rotterdam, to reinforce the Dutch garrison stationed there against the British. In addition to her complement of 190 crew and passengers, she carried with her 220 artillery men to help in this endeavour.

En-route she was driven off course in a blizzard and was stranded off the North coast of Sanday in the early hours of the morning of the 26th February 1807. The remains of The Utrecht represent a unique resource in Orkney waters. Orkney has a rich submerged maritime resource that brings in substantial economic revenue to the islands through diving tourism each year; much of the research into this diverse heritage has focused on the extensive wartime remains (WWI and WWII) within Scapa Flow.

Historic evidence suggested The Utrecht remains were in shallow water in a comparatively sheltered environment and, as such, discovery and recording of the remains would greatly enhance the potential for dive tourism outside of Scapa Flow.

The second phase of the project took place earlier this summer, and involved volunteersExif_JPEG_PICTURErecording an Iron cannon, identifying various extents of the wreckage debris field surrounding this 12 pounder cannon. . The assessment of the remains of the vessel also contributed to local and national heritage management strategies and provided some protection to the remains by producing a detailed and accurate record of the nature and extent of the wreckage and associated artefacts that were present on the seabed.

Desk based research confirmed a thought provoking timeline of the stranding and abandonment of the vessel:

  • 5am – Vessel struck the shore reported to be on an uninhabited part of Sanday.
  • Dawn – Waves break over the side of the ship and was “driven into a sort of bay with rocks on both sides”. Rear-mast cut down and a cutter [smaller vessel from the ship] launched. The launch was destroyed as the current swept the cut mast into it.
  • Mid-Morning – Orders to cut down the fore and mid-mast could not be carried out in light of huge seas. Waves take the ship of the rocks turning her until she hit the rocks on the other side of the bay.
  • Midday (approx.) – Fore and mid-masts were cut down. Fire noted in portside stern cabin and subsequently extinguished.
  • 3pm – Tide ebbs, islanders arrive to assist in the rescue. Lines were passed to the ship. Those strong enough come ashore via the lines.
  • Sunset – 366 men ashore, 54 had died.

Further research also provided evidence to confirm actual number of hands lost (54 in total) – compared with the previous vague accounts of losses ranging from 50 – 100 men. The burial ground for these men still remains unknown and would be an avenue for future research.

The successful identification of the site will allow for the development and promotion of the site of The Utrecht, and the maritime archaeology of Sanday and Orkney’s North Isles.

This third phase will initially record the site extent and condition, building on earlier phases of work undertaken by the UHI Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving. This project offers a platform for community engagement through volunteer programs, displays, talks and online outreach, utilising such mediums as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube.

This community project aims to involve the local diving community through the delivery of training programs such as the Nautical Archaeology Society courses.

In effect the site of The Utrecht is part of a shared history between Sanday, Orkney’s North Isles and the Netherlands and this new phase will help to generate dive tourism in Orkneys North Isles through community involvement.

Thanks to Sula Diving Photographs courtesy Ken Kohnfelder.


The Utrecht Project is supported by:




Marine Archaeology Fieldwork starts in October – Gairsay, Orkney

img_1782Get involved in a marine archaeology project in the waters around the Island of Gairsay, Orkney.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have an opportunity for diving or snorkelling volunteers to take part in underwater fieldwork in Milburn Bay, Gairsay as part of the ongoing project searching for Orkney’s early harbours, landing places, anchorages, maritime infrastructure and shipping.

The fieldwork will involve surveying the underwater features already observed in the bay and will be taking place during the week commencing 3rd October to the 7th October for a total of 3 days, the exact days will be finalised closer to the time dependent on weather forecasts.

The aims of this year’s underwater fieldwork will be to investigate the underwater mounds further, potentially these mounds may represent ballast mounds or collapsed stone from caissons supporting jetty foundations

Please register your interest by contacting Sandra Henry via

Masters Students Talk about their Professional Placement Experience

One of the aspects of the Masters course at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute that stands out for students is the opportunity to gain a professional placement in a real world, real work environment.

Each student studying for a Masters qualification is given the opportunity to gain professional placement experience – either within the University of the Highlands and Islands, ORCA or an alternative outside organisation.

Working on the Swandro Community dig

The programme ensures that the students are placed in roles which give them both responsibility and experience in areas that lie outside their usual academic studies – whether that is teaching children about archaeology on a community project or being in charge of small finds on a large scale archaeological dig. They become a valuable member of the team in the organisation and have the opportunity to incorporate their recently learned skills into the work methods of the organisation in which they were placed.

Just to give you a flavour of the sectors that our students experienced, they gained placements in the following:

  • Andy – Ness of Brodgar Dig
  • Sorcha – Kirkwall Museum
  • Freya – Highland HER and Historic Environment Team
  • Emma – Archaeobotany analysis at ORCA
  • Therese – Stirling Council
  • Steve – AOC Archaeology
  • Jasmin – The Cairns Dig
  • Kevin – Small Finds Supervisor at The Cairns Dig
  • Luke – ORCA Outreach and Community Projects and Marketing

Sorcha Kirker was given the responsibility of creating an exhibition as part of her curatorial duties at Kirkwall Museum- including liaising with the various promotional agencies involved with the museum. This exhibition presented the archaeology of The Cairns dig in a different light….including the “Archaeology of the Archaeologists”, the view from the diggers and presenting the finds unearthed during the 2016 season. The press release stated…..

Exhibition tells the story of a remarkable dig

A new exhibition at the Orkney Museum features the archaeological excavations at the Cairns Iron Age site in South Ronaldsay. The dig, which takes place each summer, is being carried out by a team from the Archaeology Institute at Orkney College UHI and has produced some remarkable finds.

The exhibition, which runs until mid-November, has been created by Sorcha Kirker, an MSc student with the University of the Highlands and Islands, as part of a placement at the museum.She said: “It tells the story of the Cairns archaeological dig – past and present – and highlights the processes involved. My aim was to provide an insight into the archaeological experience from a digger’s perspective. The placement has shown me how I can use the skills I gained on my Masters course in a real work place. I have really enjoyed working with Orkney Museum on this project and I must thank them for everything they have done. The placement has also strengthened my interest in following a museum career.”

Each student was also given the task of presenting and evaluating their experience in a seminar at the end of their placement.

And finally….Kevin Kerr added “The placement allowed me to take more responsibility. I was the Small Finds Officer for the site and I had to hit the ground running after the first few scrapes resulted in a find straight away! I ended up amending the finds register and digitised the whole process…I felt as if I was an important member of the team and gained a great deal from the experience. I must thank Martin for his guidance and for allowing me to get involved with The Cairns at this level.”

Great Turnout for Community Building Survey

There was a great turnout for the community archaeology event held today in Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney. Even the fabled Orkney sunshine made an appearance to add to the experience!

This is one of a series of archaeology events which offers volunteers the opportunity to learn basic archaeological skills such as building recording.

Volunteers from as far afield as Yorkshire listened to a short introduction by Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist, as he outlined the days programme and then were treated to a guided walk through the back gardens of the village by several of the residents.

The old Medieval right of way

The old medieval right of way was quickly identified running along the back of a small terrace of houses together with numerous cut and shaped stones which were clearly robbed from the Palace. Older residents who could remember the village in the 1930’s added to the narrative and answered some of the more perplexing questions concerning details of buildings.

The day ended with the volunteers identifying the medieval stones present in the fabric of the village buildings and walls – including the identification of 6 robbed out key stones – and recording them using archaeological techniques.

The next archaeological event is planned for the 14th October – involving making a 3D model of the Birsay Whalebone near Skipi Geo. More details will be published on the blog closer to the event.

A video clip showing the location of Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney.

The event is supported by Orkney Islands Council and The Birsay Heritage Trust

Art and Archaeology Masters Module Enrolling Now


The University of the Highlands and Islands is pleased to announce the introduction a new innovative interdisciplinary masters module that can be studied either as a stand alone module or for Continuing Professional Development in the museums and galleries, community archaeology and the Creative Industries.

Designed and led by the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the Department of Art and Design at Orkney College UHI, this exciting course is a distance learning course and incorporates a three day residential workshop held in the beautiful surroundings of Orkney, Scotland. It is a 20 credit SCQF Level 11 module which will appeal to those who have studied archaeology, art history, fine art or related subjects at undergraduate level.

The module runs during Semester 2, starting in February 2017. The schedule includes weekly lectures and seminars delivered by video conferencing and online learning. These will run on Fridays over a 12 week period. Practical sessions and workshops exploring art and archaeological fieldwork and studio practice will be delivered during a three day residential workshop based in Orkney during Easter 2017.

For further information please contact or telephone +44 (0)1856 569225

Note that students are required to cover their own travel and accommodation expenses for the three day residential workshop. For students who are not already enrolled on a programme the costs are: £650 for non credited study (non assessed) and £520 for credited (assessed).

The course is also an optional module for students studying the Fine Arts MA, the Archaeological Studies MLitt, the Archaeological Practice MSc in addition to other related Music and the Environment, History, Cultural or Nordic Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Module code: UV411013

Community Archaeology – Building Survey. Palace Village, Birsay

Get involved in the Birsay St Magnus 900 Year Commemorations Archaeology Project and learn basic archaeological building recording.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are teaming up with Birsay Heritage Trust to undertake basic archaeological building recording of medieval stones in Palace village, Birsay, Orkney.

The event forms part of a series of archaeology workshops in 2016 (a previous event recorded Skipi Geo boat house) building towards a larger project commemorating the 900 year anniversary of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

The team will be meeting outside St Magnus Kirk, Palace Village, at 10am on the 22nd September 2016 to find and record medieval stones that are visible in the village buildings and walls. The workshop should be over by 2pm. Bring warm clothes, suitable footwear and a packed lunch.

All are welcome and the event is free.

The event is supported by Orkney Islands Council and The Birsay Heritage Trust