Research Paper Published : Toiling with Teeth.

An integrated dental analysis of sheep and cattle in Iron Age and Viking -Late Norse Orkney. First author: Dr. Ingrid Mainland


  • The potential is demonstrated for zooarchaeology of integrated dental analyses
  • Regional redistribution and control of pastoral resources is identified in Late Iron Age Orkney
  • Herding systems in Norse Orkney indicate a pre 12th Century AD development of manorial estates


A key goal for archaeozoology is to define and characterise pastoral farming strategies – how did people in the Middle Iron Age / Viking Late Norse period organise their farming ?

In the last decade, some of the most innovative approaches for addressing these questions have centred on the mammalian dentition, including sampling of stable isotopes, dental microwear analysis and the study of dental disease. It is when these techniques are integrated and combined with more traditional approaches, such as tooth eruption and wear, however, that their full potential is realised. In this article we demonstrate how such an integrated dental analysis combining isotopes, microwear, dental development, dental pathologies, tooth eruption and wear can be used to elucidate changing pastoral practices and their impacts on the landscape from the Iron Age and Viking-Late Norse periods in the North Atlantic islands, a period of significant socio-economic and cultural change in this region.

Analysis focuses on two case study sites, Mine Howe, dating to the Atlantic Middle Iron Age and the Earl’s Bu, one of the residences of the Orkney Earl’s from the 10th to 13/14th centuries AD. Each of the techniques applied to the sheep/goat and cattle dentition identifies clear differences between the two sites, in diet, in culling season, herd health and stress levels, all of which point to potential differences in underlying husbandry practices. These are related to wider socio-economic developments in Orkney at these periods, specifically increasing control of pastoral resources and economic production by North Atlantic elites in the Middle Iron Age and the emergence of manorial estates in Late Norse/Early Medieval Scandinavia.

For the full paper click Toiling with Teeth



Using Archaeomagnetic Dating at The Ness of Brodgar

A new website has been set up by Sam Harris who is undertaking PhD research into archaeomagnetic dating (this is explained on the website) based on samples he has taken at the Ness of Broadgar. Sam’s research should provide complimentary dates to the C14 ones we have done in conjunction with the Times of Their Lives Project. This will help with the refinement of the chronology of the Ness and also the use of this technique.

The primary aim of this PhD project is to develop archaeomagnetic dating in the Neolithic period in Scotland. This research will expand on the pre-existing chronological dating tools available to the archaeologist by extending the calibration curve for archaeomagnetic dating. This will allow investigations of heated archaeological material from older parts of antiquity than previously permitted. Further afield this will contribute to geophysical understanding of the Earth’s magnetic field in the past. The Ness of Brodgar’s ongoing excavations have allowed a significant amount of sampling and will continue to do so as the PhD progresses.

Already the results are looking very promising!

What did Bronze Age people hear ?

Cave plan
Fig 1. Sculptors Cave in Moray North East Scotland

One of the questions that has intrigued archaeologists over the years is,” What did Bronze Age people hear ?”

Archaeoacoustics is a relatively new and emerging multidiscipline that studies the behaviour of sound within ancient sites and structures. Previous research undertaken by (SBRG, 2007; PEAR, 1996) found that Neolithic temples and hypogea in Europe had interesting and significant resonance properties and within six different Neolithic temples in England and Ireland, an acoustic resonance around 110Hz was discovered.

Michelle Walker, a graduate of the The Univeristy of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, is therefore proposing research that will attempt to identify the impact of drumming on thoughts and feelings of human participants in a Late Bronze Age cave in Moray.

One may postulate that the acoustic resonance properties within prehistoric sites in Scotland may have had an impact on the emotional state of human beings during ceremonies and rituals. It may be plausible to suggest that resonant acoustic properties exist within prehistoric sites in Scotland and this may be the reasoning behind the structural similarities of sites as to assist with the ceremony, ritual and deposition of human remains of both adults and children in prehistoric times.

The proposed research project aims to collect primary qualitative data from between 5 and 10 participants after listening to drumming between frequencies of 90 and 120Hz for two minutes in a late Bronze Age cave in Morayshire. Each frequency of 90, 100, 110, and 120Hz will be drummed at two beats per second for two minutes. After each frequency has been played the participant will be asked to complete a questionnaire with 10 questions pertaining to their thoughts and feelings during the two minute drumming period. See fig.1 for the position of drummer (D) and participants (P).

Sculptors Cave.jpg
Sculptors Cave

The drummer is positioned in that area as in the 1928 and 1979 excavations mandibles and skull fragments of were recovered from this 10ft square area of the cave. If the human remains were deposited here then it may be postulated that ceremonial or ritualistic behaviours occurred in this area of the cave that involved sound.


The aim of the research project is to investigate the impact of drumming for two minutes on the thoughts and feelings of human participants at frequencies of 90, 100, 110 and 120Hz in a Late Bronze Age cave in Moray. The qualitative data collected by means of questionnaires from participants, will be analysed for any commonality and recurring thoughts and/or feelings amongst participants whilst listening to drumming at the afore mentioned frequencies.

For more information go to Michelle Walker website

How did the Neolithic Orcadians keep dry ?


Research conducted by Neil Ackerman, The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.


This project looked at the roofing flagstones from the Ness of Brodgar. This is the first evidence for Neolithic roofing of this kind on Orkney. Previously, roofs have generally been assumed to be made from organic materials, such as turf or thatch. While stone roofing has been suggested as a potential on a few occasions, this is first time a collapsed flagstone roof has been identified. The majority of flagstones come from Structure 8, providing a detailed sample to study further. This evidence provides a unique opportunity to gain insight into a poorly understood aspect of Neolithic construction.

Structural Understanding

Rebuilt south west wall of structure 12
The rebuilt south west wall of structure 12

Understanding the roof furthers our understanding of the structures as a whole. The internal piers in the building could serve to shorten the unsupported span of the roof frame significantly. It also gives a possible explanation for the failure of the south west wall from Structure 12. The significant outward thrust of a roof of this size could easily cause a collapse like this if not properly countered. The shortening of Structure 1 could also be a response to a roof collapse, with the later wall being built directly on top of the collapsed material. Shortening the structure would provide less of a weight to support.

 Construction and Collapse

The distribution of the flagstones from the roof in Structure 8 hints towards the construction methodology. The size of the flagstones reduces towards the centre of the reconstructed roofstructure, but are smallest at the end wall suggesting the roof follows the curve of the wall.As well as showing the way the roof was built, the distribution of the flagstones also shows how it collapsed. They are not found vertically against the walls as they would likely be if the roof had deteriorated over time. Rather, they are spread across the structure with 89% lying at ≤45°.


Large amounts of compact white clay were found with the flagstones when they were excavated. This could serve as a caulking material, as well as keeping the flagstones together. An internal covering is also highly likely, as there is no evidence of direct exposure to the smoke and soot from the internal hearths. A seamer method was used to cover the gaps between flagstones and reduce the amount of moisture getting into the structure.

Suggested Models

By looking at historical use of flagstone in roofing, and evidence from the Neolithic flagstones, three models are suggested:

a) Uncovered flagstone roof

b) Covered flagstone roof

c) Partial flagstone roof

Research Paper Published


Ingrid Mainland (second author) has had a paper published enitled : Calving Seasonality at Pool, Orkney during the first millennium AD : An investigation using intra tooth isotope ratio analysis of cattle molar enamel.

Abstract : The identification of dairying is essential if we are to understand economies of the past, particularly in northwest Europe, where a high degree of lactose tolerance suggests that fresh milk has long been asignificant food product. This paper explores a possible link between economic focus and seasonality of calving. Although cattle can breed throughout the year, animals living in termperate regions with minimal or no human management tend to breed seasonally, their breeding behaviour being strongly influenced by the availability of food. In order to achieve a year-round supply of fresh milk in the past, it is likely that multiple-season calving was necessary, which would have required additional husbandry effort.

Alternatively, for meat-focussed economies or those based on storable dairy products, a strategy of single-season calving in spring may have been favoured to maximise the utilisation of spring and summer vegetation. Cattle birth seasonality is invetigated through isotope ratio analysis of tooth enamel. Results for cattle from Pool, Orkney dating to the latter part of the first millennium AD suggest that calving occurred during at least three seasons implying that the continuous provision of fresh milk was of economic importance.

The full paper can be accessed below :

Ingrid Mainland Calving Seasonality at Pool

New Book edited by Sarah Jane

SJ bookA new book co-edited by Sarah Jane Gibbon (lecturer in Archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute) has just gone on sale. The book draws on Sarah Jane Gibbon’s and James Barrett’s considerable knowledge of the Viking and Medieval world and focuses on the Baltic, North and Irish Seas in the Viking and the early Middle Ages. Individual chapters introduce maritime worlds ranging from the Isle of Man to Gotland. It is mainly an archaeological project, but also refers to historical archaeology, history and literature. The book explores the complex relationships between long range interconnections and regional identities that are characteristic of maritime societies. The volume seeks to understand communities that were brought into being by their relationship with the sea and who set waves in motion that altered distant shores.

It can be bought from Oxbow Books :

And should be available from Amazon soon.

Decisions, Decisions

It`s that time of year again….the Christmas Tree is in the recycling, the mornings are dark, the evenings are dark and the TV is full of adverts about summer holidays. But it is also the time when many of you are planning a new phase of your life – going to university.

UCAS aim to make decisions by the end of March concerning interviews and offers. So have a quick look at the video above and decide to choose the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

By the way, the archaeology section is filmed at The Cairns excavation on Orkney which is used extensively by the Archaeology Institute UHI in its teaching.