Site Evaluation Starting at Cata Sand

Archaeological work is planned to evaluate the site at Cata Sand, Sanday in Orkney during the week commencing 29th February. Preliminary investigation will use a variety of techniques including survey, geophysics, surface collection, auger and test pits.

The site at Cata Sand, Sanday was discovered in November 2016 by Prof Jane Downes and Christopher Gee of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Prof Colin Richards of the University of Manchester and Dr Vicki Cummings of the University of Central Lancashire. The site manifests itself as low lying spreads of stone scatters, some of which are quite discrete and are of about 10-12m diameter. Within these scatters are many flaked stone bar implements (mattocks and ards points), and rough outs for tools, and orthostats and small extents of walling are visible in places together with patches of reddened soils; these findings suggest that the remains of extensive prehistoric, probable Bronze Age, settlement are being revealed.

The site is situated on a long expanse of beach and can be seen to extend both under the very substantial dunes, and into the sea; it is therefore in part under the sea but exposed at low tide, and being increasingly exposed by erosion of the dunes by the sea. The intended project comprises preliminary examination of the site to ascertain its nature, extent and level of preservation or survival.

A plan for further work will then be formulated based on these findings that will be part of a wider research programme being developed to examine the changes that occur at the end of the 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC, the end of the Neolithic/ Chacolithic/Bronze Age in Orkney about which little is known.

Methods that will be employed are geophysical survey, topographic survey, surface collection of artefacts, augering, test pits. Sanday Archaeology Group, Sanday schools, UHI students and SCAPE will be involved in the work.

The evaluation is partly funded by Historic Environment Scotland

Historic Scotland logo

A Splash of Colour from the Iron Age

Sometimes the smallest things tell us so much about people’s lives and yet at the same time raise so many questions.

A surprise discovery came in the form of a tiny splash of colour from the Iron Age! Cecily was processing some soil samples from The Cairns site on South Ronaldsay and her incredible eagle eyes spotted this beautiful multi-coloured glass bead! The object came from soil samples retrieved from the interior of the broch during the late occupation of the structure and date from about 100-150AD. It’s miniscule (yes that is a penny next to it!).

Glass bead 4In this image looking at the broken section of the bead you get to see the central perforation cut clean through. Most interesting you can see another pale green wedge of glass present on the left side of the bead. This is probably ‘cullet’, re-cycled glass from an earlier object partly melted down to make this bead. The source of the recyclate was probably a Roman vessel or bangle. Keep in mind this was found on South Ronaldsay in Orkney meaning of course that someone who lived or visited that site on the South Orkney Island of South Ronaldsay must have had access to Roman Britain at some point. But again some questions….was the Roman glass part of a treasured collection that took pride of place in someone`s life ? How did it come hundreds of miles from the nearest Roman settlement ? Was there regular contact between Roman Britain and Orkney ?

And then…..You wait all this time to get the first glass bead from the site and along comes another one – a much larger, whole one this time! This bead was thought to be fashioned from bone, but it can now be seen to be another yellow-amber coloured bead! But when put under the microscope the object takes on another character……

We now strongly suspect this is amber! Here it is under a microscope with top-light on the left and back-lighting on the right. On the back-lit image you can see the livid red translucent colour shining through the crust quite effectively. Now that raises a few more questions…where did it come from ? Did it come from The Baltic and how did it find it`s way to Orkney ? Is there another story this intriguing bead can tell us. In any event this would have been a treasured personal possession that someone would have dropped and lost in the hurly burly of life in The Cairns Broch.

The Cairns Bead
The second complete bead under the microscope.

There will be more on these small finds from The Cairns which tell us so much about the ordinary life of people that lived on South Ronaldsay two thousand years ago. Project leader is Martin Carruthers at martin.carruthers@uhi.ac.uk

Sharing Heritage: Orkney World Heritage Site Fieldwalking Project celebrates £9900 Heritage Lottery Fund grant

Fieldwalking near Maes Howe, Mainland Orkney
Fieldwalking near Maes Howe, Mainland Orkney

Orkney Archaeology Society has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Sharing Heritage grant, it was announced today. This exciting project, Orkney World Heritage Site Fieldwalking Project: Learning About Archaeology Amongst Orkney’s World Famous Monuments, in the West Mainland of Orkney and led by Orkney Archaeology Society with partners at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, has been given £9900 to undertake archaeological fieldwalking in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site Buffer Zone.
The project, due to start this week, aims to follow the process of a fieldwalking project from discovery in the field, through a series of archaeology workshops, culminating in a temporary exhibition at Tankerness House Museum in Kirkwall in the autumn. The project is open to local volunteers who will be trained in field practice, lithics, finds processing, map making, presenting results, report writing and the final museum exhibition, which will be run as a series of workshops throughout the year. There will also be a fieldwalking workshop run in collaboration with the Historic Environment Scotland Rangers at Stenness Primary School.

Axe butt found in a field in the stenness area
Axe butt found in a field in the Stenness area

Fieldwalking involves the surface collection of artefacts in ploughed fields on a grid so that distribution patterns over larger areas can be observed. Fieldwalking around Maes Howe and along the Ness of Brodgar peninsula has the potential to add a significant layer of landscape interpretations to the area. This will enhance the results from the recent World Heritage Area geophysical survey undertaken by the University’s Archaeology Institute. This revealed a multi-period landscape of enclosures, settlements, rig and furrow cultivation and prehistoric sites beneath the ground surface. Fieldwalking has already proved fruitful in the area with the discovery of Barnhouse Neolithic settlement by Professor Colin Richards in the 1980s using this technique. The current fieldwalking project will recover artefacts from every period – for example material from the WWII camps around Maes Howe- not just prehistoric finds, bringing the story of the landscape up to the present day.
There are a number of trainee places available for the fieldwalking and various follow up workshops. Contact Dan Lee at the Archaeology Institute if you wish take part. Volunteers are also needed to help with all aspects of the project.
The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and supported in kind by Historic Environment Scotland, Orkney Museums, and Professor Mark Edmonds. Orkney Archaeology Society would like to thanks local landowners for supporting the project and allowing access to fields.
Martin Carruthers, OAS Chair said:
‘Orkney Archaeology Society are excited by this fantastic opportunity to support the local community in discovering the wealth of heritage below their feet in the Orkney World Heritage Area. We are looking forward to the excitement, enjoyment and learning that such projects can bring.’

Dan Lee, Archaeology Institute Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist said:
‘We are thrilled to be working with Orkney Archaeology Society in such an iconic landscape to provide learning experiences in archaeology for the local community. We hope that local volunteers and trainees will enjoy bringing new stories to this important landscape’

Lucy Casot, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland, said: “Sharing Heritage is a wonderful opportunity for communities to delve into their local heritage and we are delighted to be able to offer this grant so that the Orkney World Heritage Site Fieldwalking Project can embark on a real journey of discovery. Heritage means such different things to different people, and HLF’s funding offers a wealth of opportunities for groups to explore and celebrate what’s important to them in their area.”

Contact Dan Lee (University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute) for more details and to register as a volunteer 01856 569214 Daniel.Lee@uhi.ac.uk

The Cairns Character

 

Every now and then something turns up on an dig that just connects me with a living person from thousands of years ago. The Cairns Character was unearthed a few years ago in South Ronaldsay and for me, living in South Ronaldsay, it immediately made a connection.

I have included photographs of the site where he (is he a he or a she ?) was found and I have especially included pictures that were taken on one of those short Orkney days in winter – when perhaps this character was carved. I can see in my minds eye, someone sitting by the fire 2000 years ago, surrounded by their family – perhaps with a howling gale knocking at the door – gently carving a stone found on the beach. There`s a nose and two eyes and a little crooked smile….it`s a piece that connects me personally with the living from the Iron Age and perhaps suggests they were not so different to us ?

We know very little about the character, and perhaps will never know, but we can perhaps paint a story from his discovery.

The character was discovered in a pit dug into the remains of the domestic building, Structure B. Lying to the north and north-west of the main trench, the Structure B complex contains cellular, rectilinear and sub-circular building remnants, with many well-preserved hearths, stone fixtures and fittings, thresholds, wall piers and floors.

This complex, Martin Carruthers from The Archaeology Institute University of the Highlands and Islands explained, was undoubtedly domestic, and produced artefacts consistent with this – substantial amounts of pottery, stone tools, and an extensive animal bone assemblage.

The stone head had been carefully deposited in a pit, along with a number of other artefacts, presumably at the end of the site’s life. We can only guess as to the carving’s purpose – was it intended to portray a spirit or god, or was it merely a cherished possession.

Martin explained: “One recurring aspect of this site is the fact that there’s a whole series of later features that have muddied the waters somewhat.On the one hand we’ve been able to piece together these really intimate details of life within these structures – the domestic artefacts, the metalworking etc, but at the same time the overall shape of some of the buildings remain obscure – obliterated through time and continual reuse.”

Thanks to Sigurd Towrie and the Orkneyjar website. Click here for more information on The Cairns and a link through to Orkneyjar

The excavation was supported by Orkney Islands Council, Orkney College UHI, the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) Aberdeen University and Glasgow University. The team would also like to thank the South Ronaldsay community and landowner Charlie Nicholson.

Open Day at The Archaeology Institute

Invitation to University of the Highlands and Islands The Archaeology Institute Open Day

“Archaeology in a Day”


 

Venue: The Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI, East Road, Kirkwall KW15 1LX

Date: Friday 4th March 2016

Time: 1pm to 4pm

Come along to our open day (Archaeology in a Day) to discover what studying Archaeology at The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has to offer. Not only can you visit our academic departments, talk to our staff and current students, view our learning facilities, but you can also experience workshops on aspects of practical archaeology.

The workshops include:

  • Osteoarchaeology (where you can observe a class examining excavated bones)
  • Finds from The Cairns excavation
  • 4000 year old Ceramics
  • Rocks and archaeology
  • Examining Teeth!

You will also see how we use the unique archaeological landscape of Orkney to further your studies. The “Archaeology in a Day” Open Day is open to anyone who is considering studying Archaeology at undergraduate or post graduate level in addition to anyone who is considering one of our short courses. We shall be videoing some of the workshops and posting on to our You Tube channel http://bit.ly/1PF093k so even if you can`t visit Orkney in person, take advantage of one of our strong points and experience distance learning “Archaeology in a Day”.

If you wish to attend then please contact Mary on 01856 569225 or Sean on 01856 569229, send us a message on our Facebook page http://on.fb.me/1SfIx3F , send us a message through Twitter @UHIArachaeology or e-mail Mary at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk.

Wrecks of experimental ships discovered in Scapa Flow

Historic Environment Scotland commissioned ORCA and SULA Diving to conduct side scan sonar and archaeological diving surveys in 2015 of two wrecked vessels located off Flotta Island, Orkney, N.Scotland.

The vessels were first brought to the attention of the authors by Hazel Weaver of the MV Valkyrie after they were dived by Rob Baxandall.

Archival research indicates these are the remains of Anti-Torpedo Close Protection Pontoons (ATCPP), an experimental protection device used for close protection of naval vessels at anchor in Scapa Flow from attack by aircraft-launch torpedoes. The pontoons were only in operation in Scapa Flow for 13 months (March 1941 – April 1942) and few were brought into service.

As such they represent a rare, frequently mis-identified heritage resource, for which very little is known about their operation. Had the site not been reported, a unique heritage asset would have been overlooked and the identity of similar vessels would have remained unconfirmed.

Many thanks to Hazel Weaver and Rob Baxandall for their help and co-operation.

Also don`t forget to visit the Secrest of the Sea exhibition in Orkney Museum in Kirkwall if you are in Orkney…..http://wp.me/p6YR8M-f1

HSE-07-02_Barge05a

 

 

Eating out in Skye 8000 years ago.

NUTS found during an archaeological dig in Skye were from the hunter gatherer period more than 8,000 years ago, tests have confirmed.

The hazelnut shells were discovered during the five-day excavation by Staffin Bay in September 2015 when University of the Highlands and Islands archaeologists investigated a suspected Mesolithic structure, in collaboration with the Staffin Community Trust (SCT).

Radiocarbon dates have now confirmed the excavated lithics date to the Mesolithic period, towards the latter half of the 7th millennium BC.

Two fragments of charred hazelnut shell both returned dates of circa 6800-6600 BC (calibrated). The hazelnuts were recovered from soil samples from the lower part of the sequence at the site, suggesting human activity may have occurred over a long period of time.

The north Skye archaeological excavation has yielded a fragment of worked bone, and several thousand flints which could provide a fuller picture of Staffin’s hunter-gatherer period. The flint assemblage recovered from the same layer is currently being quantified and analysed.

While the structure at the site is likely to date to the post-medieval period, confirmation of Mesolithic dates for the layers below could provide further clues about life in the area 8,000 years ago. The new dates are just a bit earlier than the earliest dates from material recovered from the base of the section excavated at the nearby An Corran rock shelter, which was excavated in the 1990s. Both sites were essentially contemporary and one of many dating to this period along the Staffin Bay coastline.

Dan Lee, Archaeology Institute UHI, lifelong learning and outreach archaeologist, said: We are really pleased to have such convincing Mesolithic dates from the site. This hints at the huge potential for additional excavations in the area and presents a great opportunity to understand life in the Staffin area during this period.”

SCT director Dugald Ross said: “The lab confirmation of human activity in the local area close to 9000 years ago is a huge bonus to all who took part and we eagerly await the next phase of research.”

SCT would like to thank the Garafad township and Kilmuir Estate for permission to carry out the excavation. The project was funded by the Scottish Funding Council via Interface Scotland, Highland Council and the Carnegie Foundation of New York.

SCT and UHI are to discuss how further work can be carried out in the Staffin area following this exciting discovery from the community-led project, which was attended by more than 200 people, including pupils from Staffin and Kilmuir primary schools.


The Staffin Community Trust has developed projects on behalf of the community since 1994. The organisation was set up after a worrying fall in the Staffin population. The SCT’s objective is to improve Staffin’s economic prospects, stimulate social and cultural activities and improve services, with the Gaelic language an integral part of that. The SCT is now a company limited by guarantee with a board of eight directors, who all live in Staffin, and more than 60 members. www.staffin-trust.co.uk

Contact details:

Primary: Hugh Ross (SCT local development officer) 01470 562464 staffin.ldo@gmail.com

Dan Lee (UHI Archaeology Institute) 01856 569214 Daniel.Lee@uhi.ac.uk

 

Project partners:

 

 

Funders: