Community Archaeology: Fieldwalking Photographs

Taken by Gill Tennant, who is taking part in the archaeology fieldwalking project in West Mainland Orkney, these photographs show archaeology in action and working in the local community….providing training and discovering new finds.

You never know what may turn up….

And some video showing the conditions on a good day in April in Orkney….”Dress for the weather not the occasion”.


And the location…..


Test Pits at The Cairns, South Ronaldsay

During two days in April, Martin Carruthers and a group of Archaeology Masters students travelled down to The Cairns on South Ronaldsay, Orkney to commence test pitting.

Digging in the face of rain, hail, driving snow and brilliant sunshine….in fact a typical Orkney Spring day….the team made some interesting discoveries.  Their efforts were shared on social media as it happened and this BLOG is a summary of their initial thoughts.

12998709_1182088541836059_8743601261358807708_nThe geophysics completed last season highlighted areas that could benefit from closer scrutiny. We found brilliant evidence for the kinds of ancient activites going on in the hinterland of the broch, including arable field soils dating to the Iron Age, ashy midden overlying the eastern side of the Iron Age village, and a possible hollow way or track that runs up to the front entrance of the broch enclosure and probably separated animals from cultivated crops over two thousand years ago. We also found distinctive Iron Age pottery, stone tools, flint, lots of animal bone and a rare furnace base (or hearth bottom) a residue from iron working. 13055070_10153630854136325_938696353005683775_o

In this shot we lined up the figure in the background with the end of the linear feature that we knew from the geophysics. The photographer is stood at the other end of the feature. The test pit in the middle established that the feature is an Iron age feature and appears to be a hollow-way or track. This is a remarkable survival of a landscape feature actually associated with a broch, and we think one of the very few ever excavated. We hope to return to see more of this feature in the future !


The stone in the section edges is either rubble from Iron Age structures or, as I think, the remains of post-Medieval ridge and furrow beds. The heaped up stone forming the ridge would itself be rubble from the Iron Age remains.


And….just to prove that The Cairns never disappoints, a very nice mid Iron Age rim sherd emerged from test pit 10 on the first day.

All in all, a very productive two days.

Investigating the old shoreline of Kirkwall


Discovering Hidden Kirkwall is part of The Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative Archaeological Programme. The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have been given the go ahead to commence the first stage of a geophysical survey to investigate the old shoreline of Kirkwall.

The project is a community focused archaeological project in which volunteers will receive training in the use of geophysical survey techniques including Magnetometry, Earth Resistance and Ground Penetrating Radar. The proposed location of the initial survey will help to answer the following research questions:

  1. What is the location, character and depth of the former shoreline and piers to the west of the town centre of Kirkwall (between Broad Street and Junction Road)
  2. Is there any evidence for the former layout of the museum gardens ?
  3. Do remains of the range of buildings depicted on the 1882 Ordnance Survey map in the southern part of the museum gardens survive below ground level. What is the character and depth of these remains where they do survive?

These questions will be addressed in the first instance by employing the geophysics survey in the Orkney Museum and RBS Bank Gardens.

We need 6 local volunteers to help in the geophysics, res, GPR and Mag survey on the 21st and 22nd April. Hours 10am to 4pm. In return you will receive training in geophysics techniques. Contact:

Living on an Island – The AEA Conference.

Over 70 delegates from across the world arrived in Kirkwall on the 1st April for The Association for Environmental Archaeology (AEA)Conference and Professional Zooarchaeology Working Group Conference.

“Just a few lines to say thanks for a great conference. Lecture programme most interesting; great excursions (thanks especially to Mark for helping us appreciate the exceptional archaeology) and fine conference dinner.I enjoyed every second of it. Even the weather which wasn’t always exactly the best – though we did have glorious sunshine on the Saturday – did not put a damper on proceedings.” Michael O’Connell, Palaeoenvironmental Research Unit, School of Geography and Archaeology, National University of Ireland Galway.

Living and working on an island was the central theme of the AEA Conference held at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. Led by Dr. Jennifer Harland, Dr. Ingrid Mainland and Dr. Scott Timpany, the conference addressed some of the most important issues facing island communities across the world – namely isolation, environmental change and how communities connect with the rest of the world. The aim of the conference was to cast light on how ancient island communities coped with change and perhaps draw some conclusions on how threatened island communities can adapt to change in the future.

It became apparent early in the planning of this meeting that islands hold immense appeal to archaeologists as a destination for fieldwork and indeed as a venue for a conference! One of the conference organisers, Dr Ingrid Mainland said,” What was intended to be a short day of papers quickly expanded into 3 days as delegate requests started to come in. We were delighted to welcome over 70 delegates from across the world on Friday. “

Papers were presented describing archaeological findings from a wide variety of locations from the islands of the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands, to Iceland and the cold reaches of the North Atlantic. Topics were equally diverse addressing many aspects of environmental archaeology including the fragile environment of central Mediterranean islands 5000 years ago to the study of land snails in the Western Isles and how they can inform us on ancient environmental change to a paper studying the role of humans on the evolution of own Orkney Vole.

Dr. Mainland added that, ”This was the third AEA conference on the theme of islands and it was interesting comparing the topics discussed at the first meeting back in 1980 when the environment and climate change were not such mainstream topics for discussion. This now places Orkney on the map in the study of island ecosystems within environmental archaeology.”

For a copy of the Abstracts go to the AEAOrkneyProgramme.

Archaeomalacology Conference

A_14074Methods in our Madness : Approaches in Archaeomalacology.

Archaeomalacology Working Group Meeting. 5th-8th April 2016

The diverse implications of examining malacological assemblages in archaeological contexts are widely recognized. From understanding past environments and reconstructing palaeo-landscapes to exploring past subsistence strategies; and from elucidating socio-cultural dynamics of maritime interactions to the use of shell as raw materials in both technological and cultural spheres, shellfish play an important part in archaeological narratives. This workshop plays two roles: first to present current archaeomalacological research from around the world – demonstrating the above. The second part aims to discuss and develop more standardized approaches to taxonomic classification, collection, quantification and analysis of shell assemblages and reporting techniques. While there is a vast array of archaeological examination of shell remains, current outputs lack appropriate standardization, making cross-cultural or inter-site analysis difficult – something that will become increasingly detrimental to the discipline. The AMWG has reached a critical mass whereby such standardization should become practical and possible.

Themes of particular interest:

– Current research in archaeomalacology from across the world

– Socio-cultural value of shells

– Shells as raw material

– Archaeomalacological methodologies

– Taxonomy, classification and quantification

– Palaeo-environmental studies