Archaeology Kirkwall THI

Day 2 & 3 Kirkwall Dig.


Discovering Hidden Kirkwall.

The Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative Archaeology Programme. Excavation in the RBS Garden.

Day 1 in the classroom. Day 2 & 3 in the rain.

On Monday 16th May, Dan Lee (Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist)and Sean Page (Marketing Officer) spent a preparation day at Kirkwall Grammar School involving pupils from S3 history and geography classes in a decision making project. We wanted to include them in the archaeological process as a whole so we devised a learning exercise in which we created a decision making lesson that asked the question…..Where shall we put the trench?

To answer the question we asked the pupils to decide and back up their decision with reasons. We provided them with maps from 1827, 1882, aerial photographs, 19th century photographs of the area and geophysics results. They then collectively had to decide where the trench was going to be located on the following day.

RBS Geophys
Geophysics of the RBS garden. Pupils had to decide where to dig.

The preparation day itself also placed the whole project into context and tied it into the work that the Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative was undertaking in the town. We asked what is an archaeologist (involving various pictures of various people doing various things), what is archaeology and how is it different to history, what do archaeologist do, how do you become an archaeologist and touched on the transferable skills that an archaeologist develops. In effect we looked at how to develop a career in archaeology; something which was attractive to many pupils.

The preparation day was followed by two days in the field. It rained on the first day and drizzled on the second so they fully appreciated the benefit of correct clothing! Pupils undertook three activities throughout the whole day. These activities included surveying using a Leica TCR 1205+R400 Total Station Theodolite (TST) ,mapping, historical town survey and of course taking part in the excavation, sieving and finds washing in the RBS garden. It was a real hands on archaeological experience !

The objectives of the archaeology project were to try and answer these 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 survive below ground level. What is the character and depth of these remains where they do survive?

It is still a little early in the project to answer all of these questions, but we can say that the pupils found a feature which looks at this stage like a wall. Could it be part of the old shoreline wall? A garden feature ? A roadway? Well at this stage it is very hard to tell, but at the end of day 3 the team had excavated three courses of stone…so it looks like a wall. Finds included a sharpening stone, possible 17th Century ceramics, a stem and base from an 18th century wine glass, animal bones and a few pieces of flint (maybe washed down from the site of the Broch behind the site ??.

The excavation will be open another three days so we should be able to answer some of our questions more fully. However today (Thursday 19th May) we will be welcoming pupils from Glaitness Primary School….so who knows what we will find !