Carnegie Trust Funding

IMG_0266The Carnegie Trust award funds collaborative projects between Scottish Universities to advance existing areas of study, with the money awarded to be put towards fieldwork costs, laboratory costs and dissemination of results.

In May of this year Dr Scott Timpany of the Archaeology Institute UHI, in collaboration with Dr Richard Bates of The University of St Andrews and Dr Sue Dawson of The University of Dundee were successful in gaining a grant to undertake research on their project – Bay of Ireland Palaeolandscape Assessment – Addressing critical changes in Orcadian Landscapes; Mesolithic to Bronze Age

This project, which will also involve collaboration with the Universities of Hull, Wales Trinity Saint David and University College Dublin, aims to:

  • Take an interdisciplinary approach (involving offshore survey, pollen, plant macrofossils, insects and ancient DNA analyses) looking at a slice through an area of Orkney from the offshore marine zone through to the intertidal zone and on to the terrestrial zone.
  • Investigate how the landscape and sea-level changed from the Mesolithic period through to the Bronze Age (approx. 7000 years).
  • Investigate evidence for offshore submerged landscapes in the form of freshwater peats and tree remains.
  • Investigate how peoples interactions with their environment changed through this time-span, including activity within the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

The project will be looking at how prehistoric communities on Orkney responded and adapted to environmental change. This research has particular relevance to the current day given the prospect of rising sea-levels and associated loss of land together with increasing winter storm damage.

We are also currently looking for a MSc research student to join the team for the project, who will be looking at plant macrofossils and insects from the intertidal peats at the Bay of Ireland. If you are interested then contact Dr. Scott Timpany on

The Cairns – June 23rd June

A glorious day at The Cairns. The sun shone and for the first time the sun cream came out. Yes I had to pinch myself and remind myself that this is Orkney.

It is a day like this when the landscape of The Cairns can be fully appreciated. The full sweep of South Parish in South Ronaldsay is laid out before you and it is then that you realise a little of what the people who lived there saw when they woke up. This is the view from the “front door” of the broch.


Two steps and a turn of the head and you can see across the Pentland Firth and into Caithness. Is the position of this settlement for defence or for impression? Being there on a day like today, I think my money is on the latter.

As if to highlight the living landscape, a series of finds have been emerging from the area where two 20th century planks were discovered two days ago. A whole cache of snail shells were unearthed.


With all the archaeologists on their break….and with only the cows for company, the full extent of the broch is beginning to emerge.



Thanks to Sigurd Towrie and for more information on the dig see Orkneyjar

Kirkwall Garden Dig 2016

THI Dig 17-5-16 015

If you live in Kirkwall Town Centre (Victoria Street, Albert Street, Bridge Street) then you could be part of an exciting archaeology project being held on 5th, 6th and 7th August 2016.

We need 5 households to dig a test pit in their garden in Kirkwall town centre in August.

Following the success of the geophysics and excavation in the museum and RBS Bank garden during which pupils from Kirkwall Grammar School discovered the remains of the medieval shoreline, we want to find out the story behind other areas in the town centre.

We are looking for 5 town centre house gardens in the Victora Street, Albert Street and Bridge Street area in which your household, with help from archaeologists, can dig a small 1m by 1m archeology test pit. The soil will be sieved for finds and all soil and turf will be put back as found afterwards.

If you live in Kirkwall Town Centre then now is your chance to get involved in an exciting archaeological dig. Who knows what we will find?

Kirkwall Garden Dig 2016 info sheet V1 210616-page-001

To get involved ring 01856 569225 or e-mail

The Cairns – June 21st


Students studying at The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute join the team at The Cairns.

MSc Archaeological Practice student, Jasmin Park is overseeing the sampling process – looking for environmental evidence of farming and other domestic processes. Jasmin writes…..

The day shaped up to have pleasant weather, with a few bottles of sun cream hopefully making their way out. With everyone in good spirits, the day got off to a good start.

Work continues in Trench Q, trying to peel back the layers and reveal the theorised Iron Age village beneath. It is a lengthy process to gradually take down the level of the trench, but ultimately worth it when you see the excellent level of excavation being carried out by students and volunteers.

Inside the broch, progress continues.The row of orthostats in the south quadrant of the structure have finished being cleaned, with Colin and myself recording and photographing them before excavation in this part of the broch continued.

Helen and Val continued to excavate the floor deposits around the newly found passageway within the broch and came across an interesting discovery.


Within a potential hearth, a large stone slab had been laid flat, though not burnt, and large animal bones – such as five sheep scapula, or shoulder blades, bovine vertebrae, and several sheep metatarsals, or lower leg bones – were all placed around the edge of this feature.

In the final hour of the day – in true last-minute Time Team style – during the next stage of excavation in the south quadrant, I came across a rather large animal bone nestled among the orthostats. A fuller picture will hopefully be found as the excavation continues.

My own role on site, as a placement student for my Masters Course, is to oversee the sampling process and keep an eye out for potential improvements.

Sampling is very important when conducting an excavation as it allows us to find environmental evidence, such as seeds and other fragments of domestic materials, which would otherwise be easily overlooked.


However, it is also important to examine the soil itself as its makeup and miniscule contents can tell us a much wider story.

We are able to identify materials such as fuel residues and midden (domestic waste) material when examining soils. The presence of these things can show us that a community was trying to improve the land upon which they thrived and what they were using to do so.

It is also important to sample in the right way when excavating any archaeological site, and, indeed, each case can require a different method.

Initially, it is highly important to sample thoroughly, still excavating carefully but saving your spoil instead of discarding it. Secondly, we must identify whether it is appropriate to split an area up into smaller sections to sample.

For example, within the broch, when sampling the rich floor deposits, a grid has been mapped out. This is so that we can both lift the entire deposit and do so in a more spatially controlled way.

Hopefully, the lovely weather will continue and many more interesting finds made over the course of the week.

Thanks to Sigurd Towrie and Orkneyjar

The Cairns – June 20th


A warm welcome to our new colleagues, from around the world and from the diverse neighbourhoods of the UHI community, who joined us on this unusually sunny, late-spring day!

Our numbers doubled, with enthusiastic apprentices and veterans, to help unravel the challenging riddles of the broch and its multiple routes of descent down through the Iron Age into the early Medieval and Viking/Norse periods.

Strategy meeting inside the broch.

Early in the day, we came together for “rounds” to learn about where we are collectively and where we are going as the week unfolds.

It is miraculous how Martin’s sense of the relationships within the site transforms the initially chaotic jumble of stone into tentatively coherent structures.

They evolve one into the other over the more than thousand-year life cycle of this remarkable site. But the narrative is contingent and peppered with enigmas wrapped up in questions that are still to be answered.

Work inside the broch is going well. There is a better understanding of its internal divisions and preparations are under way to remove the remaining rubble, deposited in the broch at the end of its days, to provide a foundation for the post-broch hamlet.

The hamlet itself is becoming better defined as a wall is excavated to reveal greater coherence to its jumble of buildings on top of buildings.

Over at the post-broch souterrain, there were new developments.

Conan, Carolina and Niamh next to the 20th century pit, with its wooden planks still in place.

A sawn lumber platform was discovered in a pit, which we think was dug by the father of the current landowner during his exploration of the site in the mid-20th century. This might indicate the bottom is near, below which may be a storied pit.

The souterrain itself is slowly taking shape as its passageways are being better defined.

Down in Trench M, excavation continues on the metal workshop adjacent to a substantial wall that may have enclosed the Iron Age/early medieval community. Bog ore, slag from iron smelting, as well as the debris from copper/bronze work have become common.

As the current layer is removed more and move voids have appeared suggesting the presence of substantial rubble and hopefully important layers below this.

They may help unravel the story of the craftspeople who made pins and penannular brooches that likely defined the social status of the local elite.


Many of our new colleagues are focused on this year’s new trench, known as Trench Q, which is between the metal workshop and the broch.

It is anticipated that this trench will reveal an Iron Age village snug against the broch. As the work exposes the lower layers, this expectation will hopefully be realised later this week.

Once again, a warm welcome to those who joined us today on this remarkable project.

There were a number of interesting finds today, so I hope Martin can add a few pictures and words on this aspect of the work.

David MacInnes
M.Litt. Archaeological Studies Student

Thanks to Sigurd Towrie and Orkneyjar

Community map of the Orkney World Heritage Sites

Ordnance Survey maps show the geography of an area well enough, but they don’t show how people feel about a place. The aim of this project was to tap into the community feel for The Heart of Neolithic Orkney.

Historic Environment Scotland commissioned the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute to facilitate a Community Map project for the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

The aim was to gather memories, experiences, stories and places of significance from the local community using a series of three workshops in order to produce a map of the WHS as perceived by local residents. The workshops were focussed in the Stenness / Brodgar area, West Mainland, Orkney. Text and drawings were collected from the workshops and supplied to an illustrator for the production of a Community Map. The results of the workshops were used to create a map of the World Heritage area as perceived by local residents, incorporating some of the sketches drawn by participants and using their words to represent personal landmarks, memories and associations.

The project was managed by Alice Lyall (WHS Coordinator) and the workshops were facilitated by Dan Lee (Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist, Archaeology Institute) and Sandra Miller (HES HONO WHS Ranger). Dan Lee was also commissioned to write a summary report. Iain Ashman (Iain Ashman Design & Illustration, Stromness) was commissioned to collate the resulting material and produce an A3 final map from the results.

The workshops themselves were held during March 2016..

  • Workshop 1: a walk from the Standing Stones of Stenness to the Ring of Brodgar.
  • Workshop 2: two workshops at Stenness Primary School.
  • Workshop 3: two workshops at the West Mainland Day Centre, Stenness.

Contributions were also collected by Sandra Miller from the Connect Project

The three workshops collected a large volume of material in the form of drawings, sketches, notes and poems. All this data was then collated and used to create an A3 map.

The finished map can be downloaded from Historic Environment Scotland website here……


The Cairns – June 17th

Site plan2
The Cairns Site Plan


The work to reveal more of the wall framing the corridor leading into the centre of the broch from the entrance has really elucidated a series of previously uncertain relationships within this amazing building.

The wall now is seen to form one side of a passageway that regulated movement within the hub of the broch, at least at one phase in its life.  The finds from the base of the passageway have been coming quite thick and fast.

Martin Carruthers continues….

It’s very pleasing to see the progress that’s been made in the broch this week by Becky and her team.

As well as the beautiful bronze pin from a few days ago there’s been quite a lot of pottery.  To one side, of the walling Colin removed some rubble and found a large square arrangement of upright stones forming something of a box that contains very rich organic material, charcoal, bone, shell, and the like.  It will be interesting to find out what else this contains soon.

Today, Val and Jasmin have been excavating more infill, just a little east of the passageway just discussed, and have been revealing the upper surface of more organic rich deposits, almost certainly occupation material within the broch.

Work on Structure B has also been very illuminating.

Quite soon after beginning work here, James and his diggers established that some big blocks of stone were indeed the westernmost inner wall-face of the broch surviving very well and high set amidst an array of later post-broch structures.

Our aim is to fully excavate these features and be able to free-up the last remaining rubble and infill from within the broch and then work across its entire surface! This will hopefully be accomplished early next week and will be a very impressive sight.

Over by our souterrain, Structure F, Holly and Stephanie continue to reveal more of the large early cellular feature that the souterrain seems to have been cut through during its construction.  Its been interesting to see what predated the souterrain and next week we hope to understand more of this building.

Also next week we plan to do more work on the still roofed portion of the souterrain, in preparation for the main aim of work here this year – the excavation of the floor and occupation within the souterrain.

In our new trench, Trench Q, the team did sterling work this week reducing all the overburden and later soils to reveal the uppermost archaeological traces.

There have been quite profuse finds of pottery, animal bone, including whalebone, and stone tools.

Next week a new batch of diggers arrive to supplement our ranks and at that point I think we will make another big push on excavating some of the upper material here to hopefully reveal some substantial building remains relating to the village that we strongly suspect surrounds the broch.

Trench M and the metalworking building.

The work by Mic and his team in Trench M this week has involved cleaning up and consolidating our knowledge of contextual relationships.

There have been no finds of the wonderful bronze-casting moulds that we have found so many of in previous seasons, however, it has been rewarding in other ways.

We’re building a clearer picture of the phases in this building- its quite complex, but a story is beginning to form of an initial building tucked neatly in behind a boundary wall on the northern side of the settlement.

This building, perhaps a house occupied during the broch period of the site, has received several modifications before going out of use and becoming the basis of metalworking; the furnace and the casting of bronze pins and brooches.

The coppery metal lump visible as a rather shinier mass in the centre of the image.

Interestingly, some of the relatively early features of the building, apparently pre-dating all the jewellery casting and the furnace, also contain evidence of the deposition of metalworking, including a large mass of heat affected copper or copper alloy smelting waste found today.

Perhaps there is indeed a longer pedigree of metalworking in this area and that it was associated with such activities for a long time during its life.

Next week we will continue to peel back layers in this trench to reveal more of the complex history of the building.  Stay with the blog to find out more as we do!

Thanks to Sigurd Towrie and Orkneyjar