Archaeology Kirkwall THI

Kirkwall Garden Dig Success

The Kirkwall Garden Dig held over the weekend was a great success. Over 300 people visited the BBC site and residents learned the basics about archaeological investigation.

The project was a collaborative community archaeology programme in which Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative, The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Scotland’s Urban Past worked together to bring an archaeological extravaganza to Kirkwall. The Kirkwall Garden Dig project is part of The Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative Archaeology Programme ‘Discover Hidden Kirkwall’. This community archaeology initiative has already uncovered parts of the medieval shoreline of the town in a previous excavation held in May 2016.

The project included BBC Radio Orkney together with 4 other residents of Kirkwall town centre who invited archaeologists to dig small exploratory test pits in their gardens. The public saw archaeology in action in the BBC Radio Orkney garden by visiting in person or linking through to a live stream on their Facebook page. Updates were also broadcast on BBC radio throughout the fieldwork.

The excavations were accompanied by workshops in which members of the public tried archaeological techniques such as sieving, finds washing, digging and surveying. Scotland’s Urban Past team also helped budding ‘Urban Detectives’ record their built environment, focusing on the areas around each of the trenches, contributing to the national record.


An astonishing number of finds were unearthed, ranging from prehistoric flint to artefacts from the last few hundred years. Finds included large numbers of animal bones, including a huge pig’s jaw bone discovered in the BBC Radio Orkney garden – probably dating back to when the area was part of the Flesh Market in the 17th and 18th centuries. Remains relating to the former Kirkwall Castle were not reached, however sherds of medieval pottery were recovered. Test pits along the west side of the street relieved deep sequences of layers and evidence for the old shoreline. Other finds included a bone chess piece, a decorated clay pipe bowl and a rather intriguing loom or fishing weight. These finds will be be further analysed, adding to the evolving story of ‘Hidden Kirkwall’.

To become an ‘Urban Detective’ and help record some of your local heritage visit

Many thanks to BBC Radio Orkney for their help and local residents for taking part.

The Kirkwall Garden Dig is supported by: