Community Archaeology Workshop – Making a 3D Digital Model

Another opportunity to get involved in the Birsay St Magnus 900 Year Commemorations Archaeology Project and learn how to create a 3D digital model.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are teaming up with Birsay Heritage Trust to make a 3D digital model of the whalebone situated on the headland near Skipi Geo, Orkney.

The team will be meeting at Skipi Geo at 10am on the 14th October 2016 for a walk to the whale bone. This will be followed by a visit to the village in order to record some sites there and then onto Birsay Hall to make the computer models and view them.

The workshop should be over by 2pm. Bring warm clothes, suitable footwear and a packed lunch.

All are welcome and the event is free.


The event is supported by Orkney Islands Council and The Birsay Heritage Trust


Becoming a Digital Coppersmith


Iron Age Pin Cast for the First Time in Two Thousand Years. Research student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute uses 21st Century technology to unlock the secrets of Iron Age jewellery.

 This summer has been an exciting season for the archaeologists working at The Cairns archaeological site on the island of South Ronaldsay, Orkney. For the first time in two thousand years the full extent of an Iron Age broch has been unearthed and further exciting insights into the people who lived there have been discovered.

Initial evidence pointing to metal working on the site was confirmed when around 60 clay mould fragments used for casting bronze jewellery were discovered, scattered in a matrix of rubble in Trench M over a five to six metre area. These objects dated from the First Century to the Third Century AD and were present in a roughly made structure that was used only briefly – judging by the thin layer of deposit present in the trench. These objects were extremely fragile, but after cleaning, it was clear that a negative image of a delicate, ring headed pin was present in the clay of one mould.

How wonderful would it be if we could re-create this Iron Age pin? To see it as the people who lived in the broch two thousand years ago would have seen it? To experiment and use it as those people would have used it? But further, to use the object in research and teaching, knowing that it was cast from an original mould? But there was a problem…the moulds were too delicate to use in any metal working process.

However, following much discussion, Ben Price – a postgraduate student studying at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute – decided to accept the challenge and use his expertise in computer modelling to re-create the pin in bronze; the original metal used to create these objects. After further discussion and guidance from Martin Carruthers, Master Programme Leader, Ben decided to use the opportunity to make the re-creation of the pin the subject of his Masters Degree dissertation and so use the research to feed back into the teaching at The Archaeology Institute – a particular strength of The Institute.

normal-wholeUsing 21st Century 3D rendering technology, Ben photographed and scanned the original Iron Age clay moulds into a computer and created a digital 3D image on the screen. This in itself was exciting as the delicate details of the projecting ring headed pin could be clearly seen emerging from the screen. A 3D model of the resultant pin was created on screen by using the detailed surfaces of the moulds.

The pin model was then sent off to be 3D printed in wax and then used to cast in bronze using the lost wax method.

Archaeologists are used to examining metal objects that have been in the ground for thousands of years, but this process gave archaeologists a view that would have only been available to the original pin maker.

No-one was prepared for the wonderful object that emerged from the casting process. It was an object of wonder, and left everyone speechless for a few moments. It was bright and heavy and extremely tactile. It was an object that would obviously have been treasured and would have been striking as a piece of jewellery.

Martin Carruthers, Masters Degree Programme Leader, said, “This process gives us a unique and exciting insight into the objects that the people of The Cairns actually experienced and used over two thousand years ago. You can see the imperfections and the work involved and it also proves that moulds were made using an object. The process also opens up many possibilities in terms of experimental archaeology in addition to educating the public at large. The object also in a way opens up the possibility that the Iron Age was full of colour and bright objects that were treasured….perhaps they were not so dissimilar to people of today!”


CHAT conference in Orkney – RURALITY

Archaeologists in Residence

Register for CHAT 2016 now!

Registration closes 7th October

Draft programme available on CHAT website

Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT) conference 2016

21-23 October


Place: Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland

Venue: Orkney Theatre, The Meadows, Kirkwall

Host: University of the Highlands & Islands Archaeology Institute



Download a registration form and draft programme from the CHAT website ( ). Registration closes 7th October. We have a great line up including themed plenary sessions, film night and 3M_DO discussion. We also have exhibitions, installations and videos and poster presentations in the theatre foyer.

Fieldtrips: Why not get here a bit early?

Thursday 20th (all day) – Alternative tour of Orkney West Mainland (free for delegates, book on registration form)

Friday 21st (am) – Kirkwall walk (free for delegates, no booking required)

Halls accommodation is nearly full, so best check with us first for…

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Community Marine Archaeology Project in Sanday – Surveying The Utrecht

Diving is to start on Phase Three of The Utrecht Community Marine Archaeology Project. This phase aims to involve the community in further surveying of the wreck and contribute to the growth of dive tourism in Sanday.

Built in Rotterdam as the Irene by Glavimans, The Utrecht was a 38-gun frigate that was owned by the Dutch Navy. Several sources (Canmore; Ferguson, 1988; Larn and Larn, 1998; Whittaker, 1998) offer contradictory information regarding the number of cannon on the vessel with numbers ranging from 32 to 44. The first phase of the project can confirm she had 38 cannon comprising twenty-six 12-pounders, four 6-pounders and eight 20pounder carronades

On the 15th February 1807, The Utrecht was sailing to Curacao from Helvoetsslus, near Rotterdam, to reinforce the Dutch garrison stationed there against the British. In addition to her complement of 190 crew and passengers, she carried with her 220 artillery men to help in this endeavour.

En-route she was driven off course in a blizzard and was stranded off the North coast of Sanday in the early hours of the morning of the 26th February 1807. The remains of The Utrecht represent a unique resource in Orkney waters. Orkney has a rich submerged maritime resource that brings in substantial economic revenue to the islands through diving tourism each year; much of the research into this diverse heritage has focused on the extensive wartime remains (WWI and WWII) within Scapa Flow.

Historic evidence suggested The Utrecht remains were in shallow water in a comparatively sheltered environment and, as such, discovery and recording of the remains would greatly enhance the potential for dive tourism outside of Scapa Flow.

The second phase of the project took place earlier this summer, and involved volunteersExif_JPEG_PICTURErecording an Iron cannon, identifying various extents of the wreckage debris field surrounding this 12 pounder cannon. . The assessment of the remains of the vessel also contributed to local and national heritage management strategies and provided some protection to the remains by producing a detailed and accurate record of the nature and extent of the wreckage and associated artefacts that were present on the seabed.

Desk based research confirmed a thought provoking timeline of the stranding and abandonment of the vessel:

  • 5am – Vessel struck the shore reported to be on an uninhabited part of Sanday.
  • Dawn – Waves break over the side of the ship and was “driven into a sort of bay with rocks on both sides”. Rear-mast cut down and a cutter [smaller vessel from the ship] launched. The launch was destroyed as the current swept the cut mast into it.
  • Mid-Morning – Orders to cut down the fore and mid-mast could not be carried out in light of huge seas. Waves take the ship of the rocks turning her until she hit the rocks on the other side of the bay.
  • Midday (approx.) – Fore and mid-masts were cut down. Fire noted in portside stern cabin and subsequently extinguished.
  • 3pm – Tide ebbs, islanders arrive to assist in the rescue. Lines were passed to the ship. Those strong enough come ashore via the lines.
  • Sunset – 366 men ashore, 54 had died.

Further research also provided evidence to confirm actual number of hands lost (54 in total) – compared with the previous vague accounts of losses ranging from 50 – 100 men. The burial ground for these men still remains unknown and would be an avenue for future research.

The successful identification of the site will allow for the development and promotion of the site of The Utrecht, and the maritime archaeology of Sanday and Orkney’s North Isles.

This third phase will initially record the site extent and condition, building on earlier phases of work undertaken by the UHI Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving. This project offers a platform for community engagement through volunteer programs, displays, talks and online outreach, utilising such mediums as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube.

This community project aims to involve the local diving community through the delivery of training programs such as the Nautical Archaeology Society courses.

In effect the site of The Utrecht is part of a shared history between Sanday, Orkney’s North Isles and the Netherlands and this new phase will help to generate dive tourism in Orkneys North Isles through community involvement.

Thanks to Sula Diving Photographs courtesy Ken Kohnfelder.


The Utrecht Project is supported by:




Marine Archaeology Fieldwork starts in October – Gairsay, Orkney

img_1782Get involved in a marine archaeology project in the waters around the Island of Gairsay, Orkney.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have an opportunity for diving or snorkelling volunteers to take part in underwater fieldwork in Milburn Bay, Gairsay as part of the ongoing project searching for Orkney’s early harbours, landing places, anchorages, maritime infrastructure and shipping.

The fieldwork will involve surveying the underwater features already observed in the bay and will be taking place during the week commencing 3rd October to the 7th October for a total of 3 days, the exact days will be finalised closer to the time dependent on weather forecasts.

The aims of this year’s underwater fieldwork will be to investigate the underwater mounds further, potentially these mounds may represent ballast mounds or collapsed stone from caissons supporting jetty foundations

Please register your interest by contacting Sandra Henry via

Masters Students Talk about their Professional Placement Experience

One of the aspects of the Masters course at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute that stands out for students is the opportunity to gain a professional placement in a real world, real work environment.

Each student studying for a Masters qualification is given the opportunity to gain professional placement experience – either within the University of the Highlands and Islands, ORCA or an alternative outside organisation.

Working on the Swandro Community dig

The programme ensures that the students are placed in roles which give them both responsibility and experience in areas that lie outside their usual academic studies – whether that is teaching children about archaeology on a community project or being in charge of small finds on a large scale archaeological dig. They become a valuable member of the team in the organisation and have the opportunity to incorporate their recently learned skills into the work methods of the organisation in which they were placed.

Just to give you a flavour of the sectors that our students experienced, they gained placements in the following:

  • Andy – Ness of Brodgar Dig
  • Sorcha – Kirkwall Museum
  • Freya – Highland HER and Historic Environment Team
  • Emma – Archaeobotany analysis at ORCA
  • Therese – Stirling Council
  • Steve – AOC Archaeology
  • Jasmin – The Cairns Dig
  • Kevin – Small Finds Supervisor at The Cairns Dig
  • Luke – ORCA Outreach and Community Projects and Marketing

Sorcha Kirker was given the responsibility of creating an exhibition as part of her curatorial duties at Kirkwall Museum- including liaising with the various promotional agencies involved with the museum. This exhibition presented the archaeology of The Cairns dig in a different light….including the “Archaeology of the Archaeologists”, the view from the diggers and presenting the finds unearthed during the 2016 season. The press release stated…..

Exhibition tells the story of a remarkable dig

A new exhibition at the Orkney Museum features the archaeological excavations at the Cairns Iron Age site in South Ronaldsay. The dig, which takes place each summer, is being carried out by a team from the Archaeology Institute at Orkney College UHI and has produced some remarkable finds.

The exhibition, which runs until mid-November, has been created by Sorcha Kirker, an MSc student with the University of the Highlands and Islands, as part of a placement at the museum.She said: “It tells the story of the Cairns archaeological dig – past and present – and highlights the processes involved. My aim was to provide an insight into the archaeological experience from a digger’s perspective. The placement has shown me how I can use the skills I gained on my Masters course in a real work place. I have really enjoyed working with Orkney Museum on this project and I must thank them for everything they have done. The placement has also strengthened my interest in following a museum career.”

Each student was also given the task of presenting and evaluating their experience in a seminar at the end of their placement.

And finally….Kevin Kerr added “The placement allowed me to take more responsibility. I was the Small Finds Officer for the site and I had to hit the ground running after the first few scrapes resulted in a find straight away! I ended up amending the finds register and digitised the whole process…I felt as if I was an important member of the team and gained a great deal from the experience. I must thank Martin for his guidance and for allowing me to get involved with The Cairns at this level.”

Great Turnout for Community Building Survey

There was a great turnout for the community archaeology event held today in Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney. Even the fabled Orkney sunshine made an appearance to add to the experience!

This is one of a series of archaeology events which offers volunteers the opportunity to learn basic archaeological skills such as building recording.

Volunteers from as far afield as Yorkshire listened to a short introduction by Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist, as he outlined the days programme and then were treated to a guided walk through the back gardens of the village by several of the residents.

The old Medieval right of way

The old medieval right of way was quickly identified running along the back of a small terrace of houses together with numerous cut and shaped stones which were clearly robbed from the Palace. Older residents who could remember the village in the 1930’s added to the narrative and answered some of the more perplexing questions concerning details of buildings.

The day ended with the volunteers identifying the medieval stones present in the fabric of the village buildings and walls – including the identification of 6 robbed out key stones – and recording them using archaeological techniques.

The next archaeological event is planned for the 14th October – involving making a 3D model of the Birsay Whalebone near Skipi Geo. More details will be published on the blog closer to the event.

A video clip showing the location of Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney.

The event is supported by Orkney Islands Council and The Birsay Heritage Trust