Every Stone has a Story-The Scarcement Level at The Cairns

It doesn’t matter how many times you visit an archaeology excavation such as The Cairns, there is always something new to see.

As part of the pre-season planning, Martin Carruthers Site Director, together with a masters student and myself visited The Cairns dig site overlooking Windwick Bay.

The site is in good order, despite the ravages of several winter storms, and while clambering over the earth mounds surrounding the site, Martin stopped and pointed out an assemblage of large, worked stones.

Initially, the stones had formed one side of a passageway in one of the later Iron Age buildings on the site. When the blocks were examined closely the archaeologists realised that they were looking at worked stone that would have formed a scarcement level in the broch structure – before re-use in the later Iron Age building.

Looking across The Cairns broch showing the scarcement level stones in situ at ‘A’

A scarcement level is in effect a line of massive blocks that were built into the inner wall face of a structure. Their sole function was to hold up timbers that would, in turn, hold up a wooden floor.  If you visit The Cairns broch then you will see  a line of huge stones positioned along the top of the existing wall (A in the photograph above). The stone scarcement-levelarrangement is also visible at Gurness Broch, but there is a difference at The Cairns….the scarcement level blocks are supported below by the wall and do not just “jut out” from the interior structure. The rough field sketch should help to clarify the role of the stones at The Cairns broch.

Martin explains more in this video clip…………..

Two Day NAS GIS Maritime Archaeology Course now enrolling in Orkney.

Learn about the use of GIS in maritime archaeology for the amazing cost of £75.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are now enrolling for a Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) Maritime Archaeology (MAC) Course: GIS in Maritime Archaeology at Orkney College on 25th and 26th February 2017

  • Duration: 2 Days
  • Venue: Orkney College, Kirkwall
  • Dates: 25th-26th February 2017
  • Tutors: Sandra Henry, Mark Littlewood
  • Qualification: The Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) Maritime Archaeology Course (MAC) – QGIS
  • Cost: £75

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is frequently used to create accurate maps with data attached that can be viewed, analysed and published for dissemination.

This two-day introductory course will provide an overview of features in QGIS – a freely available GIS software package commonly used by archaeologists. Although focussing on this particular programme, the skills and procedure students are introduced to can be used in other GIS programmes (such as ArcGIS, gvSIG, GRASS GIS). Comparisons will be made with these other programmes during the course.

During the two-day course, students will be introduced to:

  • Why do we use GIS?
  • How to set up a GIS – map, projections, file-paths, toolboxes and other house-keeping
  • Data sources-where to find accessible maps and other resources
  • How to add these datasets to the GIS
  • Geo-rectifying -providing spatial references for images and maps
  • Other common GIS tools
  • Digitising features through the creation of points, lines and polygons
  • Attach data to these features within an attribute table
  • Interrogation and analysis of spatial data through querying
  • Linking databases
  • How to display data – creating figures for publication and research dissemination

Students will be provided with datasets and will gain experience using the programme through a series of practical exercises.

To reserve a place on this course please contact:

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1LX. E-mail: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk  or Tel: +44 (0)1856 569 225

Or download an application form GIS Booking Form and e-mail to studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or send to the address above

Supported by Historic Environment Scotland funding.

Supporting the Ness of Brodgar-Jeanne Bouza Rose

Support for the Ness comes in many forms, but strolling through Stromness with my family I came across, quite unexpectedly, someone who has boundless enthusiasm for the place…a native of New York, Jeanne Bouza Rose.

img_3656The Ness of Brodgar not only attracts attention from archaeologists but, possibly due to the location and presence of Neolithic art, has developed a following amongst artists around the world.

Jeanne Bouza Rose is an artist who has made her home in Orkney and, despite running a successful art and studio and teaching gallery, finds time to support the Ness. Among the incredible pictures of the Orkney monuments, landscape and buildings, Jeanne has found time to produce artworks that help support the work at the Ness.

Jeanne adds, “Colour, light, clouds, wind, standing stones…all things that inspire me to reach beyond my normal life…..Orkney has been a constant source of joy for my art. It is a land strewn with history from the Neolithic World Heritage sites, through the World Wars and now it is making history by drawing world-class culture to the magnetic north of Scotland.”

If you wish to support the Ness by purchasing some of Jeanne’s Ness of Brodgar inspired art, you can contact Jeanne through email jeanne@artworksoftheearth.com or visit her website http://artworksoftheearth.com/

Ness of Brodgar inspired mugs for sale in Jeanne’s shop

Student Research Piecing Together Life at The Cairns

dscn0540Work does not stop when the excavations are covered over for the winter. The all important post-excavation work continues.

Postgraduates and undergraduates studying at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have the opportunity to work on exciting material from the summer’s excavations as part of their studies.

Kai Wallace, a fourth-year student studying BA (Hons) Archaeology at Perth College UHI, has come up to Orkney to work on bone assemblages recovered from The Cairns this summer. This important research work will form the basis for his dissertation on animal bone groupings in Iron Age Orkney.

dscn0538Unusually there is little evidence for complete articulated bone assemblages in Iron Age Orkney. Unlike England and the Western Isles, where animal burials are common, most animal bone remains are found disarticulated with little sign of deliberate deposition such as ritual activity.

However recent discoveries at The Cairns, including the discovery of a human jawbone and whalebone vessel, point to a highly ritualistic culture. So why is there no real evidence for articulated (joined up) bones in Iron Age Orkney?

The reasons behind this could be varied and could be due to weathering, erosion or the fact that the various bones recovered have not been recognised as part of the same animal. Kai is re-examining a sample of the animal bones unearthed at The Cairns and is piecing together bones that may have been part of the same animal. This requires patience and a knowledge of animal anatomy in addition to archaeological skills, but with the help of Dr Ingrid Mainland, Kai is making progress in this giant sized jigsaw puzzle!

Already an articulated assemblage, discovered lying on top of the capping stone of the broch ‘well’, has been identified as the backbone of a sheep and a series of red deer bones look as if they may be part of one animal that was placed with its head tucked under its body.

Kai’s research is beginning to piece together the story of these bones and add more detail to the way of life of the people of The Cairns 2000 years ago.

If you are intrigued by the history and archaeology of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and want to learn more, either drop us a line through studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or go to our guide to courses on this blog or visit our University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute web page

NAS Marine Archaeology Course- enrolling now.


Orkney is one of the most exciting areas in the world for marine archaeology. Scapa Flow and the waters around the islands offer divers the unprecedented opportunity to explore shipwrecks from both world wars.

The University of the Highlands and Islands together with the Nautical Archaeology Society are now enrolling students for a 3-day marine archaeology course: Recorder and Surveyor Day. The course will provide an opportunity to dive on shipwreck sites at the Churchill Barriers in addition to sites in the Bay of Ireland, Stromness.

  • Duration:       3 Days
  • Time:              9.00 am to 5.00/6.30 pm
  • Venue:            Bay of Ireland; Churchill Barriers
  • Dates:             10 -12th February 2017
  • Tutor:           Sandra Henry
  • Qualification: The Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) Underwater Recorder and Surveyor Day
  • Cost:                £120 (course is subsidised by Historic Environment Scotland)

The cost excludes accommodation and equipment hire.

This three-day course is aimed at anyone interested in maritime archaeology and heritage underwater.

The recorder and surveyor days will entail underwater survey and recording remains of blockship wreck sites at the Churchill Barriers and on a submerged landscape site at the Bay of Ireland near Stromness, Orkney. Participants will directly contribute to the understanding of Orkney past landscapes and ongoing monitoring of the wartime heritage in Scapa Flow.

Participants in the course will:

  • Learn about the factors involved in planning archaeological work and projects
  • Understand how to conduct a 2D survey
  • Learn how to set out and position-fix a grid (intertidal only/site dependant)
  • Understand how to use a planning frame
  • Produce a 2D survey that can be used for further project planning.

There are two NAS E-Learning courses available online (Introduction to Maritime Archaeology and Underwater Archaeology) which are complementary to the practical 3Day course. They do not have to be done first, although it would be helpful if you completed them before you arrived in Orkney. These courses can be accessed here.

To reserve a place please contact:

  • Sandra Henry, The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI, Kirkwall, Orkney KW15 1LX.
  • E-mail: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk
  • Tel: 01856 569225


This course has been subsidised by Historic Environment Scotland.

Archive Training in Kirkwall

image14144The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with Orkney Library archives to offer an Archive Training Opportunity.

– Venue: Orkney Library Archives
– Date: Thursday 19th January
– Time: 5.30pm to 7pm.

Archival Staff will guide you through the process of archive research.

If you are interested, contact us through studyarchaology@uhi.ac.uk to reserve a place.All are welcome and there is no charge. We still have places available.

German High Seas Fleet Scrap Sites to be Surveyed

Scapa Flow: View from Hoy looking across to Stromness

The wrecks of the First World War German High Seas Fleet that lie on the seabed in Scapa Flow, Orkney are renowned as one of most famous wreck diving sites in the world.

These wreck sites also provide marine archaeologists with an unparalleled insight into the construction of warships from this period.

Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with  SULA Diving to undertake a Historic Environment Scotland funded project on the salvage sites of the scuttled wrecks of the High Sea Fleet.

The High Seas Fleet was interned at the Royal Navy base Scapa Flow, Orkney at the end ofsites the First World War. Admiral Ludwig Von Reuter, believing the armistice was over, ordered the fleet to be scuttled. This resulted in the sinking of 52 of the 74 interned vessels. After the scuttling, 45 of these vessels were salvaged and various components of the ships’ structures lie on the seabed marking these wreck sites, a cultural heritage resource that is relatively undocumented. Today, the 7 wrecks that were not salvaged constitute one of the most famous wreck diving sites in the world.

The project is led by Sandra Henry (Marine Archaeologist, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute) and Kevin Heath (SULA Diving) on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland and aims to identify the locations of the primary scrap sites and associated secondary sites from the salvaging of the German High Seas Fleet.

The Seydlitz

The secondary scrap sites were created as the upturned hulls of the major vessels of the High Seas fleet were moved to shallower water off Lyness, Scapa Flow. Personal accounts suggest that the salvors would attempt to tow the vessels across the bar at Ryssa Little, sometimes losing superstructure elements in the process. If the upturned hulls did not make it then the salvors would know that the ships were too deep to make it into Rosyth for final scrapping.

One of the aims of this project will be to investigate this assertion and survey the areas around Ryssa Little for these superstructure elements that were lost during these operations.

Recent marine archaeological surveys have collected small amounts of data in regard to the scrap sites indicating that this resource is far more substantial and intriguing than previously believed. The scrap site assemblages include major components of ship structures such as masts, searchlights, plating, steam pinnaces, funnels and so on. Furthermore, these wreck sites, due to their deconstructed nature, are at high-risk of salvage activity.

This project will provide baseline data for long-term monitoring of the sites. The project data and results will be available to the public through the Scapa Flow Wrecks website (http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com), along with various other platforms and exhibitions.