Mapping Magnus Dates for the Diary 2

20170826_151839Upcoming activities in the Palace village area of Birsay for September & October 2017 (updated).

Be a part of this exciting archaeology project commemorating the Magnus 900 year! More activities will be announced soon. Places for local residents and volunteers from Orkney available now.

Book your place now (limited places available): studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

Phone 01856 569225

P1170026-1

Next Workshop is:

Archive research training. 1 & 2 Sept

What? Research the history & archaeology of Birsay with Dr Sarah-Jane Gibbon in the Orkney Library and Archive. No previous experience required, training in archive reaesrch will be provided. Contribute original research to the project.

Where? Meet at Orkney Archives Room (upstairs), Kirkwall Library, Junction Road.

When? 10am – 3pm. Please contact us to book for the full days, but you are welcome to drop in for a visit.

Coastal Survey. 6, 7 & 8 Sept

What? Record the coastally eroding sites from Palace village to the point of Buckquoy area with archaeologist Dave Reay. Numerous sites from prehistoric settlement, Viking Norse remains to more recent boat nousts were recorded in the 1970s and 1980s during the Birsay Bay Project. The remains of these sites will be identified and their current condition recorded (photographic and written record). No previous experience required, training will be provided.

Where? Meet at Point of Buckquoy, Brough of Birsay car park, Birsay.

When? 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

Geophysical Survey. 12, 13 & 14 Sept

What? Help the team survey small areas in the village using Earth Resistance and Magnetometry techniques. Understand the process of geophsyical survey and its applciation in archaeology. Help put the key site in Palace Village, Birsay, into a wider context. No previous experience required, training will be provided.

Where? Meet at Palace village car park, opposite the kirk.

When? 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

Archive Research drop-in day. 23 Sept

What? Come and visit Dr Sarah-Jane Gibbon and the archive reaearch group in the Orkney Library and Archive to look at their research into the history & archaeology of Birsay and Palace village for the project.

Where? Meet at Orkney Archives Room (upstairs), Kirkwall Library

When? 11am – 3pm. No need to book, just drop in anytime!

Village excavations. 25 Sept – 6 Oct (2 weeks)

What? Help the Archaeology Institute team dig test pits in Palace Village around the medieval site of the Bishops Palace. Join in for a day or whatever you can manage. No previous experience required, training will be provided.

Dig open day on Saturday the 30th September.

Where? Meet at Palace village car park opposite kirk. Booking essential.

When? 10am – 4pm each day

Please note: Booking is essential for all activities.

Bay of Ireland Community Archaeology Dig – 5th & 6th September

Bay of Ireland3
The Bay of Ireland, looking across Scapa Flow to the Island of Hoy

Join the archaeology team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute on 5th & 6th September at the Bay of Ireland, Orkney investigating Late Mesolithic landscapes.

This project, led by Dr Scott Timpany and Dan Lee, invites volunteers to team up with archaeologists to open test pits on the foreshore of the Bay of Ireland to investigate the landscape of the Late Mesolithic. 

In 2013 an oak trunk was discovered within the intertidal peats at the Bay of Ireland in Stenness. Previous to this discovery it was known that such intertidal peats in coastal locations across Orkney were of an early date, often around 6000 years old! Excavation, recording and radiocarbon dating of the oak trunk took place in 2015 and it was confirmed as dating to the Late Mesolithic period with a felling date of c. 4400 cal BC; making this the only wooden artefact of Mesolithic date so far found in Orkney. A study of the pollen grains and the seeds within the peat next to the oak trunk showed that it was deposited in a reed-swamp environment fringed by woodland of willow and birch.

Excavating the oak trunk in 2015. Photo John Barber
Excavating the Oak Trunk in 2015. Photo: John Barber.

Although no tool marks have been found on the oak trunk it has been shown to be radially split, meaning it was cut in half before being placed in to the peat. The landscape information from the pollen suggests oak trees may have been present somewhere in the wider landscape but were not growing close to the Bay of Ireland. This suggests that the oak trunk was cut in half elsewhere and then deliberately placed into the reedswamp by Later Mesolithic people. But what was the oak trunk for? Was it a marker place in the landscape? Maybe an indication of a routeway to what is now the Brig O’Waithe to the Loch of Stenness? Is there other evidence of the activities of these people at the Bay of Ireland? Can we find tools or evidence of wood working?

In order to answer these questions, a team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are going to be carrying out some small excavations on the foreshore at the Bay of Ireland on the 5th and 6th September and we would be delighted if people would like to come and help and see if they can find some evidence of these enigmatic former Orkney residents.

The team plan on undertaking some test pits through the peat near to the location of the oak trunk to see if further artefactual evidence can be found. Over the course of the two days we will also have the opportunity to discuss how the landscape of Orkney has changed since the Mesolithic to today as well as further details on the Bay of Ireland project and environmental archaeology.

If you would like to get involved in the dig or simply just want to come along to see the site and have a chat then please do get in touch through studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

*** We have some travel grants available for Orkney residents from the north and south Isles to attend the excavations. Contact above for details***

‘Our Islands, Our Past’-Three Island Regional Research Framework

Maeshowe Chambered Tomb, Orkney, Scotland
Maeshowe. Photograph: Jim Richardson

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to announce details of the ‘Three Island Regional Research Framework’ round-table discussion being held at ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference on the afternoon of Friday 15th September.

Download Our Islands Our Past Conference Registration Form and send to archaeologyconference@uhi.ac.uk

Julie Gibson, County Archaeologist for Orkney Islands Council, writes…”Regional research frameworks for archaeology, designed to complement the existing national framework (ScARF), have been identified as a strategic priority in Scotland[1]. In response, the Local Authority Archaeologists for Shetland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and Orkney, supported by UHI Archaeology Institute, are pulling together a project to develop a Research Framework for the three island-based Local Authority areas.

Our proposal is to develop three Local Research Agendas for the individual archipelagos (Shetland, Western Isles and Orkney) that will sit within a wider Regional Framework for the islands. The project will be delivered by UHI Archaeology Institute on behalf of the partners and project managed by a steering group comprised of partner and key stakeholder representatives.  Also working with us will be staff of The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland who are supporting the development of regional frameworks across the county and will host the island Agendas and Framework on the ScARF website.

This initial meeting will help structure the Agendas and establish themes for the overarching Regional Framework.  We want to work in partnership with a wide range of individuals who are active within archaeology, heritage and historic environment sectors across the region.  We will therefore be seeking advice, ideas and contributions from community heritage groups, museums, commercial contractors and academics. The aim is to identify what is important and significant for our region’s archaeology and to help provide research questions and targets to help us balance and focus our efforts on what is most significant to these islands.”

[1] Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy Delivery Plan Version 2 January 2017 section 2.1 http://archaeologystrategy.scot/files/2017/01/SAS-Delivery-Plan-16Jan2017.pdf


To register to attend the conference click here

Community Archive Research – Mapping Magnus

20170826_150128Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, will be holding Archive training on 1st and 2nd September at the Orkney Library & Archive.

Join the team and learn how to research the history and archaeology of Birsay. Everyone is welcome to attend. Attending for the whole day is recommended for the training starting at 10 am, but you can come along at any time between 10am-3pm for a visit. Help us research the fascinating link between the Palace Village area and St Magnus. No experience of archive research or archaeology is required.

The Mapping Magnus project involves a whole series of archaeological events in August and September 2017 (see poster below).

For more information: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

Community Archaeology Mapping Magnus Ad


Amazing Finds at Cata Sand- Early Neolithic Houses and 19th Century Whales

Early Neo Wall
Early Neolithic Wall

The excavation at Cata Sand on the Orkney island of Sanday has unearthed a few surprises in the last few days – including the discovery of Early Neolithic Houses and the skeletons of around twelve whales from the nineteenth century.

Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, the University of Central Lancashire, School of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, Galicia, Spain and University of Cambridge, have now concluded that the structural remains are those of an Early Neolithic house (c.3400-3100BC) with associated occupation deposits, hearth and stone walls.

The Early Neolithic house is both interesting and unusual in having been built on a deep layer of sand, which rests on rounded beach stones. At least two construction phases have now been recognised. The primary house has a stone set hearth, internal pits and boxes, and remains of the lower courses of a double-faced thick stone outer wall and small dividing stones, which partition the house into different living areas. This phase of the structure is comparable with examples of dwellings at Stonehall, Mainland and Knap of Howar, Papa Westray. Although excavations at Pool uncovered some early Neolithic structures in the 1980s, this is the first ‘classic’ early Neolithic house to be discovered in Sanday. It is also contemporary with a stalled burial cairn situated just along the coast at Tresness, which is also being examined by the team.

Early Neo Hearth
Early Neolithic Hearth

Another rectangular setting of stones to the north-west is a second hearth that relates to an extension and reconstruction of the earlier house. This is remarkable and only seen at Ha’ Breck on the island of Wyre. A range of finds associated with the Neolithic house including some fragments of pottery, Skaill knives, a grinding stone, flint working remains and animal bones have also been unearthed. More importantly, preservation is excellent and the floor deposits are a deep red-brown colour and are rich in organic remains. As the site is located on sand there is also good bone preservation, which is quite rare in other early Neolithic Orcadian settlements. This high degree of preservation will allow us to obtain a unique level of information regarding daily life within the Early Neolithic house.

However, excavating this site has its challenges, not least that it is in the inter-tidal zone and is partly underwater twice a day!

whales
Whale skeletons

Perhaps the most amazing and unexpected discovery has been to find two large cut pits within the trench that contain the skeletons of a minimum number of twelve whales. Several people have recounted a tradition of whales being ca’d (driven) ashore at Cata Sands. We wondered if this tradition could account for the whale remains. A very likely explanation was given by local Orcadians who provided us with an account of a 19th century visit to Sanday published in the year 1875. In it the author describes the scene where no less than 80 whales were driven ashore on the Sabbath only to be butchered for their blubber.

Whale graves
Overview of the site showing the whale skeletons in situ

Blubber was a source of oil used, amongst other things, in lamps. Another reference to whales being driven into Cata Sands in the 18th Century also exists. On that occasion there were hundreds driven in. More research will clarify the origin of these skeletons.

Visitors are very welcome to come out and see the site. There is a car park at Cata Sand – if there is a University vehicle here then we are on site, but please note we do have some days off and will not be working in the heavy rain! Walk along the western side of Cata Sand to the highest dune and our excavation is on your right.

If you would like further information about this project you are welcome to contact us:


The excavation team includes Prof Colin Richards, Prof Jane Downes, Christopher Gee from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Dr Vicki Cummings from UClan in addition to participants from the Sanday Archaeology Group, University of Cambridge, and students from UHI and UCLan, but also involves specialists from as far away as the School of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, Galicia, Spain.


Join us at ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference 14th -17th September 2017 to find out more about the site.

Local poster

UHI Archaeology Institute & Designer Collaboration

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This autumn, Kirsteen Stewart will launch her new collection working in collaboration with the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

Orcadian designer Kirsteen Stewart began working with Outreach & Lifelong Learning Archaeologist Dan Lee in 2016 using GPS mapping equipment to track favourite coastal walks and well-trodden routes throughout Orkney. These mappings created line drawings, which Kirsteen then shaped and combined with elemental colour palettes to great a range of fabrics to use in collections of clothing and accessories.

Commenting on the collection Kirsteen said ‘Orkney is a place of history and heritage, great natural beauty and wild weather.  But we want to introduce you to another side of these memorable islands.  The beauty and inspiration that is everyday life, reworked to create something new and fresh’

Designer Kirsteen Stewart currently stocks her products in the UK, Europe and Japan. You can contact her for more details through social media and her e-mail address. The Collection Launch Date is 1st September 2017. More information about this collection is available at:

‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference-International Speaker Line-up.

Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar. Photo: Jim Richardson.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute looks forward to welcoming an impressive line-up of speakers and contributors to the ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference on the 14th- 17th September.

The conference sessions include speakers from around the globe on themes relevant to island life – past, present and future.

  • Session One: The Three Islands Group Research Framework (more on this session in a later separate blog)
  • Session Two: Identity and Culture
  • Session Three: Sustainability and Conservation
  • Session Four: Migration and Abandonment
  • Session Five: Connectivity and Travel
  • Session Six: Island Culture and Place

We look forward to welcoming an international array of delegates including  Adam Markham, Deputy Director of Climate & Energy the Union of Concerned Scientists, who will be opening Session Three with a paper entitled: Climate Change, Island World Heritage, and Lessons from Community Responses.

Adam writes in his abstract,Cultural resources, including archaeology, historic sites and intangible heritage are at risk from climate change on islands the world over. Climate impacts include sea level rise, coastal erosion, and extreme weather events. Irreplaceable archaeological and other cultural resources are being lost at an alarming rate, and with them, important and sacred places, and some of the stories and histories that help provide peoples’ sense of belonging. Island World Heritage sites provide an opportunity to draw local and international attention to the threat posed by climate change and to the special circumstances island communities face in responding to change. ”

Come along and listen to Adam in person at 11am Saturday 16th September 2017 when he is scheduled to present his paper.

Everyone is welcome to attend…register by sending in the Conference Registration Form to archaeologyconference@uhi.ac.uk.

See our Conference website for more details on ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference 2017.

Follow the conference on Twitter #oiopconference