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***