Mapping Magnus September Update

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Activities are well underway in the Mapping Magnus project with well attended workshops happening most weeks during August and September. Geophysical survey, measured survey at some noust sites and walkover survey have all engaged trainees and visitors.

Just to remind you that the Mapping Magnus project involved archaeologists from The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute who were commissioned by Orkney Islands Council to deliver a programme of community archaeology activities and events that explored the story of St Magnus and medieval Orkney. Anyway….here is a brief overview of the last month……

Geophysical survey (28/07/17)

Geophysics Birsay
Earth Resistance results from Burnside, Palace, Birsay

Earth Resistance survey (good for locating walls and buried structures) was undertaken by Dr James Moore and one trainee in the garden of Burnside, Palace village, Birsay. This is on the eastern side of the medieval Bishop’s Palace and buried structures could be expected.

  • The areas of high resistance to the east of the house relate to the paths and surfaces you can still see on the surface.
  • The very high resistance anomaly at the west is likely to relate to a wall running through the veg patch – this seems to be running roughly NNW – SSE. It could represent a building.
  • The anomalies around the flowerbed in the middle of the garden: the results are unclear, but they do seem to share a similar alignment to the wall found nearby. As a very tentative interpretation perhaps a stone built structure c. 9x5m, probably quite damaged/areas of rubble?

More geophysical survey is planned for 12-14 September

Noust Survey (15-16/08/17)

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Training in plane table survey

Measured survey using a plane table and alidade was undertaken at Skipi Geo and Point of Buckquoy boat nousts. Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, and the team from ORCA trained one trainee. Scaled plans, showing the slope edges and faces, were produced for both sets of nousts. We had around 50 visitors during the surveys who enjoyed learning about the survey process, nousts and the Magnus project.

Our trainee said “The course exceeded my expectations as I didn’t expect to learn so much in such a short space of time, very friendly approach to teaching”. “Fully enjoyed my experience and look forward to returning”. He rated the workshop “10 / 10”.

Village Walkover Survey (15-16/08/17)

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Walkover survey was undertaken in Palace village and the area around the Man’s Well near Barony Mill, focusing on the areas and sites that are significant in the Magnus story. The survey started off with a walk around the village with 7 trainees examining a sequence of historical and modern maps, identifying changes and visiting key sites and buildings. This centred upon the Bishop’s Palace area to link in with the geophysical survey and upcoming excavations. Sites recorded in the NMRS were visited and the record updated with additional description and photos where required. This was a useful way for the group to identify potential new sites and a previously unidentified structure, perhaps an old house, was recorded. The group also recorded the location of pieces of red sandstone built into the various garden walls in the village on accurate maps. The idea was to map where this high status medieval material has ended up in order to understand the medieval core of the village in more detail. It was noted that the village core and Bishop’s Palace area sit upon a distinctive raised area.

Hen-Harrier-1The second day involved walking with 8 trainees along part of the Magnus Way from the village, recording a new site (a possible bridge pier) on the way by the burn. We also followed a young female Hen Harrier as she skittered up the burn area, which was incredible. We visited the Man’s Well site, where Magnus’s bones were supposed to have been washed, and updated the record for this key site. We then walked the neighbouring field, looking at leats and burn channels and recorded the site of a reputed click mill (horizontal mill). This consisted of a low platform edged with upright stones (although there was no evidence of a leat or walling). The day certainly had a watery theme.

20170826_133300One participant commented “I learned much about the history of Birsay and Magnus”. The most interesting/memorable thing for one participant was “seeing new things in old stones”. Another participant commented that, “The workshop exceeded expectations as I wanted to explore my local area and learn a bit about archaeological practice”. Another commented, “very enjoyable couple of days. Good instruction and good company”.

All agreed or strongly agreed that they had learned something new about archaeology and heritage. All gave the day 9 or 10 / 10.

The next event includes more geophysics on the 12, 13 and 14 September leading to an archaeological excavation in Palace Village itself on the 25 September to 6th October…more on this story to follow.


Mapping Magnus is supported by: