Mapping Magnus: Summing up the Palace Village Excavations

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are celebrating the success of the Mapping Magnus community archaeology excavations in Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney.

The team, including archaeologists, students and community volunteers discovered tantalising new evidence of medieval activity to the south of the kirk in Palace Village. We know that this area was the location of an early medieval Bishop’s residence and that there was a Bishop’s palace there in the 15th century – known as ‘Mons Bellus.’ But what evidence for these buildings did the team find in the trenches?

This blog is brought to you by Charlotte Hunter who is a University of the Highlands and Islands MSc student on professional placement with the UHI Archaeology Institute. Charlotte is working with Marketing and Communications at The Institute as part of her work placement MSc Archaeological Practice module.

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Trench 1: The main trench contained a variety of finds below a layer of windblown sand, layers of demolition rubble and midden – including quantities of fish and animal bone, vast amounts of shell and two pieces of Medieval pottery. Surprisingly, these pieces of pot were the only Medieval fragments found within the whole of the excavation.

As the excavation progressed more of the rubble was lifted revealing a rough pathed surface and potential wall. At this stage, the surface, midden and rubble appear to be 12th or 13th century in date, although more analysis needs to be done on the assemblages. Are we finding different assemblages because this was a high status ecclesiastical centre?

Trench A unearthed possibly the most intriguing piece of evidence from the excavation. Originally the team had not expected to excavate in this location until the homeowners decided to lift and resurface their rear path.

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Excavation revealed a 1m wide wall that continued below their house! At each side of the wall there were layers of midden, which may suggest that this wall is Medieval in date. Could this wall be part of the Bishop’s Palace complex or is this part of another structure relating to the Earl’s Palace barns and stables, known to have been built here in the 16th or 17th century ?

726_B4_206As the excavation was coming to a close a pundler weight was lifted from within the rubble next to the pipe that runs through the wall. A pundler weight was used when taxes and rent was paid in grain and kind. This instrument is known to have primarily being used in Orkney and Shetland. The age of this weight is unknown but could date as far back as the 14th century and used until the early 19th century. This intriguing find was a wonderful way of demonstrating the use of this area throughout different periods of history.

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Test Pit 2 was opened in the garden behind the location of the wall discovered in Trench A to investigate the direction of the wall. When first opened, stone flooring was discovered but this appeared to be 19th century in date. After recording the floor the slabs were lifted and excavation continued. Within the last couple of days of the excavation a wall of similar dimensions and build to that in Trench A started to appear in Test Pit Two, suggesting that this was the continuation of the same wall.

The new wall stood three courses high on the north face, however, the size on the opposing side was unclear. It has been suggested that this may have been due to stone robbing or had been partially destroyed.  Additionally this test pit contained fish bones of a variety sizes, animal bone and ‘packages’ of winkle shells throughout.

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Throughout the 2 weeks of the excavation there were 4 other test pits opened in homeowners’ gardens to investigate geophysical anomalies and understand the Bishop’s Palace area of the village. These test pits located other walls – perhaps relating to the Bishop’s Palace – and land surfaces, and helped define the medieval core of the village.

Each test pit shared a common factor – they all contained a large amount of wind-blown sand from the nearby beach. The vast quantity of sand may be an indicator of hiatus of activity within the former ecclesiastical centre, perhaps in the 14th century and prior to the construction of the Earl’s Palace and development of the post-medieval village.

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Despite the adverse weather conditions, the two weeks of the Mapping Magnus excavation were views by all concerned as a great success. The community volunteers and school children who visited the site not only gained new skills through the training they received from the archaeologist team, but learned about the exciting history hidden beneath their village.

The Mapping Magnus Project is not complete yet and further research is planned which will help us understand the history of Palace Village, Birsay the story of Magnus and his legacy in the parish.

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute team would like to thank all of the volunteers on site, pupils from all of the primary schools, the homeowners for allowing the team to dig in their gardens and for everyone that kept up to date with the dig.

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If you would also like to be part of the Mapping Magnus Community Archaeology Project then please contact us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk . Future activities include geophysical survey and walkover survey at Manse Stone sites and noust survey at Marwick.

Team led by Dan Lee, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, Chris Gee, Bobby Friel (ORCA), Colin Mitchell (ORCA), students Jim Bright (Digital Archaeologist) and Charolotte Hunter.

Follow the conversation #Mappingmagnus

Examining the Cata Sand Whales

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The excavation at Cata Sand on the island of Sanday in Orkney not only unearthed the remains of Early Neolithic Houses, but also as reported in August, the skeletons of around twelve whales originating in the nineteenth century.

The team led by archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, University of Central Lancashire and volunteers from Sanday Archaeology Group travelled to Sanday to excavate a possible Neolithic site. However within a few hours, two trenches were discovered to contain remains of whale skeletons.

DSC_01001During the excavation, eight individual skeletons were lifted and transported carefully to the UHI Archaeology Institute laboratory in Kirkwall, where Stephen Haines and Claire Mackay, began to examine the remaining bones last week. Stephen is a recent MSc graduate in Forensic Anthropology (UCLAN) and has volunteered to help clean, assemble and analyse the bones. Claire has recently started a research masters at the UHI, in which she will be exploring the exploitation of whales in Late Iron Age and Norse Orkney.

As Stephen assembled the bones into anatomical order, it soon became apparent that, as the area where they were found was an inter-tidal zone, many of the bones were waterlogged and brittle. However, Stephen assembled the bones in order and a number of interesting facts emerged.

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Interestingly all of the animals appear to be missing their heads. A likely explanation could revolve around the known practice of giving the heads of whales as prizes to Captains involved in the hunt or local landowners in the case of beached whales. The head of a whale was especially valuable as it contained a large quantity of precious oil.

Perhaps surprisingly the evidence points to the fact that the animals were not butchered for their meat. There does not appear to be any cut marks on the bones themselves and they were not disarticulated and scattered – as usually found at butchery sites.

So how did these huge skeletons get into the ground? In the nineteenth century account of the whale beaching, a visitor to the island complained about the terrible smell coming from the decomposing animals. Reading the account further, it would seem that this complaint resulted in the local people burying the carcasses on the beach. And there they remained for over 200 years….forgotten by locals and visitors alike.

Sadly, as we don’t have access to the heads, identifying the species involved is incredibly difficult, however based on the general morphology we believe the bones belong to the dolphin family – potentially a Risso’s Dolphin. Further research will confirm the species.

The initial findings have now been edited into a series of videos clips…..


The excavation team included 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.

If you want more information on studying at the UHI Archaeology Institute then email us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or check out our website

 

Listening to the Piers Exhibition – Stromness Museum

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Stories, Stones and Bones: Stromness Museum’s ‘Listening to the Piers’ exhibition celebrates Stromness Piers

  • Exhibition open 4th November – 31 December 2017
  • Venue: Stromness Museum, Stromness, Orkney

The dynamic story of the Stromness piers collected during the project through stories, drawings, photographs and artefacts will be exhibited in the entrance porch of Stromness Museum from Saturday 4 November to 31 December 2017.

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The project co-ordinator Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist UHI Archaeology Institute, commenting on the award said: “It’s great that Stromness Museum was awarded this grant. Stromness piers have such a rich wealth of stories from their working past to the new ways we think about them today. We are all really excited about telling other people about our findings and sharing our heritage and history with them through this exhibition”.

Stromness Museum received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant as part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. This exciting project, ‘Listening to the Piers’, run in partnership with University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute, Heriot Watt Stromness campus and locally based artists was awarded £9,700 to investigate the piers of Stromness through creative engagement in archaeology, art and science workshops.

Commenting, Lucy Casot, Head of HLF in Scotland, said: “The Heritage Lottery Fund is a key partner in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and it was our ambition that people of all ages would have the chance to discover something new about the heritage they care about. With almost 100 projects happening across the country, over 15,000 people have done just that. We’re delighted that, thanks to funding from the National Lottery, Stromness Museum is part of that celebration, opening the door to fun, learning and everlasting memories for many people as we celebrate this special year.”

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Stromness Museum holds important collections of natural history, archaeology, maritime and social history and art. Growing sea traffic from the 18th century onwards saw the port grow with stone-built piers and slips appearing along the shore.

Oral history workshops introduced Stromness Primary School pupils to interview techniques to make recordings about the piers. On ‘Piers Day’ during ‘Per Mare’ week, at the end of July 2017, Listening to the Piers provided an opportunity for local people and visitors to explore different ways of seeing and interpreting these piers through archaeology, marine biology, photography and drawing workshops.

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Stromness Museum
The Stromness Museum exists to promote natural science, to preserve local history and to offer an enjoyable educational and informative experience to as large a range of people as possible.

Stories, Stones and Bones
Stories, Stones and Bones is for any not-for-profit group wanting to engage more people with the heritage and take part in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. Stories, Stones and Bones grants between £3,000 and £10,000 are available to groups who want to discover their local heritage. Projects can cover a wide spectrum of subject matter from exploring local archaeology and a community’s cultures and traditions to identifying and recording local wildlife and protecting the surrounding environment to managing and training volunteers, and holding festivals and events to commemorate the past.

Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. http://www.hlf.org.uk Follow us on facebook Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland and twitter @HLFScotland.

Join the conversation at #HLFScotland and #HHA2017 to be part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology
From World Heritage Sites to ancient monuments, listed buildings to historic battlefields, cultural traditions to our myths, tales and legends, the 2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, running from 1 January to 31 December will shine a spotlight on Scotland’s fascinating past, some of our greatest figures, attractions and icons, as well as our hidden gems.

 

YAARP – Looking at the Archaeological Landscape Differently

DSC_0069The latest video results are now in from the Yesnaby Art & Archaeology Project team who were working in the field during the summer.

The team led by University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute archaeologist Dr James Moore and visual artist Rik Hammond use the shared language of the disciplines of art and archaeology to explore the landscape of Western Orkney through a different lens. The research project aims to use both disciplines as tools to understand the continuously changing physical environment and people’s perceptions of a specific area on the island.

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James continues, “Everyone perceives a landscape differently, depending on your own experiences, background and so on. An archaeologist would read a location differently to someone who has say trained in geography. A person brought up in an urban environment will see something different to someone who grew up in a rural setting, or on an island. Using GPS, video and a variety of other arts-based techniques we can create maps of activity, and diverse images of the landscape, which consider the ways in which members of the team experience different aspects of the environment, and provides a way of challenging our own perceptions of the landscape. By combining these ideas with our understanding of the locations and distribution of archaeological material obtained through our more traditional survey work we can hopefully begin to think about the ways in which people in the past might have understood and experienced the landscape in which they lived.”

One feature of the project involved placing a camera on the slope overlooking the valley and, using timelapse techniques, create a video to explore the landscape over a period of nine weeks….through sunshine and rain, night and day. The result not only tracks the changing environment of Yesnaby over a defined time period, but in many respects forces us to look at the archaeological landscape in a different way.

This is the third year of YAARP and this year the team have focused on creating unique digital and traditional artwork in the field based on the natural and cultural landscape. The team are looking forward to presenting a taste of the results by staging an exhibition in Orkney during spring 2018. There will be more from the team soon.

Follow YAARP social mediaFacebook @YesnabyArtArchaeologyResearchProject and Twitter @YAARP_Orkney and Rik Hammond @rik_hammond

Thanks to Orkney Islands Council Culture Fund for supporting the project.

New Research Published – suggests long-distance movement of cattle in the Bronze Age

Chillingham_Bull. Thanks to Sally Holmes
Chillingham Cattle. Thanks to Sally Holmes.

Dr Ingrid Mainland of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is the co-author of a new investigation into the origins and husbandry of Mid-Late Bronze Age cattle – now published in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports.

The authors include Jacqueline Towers & Julie Bond of the University of Bradford, Jane Evans of the British Geological Survey, Ingrid Mainland of the UHI Archaeology Institute and Janet Montgomery of Durham University.

Bioarchaeological evidence suggests that the site of Grimes Graves, Norfolk, characterised by the remains of several hundred Late Neolithic flint mineshafts, was a permanently settled community with a mixed farming economy during the Mid-Late Bronze Age (c. 1400 BCE – c. 800 BCE).

Cattle Tooth with enamel sequentially sampled for isotope analysis
Cattle tooth with enamel sequentially sampled for isotope analysis

The aim of this study was to investigate, through isotope ratio analysis (87Sr/86Sr, δ13C and δ18O), the origins and husbandry of Bronze Age cattle (Bos taurus) excavated from a mineshaft known as the “1972 shaft”. Strontium isotope ratios from the molar enamel of ten Grimes Graves cattle were compared with eight modern animals from the Chillingham Wild White cattle herd, Northumberland.

The range of 87Sr/86Sr values for the modern cattle with known restricted mobility was low (0.00062) while the values for the Grimes Graves cattle varied much more widely (range = 0.00357) and suggest that at least five of the cattle were not born locally. Two of these animals were likely to have originated at a distance of ≥150 km.

Cattle mandible - occlusal (biting surface) view
Cattle Mandible – occlusal (biting surface) view

Intra-tooth δ13Cprofiles for eight of the Grimes Graves cattle show higher δ13Cvalues compared to those of Early Bronze Age cattle from central England. Most of these profiles also display pronounced shifts in δ13C during the period of enamel formation.

One possible interpretation is that the cattle were subject to dietary change resulting from movement between habitats with different vegetation δ13C values. More comparative data, both archaeological and modern, is required to validate this interpretation.

The multi-isotope approach employed in this study suggests that certain cattle husbandry and/or landscape management practices may have been widely adopted throughout central Britain during the Mid-Late Bronze Age.

The full report can be downloaded from the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports. You may have to subscribe to the journal if you or your organisation are not members.

Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project Orkney – HMS Royal Oak Steam Pinnace Located

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The HMS Royal Oak pinnace

The tragic story of the loss of HMS Royal Oak in the first weeks of the Second World War is well known in Orkney and further afield, but there has always been mystery surrounding the location of one of the small vessels that was used by sailors attempting to escape from the sinking battleship.

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving can now confirm the position of the missing HMS Royal Oak steam pinnace.

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Multi beam showing position of HMS Royal Oak and the pinnace

HMS Royal Oak was a Royal Navy battleship which was moored in Scapa Bay as an anti-aircraft platform to help defend a vital radar station on the cliffs. On the night of 13 October German submarine, U-47 manoeuvred into Scapa Flow and finding the Royal Oak at anchor fired torpedoes which led to the sinking of the huge ship. 834 men were lost of the 1,200 crew on-board with the few survivors struggling in the cold oil-covered water.

Research shows that two 50-foot picket boats were on onboard HMS Royal Oak when she was torpedoed. Number 749 was built by J Samuel White of the Isle of Wight and number 752 built by Rowhedge Ironworks, Wivenhoe Shipyard, Essex.

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HMS Royal Oak pinnace steering helm

Documentary evidence indicates that around 100 crew members abandoned ship via her port side pinnace, which had a lifesaving capacity of 59. The Starboard side pinnace  went down with Royal Oak and can be seen on the seabed a short distance from the wreck. The small pinnace had not got up steam so boards were used to paddle the vessel away from the sinking Royal Oak.  The pinnace began to rock due to being overloaded and the chief buffer tried to counter the movement by shouting instructions ‘’Lean to starboard, lean to port’. Some on deck were ordered below to make more room as more men tried to climb on board.

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HMS Royal Oak pinnace boiler

Dick Kerr who was hanging on the side of the small vessel says, he heard someone start singing ‘Down Mexico way, south of the border’’ and a few others joined in. A short while later the pinnace capsized throwing those on deck into the water and trapping those who had gone below. Some crew scrambled onto the upturned hull but many were lost. The vessel then righted herself, capsized once more and then sank.

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HMS Royal Oak pinnace compass

The location of this little ship was not known – until last month when the Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project pinpointed the shipwreck on multibeam sonar, 300 metres from the main wreck site. The site was surveyed by Triscom Enterprise as part of the Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project. The site had been previously side scanned by SULA Diving as part of a survey for OIC Harbours, but the identity of the craft had not then been established. As part of the project, a dive survey was conducted by SULA Diving of Stromness on the contact to establish that this was the missing port side pinnace.

Diver, Wayne Allen, of Wayne Allen Technical said, “It was a privilege to be able to assist SULA Diving in recording these historically important sites.”

Alistair Coutts, Business Development Manager, Seatronics, said: “Seatronics were delighted to have the opportunity to work with the collected specialists on this exciting project, providing ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment”.

Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology commented that, “ It is a great privilege to be involved with the monitoring of such an important wreck site as HMS Royal Oak and in the finding of the missing pinnace. The site will now be recorded and will add to our knowledge surrounding the sinking of HMS Royal Oak.”

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HMS Royal Oak pinnace propeller

This exciting project is led by Sandra Henry of UHI Archaeology Institute, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving who have brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.

The dive video clip above is also available from sean.page@uhi.ac.uk

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HMS Royal Oak pinnace forward cabin

 

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Side Scan Sonar Image of the HMS Royal Oak Pinnace
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Side Scan Sonar Image of the HMS Royal Oak Pinnace showing an overlay plan of the actual pinnace.

Notes for Editors

  • The project lead is Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
  • http://www.suladiving.com Provided the diving services. Side scan data acquisition and research for the project.
  • Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia was the work platform for data collection. Data collection involved Marine Scotland undertaking MBES survey, providing calibrated unprocessed raw data and camera equipment for the acquisition of data.
  • Seatronics – an Acteon Company provided ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment.
  • Historic Environment Scotland provided funding, guidance on marine historic assets, survey targets and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites.
  • Ulster University provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys and will provide input into maritime archaeological assessment and analysis.
  • Heriot-Watt University provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the ROV survey and undertook marine biological studies on the submerged cultural heritage assets.
  • Ministry of Defence provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys, and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites being investigated and environmental studies of the wreck sites.
  • The University of Dundee will process MBES and ROV survey data and work to produce visualisations based on the collected data. This will involve the production of 3D models of the wreck sites from the multibeam echosounder and photogrammetric data.
  • The project was conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.
  • Thanks to Triscom Enterprises Limited. Triscom operates its own multibeam echo-sounder which is an advanced sonar system able to provide full-coverage seafloor mapping, which is mainly used in the nearshore construction & cable industry. We were delighted to be given the opportunity to provide our 3D mapping service in the recent marine archaeology project in collaboration with ORCA and Sula diving. The larger vessel involved in the project, the Scotia, was unwilling to risk close proximity with the wreck of the Royal Oak which rises to about 6m below the surface, but Triscom were able to rapidly mobilise a multibeam aboard Sula’s small workboat Challenger, and this gave us the opportunity to do a 3D scan of the newly discovered wreck of the Royal Oak’s steam pinnace.