The Cairns Day 19 – 2019

Mickey and the gang excavating in Trench Q

Mickey Van Lit from Leiden University brings The Cairns blog up to date.

As the excavation is coming to an end, so is this blog. I very kindly asked whether I could write a second blog, just because I liked it so much. Martin, gratefully accepted my generous and not-at-all self-indulgent offer and… Here we are!

Our last real day of digging was yesterday. In fact, yesterday was mostly spent not trowelling but recording the newly found structures and newly uncovered areas. Today, we have been covering the site with tarps and tyres, to protect it from Orkney’s winter weather. Because finds have started to slow down, it is perhaps difficult to write a blog about the developments on site, especially with a conclusive blog coming soon to finish off the season. Therefore, I thought it might be a good idea to write about my own university, the University of Leiden in The Netherlands.

Mika excavating the broch floor

Together with three other students from Leiden, I signed up for this excavation as part of a course we are required to do as second-year archaeology students. For this course, we have to fulfil approximately seven weeks of work to get the required ECs. Isabelle and I worked together on the wonderful area I described in an earlier blog (the one from day 12), which has now become an entirely new structure of itself. Mika mostly worked in the broch, and he has found a few big pieces of pottery and a semi-D-shaped bronze ring, as shown on the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/895020910565507/). The last of us four, Maurits, worked in the southwest extension, cleaning a structure and in the meantime working down onto the natural soil.

At the University of Leiden, Archaeology is not only a regular undergraduate course, it is also a separate faculty. This means that the Faculty of Archaeology has got a lot more autonomy to offer than other undergraduates that are grouped together under ‘Social Sciences’ or ‘Humanities’. We have an entire building to ourselves, although sometimes we have to share it with some Biology students, whose labs are placed in our building. The Van Steenis-building that we are in, is relatively new, as the old building could not house the increasing number of Archaeology students any longer. Good to see that there are more people coming to Leiden to study Archaeology, isn’t it?

During my four weeks here, I understood that many lectures at the University of Highlands and Islands can be followed and listened to via an online connection, because many students live away from Orkney College UHI. In The Netherlands, it happens a bit differently. Many lectures have obligatory attendance, with the consequence of not being allowed to sit the exam if the attendance is not met. Some lectures get recorded, but these recordings are meant as repetition of the lecture, not as replacement.

The second bronze ring-like object found by Mika

One similarity between the University of Leiden and UHI is that all first-years are required to do a two-week field school. My field school was a couple hundred metres away from the faculty, where the features of a medieval house were found. It was very clayey soil, much different from the loose silty soil and rocks at The Cairns. The methods of excavation were just as different. Instead of trowelling, we were very often working with spades and shovels and not much was left from the house itself. Our main clues were features, not neatly placed rocks. After having had that kind of field school, The Cairns was a bit of a surprise. But a good one, of course!

To be honest, it feels a bit weird to know that everything is getting covered up. No more trowelling, no more lifting rocks, no more sticking your finds up in the air in victory… After four weeks of work, I have grown fond of the site (and all right, the people were fun as well!). It almost feels like I have no choice but to return to The Cairns next year. Who’s with me?

Thanks to Leiden University student, Mickey Van Lit