Update from Newark, Orkney following Storms

Work continues to protect the fragile site at Newark Bay, Orkney. Photo: Amanda Brend

The storms that have hit the UK in the past few months have brought flooding and disruption to many communities both on the coast and on river flood plains. Orkney has not been spared and our exposed coastal areas have been subjected to massive waves and high storm surges.

As the storms are replaced by snow showers and a period of relative calm, archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) together with a small army of volunteers are inspecting the fragile site at Newark.

January and February’s storms have badly impacted Newark and disrupted many of the measures that have been so carefully put in place in the previous few months – as photographs on various social media sites have shown.

Volunteers repairing damage to the sea defences. Photo: Amanda Brend

The site is being actively watched over by Deerness residents and by volunteers from across Orkney, including students and staff from the UHI Archaeology Institute. We know that the sandbags are not the answer to protecting the site in the long term, but they provide some protection, and as soon as the weather makes it safe to replace and secure them again, we’ll put out a shout for help. In the meantime if you find bags blowing about, please gather them up, weigh them down near the carpark (in a sheltered place) and if we can re-use, we will.

As a separate issue from the protection of the site, Historic Environment Scotland are funding a major 3 year study of the site and the human remains there. Check out our previous blog for details of the project. Currently a major report is being compiled of all that’s been done at Newark in the past, what we know about the site and what needs to be done for the future to best understand it and all that’s found there. The work is being undertaken by ORCA, at the UHI Archaeology Institute here at Orkney College in Kirkwall and is led by a Steering Group made up of landowner, volunteers, ORCA archaeologists and Gail Drinkall of Orkney Museum.

Landowner about to do some claying up on-site, to protect remains. Photo: Amanda Brend

Years 2 and 3 of the project will be examining in depth the human remains, completing DNA analysis and other work to determine as much as we can about the many folk buried there. Many remains were excavated from the site 50 years ago (http://www.hopkinsweb.org.uk/orkney/) and are safely preserved for this work to be undertaken. We know that people were buried there between the 6th and 15th centuries A.D. (https://canmore.org.uk/site/3033/newark) and that their remains may hold information about the little-understood Pictish/Viking transition in Orkney at a time of major change in the North.

A major exhibition about Newark and all our findings will take place in the Orkney Museum over the summer of 2022, and other grants are being applied for in order to extend the project, to complete further research, but we fear indeed that the sea will ultimately win the battle.

In the meantime, please respect this site of human burial and be aware that it’s not safe around the site at present due to undermined banks and boulders making walking dangerous. We will continue to do what we can and if you want to help, watch out for the next call for volunteers.

3 thoughts on “Update from Newark, Orkney following Storms

  1. Bernie Bell Friday, February 28, 2020 (4:42pm) / 4:42 pm

    I’m very sorry to read this – very sorry – that site, is one of ‘those’ places. What’s to be done? apart from massive stone walls like at Skara Brae, and other coastal sites – often to protect cemeteries. But, that costs – it costs a lot. And then there’s maintenance………..

    I look forward to an exhibition about Newark , but 2022 seems a long way, away.



  2. Ellen Woodrow Saturday, February 29, 2020 (12:53am) / 12:53 am

    I wondered if you have considered a concrete block barrier. There are types of concrete that withstand the sea water and waves. Blocks are better than a continuous wall because they can be lowered into place, and if damaged can be removed and replaced. It is worth considering.

  3. Ellen Woodrow Thursday, March 5, 2020 (7:04am) / 7:04 am

    I have an idea to stop the erosion, or at least slow it down. If you can use huge cement blocks – not a wall but blocks so they can be replaced as they become weathered, it will stop the sea from battering the coastline there. My brother is a chemist and I asked him about polymer infused cements and he said there are some that could work for that. And some cements harden more as they age, so I think it’s something to look into. Please let me know if this is a helpful idea at all.

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