Postgraduate students were fieldwalking in Orkney’s West Mainland last week, focusing on a newly ploughed field to the north-east of Maeshowe.
Fieldwalking involves the surface collection of artefacts in ploughed fields on a grid so that distribution patterns over larger areas can be observed. Given the wealth of archaeology in and around the Maeshowe area, any fieldwalking exercise can add much to our understanding of the landscape – both prehistoric and historic.
Previous fieldwalking in the area recovered prehistoric flints, axeheads and quernstones, which often corresponded to suspected ancient settlements. Some of these have also been identified during large-scale geophysical survey.
But it’s not all about prehistory. Finds from the more recent past are also gathered, bringing the story of an area right up to the present day.
On a grey Thursday morning, the students gathered in Stenness to begin the exercise, led by UHI Archaeology Institute lecturer Martin Carruthers and ORCA’s Chris Gee. The overcast, misty conditions were ideal for fieldwalking, with the diffused sunlight making it easier to spot items lying on the surface.
Although Orkney’s best-known chambered cairn lay across the road, the field produced little in the way of definite Neolithic material.
However, the adjacent field was the site of a World War Two army base (established in 1941) and that was reflected in some of the finds – in particular a fine piece of china, dating to 1945, and clearly marked “N.A.A.F.I”.
The Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) was created by the UK Government in 1921 to run recreational establishments needed by the British Armed Forces. By April 1944 the NAAFI ran 7,000 canteens and had 96,000 personnel.
The modern ceramics found in the field’s north-western end undoubtedly relate to the use of the wartime camp and its eventual demolition, with the detritus drifting across the landscape over time.
Cramp is a vitreous, slag-like material associated with prehistoric cremation burial and is a recurrent feature of Bronze Age burials.
A spread of cramp found in the field ties in with the presence of other Bronze Age burial features known to cluster around Maeshowe.
In fact, around 1915, an interesting “cist with a door” was reported to have been found near the field entrance. At the time this intriguing cist was said to have been among a number found in the area.
Other finds included the leg of a pipkin – a three-legged earthenware cooking pot.
These are found from the 13th century onwards but the Stenness fragment, on first glance, looks to be later, probably 17th or 18th century.
Our thanks go to Mrs Mathers, of Tormiston Farm, for the permission to work in their field.
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