Ness of Brodgar Excavations Wins Prestigious International Award

The Ness of Brodgar excavation

The Ness of Brodgar Excavations, managed by the UHI Archaeology Institute in conjunction with the Ness of Brodgar Trust, has been selected for a 2019 Shanghai Archaeology Forum Field Discovery Award.

The archaeology site was nominated by members of the German Archaeological Institute, and the University of Cambridge for the award

Founded in 2013, Shanghai Archaeology Forum is a global initiative dedicated to promoting the investigation, protection and utilization of the world’s archaeological resources and heritage.

The biennial SAF Awards “recognize individuals and organizations that have achieved distinction through innovative, creative, and rigorous works relating to our human past, and have generated new knowledge that has particular relevance to the contemporary world and our common future.

It aims to promote excellence and innovation in archaeological research, advance public awareness and appreciation of archaeology, foster the protection and conservation of the world’s archaeological resources and heritage, and encourage international collaboration and partnerships between scholars and others from different countries”.

Site Director Nick Card discussing the next step in excavating the ‘drain’ unearthed in 2019

The Discovery Award, in particular, is made for archaeological excavations or surveys that have yielded major discoveries significantly furthering or even altering our knowledge of the human past, locally and/or globally.

This year a total of 141 nominations were received from the advisory members from every corner of the globe.

This number was whittled down to a shortlist of 40 projects. A total of 34 invited members from 18 different countries joined the selection committee to cast votes in the selection of 20 finalists, ten for each category (Field Discovery and Research Awards).

The site director Nick Card has received a fully funded invitation to the Forum in Shanghai, in December, to deliver a presentation and accept the award. Nick added “This is a huge accolade to the Ness and Orkney on the world stage. Congratulations to everyone involved: the students, volunteers, specialists and staff who have all contributed to this success – they deserve it!”.

Check out the Ness of Brodgar website here for more on this incredible archaeology excavation into the Neolithic in Orkney.

Art & Archaeology at UHI Enrolling Now for 2020

Love Art? Love Archaeology? Why not study both and get an accredited undergraduate or masters-level module at the same time!

Art and Archaeology courses ENROLLING NOW for January 2020 start!

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, and the Art & Design Department, at Orkney College UHI are pleased to announce that enrolments are now open for the 2020 Art and Archaeology modules.

These are available at both undergraduate or postgraduate level and can be studied either as elective modules as part of a UHI degree or masters course, or as standalone modules for Continuing Professional Development.

Both modules provide students from a range of backgrounds with a deepened understanding of the creative, practical and vocational aspects of art and archaeology and provide the transferable skills which are currently in demand in the cultural industries and heritage sector. Either module can be taken as a distance learning student, from either a UHI learning centre, or from your home anywhere in the world*.

Exhibiting at The Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, Orkney

Art and Archaeology: Context and Practice (Level 8 / undergraduate)

This new undergraduate level 20-credit course is suitable for students who have at least 3 Scottish Highers at grade C or above / 2 A-Levels at grade C or above, or equivalent, and a strong interest in art and archaeology. This module allows students to explore the creative, practical and vocational aspects of art and archaeology in their own research and practice.

You will learn about the history of the relationship between art and archaeology, and through a series of practical assignments you will gain a deepened understanding of not only your own creative practice, but also of the processes of making and craft production in the past and how these are interpreted in the present.

Over the 14 weeks of study between January and May 2020, you will develop a portfolio of work which will lead to your final assessed project.

Detail of butterfly pattern carving from the Ness of Brodgar

Art and Archaeology: Contemporary Theory and Practice (Level 11 / postgraduate)

This 20-credit masters level course will appeal to students from a wide range of backgrounds including fine art, design and applied arts, archaeology, heritage studies, galleries and museums, and anthropology.

It provides an advanced understanding of the new interdisciplinary area of Contemporary Art and Archaeology, through discussions, seminars, and lectures on current and historical contexts and case studies. The module takes place in Semester 2 over 14 weeks (January – May 2020). Teaching is delivered via a blend of Video Conference seminar sessions, tutorials, Online teaching and resources, and self-directed study. You will document your personal creative enquiry through a reflective journal, which will form part of your final assessment, along with a research project and presentation.

Art & Archaeology workshop visit to the Stones of Stenness

We will research and explore Contemporary Art and Archaeology as a group, and together we will develop new thinking and understanding in this exciting area. There is an optional 3-day residential workshop 20-22 February 2020 in Orkney which runs at the start of this module; this is not compulsory but is strongly recommended (no additional teaching cost but students are required to fund their own travel and accommodation).

COMING SOON! MA CONTEMPORARY ART AND ARCHAEOLOGY, A UNIQUE 12/15 MONTH MASTERS COURSE, AVAILABLE TO STUDY FROM ANY LOCATION. Contact antonia.thomas@uhi.ac.uk to register your interest and for more information NOW!

Module fees for 2019-2020**
Accredited Level 11 module: £560
Accredited Level 8 module: £215

**Scottish / EU domiciled students only; please contact us for details of fees for students from the rest of the UK or outwith the EU

To apply or for more details about course content and entry requirements, please email antonia.thomas@uhi.ac.uk

Spotlight on Research: Art & Archaeology

Antonia looking at rock art at the Ness of Brodgar

Each month we aim to bring you a snapshot of research carried out at The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

This month we talk to Dr. Antonia Thomas and her research on art & archaeology. 

Dr. Antonia Thomas is a Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute based in Orkney, Scotland.
Antonia’s work focusses on Art and Archaeology in its broadest sense, from the interpretation of prehistoric art, to the intersections between contemporary art practice and the archaeological imagination.

She is interested in various aspects of visual and material culture, such as stone-carving and sculpture, photographic theory, vernacular buildings, prehistoric architecture, graffiti and mark-making, and contemporary archaeology. Antonia has published widely on these subjects and has collaborated on several transdisciplinary art and archaeology projects.

Talking to Antonia about her latest research she continues….“My two favourite subjects are Art, and, Archaeology. I feel so lucky to be able to combine these in my teaching and research! We run a variety of Art and Archaeology courses here at the UHI, from summer workshops to postgraduate modules.”

Art & Archaeology Residency at the Pier Arts Centre, Stromness

One of the best aspects of my job is getting to know new people and places. I have been really lucky this year to be invited to speak at some amazing places. I was in Aarhus, Denmark, in February discussing Neolithic art in Orkney as part of a research seminar in the Department of Archaeology. Professor Jens Andresen at Aarhus has been excavating an amazing site on the island of Bornholm, which has produced these lovely carved ‘sunstones’ – it was brilliant to be able to compare these with the carvings we have here in Orkney. And then in July, I was the guest of Renmin University in Beijing, where I presented at a seminar on Cultural Heritage. China is such a culturally rich and fascinating country, and I can’t wait to go back! I am hoping to set up some art/archaeology projects there in the near future with my Chinese colleagues.

And then in September, I was in Shetland at the Shoormal conference, to talk about the relationship between contemporary art and archaeology in Orkney. You can read a version of my paper from the conference in the latest edition of Art North magazine.

Drawing the Wreck of the Norholmen at Warbeth, Orkney

The highlight of my year, however, is always when our popular accredited Art and Archaeology stand-alone courses start up again in January and I get to meet the new students. It is always such a diverse group, and every year’s so different. And, some exciting news for the near future – we’re soon going to be launching a brand new, unique MA programme in Contemporary Art and Archaeology! As well as the opportunities for researching Art and Archaeology for an MRes, or PhD, I can’t wait to see what projects emerge.”

Selected Publications (for full list see Antonia’s UHI Research Page)

  • Thomas, A. in press. (expected 2019). ‘Duration and representation in archaeology and photography’. In L. McFadyen & D. Hicks (eds.), Archaeology and Photography: Time, Objectivity and Archive. London, Bloomsbury.
  • Thomas, A. 2019. ‘Parallel Visions: Art, Archaeology and Landscape in Orkney’. Art North 1(3), pp.28-30.
  • Thomas, A. 2019. ‘Image and process in an architectural context: decorated stonework from the Ness of Brodgar’. In A. Jones & M. Diaz-Guardamino (eds.), Making a Mark: Image and Process in Neolithic Britain and Ireland, pp.142-163. Oxford, Windgather.
  • Thomas, A., Lee, D., Frederick, U. & White, C. 2017. ‘Beyond Art/Archaeology: Research and Practice after the ‘Creative Turn’’. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 4(2): 219-229. https://doi.org/10.1558/jca.33150 
  • Thomas, A. 2016. Art and Architecture in Neolithic Orkney: Process, Temporality and Context. UHI Archaeology Institute Research Series: 1. Oxford, Archaeopress.[download link]
  • Thomas, A. 2014. ‘Creating contexts: between the archaeological site and art gallery’. In A. Cochrane & I.A. Russell (eds.) Art and Archaeology: Collaborations, Conversations, Criticisms, pp.141-155. One World Archaeology Series, Volume 11. New York, Springer-Kluwer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-8990-0_11 
  • Card, N. & Thomas, A. 2012. ‘Painting a picture of Neolithic Orkney: decorated stonework from the Ness of Brodgar’. In A. Cochrane & A. Jones (eds.), Visualising the Neolithic, pp.111-124. Oxford, Oxbow Books.

Interested in studying Art and Archaeology with us at the UHI? Email Antonia on antonia.thomas@uhi.ac.uk for more information on any of these courses.

Ancient DNA Study at The Cairns Lands Massive Whale Tale

The whalebone vessel unearthed at The Cairns

Preliminary results of genetic research into whalebone from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute research site at The Cairns, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, show that some very large whale species were sourced for tools, vessels and equipment during the Iron Age.

In the early Summer 2019 Drs Vicki Szabo, (Western Carolina University) and Brenna Frasier (St Mary’s University, Nova Scotia) collaborated with Dr Ingrid Mainland and Martin Carruthers at the UHI Archaeology Institute, to examine the collection of whalebone artefacts recovered from The Cairns and Mine Howe excavations, Orkney.

The aim of the research was to obtain genetic information in order to provide an assessment of what types of whalebone, or cetacean, were actually present at the sites. The research is part of a large project which is investigating the use of whale bone in Western Atlantic society over the last 1000 years. Both Brenna and Vicki are following up on work completed in Orkney during February 2018 where they examined the whales found at Cata Sand and other whalebone artefacts from Orkney Museum.

Brenna creating a sample from a whalebone artefact unearthed at The Cairns

Martin Carruthers, Site Director at The Cairns archaeology excavation said, “Initial results from the study show some of the whale bones that were uncovered at The Cairns were from very large types of whale including sperm whale and humpback. One surprise, though, is the appearance of fin whale. Fin whales are the second largest species on the planet, after the Blue Whale itself, and can grow to 27 metres in length. In particular, one very significant artefact from the Cairns site, is a very large vertebra from a fin whale, and that’s an item that was carved into a vessel or container. At the time of its discovery during the 2016 season it was found to contain a human jawbone and two neonatal lambs.”

Iron Age whalebone vessel in situ next to the entrance to The Cairns Broch

Martin continued, ”The vessel had been placed just outside the broch wall, very close to the entrance, when the broch was put out of use around the Mid-2nd Century AD. As well as the whalebone vessel and jawbone, two red deer antlers had been propped against the vessel and a very large saddle quern, a grinding stone, had been positioned against the vessel to pin it firmly in place against the broch wall. All this treatment appears to have been part of the measures employed to perform an act of closure of the broch.”

The discovery that this vessel is from a fin whale is fascinating in its own right, but there are several more Fin Whale items from the site so it should be possible to identify relationships between animals and also match bones across the site to the same animal. When more results are forthcoming from the study it will be interesting to note any concentrations of fin whale from certain areas of the site, or phases. Martin suggests that it may be possible to effectively trace multiple items from the same animal and see how a carcass was distributed across the site.

Vicki preparing one of the larger whalebone artefacts from The Cairns

Beyond the vessel, there’s a particular concentration of bone in the broch and it will also be very interesting to see what this research can reveal about the use of whalebone in this monumental Iron Age structure.

Interesting and intriguingly fin whales are also amongst the fastest whales in the sea, capable of bursts of 45KMH when hunting, or threatened, and they can dive fast and very deeply. Indeed, in the modern era, the fin whale was only really hunted in large numbers once the explosive harpoon was invented, and so it is unlikely to have been hunted in the Iron Age, but rather a stranded individual. That does not mean that other types of whale were not hunted, and the question of whether some whales were pro-actively sourced during the Iron Age remains unanswered. In time, further study of patterns of whalebone and species recognition from sites like The Cairns may shed light on this.

The Cairns Broch looking across to the North Sea, Orkney

The results discussed here are simply preliminary findings and ultimately there will undoubtedly be more exciting information, and stories, to come out of this research soon…

For background information to the research, see our blog link: https://archaeologyorkney.com/2019/06/18/extracting-dna-from-the-cairns-whalebone-collection/

Programme of Public Talks @UHI Archaeology

The Cairns Broch Excavation 2019

Dr. Ragnhild Ljosland, Lecturer at The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, details the public talks which are planned over the next few weeks.

The talks are open to everyone and are designed to share some of the exciting research carried out by the speakers to a large audience.

Most of the talks will be recorded or can be accessed via video conferencing so that people outside of Orkney can also access the incredible findings of these UHI collaborative research programmes.

  • Thursday 31st October 1-2 pm, Art Department, Orkney College UHI Martin Carruthers Site Director, The Cairns Broch excavation, will be speaking in the Ruination & Decay seminar series: “Ancestral piles: Decay and stabilisation in the culture of ruination at The Cairns Broch, Orkney.” Dial-in 53051@uhi.ac.uk. The seminar has been filmed and will be published shortly.
  • Wednesday 6th November, 7 pm Orkney College UHI restaurant: Olwyn Owen “Curiouser and Curiouser : the puzzling cases of Tuquoy and Scar”.
  • Thursday 14th November, 1 pm Art Department Orkney College UHI. Dial-in 53051@uhi.ac.uk A double bill in the Ruination & Decay seminar: “The sky above the shore” music performance with Peter Noble, Anna Wendy Stevenson & Dr Miriam Iorwerth. Followed by “Reconnecting with ruins: Ancestral Tourism & Heritage work in Tiree” Joanna Rodgers, UHI Centre for History.
  • Friday 15th November, 7.30 pm Warehouse Buildings, Stromness, Ragnhild Ljosland will be giving the George Mackay Brown Memorial Lecture for the GMB Fellowship. “Carve the runes: What makes runes so fascinating and why did they appeal to George Mackay Brown?” (No VC available for this lecture.)
  • Friday 29th November, 4 pm Orkney College Lecture Theatre Colleen Batey, Visiting Reader in Northern Studies, is giving the UHI Archaeology Institute Research Seminar with the title “Viking Boat Burial, from Norway to Orkney and Beyond.”

Please feel free to contact programme co-ordinator Ragnhild Ljosland if you have any questions or comments. Her e-mail address is Ragnhild.Ljosland@uhi.ac.uk

Ness of Brodgar Nominated for Award

Ness of Brodgar looking north

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute research excavation at the Ness of Brodgar has been nominated both by Professor Eszter Bánffy of the German Archaeological Institute, and Dr. Michael Boyd of the University of Cambridge for the prestigious 2019 Shanghai Archaeology Forum (SAF) Awards Program (Discovery Award).

Founded in 2013, Shanghai Archaeology Forum is a global initiative dedicated to promoting the investigation, protection and utilization of the world’s archaeological resources and heritage.

Trench P and Trench X at the Ness of Brodgar

The biennial SAF Awards “recognize individuals and organizations that have achieved distinction through innovative, creative, and rigorous works relating to our human past, and have generated new knowledge that has particular relevance to the contemporary world and our common future.

It aims to promote excellence and innovation in archaeological research, advance public awareness and appreciation of archaeology, foster the protection and conservation of the world’s archaeological resources and heritage, and encourage international collaboration and partnerships between scholars and others from different countries”.

Trench P at the Ness of Brodgar

The Discovery Award, in particular, is made for archaeological excavations or surveys that have yielded major discoveries significantly furthering or even altering our knowledge of the human past, locally and/or globally.

We should hopefully be notified by early November of the results.

Click here to find out more about the Ness of Brodgar excavation.

PhD Opportunities at the UHI Archaeology Institute

The University of the Highlands and Islands is seeking outstanding applicants for doctoral AHRC funded studentships in Archaeology.

A select number of studentships will be available for PhD applicants living the UK and the European Union. Successful UK applicants will benefit from a fully-funded PhD studentship (stipend plus fees). For successful EU applicants, only fees will be covered.

The initial deadline to submit your application is 4 November 2019, Midday GMT. If you wish to apply, please see the eligibility criteria and details of the application process on the University of the Highlands and Islands website here.

We are able to offer supervision in a wide variety of specialisms: Neolithic and Later Prehistory, Norse and Medieval North Atlantic, Contemporary and Historic Archaeology, Funerary Archaeology, Environmental Archaeology, Zooarchaeology, Landscape, Art and Archaeology.  We also accept students who wish to self-fund.

For more details on the UHI Archaeology Institute, staff research interests check out our website here.

If you are interested in applying please contact Dr. Ingrid Mainland in the first instance ingrid.mainland@uhi.ac.uk

UHI Archaeology Institute Autumn Seminar Series

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Research series of seminars is restarting for the season on Friday 11th October with an exciting monthly programme scheduled for the next semester.

This seminar series provides a platform for researchers connected with the UHI archaeology institute and invited guests to share ongoing research within the Institute and further afield.

New for this year, the seminars have now also been opened up to the wider community, recognising the broad interest in archaeology in the Highlands and Islands. Anyone with an interest in archaeology is welcome to come and listen, either in person in Orkney or dialling in using the UHI’s video-conference system (requires Cisco Webex Teams software).

October is a busy month with two seminars. First up in the seminar series, on the 11/10, is Siobhan Cooke of UHI Archaeology Institute and Stromness Museum, who will be talking about “The Wrecks of Scapa Flow: Salvage and Collecting at Stromness Museum”.

Following on the 25th is Astrid Nyland, special guest from the University of Stavanger, with “More than meets the eyes! The use of rock and quarries in the Mesolithic and Neolithic of Norway.” This should invite an interesting comparative perspective considering what we know of rock use during Orkney’s prehistory.

And in November, the UHI Archaeology Institute is delighted to welcome Colleen Batey from the University of Glasgow, who will be presenting on “Viking Boat Burial: From Norway to Orkney and Beyond” on the 29th November.

This talk ends the autumn season, but the seminar series will carry on also in the spring, with talks from Orkney County Archaeologist Julie Gibson and specialist on Neolithic art Antonia Thomas scheduled for January and February, and more to follow throughout the spring.

Lost Kirkwall Cathedral Buildings Found During Roadworks in Orkney

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Part of the wall of the sub deans manse looking towards St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

A team from ORCA Archaeology discovered sections of wall that were part of the St Magnus Cathedral Close last week while undertaking a watching brief for an Orkney Islands Council infrastructure project in the heart of historic Kirkwall. 

A series of walls, pottery and animal bones were unearthed only inches under the surface of the road near the entrance to Victoria Street. Archaeologists know from previous work that remains of structures dating back to the Iron Age exist in this area, but this is the first time that structures directly relating to the cathedral precinct have been identified in this particular area.

Comparing the walls to the 1882 map, the structure appears to be part of the Chaplain’s Chamber and Sub-Deans Manse, which were demolished in the 1930’s to make way for a car park and to allow vehicle access to Victoria Street. In common with many Cathedral precincts in the British Isles these imposing buildings would have been part of a large complex used to welcome pilgrims and house ecclesiastic staff associated with the Cathedral. 

The gable wall of the Chaplain’s Chamber and Sub-Dean’s Manse was recorded standing to more than 0.9m in height directly beneath the present road surface. It was aligned East-West, running from near the top of Tankerness Lane towards the entrance to the Daily Scoop Cafe, directly underneath the new kerb line. The gable wall which was 1.35 metres thick was built with very large flagstone slabs bonded with clay. 

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Part of the sub deans manse wall.

​Interestingly, although the walls appeared to be the actual house walls rather than foundations there was no sign of the gable door visible in the old pictures. The western end of the wall appears to have been demolished earlier and the door may have been lost there. There is a possibility therefore that the building demolished in the 1930s was built on top of these earlier walls of the Chaplain’s Chamber / Sub-dean’s Manse.

What was the Cathedral Precinct, why was it there and who lived in it? All the buildings from the site of the Kirkwall Community Centre South into the top of Victoria Street and East up to the Bishop’s palace formed the Cathedral Precinct. Although there would have been earlier buildings to house Cathedral staff most of the buildings, including the Chaplain’s chamber and Sub-dean’s Manse were built under bishop Robert Reid as part of a grand piece of town planning in the 1540s shortly after he became bishop of Orkney. At this time Orkney and the rest of Scotland were still predominantly Roman Catholic and the cathedral was a Catholic cathedral. Reid had previously studied law in Paris, worked as an ambassador and was the president of the Scottish College of Justice amongst other things. 

On his arrival in Orkney he found the Bishop’s Palace partly ruined and the diocese in some disorder. To rectify this he appointed seven new top staff members – known as dignitaries in the church – to take responsibility for aspects of its running along with thirteen chaplains. It was within the cathedral precinct that these and other staff members lived and worked.
The Sub-dean, who lived in the manse that the ORCA Archaeology team uncovered, for example had the responsibility of the Cathedral provost when he was unavailable. This involved the management of the canons, prebends and chaplains as well as having responsibility for the vicarage of South Ronaldsay and the maintenance of the Burwick Kirk. The Sub- dean also worked as butler to the Bishop and had the parsonage of Hoy and the vicarage of Walls.

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The site of the Cathedral Precinct today

Along with the construction of the Cathedral precinct bishop Robert Reid also built the Moosie Tower and rebuilt St Olaf’s Kirk of which the archway in Olaf’s Wynd is a part. Several of the buidings of the precinct are still existing today:  the old grammar school, part of a “large court of houses to be a colledge for instructing of the youth of this country in grammar and phylosophy”, is on the north east side of the Daily Scoop cafe. The Sub-chantry, Arch-deanery and residence of the chancellor are standing as parts of The Orkney Museum. 

The old name for Tankerness Lane was School Wynd where you would have seen and heard the scholars of the Cathedral’s Kirkwall Grammar School running down to the shore of the Peedie Sea to play after school. 

Chris Gee, Project Manager at ORCA Archaeology said, “Kirkwall was quite different then from the town we know today. In the area of Bridge Street and Albert Street lay the old Royal Burgh and secular trading centre. As we have seen previously the castle stood around the southern limit of the Burgh at this time backing out onto the Peedie Sea and the main harbour of Kirkwall. It was much larger and deeper then with the plots on the west of the street backing onto its shore. There were slips and piers for unloading and loading goods from lands around the North Sea. The reformation was to come though within a couple of decades and see an end to this sacred centre with many of the manses being acquired by wealthy merchants. Some of the rivalry between these two centres may still be seen played out between the Uppies and Doonies on Christmas and New Year’s day. “

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​Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, lecturer specialising in medieval ecclesiastic research at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute added,” We know from written sources that buildings extended from the Cathedral in the direction of present day Victoria Street. To see the physical evidence of cathedral precinct structures so close to the surface of Broad Street is very exciting and reminds us of the importance of Kirkwall being at the centre of the Cult of St Magnus in the medieval period. We can imagine pilgrims journeying from all over the medieval North Atlantic area to venerate the remains of St Magnus here at St Magnus Cathedral.”

The archaeology has now been recorded and the site carefully covered over to preserve for future generations. The Orkney Islands Council infrastructure project continued without delay.