Update on University of the Highlands & Islands Archaeology Projects

Skaill Farm dig, Rousay

If you are a volunteer, professional archaeologists or community archaeologist who was planning to work with us on our projects this year then you should have received an email stating our position as far as the present Covid-19 situation is concerned.

The present situation (24th March 2020) is as follows:

  • Ness of Brodgar dig is postponed until 2021. See website for more details.
  • The Cairns is also postponed until 2021
  • Skaill, Rousay July 2020 – excavations are postponed. Updates soon on rescheduling.
  • Tombs of the Isles, Neolithic Landscapes of the Dead NILPS project – launch and community archive research is postponed, updates soon.
  • Orkney Energy Landscapes Project – Burgar Hill and Costa Head survey days are postponed, updates soon.

Also please note that the Scottish Government has stated that you cannot travel to Orkney unless you are a key responder (24th March 2020). These travel restrictions are in place for the next three weeks and will be reviewed weekly. See Pentland Ferries & North Link Ferries websites for more information on travel.

In these unprecedented times we wish you well and hope to see you very soon.

Whale Bone Genetics and the Extraordinary Closure of a Broch

A Fin Whale. Photo: Aqqa Rosing-Asvid. Creative Commons

New DNA results shed light on Iron Age use of whale bone and the remarkable process of ending a broch two thousand years ago.

Results of DNA investigations undertaken on a large collection of whale bone from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Iron Age archaeological site of The Cairns, have afforded a glimpse into the complex relationship of Iron Age communities with whales.

In particular, the identification of multiple whale bones as belonging to a single large fin whale shows how its carcase was strategically and even ceremonially used and deposited during the ending of the monumental broch.

Vicki preparing one of the larger whalebone artefacts from The Cairns excavation. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

In the early Summer of 2019, Dr Vicki Szabo (Western Carolina University, North Carolina) and Dr Brenna Frasier (Saint Mary’s University, Nova Scotia) collaborated with Martin Carruthers (University of the Highlands & Islands Archaeology Institute), to examine the collection of whale bone artefacts recovered from The Cairns excavations, being undertaken by UHI Archaeology Institute, Orkney. The aim of the research was to obtain genetic information in order to provide an assessment of what species of whale, or cetacean, were present at the sites.

The research is part of a large international project funded by the National Science Foundation which is investigating the past use of whales in North Atlantic society. Brenna and Vicki are following up on work completed in Orkney in February 2018 where they examined the whales found at another archaeological site in Sanday, Orkney and other whale bone artefacts from The Orkney Museum.

The Cairns and the sea. Looking across Windwick Bay. Photo: Bobby Friel @Takethehighview

The project has sampled whale bones over a 1400+ year span, from Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, Faroes, Shetland, and Orkney. Orkney and Iceland are the primary centres of analysis, representing the Eastern and Western North Atlantic. Orkney offers exceptional assemblages of whale bone from many periods and sites, from the Neolithic to the Norse eras and thereafter. The types of objects produced in Orkney are remarkably stable over a long period of time, as well. The Cairns, though, has given Vicki and Brenna their first opportunity to sample at an ongoing excavation; with most of the other analysis undertaken on assemblages that were collected in the past.

The results from the study show that some of the whale bones that were uncovered at The Cairns were from very large types of whale including sperm whale, North Atlantic right whale, minke, grey whale, and humpback. This is fascinating as it raises questions about whether a site like The Cairns may have been able to stake a claim over the larger whale carcasses, and therefore if this is an indication of relative status and control of resources by the inhabitants of that site. One surprise, though, was the volume of bone belonging to fin whale species in the assemblage.

One of the larger pieces of Fin whale bone found at The Cairns Broch. Photo: Andrew Hollingrake

Fin whales are the second largest species on the planet, after the blue whale itself, and can grow to 27 metres in length. Interestingly, 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 whale bone and species recognition from sites like The Cairns may shed light on this.

The end of two giants: the broch and a Fin whale
The latest stage of the genetic project permits us to connect an entire array of whale bone items. The genetic and molecular study of 33 whale bone items shows that 20 pieces (vertebrae, ribs, scapulae, and other anatomical elements) were from the fin whale species. This is remarkable in of itself, however, 2 key mitochondrial haplotype regions of the genome of each bone were examined, and it is likely that all these fin whale items (except one) are from the same animal. This means that a single, large, fin whale may have been utilised during the last occupation and abandonment of the broch.

The Cairns broch looking across to the North Sea. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

The bones appear to relate to feasting that took place to mark the end of the broch. Some of the whale bones have chop-marks present showing signs of butchery and perhaps bone-working. Others are slightly singed from being subjected to direct heat. The fin whale bones were found in a range of contexts across the broch. Some of the bones were excavated from the uppermost floor deposits of the broch. Others were stuffed into gaps in its walls. Other fin whale bones came from the rubble that was used to infill the broch during the final abandonment.

The presence of this single animal, spread across these varied contexts, links these deposits very closely in time, much more tightly, in fact, than is currently possible with radiocarbon dating alone. It allows the excavators to closely connect several different contexts and stages within the finale of the broch and to appreciate what a relatively swift process the end was. The occurrence of the many bones from a single animal may also allow detailed consideration of the use of whale bone and how it was treated as a resource both physically and perhaps also symbolically.

The Fin whale vessel just outside the broch entrance. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

One of the bones of the giant fin whale is especially remarkable for its treatment. This was a large whale bone, which had been carved from a substantial vertebra to make a vessel. This vessel had been deposited just outside the broch door at the very end of the broch occupation. A remarkable assemblage of objects accompanied the vessel. Two shed red deer antlers had been propped against the outside of the vessel, and a very large grinding stone, or saddle quern, was also placed snuggly against the vessel as though to pin it firmly against the broch outer wall face. Inside the actual vessel, were the remains of two new-born lambs and, most remarkably, the jawbone of an elderly human. This entire collection of items was a very deliberate deposit that appears to have been part of the measures employed to perform an act of closure for the broch.

Martin Carruthers, site director of The Cairns and UHI lecturer in archaeology said: “It’s just amazing to be able to say with confidence that so many of these whale bones, including the vessel with the human jawbone, actually belong to the same animal, especially as we’ve recovered them from the site over a number of different seasons, not knowing all along that the spread of bone belonged to one huge beast. We had some suspicions that something particularly interesting was going on with the amount of whale bone that was emerging from end of our broch, but we’d never have managed to get to this level of specificity without the input and collaboration with Brenna and Vicki”.

When discovered, the whale bones are in a condition where they were cut-up or processed during the Iron Age. That often makes the original anatomical detail and form of the bones difficult to see clearly. Therefore, it can be challenging to identify them to species, let alone recognise bones belonging to a single individual. Martin continues: “One of the most important things, from my point of view, is how this research helps us to recognise the significant role that the treatment of the fin whale had in the dramatic procedures of deliberately ending of the monumental broch”.

What circumstances led to the use and deposition of the fin whale?
Whale bone seems to have been a highly important material for Iron Age communities. The appearance of these ocean giants on local beaches, when stranded, must have occasioned opportunities to recover a large volume of meat, oil (fuel for lamps), as well as a substantial resource for making objects. Whale bone-work clearly included things like our big vessel (The Cairns has also yielded several more whale bone vessels from across the site), but also tool-making (e.g. weaving ‘batons’, chopping-boards, ‘soft’ anvils, and much more), and even for architectural purposes such as large ribs used as roof rafters.

The whalebone distribution across the site which has been DNA tested. Credit: UHI Archaeology Institute

Indeed, it’s possible that a stranding of a major animal, like a massive fin whale, would have represented an exponential contribution to the community’s resources. Vicki Szabo suggests: “As a free and scavenged resource, whale provides a large volume of high value protein. Large whales are generally 14+% body weight bone, which means that a fin whale represents a massive quantity of soft tissue, meat and blubber at around 70%”.

This amount of food input may have served to energise productive capacity, providing additional assurance of a successful year for the community. Perhaps a stranding may have permitted endeavours and projects that might otherwise have been thought risky, making them more manageable. At The Cairns, this whale boon could have included support for a major undertaking such as ending the premier building, the broch, a structure that had dominated the local landscape and society for generations. It would have been no minor activity to demolish the upper parts of the massive and complex broch, and it is likely that the work of rendering it down would have had some serious consequences for the settlement, at the heart of which, lay the broch. It would have been a physically arduous and time-consuming process, probably involving many people, taking them away from other important tasks required of this busy farming group.

That is not to say that the stranding of a single large whale led to the ending of the broch. There is growing evidence that the period around the 2nd Century AD was a time when many brochs were coming to their end, at least in their initial form as high-walled, tower-like buildings. There is a sense, therefore, that things were changing, more generally, in Iron Age society across Northern Scotland at that time, which the waning importance of monumental broch architecture is a part of. However, we may still wonder if occurrences, such as the stranding of a significantly large whale, might encourage a community, perhaps already considering a radical break with the past, to go for it.

Just some of the whale bone unearthed at The Cairns. Photo UHI Archaeology Institute

There was a very practical bonus to be had in the harvesting of a very large whale, but we may also wonder if the appearance of such a large beast stranded on the foreshore meant more to Iron Age communities than just a resource. In many non-Western societies, and, indeed, many ancient European ones, sudden natural phenomena such as the highly prominent death of a significant type of animal may be seen as a conspicuous indication of arcane and esoteric forces, taken as a sign, an auspicious, or inauspicious, omen. Even though stranding may have been more common with a larger population of whales thought to exist in prehistory, it might be that both the practical impact, and the potential ideological and psychological effects of the appearance of a big stranded whale created the critical timing and final motivation for major change.

Other Animal Offerings? Animal Bone Groups at The Cairns
Whales are not the only animals present in interesting circumstances during the final stages of the occupation and abandonment of the broch. Indeed, across the site there are what are known as animal bone groups (ABG’s) present that date to the period of the broch and afterwards. These are articulated animals, or articulated parts of animals, apparently deliberately deposited. These derive from cattle, sheep, and red deer as well as cat, pig, otter and even, in one case, an articulated seal flipper!

To date, around twenty such ABG’s have been recognised from The Cairns. Probably many more await discovery. In many, or most, cases they may well be butchered joints of meat. It may be that these ABG’s are indeed portions of meat, but they are not discarded in middens as one might normally expect and seen elsewhere on the site. Instead, they were left in certain locations within the buildings of the site and across floors, and infills, as if they were actually posed. Indeed, many look like they have been displayed. Some of the bones reveal traces of weathering on the surface of the bone, indicating a period of exposure prior to being covered in soil, rubble or new house floors.

Whale bone from The Cairns…showing cut marks. Photo UHI Archaeology Institute

Why formally place animal bones?
What did these deposits mean for the people of the Iron Age? Martin Carruthers says: “At the Cairns, I wonder if many, or all, of these deposits followed on from activities that celebrated the end of the broch and the beginning of new things for the community, who by no means just disappeared thereafter”.

Human occupation of the site lasted at least another 800 years after the end of the broch. Carruthers continues: “they might also be acts of propitiation, an assuagement of the decision to end a major building that had been highly valued for so long, by many previous generations of inhabitants. Perhaps the inclusion of our elderly human jawbone as part of the process was also a nod in the direction of the past of the broch, when it was in its hey-day? When that person was in their youth the broch would still have been the major symbol of authority in the landscape, and the jawbone may well have belonged to someone who had been a member of the broch household”.

A further possibility is that the formality and recurrence of all these depositional acts were themselves a source of comfort and reconciliation, especially in the face of major transitions underway on site, and in wider society, a response to crisis that drew comfort from the long-standing tradition of deposition.

Whatever the truth of the mentalities and motivations, the process of ending the broch was measured, carefully planned, required resources of people as well as of materials, was physically difficult, as well as probably not a little dangerous. It also seems to have entailed serious ideological input and consideration, not least indicated by the deposition of human remains like our jawbone inside the fin whale vessel.

The end of the broch seems also to have involved the butchery and perhaps sacrifice of animals, feasting, and especially, perhaps, reflection on the past, present, and future of the community.

Explore the Past, Present and Future of Orkney’s Energy Story

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology based at Orkney College UHI is looking for volunteers to join the team undertaking the exciting new Orkney Energy Landscapes Project.

Join us on the 28th March to complete archaeological recording of the turbine sites at Burgar Hill and Costa Head on 18th April 2020.

We will start the surveys at 10.00am and finish by 16.00 on both days. Full training will be given and you do not need any experience of surveying, recording or archaeology. As ever, in March and early April, be prepared for the weather and bring along warm clothing and waterproofs just in case rain makes an appearance. Also, bring a packed lunch as the shops are a good distance away from both sites.

There is no charge for taking part, but places are limited and booking is essential so please contact Kat on Enquiries.ORCA@uhi.ac.uk or 01856 569345 to book a place.

Upcoming field days are planned at Billia Croo wave energy test site, Stromness Uranium corridor walk, Flotta terminal walk, Eday peat coring and cutting day. Keep an eye on our social media UHI Archaeology Facebook and this blog for details of these events.

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.

Archaeology Student Conference 2020: Current Challenges in Archaeology

An Lòchran Building on the Inverness Campus

Student Conference cancelled due to present public health advice.

If you are a University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology student get out your diaries and write in, “Student Conference, Inverness” where it says 27th March 2020.

On Friday 27th March 2020 the Archaeological Institute of the University of the Highlands and Islands is hosting its second Archaeology Student Conference at the An Lòchran Building on the Inverness Campus.

The conference will be attended by students across all areas of the degree programmes from first-years through to Masters degree and PhD students. The theme of the conference this year is Current Challenges in Archaeology.

The day will consist of a mixture of student presentations relating to this theme and a workshop with break-out sessions, designed to team professionals and students together to identify and come up with potential solutions for these challenges. Hopefully, these sessions will provide some interesting ideas and lively debate.

Students presenting at the first Archaeology Student Conference in Orkney 2017.

The mix of professionals and students at the first conference was deemed a rewarding experience for all involved and we would love to repeat that experience this time round. We hope the workshop session will be particularly informative and it will be interesting to see if challenges identified by students will be the same as those identified by you and other professionals.

The Programme of Events

Conference Opens, Coffee and Biscuits 9:30-10:00am
Student Presentations 10:00-11:15
Coffee & Biscuits Break 11:15-11:30
Student Presentations 11:30-12:30
Lunch (provided) @ Grumpy Chef cafe 12:30-13:30
Workshop and Break-Out Sessions 13:30-14:30
Coffee & Biscuits Break 14:30-14:45
Workshop and Break-Out Sessions 14:45-15:30
Round-up and Thank yous 15:30-16:00
Evening refreshments 16:00 onwards

Student presentations will be given from both our UG and PG students on a mix of topics. A fuller programme will be provided on the talks and the speakers at the conference, with updates also available through this blog https://archaeologyorkney.com/

The Conference will be held at the An Lòchran Building on the Inverness Campus, the address of which is:
An Lòchran
10 Inverness Campus
Inverness
IV2 5NA
Scotland
Details on how to get there can be found here: http://www.invernesscampus.co.uk/get-there/

There is free parking available at the campus with spaces directly outside of the main college building.

For more information and any questions contact Mary on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

Major New International Research Project to Investigate Early Modern Trade Routes

Natascha Mehler surveying the German Trading site at Gunnister Voe, Northmavine, Shetland used around 1600. Photo Mark Gardiner

A team of archaeologists and historians from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, University of Lincoln and the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven have been awarded a grant of £779,000 from The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the German Research Council (DFG) to undertake a major international research project into how emerging economies identified and adapted to opportunities for trade in early modern Europe.

The three-year programme is entitled Looking In From The Edge (LIFTE). The UK team is led by Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon at the UHI Archaeology Institute based at Orkney College UHI, who will work collaboratively with Dr Natascha Mehler from the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven, who is leading the German team.

The UK team includes Associate Professor Mark Gardiner from Lincoln University and a team from the University of the Highlands and Islands comprising Dr Jen Harland, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Paul Sharman, Julie Gibson and Dan Lee.

Skaill multiperiod farmstead, Rousay, Orkney. Photo Bobby Friel @Takethehighview

During the early modern period the development of a world system of capitalist trade gradually extended until it brought much of the globe within its influence. In Europe as well, it led to peripheral places becoming closely tied into continental European trade networks, transforming their largely subsistence and low-level trading economies to commercialised, surplus-producing ones.

This exciting European project will not only involve academic teams from across northwest Europe, but will also engage local communities and train individuals in various methods of research from archaeology, history and geography. The research teams will use archive research, land and sea surveys, excavation of trading sites, study of artefacts and biological remains to examine in detail how the islands of Orkney and Shetland were integrated into a wider economic realm in early modern Europe. In effect the research will look at how communities were affected and became involved in the very early stages of the global economy that we know today through the mechanism of the Hanseatic League and other trading networks across the North Sea.

17th century storehouse, St Marys, Orkney

Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon said, “This project offers us an exciting opportunity to work as an international team with communities in Orkney, Shetland, Germany and Norway on the little-researched impact of international trade on north-west Europe’s peripheral communities during the period from 1468–1712. The work will give us an opportunity to look into the mechanisms of early modern trade and how the Northern Isles adapted to a changing economic world. How did this emerging international trade change the islanders’ way of making and trading their wares and products? What were the consequences of this rapidly changing and expanding world on the social and economic ways of life for the islanders? All questions that are surely as relevant now as they were more than 300 years ago.”

Dr Mark Gardiner continued, “The east coast of England, with its major ports on the Humber and around The Wash, played an important role in fishing and trading. It looked both to the Hanse ports of continental Europe and the communities of the North Atlantic. We will be studying historical sources and using excavation to show how the Northern Isles of Scotland were brought into these trading networks of early Modern Europe.”

The research team at UHI Archaeology Institute, Orkney College, with Professor Neil Simco, Vice-Principal (Research and Impact) of the UHI, and Professor Jane Downes, Head of the UHI Archaeology Institute

Dr Natascha Mehler said,“In recent years, German trade with the North Atlantic islands has been studied in more detail and our knowledge about trade mechanisms and the cultural impact of this trade has increased considerably. But the focus of recent projects has been mainly on Iceland and its role within the network of the Hanseatic League. This new project now allows us to zoom into Orkney and Shetland and put into context the enterprise of Bremen and Hamburg merchants who travelled to the Northern Isles.”

Notes

Hanseatic League: A medieval organisation of mainly North German merchants aiming to represent their common interests and to secure their trading operations abroad. It´s main area was the Baltic Sea and the North Sea where the League was established in numerous towns and cities such as London and Bergen. During the course of the 15th century, it expanded into the North Atlantic.

The significance of 1468: This was the date that Orkney and Shetland passed from Norwegian to Scottish control. 

Early Modern period: c 1500 to c 1780, spanning significant changes in religion, society, work and trade, bracketed by the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology receives £10,000 National Lottery support for Orkney Energy Landscapes Project.

Wind Turbine Burgar Hill, Orkney. Photo: Dan Lee

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) based at Orkney College has received a grant of £10,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the Orkney Energy Landscapes Project.

The work will be carried out in partnership with the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) and the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews.

This exciting new project explores the past, present and future of energy production and the role of energy in shaping the identity of island communities. ORCA’s Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist Dan Lee is teaming up with Anthropologist Dr Richard Irvine from the University of St Andrews to undertake activities throughout 2020. These will be based around energy themes of oil, uranium, wind, wave and peat. The year-long project will tour Orkney islands, including Eday and Flotta, and also energy sites in the West Mainland.

Fieldwork will involve archaeological recording at contemporary energy sites, peat coring, oral history interviewing, fieldwalking, community events and schools workshops. Sites include the EMEC’s wave energy test facility at Billia Croo near Stromness. The project will produce a sound archive of stories connected with energy sites and resources for schools. The aim is to explore ways to understand and record energy sites, with the ultimate aim of creating an Orkney Energy Trail.

Anybody interested in delving into Orkney’s energy heritage, wants to help record energy sites, or with stories to share about our energy landscape is welcome to get involved and should contact Enquiries.ORCA@uhi.ac.uk

Billia Croo. Photo Colin Keldie

Orkney has a long history of energy production, from the use of traditional fuels such as peat, to the more recent extraction of oil, exploration of uranium, and the current world leading renewables industry. Energy needs have long shaped Orkney’s landscape, and today the islands are home to a global innovation hub in renewable energy. These industries have left physical traces in the landscape which can be recorded archaeologically, and stories and memories within communities that should be preserved.

Support from the National Lottery will allow participants to explore and record the physical remains of energy sites (e.g. concrete turbine bases, test sites), record stories and memories, and contribute to our understanding of Orkney’s energy landscapes now and for the future. Volunteers will learn skills and assist in recording energy sites and developing the concept and route of a potential future Energy Trail during the activities.

Old wind turbine base Burgar Hill, West Mainland, Orkney. Photo: Dan Lee

The project will record oral histories of community recollections and experiences of the islands’ energy histories, exploring how the interaction with different energy sources has come to shape contemporary Orkney and its identity.

Dan Lee (ORCA’s Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist) said, “We are really excited about exploring some of the most important and overlooked contemporary archaeological sites in Orkney – those from the renewable and oil industries – and work towards sharing these in an Orkney Energy Trail”

Richard Irvine (Anthropologist, University of St Andrews) said, “From peat cutting to wind turbines, the search for energy sources has played a key role in shaping the identity of these islands. There are energy stories everywhere in the landscape – whether we’re talking about the economic and social impact of oil, or the political self-determination that grew around the threat of Uranium mining, or debates about the role of renewables in Orkney’s future economy. I’m really excited about working with communities to gather these stories.”

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) offers both terrestrial and marine historic environment services across the Highlands and Islands and north of Scotland. We work closely with a wide range of clients from the renewable energy, electricity transmission, oil and gas sectors in addition to infrastructure developers and legislative bodies, to provide historic environment solutions.

ORCA operates as part of Orkney Islands Council, and within the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute.

You can join the conversation at #OrkneyEnergyLandscapes

New Digital Archaeology Project to bring Uist sites to Life.

Project Leaders Dr Emily Gal and Dr Rebecca Rennell

Imagining prehistoric structures, how they were thousands of years ago and examining long lost society is one of the most exciting elements of any archaeological study of the past.

Digital technology now allows us as archaeologists to visualise theories in 3D and through the use of mobile phones and other smart devices help the wider public view and imagine how people lived thousands of years ago.

Lews Castle College UHI , University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have been awarded a grant of £271,000 from the Scottish Natural Heritage Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund to complete an exciting digital archaeology project, helping people to understand the archaeology of the Western Isles, Scotland. The programme is called the Uibhist Virtual Archaeology project and will be undertaken over the next three years.

3D computer model of Skaill Farmstead in Orkney, demonstrating the possibilities of on-site modelling of archaeology

This pioneering new community project, led by Dr Rebecca Rennell and Dr Emily Gal from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute at Lews Castle College, aims to help tourists visualise and understand some of the most archaeologically significant sites in the Western Isles, Scotland. The project will also work in collaboration with the Comhairle’s Heritage Service and community groups across the island to create a sustainable heritage resource that will help further develop the local tourist economy.

Using mobile phone digital hotspots, 3D augmented reality reconstructions and clickable explanations, a downloadable app will display information on the latest research on seven sites located on the Hebridean Way walking route in Uist and Benbecula. The reconstructions will also be supported by complementary mixed-media exhibitions located at local museums.

Pobull Fhinn North Uist

The new app will bring the visitor experience of these archaeological sites to a completely new level of quality, by visually transporting visitors back in time via a multisensory experiences. The visitor will see a stunningly detailed, moving, seemingly real-life representation of prehistoric structures as they were in the past – seamlessly interwoven with the landscape of the real-life present. Through the app, the visitor will explore the site visually, and access detailed information about sites and their history. Multimedia information within the app will be ‘triggered’ only at site locations on the Hebridean Way, encouraging people to engage with and access these significant places and wider heritage landscapes. The use of augmented reality within a ‘real’ landscape setting is a unique product – no directly comparable product exists for engaging the wider public in archaeological heritage in Scotland

Dun an Sticer: Iron Age dun with Medieval Occupation.

The first site to be designed will be the Bronze Age roundhouses and mummified remains at Cladh Hallan, South Uist which date to around 1500BC. Site Director, Professor Mike Parker Pearson (University College London) said “the discovery of Cladh Hallan’s Bronze Age mummies is of international interest. It is great that this fascinating prehistoric settlement will feature in this innovative project, becoming accessible to visitors whilst protecting sensitive locations.”

Dr Rennell said: “We are really excited to bring decades of archaeological research at these fantastic sites to the wider public. It will deliver community benefits, unlock economic potential and improve visitor experience in a way that conserves and protects the unique natural and cultural heritage recognised across the highlands and islands.”

The project itself is part of a new £5 million Scottish programme of projects to invest in the Highlands and Islands to provide more high-quality opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural and cultural heritage assets. The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund is led by Scottish Natural Heritage and is part-funded through the European Development Fund (ERDF). The project has also received a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £85,000 and £17,220 from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Pobull Fhinn North Uist

Councillor Donald Crichton, Chair of the Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee said, “I welcome this innovative approach to help unlock the economic value of Uist’s exceptional archaeological assets and to promote the area as a major destination for heritage tourism. We are pleased to be working in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands to support and develop archaeology in the Outer Hebrides.”

Dr Gal noted that “community stakeholders have been involved with the project since its inception, and this will continue. Ensuring that schools and community interest groups are involved in shaping the digital products is essential to the project”.

Bronze Age roundhouse at Cladh Hallan, South Uist

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan said:
“This is a very exciting initiative and it would be wonderful to see the islands being a trailblazer when it comes to developing augmented reality to enhance archaeological tourism. I look forward to seeing this project develop.”

The whole programme is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Comhairle.

Funded Archaeology Masters Places Available

UHI student at Skaill Farm, Rousay

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is offering a limited number of funded places on the MSc Archaeological Practice and MLitt Archaeological Studies courses.

The Masters programme offers archaeology courses which equip you with the tools for work in the real world. Key practical skills are emphasised using the rich archaeological resource of Orkney as your research ‘laboratory’.

Core modules will develop your practical skills in a suite of archaeological techniques including project management, excavation, non-intrusive field archaeology, environmental archaeology and post-excavation analysis. You will gain additional vocational experience through our professional placement enabling you to take full advantage of employment opportunities.

  • Study in the outstanding archaeological landscape of Orkney
  • Optional modules allow you to develop professional skills in a range of areas including archaeobotany, archaeozoology, geoarchaeology, survey & geophysics,
    digital recording of archaeological materials and sites
  • The MSc programme offers a 3-month professional placement opportunity to further develop your professional skills in a chosen area(s)
  • The course is flexible to fit in with your personal and professional life

A limited number of places with full tuition fee support are available for Scottish-domiciled/EU students, studying full time, on the MSc Archaeological Practice & MLitt Archaeological Studies courses starting in September 2020. Eligible students must live in Highlands and Islands, including Moray, Perth and Kinross for the period of their studies.

Full details on the course, funding and how to apply see our website  or drop us a line at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

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UHI Archaeology Student Awarded the Robertson Medal from The Carnegie Trust

Professor Jane Downes, Professor Andy Walker, Professor Neil Simco, Neil Ackerman, Professor Dame Anne Glover, Professor Edward Abbott-Halpin, Professor Colin Richards

Neil Ackerman (32), a PhD researcher at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, has been awarded the Robertson Medal from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for academic year 2019-20.

The silver medal is awarded each year to the scholarship candidate judged to be the most outstanding for that year’s competition. Neil becomes the university’s first postgraduate student to receive this honour. He was selected from 18 awards made in this year’s Carnegie postgraduate scholarship competition.

His research, entitled ‘Scotland’s earliest built environment: halls, houses and big houses’, looks at the earliest buildings of Neolithic Scotland. This period reveals a settled farming architecture for the first time, and also a growth in the size of public meeting halls. Studying the Neolithic period from the perspective of both monumental halls and domestic architecture will uncover a new understanding of the earliest Scottish Neolithic period.

Neil Ackerman and Chair of the Carnegie Trust for Universities of Scotland Professor Dame Anne Glover

Developing an insight into this varied architecture across Scotland, as well as producing a precise chronology, will also revolutionise the knowledge of the Neolithic in Scotland and wider contacts at the time.

Originally from Edinburgh, Neil graduated with a first-class degree in BA (Hons) in archaeology, based at Orkney College UHI in 2016, before working at Aberdeenshire Council’s archaeological historic environment team for nearly three years. He moved back to Orkney in 2019 to set up his own company, Ackerman Archaeology Limited, and continue with his academic studies. He is undertaking his postgraduate degree through the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute with the aid of the Carnegie scholarship funding.

Professor Jane Downes, director of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute said: “I am delighted that Neil has been recognised for his exceptional work. His undergraduate research supported by a Carnegie Trust vacation scholarship has contributed to our understanding of roofing technology from the Neolithic period. His original thinking has advanced understandings of the extraordinary site of the Ness of Brodgar on Orkney and has had international recognition.”

Talking about receiving this award, Neil said: “This means so much to me. I have not always had a straightforward path to get to this stage. I left school at 16 with few qualifications and worked in various service jobs, before returning to education. I never thought I would go to a university, far less study at this level. “

Neil being presented with his medal today at Orkney College UHI

“To have received a Carnegie Trust scholarship was a massive achievement and to now be awarded the Robertson Medal on top is a huge honour. It helps to confirm all the decisions made to be where I am now. I have a highly supportive supervisory team and together we have put a lot of work into developing a subject that we feel is very important. It is heartening to see our efforts rewarded.”

Neil was presented with his award on Thursday 23 January 2020, at Orkney College UHI, by Chair of the Carnegie Trust for Universities of Scotland Professor Dame Anne Glover and its chief executive chair Professor Andy Walker, Professor Neil Simco, vice-principal (research and impact) at the University of the Highlands and Islands with Professor Edward Abbott-Halpin, principal of Orkney College UHI.

The Carnegie Trust also operates a vacation scholarship scheme for students undertaking a degree course at a Scottish university. In 2019, four students from the University of the Highlands and Islands were successful in receiving awards.

Applications for this year’s scheme is open until 31 January 2020. For more information visit our website www.uhi.ac.uk