PhD Student Writes for Arts & Humanities Blog

Neil Ackerman, one of our PhD students at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, is taking over the reins of the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities blog (sgsahblog.com).

The blog is run by PhD students, with a new student taking on the role every six months.

Neil Ackerman said, “I am excited to take on this role, especially at such an uncertain and crucial time for many PhD Students. The impact of leaving Europe is still to be understood for universities in Scotland, which in turn creates uncertainty for PhD students. Covid lockdown has also had a big impact on how studies have continued to happen.”

One of the things I will look to focus on in the blog is the experience of PhD students who live and/or work in rural areas. The University of the Highlands & Islands has made it increasingly possible for students, such as me, to carry out their studies without having to move to a city.

Part of the blogging role is to have regular guest bloggers, so I hope to have PhD students from across the Highlands & Islands discuss their experiences as well as those based in the larger towns and cities across Scotland.”

If you have any ideas for blog posts, you can get in touch with Neil through the blog’s twitter account @sgsahblog or at his dedicated blog email address: Neil.Ackerman@glasgow.ac.uk.

Click here to go through to Neils blog www.sgsahblog.com

Building on Success at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute

UHI Archaeology Institute Visiting Reader, Dr Gerry Bigelow. Photo: Val Turner

Renowned Visiting Researchers join the UHI Archaeology Institute, and the Archaeology Institute is established as a significant economic benefit to Orkney.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, based at Orkney College UHI, is pleased to announce that three new Visiting Professors – Professor Astrid Ogilvie (Senior Scientist, Stefansson Arctic Institute, University of Akuyeri/University of Colarado), Professor Leslie King (Professor in Environment and Sustainability, Royal Roads University, Vancouver Island), and Professor Mark Edmonds (Emeritus Professor in Archaeology, University of York) in addition to two new Visiting Readers – Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark (Curator of Prehistory, National Museums Scotland) and Dr Gerry Bigelow (Associate Professor in History, Bates College, Maine) have been appointed by UHI and join our existing Visiting Reader Olwyn Owen, an established Viking scholar whom many will remember from her excavations at Tuquoy on Westray.

With research specialisms including the archaeology of the North Atlantic, sustainability and the impact of climate change, past and present in Northern communities, Viking and Norse archaeology and Neolithic Europe, these appointments offer an unprecedented pool of expertise for our students and researchers as well as strengthening our connections and collaborations with universities and other institutions in Canada, the US, Iceland and Scotland.

UHI Archaeology Institute lecturer Martin Carruthers with students at the Stones of Stenness in 2019. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

Researchers at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have a fast-growing reputation for their studies of the impacts of climate change and sustainability: the excavation of the Viking hall and landscape at Skaill on Rousay, directed by Dr Ingrid Mainland, is part of the Orkney climate and environmental change research which has recently gained official recognition from UNESCO’s sustainable science initiative ‘BRIDGES’ :- world-wide recognition of the achievements of the team at the site and collaborators from Bradford University and in the wider North Atlantic. Additionally, Professor Jane Downes continues her research on climate change and heritage in the international Heritage on the Edge project which has now been launched by Google Arts and Culture https://artsandculture.google.com/project/heritage-on-the-edge .

In the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) at Orkney College UHI the strong and developing client base established by Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager, has yielded excellent commercial archaeology work associated with infrastructure and energy developments over the past year and the unit has come in on budget. The unit faces challenges as the usual business environment adapts to the social distancing guidelines, and the team are looking forward to the time when they can once again return to the field.

Interesting results from a new independent study have shown that Orkney College UHI Archaeology Institute’s activities generate substantial expenditure in the Orkney economy: for the year 2019-20 the combined expenditure impacts associated with the 54 students studying Archaeology at Orkney College UHI, the Institute’s visiting academics, volunteers and students, and tourist visitors to the Ness of Brodgar to whom the site was critical in their decision to visit Orkney is over £2million, with 79 full time equivalent jobs being supported in this year (including the 25 full time equivalent staff of the Archaeology Institute). The study has found that ‘The Institute has played a substantial role in increasing the profile of both archaeology in Orkney and Orkney as a place for tourists to visit’.

UHI Archaeology Institute Dr Ingrid Mainland and PhD student Steve Worth at the Skaill Farmstead dig, Rousay in 2019. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Director Professor Jane Downes said, “The Institute has also attracted substantial investment into Orkney through the winning of major academic research grants – the latest award of over £700,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This together with the successful entrepreneurial activity of Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology has resulted in over 100 commercial projects worth hundreds of thousands of pounds of contracts being placed within Orkney. Furthermore the UHI’s leading archaeology and research excavation at the Ness of Brodgar is now firmly established as one of Orkney’s prime visitor attractions with over 18,000 people visiting during the short 7 week period the site is open to visitors each year.”

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is looking forward to building on this success in the future and attract ever more direct and indirect investment to Orkney – harnessing the innovative, entrepreneurial and creative flair of the staff and students both in Orkney and across the world.

Black Lives Mattered: Ancient Rome, Africa, Scotland, and Orkney.

‘The Black Emperor’, Septimus Severus and family

The Cairns Excavation Site Director & University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Lecturer Martin Carruthers talks about the multi cultural experience of Iron Age society in Orkney as the exploitative Roman Empire appeared in Britain.

In the Mid-First Century AD, historical circumstances conspired to bring together, for the first time, peoples and creatures from continental Africa, Asia, and Europe with Islanders from the Atlantic Islands of Northern Scotland at a single event.

Assembled by the cosmopolitan, but highly exploitative, Roman empire, the meeting of this diverse bunch signals the beginning of the British experience of Africa, and, intriguingly, caught up at the centre of it were Iron Age people from Orkney.

It is late Summer AD43 and the world superpower Rome has invaded Iron Age Britain. After several weeks of hard campaigning by four legions, and thousands of ‘auxiliary’ troops drawn from far corners of the empire, the resistance of the Southern tribes has been worn down, its leadership subdued.

Now the Emperor himself, Claudius, steps ashore on British soil. As he triumphally enters Camulodunum (Colchester) the biggest and most important population centre in southern Britain, he does so with a theatrical flourish designed to intimidate and entirely overawe local Iron Age peoples. He enters the major settlement with creatures from the African continent – he has elephants in tow.

Along with the fabulous beasts, there are African and Asian men present amongst the Roman troops. Indeed, it is a hallmark of the Roman state that it heeds no ethnic and racial boundaries when it comes to those who may be considered useful to the Imperial project. This highly manipulative form of multi-culturalism led to Iron Age Scots appearing in amphitheatres in Morocco and African Emperors leading armies of conquest in Scotland! In this blog we can look at a few details of these ancient African, Caledonian, and Roman lives and why they matter.

Today, one can only imagine what sort of impression the strange and exotic sights of Claudius’ army and his elephants made upon the locals of Iron Age Colchester! But amongst the local Britons watching, there were also some far-travelled visitors. A surprise deputation was present and shortly thereafter met with the emperor himself. These were Orcadians, inhabitants of the far Northern Isles. Orkney at this time was only very dimly known to Rome and seems to have been a by-word in poetry, and prose for the ends of the earth! The Orcadians, described by Eutropius, were led by no less than a Regulus, a King of Orkney, and they were on a diplomatic mission.

That mission and the journey that facilitated it must have been undertaken with a remarkable acuity and forward planning, to synchronise with the mere 16 days spent in Britain by the Emperor! We know little of the detail of the discussions between the Emperor and the Orcadians, but for generations afterwards, Roman authors and monumental inscriptions referred to the submission of eleven British kings to Rome, including that of Orkney. Certainly, it seems treaties were initiated, which, apparently, set up Orkney, for a time, as an unlikely client kingdom to the Empire. In the Roman era, such a status often conferred massive privilege and advantage for some within the client state, but it was also an delicately balanced relationship on a knife edge. Eventually, such client treaties could be summarily revoked by Rome on a whim and clients could be suddenly subsumed as direct possessions of the Emperor, as happened to other British Iron Age client kingdoms.

From the outset of the Roman period in Britain, Africans and Asians were present amongst the soldiery, the merchants, and the administrators of the new power in the land. It may have been in the later 1st century AD that the first ‘persons of colour’ appeared in Orkney itself, and this would have been with the Roman navy and elements of the army who circumnavigated Orkney in AD 83 after the battle of Mons Graupius, which had just taken place on the Scottish Mainland. Their aim, we are told by the Roman historian Tacitus, was to renew the now-lapsed treaties between the leadership in Orkney and the Empire, which had been made with Claudius two generations before. The real purpose of the naval crossing to Orkney was probably to cow the powerful Northern Isles Iron Age powerbase, who had probably contributed to the resistance to Rome on the Scottish Mainland, and to achieve a renowned propaganda coup back home in Rome.

Roman beads and recycled glass from The Cairns broch, Orkney. Photo: Gary Lloyd

Orkney, in those days, was exotic and remarkable for its remoteness amongst Roman writers! The fleet’s Orcadian journey has left no known archaeological traces. We know, however, that The Cairns broch (the subject of ongoing excavations by UHI Archaeology Institute) was the centre of a thriving Iron Age community at that very time. Whichever route the fleet took across the Pentland Firth, whether through Scapa Flow or along the North Sea east coast of Orkney, the elevated position of The Cairns overlooking the Pentland Firth, means the community must have seen the fleet coming. What must the ordinary folk of the community have thought of this strange and sinister swarm of sails.

The Romans didn’t stay long in Orkney, just long enough to ‘renew the treaties’, but it was the first direct appearance of the diverse but exploitative world power on the actual shores of Orkney. One of the things that such treaties with Rome often involved was some measure of taxation in goods, produce and quite often levies of men to serve in the Roman army, and indeed slaves, so it is possible that young Orcadian men may have found themselves departing with the fleet to begin 25 years’ service in the auxiliary regiments of Rome, and young men and women in much more unfortunate roles! Another feature of Roman treaties with foreign powers was the ‘fosterage’ of the sons of powerful elites, essentially sons of important local leaders taken off to be ‘educated’, often in Rome itself, and returned at a much later date, having been useful hostages effectively kerbing the likelihood of resistance on the part of ‘barbarian’ elites, and also often securing that the next generation of leadership held a pro-Roman outlook. One can imagine the remarkable multi-cultural experiences and sights witnessed by any such young fostered boys, and probably some horrific ones too! It may, indeed, partly explain the major changes that began to occur in the architecture, and material culture of Iron Age Atlantic Scotland from the later 2nd Century AD onwards.

For several Centuries, from the 1st century AD onwards, a steady but small stream of high-status Roman materials made their way into Iron Age Orcadian communities, including The Cairns, where Roman beads, and recycled Roman glass and metalwork have been found. Other finds from Orcadian sites such as high status Samian pottery, further indicate that the relationship between Orkney and Rome was carried out in the domain of the higher echelons of Iron Age society.

After the end of the First Century AD, the Roman army retired from Scotland for more than a generation to the Tyne-Solway frontier and what became Hadrian’s Wall in AD 122. With the accession of a new Emperor, Antoninus Pius, in AD 139 preparations were immediately made for a renewed burst of intervention in Scotland. The Emperor sent a new governor to Britannia, Quintus Lollius Urbicus, who was a North African of Berber descent! Over 3 or 4 years the African governor campaigned in Southern Scotland and then up the northeast Scottish mainland, replicating the Roman line of advance in the preceding 1st Century AD. By AD 142, the army had laid down a monumental marker of the frontier across the central belt of Scotland in the form of the Antonine Wall and for around twenty years it was garrisoned by the densest concentration of troops ever deployed in Roman Britain.

The occupation of the Northern Wall was short in archaeological terms and in the history of Roman Britain but, importantly, it was substantial and intense enough to have left remarkably vivid archaeological traces of the everyday lives of the garrison including aspects of their identities and ethnicities. We know that ordinary Africans and Asians served in the Roman army on the Antonine wall during the 2nd Century AD.

Special ceramics found at several of the Antonine wall forts were made in the style of African pottery; effectively these crocks relate to a form of cuisine very similar to modern North African tagine cooking. It has been suggested that the African pottery may represent the actual presence of African units serving in the garrison of the Northern frontier of Scotland, or that certain regiments had gained a taste for such spiced cuisine from having been earlier stationed in the African provinces. It is a scenario reminiscent of the way that, via the British army, Indian curries have been injected into the post-colonial bloodstream of the UK. Certainly, many different ethnic groups are represented by regiments such as the Syrian Archers from the ancient city of Palmyra, attested at Bar Hill fort on the edge of modern Glasgow.

Later still, at the very beginning of the 3rd Century AD the so-called African Emperor, Septimius Severus renewed Roman attempts to bring to heel the Northern Iron Age peoples, Caledonians and others. Severus had been born in North African at Leptis Magna in present day Libya. Possessing Punic descent on his mother’s side, he was, therefore, descended from the North African state that had once seriously threatened the existence of Rome itself under Hannibal, and he has been called ‘the black emperor’. Severus was not ‘born into the purple’ but had fought a bitter civil war, in part, against the pretender Clodius Albinus, governor of Britannia, to ascend the imperial throne in AD 193. In AD 209, taking personal charge of the Scottish campaign, he assembled an army of over 40,000 troops and overran southern Scotland and, again, campaigned up the northeast mainland of Scotland. He established a legionary base at Carpow on the Tay estuary, an intended springboard for further Scottish conquest. That was curtailed by his death of a sudden illness in AD 210. Here was a man who had been born and grew up in Africa, spent the last years of his life on campaign in Scotland, and died at York in Northern England. A remarkable story of pluralism, power, social and actual mobility in the ancient world.

The presence of the Emperor and his family in Scotland gives us interesting opportunities to consider the interaction between this Afro-Roman family and the local Caledonians! The Roman historian Cassius Dio tells us that the Imperial family actually met socially, with Caledonian aristocracy. On one such occasion Severus’ wife, Julia Domna, apparently made inquisitive small talk with the unnamed wife of a Caledonian noble called Argentocoxos (‘Silver Arm’!). Beginning to challenge the apparently loose sexual morals of Caledonian women, Julia Domna was met with a short critical rebuttal from the woman: “We fulfil the demands of nature in a far better way than you Roman women, for we consort openly with the best of men, whereas you let yourselves be degraded in secret by the most vile”. It is, perhaps, a very knowing and sharp critical commentary on the plight of the majority of ‘free’ women in Roman patriarchal society as chattels of their husbands, or fathers, and as bargaining collateral in the great game of Roman politics and alliances.

Detail of the ‘tartan’ trews of the defeated Caledonian depicted on Severus’s triumphal arch in Morocco. Photo: The Scotsman https://www.scotsman.com/arts-and-culture/earliest-depiction-scottish-tartan-discovered-roman-statue-1598796

The actual physical mobility brought about by the exploitative networks of the Roman empire also meant that there were Iron Age Scots present at corners of the Empire very distant from their Caledonian homeland. Shortly after Septimius Severus’s campaigns in Scotland, a massive bronze statue was erected in the city of Rabat, Morocco, as part of a triumphal arch in honour of Severus’ son Caracalla, who took part in the Caledonian campaigns, and who himself took the throne after his father. Only fragments survive of the bronze statue but just a few years ago one of the pieces was recognised as depicting a defeated Caledonian warrior, arms bound. He is bare-chested but wears a cloak and plaid or tartan trews! Now, one wonders what impact these strangely clad ‘barbarians’ would have made on the locals.

It is clear, however, that more than mere depictions of Iron Age Caledonians appeared in Roman Africa. For another piece of Roman art, a mosaic from Tunisia shows another Caledonian being killed by wild animals in the local amphitheatre, an exotic entertainment for the Roman African locals.

What all of this strongly suggests is that the lives of Romans, Caledonians, Africans, Asians, and even Orcadians, were strangely entangled in many various ways much earlier than people tend to think possible, via the networks of opportunity and exploitation that connected the far-flung Roman Empire and the Roman Iron Age world. Sometimes, as with the Claudian invasion, Africa was deployed very deliberately in a form of intimidatory exoticism (a trope familiar from our own imperial past), impressing Iron Age Britons, and Orcadians.

At other moments, the exoticism lay in the other direction with exotic noble captive Caledonians executed in the amphitheatres of Roman Africa and depicted in Roman African art. Between these dramatic polarities we know many Africans and Asians were present in Roman Iron Age Britain and Scotland, ordinary soldiers, merchants, husbands, wives and, yes, probably also slaves, were present at times. And more elevated Africans: governors, generals and even a black emperor spent major parts of their military and political careers engaging with Caledonia. Black lives were lived in Britain and Scotland almost two thousand years ago. Remarkably, it is possible to reach out and touch those lives through archaeology and ancient history. In the ancient world those black lives mattered, in the present day those past Black Lives Matter.

Student Research – Reconstructing the Bronze & Iron Age Landscape of Gairloch

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute postgraduate student Hannah Genders Boyd updates us on her continuing MRes research into the Bronze and Iron Age landscapes of Gairloch on the west coast of Scotland.

Hannah takes up her story…….” Hi, I’m the latest Research Masters student to join the Archaeology Institute at UHI, based at Orkney College. I’ll be spending the next year undertaking research in environmental archaeology: primarily using pollen analysis techniques in order to reconstruct a prehistoric landscape.

I’m working with a supervisory team from three institutions: Dr Scott Timpany from UHI, Dr Althea Davies from the University of St Andrews and Dr Tim Mighall from the University of Aberdeen, whose collective expertise will guide me through the project.

My background is in history, archaeology and climate heritage – but putting these things together to tackle Environmental Archaeology is a new challenge for me.

Over the following year I will be undertaking a masters by research (MRes) degree, which is a postgraduate course that involves completing original research and producing a 30,000 word thesis at the end of it. My research is based on a group of hut circles (Bronze and Iron Age roundhouses) in Gairloch, over on the West Coast of Scotland.

One of the hut circles at Achtercairn, in Gairloch. Image credit: Dr Scott Timpany

These were originally excavated as part of the WeDigs community project in 2014, and my role now is to understand how the people who lived in these structures interacted with their environment. The Wedigs community are a passionate group of Wester Ross locals who first caught my attention when they were nominated for a Heritage Angel Award back in 2018. I’m looking forward to building on their work and feeding into this exciting ongoing project.

I’m using pollen analysis (palynology) to reconstruct the landscape in which these structures were built and looking for evidence of how these communities were utilising this area, such as evidence of pastoral or arable farming. The pollen I’m analysing was preserved in a nearby peat bog. A 4.2m core was extracted from the bog, which was then sub-sampled for pollen and these samples were processed to create slides.

Pollen grains viewed through the microscope (x400) – tree pollen of alder and hazel can be seen in this photo. Photo Dr Scott Timpany

By identifying the variety of species present, represented by their pollen, we can begin to build a picture of the prehistoric landscape and how it changed over time.

My research will specifically be looking at the Bronze and Iron Age periods to which the hut circles have been dated, a period of around 2400 years (from 2000 BC to AD 400). The project will investigate wider themes such as the temporality of these settlements and whether they were used seasonally, together with how people were manipulating this landscape (e.g. woodland clearance and farming).

I hope to be able to understand more about how these communities responded to climatic changes: we know the end of the Bronze Age saw a serious climatic downturn, I want to know how resilient communities in this area of western Scotland were to environmental challenges and how they adapted to such changes. This is particularly interesting to consider now as communities, and heritage sites, on the West Coast are once again dealing with increased rainfall and other climatic deterioration. I’ll be aided in answering these questions by other techniques, including geochemical analysis and radiocarbon dating.

The view out from the hut circles, looking towards the Isle of Skye. Image credit: Scott Timpany

This year is going to be challenging, as I’m jumping in to palaeoenvironmental studies with both feet. But nonetheless I’m excited. This project offers the chance to delve into an amazing archaeological landscape in Wester Ross and get to grips with how it has been shaped by human activity over time.

Improving our understanding of Bronze and Iron Age land use systems through research which takes into account architecture and landscape is deemed a priority by the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework . Here my research will marry environmental evidence with the knowledge gained through survey and excavation by the WeDigs group: it’s a fantastic opportunity to work alongside the community and enhance the project with specialist knowledge, shining new light on the region through an improved understanding the prehistoric landscape.”

Hannah Genders Boyd
University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute
@HGendersBoyd

If you are inspired to take the plunge and apply for an undergraduate or postgraduate course with us at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute then drop us a line on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk and we can discuss your options.

Study Archaeology from Anywhere on the Planet

We are all getting used to a new way of working in the light of the Covid -19 measures. Many of us are working or studying from home and we know that many people are considering continuing their studies to Masters level.

The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) has in many respects continued business as usual as all of our archaeology courses are taught using elements of online teaching. The MLitt Archaeological Studies is an online postgraduate course that can be undertaken from anywhere in the world – as long as you have internet access and a computer.

The course offers you the opportunity to study archaeology from your own home and gain a postgraduate qualification from the UHI Archaeology Institute based in Orkney. Regular online coffee mornings, seminars and lectures, held over the video conferencing infrastructure available to all UHI students, helps to create a learning community wherever you are located in the world.

There are a wide range of module options which draw on the research specialisms of the UHI Archaeology Institute staff and these provide you with the flexibility to combine taught modules and dissertation research according to your own research interests. You may have an interest in prehistory or in Celtic through to Viking/Norse through to Medieval archaeology. Or you may choose to combine period-based modules with our professional skills modules to gain a broader knowledge and understanding of the methods and theory practiced within archaeology.

UHI Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist Dan Lee talking through a concept with a student at Skaill Farm, Rousay

The choice is yours and you can fit the course into your own lifestyle and study from your own home. However, don’t take my word for it, check out some of our present MLitt students comments….

The quality of the teaching is top-notch and it’s delivered by researchers actively working at the cutting-edge of some of the most exciting archaeological projects in Europe. I’ve really enjoyed the rigor and intensity of the programme and UHI’s experience with distance-learning systems has enabled me to fully participate in everything the course offers even though I’m based in the USA. The knowledge, skills and professional connections I’ve gained at UHI are already benefiting me hugely in my work on climate change and cultural heritage at the Union of Concerned Scientists. It’s a truly unique programme and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Adam Markham, Deputy Director of Climate and Energy, Union of Concerned Scientists, UHI MLitt Archaeological Studies student from Connecticut, USA.

I had no thought of returning to University when visiting Orkney a second time in 2017. I had been more than 10 years before and had learned then of the University of the Highlands and Islands. On reluctantly departing the rich and beautiful Orkney Islands that year, I decided to take the plunge and apply for the MLitt in Archaeology. The lecturers are some of the best in the field and provide a fascinating and broad landscape and timescape in which to explore in Orkney and beyond. The unstructured self-paced Video Conference aspect makes it flexible for my distant life and getting to visit and dig on a world-class excavation the first summer was fantastic! Access and guidance to the literature alone has been worthwhile. This is among the most rewarding experiences of my adult life and I wish it could continue indefinitely.

Don Helfrich, UHI MLitt Archaeological Studies student from New Mexico, USA

If you wish to study here in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland the UHI is also pleased to offer a limited number of places with full tuition fees for Scottish/EU students studying full time on the course in September 2020.

Total station in use at the Ness of Brodgar in 2018

To be eligible for this funding, students must meet the criteria for Scottish or EU fee status and be resident in the Highlands and Islands (including Moray) or Perth and Kinross for the duration of their studies. For details see our website.

I have thoroughly enjoyed studying for the MLitt in Archaeology Practice and would highly recommend the programme to anyone with an interest in furthering their knowledge of past society and its cultures. The distance learning approach adopted by UHI is really interactive and easy access to online lectures and presentations is perfect for anyone already working full time or busy raising a family. The diversity of modules on offer alongside the unfailing support from lecturers and support staff make this high calibre course a very worthwhile venture.”

William Burke, UHI MLitt Archaeological Studies student

To discuss your options contact Dr Ingrid Mainland email ingrid.mainland@uhi.ac.uk phone 01856 569225 or check out the UHI website