New Landscape Archaeology Project to Commence in Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Fieldwalking find near Maeshowe

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) have secured grant funding from Historic Environment Scotland and the Orkney Archaeology Society for a new landscape project in Orkney.

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site Landscape Project will provide hands-on training and memorable experiences in field archaeology to the local community.  The study area will be around Maeshowe and Brodgar, taking in parts of the parishes neighbouring the Loch of Harray and Loch of Stenness, West Mainland, Orkney.

Parts of the landscape will be studied with archive research, field walking, walkover survey and lochside surveys – picking up surface finds and recording features visible on the ground surface. These will explore landscape change from the Mesolithic to the present day.

Fieldwalking volunteers near Maeshowe

Previous field walking in the area has recovered prehistoric flints, axe heads and quern stones which often correspond to ancient settlements. Some of these have also been identified during large scale geophysical survey, and this project aims to bring together evidence from these wide ranging sources. Finds from the more recent past are also being collected, such as those from camps used during WW2, bringing the story right up to the present day.

The project aims to take people through the whole archaeological process from finding objects in the field, to mapping, processing finds, and interpreting the results. Participants will produce internationally significant research in the World Heritage area, contribute to the wider understanding of these sites and landscapes through time, and learn new skills.

Field walking will start in March 2019 and continue into April. Other activities will be spaced throughout the year.

If you are interested in taking part please contact

The project is supported by Historic Environment Scotland and Orkney Archaeology Society

Excavation Calendar 2019

The Ness of Brodgar dig in the summer of 2018

The projects listed below welcome visitors. Many have volunteer opportunities. Contact us for more details. The sites can be muddy following bad weather so sturdy boots are recommended. Sites can also be closed if the weather is particularly inclement.

Ness of Brodgar Excavation

Tour Groups at the Ness of Brodgar
  • The site is open to the public from 3rd July to 21st August
  • The Orkney Archaeology Society Ness of Brodgar talk will take place on 20th June in the Orkney Theatre.
  • Tours are available and archaeologists will be on site most weekdays. Please check the Ness of Brodgar Trust website for up to date information.
  • Tours are also conducted at 1100 & 1500 on Saturday and Sunday during the dig season, but there will be no archaeologists on site during the weekend.
  • Open Days are Sunday 21st July and Sunday 18th August
  • Location: Stenness, West Mainland


The Cairns Excavation

The Cairns Broch in the summer of 2018
  • The site is open to the public from 17th June to 12th July
  • Tours are available and archaeologists will be on site most weekdays from 10am-4pm.
  • Open Day will be 5th July.
  • For updates on the dig see our Twitter feed @thecairnsbroch  and Facebook group and our dig diary on this blog
  • Location: Windwick Bay, South Ronaldsay, Orkney

Skaill Farmstead Excavation

The stunning location of Skaill Farmstead

Cata Sand, Sanday

The Cata Sand dig location in the summer of 2018

This page will be updated as new events and activities are confirmed. Please feel free to contact us using the form below. Hope to see you there!

Querns, Family Life and Achievement…Mature Student Life @UHI

Mandy examining The Cairns querns in the lab

We were joined a few weeks ago by University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute student Mandy Dailly, who started working in the lab with Martin Carruthers on a research project involving quernstones found at The Cairns.

This is her story in her own words…………

“My name is Mandy and I am a 37-year-old ‘mature’ student in my fourth year of a distance learning BA(hons) in archaeology with UHI. When I started the degree, I was a single parent of three, ranging in age from four to fifteen, and had spent my working career in the care sector. I had been desperate for a change of direction for a long time, for a chance to ‘make something of myself’, but with a family to support it always seemed like too much of a risk to leave the security of a steady job.

Having left school at sixteen with no higher qualifications, I didn’t even really believe that I was capable of studying at degree level. In 2015, changes to my job were just the push that I needed, and I applied to UHI, initially to study for a joint honours in Scottish History and Archaeology. I was terrified and overwhelmed to begin with. I had so little confidence and felt like such a fraud that I very nearly left after about a month. Thankfully one of the history tutors phoned and talked me down off the proverbial ledge. She told me that it was a common issue with mature students that they often try and do everything perfectly, working too hard and putting themselves under too much pressure because they’ve often made considerable sacrifices to be there. She assured me I was doing fine and told me to relax and enjoy it. Returning to study was a big adjustment at first, but I am so grateful to Dr Ritchie for that pep talk because without it I may well have given up.

Lunchtime at the Ness of Brodgar

After second year I attended the practical archaeology field school at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney. It was such an incredible experience on so many levels. Firstly, I was able to see in practice, the things I had been learning about in theory for two years, which was mind-blowing. I learned so much. The Ness is a really special site and is so well set-up for teaching as well as research. Your socks can’t help but be knocked clean off by just being there, let alone actually being allowed to get in amongst it! Also, for the first time in a long time, I was away from home on my own.

It was a logistical juggling act, but my kids were well looked after and while I missed them, for two weeks I was an individual person, doing something I loved in a special place with a great bunch of people. It was so liberating! One of the best things about taking part in these digs is getting to make new like-minded friends and finally meeting people I recognise from the online video conferences and tutors in the flesh. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming. That experience changed everything. I realised that while I enjoyed history, a career in archaeology was what I really wanted. When I returned home, I switched to a single honours in archaeology and am in no doubt that it was the right decision for me.

Cristina with Anna and Mandy at Ness of Brodgar

Fast forward to 2019 and despite stressing about doing as well as possible in my final term, I couldn’t be happier. I have exceeded my wildest expectations in terms of my grades (so far!), and although I still suffer the nagging voice of self-doubt I have way more confidence in my abilities than I did in 2015. This is in no small part due to the incredible teaching staff who are truly inspiring individuals with a real passion for what they do, which really brings out the best in their students. Knowing they believe in you seriously helps you to believe in yourself.

4th year undergraduate student Amanda Dailly (Mandy), Ness of Brodgar, Jul 2018

UHI’s childcare fund gives me extra time to study every week and the scholarship fund has enabled me to take part in the incredible summer digs. I am truly grateful for every bit of assistance I’ve had over the last three and a half years. I have now applied to study the taught masters in archaeological practice next year, something I could never have imagined myself doing when I started, and so will be moving to Orkney with my family in the summer. I can’t wait!

Obviously, aside from my children, studying with UHI is without a doubt the best thing I have ever done. It has given me an entirely different outlook on life and myself, not to mention some very exciting possibilities for the future for the whole family. I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone thinking of undertaking a degree to go for it, no matter what age you are or how long it has been since you studied. You never know where it could take you. “

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 below or give us a ring on 01856 569229 and ask for Sean. If I’m not there then a voicemail will kick in and I’ll get back to you.

MSc Archaeological Practice @UHI Enrolling Now

View from Rousay over the Skaill Farm dig

The University of the Highlands and Islands MSc Archaeological Practice is a world leading archaeology course which equips 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.

One of the elements of the programme that students find especially useful is a professional placement in a commercial or academic environment. This provides students with the vital experience of working in the often demanding environment of a large organisation.

Last year Ross Drummond worked in the marketing department at the Archaeology Institute and gained valuable experience in all aspects of public relations and media management including on-site social media reporting and blog writing.

MSc Ross Drummond on location in Rousay, Orkney

The special features of the course that students mention are:

  • Studying in the outstanding archaeological landscape of Orkney….including the Ness of Brodgar, The Cairns and on the island of Rousay (the Egypt of the North)
  • 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
  • A 3-month professional placement offers the 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
Ross Drummond, Msc Archaeological Practice student, at the Skaill Farm dig on Rousay


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 starting in September. Eligible students must live in Highlands and Islands for the period of their studies. The MSc itself requires that you study in Orkney.

For full funding details see our website.

Apply Now

To discuss your options on our MSc programme either fill out the form below and we will get back to you or give us a ring on 01856 569225 or apply through the UHI website.

Field Archaeology Short Course @ The Cairns, Orkney

The stunning location of The Cairns Broch, South Ronaldsay, Orkney

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are now enrolling for the popular short course in Field Archaeology to be held at The Cairns Broch excavation – one of Orkney’s leading excavations.

  • When? 19 – 21 June 2019 (3 full days 9:30 – 16:30)
  • What does it cost? £220.00 per person
  • How do I book? Use the form below

This short course in Field Archaeology from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute, run by a team from our commercial unit Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, aims to provide participants with basic training and understanding of the practices and processes in Field Archaeology. Check out last years site diary to give you a flavour of the exciting discoveries, including a wooden bowl and human hair in the well!
Site Director Martin Carruthers talks about The Cairns Well, excavated in 2018

Located at the on-going excavations at The Cairns broch, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, training will cover:

  • Excavation techniques
  • Finds identification
  • The principles of stratigraphy
  • Basic site survey and
  • Archaeological recording (drawn, written and photographic record).
3Recording in the broch

Recommended equipment: Steel toe boots/wellies, full waterproofs, packed lunch and flask. Please note: Toilet facilities are provided. Participants are to meet at the excavation site each day at 9:30. Accommodation, travel and lunch are not included.

Places are limited (15 max.) so book now by contacting Mary using the form below…..

Western Isles Symposium was a great success

Barpa Langass

In the second week of January, Dr Rebecca Rennell of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute organised Scotland’s Island Research Framework for Archaeology (SIRFA) first research symposium.

The symposium itself was hosted in Lochmaddy, North Uist in the Western Isles with the purpose of bringing together a wide range of stakeholders in order to identify and discuss research gaps, opportunities and priorities for archaeological research across the Western Isles. The event was the first of three annual SIRFA project symposia; Year 2 will focus on Shetland, Year 3 in Orkney.

In its first few months of operation, SIRFA has proved to be very successful with The Western Isles Symposium surpassing all expectations by attracting over 80 delegates , with a further 25 individuals indicating their support and desire to input to the project as it progresses.

The delegates represented a diverse range of stakeholders including professors, lecturers and research staff and post-graduate students from 15 different universities, local community and third sector groups and national heritage organizations (see Figure 1 for breakdown). Key note speakers included Niall Sharples from Cardiff University and Mike Parker Pearson of UCL.

Figure 1: Delegates attending the SIRFA Western Isles Symposium by sector

The four day event was structured around thematic and period-based workshop sessions, public lectures and fieldtrips to Baile Sear, Lioncleit and Barpa Langass. Delegates were asked to live tweet from the event and
if you want to catch up on the events and the discussion you can follow the conversation at #SIRFA2019

“SIRFA involves working with a range of stakeholders to identify gaps in current knowledge and agree where archaeological researchers should focus their attention now and in the future,” stated Dr Rebecca Rennell, “The expectation is that local and national bodies overseeing archaeology, as well as funders of archaeological research, will require that all research across Scotland’s islands reference and respond to the priorities outlined in this framework. It is therefore a significant piece of work and one that will direct and shape the future of archaeological research in the islands.”

The event was funded by Historic Environment Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and CnES.

St Magnus Cathedral Graffiti Project Launch

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with Orkney Archaeology Society for an exciting community archaeology project centred on the 870 year old St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney.

The project will involve the local community who will investigate, record and analyse the graffiti and mark making which is present on the walls both inside and outside the building.

St Magnus Cathedral occupies a special place in the history and identity of Orkney. Built from red and yellow sandstone in the 12th century by the same masons as Durham Cathedral, it is one of the most iconic buildings in Scotland. It serves as a parish church, a venue for a range of events and performances, and is one of the most popular heritage attractions for visitors to the islands. A wide range of markings from the last 870 years survive on both the internal and external stonework, and the cathedral contains one of the most significant graffiti assemblages in Scotland. These include masons’ marks relating to primary construction and rebuild, enigmatic symbolic designs such as hexafoils, and a wide range of both pencilled and inscribed ‘name-and-date’ graffiti. Only very limited attention has ever been afforded to these, but such inscriptions are increasingly recognised as an important part of the historical record.

Several hundred marks have been informally identified, and these are a highlight of the Cathedral tours. But despite the great interest in, and research importance of, this assemblage, it has never been the focus of a systematic, detailed study. It is likely that many more marks remain to be discovered. In addition, the soft sandstone is vulnerable to erosion and restoration of the building’s stonework continues. Many of the more lightly inscribed carvings, and the delicate pencil graffiti, are in danger of disappearance before they are fully recorded. These factors, in combination with the growing awareness of the significance of this resource, make this project timely and essential.

The aims of the project are to….

  • train a team of community archaeologists who will be sufficiently skilled and confident to undertake, under supervision, detailed building surveys
  • create a publication which outlines the key findings, places the graffiti in the cathedral within its historical context and adds to the knowledge of this unique building and the people who have used it
  • create an online resource which will be freely available to all, showing the photographs and the records of the project

The volunteers will be trained by archaeologists from the UHI Archaeology Institute to recognise and record the marks and enter them into the record – the first time that these important social marks have been recorded officially.

St Magnus Cathedral Tower

The project will be officially launched on Tuesday 22nd January 2019 at 7.00pm in the St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall when the team will discuss the background to the project and how to get involved as a volunteer.

The initial training dates for volunteers are to be held in late January and early February and to take part in the project, participants must attend one of the four hour sessions. Interest in the workshops has been very high, and as a result there are now very few slots available on the first three training workshops.  Organisers are looking to set a date for a fourth training workshop, and this will be confirmed at the launch on the 22nd Jan.

  • Workshop One: Saturday 26th Jan. 1pm-5pm, St Magnus Cathedral
  • Workshop Two: Tuesday 5th Feb. 1pm – 5pm, St Magnus Cathedral
  • Workshop Three: Saturday 9th Feb. 1pm-5pm, St Magnus Cathedral

UHI Archaeology Institute lecturer and project coordinator, Dr Antonia Thomas, commented that, “over more than 870 years, St Magnus Cathedral has played host to countless masons, pilgrims and tourists, many of whom have left their mark in graffiti and other carvings. This exciting project gives us the opportunity to examine several centuries of mark-making, and find out more about the social history of this special building “

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

Martin Carruthers, Orkney Archaeology Society Chairman said,” This is a really exciting project and one that we are delighted to be running. St Magnus Cathedral is such an important building for Orkney folk, and we are looking forward to working with the community to learn more about the people who have made their marks here since it was founded in 1137.”

The project is supported by a grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Visit the Orkney Archaeology Society website for more details.

CPD Art & Archaeology Course Enrolling Now

Preparing stone SF7530 for photography

Art and Archaeology: Context and Practice Module Code: UV408115 (SCQF Level 8)

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with the department of Art and Design at Orkney College UHI to offer a distance learning course for those who wish to explore the creative, practical and vocational aspects of art and archaeology in their own research and practice.

The Art & Archaeology: Context and Practice course has been specially designed to be studied as CPD for those professionals working in the creative and heritage sectors or as an introduction to research in the expanding art & archaeology field.

The course itself explores the history of the relationship between art and archaeology, and through a series of practical assignments students will gain a deepened understanding of not only their own creative practice, but also of the processes of making and craft production in the past and how these are interpreted in the present. 

Drawing Stone SF7530

Course Content

  • Introduction to Art and Archaeology
  • Drawing and photography in archaeology
  • Artists and archaeologists from the Renaissance to now
  • Experiencing and recording landscapes in archaeology
  • Collecting and curating objects and assemblages
  • Materials and making in prehistory 
  • Prehistoric art and mark-making
  • Contemporary archaeology: ‘the archaeology of us’

Course Structure and Delivery

The module takes place over 14 weeks between February and May 2019. Teaching is delivered via a blend of Video Conference seminar sessions, individual and group tutorials, online teaching and resources, and self-directed study. You will document your personal creative enquiry in your reflective journal which will form part of your final assessment, with a final project.

Entry Requirements

Students working at Stromness harbour

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.


£215 for an accredited Level 11 module for Scottish/EU domiciled students in 2018-2019.  For students from the rest of the UK or outwith the EU,
please contact us for full details of fees and funding

Enrolling now for a February 2019 start! Fill out the form below to register…or find out more.

COMING SOON: the popular Art and Archaeology Summer Workshop will again be held over four days in July/August 2019. The cost will be £250. Check out our social media pages for more information in the New Year.

UHI PhD Student Magdalena Awarded Prize at AEA Conference

Magdalena presenting her paper at the AEA Conference in Denmark

Magdalena Blanz, PhD Student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, is undertaking research into seaweed as fodder, food and fertiliser in the North Atlantic Islands: past, present and future opportunities.

Magdalena attended the AEA 2018 conference, hosted by the Association for Environmental Archaeology at Moesgaard Museum, near Aarhus, Denmark from 29th November to 1st December 2018.

Magdalena’s paper was  entitled “Recreating past effects of seaweed-fertilisation on the isotopic and chemical composition of barley to further palaeodietary reconstructions” for which she was awarded the prize for best student presentation at the conference.

The research concerns how fertilisation with seaweed changes the chemical and isotopic composition of the barley, and what implications this may have for reconstructing past diets. In this study, barley was fertilised with seaweed, and found an elevation in δ15N values of the seaweed-fertilised crops. This indicates that when we study δ15N values in animal and human remains, the position of the consumers of these crops in the foodchain (i.e. trophic level) may be overestimated if seaweed-fertilisation is not taken into account.

Magdalena receiving her prize

For more information on Magdalena’s research and experimental phase of the project, see her previous blog posts:

This PhD studentship is funded by the European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council as part of Developing Scotland’s Workforce in the Scotland 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programme

If you are interested in postgraduate research at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute then please do not hesitate to get in touch by e-mailing or see our guide page on this blog.

New Archaeology Research Framework Launched

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to announce the launch of Scotland’s Island Research Framework for Archaeology (SIRFA).

The four year project is supported by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers Scotland and is funded by Historic Environment Scotland as part of Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy.

The project commences with the First SIRFA Symposium which will be held in the Outer Hebrides from Monday 7th January to Friday 11th January 2019. The conference is open to everyone who works in the archaeological research field including museum professional, commercial archaeologists, academic researchers, archaeology students, community heritage groups, independent researchers and local and national government agencies. 

The focus at the symposium will be:

  • to identify and agree key research gaps
  • to identify and agree areas of research potential
  • to propose a statement of research objectives and development by period and theme

The symposium will form the first in a series of conferences to be held in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland over the next few years.

The project is co-ordinated by UHI Archaeology Institute lecturer Dr Rebecca Rennell based at Lews castle College UHI, Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

For more information on SIRFA and the First Western Isles Symposium see  their website or email Dr Rebecca Rennell