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
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.”


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