Cata Sand Dig – First Update

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The excavation of the recently discovered late Neolithic /Early bronze Age settlement dating to c.2500-2000BC is now underway. It is early days, but already the team are beginning to unearth finds.

It has to be said that the island of Sanday in Orkney can be a little exposed at times – being situated in the North Atlantic – but the weather has been kind over the last few days to the team working in one of the northern most islands in Orkney. The site itself is beautifully located on the beach, but in many ways this adds to the difficulties as erosion is an ever present danger. In many respects the team are working against the clock, knowing that the site may be damaged by the next winter storm.

The location also works against us in the respect that up to the minute Twitter, Facebook and social media posts are difficult from this isolated outpost. So if you are used to the daily coverage from our other sites then please forgive us on this occasion for not being so up to the minute.

However, Chris Gee, Project Officer Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology UHI Archaeology Institute, managed to send us a brief report on the first couple of days at the dig. He continues….”On Sunday 13th August and Monday 14th August we cleaned the beach deposits from the site, and as indicated by the magnetometer survey, revealed midden material and an arc of stone spread possibly indicating a wall beneath. The inital work has already produced many exciting finds including skaill knives, flint working waste and a fine rubber stone which has also been used as a pounder and possible anvil.”

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The excavation team includes Prof Colin Richards, Prof Jane Downes, Christopher Gee from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Dr Vicki Cummings from UClan in addition to participants from the Sanday Archaeology Group, University of Cambridge, and students from UHI and UCLan, but also involves specialists from as far away as the School of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, Galicia, Spain.

 

A Summer of Archaeology in Rousay

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Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Land and Sea: Exploring Island Heritage, Past and Present.

Dan Lee, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dr Jen Harland and Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute together with a team of local volunteers and school children embarked on a programme of archaeology in Rousay, Orkney over the summer 2017.

Rousay’s Summer of Archaeology culminated in a host of activities along the west shore during July. Excavations were carried out at the coastally eroding site at Swandro (by a team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute & University of Bradford) and at Skaill farmstead.

Together, the work at these sites aims to explore the remarkable deep time represented along the west shore; from the Neolithic, Iron Age, Pictish, Viking and Norse periods to the 19th century clearances. Work at these sites framed a series of community activities and workshops including test pit excavation at Skaill, training placements for Rousay residents, metalworking workshop, bones and environmental workshop, experimental archaeology, and open days at the two excavations. Over the month, the sites received hundreds of visitors, from Rousay and all over the world.

Chrissie and her test pit containing Norse midden

Excavations at Skaill farmstead were undertaken within the middle two weeks of July. The results of the geophysical survey in 2015 showed potential earlier features below the present 18/19th century farmstead. Subsequent test pits in 2016 identified several earlier structural phases below the farmhouse, including a wall with two outer stone faces and midden core, which is likely to date to the Norse period. The site represents a small ‘farm mound’ where successive phases of building, levelling and rebuilding give rise to a low mound.

The aim this season was to establish the extent and character of the farm mound, and the depth, quality and date of any deposits and structures in order to better understand the site for more detailed investigation. A line of 1m by 1m test pits at 10m intervals were excavated in two transects across the mound. The natural underlying glacial till was located at the northern, western and southern edges of the mound helping us to define the extent of surviving archaeology.

Ornate moulded red sandstone

In the centre of the mound, deep stratified deposits were found. These are likely to be over 2m in depth. Post-medieval deposits were found to overlay a distinctive Norse horizon. Norse pottery, fish bone, shell midden and elaborate red sandstone mouldings were found in the earlier horizons. The moulded red sandstone is significant, indicating high status buildings in the area during the late medieval period, and may help provide insights into the ornate red sandstone fragments nearby at The Wirk and on Eynhallow. Evidence for metal working, in the form of iron slag, has also been recovered from Skaill. Significant assemblages of animal bone, fish bone and pottery from the 17-19th centuries were also recovered. These will help us understand farming and fishing practices during the last few hundred years.

Planning the remains of the barn in Trench 2

To the north of the farmhouse, a small trench across a former 19th century barn was reopened and extended, showing the external wall footings and internal flagged floor. The building was demolished between 1840 and 1882 during a time when the farmstead was cleared and ceased to operate. In addition, a small evaluation trench across a suspected field boundary to the south of the barn was reopened from last season and completed. This contained a stone-lined drain and midden enhanced soil, indicating that earlier buried structures could be widespread at the site. Indeed, all of the earthworks that fell within one of the test pits contained structural remains such as walls.

Visitors!

Over the two weeks, Skaill received nearly 150 visitors, with 70 visitors over the test pit weekend. Several local children helping dig the test pits. Overall the season was a great success; helping raise the profile of the island, opening up the site to so many folk and increasing our understanding of the Skaill and Westness story.

The project has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant and additional funding form the OIC Archaeology Fund.

        

 

Team to Start Dig at Cata Sand

20160229_164816The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with the University of Central Lancashire to begin excavation at the exciting site at Cata Sand on Sanday, Orkney.

The dig will commence on the 14th August and continue until the 8th September 2017 and will investigate the geophysical responses and midden deposits that were located  when the team visited previously. The details of the work can be viewed in blog posts here and here.

The excavation team includes Prof Colin Richards, Prof Jane Downes, Christopher Gee from the UHI Archaeology Institute and Dr Vicki Cummings from UClan in addition to participants from the Sanday Archaeology Group, University of Cambridge, and students from UHI and UCLan, but involves specialists from as far away as the School of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, Galicia, Spain.

The site will present challenges of its own for the archaeologists as the structural remains are literally located on a sandy beach and, although breathtakingly beautiful, is exposed to all that the North Atlantic can throw at it. Erosion by wind and tide are just two of the issues facing the team and everyone is hoping for good weather over the next few weeks.

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The site was discovered in November 2016 by Prof Jane Downes, Prof Colin Richards and Christopher Gee of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Dr Vicki Cummings of the University of Central Lancashire. A provisional survey showed a substantial settlement complex, which could be late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age (between c. 2500-2000 BC) – a period of massive social and possibly political change in society in Northern Scotland.

The project forms the first stage of a broader 5 year project (Northern Exposure) examining the end/collapse of the Neolithic and beginning of Bronze Age in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland and the plan involves examining sites on Orkney, Shetland and Fair Isle.

The overall project will also record the condition of an eroding stalled cairn on Tresness. This study forms part of The Tombs of the North Project.

We plan to track the developments over the next few weeks here on this blog.


Northern Exposure is a joint University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and University of Central Lancashire project.

Caithness Broch Festival 2017 Underway

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Bruan Broch, Caithness

A Celebration of Archaeology in Caithness

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Caithness Broch Project have teamed up to begin the first phase of the exciting Caithness Broch Festival.

The Caithness Broch Festival is a year-long programme of heritage and archaeology projects for 2017-2018, focusing on exploring the broch sites of Caithness.

There are more broch sites in Caithness than anywhere else in Scotland and yet there have been few recent explorations of these massive, tower like Iron Age structures.

The community archaeology project will begin with surveys of Bruan Broch, near Lybster, on the 15th & 16th August 2017 and Thing’s Va Broch, near Thurso, on the 17th & 18th August 2017. The local community and visitors to the area are invited to see how archaeologists undertake Magnetic and Earth Resistance surveys at these two important Iron Age structures. The sites will be open from 10am to 3pm each day of the survey. See map below…

The overall project aims to involve the community and provide hands-on training in basic archaeological techniques and establish through geophysics, fieldwalking, trial-trenching and work with local school groups the following:

  • the extent and depth of the buried structures
  • the date of the sites and evidence of activity over a longer period (for example, Norse activity at Thing’s Va).
  • the location of the broch entrances
  • the character and building phases of Iron Age houses
  • a platform for future research

Situated in a stunning coastal location, Bruan Broch is an outstanding example of an Iron Age Broch settlement that has possible outbuildings associated with the main structure.

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Thing’s Va Broch, Caithness

Thing’s Va broch is also a well-preserved example of an Iron Age broch settlement, which has surviving elements of the interior including a cell within the outer wall. Interestingly, the site name suggests that it was used in the Norse period as a meeting place and other accounts suggest that there are earlier Neolithic or Bronze Age structures on the site. The overall project hopes to shed light on the existence of these activities.

The Caithness Broch Project is a community led archaeological organisation which aims to promote the existence of broch sites, undertake community archaeology projects in Caithness and eventually create a replica broch as it would have appeared 2000 years ago.

The Caithness Broch Festival will provide opportunities for local people and visitors to the area to engage with local archaeology – for many, their first opportunity to do so – whilst conducting significant archaeological research.

The overall aim is for these activities to develop a skilled and engaged group that can develop and sustain archaeological projects within the county. Participants will also contribute to the wider understanding of broch sites in Caithness and their landscapes and present the results in a temporary exhibition at Caithness Horizons Museum.

Bruan Broch & Things Va Geophysics V5lowres

Photographs: Thanks to Chris Sinclair.


Notes on Geophysical Survey & Archaeology

Geophysical survey in archaeology uses a wide range of non-intrusive techniques to reveal buried archaeological features, sites and landscapes.

Geophysical survey is a rapid and cost-effective means of exploring large areas and is used widely in commercial and research archaeology. It is quite often one of the first techniques to be employed on a site, prior to ground-breaking, and the results can be used to determine the location of any trenches.

Some techniques complement each other, such as magnetic survey and earth resistance survey, which will be used in this project.

Magnetic Survey

Magnetic survey measures localized variations in the earth’s magnetic field caused by features in the top metre or so of the ground. The technique is especially suited to locating ditches, pits, pottery and tile kilns, hearths and ovens, ferrous debris, and burnt material.

Users need to be free of magnetic material, such as zips on clothing, when carrying out the survey.

Earth Resistance Survey

Earth resistance survey involves electrical currents being fed into the ground and the measurement of any resistance to the flow of these currents. Where the current meets buried walls, it will record high resistance readings. Where the current meets an infilled ditch, low resistance readings will result.

The method, then, is particularly suited to locating walls and rubble spreads, made surfaces such as roads or yards, and stone coffins or cists. The technique can also be used to locate ditches and pits in areas where magnetic survey is not suitable, for example due to the nature of the soils or the presence of large amounts of ferrous material on or beneath the surface.

Resistance survey is a slower method than gradiometer survey and, as such, will be used to target specific areas of interest identified in the magnetic survey.


The community archaeology project is funded from the Tannach & District Wind Farm Charitable Trust Fund supported by Foundation Scotland, Bailie Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund and the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund.

First Image Emerges from Orkney Maritime Archaeology Survey

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Initial image of the Markgraf collected using a multibeam echosounder. Copyright UHI Archaeology Institute. With thanks to Dr Kieran Westley, Ulster University.

New images showing the German High Seas Fleet scuttled in Scapa Flow are now emerging from the data collected from the maritime archaeology project fieldwork completed last week in the waters surrounding Orkney.

This exciting project, led by Sandra Henry, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving, has brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.

This is the first image to emerge and was created by Dr. Kieran Westley, Ulster University who worked on the raw data collected through a multibeam echosounder. The image shows the German Battleship Markgraf lying in thirty metres of water on the seabed of Scapa Flow, Orkney and clearly shows the ships upturned hull with propeller shafts and rudders still in place nearly one hundred years after being scuttled in 1919.

The ship itself was commissioned in October 1914 and took part in the majority of the German High Seas Fleet actions during the First World War. She was damaged at the Battle of Jutland where she sustained five hits and eleven men were killed. Following the Armistice she was scuttled in the deepest part of Scapa Flow and so has escaped the attentions of salvage operations in the 1930’s.

For more information on the ship see the Scapa Flow Historic Wreck Site. For more information on the Maritime Archaeology Project see our previous blog post.


  • The project lead is Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
  • Sula Diving website
  • Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia will be the work platform for data collection. Data collection will involve Marine Scotland undertaking MBES survey, providing calibrated unprocessed raw data and camera equipment for the acquisition of data.
  • Seatronics – an Acteon Company will provide ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment
  • Historic Environment Scotland will provide guidance on marine historic assets, survey targets and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites.
  • Ulster University will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys and provide input into maritime archaeological assessment and analysis.
  • Heriot-Watt University will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the ROV survey and undertake marine biological studies on the submerged cultural heritage assets.
  • Ministry of Defence will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys, and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites being investigated and environmental studies of the wreck sites.
  • The University of Dundee will process MBES and ROV survey data and work to produce visualisations based on the collected data. This will involve the production of 3D models of the wreck sites from the multibeam echosounder and photogrammetric data.
  • The project will be conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.
  • The data and project archive will be deposited with the project partners, including Historic Environment Scotland, the MoD, and Orkney Islands Council in accordance with the standards established by the Marine Environmental Data Information Network (MEDIN).

YAARP takes to the field

DSC_0030To many people across the country, YAARP is associated with a certain police film set in a model village in the West Country (filmed in Wells actually), but to archaeologists and artists in Orkney, the initials can only mean one thing….Yesnaby Art and Archaeology Research Project.

The ten day YAARP fieldwork starts on 31st July and brings together staff and students from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, volunteers and artists with the aim of creating a unique view of the important archaeological landscape of Yesnaby, West Mainland, Orkney.

The team led by University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute archaeologist Dr James Moore and visual artist Rik Hammond uses geophysics, drone photography and 3D modelling techniques, alongside a variety of arts based practices to record the ever changing landscape of Yesnaby.

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This is the third year of YAARP and this year the team will be focusing on creating unique digital and traditional artwork in the field based on the natural and cultural landscape. One exciting idea involves the creation of 3D models of elements of the landscape and reproducing them in physical form using 3D printing.

Dr James Moore says, “ We have developed an almost bewildering number of ways of studying, experiencing and presenting this important landscape. I think the whole team are looking forward to what new ideas, data and possibilities come from this phase of work, as well as the somewhat controversial ‘biscuit league’ being expanded to include a whole range of cakes and other treats. The project builds on many years of research, both as individuals and as a team, and we are looking forward to presenting a taste of the results by staging an exhibition in Orkney during spring 2018.”

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Follow YAARP social mediaFacebook @YesnabyArtArchaeologyResearchProject and Twitter @YAARP_Orkney and Rik Hammond @rikhammond.artist


Thanks to Orkney Islands Council Culture Fund for supporting the project.

Maritime Project Underway in Orkney

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MV Scotia. Permission of Marine Scotland

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) is pleased to announce a collaborative maritime archaeology project surveying shipwrecks of the German High Seas Fleet and the war graves HMS Hampshire, HMS Vanguard and HMS Royal Oak.

This exciting project, which began on Sunday, is led by Sandra Henry, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving has brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.

The survey is using a suite of geophysical equipment, ROV and diver survey to collect data that will accurately record the wrecks as they sit on the seafloor today. The data collected will be used to continue to monitor, protect, conserve and promote these impressive ship wrecks. Visualisations of the wrecks by Chris Rowland, University of Dundee 3D Visualisation Research Lab (3DVisLab), will bring the wrecks to the surface and to life as he employs the latest technologies available to create these models. The project commenced on the 23rd July 2017.

Looking down into the Scapa Flow anchorage from the island of Hoy
Looking across Scapa Flow from Lyness.

The High Seas Fleet was the battle fleet of the German Imperial Navy in World War One. On 21st June 1919, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter gave the order to scuttle the 74 ships of the High Seas Fleet located in Scapa Flow.  52 vessels were successfully scuttled, although during the interwar period salvage operations lifted 45 of these vessels from the seafloor. Today the wrecks of three battleships and four light cruisers remain on the seabed of Scapa Flow (http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com/wrecks/).  A project funded earlier this year by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and led by Sandra Henry from ORCA, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving tells the story of these salvage operations,

HMS Hampshire was an armoured cruiser that was assigned to transport Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, to Archangel in northern Russia for a meeting with Tsar Nicholas II. During this assignment, the ship struck a mine, off Marwick Head, on the west coast of Orkney. She sank in twenty minutes with a loss of 737 men including Lord Kitchener (https://kitchenerhampshire.wordpress.com/ ).

HMS Royal Oak was a revenge class Battleship. The Royal Oak under command of Captain Commander W.H. Benn sat at anchor when struck by torpedoes fired from U47 under the command of Kapitanleutnant Günther Prien resulting in the loss of 833 lives.

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HMS Vanguard. Kind permission Orkney Library & Archive

HMS Vanguard was a St. Vincent class dreadnought battleship destroyed at her mooring by a series of explosions before midnight on Monday, 9 July 1917.  843 men were lost out of the 845 people on board.

Paul Sharman, ORCA Senior Projects Manager, added that, “We are proud and feel privileged to be involved with this important project. We are pleased to be working collaboratively with such a wide range of specialists to provide high quality data which will contribute to the understanding of these important marine archaeology sites and commemorate the sacrifice made by the personnel who were on board HMS Vanguard, HMS Hampshire and HMS Royal Oak.”

The archival research and archaeological remote evaluation surveys that comprise this project will lead to a full understanding of the condition of the wreck sites, contribute to enhanced heritage displays, provide data for academic research and support activities and material for public engagement.

Alistair Coutts, Business Development Manager, Seatronics, said “We are delighted to be collaborating again with ORCA & UHI and we look forward to working with the collected specialists on this exciting project. Our aim is to use our Predator inspection class ROV and integrated cameras with 3D modelling technology to provide accurate models and detailed video footage of the current condition of the wreck sites.”

Andrew Fulton, Historic Environment Scotland, said, ‘We are pleased to see this next stage of survey work on the underwater wartime remains of Scapa Flow. The results will help update existing records of the wrecks, guide their management and contribute to the commemoration of momentous events in wartime history .’

It is planned that this project will contribute to the centenary commemorations of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in 2019.


  • The project lead is Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
  • Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia will be the work platform for data collection. Data collection will involve Marine Scotland undertaking MBES survey, providing calibrated unprocessed raw data and camera equipment for the acquisition of data.
  • Seatronics – an Acteon Company will provide ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment
  • Historic Environment Scotland will provide guidance on marine historic assets, survey targets and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites.
  • Ulster University will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys and provide input into maritime archaeological assessment and analysis.
  • Heriot-Watt University will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the ROV survey and undertake marine biological studies on the submerged cultural heritage assets.
  • Ministry of Defence will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys, and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites being investigated and environmental studies of the wreck sites.
  • The University of Dundee will process MBES and ROV survey data and work to produce visualisations based on the collected data. This will involve the production of 3D models of the wreck sites from the multibeam echosounder and photogrammetric data.
  • The project will be conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.
  • The data and project archive will be deposited with the project partners, including Historic Environment Scotland, the MoD, and Orkney Islands Council in accordance with the standards established by the Marine Environmental Data Information Network (MEDIN).