We invited Andrea Freund PhD student currently studying at the University of the Highlands and Islands to write a guest blog on her research and exhibition into Viking runes.
Andrea continues the story……….”I am currently in my final year of a PhD at the Institute for Northern Studies. My research is funded through an “Applied Research Collaboration” by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities in a partnership between UHI and Orkney Museum.
This relatively new kind of studentship gives the PhD student a non-academic partner and a practical, public engagement project. In my case, that is a temporary exhibition at Orkney Museum from 9 – 30 March 2019.
When it came to find a topic for my exhibition, it was clear to me that it would be about runes in Orkney, which is the central focus of my entire thesis. However, as often with such cases, the devil is in the detail. Namely, the location of many runic inscriptions from Orkney. Many early finds are now part of the permanent exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and I knew from the start it was unlikely that I would be able to show them. Then there are the 33 inscriptions inside the Neolithic tomb of Maeshowe – rather difficult to get to the museum, so they could not be the main focus.
Another consideration, which has fascinated me from my first visit in Orkney was the way runes are still an inspiration for artists and designers here, which I never saw anywhere else to such a big extent. I felt it was important to reflect the ongoing importance of runes in and for Orkney in the exhibition because that throws up many aspects of how runes, and with them the Norse, are received in modern Orkney.
Therefore, the exhibition is called “A Millennium of Writing”, making the connection from the approximate time (sorry, I cannot guarantee that it is exactly a millennium, but “About 1025 years of writing” or so wouldn’t look good on a poster) that runes were first used in Orkney to the present day. In putting together the exhibition, I was very lucky in various regards. Orkney had a new find of a runic spindle whorl in 2017, and this is the first time it can go on display. Inscribed bones from Earl’s Bu have also recently been moved to Orkney Museum and are going on their first ever display, too. In addition, it has been possible to secure loans of objects that have never been at Orkney Museum and that have never formed part of the same exhibition, alongside with loans from artists and designers, to tell a more comprehensive story about runes in Orkney.
One thing I personally like in museums is a hands-on experience, and I wanted to try and recreate that. This means that visitors can try themselves at carving their names in runes – made slightly easier than the Norse original technique by replacing stone with flower foam and sharp knives with wooden cuticle pushers. The runic spindle whorl is also available as a digital 3D model, created by Jim Bright, so visitors can enlarge and turn it as they wish even though the original is in a glass case. Finally, visitors are asked for their own suggestions what the rather mysterious lead amulet from Deerness might say on its inside – which we may never discover because it can neither be unfolded nor X-rayed.
I hope that visitors will enjoy the exhibition just as much as I have enjoyed the process of planning and putting it together, that it appeals to Orcadians and tourists alike and makes people reflect on Orkney’s runic heritage and how it is portrayed and used today.”
In this blog Dr Ragnhild Ljosland, Orkney College UHI , talks about the attraction of the theme…..Ruination & Decay. This article originally appeared on the HARC Ruination & Decay blog. Click through to catch the latest!
“Ruined buildings and decaying remnants of human activity have a strange attractiveness and bewitching aesthetics to them. When ruination and decay was taken up by the Humanities and Arts Research Cluster (HARC), University of the Highlands and Islands, as the first of its annual research themes, I was immediately excited by the topic. Why should this be so? Why was I not repulsed?
Firstly, there is the detective aspect, of course. As I child, I always wanted to be an archaeologist, because it combined the professions of detective and adventurer. True enough, I had a somewhat skewed image of what an archaeologist does, influenced by Indiana Jones and Thor Heyerdahl. However, even now with a more mature understanding of the profession, I am still attracted to its puzzle solving aspect. It is like finding fourteen pieces of a thousand-piece jigsaw and from there trying to gain some sort of understanding of the picture. This attracts me to ruined buildings, too. From what is left now, can we form a picture of what it was like before and about its story over time?
Another thing I like about ruins and decay is the effect of getting a little glimpse, as if looking briefly into a single shard of a broken mirror. A wartime hut at the old naval base of Lyness in Orkney: Reduced to a pile of rotting wood like a match-stick house after a storm. But on the one wall that is still standing: Miraculously, a little mirror is still hanging up! Allowing us for a short second to have a look into the past and at the person who last used it to shave before going out into another day of war.
There was an underwater archaeological survey done recently here in Orkney, looking at the naval wrecks of Scapa Flow. The most amazing images came out. What touched me to the core was not the ships in themselves, or their gun turrets, but the little everyday things that were spread on the seabed around the wrecks. A tuba. A fork and a saucer with the ship’s name on the porcelain. Shoes. Lots of shoes, which once contained feet.
I am mesmerised by looking at photographs of decaying structures from the relatively recent past. A well-known example is the Mark Twain Public Library in Detroit, which closed down due to budget cuts and lies abandoned with books and furniture still in it. There are Pinterest collections out there dedicated to urban decay, showing abandoned and decaying schools, factories, swimming pools and sports centres, mansions and churches, lecture halls and theatres. I have spent hours on Google Earth, looking at the town of Chernobyl, where trees and grass have taken over the apartment blocks and the Ferris wheel in the amusement park has become no more than a trellis for the returning plant life. My fascination with urban decay stems, I think, from the clashes between the familiar and the strange and between the temporal moment and vastness of time. It shows so clearly and unrelentingly that human structures are no more than temporary surface alterations and that however familiar we are with the music hall it is but a brief and temporary assemblage of materials which one day will be claimed back by Planet Earth. A mirage of civilisation and illusion of governance over nature.
We have such places here in Orkney where I live, too. Little stone cottages, abandoned as farms grew bigger. In the island of Sanday, there is an entire abandoned village. Little remnants of past community life are still there: Rhubarb is still growing, a tea pot is left on a windowsill, a sewing machine stands abandoned behind a little stone window. We even have abandoned islands. The last inhabitants of the island of Swona – a brother and sister by the name of Rosie – thought they were only leaving for a few days, but never returned. Rose Cottage stands lonely with food in the cupboards, a tea towel hanging on the range in the kitchen, but with cattle and birds as the only inhabitants of the island. The human time-line which started in Swona five millennia ago with a Neolithic chambered cairn stopped in its tracks in 1974. But the time of the cattle and the wildlife still goes on.
Regarding sunsets, I have noticed a strange effect. Sunsets are sometimes better enjoyed when not looking at them directly. I was thinking of this latterly as I was walking home from work one late February afternoon. My path took me along an old stone wall, rather tall, which I could not see over. Behind it, a glorious, golden sunset was in progress. The sky above looked like Soria Moria, the fabled golden castle in the clouds from Norwegian fairy tales. But when I got to the end of the wall, and I could finally look directly at the sun, it was no more than an ordinary sunset.
Perhaps part of the attraction to ruins, too, is that it allows you to look at human life without staring at it directly. Just like the attraction of a traditional Geisha is how she hides behind fans and draperies and layers of silk, allowing only glimpses into a secret world (paraphrasing Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha). Or the way that a horror film is much scarier when you don’t see the monster, only its shadow. There is something about that step of removal, that distance, which makes ruins and abandoned places attractive. Not too far, but not too close. Layering and glimpses of a hidden world.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, when ruins were at the height of fashion, intellectuals had this idea that their own modern times were characterised by the loss and corruption of an older, truer culture, belonging to our forefathers. They carried around copies of the Poems of Ossian, they dug out prehistoric tombs and monuments, looking for the Celtic Twilight and the Old North. They thought of archaeology and folklore as these scattered jigsaw pieces, or shards and glimpses of a hidden world which was purer and truer than their own.
I remember visiting Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire some years ago. Although the abbey itself has an interesting history, I was also fascinated by what the tour guide said about its use as a ruin. A beautiful Georgian garden had been designed around it, with the ruined abbey as its centrepiece. The land had been landscaped, the stream had been deliberately directed to create an artificial Arcadia. In this Georgian version of augmented reality, the ruined abbey was the jewel in the crown.
At this point, I suddenly felt that the abbey lost its magic and became no more than a garden folly. A special effect in a theatre. It had lost its mystery. It had been tamed. Georgian landscape gardeners would even build fake ruins. But these have no mystery. Built ruins are not alive.
In his seminar on “Decaying flesh and the instability of substances” 28/2/19, Colin Richards spoke about the blurring of the categories ‘animate’ and ‘inanimate’. That the type of Neolithic building which we call a ‘tomb’ may in fact not be a static disposal unit for dead bodies, but rather the opposite: A living transformation. “The monument itself becomes a living thing,” he said. “It is all a process of becoming.” It has been deliberately built with layers of stone ‘skin’. The stones of the inner walls have been carefully split to create an ‘open’ face inwards, ready to absorb the persons who are put inside. Through this process, the entire building and bodies together become something new. We don’t know what they called it, but we can think of it as something along the lines of an ancestor.
This made complete sense to me, both in terms of my own personal response to ruins, and as a researcher who is interested in Viking Age, medieval and early modern folklore and beliefs. In the Orkney archive, there are accounts from as late as the 1920s telling us how people saw ancient burial mounds as alive. Opening or destroying it meant bad luck. The inhabitant of the mound was called a “hogboy” or “hogboon” (from ‘mound dweller’ in Old Norse) and he could be dangerous if his mound were to be disturbed. You could tell that the mound was alive by observing the strange fire that would burn above it on certain nights. The fire is like the beating heart of the burial mound, just as the peat fire in the hearth was the heart of a croft-house.
Both for ancient ruins and more modern ruins, the following holds true: When human life in it, or human use of it has come to an end, the building nonetheless still has its own life. It continues to live and interact with nature and the world around it. Abandonment, ruination and decay is not about stopping time, but about transforming into something else. As Colin Richards put it: Decay is a generative process. Perhaps the root of my fascination lies here, in the notion of a ruin being alive. And perhaps this is why once the ruin is consolidated, made secure by Historic Environment Scotland and opened up to ticket-buying visitors, it loses some of its appeal to me?”
Training and supporting volunteers to record the built heritage of Kirkwall and adding the results to the national record online.
ORCA Archaeology have secured funding from Kirkwall THI for a short programme of archaeological building recording training, recording buildings, and historical urban archive research in Kirkwall town centre during 2019. This complements the results of the ‘Discovering Hidden Kirkwall’ Archaeology Programme undertaken by the UHI Archaeology Institute during 2016-2017, and focuses more explicitly upon built heritage.
The project will train volunteers in new skills, undertake recording in the town, leading to a better characterisation and understanding the Kirkwall conservation area. The results will be added to the national record online, for everyone to access.
Initial training workshops: will be held 25 – 26 March 2019 (10:00-16:00) at Orkney College, Kirkwall, Orkney.
Free training will be provided by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) from the Scotland’s Urban Past team. This will include sessions on ‘History Reconstructed’ which gives participants practical experience of researching buildings using a variety of sources (maps, aerial photos, architectural drawings, digital resources and documents). The team will examine three case studies with volunteers working on group tasks, ‘GIS training’ in open source mapping software, and a ‘Kirkwall Snapshot Survey’ which will give practical experience of building and monument recording, photographic survey techniques and adding images and data to Canmore online.
Activities to follow will include building recording in the town centre supported by the ORCA team in April and May, and urban archive research during April with Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon.
Training is free of charge, lunch is provided, places are limited, booking essential. Book now and get more info: email@example.com
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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!
Archaeological recording (drawn, written and photographic record).
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…..
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.
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.
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.
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 “
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.