Archaeology Meets Design: Creating The Wander Collection

IMG_0403Archaeology meets design in an innovative new collaboration pushing the boundaries of the archaeological map.

Designer Kirsteen Stewart launched The Wander Collection earlier this year in collaboration with Archaeologist Dan Lee at the Archaeology Institute at the University of the Highlands & Islands.

Finding connections in their approaches, Dan and Kirsteen decided to develop a new creative process which combined aspects of archaeological landscape survey and walking, with their references to place, material and time. These were transformed into new forms of digital maps which formed the design basis for a new range of clothing and accessories. Dan has recently been exploring the potential for experimental mappings in archaeology and has developed new innovative ways of combining walks, performance and landscape using handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Together, they decided to push the archaeological map and design process in new directions.

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Kirsteen carried a small GPS receiver in her handbag whilst going about her daily routine throughout Orkney’s coasts and islands; from going to work in the studio and doing the daily post office run to dropping the car at the garage or running an errand for the farm at the local Auction Mart.  In this way Kirsteen’s journey through her day was recorded with the GPS receiver – a small device that is used in archaeology to locate the locations of  sites and features in the landscape. At the same time, other places were referenced with additional GPS receiver creating multiple sets of data.

Experimental map made by combining GPS data from a walk

Dan took the all data from these walks and performances and transformed them into experimental digital maps, in the form of line drawings. Whilst the original walks and movements are recognisable in the resulting map, combining the data often resulted in unexpected outcomes and patterns; all embraced by the creative process.

Kirsteen took these maps and combined the simple linear shapes with elemental colours, both inspired by the island landscape the daily paths we take throughout Orkney. This process came together to form The Wander Collection.

Check out the finished designs on Wander Collection look book website.

Their collaboration is still developing, exploring innovative creative processes using design and archaeology. The UHI Archaeology Institute continues to develop strong links with the business sector in Orkney with collaborations with Ola Gorie and Ortak Jewellery. 

 

Ness to Ness: Art & Archaeology Workshop 2017

NesstoNessfPosterJul17The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with Orkney College Art Department to offer a summer Art and Archaeology workshop.

  • Dates: 17th-20thAugust 2017
  • Venue: Orkney
  • All welcome. No experience necessary.
  • Cost: £220 per person for 4 days (accommodation and food not included)
  • Contact Mary Connolly at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or 01856 569225 to book a place

The schedule for the four days includes:

Thursday 17th August. Field Day. Ness of Brodgar and Ness Battery

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After an introduction to the workshop, we will visit the excavations at the Ness of Brodgar. You will enjoy a bespoke tour of the site with Site Director Nick Card and see its unique art with Neolithic art specialist Dr Antonia Thomas. In the afternoon we will have a tour of the remarkable buildings at the Ness battery and its unique WW2 painted murals with archaeologists Andrew Hollinrake and Dan Lee.

Friday 18th August. Studio Day. Printmaking with Charles Shearer

A&A 1For today’s session, we will be based in the art studios at Orkney College UHI in Kirkwall with designer Kirsteen Stewart. Inspired by the previous field days, you will develop your creative ideas through the medium of print with world-renowned printmaker Charles Shearer. You will also have the opportunity to learn the process of collagraph print production from drawing and cutting using a range of tools, through to the application of textures and materials that help give this process its unique character. Professor Mark Edmonds will also give a guest lecture where he will discuss the intersection of art and archaeology and his own printmaking practice.

Saturday 19th August. Field Day. Pier Arts Centre and Warbeth Beach

For today’s field trip we will have a dedicated tour of the Pier Arts Centre and its world-class collection of British Modernist paintings and sculpture, led by Education Officer and artist Carol Dunbar. The afternoon will be spent on Warbeth Beach where we will explore the materials used for art making in the Neolithic, and find our how this striking landscape inspires modern and contemporary artists.

Sunday 20th August. Studio Day. Printmaking with Charles Shearer

During this workshop, you will be able to develop your ideas from the previous three days further and continue to work on collagraph printmaking with Charles Shearer and explore other forms of mark-making with designer Kirsteen Stewart.

Cost: £220 per person for 4 days (accommodation and food not included).Contact Mary Connolly at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or 01856 569225 to book a place.

 

Map Orkney Month: New Paper Published

Map Orkney Month: Imagining archaeological mappings has just been published in a new open access online journal Livingmaps Review (Vol. 1, No. 1).

The paper is based on Dan Lee’s (Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist)  contribution to the wider Public Archaeology 2015 project, in which 6 archaeologists and 6 non-archaeologists each had a month long project throughout the year.

Map drawn by volunteer
Participant mapping of Stromness

Map Orkney Month proposed new forms of creative mapping for archaeology. When volunteers were asked to map their world for a day, the idea was to create a new collaborative map of the Orkney archipelago based on everyday journeys and places; a kind of countywide archaeological walkover survey with a twist. In the process, the project challenged traditional archaeological power structures, destabilised the way archaeological knowledge is produced by using non-specialists, and experimented with new modes of archaeological mapping. In the end, each contribution became its own map without the need for traditional archaeological cartography. In particular, the role of imagination in both traditional and experimental mappings became an important theme. Above all, mappers were challenged to think about archaeology in a new way, and in the process contributed something new to the discipline.

After a month of collaborative mapping a new map of Orkney has been created. By thinking big, Map Orkney Month seems to have captured people’s imagination. Our map looks like Orkney, however it is far removed from the Ordnance Survey and the tourist trail of Neolithic World Heritage Sites, brochs and bird watching. Our map is an unfamiliar Orkney, revealed through the experience and creativity of its inhabitants.

The emphasis was on everyday journeys, less familiar places, and recording individual stories and memories of place. The only loose instructions were to record journeys for a single day within March using a handheld GPS or smart phone, and record one site of significance.

You can access the article free here (just register): https://www.livingmaps.review/journal/index.php/LMR/index

A new research paper: “Imagining Archaeological Mapping” has just been published by Dan Lee (Lifelong Learning and…

Posted by Archaeology Institute UHI on Thursday, 17 March 2016

A Splash of Colour from the Iron Age

Sometimes the smallest things tell us so much about people’s lives and yet at the same time raise so many questions.

A surprise discovery came in the form of a tiny splash of colour from the Iron Age! Cecily was processing some soil samples from The Cairns site on South Ronaldsay and her incredible eagle eyes spotted this beautiful multi-coloured glass bead! The object came from soil samples retrieved from the interior of the broch during the late occupation of the structure and date from about 100-150AD. It’s miniscule (yes that is a penny next to it!).

Glass bead 4In this image looking at the broken section of the bead you get to see the central perforation cut clean through. Most interesting you can see another pale green wedge of glass present on the left side of the bead. This is probably ‘cullet’, re-cycled glass from an earlier object partly melted down to make this bead. The source of the recyclate was probably a Roman vessel or bangle. Keep in mind this was found on South Ronaldsay in Orkney meaning of course that someone who lived or visited that site on the South Orkney Island of South Ronaldsay must have had access to Roman Britain at some point. But again some questions….was the Roman glass part of a treasured collection that took pride of place in someone`s life ? How did it come hundreds of miles from the nearest Roman settlement ? Was there regular contact between Roman Britain and Orkney ?

And then…..You wait all this time to get the first glass bead from the site and along comes another one – a much larger, whole one this time! This bead was thought to be fashioned from bone, but it can now be seen to be another yellow-amber coloured bead! But when put under the microscope the object takes on another character……

We now strongly suspect this is amber! Here it is under a microscope with top-light on the left and back-lighting on the right. On the back-lit image you can see the livid red translucent colour shining through the crust quite effectively. Now that raises a few more questions…where did it come from ? Did it come from The Baltic and how did it find it`s way to Orkney ? Is there another story this intriguing bead can tell us. In any event this would have been a treasured personal possession that someone would have dropped and lost in the hurly burly of life in The Cairns Broch.

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The second complete bead under the microscope.

There will be more on these small finds from The Cairns which tell us so much about the ordinary life of people that lived on South Ronaldsay two thousand years ago. Project leader is Martin Carruthers at martin.carruthers@uhi.ac.uk

The Cairns Character

 

Every now and then something turns up on an dig that just connects me with a living person from thousands of years ago. The Cairns Character was unearthed a few years ago in South Ronaldsay and for me, living in South Ronaldsay, it immediately made a connection.

I have included photographs of the site where he (is he a he or a she ?) was found and I have especially included pictures that were taken on one of those short Orkney days in winter – when perhaps this character was carved. I can see in my minds eye, someone sitting by the fire 2000 years ago, surrounded by their family – perhaps with a howling gale knocking at the door – gently carving a stone found on the beach. There`s a nose and two eyes and a little crooked smile….it`s a piece that connects me personally with the living from the Iron Age and perhaps suggests they were not so different to us ?

We know very little about the character, and perhaps will never know, but we can perhaps paint a story from his discovery.

The character was discovered in a pit dug into the remains of the domestic building, Structure B. Lying to the north and north-west of the main trench, the Structure B complex contains cellular, rectilinear and sub-circular building remnants, with many well-preserved hearths, stone fixtures and fittings, thresholds, wall piers and floors.

This complex, Martin Carruthers from The Archaeology Institute University of the Highlands and Islands explained, was undoubtedly domestic, and produced artefacts consistent with this – substantial amounts of pottery, stone tools, and an extensive animal bone assemblage.

The stone head had been carefully deposited in a pit, along with a number of other artefacts, presumably at the end of the site’s life. We can only guess as to the carving’s purpose – was it intended to portray a spirit or god, or was it merely a cherished possession.

Martin explained: “One recurring aspect of this site is the fact that there’s a whole series of later features that have muddied the waters somewhat.On the one hand we’ve been able to piece together these really intimate details of life within these structures – the domestic artefacts, the metalworking etc, but at the same time the overall shape of some of the buildings remain obscure – obliterated through time and continual reuse.”

Thanks to Sigurd Towrie and the Orkneyjar website. Click here for more information on The Cairns and a link through to Orkneyjar

The excavation was supported by Orkney Islands Council, Orkney College UHI, the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) Aberdeen University and Glasgow University. The team would also like to thank the South Ronaldsay community and landowner Charlie Nicholson.

Do Orcadian Tombs Align with Solar Events ?

 

Research conducted by Andrea Boyar BA, Post Graduate student at The Archaeology Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands, Orkney.

Introduction

Orkney forms one of the most intensively studied regions in Britain, providing a ‘core area’ for research (Barclay 2004: 34-37). The aim of this study was to establish to what extent Neolithic cairns in this region align with solar events

Research Objectives

  • Determine the orientation of the entrance passages of the Orcadian chambered cairns.
  • Establish trends within the range of orientations.
  • Analyse the extent of alignments that fall into the range of orientations.

Background Context

The funerary monuments of Neolithic Orkney are characterised by stone-built burial mounds situated near water, perhaps indicative of the importance of sea migration (Phillips 2003: 384). These cairns contained inhumations and cremations reflective of collective burial practices, in addition to an assortment of animal bones, stone tools, pottery, and other grave goods (Davidson and Henshall 1989: 52-59). The monuments appear to have been in use for a few hundred years, and there is a “strong possibility” that many were re-used before being deliberately decommissioned (Lee 2011: 43).

Types of Neolithic Cairns in Orkney

Orkney Carin types

Case Study: Rousay

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Distribution map of the Rousay chambered cairns, showing orientation of entrance passages acording to azimuths measurements

The island of Rousay was selected for a case study due to a high concentration of well-preserved burial architecture. The primary fieldwork aim was to record cairn azimuths in order to measure deviation from solar alignments. Key to this analysis was Stellarium, an open source planetarium used to establish the Sun’s position in the Neolithic period in Britain. By utilising precise measurements, rather than relying upon cardinal point orientations, this approach allowed for a more temporal conclusion to be reached on the relationship between solar alignment and mortuary architecture in the Neolithic.

Project Results

Azimuth results
Azimuth of Rousay Cairns

Orkney-Cromarty cairns were predominantly orientated towards the southeast, with an avoidance of northern orientations

Maes Howe cairns were more variable; there appears to be a shift from the southeast to the southwest, with a complete avoidance of the north

Hybrid cairns were the most random, containing northern orientations within examples of atypical subterranean architecture

Project results

Research Findings

  • Early Neolithic cairns placed an importance on the Midwinter sunrise, while late Neolithic cairns exhibited a shift towards the Midwinter sunset
  • An avoidance of a northern orientation, which would theoretically place a tomb in a state of perpetual darkness
  • The outlier cairns orientated to the north demonstrated atypical subterranean architecture, perhaps indicative that these specific tombs were built to intentionally keep light out of the interior
  • Azimuths provided a temporal range for illumination periods – an area of further research

Further Research

Considering how this study has evidenced seasonal intervals beyond the solstices as significant, it would be worthwhile to look at how times of illumination may relate to periods when Neolithic Orcadians would visit a tomb, inter their dead, and manipulate the remains. Applying the methods utilised in the Rousay case study to the rest of the region may reveal further insight relating to the temporal function of astronomy in Neolithic Orkney.

Conclusion

Neolithic Orcadians were an agrarian society, and as such, the changing seasons would have played an integral role to the sustainability of their way of life. For reasons unknown, solar alignments were incorporated into burial architecture; with a focus on the Solstice period, a time when one cycle ends and another begins. It is possible that sunlight was simply useful for physically seeing inside the chamber itself, however, it appears that these alignments reflect an underlying cosmology indicative of the cultural importance of the sun to an agricultural community. Cairns are mortuary structures, thus the alignments evident within them may reflect pivotal periods in the year associated with ancestral rebirth or renewal

 

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Bronze Age Settlement Discovered on Sanday

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Professor Jane Downes examines one of the house structures on the beach.

Archaeological discoveries are often made when least expected, and this is exactly what happened last Monday 7th December at Tresness, Sanday. In very poor weather, Prof. Jane Downes (University of the Highlands and Islands), Prof. Colin Richards (Manchester University), Dr Vicki Cummings (University of Central Lancaster) and Christopher Gee (ORCA, UHI) were walking out to Tresness to examine the eroding stalled cairn on the point. Initially, Christopher noticed what appeared to be the top of a substantial cairn of stones emerging through the sand. Then, Jane and Vicki spotted a circular spread of stones lying nearby in the intertidal zone on the western side of the ness. Investigating the spread, a large number of ard-points, stone mattocks, stone bars, hammerstones and stone flaked knives were immediately visible on the surface. Closer examination revealed sections of stone walls and uprights, which were clearly part of a house structure. No sooner was the spread of stones identified as the remains of a Bronze Age house, when another spread of stones was seen lying just a few metres away. This too was another house structure covered with a mass of stone tools. As the group continued walking along the sand, one after another, a series of Bronze Age sites were discovered.

The houses are visible as differently shaped spreads of stones, and in all some 14 examples were located distributed over a kilometre stretch along the sand. This vast spread of Bronze Age settlement appears to have been sealed beneath the massive sand-dunes that characterise the approach to Tresness. Indeed, a number are actually in the process of eroding from beneath the dune complex. What this discovery reveals is that an entire Bronze Age landscape on Sanday was covered by the sand dunes formed in the second millennium BC. It was the scale and density of occupation that really surprised the archaeologists as they proceeded along the ness. Not only are house structures present but working areas are also visible. Prof. Downes, who specialises in the Bronze Age was stunned by the extent of the settlement area, “this must be one of the biggest complexes of Bronze Age settlement in the Scottish isles, rivalling the spreads of hut circles in other parts of mainland Scotland”, she exclaimed.

The Bronze Age, in terms of settlement and associated agricultural practices, is probably the least understood period in Orcadian prehistory, and the vast quantity of ard-points testifies to the dominance of arable agriculture occurring at this time. It also confirms the strange practice of depositing numerous ard-points and stone tools in houses after they were ‘decommissioned’ noted by Prof. Downes. Similar Bronze Age houses have been recently excavated at the Links of Noltland, Westray; however, the scale of the Sanday discoveries is unparalleled in Orkney. Cath Parker, leader of the Sanday Archaeology Group, says “This is incredibly exciting. The archaeological landscape concealed beneath Sanday’s  shifting sands never ceases to amaze us. I’m sure the local community will relish the opportunity to be involved with any work which stems from this thrilling discovery.”

This new discovery offers the possibility of examining a dispersed Bronze Age settlement context in detail; an occurrence that will surely shed new light on this rather hazy period in Orcadian prehistory. Prof. Richards noted that “after a long history of excavating the large late Neolithic settlements or ‘villages’, most recently the Ness of Brodgar and Links of Noltland, we now possess a detailed understanding of Neolithic life in Orkney, but what happens in the following Bronze Age period is a bit of a mystery”.

Of course, given their position in the intertidal zone, the settlement complex on Sanday is under substantial threat from coastal erosion and it is only a matter of time before they will be further damaged and destroyed.