‘Our Islands, Our Past’-Three Island Regional Research Framework

Maeshowe Chambered Tomb, Orkney, Scotland
Maeshowe. Photograph: Jim Richardson

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to announce details of the ‘Three Island Regional Research Framework’ round-table discussion being held at ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference on the afternoon of Friday 15th September.

Download Our Islands Our Past Conference Registration Form and send to archaeologyconference@uhi.ac.uk

Julie Gibson, County Archaeologist for Orkney Islands Council, writes…”Regional research frameworks for archaeology, designed to complement the existing national framework (ScARF), have been identified as a strategic priority in Scotland[1]. In response, the Local Authority Archaeologists for Shetland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and Orkney, supported by UHI Archaeology Institute, are pulling together a project to develop a Research Framework for the three island-based Local Authority areas.

Our proposal is to develop three Local Research Agendas for the individual archipelagos (Shetland, Western Isles and Orkney) that will sit within a wider Regional Framework for the islands. The project will be delivered by UHI Archaeology Institute on behalf of the partners and project managed by a steering group comprised of partner and key stakeholder representatives.  Also working with us will be staff of The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland who are supporting the development of regional frameworks across the county and will host the island Agendas and Framework on the ScARF website.

This initial meeting will help structure the Agendas and establish themes for the overarching Regional Framework.  We want to work in partnership with a wide range of individuals who are active within archaeology, heritage and historic environment sectors across the region.  We will therefore be seeking advice, ideas and contributions from community heritage groups, museums, commercial contractors and academics. The aim is to identify what is important and significant for our region’s archaeology and to help provide research questions and targets to help us balance and focus our efforts on what is most significant to these islands.”

[1] Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy Delivery Plan Version 2 January 2017 section 2.1 http://archaeologystrategy.scot/files/2017/01/SAS-Delivery-Plan-16Jan2017.pdf

To register to attend the conference click here

CHAT 2016 Conference Videos Go Live

The Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT) conference hosted by the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute in Kirkwall was a great success. Now the papers are available as video presentations.

The theme was Rurality and the papers are now publicly available on YouTube via the Recording Archaeology channel. The videos and playlists are searchable, and the links for each session are below:

The original conference links:

Many thanks to Doug Rocks-Mcqueen and Ben Lewes of Landward Research Ltd for sponsorship and production of the videos, and to Recording Archaeology for hosting.

CHAT conference was a great success

A big thank you to all those delegates who made the CHAT 2016 conference such a great success.

Last weekend saw the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute host CHAT 2016 (Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory) where 70 international delegates discussed a range of interdisciplinary papers from archaeologists, anthropologists, geographers, historians and artists – exploring archaeologies of rural places.

Delegates arrived from all points of the compass including the US, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, Greece, China, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, UK and of course Orkney.

35 papers were presented in addition to a varied programme of films, field trips, presentations, workshops and films including a world premier of Jasper Coppes’ new 16mm film `Flow Country` and Mark Jenkins film `The Imaginary Worlds of Scapa Flow`. A blog of the making of the film is also available here.

If you missed any of the papers or are interested in seeing the presentations, the conference has been filmed in collaboration with Landward Research Ltd and videos of the papers will be made available online soon.

Next year, CHAT will be held at The University of Amsterdam from 3rd-5th November 2017.

Abstracts of papers available here chat-2016-orkney-rurality-abstract-booklet-v1

“Many, many congratulations on organising a terrific event. I really enjoyed and valued the experience – much to think about” Delegate via e-mail.

“Thank you so much for a wonderfully lively trip to Orkney. Thanks for putting together such a well-curated conference. Everything fitted together perfectly. I have many highlights, from the inclusion of the journey which served to break down barriers on arrival as well as give a flavour of terrain, space, time; to the last session (Rural Futures) which I was so fortunate in chairing. I’d also highlight Jobbe Wijnen’s really striking paper on local resistance in his hometown to its selection as a the site of a refugee camp, the films and fringe, the fantastic field trip, wonderful new people  – and of course, reacquainting with old CHATters. So thanks Dan, and your team for a very special CHAT. And everyone else for bringing it together.” Sefryn Penrose (Chair, CHAT committee)

Living on an Island – The AEA Conference.

Over 70 delegates from across the world arrived in Kirkwall on the 1st April for The Association for Environmental Archaeology (AEA)Conference and Professional Zooarchaeology Working Group Conference.

“Just a few lines to say thanks for a great conference. Lecture programme most interesting; great excursions (thanks especially to Mark for helping us appreciate the exceptional archaeology) and fine conference dinner.I enjoyed every second of it. Even the weather which wasn’t always exactly the best – though we did have glorious sunshine on the Saturday – did not put a damper on proceedings.” Michael O’Connell, Palaeoenvironmental Research Unit, School of Geography and Archaeology, National University of Ireland Galway.

Living and working on an island was the central theme of the AEA Conference held at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. Led by Dr. Jennifer Harland, Dr. Ingrid Mainland and Dr. Scott Timpany, the conference addressed some of the most important issues facing island communities across the world – namely isolation, environmental change and how communities connect with the rest of the world. The aim of the conference was to cast light on how ancient island communities coped with change and perhaps draw some conclusions on how threatened island communities can adapt to change in the future.

It became apparent early in the planning of this meeting that islands hold immense appeal to archaeologists as a destination for fieldwork and indeed as a venue for a conference! One of the conference organisers, Dr Ingrid Mainland said,” What was intended to be a short day of papers quickly expanded into 3 days as delegate requests started to come in. We were delighted to welcome over 70 delegates from across the world on Friday. “

Papers were presented describing archaeological findings from a wide variety of locations from the islands of the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands, to Iceland and the cold reaches of the North Atlantic. Topics were equally diverse addressing many aspects of environmental archaeology including the fragile environment of central Mediterranean islands 5000 years ago to the study of land snails in the Western Isles and how they can inform us on ancient environmental change to a paper studying the role of humans on the evolution of own Orkney Vole.

Dr. Mainland added that, ”This was the third AEA conference on the theme of islands and it was interesting comparing the topics discussed at the first meeting back in 1980 when the environment and climate change were not such mainstream topics for discussion. This now places Orkney on the map in the study of island ecosystems within environmental archaeology.”

For a copy of the Abstracts go to the AEAOrkneyProgramme.

Archaeomalacology Conference

A_14074Methods in our Madness : Approaches in Archaeomalacology.

Archaeomalacology Working Group Meeting. 5th-8th April 2016

The diverse implications of examining malacological assemblages in archaeological contexts are widely recognized. From understanding past environments and reconstructing palaeo-landscapes to exploring past subsistence strategies; and from elucidating socio-cultural dynamics of maritime interactions to the use of shell as raw materials in both technological and cultural spheres, shellfish play an important part in archaeological narratives. This workshop plays two roles: first to present current archaeomalacological research from around the world – demonstrating the above. The second part aims to discuss and develop more standardized approaches to taxonomic classification, collection, quantification and analysis of shell assemblages and reporting techniques. While there is a vast array of archaeological examination of shell remains, current outputs lack appropriate standardization, making cross-cultural or inter-site analysis difficult – something that will become increasingly detrimental to the discipline. The AMWG has reached a critical mass whereby such standardization should become practical and possible.

Themes of particular interest:

– Current research in archaeomalacology from across the world

– Socio-cultural value of shells

– Shells as raw material

– Archaeomalacological methodologies

– Taxonomy, classification and quantification

– Palaeo-environmental studies



CHAT 2016 conference call for papers closes 17 April

CHAT 2016 poster

A wee reminder as the date for submissions draws near!

Call for papers closes end of 17th April.

Email proposals to archaeologyconference@uhi.ac.uk . We are happy to discuss alternative contributions such as film, installation, sound etc.

There will be student / hardship travel and accommodation bursaries which will be announced very soon.

Details about the theme – RURALITY – can be found on the CHAT website here: http://www.chat-arch.org/

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or queries.

We look forward to receiving your proposal!

Using Archaeomagnetic Dating at The Ness of Brodgar

A new website has been set up by Sam Harris who is undertaking PhD research into archaeomagnetic dating (this is explained on the website) based on samples he has taken at the Ness of Broadgar. Sam’s research should provide complimentary dates to the C14 ones we have done in conjunction with the Times of Their Lives Project. This will help with the refinement of the chronology of the Ness and also the use of this technique.

The primary aim of this PhD project is to develop archaeomagnetic dating in the Neolithic period in Scotland. This research will expand on the pre-existing chronological dating tools available to the archaeologist by extending the calibration curve for archaeomagnetic dating. This will allow investigations of heated archaeological material from older parts of antiquity than previously permitted. Further afield this will contribute to geophysical understanding of the Earth’s magnetic field in the past. The Ness of Brodgar’s ongoing excavations have allowed a significant amount of sampling and will continue to do so as the PhD progresses.

Already the results are looking very promising!


Research Paper Published


Ingrid Mainland (second author) has had a paper published enitled : Calving Seasonality at Pool, Orkney during the first millennium AD : An investigation using intra tooth isotope ratio analysis of cattle molar enamel.

Abstract : The identification of dairying is essential if we are to understand economies of the past, particularly in northwest Europe, where a high degree of lactose tolerance suggests that fresh milk has long been asignificant food product. This paper explores a possible link between economic focus and seasonality of calving. Although cattle can breed throughout the year, animals living in termperate regions with minimal or no human management tend to breed seasonally, their breeding behaviour being strongly influenced by the availability of food. In order to achieve a year-round supply of fresh milk in the past, it is likely that multiple-season calving was necessary, which would have required additional husbandry effort.

Alternatively, for meat-focussed economies or those based on storable dairy products, a strategy of single-season calving in spring may have been favoured to maximise the utilisation of spring and summer vegetation. Cattle birth seasonality is invetigated through isotope ratio analysis of tooth enamel. Results for cattle from Pool, Orkney dating to the latter part of the first millennium AD suggest that calving occurred during at least three seasons implying that the continuous provision of fresh milk was of economic importance.

The full paper can be accessed below :

Ingrid Mainland Calving Seasonality at Pool

Bronze Age Settlement Discovered on Sanday

Tresness (2)
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.


Kirkwall THI

The Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative is a two year programme of archaeological investigations in Kirkwall conservation area offering community training and memorable hands-on experiences.

This Archaeological Programme has four stages of community archaeological work and training situated in the centre of Kirkwall within the Conservation Area. A range of non-intrusive and intrusive techniques are proposed, including Archaeological Standing Building Recording, Geophysical Survey, Palaeoenvironmental Survey and Sample Excavation, which will provide opportunities for the local community to take part and learn about archaeology, enhance community understanding of our urban heritage and provide short and long term economic benefits to Kirkwall town centre.

Activities will happen over a series of weekends throughout 2015 and 2016.

Contact Daniel Lee if you want to volunteer or just want to know more about this exciting project. Click Daniel Lee and Kirkwall THI project