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. 

 

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.

The Cairns Bead
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.

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!

http://neolithicarchaeomagnetism.weebly.com/

How did the Neolithic Orcadians keep dry ?

 

Research conducted by Neil Ackerman, The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

Background

This project looked at the roofing flagstones from the Ness of Brodgar. This is the first evidence for Neolithic roofing of this kind on Orkney. Previously, roofs have generally been assumed to be made from organic materials, such as turf or thatch. While stone roofing has been suggested as a potential on a few occasions, this is first time a collapsed flagstone roof has been identified. The majority of flagstones come from Structure 8, providing a detailed sample to study further. This evidence provides a unique opportunity to gain insight into a poorly understood aspect of Neolithic construction.

Structural Understanding

Rebuilt south west wall of structure 12
The rebuilt south west wall of structure 12

Understanding the roof furthers our understanding of the structures as a whole. The internal piers in the building could serve to shorten the unsupported span of the roof frame significantly. It also gives a possible explanation for the failure of the south west wall from Structure 12. The significant outward thrust of a roof of this size could easily cause a collapse like this if not properly countered. The shortening of Structure 1 could also be a response to a roof collapse, with the later wall being built directly on top of the collapsed material. Shortening the structure would provide less of a weight to support.

 Construction and Collapse

The distribution of the flagstones from the roof in Structure 8 hints towards the construction methodology. The size of the flagstones reduces towards the centre of the reconstructed roofstructure, but are smallest at the end wall suggesting the roof follows the curve of the wall.As well as showing the way the roof was built, the distribution of the flagstones also shows how it collapsed. They are not found vertically against the walls as they would likely be if the roof had deteriorated over time. Rather, they are spread across the structure with 89% lying at ≤45°.

Weatherproofing

Large amounts of compact white clay were found with the flagstones when they were excavated. This could serve as a caulking material, as well as keeping the flagstones together. An internal covering is also highly likely, as there is no evidence of direct exposure to the smoke and soot from the internal hearths. A seamer method was used to cover the gaps between flagstones and reduce the amount of moisture getting into the structure.

Suggested Models

By looking at historical use of flagstone in roofing, and evidence from the Neolithic flagstones, three models are suggested:

a) Uncovered flagstone roof

b) Covered flagstone roof

c) Partial flagstone roof

3 D Modelling Dissertation Survey

3D modelling is now an accepted part of archaeological analysis and interpretation. However, up until now very few people have studied how these images are used. James Bright, one of our students studying at The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, identified this issue and is in the process of gathering information for his dissertation – “The value of 3D models and their use in the archaeology and heritage sector”  

James writes, “The first part of research for the dissertation was spent making some 3D models of items at the Buckie and District Fishing Heritage Centre, using photogrammetry techniques and Agisoft Photoscan. This was to investigate how much time and skill was needed to make good quality models. I had got some very good advice on what does and doesn’t work from Hugo Anderson-Whymark, who makes some excellent models in Orkney. The second part of research was to design some surveys asking different groups their thoughts on the 3D models – did they learn anything from them, did they think they were of value, did they even load on their devices ! ”

 “Once I have enough results from the surveys, I can discuss the value of making the models, is it worth it and are people really learning from these models or just interested in the ‘wow’ factor of the model itself, being a relatively new technology. I want to see if this technology really brings anything to the table in terms of education and dissemination and I’d like to look at any problems or issues people may have had using this technology.”

If you want to help James in his survey then please go through to his website

https://www.virtualpasts.com/survey-for-archaeologists-and-archaeology-students/

 

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.

 

Discovering Hidden Kirkwall 12th December

Discovering Hidden KirkwallKirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative Archaeology Programme is calling for volunteers !

The Archaeology Institute University of Highlands and Islands is running the first in a series of projects in the Kirkwall  Townscape Heritage Initiative. The project aims to involve local people in archaeology and discover a hidden Kirkwall.

During the day volunteers will undertake a basic archaeological survey in the Kirkwall conservation area – taking photographs, making sketches and describing buildings.

There are 10 places availabe for volunteers
Sat 12th Dec. 10.00am – 2.00pm
Meet Outside the cathedral
Contact to book Daniel Lee
Tel : 01856 569214

 

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

New Masters Module in Art and Archaeology

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One of the underlying principles of the Archaeology Institute is to promote archaeology in the community. Using the considerable resources of both the Art & Design department and the Archaeology Institute, we can offer courses that combine the two disciplines.

Just a quick reminder about the new Masters module Art and Archaeology course : Contemporary Theory and Practice starting in January 2016. Fridays 10-12 over 12 weeks.

Enrol today by contacting : email : studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or telephone 01856 569000