Fieldwalking in Orkney Update 2019

The community archaeologists are briefed by Chris Gee

The fields of Orkney are now ploughed and so that means the new fieldwalking season is upon us.

The call for volunteers went out and a band of intrepid community archaeologists are led out into the spring Orkney sunshine to search for artefacts thrown up by the plough.

Chris Gee, of the ORCA Archaeology team organising the programme, takes up the story……”Even though we are still early in the fieldwalking of the World Heritage Area this season the results are already very interesting, providing new information on recorded sites, revealing unknown ones, and as usual raising more questions.

A field which was marked with three “Tumuli” on the OS map was walked. Although “tumuli” would indicate burial mounds of some sort often the labels were applied with little evidence of what the site actually was. In this case the tumuli were visible in the field as very low mounds with a slightly darker reddish-brown soil than the surrounding. On the surface at the centre of one of the mounds we found a chunk of cramp. Cramp is one of the products of cremation, often placed carefully within the stone cist along with the cremated remains or sometimes within the makeup of the burial mound.

Flaked flagstone bars

On the mound alongside we found two flaked stone bars. These flattish flaked flagstone bars which were used in cultivating the land are often found within, and sometimes placed around the edge of Bronze Age barrows. Our flaked stone bars had smoothed areas which showed that they had been fairly extensively used before deposition. These stone tools were used to renew the land and bring it to life once more in an eternal cycle, maybe this is what was also expected of them in the context of human life and death.

We walked a new field in an area that we have covered in previous years which is just over the loch from the Standing Standing Stone circles and Barnhouse. In this field we found extensive spreads of cramp which indicates that there was much funerary activity here in the Bronze Age. The funerary cremation fires here would have been clearly visible for miles around and particularly from the large monuments over the Harray Loch.

Fieldwalking under an Orkney sky

Further to the two hitherto unknown Neolithic settlement sites that we found last year another one has turned up this year. In fact on the first traverse of the first field to be walked one of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute students picked up the butt end of a ground stone axe or chisel. It was obvious that there was something in the field as soon as we looked at it as there was a slight rise that looked a bit darker in colour (due to occupation ash and midden enhancing the soil). Fragments of burnt stone, flint chips and small scrapers, along with larger stone tools were recorded from the surface. Just as we were about to leave the field I picked up a fine flint chisel arrowhead and several pieces of grooved ware which had also been ploughed up.

Flint arrowhead

Taken together these finds and their distribution suggest a Neolithic settlement site with at least a Late Neolithic element to it. Judging by the extent of the spread it probably consisted of a few houses, perhaps something like Crossiecrown, just outside Kirkwall.

The site is just across the loch from the Barnhouse-Brodgar monuments and not far away from Maeshowe. They would have been clearly visible from each other. The questions we are now asking are how the people in this smaller settlement interacted with the cluster of large monuments and settlement in the area and over the loch (it may have been very wet marsh at that time) and vice versa. How much interaction was there and what form did it take?

I suspect the clear inter-visibility and proximity in this case was not accidental and that it had meaning to people in both locations. Although given the density of prehistoric settlement within and well away from the World Heritage area it may be reckless to read too much into the location of one settlement. What we can now say though is that as well as the large prehistoric settlements like Barnhouse-Ness and Bookan there are apparently several smaller Neolithic settlements consisting of maybe a couple of houses in each case in very close proximity to the large monuments.

Examining and recording the site of one of the finds.

The great thing about field walking is that it is very easy to do (particularly on a bonny day!) and the results are almost instant, allowing us to discuss the landscape and what our latest finds are telling us immediately with the community archaeologists.

I am particularly grateful to all the interest shown to this project, and actually archaeology in general in Orkney, by all the landowners that I have met. I have had many interesting chats and learned so much as a result of meeting the people that know and have a first hand interest in their land.

Thanks also to Orkney Archaeology Society, Historic Environment Scotland and others who have sponsored this project.

If you want to get involved in fieldwalking in Orkney then contact Dan Lee on

New Landscape Archaeology Project to Commence in Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Fieldwalking find near Maeshowe

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.

Fieldwalking volunteers near Maeshowe

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.

If you are interested in taking part please contact

The project is supported by Historic Environment Scotland and Orkney Archaeology Society

Community Archaeology in Orkney- Fieldwalking Starts Soon

Early Bronze Age arrowhead discovered by Chris Gee while field walking in the World Heritage Site Buffer Zone, Orkney

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have secured funding from Orkney Archaeology Society and Historic Environment Scotland for this year’s community fieldwalking project.

Organised by Dan Lee and Chris Gee, they will be building on the success of the 2016 Orkney World Heritage Site Buffer Zone fieldwalking project in which over 2000 finds were located, recorded and catalogued by archaeology volunteers. Last year, significant scatters of flint, pottery and cramp were found, including stand-out finds such as flint knives, WWII material and decorated pottery.

9-zoom-using-the-gps-on-field-1The project will commence in the next few weeks (dependant on the weather) and will concentrate on fields in the Ring of Brodgar and Maes Howe area, and wider buffer zone which extends either side of the lochs.

If you wish to participate in the fieldwalking and acquire training then contact Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist, on

We ask that participants are local to Orkney as dates and sites can change at short notice due to farm activity, weather and other issues outside of our control.

Thanks to Orkney Archaeology Society (OAS)  and Historic Environment Scotland (HES) for grant funding to undertake the fieldwalking.

fieldwalking-poster-080317-page-001There is also a talk being held on Wednesday 8th March by members of the 2016 fieldwalking team at 7.30pm in Stenness Hall. All are welcome and it is free to enter.

Bring along your finds for a show and tell.

If you are intrigued by the history and archaeology of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and want to learn more then either drop us a line through or go to our guide to courses on this blog or visit our University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute web page

Orkney World Heritage Site Field Walking Exhibition Launch


If you are in Kirkwall at 2pm on Thursday 12th January then you are cordially invited to the launch of the field walking exhibition being held at Orkney Museum.

The launch is being held at the Orkney Museum, Kirkwall, located in the small temporary exhibition space in the downstairs prehistoric gallery.

The exhibition is the culmination of a year long field walking project started in early 2016 amongst Orkney’s world famous monuments in collaboration with Orkney Archaeology Society. It has been planned and put together by a team of trainee archaeologists who have participated in the project. Exhibits include maps, finds, case studies and personal accounts. Stenness Primary School children have contributed posters about their experiences during a day workshop field walking next to the school.

The project ran throughout 2016 with a series of workshops and events designed to teach people about the practice of archaeological fieldwalking, the processes that occur after fieldwork, the finds and mapping, and telling the story of the project in a museum exhibition.

Throughout, the main aim of the project was to involve members of the local community and generate internationally significant research in the World Heritage Area, and thereby contribute to the wider understanding of these sites and landscapes.

Prize find! (Photo Rod Richmond)

Thanks to Orkney Archaeology Society (OAS) who were awarded grant aid funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund Sharing Heritage scheme to undertake the fieldwalking project within the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site Buffer Zone (HONO WHS), West Mainland, Orkney. Thanks also to Orkney Museum for supporting and hosting the exhibition.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute were commissioned by OAS to undertake professional services for the project, including the fieldwork, training workshops and post-excavation.

If you are intrigued by the history and archaeology of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and want to learn more then either drop us a line through or go to our guide to courses on this blog or visit our University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute web page