Community Archaeology in Orkney: Building Recording Days in Kirkwall & Stromness

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

ORCA Archaeology, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scotland’s Urban Past team have organised five Building Recording Days in historic Kirkwall and Stromness.

These are community archaeology events to which everyone is invited – experience is not required as full training will be given – but we ask that you book a place as below.

The team have set dates in Kirkwall during May and June (book to attend these events by writing to and the Scotland’s Urban Past team are coming up again to run a one day workshop in Stromness (you will have to book to attend this event through the Scotland’s Urban Past Eventbrite page


These days are designed to follow on from our training in March, and archive day in April, but feel free to come along if you missed these, we can easily get you up to speed. We’ve set up a regular survey afternoon, with the aim of conducting rapid recording and taking photos for properties in the Kirkwall conservation area.  

​The Scotland’s Urban Past team will run a workshop in Stromness on the 4th June, and will show us how to add the results of all our surveys onto the national record online. 

DateTimeWhereHow to Book
Wed 22/5/1913.00-16.00KirkwallE-mail
Wed 29/5/1913.00-16.00KirkwallE-mail
Mon 3/06/1913.00-16.00KirkwallE-mail
Tues 4/06/1910.00-15.00StromnessEventbrite
Wed 12/06/1913.00-16.00KirkwallE-mail

This project is supported by:

Community Archaeology in Orkney : Kirkwall in the Archives

The team from ORCA Archaeology & the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are holding a Historical Urban Archive Research Day at the Orkney Library Archive on Saturday 4th May 2019, 10am – 3pm.

Booking is essential as there are only limited places on this free training event. No experience is required…just an enthusiasm for the historic built environment!

This day is part of the Kirkwall Community Archaeological Building Recording project, which aims to undertake a rapid survey of the built heritage in Kirkwall. It is a follow on event from the Scotland’s Urban Past workshops, and provides a Kirkwall focus for research. 

Led by Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, the day of research in the Orkney Archives will focus on a case study area (e.g. a street, or group of houses) in the conservation area (Laverock, Midtown and The Bough). This supports the three detailed building recording exercises undertaken in 2016-17 and will allow participants to use a wide range of sources and learn how to link them.

This event is designed to be a training workshop for members of the public and no previous experience is required. The workshop will set the group up for rapid building recording and additional archive research in Kirkwall town centre during May and June.

The workshop is funded by the Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative.

Contact or ring 01856 569225 to book your place.

Recording the Built Heritage of Kirkwall, Orkney

Building recording in Parliament Square, Kirkwall, Orkney

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:

Archaeological Building Survey Opportunity, Kirkwall

Rear 10 Victoria Street 2

Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute will be completing a further Archaeological Building Survey Workshop on Friday 19th and Saturday 20th May 2017 (10am – 3pm).

This continues on from the work completed at Parliament Square in April and the town centre excavations, surveys and gardens digs last year in the Kirkwall THI Archaeology Programme. The workshop will include basic training in building survey techniques, mapping, photography and a trip to the archives.

The work will commence in the court yard to the rear of Finns former shop (10-12 Victoria Street), opposite RBS bank. Access is through the gate to the right of Spence’s Newsagents. The day will include training in scale drawing, photography, written records and how to look at buildings archaeologically. The building itself contains large amounts of re-used medieval stone.

Further workshops will also be recording the Old Castle on Main Street the following weekend (26-27 May, with some laser scanning the day after on the 28th).

For further information on the project see our previous blog post.

If you would like to take part in these free archaeology workshops then please contact Dan Lee on

Geophysics and Building Survey for Kirkwall THI Archaeology Programme 2017

chris-thi-kirkwall-geophysics-low-resArchaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have commenced the second phase of the Kirkwall  Townscape Heritage Initiative Archaeology Programme for 2017.

This consists of additional phases of geophysical survey in private gardens, following on from those in 2016 which located a medieval pier, and upcoming Archaeological Building Recording at key sites in the town.

An initial geophysical survey was begun yesterday in beautiful sunshine within garden areas of properties in Central Kirkwall. This phase involves the use of non-intrusive techniques which allows below ground structural remains and archaeological deposits relating to the development of the town to be assessed and visualised without the need for excavation. More details on the results soon.

Archaeological Building Survey:

Archaeological Building Recording is being used to target sites with accessible and significant built heritage in the Kirkwall conservation area. Basic recording will be undertaken such as compiling a written description, scale drawings and a photographic record. Local participants are welcome and will be trained in basic techniques.

Site 1: Parliament Square

The site consists of the remains of a substantial ruinous and roofless building with ornate sandstone door and window surrounds, a substantial fireplace arch and other visible architectural features.

Structrual remains of early building at Parliament Square
Structural remains of early building at Parliament Square

Site 2: Court to rear of 10 Victoria Street 

A two storey dwelling house (now vacant but roofed) forming the eastern side of the courtyard has large blocks of high-status red sandstone built into the lower wall fabric. This is particularly apparent where large quoin stones surround a ground level door. It is possible that the lower part of the building has medieval origins, or more likely constructed in the post-medieval period reusing medieval masonry from the Bishops Palace or other ecclesiastical buildings in the area

Sunstantial red and yellow sandstone blocks in Victoria Street doorway
Substantial red and yellow sandstone blocks in Victoria Street doorway

Site 3: 38 Main Street – Old Castle

The remains of the ‘Old Castle’ are visible to the east of and adjoining 38 Main Street. These comprise the remains of a substantial post-medieval building now consisting of a single ruinous elevation and structural features evident in the east facing elevation of 38 Main Street. The Old Castle was demolished and stone used in the construction of Manse Park in the mid 20th century. The surviving remains have degenerated in the last decade and have recently been stabilised with repointing and capping. The building at the corner of Junction Road is also the ‘Uppie Goal’ in the Kirkwall Ba game.

Remains of the 'Old Castle' on Main Street
Remains of the ‘Old Castle’ on Main Street

The Building Recording aims to complete an enhanced building survey over two days at each site. This survey will include training local volunteers and will run throughout March, April and May.

The survey involves:

  • Measured survey of visible and accessible external elevations
  • Scaled ground plan of courtyard/building
  • External photographic survey
  • External photogrammetry
  • External context recording
  • Basic written description

Laser scanning of the whole block, including all external elevations on Main Street, the property gardens and Junction Road is also proposed.

Local volunteers and trainees welcome. If you wish to take part in this community archaeology project then please contact Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist through our e-mail address….

Kirkwall Garden Dig Success

The Kirkwall Garden Dig held over the weekend was a great success. Over 300 people visited the BBC site and residents learned the basics about archaeological investigation.

The project was a collaborative community archaeology programme in which Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative, The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Scotland’s Urban Past worked together to bring an archaeological extravaganza to Kirkwall. The Kirkwall Garden Dig project is part of The Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative Archaeology Programme ‘Discover Hidden Kirkwall’. This community archaeology initiative has already uncovered parts of the medieval shoreline of the town in a previous excavation held in May 2016.

The project included BBC Radio Orkney together with 4 other residents of Kirkwall town centre who invited archaeologists to dig small exploratory test pits in their gardens. The public saw archaeology in action in the BBC Radio Orkney garden by visiting in person or linking through to a live stream on their Facebook page. Updates were also broadcast on BBC radio throughout the fieldwork.

The excavations were accompanied by workshops in which members of the public tried archaeological techniques such as sieving, finds washing, digging and surveying. Scotland’s Urban Past team also helped budding ‘Urban Detectives’ record their built environment, focusing on the areas around each of the trenches, contributing to the national record.


An astonishing number of finds were unearthed, ranging from prehistoric flint to artefacts from the last few hundred years. Finds included large numbers of animal bones, including a huge pig’s jaw bone discovered in the BBC Radio Orkney garden – probably dating back to when the area was part of the Flesh Market in the 17th and 18th centuries. Remains relating to the former Kirkwall Castle were not reached, however sherds of medieval pottery were recovered. Test pits along the west side of the street relieved deep sequences of layers and evidence for the old shoreline. Other finds included a bone chess piece, a decorated clay pipe bowl and a rather intriguing loom or fishing weight. These finds will be be further analysed, adding to the evolving story of ‘Hidden Kirkwall’.

To become an ‘Urban Detective’ and help record some of your local heritage visit

Many thanks to BBC Radio Orkney for their help and local residents for taking part.

The Kirkwall Garden Dig is supported by: