Archaeologists for a Day – School Children help out at Mapping Magnus Dig

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Over the past couple of weeks, the University of the Highlands and Islands team at the Mapping Magnus excavation have involved local school children in the exciting excavations at Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney.

On 2nd to 4th October, children and teachers from Dounby Primary School, Stenness Primary School, Stromness Primary School, Evie Primary School, Firth Primary School and the Pathways to Independence Group were involved in an archaeology day at the site – building on work that they had completed in the classroom in the previous week.

The budding archaeologists arrived early on site at Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney and were keen and ready to get started. The weather tried its best to intervene, but the children were well wrapped up and enthusiastically looked forward to the first task.

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This involved the children in a decision making exercise in which they searched for any existing clues in Palace Village that may help us as archaeologists narrow down the potential site of the medieval Bishop’s Palace. The children set off looking for sandstone blocks and other features that could have originated in the old medieval palace in the walls of the present settlement.

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After exploring the area our volunteers then began examining some of the drawings and maps of the Palace Village alongside Dr Sarah-Jane Gibbon, Lecturer in  Archaeology at UHI Archaeology Institute, and Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist at UHI Archaeology Institute, to identify any clues that may help us identify the position of the old medieval palace. This exercise was completed in the The Orkney Archaeology Society trailer which provided welcome refuge against particularly heavy rain showers….many thanks to OAS who helped make this happen.

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After exploring the area and studying the documented evidence, our helpers headed to the main trench. The children were split into teams who then started washing some of the finds that had come out of our trenches, sieving deposits, excavating in the main trench and working in the smaller test pits. The teams rotated around, giving each child experience of the different aspects of field archaeology.

The day itself was very enjoyable and the team want to shout out a big thank you to all of our volunteers from Dounby Primary School, Stenness Primary School, Stromness Primary School, Evie Primary School, Firth Primary School and to the Pathways to Independence Group. Your hard work was greatly appreciated by the team and hope to see you at another excavation in the future.

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If you would also like to be part of the Mapping Magnus Community Archaeology Project then please contact us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk . Future activities include geophysical survey and walkover survey at Manse Stone sites and noust survey at Marwick.

Thanks to Charlotte Hunter for contributing to the blog post and photographs. Charlotte is a MSc student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and is on professional placement with us, helping with the communication of archaeology across the media.

Get involved in the conversation #MappingMagnus


The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Orkney Islands council and the UHI Archaeology Institute as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

 

Mapping Magnus Dig Update 4/10

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The team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and local community volunteers are now beginning to bring the Mapping Magnus dig in Palace Village to a close.

Everyone involved, from school children to local residents to students from UHI Archaeology Institute and volunteers from further afield, have all said how successful the dig has been and how it was so good to be involved in community research.

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The weather over the past week has been furious with several gales tracking over the exposed coastal site – but despite the weather the enthusiasm of everyone involved has carried the team through.

Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist at the UHI Archaeology Institute, takes up the story…

“We’ve found medieval middens and structures in most trenches. The schools outreach was very successful despite the weather! Many thanks to those of you who have helped out during the excavations. We have one last push tomorrow with backfilling the main trench, so any extra help would be much appreciated, even for just an hour or so. Chris Gee and the team will be there from 9am.”

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There are a few more activities to come on the project, such as geophysical survey and walkover survey at Manse Stone sites, and noust survey at Marwick. so we will keep you posted if you wish to be involved.

Please do lend a hand backfilling tomorrow if you can. There will be lifts available from Orkney College at 8am as usual. No need to book, just turn up.


The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Orkney Islands Council and the UHI Archaeology Institute as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

 

Mapping Magnus Community Dig – end of week one.

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The community dig at Palace Village, Birsay is progressing well and at the end of week one, exciting finds are being unearthed.

A team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands and volunteers from the local community have been excavating in Palace Village, Birsay, as part of the Mapping Magnus project. Charlotte Hunter, MSc student on professional placement at the UHI Archaeology Institute, takes up the story…..

“With one week left, the chase is on to find the medieval Bishop’s Palace. Four test pits have been opened along with the main trench in some of the local communities’ gardens in search of the Bishop’s Palace.

Community involvement in the project has been exceptional and has led to the unearthing of the most outstanding find so far….A couple of residents decided to remodel their outdoor paving and so asked the team to open a new trench in the ground exposed under their yard. This led to the discovery of an unknown, potentially medieval, wall  structure.

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From what can be seen by the style of the construction of this wall it may suggest that it dates to the medieval period. There was a large quantity of shell found both sides of the wall which is a Norse technique. The next challenge for this trench is to establish which is the internal and external side of the wall.

Throughout the rest of the site a couple of the test pits are beginning to come across what could be structural stones which may be part of the Bishop Palaces walls. Further excavation on these areas will be carried out in the final week of the dig.

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A few of the finds across the excavation have included a couple of pieces of medieval pottery, one being Norse. Other artefacts have included fragments of animal bone and pottery from the 19th and 20th century.

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There is still time for you to come and visit the team at this intriguing excavation, which ends this Friday (6th October). Who knows what will be discovered in the last days of the Mapping Magnus excavation!


The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Orkney Islands Council and the UHI Archaeology Institute as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

 

 

Open Day at Mapping Magnus Dig

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A team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute together with volunteers from the local community will be holding an Open Day at the Palace Village dig, Birsay on Saturday 30th September 2017.

All are welcome and the event is free to enter. One of the questions we are asked by potential visitors to our Open Days is, “Can I bring my children?” Children of all ages are welcome and there will be opportunities for them to look at and take part in some of the activities on site.

The Open Day starts at 10am and is planned to end around 3pm to allow the team to clean the area for the next day. There will be signs directing you to the dig site on the day from the Palace Stores.

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There is no need to book…just turn up and discuss the progress of the dig with the team. Already a substantial wall has been unearthed as the trial trenches take shape….who knows what will be discovered on the Open Day itself?

Contact: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or 01856 569225 for further information.

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has been commissioned by Orkney Islands Council to deliver a programme of community archaeology activities and events that will explore the story of St Magnus and medieval Orkney.

The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

 

Mapping Magnus Community Excavation – Palace Village, Birsay

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The hunt for medieval structures continues in Palace Village, Birsay Orkney.

A team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute together with community volunteers will commence the excavation phase of the exciting community archaeology ‘Mapping Magnus’ project by digging test pits around the medieval site of the Bishops Palace.

The dig begins on the 25th September and continues for two weeks until 6 October 2017 and visitors are most welcome to view the excavations as they happen and discuss the progress with the team as they continue to investigate medieval Palace Village. The digs commence at 9am and finish at 5pm each day.

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You can join the team by contacting UHI Archaeology Institute’s Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist, Dan Lee at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk – no previous archaeological experience is necessary as training will be given, but please contact us as places are now limited. Volunteers meet at Palace village car park opposite the kirk.

There will also be an Open Day on 30th September in which visitors can view the progress and discuss the results with the archaeologists.

Join the conversation #MappingMagnus #Magnus900

Background to the Mapping Magnus Project

20170604_155155The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has been commissioned by Orkney Islands Council to deliver a programme of community archaeology activities and events that will explore the story of St Magnus and medieval Orkney.

The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

Based around the central themes of the Mapping Magnus project – Movement & Pilgrimage, Religion & Power, Stones & Bones – activities include archive research, storytelling and collecting, geophysical survey, walkover survey, excavation, coastal survey, a noust survey and community and schools workshops. Fieldwork activities are focussed in Palace village and the surrounding area of Birsay. Other key places within the story, such as the site of Magnus’ Martyrdom on Egilsay and the Mansie Stane sites where his body was rested during transit will be included.

All activities will involve training and hands-on experiences for the local community and schools, and local volunteers are encouraged to get involved.


Supported by:

 

Mapping Magnus September Update

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Activities are well underway in the Mapping Magnus project with well attended workshops happening most weeks during August and September. Geophysical survey, measured survey at some noust sites and walkover survey have all engaged trainees and visitors.

Just to remind you that the Mapping Magnus project involved archaeologists from The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute who were commissioned by Orkney Islands Council to deliver a programme of community archaeology activities and events that explored the story of St Magnus and medieval Orkney. Anyway….here is a brief overview of the last month……

Geophysical survey (28/07/17)

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Earth Resistance results from Burnside, Palace, Birsay

Earth Resistance survey (good for locating walls and buried structures) was undertaken by Dr James Moore and one trainee in the garden of Burnside, Palace village, Birsay. This is on the eastern side of the medieval Bishop’s Palace and buried structures could be expected.

  • The areas of high resistance to the east of the house relate to the paths and surfaces you can still see on the surface.
  • The very high resistance anomaly at the west is likely to relate to a wall running through the veg patch – this seems to be running roughly NNW – SSE. It could represent a building.
  • The anomalies around the flowerbed in the middle of the garden: the results are unclear, but they do seem to share a similar alignment to the wall found nearby. As a very tentative interpretation perhaps a stone built structure c. 9x5m, probably quite damaged/areas of rubble?

More geophysical survey is planned for 12-14 September

Noust Survey (15-16/08/17)

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Training in plane table survey

Measured survey using a plane table and alidade was undertaken at Skipi Geo and Point of Buckquoy boat nousts. Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, and the team from ORCA trained one trainee. Scaled plans, showing the slope edges and faces, were produced for both sets of nousts. We had around 50 visitors during the surveys who enjoyed learning about the survey process, nousts and the Magnus project.

Our trainee said “The course exceeded my expectations as I didn’t expect to learn so much in such a short space of time, very friendly approach to teaching”. “Fully enjoyed my experience and look forward to returning”. He rated the workshop “10 / 10”.

Village Walkover Survey (15-16/08/17)

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Walkover survey was undertaken in Palace village and the area around the Man’s Well near Barony Mill, focusing on the areas and sites that are significant in the Magnus story. The survey started off with a walk around the village with 7 trainees examining a sequence of historical and modern maps, identifying changes and visiting key sites and buildings. This centred upon the Bishop’s Palace area to link in with the geophysical survey and upcoming excavations. Sites recorded in the NMRS were visited and the record updated with additional description and photos where required. This was a useful way for the group to identify potential new sites and a previously unidentified structure, perhaps an old house, was recorded. The group also recorded the location of pieces of red sandstone built into the various garden walls in the village on accurate maps. The idea was to map where this high status medieval material has ended up in order to understand the medieval core of the village in more detail. It was noted that the village core and Bishop’s Palace area sit upon a distinctive raised area.

Hen-Harrier-1The second day involved walking with 8 trainees along part of the Magnus Way from the village, recording a new site (a possible bridge pier) on the way by the burn. We also followed a young female Hen Harrier as she skittered up the burn area, which was incredible. We visited the Man’s Well site, where Magnus’s bones were supposed to have been washed, and updated the record for this key site. We then walked the neighbouring field, looking at leats and burn channels and recorded the site of a reputed click mill (horizontal mill). This consisted of a low platform edged with upright stones (although there was no evidence of a leat or walling). The day certainly had a watery theme.

20170826_133300One participant commented “I learned much about the history of Birsay and Magnus”. The most interesting/memorable thing for one participant was “seeing new things in old stones”. Another participant commented that, “The workshop exceeded expectations as I wanted to explore my local area and learn a bit about archaeological practice”. Another commented, “very enjoyable couple of days. Good instruction and good company”.

All agreed or strongly agreed that they had learned something new about archaeology and heritage. All gave the day 9 or 10 / 10.

The next event includes more geophysics on the 12, 13 and 14 September leading to an archaeological excavation in Palace Village itself on the 25 September to 6th October…more on this story to follow.


Mapping Magnus is supported by:

Mapping Magnus Community Geophysics in Birsay

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Community archaeology in Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney on 12, 13 & 14 September 2017!

Join the Mapping Magnus team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute to complete a geophysical survey of key sites in Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney. This project offers the opportunity to learn how to use magnetic survey and earth resistance techniques and understand how these processes are used in archaeology.

No experience is necessary, so come along and enjoy the experience of helping the team to discover buried features in and around Palace Village.

A quick guide to geophysics in a few words……….Geophysical survey in archaeology uses a wide range of non-intrusive techniques to reveal buried archaeological features, sites and landscapes. It is a rapid and cost-effective means of exploring large areas and is used widely in commercial and research archaeology. It is quite often one of the first techniques to be employed on a site, prior to ground-breaking, and the results can be used to determine the location of any trenches. Some techniques complement each other, such as magnetic survey and earth resistance survey, which will be used in this project.

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Magnetic Survey

Magnetic survey measures localized variations in the earth’s magnetic field caused by features in the top metre or so of the ground. The technique is especially suited to locating ditches, pits, pottery and tile kilns, hearths and ovens, ferrous debris, and burnt material. Users need to be free of magnetic material, such as zips on clothing, when carrying out the survey.

Earth Resistance Survey

Earth resistance survey involves electrical currents being fed into the ground and the measurement of any resistance to the flow of these currents. Where the current meets buried walls, it will record high resistance readings. Where the current meets an infilled ditch, low resistance readings will result.

The method is particularly suited to locating walls and rubble spreads, made surfaces such as roads or yards and stone coffins or cists. The technique can also be used to locate ditches and pits in areas where magnetic survey is not suitable, for example due to the nature of the soils or the presence of large amounts of ferrous material on or beneath the surface.

Earth Resistance survey is a relatively slow process and, as such, will be used to target specific areas of interest identified in the magnetic survey.

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This project is part of the Mapping Magnus project which aims to involve the community in hands-on archaeological research, fieldwork and experiences that explores the Magnus Story in exciting new ways. See the Mapping Magnus update page for more information on this important project.

Contact studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk to book a place. Meet up at Palace Village car park opposite the Kirk at 10am.