From Lincolnshire to Orkney – TJ’s journey into archaeology

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TJ and Leo, her companion dog, working in the lab

Terri-Jane (TJ to everyone) is an archaeology student with the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. She starts the ‘Archaeology and Local Studies’ Course in January 2018.

TJ’s story is a success story and demonstrates that there is more than one route into archaeology. Having found her passion for the subject, TJ wanted to share her journey, and takes up the story from here ….

“As a child I wanted to become an archaeologist, but I was not encouraged to follow this route. I am dyslexic and in those days there was not the support in place to follow a university career that there is now. So I kept my interest alive by visiting our local museum, travelling to lectures and watching programmes on television.”

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TJ at the Mapping Magnus Community dig in Palace Village

“I became wheelchair dependent in 2013 and I thought that was the end of my idea of studying archaeology. But in 2016 I moved to Orkney and started an art class at Orkney College UHI and there I met Sorcha….the Highlands and Islands Students Association (HISA) Regional Vice President. Sorcha is an archaeology student, and we talked about my interest in the subject and how I wanted to be involved, but didn’t know how. Following a few more conversations, I was in the Archaeology Institute at Orkney College – talking to staff about volunteering, enrolling on the Archaeology and Local Studies course and accessing all areas! Everyone was so enthusiastic and ,Wow, the next thing I knew I was invited to the Mapping Magnus community dig at Birsay.”

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The Mapping Magnus community dig, Palace Village, Orkney

“Kath, one of the second year archaeology students, picked me up in her car and off we went to the Mapping Magnus dig at Palace Village, Birsay. I was so excited, but also a little bit nervous. I was about to take part in a real dig, researching the location of a medieval palace!

It was a beautiful sunny day and as we arrived at the dig Kath took me to the site over boards laid down for my wheelchair. Almost immediately I was at work with a trowel and sieving soil samples coming out of the dig. I was working at an archaeological dig!”

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Mapping Magnus Community Dig

“I was so excited to be taking part and within a few minutes I came across my first finds; a medieval fish bone, three animal bones and a collection of limpet shells. The team were so friendly and supported me through the whole process and, perhaps more importantly, I was treated like everyone else. My disability was not a hindrance.

I am now actively involved in the Archaeology Institute’s volunteer programme, volunteering for everything I can at the college in Kirkwall. Only last week I was in the lab washing bones from The Cairns broch and then cataloguing finds from the Orkney World Heritage Site field walking project. There is no stopping me now!”

TJ has signed up for the Archaeology and Local Studies course and starts in January and is on the volunteer list to take part in future community archaeology projects.


The Archaeology and Local Studies distance learning course is designed for people who are interested in learning more about the archaeology of the north of Scotland – from the mesolithic to the medieval and including the study of such incredible structures as brochs.

The course involves 2 hours a week taught classes for 10 weeks. Applicants for the course do not need experience of archaeology and the course can be studied as a standalone course worth 20 credits or used as an access course for studying at university level. As such it is a good opportunity to see if archaeology is for you and learn about the subject.

You can study our courses from any one of the colleges in the UHI network and that you can study MLitt Archaeological Studies from anywhere in the world.

If you would like to chat with us and explore your options at the UHI Archaeology Institute then contact Mary on 01856 569225, e-mail us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk.  or see our website.

 

 

Mapping Magnus – Manse Stane Walk 18th November

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Manse Stanes mark the places where the body of Magnus was rested on its journey from Egilsay across West Mainland Orkney to Birsay, and finally Kirkwall.

You can find out more about these less well-known but important Medieval sites by joining our team for a walk through the landscape of  Magnus at 11am on 18th November starting at Birsay Hall, Orkney. 

Tommy Matches from Birsay Heritage Trust, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon and Dan Lee from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute will begin by visiting the only surviving Manse Stane at Strathyre, Twatt, Orkney. The team will then continue to the Manse Stane site at Crustan and then try and locate some Manse Stone sites along the coast during a short walk at Northside using oral histories and local knowledge. Throughout, the team will discuss recent research concerning the story of Magnus and the results of the Mapping Magnus project so far, and explore Magnus related places in the landscape.

The walk is free and will give participants an opportunity to learn more about these important historical sites…..and of course take in the breathtaking scenery of this part of West Mainland Orkney.

  • Meeting place: Birsay Hall, Orkney
  • Date: 18th November
  • Time: 11am
  • All welcome
  • Free event

As ever, dress for the weather (waterproofs and stout footwear/wellies are essential!) and bring a packed lunch. Ground conditions are likely to be wet and boggy in places, so be prepared. The walk will end at 3pm. We will have a minibus to drive everyone between the main sites and the short walk at Northside.

There is no need to book, but please let us know if you intend to come to give us an idea of numbers and contact details should plans change due to the weather – studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

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This walk is part of the Mapping Magnus Community Archaeology, Research and Training project which during 2017 and 2018 marks the 900th anniversary of the death of St Magnus.

Follow the conversation #Mappingmagnus

Mapping Magnus: Summing up the Palace Village Excavations

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are celebrating the success of the Mapping Magnus community archaeology excavations in Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney.

The team, including archaeologists, students and community volunteers discovered tantalising new evidence of medieval activity to the south of the kirk in Palace Village. We know that this area was the location of an early medieval Bishop’s residence and that there was a Bishop’s palace there in the 15th century – known as ‘Mons Bellus.’ But what evidence for these buildings did the team find in the trenches?

This blog is brought to you by Charlotte Hunter who is a University of the Highlands and Islands MSc student on professional placement with the UHI Archaeology Institute. Charlotte is working with Marketing and Communications at The Institute as part of her work placement MSc Archaeological Practice module.

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Trench 1: The main trench contained a variety of finds below a layer of windblown sand, layers of demolition rubble and midden – including quantities of fish and animal bone, vast amounts of shell and two pieces of Medieval pottery. Surprisingly, these pieces of pot were the only Medieval fragments found within the whole of the excavation.

As the excavation progressed more of the rubble was lifted revealing a rough pathed surface and potential wall. At this stage, the surface, midden and rubble appear to be 12th or 13th century in date, although more analysis needs to be done on the assemblages. Are we finding different assemblages because this was a high status ecclesiastical centre?

Trench A unearthed possibly the most intriguing piece of evidence from the excavation. Originally the team had not expected to excavate in this location until the homeowners decided to lift and resurface their rear path.

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Excavation revealed a 1m wide wall that continued below their house! At each side of the wall there were layers of midden, which may suggest that this wall is Medieval in date. Could this wall be part of the Bishop’s Palace complex or is this part of another structure relating to the Earl’s Palace barns and stables, known to have been built here in the 16th or 17th century ?

726_B4_206As the excavation was coming to a close a pundler weight was lifted from within the rubble next to the pipe that runs through the wall. A pundler weight was used when taxes and rent was paid in grain and kind. This instrument is known to have primarily being used in Orkney and Shetland. The age of this weight is unknown but could date as far back as the 14th century and used until the early 19th century. This intriguing find was a wonderful way of demonstrating the use of this area throughout different periods of history.

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Test Pit 2 was opened in the garden behind the location of the wall discovered in Trench A to investigate the direction of the wall. When first opened, stone flooring was discovered but this appeared to be 19th century in date. After recording the floor the slabs were lifted and excavation continued. Within the last couple of days of the excavation a wall of similar dimensions and build to that in Trench A started to appear in Test Pit Two, suggesting that this was the continuation of the same wall.

The new wall stood three courses high on the north face, however, the size on the opposing side was unclear. It has been suggested that this may have been due to stone robbing or had been partially destroyed.  Additionally this test pit contained fish bones of a variety sizes, animal bone and ‘packages’ of winkle shells throughout.

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Throughout the 2 weeks of the excavation there were 4 other test pits opened in homeowners’ gardens to investigate geophysical anomalies and understand the Bishop’s Palace area of the village. These test pits located other walls – perhaps relating to the Bishop’s Palace – and land surfaces, and helped define the medieval core of the village.

Each test pit shared a common factor – they all contained a large amount of wind-blown sand from the nearby beach. The vast quantity of sand may be an indicator of hiatus of activity within the former ecclesiastical centre, perhaps in the 14th century and prior to the construction of the Earl’s Palace and development of the post-medieval village.

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Despite the adverse weather conditions, the two weeks of the Mapping Magnus excavation were views by all concerned as a great success. The community volunteers and school children who visited the site not only gained new skills through the training they received from the archaeologist team, but learned about the exciting history hidden beneath their village.

The Mapping Magnus Project is not complete yet and further research is planned which will help us understand the history of Palace Village, Birsay the story of Magnus and his legacy in the parish.

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute team would like to thank all of the volunteers on site, pupils from all of the primary schools, the homeowners for allowing the team to dig in their gardens and for everyone that kept up to date with the dig.

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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.

Team led by Dan Lee, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, Chris Gee, Bobby Friel (ORCA), Colin Mitchell (ORCA), students Jim Bright (Digital Archaeologist) and Charolotte Hunter.

Follow the conversation #Mappingmagnus

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: