Exciting New Project for Stromness-Listening to the Piers

Stromness Piers_Credit Diana Leslie

Stories, Stones and Bones: Listening to the Piers – Exploring the history of Stromness through the town piers.

The Stromness Museum celebrates £9700.00 Heritage Lottery Fund grant as part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017

IMG_1907The Orkney Natural History Society Museum, Stromness, has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant. This exciting project, Listening to the Piers – Exploring the history of Stromness through the town piers is led by Stromness Museum in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. The programme involves organising arts and science workshops for the public and local schools and is aimed at exploring the history of Stromness through the town piers. This project is part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

The Stromness Museum is teaming up with the UHI Archaeology Institute, local artists, and marine scientists from the International Centre for Island Technology (ICIT) Orkney Campus to give the local community a chance to learn about life on and around the town’s stone-built piers, past and present. The events form part of the ‘Per Mare’ during 2017 when Stromness celebrates the 200 year anniversary of becoming a Burgh of Barony. The project will provide the opportunity for all ages of the community to explore different ways of seeing and interpreting the piers using innovative science and arts workshops held on a ‘Piers Day’ (Tuesday 25th July) during the Per Mare week (24-30th July).

The project team will work with local school children and residents to record stories,IMG_1894 memories and the history of the piers during May and June. Workshops on Piers Day will include archaeological test pit excavation on the town beaches to explore what the town threw away, sea life in the piers and intertidal zone, drawing (5-minute sketches), photography (artefacts and sea life) and time-lapse filming. Participants will learn new science and arts-based skills and help create new insights into the piers. These events are free and open to all ages.

The project will culminate in a temporary exhibition this autumn at the Stromness Museum, including artefacts, drawings, photographs and a new listening post with stories collected during the sound recording workshops.

Commenting on the award, Janette Park (Honorary Curator) said: “The museum is delighted to be able to run such a ground breaking project during such an important year as the 200th anniversary of Stromness becoming a Burgh of Barony. The piers of Stromness are a hugely important part of the shared community history of the town. The opportunity to explore and document the piers for the future will be a lasting legacy.”

Dan Lee (Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist, UHI Archaeology Institute) added: “We are really looking forward to exploring these iconic piers and the history of Stromness with such exciting arts/science workshops; combined they will help us all learn about the piers and understand them in new ways”.

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Credits: Stromness Piers artwork: Diana Leslie, Photographs: UHI Archaeology.


Stories, Stones and Bones is designed for any not-for-profit group wanting to engage more people with the heritage and take part in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. Stories, Stones and Bones grants between £3,000 and £10,000 are available to groups who want to discover their local heritage. Projects can cover a wide spectrum of subject matter from exploring local archaeology and a community’s cultures and traditions to identifying and recording local wildlife and protecting the surrounding environment to managing and training volunteers and holding festivals and events to commemorate the past.

The Stromness Museum is an independent museum maintained and managed by a committee of volunteers elected from the members of the Orkney Natural History Society Museum SCIO. The Stromness Museum exists to promote natural science, to preserve local history and to offer an enjoyable educational and informative experience to as large a range of people as possible. The museum contains natural and cultural history with galleries focussing upon Canada and the Arctic, maritime history and models, natural history, wartime Orkney and ethnographic material.

See their website for more information: http://www.orkneycommunities.co.uk/stromnessmuseum/index.asp


Orkney World Heritage Site Field Walking Exhibition Launch

exhibition-poster

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 studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or go to our guide to courses on this blog or visit our University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute web page


Rousay excavations at Swandro and Skaill starting this week!

Outreach poster

Investigations at Westness, Rousay start this week

Lots of opportunities to get involved, from workshops, kids summer club, volunteering on site and placement training.

Two Excavations along the Westness shore start this week: at the coastally eroding site at Swandro and Viking Farmstead at Skaill, Westness, Rousay, start next week. Combined, these aim to investigate the deep history of this fascinating stretch of coast.

Swandro excavations: 4-29 July – Local volunteer opportunities. Two 2 week placements for local residents available for mid to late July. Help us excavate this Neolithic to Viking aged site that is being eroded by the sea. Project details and reports here.

Skaill farmstead excavations: 4-8th July – Local volunteers welcome. Help us excavate some test trenches to investiagte the Viking farmstead below the current ruined farm buildings.

Contact Sean Page for details 01856 569229 sean.page@uhi.ac.uk

 

Two Underground Finds in One Day…

Quite by chance, an Iron Age underground building and a Victorian rubbish-heap has been discovered in Orkney.

An exciting discovery was made in Orkney at the weekend. A previously unknown subterranean structure, either a souterrain or a ‘well’, and probably dating to the Iron Age, was unearthed near the manse of Harray in West Mainland, Orkney.  Martin Carruthers writes, “I had the opportunity to inspect the subterranean structure along-side Orkney’s county archaeologist Julie Gibson, and marvel at the beautifully accomplished stonework and architecture.  The site was discovered by the landowner Clive Chaddock, who, happily, also happens to be a colleague at Orkney College UHI!

Peering inside the entirely roofed, pristine structure we could see that, although this site was hitherto unknown to officialdom, it has been discovered previously, in the Victorian period, as the whole of the interior is covered in 19th Century rubbish, iron kettles, pots, glass bottles, marmalade jars and imported French mustard jars!

The structure itself, consists of a short, low ceilinged, entrance passage that opens out into a larger partially corbelled chamber, which is square-shaped in plan. It looks very similar to the underground chamber at East Broch of Burray, and, indeed, quite similar to the ‘well’ chamber found under the nearby broch at manse of Harray in the 19th Century.

DSCN0743The chamber appears to be entirely constructed from coursed masonry with no bed-rock or glacial till apparent as some Iron Age souterrains and wells do. There are no uprights or pillars present inside the chamber, which makes this structure feel like one of the so-called wells more than a classic souterrain or earthhouse.  The steep drop-off between the passage and the chamber also encourages the idea that there may well be a steep flight of stairs leading down into the chamber.  The chamber might be really quite deep underneath all the Victorian, and perhaps earlier, in-fill.

DSCN0738As you can see from the images there’s so much Victorian material it probably represents quite an academically interesting collection in its own right. We might be tempted to think that later periods are so well-understood and documented that it isn’t worth thinking about this detritus archaeologically, but actually its often the case that the domestic habits of later periods are often overlooked in many mainstream histories and documents.  The Victorian rubbish is potentially a neat snap-shot of someone’s (perhaps one of the Manse’s Ministers) domestic waste of that era and may be full of insight about the habits, tastes and practices of a Nineteenth Century Orkney house- with a real social history value.  What’s more, it’s also an interesting insight into a recent intervention in an Orcadian souterrain/well that we had no previous knowledge of.  So it’s also noteworthy that here we have an example of another prehistoric underground building that was clearly known to locals, for a time, but didn’t make its way on to the official archives, and helps make the point that there are likely to be so many more of these sorts of structures still to be found in Orkney.  We’ll keep you updated in what happens at the site.”

Test Pits at The Cairns, South Ronaldsay

During two days in April, Martin Carruthers and a group of Archaeology Masters students travelled down to The Cairns on South Ronaldsay, Orkney to commence test pitting.

Digging in the face of rain, hail, driving snow and brilliant sunshine….in fact a typical Orkney Spring day….the team made some interesting discoveries.  Their efforts were shared on social media as it happened and this BLOG is a summary of their initial thoughts.

12998709_1182088541836059_8743601261358807708_nThe geophysics completed last season highlighted areas that could benefit from closer scrutiny. We found brilliant evidence for the kinds of ancient activites going on in the hinterland of the broch, including arable field soils dating to the Iron Age, ashy midden overlying the eastern side of the Iron Age village, and a possible hollow way or track that runs up to the front entrance of the broch enclosure and probably separated animals from cultivated crops over two thousand years ago. We also found distinctive Iron Age pottery, stone tools, flint, lots of animal bone and a rare furnace base (or hearth bottom) a residue from iron working. 13055070_10153630854136325_938696353005683775_o

In this shot we lined up the figure in the background with the end of the linear feature that we knew from the geophysics. The photographer is stood at the other end of the feature. The test pit in the middle established that the feature is an Iron age feature and appears to be a hollow-way or track. This is a remarkable survival of a landscape feature actually associated with a broch, and we think one of the very few ever excavated. We hope to return to see more of this feature in the future !

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The stone in the section edges is either rubble from Iron Age structures or, as I think, the remains of post-Medieval ridge and furrow beds. The heaped up stone forming the ridge would itself be rubble from the Iron Age remains.

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And….just to prove that The Cairns never disappoints, a very nice mid Iron Age rim sherd emerged from test pit 10 on the first day.

All in all, a very productive two days.

Archaeology On Rousay

Landmark conference field visit RousayArchaeology on Rousay was in the limelight last week as the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute welcomed delegates to Orkney for the LANDMARKS workshop. Led by Mark Edmonds (University of York), Ingrid Mainland (UHI) and Dave Cowley (Historic Environment, Scotland), the workshop brought together some of the leading figures in landscape research from around the world for four days of lectures and field visits to west Mainland and Rousay.

The aim of the meeting was to exchange ideas about the practice of landscape survey, to review new technologies and to explore how patterns seen from the air and on the ground are interpreted. Papers on research from the Northern Isles were given alongside presentations on work in England, on the Continent, in Ireland, Greenland, Iceland and east Africa. Taking in everything from scatters of Palaeolithic stone tools to memory maps of Stromness, the workshop addressed basic questions of scale. Archaeologists spend much of their time studying sites. But people live across landscapes as a whole, reworking them over time, and the meeting brought home the importance of work, on land and at sea, that keeps those broader horizons in mind.

With presentations on airborne laser survey and underwater bathymetry, on field-walking, oral history and community involvement, the meeting tackled many issues of analysis and interpretation. The organisers said they were delighted with the papers and with the in-depth conversations that carried people around West Mainland and Rousay. Speaking at the close of the event, Mark Edmonds added that, “This was a great opportunity to talk about how best to investigate and understand the landscape around us and we all learnt a great deal over the four days. We were also very pleased that our grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh allowed us to invite several students from the UHI and from other Scottish universities.”

Window onto the Early Bronze Age in Orkney.

Professor Colin Richards of the University of Manchester writes about developments at the recently discovered Bronze Age settlement in Orkney

Late February running into early March is never the best of times to undertake archaeological fieldwork in Orkney, but this was when we had planned the further investigations of the stone spreads including stone tools and structural remains along the large stretch of Cata Sands, Tresness, on Sanday.

Our goal was mainly to see whether this material, first located last December actually represented the remains of houses (as we had assumed), or merely working or tool production areas. Together with the Sanday Archaeological group, Professor Jane Downes (University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute), Vicki Cummings (UCLan), Christopher Gee (University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute) and myself (later Tom Dawson and Jo Hambly from SCAPE, and Beccy Jones and Lisa Brown from Historic Environment Scotland) ventured out onto Cata Sands to give the spreads of tools closer inspection and to undertake geophysical survey (looking for midden material).

In typical weather conditions, ranging from snow showers to warm sunshine, many of the discrete spreads of stone tools were found to be all that remained. Nonetheless, among the stones we examined were some beautifully shaped ard points for breaking up the soil and more nebulous long ‘flaked bar’ tools. Either these were just working or production areas or else any houses that once stood there had been completely eroded by the sea and winds and this was all that was left.

Geophysics Cata Sands Structure
Geophysics showing 15m diameter structure.

Now, it may be wondered why the presence of small flints and stones caused us so much pleasure. Well there are several reasons, first, this period (Early Bronze Age) is a bit of a prehistoric mystery in that it marks the time when the majority of the late Neolithic villages such as Skara Brae, Ness of Brodgar – and Pool on Sanday – were abandoned. Why such a dramatic shift in settlement should occur is difficult to interpret although we do see signs of the weather deteriorating at this time, for instance, a layer of wind-blown sand turns up as far inland as the Ring of Brodgar ditch at around 2200 BC. Second, traces of the new areas of settlement have been fairly difficult to find, we know some sites such as Crossiecrown, Mainland and Toftsness, Sanday, continue to be occupied but such sites are rare. Third, for good or bad, contact with Shetland appears more visible through the material remains that we find during this period. It could be said that Early Bronze Age Orcadians turn their heads from mainland Britain and Ireland and look to the north – towards Shetland. As the links between Orkney and Shetland appear to become more formal and time passes, a greater emphasis on land and its control ensues. It is also at this time that stone dykes are erected and infield/outfield agriculture practiced.

In fact, the Cata Sands discovery could not have been timelier because now that the long running Cuween-Wideford landscape project looking at Neolithic settlement on Mainland has finished, a new project – Northern exposure: the end of the Neolithic in Orkney – is just beginning and the new site fits exactly into the time period being examined. Indeed, it could be that many answers concerning what happens at the end of the third millennium BC will come from islands such as Sanday, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that northern isles communities maintained relationships with Shetlanders earlier in the Neolithic than has been previously realised.

We hope to go over to Sanday again quite soon and continue work at the Cata Sands settlement, in collaboration with the Sanday Archaeological Group, and the SCAPE group from University of St Andrews. The landowners Colin and Heather Headworth have been very generous and welcoming, all we need now for further investigations is a period of calm weather and sunshine, as it was an interesting experience seeing the area that had taken days to uncover and clean be completely filled with sand within half an hour or so of a strong northerly wind blowing up!

All photographs courtesy of Colin and Heather Headworth.