New journal volume focuses on the victims of Orkney’s witchcraft trials

Dr Ragnhild Ljosland
Dr Ragnhild Ljosland

The launch event for the ninth volume of the New Orkney Antiquarian Journal took place last week and featured a presentation by Dr Ragnhild Ljosland, a lecturer at the UHI Archeology Institute.

Book Cover. New Orkney Antiquarian Journal Volume Nine.

Dr Ljosland is the editor of the new Orkney Heritage Society publication, which focuses on the society’s project to commemorate the victims of the county’s witchcraft trials.

Based on Dr Ljosland’s research into the subject, the project ran from 2013 to 2019 and culminated in the unveiling of a memorial stone at Gallowha, at the top of the Clay Loan, in Kirkwall, on March 9, 2019.

A conference to mark the unveiling of the memorial saw several papers presented and some of these, along with later commissions, form the basis of the seven articles in the new volume.

The journal focuses on witchcraft trials held in Kirkwall between 1594 and 1706. Who were the women and men accused, and of what were they accused? What were the beliefs underlying these trials and what motivated the accusers?

Dr Ljosland and Helen Woodsford-Dean were two of the project’s organisers and their opening article traces the background to the witchcraft trials and the evolution of the project to commemorate the victims.

Other contributors are Liv Helene Willumsen, Jocelyn Rendall, Ashleigh Angus, Peter Marshall, Corwen Broch and Marita Lϋck.

The final article lists the names of those being commemorated by this volume.

Walking Archaeological Talk, Hoy, 17th June

HOYMAXposter copy (002)

To celebrate the time Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (Max) lived in Hoy, Dan Lee, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist, will be completing a ‘Walking Talk’ to ‘Max’s’ former croft at Rackwick.

  • Walk starts: Moaness Pier, Hoy
  • Time: 10am
  • Date: 17 June 2017
  • Bus back from Rackwick to Hoy Kirk to see the exhibition celebrating Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ time in Rackwick
  • Take the Ferry from Stromness at 9.30am, returning on the 6.30pm from Moaness Pier

With the music of Max in mind, the walk will explore the landscape of Hoy, taking in the archaeology, heritage and folklore through the valley. Recent archaeological surveys have recorded numerous sites and points of interest. The walk is approximately five miles in length and can be difficult in parts – especially if the weather has been wet. Bring a packed lunch as there are no shops at Rackwick.

Starting at 10 am on 17th June, the walk will finish above Bunnertoon, Max’s home during his most prolific years, with a view across the township.

Walkers will have ample time to explore the Hoy Max exhibition that examines how the island and its people shaped the composer’s life and music and how Max contributed to the small island community.

Contact hoyheritage@btinternet.com to book your place.

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Rackwick Bay, Hoy


Hoy Kirk Heitage CentreOrkney Ferries run a daily foot passenger service from Stromness to Moaness, Hoy. There is a cafe at Moaness and the exhibition at Hoy Kirk is 15 minutes walk from the pier.

With thanks to Hoy Kirk Heritage Centre. For more information on Hoy, the exhibition and the St Magnus Festival events held on the island check out their website.

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