UHI Ross Drummond and the Dunyvaig Castle Dig

The picturesque location of Dunyvaig Castle and excavation site 

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute MSc student, Ross Drummond talks about his work at the Dunyvaig Castle excavation.

Conas atá tú? It’s Ross again, reporting about Part Five of my ‘Summer of Digging’; excavations at Dunyvaig Castle as part of the Islay Heritage Project. This edition is an extra bonus blog, as my Placement with the university only involved 8 weeks of work & excavations; so the extra two weeks experience in Islay rounded off my participation in and interaction with over 5,000 years of Scottish archaeology over the summer.

The three week excavation work at Dunyvaig Castle is part of a much larger and wider project (the Islay Heritage Project), which will involve further excavation work in addition to desk-based and other research methods over the next 10 years; to further investigate Islay’s past and enhance our understanding of it. The director of the Dunyvaig Project is Steven Mithen, a Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading and also the Chair of Islay Heritage; with Darko Maricevic being the director of the Dunyvaig excavation & the Director of Archaeology for Islay Heritage as a whole.

Dunyvaig Castle, located at Lagavulin Bay on the south coast of the Isle of Islay, was once the naval fortress of the Lords of the Isles, the chiefs of Clan MacDonald and the greatest Gaelic Lordship of late Medieval Scotland.

Dunyvaig Castle: a wilder day on site serving as a reminder of the stormy past that the castle has lived through

The Dunyvaig Project will provide a comprehensive study of the castle, its hinterland and role in the economic, social and political history of the Western Atlantic Seaboard. It will transform Dunyvaig into a vibrant heritage centre for the residents and visitors to Islay while maintaining its rugged and romantic appeal.

The main aims of the project were to use the geophysical surveys from 2017 to assist in putting trenches over areas of the highest archaeological potential. Although the castle would be the focal point of the project’s investigation, it didn’t operate on its own; as it was important to get an idea and see evidence of what happened outside the castle walls as well. Resistance surveys were carried out to detect walls and structures, with areas and anomalies darker in colour indicating higher resistance; and more likely to have archaeological remains.

While I was still up in Orkney at the Ness of Brodgar finding those mysterious miniature pots, the team in Islay were working hard opening up this year’s trenches; so by the time I arrived at the start of the second week of the excavation, proceedings were well under way and the three main trenches for this year had been fully exposed.

Upon arrival I was informed I would be working in Trench 1 for the duration of the project under the enthusiastic and experienced guidance of Amanda Clarke. Amanda is an associate professor with the University of Reading and has a wealth of excavation experience and knowledge behind her. She plays a big hand in the running and teaching of a fieldschool involving the University of Reading, having spent many years as director of the Silchester field school in England.

Trench One is located in the castle courtyard and was only previously surveyed by the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments in Scotland (RCAHMS) in the 1970s. Trench One looked to investigate buildings at the either side of the entrance into the courtyard, the entrance area itself, the relationships with the outer walls, possible battlements stairs, evidence for a possible gatehouse and the approach to the main gate. Together with its extension, Trench 1 looked to generate the evidence for the bombardments and the repairs to the outer wall, and investigate one of the outer buttresses postulated by the RCAHMS’ survey.

It was theorised that the castle wall had a ‘double skin’ or two layers of walling, and it was thought that there may be the presence of a staircase in between these two walls. This part of the castle had been bombarded and badly damaged following three major attacks between the 16th and 17th centuries. On the very right of the trench inside the courtyard wall what was known as ‘the well’ but could have been a water system or water latrine. This was poor enough condition upon arrival at the site as farming equipment and metal materials from more recent times had built up inside. Great effort was made to clear ‘the well’ but unfortunately time wasn’t on the team’s side to give a full investigation; so this feature will have to wait until next year to be looked at in-depth. However, ‘the well’ again highlighted the castle as a ‘living monument’; being used for different purposes at different times through its history.

Building B – the latest structure to emerge from Trench One

On the left side of the internal wall of Trench 1 was Building B. This was a late insertion and was propped right up against the courtyard wall, which dates to the 16th century with a later add-on from the 17th century following demolition in the bombardments. The earlier layers were made up of clay and the later layers made up of mortar, with the clay bonded walls being a rare find in construction dating to this time period. The external area of Trench One at the back of the courtyard wall (on outside) showed the make-up of the wall and indicated several layers. The presence of turf in this area was built on top of earlier wall material and is thought to have plugged the gap and been a quick-fix following attacks on the castle.

Trench Two looked to target the sea gate to establish what activities were undertaken in this area and how the sea gate itself was used at different times. An electrical resistance survey carried out months prior to the excavation did not identify any further substantial structures in this area, which suggests that the direct access to the sea may have been important throughout the history of the castle. There were three main phases in Trench Two. The first phase involved the ramp, which provided access in & out of the Seagate. Initial thoughts are that this seems to be a probable structural slipway, but further excavation next year will give us a better insight. The trench had evidence for structural collapse or dumping, found in the presence of rubble; which was covered by the turf blocking of the Seagate.

There was a seal horizon of clay which appeared to level the ground; with this turf wall blocking off the sea gate and bringing its use to an end at some point in time. The second phase was indicated by the presence of a few walls. Signs of a possible double wall which was mainly built of rubble and turf but not much mortar; and all walls appeared to exist together at some point in time. The third phase was indicated by an intense period of burning.

Wall in Trench 2 along with some areas of intense burning

Trench Three was made up of a series of smaller trenches, located several hundred yards outside the castle walls; which looked to investigate the wider landscape of the settlement outside of the castles interior. Visitors to the site would have noticed ridge and furrows and other earthworks above ground level which indicted the presence of buildings or other archaeological related material beneath the overgrowth; so the nature of some of these were also examined. Trench Three revealed the remains of a rectangular T-shaped building, with burning in the trench also possibly suggesting evidence for an oven or a kiln. It appears that the building had burned down at some stage, with a red material laying on top of the building surface. However, whether this was deliberate or accidental is currently difficult to tell. There was evidence for a house which went out of use in the 17th century. There were also finds of pottery but none of the pieces discovered dated after the 17th century. The finds of pottery suggest people may have been supportive of the castle and that the pottery indicates the castle as a trading place.

One of the buildings in Trench Three along with the possible oven/kiln in the foreground

However, the site wasn’t without some prehistoric evidence as Trench Three also provided the find of a prehistoric blade. This find highlights the attractiveness of the location in the wider environment and shows the site was an area of settlement long before the castle was built. Geophysics carried out in the area also suggested a possible road and a number of structures and possible enclosures.

A major aspect of the Dunyvaig Project as a whole was the involvement of an archaeological field school. Similar to archaeological excavation projects run by UHI Archaeology during the summer up in Orkney, the Islay Heritage Project was run by the University of Reading (UOR) who also have a field school running in Silchester, in England. The field school provided participants the opportunity to acquire archaeological field skills and also involved the use of the Archaeology Skills Passport, which students can use to record and keep track of their progress in archaeological fieldwork; and build up their skills over time. Also similar to the UHI excavations up in Orkney, the Dunyvaig Project (for the majority of participants); gave students their first real taste and experience of an archaeological excavation. This seemed fitting given it was the first year of the Dunyvaig Project, so it gave an entirely new and fresh feel to all involved in the excavation.

As well as general excavation and fieldwork techniques, students were also trained in other various aspects of the archaeological process. This included geophysical surveying, palaeoenvironmental surveying, finds processing and environmental sampling; all of which gave students a fuller experience and appreciation for the wide world which archaeology entails.

Another large part of the Islay Heritage Project was the involvement of the local community. Local inhabitants of Islay were encouraged to get involved in the excavations as volunteers and were a welcome addition to the on-site workforce. As well as the excavations at Dunyvaig Castle being open to the public for guided tours on a daily basis, locals were also included in the excavation with special dedicated days and associated activities such as the ‘Dunyvaig Bake-Off’ and an ‘Artist’s Day’ with Dietmar Finger.

The involvement of local school visits were also an especially beneficial aspect to the excavation. It was great to see the joy and fascination which took over the children when digging and finding their very own artefacts; while also learning all about the history of the site and their local area in general. There were 130 school children who visited the site and took part in activities, with the involvement of six primary schools and one secondary school. In total over the 3 week excavation period there were over 400 visitors who came to the site; all of whom were given guided tours of each trench by the students themselves.

The Seal of Sir John Campbell of Cawdor, dating to 1593 (Image: Islay Heritage Facebook Page)

During the third and final week of this year’s excavations, a remarkable find was discovered. Zoe a first year University of Reading student, used her ‘archaeological eye’ to notice what turned out to be the find of the season. The object found was none other than the Seal of Sir John Campbell of Cawdor; who took ownership of Islay in 1615. The seal dates to 1593 and originally would have been attached to a wooden, antler or lead handle. The castle was eventually abandoned by the Campbell’s of Cawdor in 1677 following continuous sieges and bombardments; so the fact this seal was found suggest it may have been either hidden or forgotten and lost in the chaos of attack.

The seal was among several artefacts and finds on show at the Public talk on the excavation which took place on the second last night of the project. There was a massive turnout at Ramsey Hall, in Port Ellen, for the talk in which the supervisors from the project discussed the findings of the Dunyvaig Project and plans for future work. Zoe even got a round of applause from the public when the seal was discussed. The great turnout by the people of Islay for the public talk was a great way to bring the successful excavation project to an end. Having come straight from site to the talk, it’s safe to say the excavation team absolutely devoured the pizzas that Steve had kindly arranged to be delivered to the hall following the end of the talk.

A packed Ramsey Hall in Port Ellen for the public talk on the Dunyvaig Project

For many participants the dig was their first ever time on an archaeological excavation and we can say that it was an extremely successful three weeks. The find of the seal was just the icing on the cake of an already prosperous first year and indicates great things for the future of the project.

Members of the excavation team working together to back fill the site on the final day

I speak on behalf of all UHI students who took part in the excavation when I say that it was an absolutely great project to be a part of, and one that will hopefully see more UHI students return over the coming years and add to our understanding of Islay. Also a shout out to all staff and students from the University of Reading for making myself and all other UHI students feel very welcome and valued members of the team. It was also great that several of the lecturers and teaching staff from UHI Archaeology (including the Director of the UHI Archaeology Institute Professor Jane Downes, Dr Ingrid Mainland and Dr Jen Harland) came to visit the excavation and catch up with the UHI students about how the project was going along. The collaboration of the two universities ran very smoothly and I think benefited both greatly; so hopefully this joint venture will continue for many years to come.

UHI Archaeology Institute students on the Dunyvaig Project dig. From L to R….Mairead, Ross, Darroch, Angus, William and Duncan

I think I also speak on behalf of the whole student contingent (both UOR and UHI) when I say a massive thanks to Steven, Darko, Amanda and all the other supervisors; for allowing all students to learn and enhance their archaeological skill sets & understanding in such a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

A big acknowledgement of gratitude also goes out to staff at the Port Charlotte Youth Hostel for basically letting us take over the place for the three week duration of the project.

Well, this blog officially marks the final chapter of my Archaeological Adventures and Summer of Digging for 2018 with UHI Archaeology Institute. It’s safe to say it’s been a hectic old few months but it’s been an absolutely fantastic experience, and one not many people will have the fortune to experience.

Thank you to all the readers of my blogs and those who have interacted with and followed my Archaeology Adventures over the summer through UHI Archaeology’s various social media accounts. I hope I’ve managed to convey the story of each excavation in a clear and interesting manner; and maybe one or two of ye learned something new along the way as well.

All the best,

Ross Drummond, MSc, UHI Archaeology Institute 

For any further info on the Dunyvaig excavations and the Islay Heritage Project as a whole, make sure to check out their website.

Late Glacial Pioneers & Mesolithic Explorers – Talk by Professor Steve Mithen

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Rubha Port an t-Seilich Excavation Site

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are delighted to announce a talk by Professor Steve Mithen of the University of Reading on the 15th of May at 5pm in the Orkney College Restaurant.

The talk is entitled: Late Glacial pioneers and Mesolithic explorers in western Scotland: new discoveries from Criet Dubh, Isle of Mull, & Rubha Port an t-Seilich, Isle of Islay

Professor Mithen said, “Scotland has been enjoying a wealth of new discoveries about the Mesolithic, transforming our appreciation and understanding of this period as one of innovation within a rapidly changing climate and environment. In this talk I will cover two such discoveries.

Excavating at RPAS 2018
Excavating at Rubha Port an t-Seilich

First, a Mesolithic dwelling at Criet Dubh on the Isle of Mull, and its significance for interpreting other recently discovered structures in Scotland such as at Echline and East Barnes; second, the discovery of stratified Late Glacial (?) and early Mesolithic deposits at Rubha Port an t-Seilich, which is subject to on-going excavation.”

This is a free talk held in conjunction with the Orkney Archaeology Society and all are welcome.

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Funded Places Available – MSc Archaeological Practice

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is offering a limited number of funded places on the MSc Archaeological Practice course.

The MSc Archaeological Practice is a world leading archaeology course which equips you with the tools for work in the real world. Key practical skills are emphasised using the rich archaeological resource of Orkney as your research ‘laboratory’.

Core modules will develop your practical skills in a suite of archaeological techniques including project management, excavation, non-intrusive field archaeology, environmental archaeology and post-excavation analysis. You will gain additional vocational experience through our professional placement enabling you to take full advantage of employment opportunities.

  • Study in the outstanding archaeological landscape of Orkney
  • Optional modules allow you to develop professional skills in a range of areas including archaeobotany, archaeozoology, geoarchaeology, survey & geophysics,
    digital recording of archaeological materials and sites
  • A 3 month professional placement offers the opportunity to further develop your professional skills in a chosen area(s)
  • The course is flexible to fit in with your personal and professional life

A limited number of places with full tuition fee support are available for Scottish-domiciled/EU students, studying full time, on the MSc Archaeological Practice starting in
September 2018. Eligible students must live in Highlands and Islands, including Moray, Perth and Kinross for the period of their studies.

Full details on the course, funding and how to apply see our website  or drop us a line at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

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Art & Archaeology Masters Module 2017 – Enrolling now

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ART AND ARCHAEOLOGY

Contemporary Theory and Practice

Module Code: UV411013

The University of the Highlands and Islands is pleased to announce that this innovative interdisciplinary masters module is now enrolling students for 2018.

The course, that was so successful last year, can be studied either as a stand alone module or for Continuing Professional Development in the museums and galleries, community archaeology and the Creative Industries.

Designed and led by the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the Department of Art and Design at Orkney College UHI, this exciting course is a distance learning course and incorporates a four day residential workshop held in the unique location of Orkney, Scotland. It is a 20 credit SCQF Level 11 module which will appeal to those who have studied archaeology, art history, fine art or related subjects at undergraduate level.

  • The course can be taken as an optional elective module for students studying the Fine Art MA and the Archaeological Studies Mlitt / Archaeological Practice MSc programmes as well as other related programmes such as Music and the Environment, History, Cultural or Nordic Studies
  • Individuals may also enrol for this as a ‘stand-alone’ module, eg. as part of continuing professional development. It will be of interest to anyone based in Museums & Galleries, Community Archaeology and the Creative Industries
  • The module runs during Semester 2 – starting on February 2nd 2018 – May 2018. The schedule includes weekly lectures and seminars delivered by Video Conference and online learning – these will run on Friday morning over a 12-week period.
  • There is also an optional Residential Workshop (mid-February 2018) based in Orkney, which will involve fieldwork and practical workshops exploring art and archaeological practice.
  • The aim of the module is to research and explore the subject with an experimental approach, by looking at contemporary and historical contexts and case studies, through discussion and work with the group we hope to develop new thinking and understanding  in this exciting area.

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Outline of content:

  • Introduction to Art and Archaeology
  • Virtual Fieldtrip
  • Practical residential fieldwork & workshops in Orkney
  • Seeing, Engaging and Recording in Archaeology
  • Taking Art and Archaeology into the Landscape
  • Contemporary Art and Archaeology
  • Artefacts & Objects
  • Looking at Prehistoric Art
  • Group Presentations/ Seminars and Essay
  • Assessment and feedback

Entry requirements:  honours degree in a relevant subject such as archaeology, art, design, art history, cultural studies or other closely related discipline such as arts or museum administration. Applicants with other qualifications or relevant experience are encouraged to apply and will be considered on an individual basis. Note that students are required to cover their own travel and accommodation expenses for the four day residential workshop.

The course is also an optional module for students studying the Fine Arts MA, the Archaeological Studies MLitt, the Archaeological Practice MSc in addition to other related Music and the Environment, History, Cultural or Nordic Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

To apply and for more details, please contact Mary Connolly by emailing studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk for an application form or 01856 569225

 

UHI Masters Student Professional Placements Begin

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Simon working on another Ness….the Ness Battery, Stromness on a rather cloudy day in January

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute MSc programme includes a professional placement in a commercial or academic organisation.

This provides students with the vital experience of working in the often demanding environment of a large organisation. This year, two of our students, Simon and Charlotte, requested a placement in marketing at the UHI Archaeology Institute to gain experience in the increasingly important world of social media communication.

Simon takes up his story……….

“My name is Simon Gray and I am a current Masters student with the UHI Archaeology Institute and for the last seven years I have spent my summers excavating as part of the team at the Ness of Brodgar.

Over the course of this 2017 season, I will be making a series of short, episodic videos filmed on site documenting the key finds and continuing research of the excavation. Further to this, each video will include interview footage and a real ‘behind the scenes’ perspective to bring across the experience and dynamic of the dig team, many of whom, like myself, return each year as a result of their commitment to and love of the site and the team respectively.

It is my intention for these videos to be uploaded to the UHI Archaeology Institute Youtube channel and shared through social media and as many press outlets as possible in order to relay the story of this season’s excavations to the archaeological community, the local Orcadian population and indeed the wider public.

During the two open days on site, and on a frequent basis throughout the weeks as I spend my time at the Ness, I plan to engage actively with the public in order to factor their thoughts and opinions into my research.”

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Charlotte excavating the animal bone adjacent to the furnace at The Cairns

Charlottes professional placement aims to develop the social media platforms for The Cairns site and increase local engagement through both digital and traditional non-digital marketing routes. Charlotte has already set up @thecairnsbroch Twitter account for The Cairns site and posts on a daily basis live from the site as part of her MSc placement. New tee shirts also now adorn the diggers and local people are being encouraged to visit through leafleting and other initiatives in the local community.


For more information on studying MSc Archaeological Practice at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute see our blog page http://wp.me/p6YR8M-326

Archaeology MLitt by Research Studentship Available

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Brough of Birsay

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to offer a one year MLitt by Research in Archaeology EU/UK fees only full-time studentship, starting 1st Oct 2017.

Topic: Marine Mammal exploitation in Late Iron Age and Medieval Orkney.

During the late first millennium AD, the Northern Isles of Scotland saw the introduction of a new material culture and permanent settlement by incoming settlers from Scandinavia -the ‘Vikings’- which was part of a broader colonisation by these Norse peoples into the North Atlantic islands. These were largely farming societies, using developed Iron Age technology, but whose agricultural economies were heavily subsidised by wild species, including marine mammals.

IMG_13264The relative contributions, management, and sustainability of sea mammal populations, prior to the 16th century, are, however, currently less well documented and understood than are systems used for terrestrial species. Such data would contribute both to socio-economic reconstruction of early Norse populations, and to millennial scale population dynamics in the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean ecosystems, helping to inform on current and future sustainability of whales, seals and other North Atlantic species.

This MLitt by Research project will take as its focus human interactions with seals and whales in one specific area of the Norse North Atlantic, Orkney. It will seek to establish diachronic variability in the exploitation of and attitudes to these species both within the Norse period (ie c. 8th-15th centuries AD) and between the Norse and preceding Late Iron Age periods.

This will involve research into the distribution and relative frequency of sea mammals, including both artefactual and zooarchaeological evidence, for relevant sites alongside a detailed taphonomic analysis focusing on depositional context, carcase utilisation, butchery, bone fragmentation and artefact use/production.  Historical and ethnographic sources will also be drawn into the study where appropriate.

Research results will form the basis for selection of samples for aDNA analysis as part of a larger project into sea mammal exploitation and population dynamics in the North Atlantic. This MLitt project will also provide data for a pilot study for DataARC, an NSF-funded cyberinfrastructure project that aims to link and organise complex transdisciplinary data sets related to Arctic research.

Specific topics for analysis may include:

  • what whales and seals represented in practical economic terms, as well as social and cultural significance
  • whether Orcadian communities actively hunted great whales, or other cetaceans, prior to the spread of commercial whaling in the 16th and 17th centuries, or if they were mainly exploited in natural or induced strandings.
  • interactions of island economies, climate change, and animal biogeography

This project is being undertaken as part of an ongoing NSF-supported transdisciplinary international collaborative investigation of the roles of marine mammals (seals, cetaceans, walruses) in North Atlantic subsistence and market economies from the early through late Middle Ages (NSF Award #1503714) (PI Dr. Vicki Szabo, Western Carolina University).

The research student will be based at the University of the Highlands of Islands Archaeology Institute at Orkney College in Orkney.

The supervisory team will be led by Dr. Ingrid Mainland at the UHI Archaeology Institute together with Dr.  V. Szabo (WCU), Dr. Colleen Strawhacker (University of Colorado, Boulder) and Dr. Jen Harland  (UHI Archaeology Institute).

For further information on this opportunity, please contact Dr. Ingrid Mainland (Ingrid.mainland@uhi.ac.uk)


The studentship covers fees only at the University of the Highlands and Islands Home/EU rate for a total of 12 months (including writing-up) (https://www.uhi.ac.uk/en/studying-at-uhi/first-steps/how-much-will-it-cost/tuition-fees-research-postgraduate-students/). The project is expected to start on the 1st October 2017.

International are welcome to apply however please be aware that you will be required to make up the difference between Home/EU and International fees.

Applicants must possess a minimum of an Honours degree at 2:1 and/or a Masters Degree (or International equivalent) in a relevant subject.

To apply please send a CV indicating qualifications, any prior research experience (including publications) together with a statement of interest in the project and contact details for two academic referees to Ingrid.mainland@uhi.ac.uk

Closing dates 19th June 2017. Interviews 3rd July, by Skype.

Test Pitting @ The Cairns, South Ronaldsay, Orkney

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Charlotte and Simon excavating a test pit on the north western side of the ditched enclosure around the broch.

MSc students from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute ventured out to The Cairns last week to investigate several features around the site.

Martin Carruthers, Site Director and Programme Leader for MSc Archaeological Practice, takes up the story….

“We began by excavating test pits at The Cairns.  In glorious sunshine, our intrepid MSc students began to investigate the Neolithic midden, Iron Age soils close to the ditch surrounding the broch and the natural boulder clay in the northern part of the field; all of which help us to define the extent of the archaeological remains here.

18358843_10154675732601325_2490963565498319916_oA previously unknown, probably prehistoric site, located 180 metres to the south-east of The Cairns was brought to light in a shallow test pit containing ashy midden and a stone setting, possibly a remnant wall. Not visually spectacular at this stage but highly significant in our ever-expanding awareness of the landscape around The Cairns. Finds were few but a fragment of a saddle quern came out of the ashy soil and hints that the site is prehistoric. This ‘new’ site aligns to one end of a buried linear feature previously investigated, which turned out to be a ditch or hollow-way, maybe a track leading from the entrance of the broch village down-slope to this point in the landscape.

The image below is looking from the test pit back up-slope in the direction of The Cairns mound. The ‘hollow-way’ takes a line from here straight through the modern telegraph pole, to the mound of The Cairns beyond it.”

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The Cairns excavation starts on the 12th June 2017 and continues until 7th July 2017. Martin and the team welcome visitors during the season. The site is literally in the middle of a field so bring wellies and wet weather gear if it has been raining. One of the team would be pleased to show you round and explain the emerging features of this intriguing site.

Contact us on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk if you require directions or more information.

Funded PhD Opportunity at The Archaeology Institute

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Seaweed as food and fodder in the North Atlantic Islands:past, present and future opportunities.

Funding is available for a studentship based at The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute to start on 1st October 2016.

Seaweed has been used as a food for animals and humans for thousands of years in coastal regions (Balasse et al. 2009; Mainland et al. 2016; Jones et al. 2012) and today is increasingly being recognised for its nutritional value and other health giving properties, with commercial production underway across the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. An emphasis on the long tradition of seaweed-eating in the coastal regions of Scotland is often a key feature of the marketing associated with such products. Yet, there has been comparatively little underpinning academic research regarding the history and diversity of seaweed consumption and agricultural use through time.

This PhD will take as its focus the use of seaweed as a food resource for humans and livestock in the Scottish Islands, aiming to create a better understanding of both the historic use of seaweed in the agricultural landscape of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and its modern day potential as a fodder resource/supplement. It will use an inter-disciplinary approach drawing on historical, ethnobotanical, ethnozoological and archaeological evidence for seaweed consumption (dental calculus and tooth wear analysis, macrobotanical analysis) together with cutting-edge analytical methodologies for palaeodietary analysis using trace/rare elements and stable isotopes (ICP-OES, ICP-MS, MC-ICP-MS, LA-ICP-MS). Analysis will be undertaken on both modern and archaeological samples from the region with the former including seaweeds and samples from seaweed-eating sheep and cattle populations in Orkney (eg Hansen et al. 2003). Key aspects to be addressed are:

• The diversity of seaweed use as a food/fodder in the region in the recent past: which seaweed species have been used, why – i.e., lack of other resources, perceived nutritional value, and what for – i.e., as a dietary supplement, medicine, etc.

• The modern nutritional value (trace element content, vitamin levels) of seaweeds identified in the historic record

• The application of novel suites of trace/rare elements and/or, “non-traditional” isotopic signatures to confirm seaweed consumption in archaeological samples

• Chronological and spatial variation in the use of seaweed as fodder in the Scottish islands

The PhD will be co-supervised by Dr. Ingrid Mainland and Dr. Mark Taggart at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Prof Joerg Feldmann (University of Aberdeen) and Dr. Philippa Ascough (University of Glasgow). This PhD will be undertaken in collaboration with Devenish Nutrition.

The candidate will be expected to have a relevant qualification in Archaeological Science or a closely related discipline. Candidates with qualifications in other sciences (e.g., Biology, Analytical Chemistry) may also be considered providing they can demonstrate a keen interest in archaeology. The expectation is that the student will be based at the Archaeology Institute, Orkney College Campus in Kirkwall but will spend time at the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso and at the laboratories of the collaborating partners in Aberdeen and Glasgow.

For more information and details of how to apply go to http://bit.ly/1SYSrpM

 

A Splash of Colour from the Iron Age

Sometimes the smallest things tell us so much about people’s lives and yet at the same time raise so many questions.

A surprise discovery came in the form of a tiny splash of colour from the Iron Age! Cecily was processing some soil samples from The Cairns site on South Ronaldsay and her incredible eagle eyes spotted this beautiful multi-coloured glass bead! The object came from soil samples retrieved from the interior of the broch during the late occupation of the structure and date from about 100-150AD. It’s miniscule (yes that is a penny next to it!).

Glass bead 4In this image looking at the broken section of the bead you get to see the central perforation cut clean through. Most interesting you can see another pale green wedge of glass present on the left side of the bead. This is probably ‘cullet’, re-cycled glass from an earlier object partly melted down to make this bead. The source of the recyclate was probably a Roman vessel or bangle. Keep in mind this was found on South Ronaldsay in Orkney meaning of course that someone who lived or visited that site on the South Orkney Island of South Ronaldsay must have had access to Roman Britain at some point. But again some questions….was the Roman glass part of a treasured collection that took pride of place in someone`s life ? How did it come hundreds of miles from the nearest Roman settlement ? Was there regular contact between Roman Britain and Orkney ?

And then…..You wait all this time to get the first glass bead from the site and along comes another one – a much larger, whole one this time! This bead was thought to be fashioned from bone, but it can now be seen to be another yellow-amber coloured bead! But when put under the microscope the object takes on another character……

We now strongly suspect this is amber! Here it is under a microscope with top-light on the left and back-lighting on the right. On the back-lit image you can see the livid red translucent colour shining through the crust quite effectively. Now that raises a few more questions…where did it come from ? Did it come from The Baltic and how did it find it`s way to Orkney ? Is there another story this intriguing bead can tell us. In any event this would have been a treasured personal possession that someone would have dropped and lost in the hurly burly of life in The Cairns Broch.

The Cairns Bead
The second complete bead under the microscope.

There will be more on these small finds from The Cairns which tell us so much about the ordinary life of people that lived on South Ronaldsay two thousand years ago. Project leader is Martin Carruthers at martin.carruthers@uhi.ac.uk

The Cairns Character

 

Every now and then something turns up on an dig that just connects me with a living person from thousands of years ago. The Cairns Character was unearthed a few years ago in South Ronaldsay and for me, living in South Ronaldsay, it immediately made a connection.

I have included photographs of the site where he (is he a he or a she ?) was found and I have especially included pictures that were taken on one of those short Orkney days in winter – when perhaps this character was carved. I can see in my minds eye, someone sitting by the fire 2000 years ago, surrounded by their family – perhaps with a howling gale knocking at the door – gently carving a stone found on the beach. There`s a nose and two eyes and a little crooked smile….it`s a piece that connects me personally with the living from the Iron Age and perhaps suggests they were not so different to us ?

We know very little about the character, and perhaps will never know, but we can perhaps paint a story from his discovery.

The character was discovered in a pit dug into the remains of the domestic building, Structure B. Lying to the north and north-west of the main trench, the Structure B complex contains cellular, rectilinear and sub-circular building remnants, with many well-preserved hearths, stone fixtures and fittings, thresholds, wall piers and floors.

This complex, Martin Carruthers from The Archaeology Institute University of the Highlands and Islands explained, was undoubtedly domestic, and produced artefacts consistent with this – substantial amounts of pottery, stone tools, and an extensive animal bone assemblage.

The stone head had been carefully deposited in a pit, along with a number of other artefacts, presumably at the end of the site’s life. We can only guess as to the carving’s purpose – was it intended to portray a spirit or god, or was it merely a cherished possession.

Martin explained: “One recurring aspect of this site is the fact that there’s a whole series of later features that have muddied the waters somewhat.On the one hand we’ve been able to piece together these really intimate details of life within these structures – the domestic artefacts, the metalworking etc, but at the same time the overall shape of some of the buildings remain obscure – obliterated through time and continual reuse.”

Thanks to Sigurd Towrie and the Orkneyjar website. Click here for more information on The Cairns and a link through to Orkneyjar

The excavation was supported by Orkney Islands Council, Orkney College UHI, the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) Aberdeen University and Glasgow University. The team would also like to thank the South Ronaldsay community and landowner Charlie Nicholson.