New Research – Trading Identities & Viking Horse Burials in Scotland

Sands of Gill and Pierowall Westray
Aerial photograph of Sands of Gill and Pierowall village, Westray, Orkney

New research by University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute PhD student Siobhan Cooke, explores the use of animals, particularly horses, in Viking funerary rituals across Scotland. And how these rituals were used to help develop a cultural identity in the rapidly expanding Viking realm.

Trading Identities Alternative Interpretations of Viking Horse Remains in Scotland
Distribution map of pagan Viking burials containing horse remains

There are over 130 known Viking pagan burials in Scotland. Approximately seven per cent of the pagan Viking graves known in Scotland contained horse remains. This research presents a brief summary of the traditional interpretations of horse remains in burials of this period and presents an alternative interpretation of these remains with particular reference to the Viking cemetery at Pierowall, Westray, Orkney Islands which is dated c. AD 850–950.

It is argued that the act of horse deposition at Pierowall should be understood in the wider social context of the Scandinavian Peninsula and Scottish Islands during the initial period of west-ward expansion and social and political upheaval. It is in this context that the act of horse burial performed a specific communication function which served to create and strengthen cultural allegiances with trading groups travelling from the Scandinavian Peninsula towards the western seaboard of Scotland, and into the Irish Sea.

Identities are fluid; rather than seeing identity as something people are
born with, it is now being considered as an aspect of social relations, something that is
learnt, that is adaptable and that can change over time depending on the ways and contexts
in which people interact (Jones 1997;2000; Lucy 2005: 86–87). It is through identity
that we perceive ourselves, and how others see us, as belonging to a particular group
and not another and being part of a group involves active engagement (Diaz Andreu &
Lucy 2005: 2). Animals can also be actors in social relationships, playing an active role in
the depiction of identity.

The full research paper can be downloaded from Trading Identities: Trading Identities Alternative Interpretations of Viking Horse Remains in Scotland. A Pierowall Perspective


 

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.

Wrecks of experimental ships discovered in Scapa Flow

Historic Environment Scotland commissioned ORCA and SULA Diving to conduct side scan sonar and archaeological diving surveys in 2015 of two wrecked vessels located off Flotta Island, Orkney, N.Scotland.

The vessels were first brought to the attention of the authors by Hazel Weaver of the MV Valkyrie after they were dived by Rob Baxandall.

Archival research indicates these are the remains of Anti-Torpedo Close Protection Pontoons (ATCPP), an experimental protection device used for close protection of naval vessels at anchor in Scapa Flow from attack by aircraft-launch torpedoes. The pontoons were only in operation in Scapa Flow for 13 months (March 1941 – April 1942) and few were brought into service.

As such they represent a rare, frequently mis-identified heritage resource, for which very little is known about their operation. Had the site not been reported, a unique heritage asset would have been overlooked and the identity of similar vessels would have remained unconfirmed.

Many thanks to Hazel Weaver and Rob Baxandall for their help and co-operation.

Also don`t forget to visit the Secrest of the Sea exhibition in Orkney Museum in Kirkwall if you are in Orkney…..http://wp.me/p6YR8M-f1

HSE-07-02_Barge05a

 

 

Do Orcadian Tombs Align with Solar Events ?

 

Research conducted by Andrea Boyar BA, Post Graduate student at The Archaeology Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands, Orkney.

Introduction

Orkney forms one of the most intensively studied regions in Britain, providing a ‘core area’ for research (Barclay 2004: 34-37). The aim of this study was to establish to what extent Neolithic cairns in this region align with solar events

Research Objectives

  • Determine the orientation of the entrance passages of the Orcadian chambered cairns.
  • Establish trends within the range of orientations.
  • Analyse the extent of alignments that fall into the range of orientations.

Background Context

The funerary monuments of Neolithic Orkney are characterised by stone-built burial mounds situated near water, perhaps indicative of the importance of sea migration (Phillips 2003: 384). These cairns contained inhumations and cremations reflective of collective burial practices, in addition to an assortment of animal bones, stone tools, pottery, and other grave goods (Davidson and Henshall 1989: 52-59). The monuments appear to have been in use for a few hundred years, and there is a “strong possibility” that many were re-used before being deliberately decommissioned (Lee 2011: 43).

Types of Neolithic Cairns in Orkney

Orkney Carin types

Case Study: Rousay

Rousay orientation.png
Distribution map of the Rousay chambered cairns, showing orientation of entrance passages acording to azimuths measurements

The island of Rousay was selected for a case study due to a high concentration of well-preserved burial architecture. The primary fieldwork aim was to record cairn azimuths in order to measure deviation from solar alignments. Key to this analysis was Stellarium, an open source planetarium used to establish the Sun’s position in the Neolithic period in Britain. By utilising precise measurements, rather than relying upon cardinal point orientations, this approach allowed for a more temporal conclusion to be reached on the relationship between solar alignment and mortuary architecture in the Neolithic.

Project Results

Azimuth results
Azimuth of Rousay Cairns

Orkney-Cromarty cairns were predominantly orientated towards the southeast, with an avoidance of northern orientations

Maes Howe cairns were more variable; there appears to be a shift from the southeast to the southwest, with a complete avoidance of the north

Hybrid cairns were the most random, containing northern orientations within examples of atypical subterranean architecture

Project results

Research Findings

  • Early Neolithic cairns placed an importance on the Midwinter sunrise, while late Neolithic cairns exhibited a shift towards the Midwinter sunset
  • An avoidance of a northern orientation, which would theoretically place a tomb in a state of perpetual darkness
  • The outlier cairns orientated to the north demonstrated atypical subterranean architecture, perhaps indicative that these specific tombs were built to intentionally keep light out of the interior
  • Azimuths provided a temporal range for illumination periods – an area of further research

Further Research

Considering how this study has evidenced seasonal intervals beyond the solstices as significant, it would be worthwhile to look at how times of illumination may relate to periods when Neolithic Orcadians would visit a tomb, inter their dead, and manipulate the remains. Applying the methods utilised in the Rousay case study to the rest of the region may reveal further insight relating to the temporal function of astronomy in Neolithic Orkney.

Conclusion

Neolithic Orcadians were an agrarian society, and as such, the changing seasons would have played an integral role to the sustainability of their way of life. For reasons unknown, solar alignments were incorporated into burial architecture; with a focus on the Solstice period, a time when one cycle ends and another begins. It is possible that sunlight was simply useful for physically seeing inside the chamber itself, however, it appears that these alignments reflect an underlying cosmology indicative of the cultural importance of the sun to an agricultural community. Cairns are mortuary structures, thus the alignments evident within them may reflect pivotal periods in the year associated with ancestral rebirth or renewal

 

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Using Archaeomagnetic Dating at The Ness of Brodgar

A new website has been set up by Sam Harris who is undertaking PhD research into archaeomagnetic dating (this is explained on the website) based on samples he has taken at the Ness of Broadgar. Sam’s research should provide complimentary dates to the C14 ones we have done in conjunction with the Times of Their Lives Project. This will help with the refinement of the chronology of the Ness and also the use of this technique.

The primary aim of this PhD project is to develop archaeomagnetic dating in the Neolithic period in Scotland. This research will expand on the pre-existing chronological dating tools available to the archaeologist by extending the calibration curve for archaeomagnetic dating. This will allow investigations of heated archaeological material from older parts of antiquity than previously permitted. Further afield this will contribute to geophysical understanding of the Earth’s magnetic field in the past. The Ness of Brodgar’s ongoing excavations have allowed a significant amount of sampling and will continue to do so as the PhD progresses.

Already the results are looking very promising!

http://neolithicarchaeomagnetism.weebly.com/

How did the Neolithic Orcadians keep dry ?

 

Research conducted by Neil Ackerman, The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

Background

This project looked at the roofing flagstones from the Ness of Brodgar. This is the first evidence for Neolithic roofing of this kind on Orkney. Previously, roofs have generally been assumed to be made from organic materials, such as turf or thatch. While stone roofing has been suggested as a potential on a few occasions, this is first time a collapsed flagstone roof has been identified. The majority of flagstones come from Structure 8, providing a detailed sample to study further. This evidence provides a unique opportunity to gain insight into a poorly understood aspect of Neolithic construction.

Structural Understanding

Rebuilt south west wall of structure 12
The rebuilt south west wall of structure 12

Understanding the roof furthers our understanding of the structures as a whole. The internal piers in the building could serve to shorten the unsupported span of the roof frame significantly. It also gives a possible explanation for the failure of the south west wall from Structure 12. The significant outward thrust of a roof of this size could easily cause a collapse like this if not properly countered. The shortening of Structure 1 could also be a response to a roof collapse, with the later wall being built directly on top of the collapsed material. Shortening the structure would provide less of a weight to support.

 Construction and Collapse

The distribution of the flagstones from the roof in Structure 8 hints towards the construction methodology. The size of the flagstones reduces towards the centre of the reconstructed roofstructure, but are smallest at the end wall suggesting the roof follows the curve of the wall.As well as showing the way the roof was built, the distribution of the flagstones also shows how it collapsed. They are not found vertically against the walls as they would likely be if the roof had deteriorated over time. Rather, they are spread across the structure with 89% lying at ≤45°.

Weatherproofing

Large amounts of compact white clay were found with the flagstones when they were excavated. This could serve as a caulking material, as well as keeping the flagstones together. An internal covering is also highly likely, as there is no evidence of direct exposure to the smoke and soot from the internal hearths. A seamer method was used to cover the gaps between flagstones and reduce the amount of moisture getting into the structure.

Suggested Models

By looking at historical use of flagstone in roofing, and evidence from the Neolithic flagstones, three models are suggested:

a) Uncovered flagstone roof

b) Covered flagstone roof

c) Partial flagstone roof

Decisions, Decisions

It`s that time of year again….the Christmas Tree is in the recycling, the mornings are dark, the evenings are dark and the TV is full of adverts about summer holidays. But it is also the time when many of you are planning a new phase of your life – going to university.

UCAS aim to make decisions by the end of March concerning interviews and offers. So have a quick look at the video above and decide to choose the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

By the way, the archaeology section is filmed at The Cairns excavation on Orkney which is used extensively by the Archaeology Institute UHI in its teaching.

3 D Modelling Dissertation Survey

3D modelling is now an accepted part of archaeological analysis and interpretation. However, up until now very few people have studied how these images are used. James Bright, one of our students studying at The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, identified this issue and is in the process of gathering information for his dissertation – “The value of 3D models and their use in the archaeology and heritage sector”  

James writes, “The first part of research for the dissertation was spent making some 3D models of items at the Buckie and District Fishing Heritage Centre, using photogrammetry techniques and Agisoft Photoscan. This was to investigate how much time and skill was needed to make good quality models. I had got some very good advice on what does and doesn’t work from Hugo Anderson-Whymark, who makes some excellent models in Orkney. The second part of research was to design some surveys asking different groups their thoughts on the 3D models – did they learn anything from them, did they think they were of value, did they even load on their devices ! ”

 “Once I have enough results from the surveys, I can discuss the value of making the models, is it worth it and are people really learning from these models or just interested in the ‘wow’ factor of the model itself, being a relatively new technology. I want to see if this technology really brings anything to the table in terms of education and dissemination and I’d like to look at any problems or issues people may have had using this technology.”

If you want to help James in his survey then please go through to his website

https://www.virtualpasts.com/survey-for-archaeologists-and-archaeology-students/