They Graze on Wave and Ocean Plants

Dr Ingrid Mainland and Dr Philippa Ascough, Lecturer & Head NERC Radiocarbon Facility (East Kilbride) talk about their research into foddering strategies in island environments: pig, sheep, goat and cattle diet in Late Iron Age to Viking/Late Norse Orkney.

Within the archaeological literature, the Northern Isles of Scotland are typically seen as being at the limits of arable and pastoral farming.In these islands, the use of foreshore grazing and of seaweed as fodder from the Neolithic period onwards is often equated with marginality, a farming system under pressure, with animals reduced to foraging on the shore to obtain an adequate diet. Yet, today and in the recent past, livestock farming has been one of the mainstays of the economy of the islands, with the fertile coastal soils of Orkney in particular providing ideal grazing for cattle and sheep. Using Late Iron Age (LIA) to Viking (V) and Late Norse (LN) Orkney as a case study, and integrating zooarchaeological approaches with bone stable isotope analysis (carbon, δ13C, & nitrogen,δ15N) we explored the idea of pastoral farming at the margins through an analysis of the differing herding, foddering and grazing strategies employed for domestic livestock at Norse farmsteads of different size and status across the islands.  This forms part of a larger study into the resilience of LIA to Norse herding strategies in Orkney.

Map of Orkney showing sites used in this study

The method employed  a synthesis of zooarchaeological data (species representation, mortality profiles, palaepathological and metrical data)  from 16 sites spanning the Late Iron Age to Late Norse period in Orkney & Shetland3. Bone stable isotope analysis sampled collagen from sheep/goat (n=62), cattle (n=59) and pig (n=41) mandibles from selected sites (in bold Fig 2.1) using standard analytical approaches.

Zooarchaeological Results

  • Sheep and cattle dominated economy in LIA and Viking
  • Increasing evidence of specialisation in Late Norse (eg sheep at Snusgar, pig at Earls’ Bu and Brough of Birsay, cattle at Quoygrew)
  • Sheep: mixed meat, wool and milk in LIA; specialised strategies in Late Norse – meat at Earl’s Bu and Brough of Birsay; wool at Snusgar
  • Cattle: milk important throughout, but increased emphasis on dairying in Late Norse

Change in Foddering Strategies

Grazing/foddering was more opportunistic in earlier periods, including seaweed grazing by ovicaprines. In the Late Norse period,  there is greater consistency between sites, with terrestrial grazing emphasized and the feeding of some pigs on marine waste.


A shift in strategy is identified from LIA to Late Norse in both husbandry and diet which is interpreted as a move from subsistence farming to a system geared towards the production of specific products.  Coastal grazing and/or seaweed consumption is identified but in relatively few individuals, and does not suggest an acute level of resource scarcity for livestock as described, eg, in historical accounts for the Northern Isles.  Moreover, there is evidence from the stable isotope results both in this study and others. 3,5 of the use of supplementary fodders, such as hay or oats, which suggests well husbanded flocks and may reflect the fattening-up of livestock for consumption.   Likewise preliminary analysis of dental microwear in some of the sites examined here shows little evidence for overgrazing in either summer or winter culled animals.3  Overall, the impression is of a productive and well managed farming system during the Viking/Late Norse period. Although sample sizes are small, there is some suggestion that utilisation of marine resources for sheep may have been greater in the LIA.  Jones  et al. (2012)5 also report enriched δ13C in bone collagen in a wider range of Iron Age sites from Orkney, suggesting a more widespread use of seaweed and foreshore grazing by sheep herds at this time though again some variability is evident in the extent to which this resource was utilised.

Poster presented at the UHI Conference & the AEA conference in Orkney in April 2016. The poster also details the stable isotope results:



  • Amorosi et al. 1996. Env Arch 1, 41-54;
  • Balasse et al. 2009. Env Arch 14.1, 1-14;
  • Mainland et al. 2016. JAS Reports 6, 837-855;
  • Ascough et al., 2012, J. Arch. Sci. 39, 2261-2271;
  • Jones et al. 2012. Rapid Commun. Mass Spectrom. 26, 2399–2406.
  • aUHI Archaeology Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands (
  • Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (

british-academyThis research was supported by a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship to Ingrid Mainland (2014-5). 

Investigating Evidence for multi-period Woodland Management – Ballygawley

Dr Scott Timpany from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Dr Tim Mighall from Aberdeen University are to present a research paper at the UHI Staff and Student Research Conference on the 7th -9th November 2016.

Entitled, Investigating the evidence for woodland management from a multi-period Burnt Mound Complex, Ballygawley, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, the research paper explores the possibility of the local population managing the woodland for fuel.

Burnt mounds or ‘fulacht fiadh’ are a common feature in the Irish and British archaeological record, dating from the Neolithic to the medieval period (Ó Néill, 2009) and were widely used during the second millennium BC. They occur in various shapes and sizes. Crescent- or horseshoe-shaped burnt mounds are typical in Ireland but they can also be circular, oval and d-shaped varying in height and diameter (O’Sullivan and Downey, 2004).  Despite being ubiquitous, we know little about their function, with hypotheses varying from cooking, brewing, bathing, dyeing and textile processing together with butchery, sweat lodges and funerary and ritual practices.

This paper provides a summary of the palaeoenvironmental evidence from a complex of 23 burnt mounds excavated by Headland Archaeology Ltd, that have a chronology of activity ranging from the Neolithic to the medieval period at Ballygawley, Co. Tyrone. A range of different wooden trough styles and construction methods were found in association with the burnt mounds, which were located adjacent to a system of streams.

A range of palaeoenvironmental methods were employed to accompany the archaeological investigations including pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs, micro- and macroscopic charcoal, waterlogged worked wood analysis, insects and waterlogged and charred plant remains analysis. The focus of this paper will be on those methods directed at investigating possible woodland management to provide fuel for the burnt mound activity and wood for trough construction.

Pollen analysis provided both regional and local evidence for landscape change and including a ‘seesaw’ pattern of tree and shrub pollen immediately after and preceding a period of burnt mound use. This together with the macroscopic charcoal data and worked wood analysis, indicate possible species selection and management of the local woodland resource for fuelwood. Archaeological finds discovered including bone pins, an arrowhead and scrapers provided potential evidence for butchery and hide preparation practices associated with the burnt mound activity.


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


Big Fish, Little Fish..Medieval and Post-Medieval Fishing in the Northern Isles


Research conducted by Dr. Jen Harland provides a background to the excavations being undertaken at Swandro on Rousay this month. There are still opportunities to get involved in the dig and workshops by e mailing Sean at

Fish Remains from Quoygrew
Figure 1: Fish remains from Quoygrew, large cod family remains typical of the 11th – 13th centuries.

The ‘fish event horizon’ of c. 1000 AD is well recognised within the zooarchaeological record of the Northern Isles, and is matched by the human isotopic record which indicates marine protein consumption peaked between the 11th-13th centuries. The Late Norse focus on fishing for large cod family fish (Fig. 1) only lasted for a few centuries. This ongoing research explores what happened afterwards, using the fish assemblages from 3 recent excavations at Quoygrew, Skaill and Stacklebrae.

Where are the Herring Bones?

Stackelbrae and Skaill Farm are contemporary with Orkney’s herring industry, yet herring bones are absent. Herring survive well and are found in substantial quantities in other sites, so their absence cannot be attributed to taphonomic patterning. Instead, it would appear that they were either too valuable as an export, or they were simply not liked.

Herring are also absent from Viking Age and Late Norse sites in Orkney (Harland 2006), despite their contemporary popularity in other parts of the Norse North Atlantic. Historical records show the Dutch fishing for herring around Orkney’s waters, as seen in Adriaen Coenen’s Fishbook from 1580. Herring are notoriously difficult to predict and they spoil easily, so it is possible that they were deliberately avoided in Orkney, an avoidance that carried on into the recent past.

Big Cod to Small Saithe

Changing proportion of cod and sitheQuoygrew was the first site to produce a substantial quantity of well-sieved, stratified fish remains from the 15th and 16th centuries in Orkney. Unlike earlier centuries, cod (Gadus morhua) was found in very small quantities; most of the fish bones found were now saithe (Pollachius virens). The remains from Quoygrew showed a considerable shift in fish sizes too: the big fish of >80cm total length no longer dominated. Instead, these saithe were smaller, most being less than 50cm total length. The smaller size and change from cod to saithe indicates a shift in fishing grounds, from deeper, open-water fishing to shallow in-shore or shore-based fishing.

How typical were these deposits? Why had the inhabitants of Quoygrew turned away from the sea? Were there even any big fish left in the sea?

Initial excavations at Skaill Farm, Rousay involved the local community. The excavations continue this week.

Two small-scale excavations provided fish assemblages to help explore these questions. Stackelbrae was initially a high status settlement in the 15th to 17th centuries, before becoming an ordinary farm. The fish from Skaill Farm bring the chronological range into the 19th century. The assemblage from Stackelbrae in the 15th to mid-17th centuries indicated some deeper water fishing for cod was still taking place. This can be directly attributed to status: they had the resources to acquire or undertake targeted fishing for larger cod, but on a much reduced scale. However, from the mid-17th century this fishery had ceased. Cod and Saithe sizes and proportions through time, all sieved to greater than 2mmChanging Saithe sizes through time

The Rise of ‘Sillocks’ and ‘Piltocks’: the Small Saithe Fishery

Fish remains from Stacklbrae.
Figure 2: Fish remains from Stackelbrae, small saithe typical of subsistence diet in the recent past.

By the mid 17th century, saithe dominate assemblages entirely (Figure 2). Caught from small boats in-shore, or from the shore, they were an important part of the diet of ordinary Orcadians until the early 20th century (Fenton 1978). Their value extended beyond food: their livers were rendered down for oil, for lighting and for trade.

Why did the Northern Isles Turn Away from Open Water Sea Fishing?

Intensive fishing for large cod family fish peaked during the 11th -13th centuries AD. By the 15th century, ‘ordinary’ sites no longer had any large cod bones. Vestiges of the large cod family fishery are found at the high status site of Stackelbrae during this time, but by the mid-17th century, almost all fish remains found in Orkney are small saithe. Overfishing was not responsible – historical sources indicate there were plenty of big fish available (Barry 1805). So why do we see these shifts?

  • Orkney and Shetland were no longer preferred suppliers of preserved cod – the Newfoundland markets took over (Barrett et al. 2011)
  • Orkney became part of Scotland in 1468 and turned away from the Nordic maritime-oriented societies of the North Atlantic (Thomson 2001)
  • Environmental decline associated with the end of the medieval climate anomaly made the seas more stormy and fishing more risky (Oram 2014)
  • The Black Death ‘ravaged’ the islands in 1349 (Thomson 2001)
  • Shetland’s haf fishery for large cod and ling developed in the 18th century (Goodlad 1971) and similar fisheries developed in Orkney in the 19th century, but these early commercial fisheries are not yet recognised archaeologically and may be of limited local dietary impact.

Acknowledgements: ORCA excavated Stackelbrae and provided unpublished information; Historic Scotland funded the fish analysis. Excavations at Skaill Farm on Rousay were funded by Orkney Islands Council Archaeology fund, The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the British Academy.


Barrett, JH, D Orton, C Johnstone, J Harland et al. 2011. ‘Interpreting the expansion of sea fishing in medieval Europe using stable isotope analysis of archaeological cod bones’, J. of Arch. Sci. 38: 1516-1524

Barry, G. 1805. The History of the Orkney Islands. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable and Company

Fenton, A. 1978. The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland. Phantassie (East Linton): Tuckwell Press

Goodlad, C.A. 1971. Shetland Fishing Saga. Lerwick: Shetland Times Limited

Harland, JF. 2006. ‘Zooarchaeology in the Viking Age to Medieval Northern Isles, Scotland: An investigation of spatial and temporal patterning’, Unpublished PhD thesis, University of York

Harland, JF and JH Barrett. 2012. ‘The Maritime Economy: Fish Bone’ in Barrett, J. (ed.) Being an Islander. Production and Identity at Quoygrew, Orkney, AD 900-1600. Cambridge: MacDonald, 115-138 Thomson, WPL. 2001. The New History of Orkney. Edinburgh: Mercat Press Oram, R. 2014. “The worst disaster suffered by the people of Scotland in recorded history’: climate change, dearth and pathogens in the long 14th century’. Proc. Soc. Ants. Scot.144: 223-244

Archaeomagnetic Dating for the Scottish Neolithic


Developing Archaeomagnetic Dating for the Scottish Neolithic. Call for samples. Sam Harris, School of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford.

Supervisors: Dr Catherine Batt & Prof. Ian Armit, School of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford. Nick Card, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Orkney.

Guest blogger, Sam Harris writes…..The investigation of archaeological material for dating using magnetic methods is usually referred to as archaeomagnetism. Archaeomagnetism has been utilised as a method for dating fired and heated archaeological material successfully for a number of decades. However, in order for this method to work, the spatial behaviour of the Earth’s geomagnetic field must be understood for the archaeological period in question. Currently, our definition of the local geomagnetic field for the British Isles is characterised by a Secular Variation Curve (SVC) for the past 4,000 years (Zananiri et al. 2007)

I am part of the newest wave of researchers trying to improve our knowledge of the past geomagnetic field and how it can be utilised to assist in answering archaeological questions. More specifically I am looking at ” Developing Archaeomagnetic Dating for the Scottish Neolithic” (PhD title).

By sampling fired material from independently dated archaeological material we can begin to build a picture of the past geomagnetic field behaviour. The Ness of Brodgar is offering the perfect opportunity to sample a plethora of formal hearth features (figures 1-3 above)

In addition to the Ness of Brodgar, I am looking for additional archaeological sites to augment my data. This means I require as many possible samples as I can physically get my hands on, and it costs the archaeologists nothing!

From the 24th July I will be in Orkney for a number of weeks sampling at the Ness of Brodgar. I will be available to visit any prehistoric archaeological sites from across Orkney. So please get in touch.

Additionally, if anyone is excavating any Neolithic sites across Scotland, I would be very interested to hear from you. Any questions please contact me using the contact form below or details below. Further information is available at

Sam Harris details


Map Orkney Month: New Paper Published

Map Orkney Month: Imagining archaeological mappings has just been published in a new open access online journal Livingmaps Review (Vol. 1, No. 1).

The paper is based on Dan Lee’s (Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist)  contribution to the wider Public Archaeology 2015 project, in which 6 archaeologists and 6 non-archaeologists each had a month long project throughout the year.

Map drawn by volunteer
Participant mapping of Stromness

Map Orkney Month proposed new forms of creative mapping for archaeology. When volunteers were asked to map their world for a day, the idea was to create a new collaborative map of the Orkney archipelago based on everyday journeys and places; a kind of countywide archaeological walkover survey with a twist. In the process, the project challenged traditional archaeological power structures, destabilised the way archaeological knowledge is produced by using non-specialists, and experimented with new modes of archaeological mapping. In the end, each contribution became its own map without the need for traditional archaeological cartography. In particular, the role of imagination in both traditional and experimental mappings became an important theme. Above all, mappers were challenged to think about archaeology in a new way, and in the process contributed something new to the discipline.

After a month of collaborative mapping a new map of Orkney has been created. By thinking big, Map Orkney Month seems to have captured people’s imagination. Our map looks like Orkney, however it is far removed from the Ordnance Survey and the tourist trail of Neolithic World Heritage Sites, brochs and bird watching. Our map is an unfamiliar Orkney, revealed through the experience and creativity of its inhabitants.

The emphasis was on everyday journeys, less familiar places, and recording individual stories and memories of place. The only loose instructions were to record journeys for a single day within March using a handheld GPS or smart phone, and record one site of significance.

You can access the article free here (just register):

A new research paper: “Imagining Archaeological Mapping” has just been published by Dan Lee (Lifelong Learning and…

Posted by Archaeology Institute UHI on Thursday, 17 March 2016

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.


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.


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




Research Paper Published : Toiling with Teeth.

An integrated dental analysis of sheep and cattle in Iron Age and Viking -Late Norse Orkney. First author: Dr. Ingrid Mainland


  • The potential is demonstrated for zooarchaeology of integrated dental analyses
  • Regional redistribution and control of pastoral resources is identified in Late Iron Age Orkney
  • Herding systems in Norse Orkney indicate a pre 12th Century AD development of manorial estates


A key goal for archaeozoology is to define and characterise pastoral farming strategies – how did people in the Middle Iron Age / Viking Late Norse period organise their farming ?

In the last decade, some of the most innovative approaches for addressing these questions have centred on the mammalian dentition, including sampling of stable isotopes, dental microwear analysis and the study of dental disease. It is when these techniques are integrated and combined with more traditional approaches, such as tooth eruption and wear, however, that their full potential is realised. In this article we demonstrate how such an integrated dental analysis combining isotopes, microwear, dental development, dental pathologies, tooth eruption and wear can be used to elucidate changing pastoral practices and their impacts on the landscape from the Iron Age and Viking-Late Norse periods in the North Atlantic islands, a period of significant socio-economic and cultural change in this region.

Analysis focuses on two case study sites, Mine Howe, dating to the Atlantic Middle Iron Age and the Earl’s Bu, one of the residences of the Orkney Earl’s from the 10th to 13/14th centuries AD. Each of the techniques applied to the sheep/goat and cattle dentition identifies clear differences between the two sites, in diet, in culling season, herd health and stress levels, all of which point to potential differences in underlying husbandry practices. These are related to wider socio-economic developments in Orkney at these periods, specifically increasing control of pastoral resources and economic production by North Atlantic elites in the Middle Iron Age and the emergence of manorial estates in Late Norse/Early Medieval Scandinavia.

For the full paper click Toiling with Teeth



What did Bronze Age people hear ?

Cave plan
Fig 1. Sculptors Cave in Moray North East Scotland

One of the questions that has intrigued archaeologists over the years is,” What did Bronze Age people hear ?”

Archaeoacoustics is a relatively new and emerging multidiscipline that studies the behaviour of sound within ancient sites and structures. Previous research undertaken by (SBRG, 2007; PEAR, 1996) found that Neolithic temples and hypogea in Europe had interesting and significant resonance properties and within six different Neolithic temples in England and Ireland, an acoustic resonance around 110Hz was discovered.

Michelle Walker, a graduate of the The Univeristy of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, is therefore proposing research that will attempt to identify the impact of drumming on thoughts and feelings of human participants in a Late Bronze Age cave in Moray.

One may postulate that the acoustic resonance properties within prehistoric sites in Scotland may have had an impact on the emotional state of human beings during ceremonies and rituals. It may be plausible to suggest that resonant acoustic properties exist within prehistoric sites in Scotland and this may be the reasoning behind the structural similarities of sites as to assist with the ceremony, ritual and deposition of human remains of both adults and children in prehistoric times.

The proposed research project aims to collect primary qualitative data from between 5 and 10 participants after listening to drumming between frequencies of 90 and 120Hz for two minutes in a late Bronze Age cave in Morayshire. Each frequency of 90, 100, 110, and 120Hz will be drummed at two beats per second for two minutes. After each frequency has been played the participant will be asked to complete a questionnaire with 10 questions pertaining to their thoughts and feelings during the two minute drumming period. See fig.1 for the position of drummer (D) and participants (P).

Sculptors Cave.jpg
Sculptors Cave

The drummer is positioned in that area as in the 1928 and 1979 excavations mandibles and skull fragments of were recovered from this 10ft square area of the cave. If the human remains were deposited here then it may be postulated that ceremonial or ritualistic behaviours occurred in this area of the cave that involved sound.


The aim of the research project is to investigate the impact of drumming for two minutes on the thoughts and feelings of human participants at frequencies of 90, 100, 110 and 120Hz in a Late Bronze Age cave in Moray. The qualitative data collected by means of questionnaires from participants, will be analysed for any commonality and recurring thoughts and/or feelings amongst participants whilst listening to drumming at the afore mentioned frequencies.

For more information go to Michelle Walker website

Research Paper Published


Ingrid Mainland (second author) has had a paper published enitled : Calving Seasonality at Pool, Orkney during the first millennium AD : An investigation using intra tooth isotope ratio analysis of cattle molar enamel.

Abstract : The identification of dairying is essential if we are to understand economies of the past, particularly in northwest Europe, where a high degree of lactose tolerance suggests that fresh milk has long been asignificant food product. This paper explores a possible link between economic focus and seasonality of calving. Although cattle can breed throughout the year, animals living in termperate regions with minimal or no human management tend to breed seasonally, their breeding behaviour being strongly influenced by the availability of food. In order to achieve a year-round supply of fresh milk in the past, it is likely that multiple-season calving was necessary, which would have required additional husbandry effort.

Alternatively, for meat-focussed economies or those based on storable dairy products, a strategy of single-season calving in spring may have been favoured to maximise the utilisation of spring and summer vegetation. Cattle birth seasonality is invetigated through isotope ratio analysis of tooth enamel. Results for cattle from Pool, Orkney dating to the latter part of the first millennium AD suggest that calving occurred during at least three seasons implying that the continuous provision of fresh milk was of economic importance.

The full paper can be accessed below :

Ingrid Mainland Calving Seasonality at Pool