The research behind the St Magnus Way pilgrimage route

Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, a researcher and lecturer at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, features in a new video outlining the St Magnus Way pilgrimage route project in Orkney.

Part-funded by LEADER, the Saint Magnus Way is a 55-mile pilgrimage walk that is based on stories that tell of the route which the body of Earl Magnus Erlendsson was taken, after his martyrdom on the Orkney island of Egilsay and the processional route of his shrine.

The project began in October 2015, and, after money was raised and funding secured, the walk was launched in five sections from Easter to December 2017 – part of a year-long series of events to mark the 900th anniversary of St Magnus’ death.

Dr Gibbon, whose has researched the archaeology of pilgrimage and the cult of St Magnus, was involved in the project from the start.

“I was asked to provide an assessment of the history and archaeology of St Magnus in Orkney to help in the establishment of the St Magnus Way,” explained Dr Gibbon.

“This research benefitted from a UHI mini sabbatical in 2017/18 and fed into the UHI Archaeology Institute’s Mapping Magnus project, the 2019 paper Storyways: Visualising Saintly Impact in a North Atlantic Maritime Landscape, I co-authored with Dr James Moore and my paper on the Ladykirk Stone, published in volume eight of the New Orkney Antiquarian Journal in 2019.

“I am continuing my research in this area, finalising the second paper from my sabbatical research on the materiality of pilgrimage with specific reference to red sandstone and the Orkney Cult of St Magnus.”

Take your photographs to The Edge in exciting new competition

A photography competition to accompany the 2020 University of the Highlands and Islands Humanities and Arts Research Cluster (HARC) theme, The Edge, is now open to all UHI students and staff.

The competition — a joint venture between HARC and the University of the Highlands and Islands Society, Identity, Knowledge and Landscape (SILK) — runs until December 24.

The organisers are looking for a range of styles and well-crafted and imaginative images. Photographs may be taken on any device, including phones.

The Edge is the second HARC/SILK research theme following on from Ruination and Decay.

The concept of The Edge denotes the demarcation of a boundary or delimitation between contrasting physical and conceptual entities, categorisations and perceptions. Equally, The Edge can be considered in terms of periphery – again physically, geographically or conceptually.

The subjects are intended to allow these different qualities to assume visual and creative expression:

1. The edge: weather
2. Jagged edge  
3. Life and death on the edge
4. The edge as visionary place  

Each person may enter up to three photographs for each subject. Photographs must be taken during the competition period (November 5-December 24, 2020).

Please email your photographs (subject: Photo competition) in jpeg format to Pàdruig ( Make sure each photograph is clearly labelled with your initials, the title and subject category (e.g. N.S.– photo title – Subject 1, 2, 3 or 4).

Entries will be judged by our two SILK experts: Lindsay Blair and Matt Sillars, with each subject having first, second, and third-ranking with an additional commended place.

Winners will be announced at the end of January 2021, and have their photographs put up on either the clusters or UHI main website.

Terms and conditions

  • All copyright remains with the photographer.
  • Images which are entered will be used in SILK/HARC Edge Conference publicity and may be shown online in UHI social media and on the UHI Website.  
  • Full image credit will be added to all social media and online use.
  • Images will only be used for other purposes by the University or the Research Clusters in negotiation with the copyright holder.

Funded PhD Opportunity – human/animal interaction in Wales (AD700-1000)

Cardiff University and the National Museum Wales have a fully funded collaborative doctoral studentship available focusing on human/animal interactions in Wales between AD700-1000.

The four-year project, which falls under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) scheme, will be jointly supervised by Professor Jacqui Mulville, Cardiff University, and Dr Mark Redknap, National Museum, and the student will be expected to spend time at both the university and museum as well as becoming part of the wider cohort of UK CDP-funded students.

The research will examine how human/animal interactions impacted on personal experiences in Wales during the formative period of the creation of Welsh identity.

Discussions of early medieval food systems have hitherto relied heavily on limited and inadequate narratives provided through the interpretation of scant historical records or limited datasets.

The enclosed settlement and market centre at Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey, excavated between 1994 and 2012, produced the largest unstudied archaeological assemblage of faunal remains (over 50,000 fragments) within dated sequences from early medieval Wales, with the benefits of clear associations with contemporary material culture, buildings and human remains.

The research will:

  • Study this comprehensive evidence base for the definition of early farming practices in the north Wales/Irish Sea region, from the raising of stock, selecting and sourcing foods, occupational practices including butchery, food preparation, consumption and disposal.
  • Define the extent to which animal/human interactions in early medieval/Viking Age Wales reflected practices in Ireland, Britain and on the Continent.
  • Assess the influence of these human/animal interactions on development, identity, health and social structure within early Welsh kingdoms.

Key to this will be the comparison of the Llanbedrgoch bone assemblage with contemporary sites. These include the recently published evidence from the elite, atypical and short-lived crannog at Llangorse (c. AD890-916) in the kingdom of Brycheiniog, where food procurement was apparently linked to supplies chains through food rents with consumption reflecting cultural, economic and environmental drivers.

The community engagement programme will offer the student opportunities to explore issues shared across time and participation in archaeology will provided through the student’s involvement with young people engaging with STEM activities based around food.

Research questions include:

  • How did food consumption in the early medieval Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd differ in character from that of its neighbours?
  • What were the mainstays of the “historical” diet of the population in Wales and the West?
  • To what extent did husbandry support the wider economy?
  • How can animal/human interactions from ninth/tenth-century Wales and the evidence from contemporary Dublin, Man and northern England inform us of changing identities, class, and politics?

The deadline for applications is November 6, 2020. For full details, including how to apply, click here.

Viva success for UHI PhD student

Magdalena Blanz (right) with one of her PhD supervisors, Dr Ingrid Mainland, senior lecturer at the UHI Archaeology Institute.

UHI Archaeology Institute student Magdalena Blanz has passed her PhD viva examination.

Magdalena’s PhD thesis, Seaweed as Food, Fodder and Fertiliser in the North Atlantic Islands: Past, present and future opportunities, looked at the importance of seaweed to past and present island communities. Part of this, involved researching how the chemical and isotopic composition of skeletal material is changed by the consumption of seaweed and the impact of fertilising grain crops with seaweed.

Her PhD was funded by the European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council as part of Developing Scotland’s Workforce in the Scotland 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programme.

But it is double congratulations to Magdalena, who also has a post-doctoral research appointment at Vienna Institute for Archaeological Science (VIAS), University of Vienna.

Funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the project is entitled Farmers without borders: Ecological perspectives on the spread of animal husbandry from the Mediterranean to southeast Europe (6500-5500 BC).

It deals with the interrelationships of environmental, biological and socio-cultural factors that enabled the spread of domestic animals in the Balkans, by analysing absorbed organic residues in pottery, stable isotope analysis of animal remains, statistical analysis of archaeological kill-off profiles and computational modelling.

If you are interested in postgraduate research at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, please get in touch by e-mailing or see our guide page.

International research project looking at Northern Isles’ place in European trade networks launches next week

A major international research project investigating Orkney and Shetland’s place in the European trade networks of the 15th to 18th centuries launches next week.

Looking in from the Edge (LIFTE) is a three-year programme involving the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, the University of Lincoln and the German Maritime Museum, in Bremerhaven.

During the period under investigation, a system of trade gradually brought much of the globe within its influence. In Europe, it led to peripheral places becoming closely tied into continental European trade networks, transforming their largely subsistence and low-level trading economies to commercialised, surplus-producing ones. At the forefront was the Hanseatic League — an organisation of German merchants formed around 1150 and which expanded into the North Atlantic in the 15th century.

Although the league’s influence in Shetland has been extensively documented, less is known about its interests in Orkney and this will be an early focus of the project.

The University of the Highlands and Islanders Archaeology Institute research team involved in the Looking in from the Edge project. From the left: Paul Sharman, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dr Jen Harland, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, Julie Gibson, Professor Neil Simco, (UHI Vice-Principal [Research and Impact]) and Professor Jane Downes (Director of the UHI Archaeology Institute). Dan Lee, Dr Siobhan Cooke and Anne Mitchell are missing from the picture.

The UK team is led by Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, who will work with Dr Natascha Mehler from the German Maritime Museum, who is leading the German team.

Dr Gibbon explained: “Tapping into the rich research that has already been carried out in Shetland, we’re looking to find out what was going on in terms of trade in Orkney. We know the Hanseatic League was prominent in Shetland but its impact on Orkney is little researched. Was Orkney sharing in that wealth? Who was trading with whom? What was being traded? Where were the trading centres?

“The project will give us an opportunity to look into the mechanisms of early modern trade and how the Northern Isles adapted to a changing economic world. How did this emerging international trade change the islanders’ way of making and trading their wares and products? What were the consequences of this rapidly changing and expanding world on the social and economic ways of life for the islanders?”

The Skaill multi-period farmstead, Rousay, Orkney, one of the archaeological sites forming part of the research project. (Picture: Bobby Friel/@takethehighview)

The UK team includes Associate Professor Mark Gardiner from Lincoln University and a University of the Highlands and Islands team comprising Dr Jen Harland, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Paul Sharman, Julie Gibson, Dan Lee, Dr Siobhan Cooke and Anne Mitchell.

Funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council and the German Research Council, a key element of the project is involving local communities and training volunteers in research methods from archaeology and history.

Research at the Orkney Library and Archive has begun, seeking historical documents for material directly or indirectly referencing trading operations. This, together with placename evidence and analysis of archaeological material from the county, will allow the researchers to identify and target potential sites for survey and excavation. The results will allow Orkney and Shetland’s connections to the wider economic realm of early modern Europe to be closely examined.

Leader of the German research team, Dr Natascha Mehler, from the German Maritime Museum, surveying the trading site at Gunnister Voe, Northmavine, Shetland, which was in use around 1600. (Picture: Mark Gardiner)

The online launch event on Tuesday, October 20, from 7pm until 8.30pm, comprises five short talks on aspects of trade in the North Atlantic — what we know and the project’s aims.

These will be followed by a question-and-answer session chaired by Dr Ingrid Mainland.

The programme for the evening is:

  • 1900–1905: Introduction (Dr Ingrid Mainland).
  • 1905–1920: The archaeology of trade in the North Atlantic (Dr Natascha Mehler, Dr Mark Gardiner).
  • 1920–1935: Historical sources for trade in the North Atlantic (Dr Bart Holterman).
  • 1935–1950: Looking ahead – the project research: archaeology (Paul Sharman).
  • 1950–2005: Looking ahead – the project research: history (Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon).
  • 2005-2030: Questions.

For details on how to access the launch event, click here.