The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Research series of seminars is restarting for the season on Friday 11th October with an exciting monthly programme scheduled for the next semester.
This seminar series provides a platform for researchers connected with the UHI archaeology institute and invited guests to share ongoing research within the Institute and further afield.
New for this year, the seminars have now also been opened up to the wider community, recognising the broad interest in archaeology in the Highlands and Islands. Anyone with an interest in archaeology is welcome to come and listen, either in person in Orkney or dialling in using the UHI’s video-conference system (requires Cisco Webex Teams software).
October is a busy month with two seminars. First up in the seminar series, on the 11/10, is Siobhan Cooke of UHI Archaeology Institute and Stromness Museum, who will be talking about “The Wrecks of Scapa Flow: Salvage and Collecting at Stromness Museum”.
Following on the 25th is Astrid Nyland, special guest from the University of Stavanger, with “More than meets the eyes! The use of rock and quarries in the Mesolithic and Neolithic of Norway.” This should invite an interesting comparative perspective considering what we know of rock use during Orkney’s prehistory.
And in November, the UHI Archaeology Institute is delighted to welcome Colleen Batey from the University of Glasgow, who will be presenting on “Viking Boat Burial: From Norway to Orkney and Beyond” on the 29th November.
This talk ends the autumn season, but the seminar series will carry on also in the spring, with talks from Orkney County Archaeologist Julie Gibson and specialist on Neolithic art Antonia Thomas scheduled for January and February, and more to follow throughout the spring.
The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to announce the publication of an important research paper in the Nature Ecology and Evolution journal.
The paper by Dr Jen Harland, Lecturer in Archaeology UHI Archaeology Institute, examines the wider implications of the work published by Nakajima (2019) comparing the size of ancient and modern carp. The paper concludes that the initial stages of aquaculture began around 6000BC, perhaps three thousand years earlier than was previously thought.
Utilising the three stage model of fish domestication proposed by Nakajima (2019),Dr Harland reiterates that the process of domesticating common carp commenced with the use of wild species in managed ponds and ditches within two areas in the world – an eastern population in China, Laos and Vietnam and a Western population in the Black Sea, Aral Sea and Caspian Sea areas.
Full domestication commenced in Asia when carp fish farming was combined with a rice paddy cultivation producing a symbiotic relationship in which the fish naturally ate weed plant species and insect pests while providing natural fertilizer. Examining archaeological specimens from the Chinese Neolithic site of Jiahu, and comparing these measurements to modern carp raised in a traditional Japanese rice and fish co-culture, Nakajima and co-authors were able to establish that carp were being managed at Jiahu by 6000BC – much earlier than previously thought.
Dr Harland goes on to emphasise the point that the final stage of domestication can be recognised only when breeding, diet and habitat are all controlled by people. Previous studies have shown that the start of aquaculture in Europe was signalled by the management of carp in controlled ponds during the Roman period in the Danube region. Carp then became truly domesticated in Europe in the 12-14th centuries AD. Various authors have questioned whether the domestication of carp took place in Asia or in Europe, and whether or not the domesticated animal was then moved from one region to another. Given the evidence for the early origin of fish farming reported in Nakajima’s study, Dr Harland states that is is likely that common carp was domesticated independently twice, once in Asia and separately in Europe.
Dr Harland said… “It was a real honour to be invited to write this news and views piece discussing the wider context of Nakajima’s study on the origins of carp aquaculture. As archaeologists we discuss the advent and spread of farming and domestication in the context of cattle, sheep and pigs, but the domestication of fish is often overlooked. Farmed fish are of huge importance to our diets today, but these intensive methods are very controversial. By using archaeological methods to examine the origins of aquaculture, it’s now apparent that these carp were raised in a sustainable and balanced system alongside rice cultivation for a very long time indeed.”
Dr Harland goes on to state that modern aquaculture will soon produce half of the world’s fish supply, but intensive methods are resulting in environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and non-native species invasions. This paper emphasises that adopting a long established fish-rice co-culture system would continue a long tradition of sustainable farming which largely avoids the pitfalls of modern intensive mono culture fish farming – showing that we have much to learn from traditional methods of agriculture and aquaculture.
The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to announce the publication of an important research paper on the impact of medieval saints on the Orkney landscape.
The paper, written by UHI Archaeology lecturers Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon and Dr James Moore, is entitled ‘Storyways: Visualising Saintly Impact in a North Atlantic Maritime Landscape’ and examines the impact of the cult of St Magnus and its veneration throughout the Orcadian landscape and how this can be seen by investigating multiple forms of evidence.
The research presents a new methodological and theoretical approach with which to explore the way veneration and remembrance can be seen within the landscape. There are three churches that carry the St Magnus name, one of them being St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, and there are many altars and dedications to the saint in Scandinavia and Britain, and yet we know very little about his veneration.
A multi-source approach examined not only the structural evidence, but also a range of sources such as place names, folklore, history, archaeology and hagiographic evidence. Utilising a GIS (Geographical Information System) Sarah Jane and James were able to explore the ways in which different types, and sources of evidence reflected the spatial distribution of the cult of St Magnus in Orkney, in turn enabling them to investigate how memories and stories link with the landscape features of both past and present.
Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon brought experience gained during the ‘Mapping Magnus’ project completed last year, which included a multitude of events and activities led by the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute revolving around the story of St Magnus, recounting his funerary and shrine journeys from where he was killed on Egilsay, to his final resting place in the cathedral in Kirkwall.
Sarah Jane and James mapped ‘remembered’ route ways, or story ways, since much of the evidence comes from stories and traditions, which display the impact Magnus had as a saint on the communities living in Orkney and his continuing influence within the wider landscape well beyond the churches dedicated in his name.
This paper establishes a new way to research the impact and scope of belief in a community and shows the embeddedness and layering of multiple-beliefs in the landscape. The paper is now freely available online for everyone in Open Archaeology through De Gruyter in a topical issue on Unlocking Sacred Landscapes: Digital Humanities and Ritual Space.
The archaeology dig at the Neolithic houses found on the beach at Cata Sand, Sanday, Orkney is now underway.
Teams from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the University of Central Lancashire arrived on the island last weekend to uncover the site and begin a series of excavations centred on the sites at Cata Sand settlement and Tresness tomb.
This is the
third year of the excavation and could not have taken place this year without
the support of donations that flooded in following an online appeal. Sufficient
funds to commence the dig and to undertake assessment of the animal and plant
remains were raised and the team would like to express their gratitude for the
donations from people all over the world.
Jane Downes said, “During 2017 and 2018 we excavated a much as we could of the
early Neolithic houses, but progress was slow due to the never ending blowing
sand, and working between tidal inundations. Sea level rises and increased
storminess (both relatable to climate change) mean the site will very soon have
vanished completely. Our aim is to complete the excavation of the house floors
and associated pits and hearths before they disappear completely.”
continued, “We had planned to return to Cata Sand to recover the final parts of
the Neolithic houses in summer 2019, but had not been able to secure funding to
enable us to rescue the last deposits and carry out final recording. These
donations now allow us to complete sampling of the floor deposits which in turn
will help to give a full picture of how these earliest farmers lived inside the
archaeological site at Cata Sand on Sanday was discovered by four
archaeologists – Prof. Jane Downes, Prof. Colin Richards, Chris Gee of the
University of the Highlands and Islands, and Prof. Vicki Cummings of the
University of Central Lancashire as they trekked across the sands one December
day in 2015 on their way to inspect the tomb at Tresness.
The team had
been spotting coarse stone tools along the sands, which lie in the lee of a
huge sand dune, as they walked along. Close to a point in the huge dune where
it was breached during a storm in 2012 sits a small tuft of dune around which
clustered an early Neolithic house complex (c. 3,300-3,400 BC), and a deposit
of dozens of 18th or 19th century AD pilot whales dumped
into pits cut through the Neolithic house.
team first discovered the archaeological remains, they saw they were in a
vulnerable situation, exposed to winds and lying in the intertidal zone. Both the
actions of wind and sea were causing visible erosion, and it became clear that
the site had been exposed only fairly recently. The team also knew therefore
that they had to move quickly, and so returned in 2016 (March, bitterly cold
and snowing!) to work with the Sanday community to obtain a better idea of what
the site was, and how extensive it was.
the next two seasons in 2017 and 2018 showed that the remains of a series of
early Neolithic houses, more than 5,000 years old, with fragments of stone
walling and stone-built hearths.
This was a
first for Sanday and although the house remains are incredibly fragile and
disappearing fast, floor deposits survive, and bones survives very well – this
level of preservation offers a rare opportunity to be able to analyse plant and
animal remains and find out how people sustained themselves in this dynamic environment.
Two tiny and beautifully crafted shell beads were recovered from samples from
the 2017 excavation: these give a rare glimpse into the exquisite craft skills
that are lacking from other early Neolithic house sites.
encountered a big surprise during the excavation of the Neolithic house when it
became apparent that the scattered whale bones that we have seen on the beach
surface came from two huge pits that had been dug in more recent times through
the corner of the Neolithic house and set at right angles to one another. Long
lines of exposed rib and back bones could be seen helping to identify that the
bodies of many whales had been buried.
Cata Sand and Tres Ness investigations are run jointly by University of the Highlands and Islands (Profs Jane Downes and Colin Richards) and University of Central Lancashire (Prof. Vicki Cummings), with National Museums of Scotland (Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark).
The research is part of a large project which is investigating the use of whale bone in Western Atlantic society over the last 1000 years. Both Brenna and Vicki are following up on work completed in Orkney during February 2018 where they examined the whales found at Cata Sand and other whalebone artefacts from Orkney Museum.
During this visit, they are working with Ingrid to extract DNA and collagen data from the many whalebone items found at The Cairns to add to the literature and environmental research already completed.
The samples taken will enable the team to determine the species of the animals present, the species diversity present in the Western Atlantic region over the last 1000 years, the use to which the animal bone was put in society and even identify individual animals across the collections.
Vicki said, ” The Cairns is a unique site and is the reason we came over. It has the largest prehistoric whalebone assemblage in our region of study and we are confident that the collection will add greatly to our research.”
The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and ORCA Archaeology teamed up with Robert Gordon University to begin a series of collaborative projects using advanced digital technology to record heritage across Orkney.
On the suggestion of pupils from Kirkwall Grammar School from a heritage workshop last year, the team decided that part of the initial pilot project would involve laser scanning the Big Tree in the centre of Kirkwall.
The Big Tree is something of an icon in Orkney and is in fact a 200 year old sycamore tree that has been a meeting place in the town for generations. The tree itself won the accolade of ‘Scotland’s Tree of the Year in 2017 and looks as if it will remain standing sentinel over the comings and goings in the town centre for a good while yet.
The Big Tree project involved the use of advanced digital data capture techniques and forms the trial run for a whole series of collaborative projects between UHI, ORCA Archaeology and RGU.
The wider project involves recording the built environment in Stromness and Kirkwall and will utilise the laser scanning expertise developed by the team at RGU together with the archaeological, architectural and social history expertise of the UHI Archaeology Institute. The results so far have been stunning and the scans can be viewed in this video produced by RGU……
The work will also be on show at The Architecture Exhibition ‘An Orcadian Caravanserai’ at The Stromness Community Centre from the 17th – 21st June 2019.
Final year students from the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture will present an exhibition exploring the social and cultural connotations of an ever growing tourism industry through a series of architectural interventions.
Congratulations to University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute undergraduates Gary Lloyd and Paul Jack, who have been awarded Carnegie Vacation Scholarships to complete research at the Ness of Brodgar and The Cairns.
The Carnegie Trust Vacation Scholarships provide funding for undergraduate students who wish to develop their own research projects over the summer. Both Gary and Paul submitted their research project design to the Carnegie Trust February and were accepted last week. Students learn how to manage a research project and prepare for postgraduate study. Students will have the opportunity to see their research results published in academic journals or presented at conferences.
Gary said,” The assemblage at the Ness of Brodgar has not been examined as a group and the more complex examples may be unique to the Ness. There are 70+ stone tools that have been labelled as belonging to the Stone Spatula category and I am going to spend eight weeks completing an assessment, recording and cataloguing them, and determine if they have been found elsewhere locally or in the region “
There will be a further blog post detailing Paul’s work at The Cairns very soon….it is also very exciting research and ever so slightly different!!!
Ness of Brodgar Site Director Nick Card was invited by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to give a lecture in Xi’an this month – the birthplace of Chinese Civilisation and home to the Terracotta Army.
The trip not only gave Nick the opportunity to take part in an international workshop on heritage management and present the Ness of Brodgar as a case study of how archaeology can contribute to local economies, but also explore the amazing archaeology in and around Xi’an including the famous Terracotta Army associated with the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang – China’s first emperor.
Nick, when showing me the photographs from his trip, talked about the sheer scale of the archaeology present in the landscape in and around the city; pointing to huge population mobilisation (reputedly 700,000 for the construction of the mausoleum alone) and highly sophisticated social organisation over 2,000 years ago.
He continued,” The archaeology is breath-taking, not only in its scale…for example the Daming Palace in Xi’an itself covers an area equivalent to 300 football pitches….but in the artefacts and monuments that are being uncovered. The local archaeologists have only uncovered a tiny percentage of the mausoleum site that overall covers several square kilometres and yet the insight into this incredible civilisation provided by the discoveries so far are nothing short of astonishing.”
Following Nicks presentation on the Ness of Brodgar, the workshop progressed onto discussions on heritage management and the innovative methods being used in China to preserve and present the past. One line of discussion centred on the Chinese creation of huge archaeology parks such as the one in Xi’an.
The few days Nick spent in the city also gave him the opportunity to sample the local cuisine, which gave him chance to think on LP Hartley’s opening line in the 1953 novel ‘The Go- Between’ “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”
The trip was fully funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences – a huge thanks to them for this opportunity.
The Ness of Brodgar is a University of the Highlands Archaeology Institute research excavation and is part financed by the Scottish Government and the Leader 2014-2020 Programme.
Last week marked the first step in a collaboration between archaeology research institutions in Orkney and Germany.
An important memorandum of understanding was signed at Midhowe Broch, Rousay, on 26th April between UHI Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Römisch-Germanische Kommission (DAI).
Signed in glorious sunshine by Professor Jane Downes of the UHI Archaeology Institute and Professor Eszter Baffy of the DAI, the document was witnessed by Orkney Islands Council Convener Harvey Johnston.
The memorandum document confirms the willingness of the UHI Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI and DAI to co-operate on future research projects and details the ways in which the three organisations will work together including:
• The exchange of personnel
• Joint research projects and workshops
• Technical support and training
• Other joint projects which will be specified at a later date.
The signing was conducted as a major series of archaeology surveys were undertaken across the island. These projects include the international “Boyne to Brodgar” Neolithic project whose partners working in Orkney are DAI, UHI Archaeology Institute, Historic Environment Scotland and University College Dublin, represented by Assistant Professor Stephen Davis.
Dr Jen Harland, lecturer in Archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, has contributed a chapter on her zooarchaeology research to a major new book on the Roman Amphitheatre located in Chester, England.
The chapter is entitled Fish Bone from Roman Phases and appears in the recently published book: The Roman Amphitheatre of Chester Volume I, edited by Tony Wilmott and Dan Garner.
Jen’s research investigates the largest single fish bone assemblage in Roman Britain, uncovered during excavations at the amphitheatre in 2004-2006. The Roman structure originally dates from 70AD, but between 85AD and 100AD was re-modelled and timber seating was installed. The lower parts of the timber framework was held in place by dumped material from the arena and elsewhere. This material contained over 20,000 fish remains dating from the Roman to post-medieval period and there were over 4,500 fish remains dating to the Roman period – providing a very useful addition to the zooarchaeology of Roman Britain.
Fish was a prominent part of Roman diet and marked out those elements of the population who wanted to be ‘Roman’. Most of the British Iron Age population did not consume fish as a regular part of their diet. On examining the fish remains, Jen’s research found that flatfish were the most common with over 70% from this order, eel was the second most commonly consumed fish at the site with salmon and trout the third most popular.
Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that Spanish mackerel was also found in the deposits. These fish are not found in the waters around the British Isles and thus they were somewhat of a surprise during analysis.The Spanish mackerel was, perhaps as the name implies, an import from the coastal regions of Portugal, Spain and the north coast of Africa and they provided a taste of the Mediterranean to Chester’s small Roman population.
Jen’s research also sheds light on the way that the Roman population in and around the amphitheatre consumed their fish. There were no butchery marks on the bones found suggesting that the fish was eaten on the bone and perhaps formed a meal for one or two people. This probably means that the meal would have to be eaten delicately and with care rather than in a fast food/on the move manner.
The research also provides clues to the ‘fishing industry’ operating in this part of the Roman Empire during this period. Evidence from the types of fish found in the assemblage suggests that fishing was organised on a local scale with the Roman fishermen not venturing far into Liverpool Bay. However, the ‘industry’ would also have to be organised on a relatively large scale to provide the volume of fish found.
There is also evidence to suggest that tastes, the environment or fishing methods changed over time. There is a trend to find smaller fish in the assemblage as time progresses into the 3rd century and herring also becomes more common – much more like the tastes and preferences of later centuries and much less ‘Roman’.