New Research Published – suggests long-distance movement of cattle in the Bronze Age

Chillingham_Bull. Thanks to Sally Holmes
Chillingham Cattle. Thanks to Sally Holmes.

Dr Ingrid Mainland of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is the co-author of a new investigation into the origins and husbandry of Mid-Late Bronze Age cattle – now published in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports.

The authors include Jacqueline Towers & Julie Bond of the University of Bradford, Jane Evans of the British Geological Survey, Ingrid Mainland of the UHI Archaeology Institute and Janet Montgomery of Durham University.

Bioarchaeological evidence suggests that the site of Grimes Graves, Norfolk, characterised by the remains of several hundred Late Neolithic flint mineshafts, was a permanently settled community with a mixed farming economy during the Mid-Late Bronze Age (c. 1400 BCE – c. 800 BCE).

Cattle Tooth with enamel sequentially sampled for isotope analysis
Cattle tooth with enamel sequentially sampled for isotope analysis

The aim of this study was to investigate, through isotope ratio analysis (87Sr/86Sr, δ13C and δ18O), the origins and husbandry of Bronze Age cattle (Bos taurus) excavated from a mineshaft known as the “1972 shaft”. Strontium isotope ratios from the molar enamel of ten Grimes Graves cattle were compared with eight modern animals from the Chillingham Wild White cattle herd, Northumberland.

The range of 87Sr/86Sr values for the modern cattle with known restricted mobility was low (0.00062) while the values for the Grimes Graves cattle varied much more widely (range = 0.00357) and suggest that at least five of the cattle were not born locally. Two of these animals were likely to have originated at a distance of ≥150 km.

Cattle mandible - occlusal (biting surface) view
Cattle Mandible – occlusal (biting surface) view

Intra-tooth δ13Cprofiles for eight of the Grimes Graves cattle show higher δ13Cvalues compared to those of Early Bronze Age cattle from central England. Most of these profiles also display pronounced shifts in δ13C during the period of enamel formation.

One possible interpretation is that the cattle were subject to dietary change resulting from movement between habitats with different vegetation δ13C values. More comparative data, both archaeological and modern, is required to validate this interpretation.

The multi-isotope approach employed in this study suggests that certain cattle husbandry and/or landscape management practices may have been widely adopted throughout central Britain during the Mid-Late Bronze Age.

The full report can be downloaded from the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports. You may have to subscribe to the journal if you or your organisation are not members.

Scientific dating research unravels the story of life in prehistoric Orkney


Scientific dating study brings into view how communities in one of the most important Neolithic regions in Western Europe chose to farm, gather together and bury their dead.

Constant and rapid changes in the settlements and monuments indicate communities with rivalries and tensions between households and other social groupings.

A new study, published in Antiquity journal, is challenging the previously understood narrative for prehistoric life on Orkney. It was led by Professor Alex Bayliss of Historic England and is based on the interrogation of more than 600 radiocarbon dates, enabling much more precise estimates of the timing and duration of events in the period c.3200-2500 BC.

The study is part of a much wider project, The Times of Their Lives, funded by the European Research Council (2012–2107;, which has applied the same methodology to a wider series of case studies across Neolithic Europe. That project has demonstrated many other examples of more dynamic and punctuated sequences than previously suspected in ‘prehistory’.

20170908_143202Neolithic Orkney is well-preserved and is a time of stone houses, stone circles and elaborate burial monuments. World-renowned sites such as the Skara Brae settlement, Maeshowe passage grave, and the Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness circles have long been known and are in the World Heritage Site (given this status in 1999). They have been joined by more recent discoveries of great settlement complexes such as Barnhouse and Ness of Brodgar.

The new study reveals in much more detail than previously possible the fluctuating fortunes of the communities involved in these feats of construction and their social interaction. It used a Bayesian statistical approach to combine calibrated radiocarbon dates with knowledge of the archaeological contexts that the finds have come from to provide much more precise chronologies than those previously available.


Professor Alex Bayliss of Historic England, leader of the Orkney study, said: ‘This study shows that new statistical analysis of the large numbers of radiocarbon dates that are now available in British archaeology really changes what we can know about our pasts. People in the Neolithic made choices, just like us, about all sorts of things – where to live, how to bury their dead, how to farm, where and when to gather together – and those choices are just beginning to come into view through archaeology. It’s an exciting time to be an archaeological scientist!’

The study indicates:

  • Orkney was probably first colonised in c. 3600 cal BC[1]. There was an expansion and growth of settlement and building of monuments from c. 3300 cal BC.
  • Settlement peaked in the period c. 3100–2900 cal BC
  • There was a phase of decline c. 2800–2600 cal BC, measured by the number of stone houses in use
  • Settlement resumed in c. 2600–2300 cal BC, but only away from the ‘core’ area of the Brodgar-Stenness peninsula in western Mainland. It was probably about this time that the Ring of Brodgar itself was erected, probably bringing people together from across Orkney but into what was now a sacred, not a domestic, landscape

DSC_0089The study suggests that the period saw competition between communities that was played out in how they buried their dead and in their communal gatherings and rituals. The study also throws up other complexities in the sequence of development on the island:

  • An overlap between the construction of different kinds of burials tombs – passage graves and large stalled cairns – in the later fourth millennium cal BC
  • An overlap between the emergence of the new pottery style, flat-based Grooved Ware, characteristic of the Late Neolithic in Orkney, and the round-based pottery of earlier Neolithic inhabitants
  • The first appearance of the non-native Orkney vole, Microtus agrestis, c. 3200 cal BC. This is significant as it is found today on Orkney and on the European continent but not in mainland Britain. It was probably introduced via direct long-distance sea travel between Orkney and the continent. The study therefore also considers whether new people from continental Europe were part of this complex cultural scenario.

Professor Alasdair Whittle of Cardiff University, Principal Investigator of The Times of Their Lives, said:  ‘Visitors come from all over the world to admire the wonderfully preserved archaeological remains of Orkney, in what may seem a timeless setting. Our study underlines that the Neolithic past was often rapidly changing, and that what may appear to us to be enduring monuments were in fact part of a dynamic historical context.’

Professor Colin Richards of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute in Kirkwall, Orkney, and co-author of the study, said:  ‘Our study shows how much remains to be discovered in Orkney about the Neolithic period, even though it may appear well known. This applies throughout the sequence, including in the period of decline at its end.’

‘Islands of history: the Late Neolithic timescape of Orkney’ Bayliss, A., Marshall, P., Richards, C. and Whittle, A. 2017. Antiquity 91, issue 389 (October 2017), 1171–88. doi:10.15184/aqy.2017.140

[1] cal indicates dates calibrated by radiocarbon dating

Above taken from Historic England Press Release. Research paper available here.


Harvesting Seaweed- Fertilised Bere Barley – Experimental Research Reaps First Results

Field trial

Magdalena Blanz, PhD Student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, is progressing well with her research into Seaweed as Food and Fodder in the North Atlantic Islands: past, present and future opportunities.

For her PhD, Magdalena is investigating the importance of seaweed use in the past, and how traditional use of seaweed can inform modern-day practices. In particular, she is researching how the chemical composition of skeletal remains changes with the consumption of seaweed, to allow the identification of past seaweed consumption.

“After starting my reading for the PhD, I realised that distinguishing between the use of seaweed as animal food and the use of seaweed-fertilised terrestrial plants would be important, and might not be straightforward to do chemically, which is why we did the field trial”, Magdalena describes.

Back in May 2017, Magdalena commenced a field trial in partnership with Orkney College Agronomy Institute and the James Hutton Institute in Dundee – planting bere barley and applying seaweed as a fertiliser in a controlled experiment (see earlier blog post here).

far right is not fertilised
Far right sample of Bere was not fertilised

The bere from the field trial has now been harvested and first results indicate that fertilisation with seaweed worked well: Seaweed-fertilisation doubled the yield of bere barley compared to unfertilised plots. Magdalena is now moving onto the second phase of her research: Identifying the differences in chemical composition caused by fertilisation with seaweed.

Magdalena continues: “If there is a significant difference, the question is if this difference will also affect the chemical composition of the skeletal remains of humans and animals that consume seaweed-fertilised crops, and if there is a potential of finding such differences in archaeological charred cereal remains.”

Magdalena in the field in front of UHI Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI

Many thanks to Dr Peter Martin Orkney, Dr Burkart Dieterich and John Wishart from the Orkney College Agronomy Institute. Magdalena’s supervisors are Dr Ingrid Mainland (UHI Archaeology Institute), Dr Mark Taggart (UHI), Dr Philippa Ascough (SUERC) and Prof Feldmann (University of Aberdeen), and she can be contacted at

If you are interested in pursuing research at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, contact Mary Connolly or see our website.

This research 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.


Applying Archaeology Research

Archaeology is not only concerned with researching the past, but also applying that research to provide insights into present-day issues – such as climate change, food supply and overall change in society.

Last week, Magdalena Blanz, a PhD student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Insitute, commenced a field trial in partnership with Orkney College Agronomy Institute and the James Hutton Institute in Dundee.

Magdalena is researching how seaweed was used in prehistory and how this under-utilised resource could be used in commercial farming in the future. The research is supervised by Dr Ingrid Mainland and is based in Orkney.


If you are interested in postgraduate research at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute then please do not hesitate to get in touch by e-mailing at or see our guide page on this blog.

This PhD studentship is 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

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