Creating Links between Orkney and Europe

Signing the Memorandum of Understanding. at Midhowe Broch. Prof Jane Downes (UHI), Professor Eszter Banffy (DAI), OIC Convener Harvey Johnston
Signing the Memorandum of Understanding. L to R Professor Jane Downes (UHI Archaeology Institute) Professor Eszter Banffy (DAI) and OIC Convener Harvey Johnston

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.

All Eyes on Rousay. Major International Archaeology Projects Commence in Rousay, Orkney

Midhowe Broch
Midhowe Broch, Rousay, Orkney

The island of Rousay in Orkney is renowned for the wealth of its archaeology; so much so that it is known as the Egypt of the North.

Over the next few weeks a team of archaeologists from around the world are assembling on Rousay to help unlock some of the questions still remaining about the distant past of this mysterious place.

Starting on the 16th April, an internationally renowned team from the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Römisch-Germanische Kommission (DAI) based in Berlin, together with archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute will begin the largest geophysics survey of the island to date. The first phase of the project will continue for two weeks, with the results connecting many of the sites researched by the UHI Archaeology Institute, the University of Bradford, and Historic Environment Scotland.

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Looking across from Rousay to Mainland Orkney.

Professor Jane Downes, director of the UHI Archaeology Institute said, “We are very pleased and excited to be involved in this major international project on Rousay and we are looking forward to seeing the results from the cutting-edge geophysics technology that the team from DAI have brought with them. This will make a substantial contribution to the “Boyne to Brodgar” programme- an Irish/Scottish Neolithic research project. This fieldwork forms one of a whole series of projects happening on the island over the next two weeks including the ‘Gateway to the Atlantic Workshop’ that this week will bring together archaeological scientists working particularly on coastal erosion, climate change and heritage in the North Atlantic and Arctic, and the following week continues an archaeological survey involving experts from Historic Environment Scotland and UHI Archaeology Institute students. We are signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the DAI, for partnership working longer term. It is indeed an exciting time for archaeology in Orkney.”

Dr Alison Sheridan (National Museums Scotland) and Professor Gabriel Cooney (University College Dublin) of the Boyne to Brodgar Initiative added that, ““We are absolutely delighted and honoured that the DAI team have come to Orkney to undertake their survey on Rousay. With this work, and the survey that they already carried out in the Boyne Valley in Ireland, the team are contributing enormously to the Boyne to Brodgar research initiative to understand Neolithic people, their monuments and their interactions in Britain and Ireland”.

Background to the Events on Rousay
Orkney – Gateway to the Atlantic: Rousay Workshop
19th and 20th April 2018
Venue: Rousay Community School

The UHI Archaeology Institute are hosting an international workshop on the island of Rousay, 19-20th April 2018. This workshop is organised on a multi-disciplinary basis bringing together colleagues who are working on a similar range of issues in the North Atlantic region, and in comparative islands environments. We aim to examine sustainability, resilience through time and work towards understanding impacts of climatic and environmental change. This meeting will provide an opportunity to catch up on existing projects, and an impetus and basis for planning further in-depth collaborations and projects.

Organisers: Professor Jane Downes (Director of the UHI Archaeology Institute), Dr Ingrid Mainland (Curriculum Leader and Programme Leader for MLitt Archaeological Studies) Julie Gibson (County Archaeologist for Orkney and Lecturer in Archaeology)

Boyne to Brodgar Project
This major archaeological project aims to develop the understanding of early people in Scotland and Ireland and place within a wider European and global story. Through the study of prehistoric monuments, Boyne to Brodgar aims to increase awareness of and engagement with an early chapter in Scotland’s history. Outreach and community archaeology projects are planned across Ireland and Scotland which will help people to understand their shared heritage.

Memorandum of Understanding
A memorandum of Understanding will be signed between Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Römisch-Germanische Kommission (DAI), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Orkney College UHI in which the three organisations confirm their willingness to co-operate and may include:
• The exchange of personnel
• Joint research projects and workshops
• Technical support and training
• Other joint projects which will be specified at a later date.

A Summer of Archaeology in Rousay

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Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Land and Sea: Exploring Island Heritage, Past and Present.

Dan Lee, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dr Jen Harland and Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute together with a team of local volunteers and school children embarked on a programme of archaeology in Rousay, Orkney over the summer 2017.

Rousay’s Summer of Archaeology culminated in a host of activities along the west shore during July. Excavations were carried out at the coastally eroding site at Swandro (by a team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute & University of Bradford) and at Skaill farmstead.

Together, the work at these sites aims to explore the remarkable deep time represented along the west shore; from the Neolithic, Iron Age, Pictish, Viking and Norse periods to the 19th century clearances. Work at these sites framed a series of community activities and workshops including test pit excavation at Skaill, training placements for Rousay residents, metalworking workshop, bones and environmental workshop, experimental archaeology, and open days at the two excavations. Over the month, the sites received hundreds of visitors, from Rousay and all over the world.

Chrissie and her test pit containing Norse midden

Excavations at Skaill farmstead were undertaken within the middle two weeks of July. The results of the geophysical survey in 2015 showed potential earlier features below the present 18/19th century farmstead. Subsequent test pits in 2016 identified several earlier structural phases below the farmhouse, including a wall with two outer stone faces and midden core, which is likely to date to the Norse period. The site represents a small ‘farm mound’ where successive phases of building, levelling and rebuilding give rise to a low mound.

The aim this season was to establish the extent and character of the farm mound, and the depth, quality and date of any deposits and structures in order to better understand the site for more detailed investigation. A line of 1m by 1m test pits at 10m intervals were excavated in two transects across the mound. The natural underlying glacial till was located at the northern, western and southern edges of the mound helping us to define the extent of surviving archaeology.

Ornate moulded red sandstone

In the centre of the mound, deep stratified deposits were found. These are likely to be over 2m in depth. Post-medieval deposits were found to overlay a distinctive Norse horizon. Norse pottery, fish bone, shell midden and elaborate red sandstone mouldings were found in the earlier horizons. The moulded red sandstone is significant, indicating high status buildings in the area during the late medieval period, and may help provide insights into the ornate red sandstone fragments nearby at The Wirk and on Eynhallow. Evidence for metal working, in the form of iron slag, has also been recovered from Skaill. Significant assemblages of animal bone, fish bone and pottery from the 17-19th centuries were also recovered. These will help us understand farming and fishing practices during the last few hundred years.

Planning the remains of the barn in Trench 2

To the north of the farmhouse, a small trench across a former 19th century barn was reopened and extended, showing the external wall footings and internal flagged floor. The building was demolished between 1840 and 1882 during a time when the farmstead was cleared and ceased to operate. In addition, a small evaluation trench across a suspected field boundary to the south of the barn was reopened from last season and completed. This contained a stone-lined drain and midden enhanced soil, indicating that earlier buried structures could be widespread at the site. Indeed, all of the earthworks that fell within one of the test pits contained structural remains such as walls.

Visitors!

Over the two weeks, Skaill received nearly 150 visitors, with 70 visitors over the test pit weekend. Several local children helping dig the test pits. Overall the season was a great success; helping raise the profile of the island, opening up the site to so many folk and increasing our understanding of the Skaill and Westness story.

The project has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant and additional funding form the OIC Archaeology Fund.