Wall lines detected in survey of Rousay landmark

Aerial view of the Wirk, Rousay. (Bobby Friel/@takethehighview)

In September, Sarah-Jane Gibbon and Dan Lee, of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, completed a geophysics survey of the Wirk, Rousay, Orkney.

The goal was to better understand the nature and date of the Wirk, which has variously been interpreted as a 12th century Norse Castle, a hall-house tower, a defensive church tower and a 16th century tower and range.

The survey was funded by the Castle Studies Trust and carried out by the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA).

Find out what the results revealed here.

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.

UHI Archaeology Institute Team Return to Skaill Farm

View looking across the Skaill Farmstead site

Next week commencing 8th July 2019, a team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute will return to dig at the fascinating Skaill Farmstead site on the Orkney island of Rousay.

The team of UHI students, Rousay residents and volunteers will once again be led by Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dr Jen Harland, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon and Dan Lee from the UHI Archaeology Institute. They will together continue the project to investigate this farm and settlement mound which may have been inhabited for over 1000 years.

UHI Student Sam Golder at the Skaill Farm dig, Rousay

The dig is part of the Landscapes of Change – Archaeologies of the Rousay Clearances and Westness Estate project which is now in its 5th season. The aim of the project is to explore the farmstead at Skaill from the Norse period to its abandonment in the nineteenth century. The present farm at Skaill dates to the 18-19th centuries and was part of the Rousay clearances during the mid-19th century; however the name Skaill suggests the site was home to a Norse hall or drinking hall, and was a high status site. Westness is mentioned in Orkneyinga saga as the home of Sigurd, a powerful chieftain, so it is likely that a Norse settlement is located somewhere at Skaill. Earlier structures have been found below the present farm last year, and this season we plan to explore more of the Norse and possible Viking phases of the site.

The site is open to the public from 8th July to 26th July and everyone is welcome to visit. Tours are available and archaeologists will be on site most weekdays. Open Day is on Sunday 21st July 2019.

The dig is located on the island of Rousay near the Midhowe Broch. Park in the layby for the broch and walk down the hill until you reach the sea. Turn left and follow the coast until you reach us at Skaill Farmstead! You will need to take the ferry from Orkney Mainland. Check out the ferry timetable before you go.

Check out previous blog posts on the site here.

Egilsay Archaeology Day – 1st July 2019

St Magnus Kirk, Egilsay

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute archaeologists Dan Lee, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon and Dr Jen Harland will be holding a day of informal talks, workshops and field walks celebrating the rich archaeology of the Orkney island of Egilsay.

The island is renowned as the site of St Magnus’ martyrdom in the early 12th Century, but has numerous sites dating from the Neolithic to the present day.

The day will start at 10am at the community hall and then progress to a guided field walk around the sites. The workshop is timed so that folk can catch the ferry from Mainland Orkney or Rousay. Booking the ferry 24 hours before sailing is advisable by ringing the Tingwall office on 01856 731360. The ferry timetable is available here.

The timetable has now been confirmed as follows:

Community Hall

  • 10.00 Welcome
  • 10.15 short talks/discussion
  • 11.00 Hands-on archaeology activity
  • 12.30 Lunch break

Field Trips

  • 13.30 St Magnus Kirk visit
  • 14.30 Skaill walk and survey
  • 16.00 Finish

Everyone is welcome, whether you have archaeology experience or not, and there is no charge for the workshop, talks and field walk. Bring a packed lunch, good boots, warm clothes and some waterproofs just in case an Orkney shower decides to amble past.

If you are interested in taking part then please contact studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or ring Mary on 01856 569225

Supported by:

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.

20170711_212132
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.