Team to Start Dig at Cata Sand

20160229_164816The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with the University of Central Lancashire to begin excavation at the exciting site at Cata Sand on Sanday, Orkney.

The dig will commence on the 14th August and continue until the 8th September 2017 and will investigate the geophysical responses and midden deposits that were located  when the team visited previously. The details of the work can be viewed in blog posts here and here.

The excavation team includes Prof Colin Richards, Prof Jane Downes, Christopher Gee from the UHI Archaeology Institute and Dr Vicki Cummings from UClan in addition to participants from the Sanday Archaeology Group, University of Cambridge, and students from UHI and UCLan, but involves specialists from as far away as the School of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, Galicia, Spain.

The site will present challenges of its own for the archaeologists as the structural remains are literally located on a sandy beach and, although breathtakingly beautiful, is exposed to all that the North Atlantic can throw at it. Erosion by wind and tide are just two of the issues facing the team and everyone is hoping for good weather over the next few weeks.

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The site was discovered in November 2016 by Prof Jane Downes, Prof Colin Richards and Christopher Gee of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Dr Vicki Cummings of the University of Central Lancashire. A provisional survey showed a substantial settlement complex, which could be late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age (between c. 2500-2000 BC) – a period of massive social and possibly political change in society in Northern Scotland.

The project forms the first stage of a broader 5 year project (Northern Exposure) examining the end/collapse of the Neolithic and beginning of Bronze Age in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland and the plan involves examining sites on Orkney, Shetland and Fair Isle.

The overall project will also record the condition of an eroding stalled cairn on Tresness. This study forms part of The Tombs of the North Project.

We plan to track the developments over the next few weeks here on this blog.


Northern Exposure is a joint University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and University of Central Lancashire project.

Window onto the Early Bronze Age in Orkney.

Professor Colin Richards of the University of Manchester writes about developments at the recently discovered Bronze Age settlement in Orkney

Late February running into early March is never the best of times to undertake archaeological fieldwork in Orkney, but this was when we had planned the further investigations of the stone spreads including stone tools and structural remains along the large stretch of Cata Sands, Tresness, on Sanday.

Our goal was mainly to see whether this material, first located last December actually represented the remains of houses (as we had assumed), or merely working or tool production areas. Together with the Sanday Archaeological group, Professor Jane Downes (University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute), Vicki Cummings (UCLan), Christopher Gee (University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute) and myself (later Tom Dawson and Jo Hambly from SCAPE, and Beccy Jones and Lisa Brown from Historic Environment Scotland) ventured out onto Cata Sands to give the spreads of tools closer inspection and to undertake geophysical survey (looking for midden material).

In typical weather conditions, ranging from snow showers to warm sunshine, many of the discrete spreads of stone tools were found to be all that remained. Nonetheless, among the stones we examined were some beautifully shaped ard points for breaking up the soil and more nebulous long ‘flaked bar’ tools. Either these were just working or production areas or else any houses that once stood there had been completely eroded by the sea and winds and this was all that was left.

Geophysics Cata Sands Structure
Geophysics showing 15m diameter structure.

Now, it may be wondered why the presence of small flints and stones caused us so much pleasure. Well there are several reasons, first, this period (Early Bronze Age) is a bit of a prehistoric mystery in that it marks the time when the majority of the late Neolithic villages such as Skara Brae, Ness of Brodgar – and Pool on Sanday – were abandoned. Why such a dramatic shift in settlement should occur is difficult to interpret although we do see signs of the weather deteriorating at this time, for instance, a layer of wind-blown sand turns up as far inland as the Ring of Brodgar ditch at around 2200 BC. Second, traces of the new areas of settlement have been fairly difficult to find, we know some sites such as Crossiecrown, Mainland and Toftsness, Sanday, continue to be occupied but such sites are rare. Third, for good or bad, contact with Shetland appears more visible through the material remains that we find during this period. It could be said that Early Bronze Age Orcadians turn their heads from mainland Britain and Ireland and look to the north – towards Shetland. As the links between Orkney and Shetland appear to become more formal and time passes, a greater emphasis on land and its control ensues. It is also at this time that stone dykes are erected and infield/outfield agriculture practiced.

In fact, the Cata Sands discovery could not have been timelier because now that the long running Cuween-Wideford landscape project looking at Neolithic settlement on Mainland has finished, a new project – Northern exposure: the end of the Neolithic in Orkney – is just beginning and the new site fits exactly into the time period being examined. Indeed, it could be that many answers concerning what happens at the end of the third millennium BC will come from islands such as Sanday, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that northern isles communities maintained relationships with Shetlanders earlier in the Neolithic than has been previously realised.

We hope to go over to Sanday again quite soon and continue work at the Cata Sands settlement, in collaboration with the Sanday Archaeological Group, and the SCAPE group from University of St Andrews. The landowners Colin and Heather Headworth have been very generous and welcoming, all we need now for further investigations is a period of calm weather and sunshine, as it was an interesting experience seeing the area that had taken days to uncover and clean be completely filled with sand within half an hour or so of a strong northerly wind blowing up!

All photographs courtesy of Colin and Heather Headworth.

Finding The Utrecht

A marine archaeology project led by Kevin Heath of Sula Diving and funded by Orkney Island Council. Research completed by Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA).

Even now the weather in Orkney can cause difficulties for modern ships. With all our sophisticated navigation equipment and ships, vast seas and gale force winds can combine to close down the islands to all communications. Just imagine trying to sail around our beautiful, but treacherous islands while at war – in a small wooden ship – without local knowledge and without weather forecasts. Then imagine heading into mountainous seas with just your skill as a seaman to keep you from smashing against the rocks. That was the reality facing the warship Utrecht in the winter of 1807.

Built in Rotterdam, the Utrecht was part of the Dutch Navy. On 15th February 1807 the 38 gun warship was on it`s first voyage and was one of three frigates that were sailing to Curacao to reinforce the Dutch garrison stationed there against the British. The vessel was driven off course in a blizzard and was stranded off the North coast of Sanday with a recorded loss of 50 – 100 men. The remaining crew and soldiers came ashore and were stripped of their valuables by the islanders. A detachment of soldiers proceeded to Sanday where they found the survivors “in great distress… objects of pity rather than fear… [who]… had delivered themselves to the authorities in Orkney”. The survivors were brought to Kirkwall where they were briefly imprisoned at a makeshift prisoner of war camp at Gaitnip. They were subsequently taken to Leith where some of them joined the Royal Navy. The remaining survivors were returned home to Holland.

The project aims to build on previous work that located and conducted a preliminary assessment of the remains of the Dutch Frigate Utrecht, which was stranded off the Holmes of Ire, Sanday in 1807.

The remains of the Utrecht represent a unique resource in Orkney waters. The Utrecht is the only vessel of its type known to have sunk in Orkney waters – the closest equivalent being the remains of The Svecia off North Ronaldsay.

The second phase of this project recorded and planned the extent of the site and its artefacts. This would provide an invaluable baseline by which to monitor the wreck site, deterring high risk activities such as the site being plundered before protection measures are instigated. Recording the remains of the vessel through completion of this project contributes to local and national heritage management strategies e.g. Historic Scotland’s Strategy for the protection, management and promotion of marine heritage 2012 – 15, and the Scottish Historic Environment Policy. This project also carried out side scan and magnetometer surveys in order to define the extent of the wreck site. The archaeological dive team carried out site analysis; producing an archaeological record, wreck site and artefact distribution plan.

An illustrated report will be produced and lodged with the relevant local and national bodies. The initial display at the Sanday Heritage Centre will also be added to, using data from the project to highlight the story of The Utrecht.

A 3D model using photogrammetric software will be created of the wreck site elements; this will raise the profile of the wrecksite and will provide an interactive tool to encourage diver tourism in the Outer Islands.

Although the story of the shipwreck has been recorded in local archive sources and regional shipwreck anthologies, the location of the remains and associated artefacts were unknown until discovery during the initial phase of this project. There are several conflicting reports about the size of the vessel, the numbers of crew and passengers and the number of people who lost their lives as a result of this stranding – conflicts that will only be resolved by more detailed desk-based assessment and further investigation of the wreck site.

Click through to video of the cannon discovered in situ.

Thanks to :

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Community Mapping Walk

The walk meets at 2pm at the Stones of Stenness car park on Sunday 6 March. Transport between the two sites will be provided – so no need to walk both ways. For more information please contact the Orkney Rangers on 01856 841 732 or email sandra.miller@hes.scot

Orkney locals are being invited to take part in a fun, organised walk through the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage site, as part of a project to create a ‘Community Map’ – which will record memories, sounds, stories and smells, rather than just the conventional roads and directions.

The finished map will be available online as a free download so that people can learn what matters to Orcadians about their World Heritage Site, and the hope is to produce a print leaflet version in future. 

The walk takes place on Sunday 6 March, and is being organised by Historic Environment Scotland and Dan Lee of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, based at Orkney College. The stroll is aimed at people of all ages, who will be led by the World Heritage Site Rangers through the landscape between the stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar.

Alice Lyall, World Heritage Site coordinator for Historic Environment Scotland said: “We know that the World Heritage Site means a lot to the Orkney Community, so I would encourage them to come and tell us specifically what aspects are important to them, and why. The community map concept is a great way to do this, as it is a medium which allows feelings and ideas to be expressed and recorded in an accessible and engaging way.”

“As well as being a worthwhile project, the walk will be led by our expert guides, and promises to be a lot of fun, so why not come along and share your favourite memories?”

As well as Sunday’s walk, Stenness Primary School at the West Mainland Day Centre will be contributing their memories and experiences to the map.

Historic Environment Scotland

 

Research Paper Published

Sanday

Ingrid Mainland (second author) has had a paper published enitled : Calving Seasonality at Pool, Orkney during the first millennium AD : An investigation using intra tooth isotope ratio analysis of cattle molar enamel.

Abstract : The identification of dairying is essential if we are to understand economies of the past, particularly in northwest Europe, where a high degree of lactose tolerance suggests that fresh milk has long been asignificant food product. This paper explores a possible link between economic focus and seasonality of calving. Although cattle can breed throughout the year, animals living in termperate regions with minimal or no human management tend to breed seasonally, their breeding behaviour being strongly influenced by the availability of food. In order to achieve a year-round supply of fresh milk in the past, it is likely that multiple-season calving was necessary, which would have required additional husbandry effort.

Alternatively, for meat-focussed economies or those based on storable dairy products, a strategy of single-season calving in spring may have been favoured to maximise the utilisation of spring and summer vegetation. Cattle birth seasonality is invetigated through isotope ratio analysis of tooth enamel. Results for cattle from Pool, Orkney dating to the latter part of the first millennium AD suggest that calving occurred during at least three seasons implying that the continuous provision of fresh milk was of economic importance.

The full paper can be accessed below :

Ingrid Mainland Calving Seasonality at Pool

More Finds on Sanday

Braving the weather on Sanday, Chris managed to take some quick shots of the newly discovered Bronze Age settlement complex. It was blowing a sandstorm at the time so please excuse the quality ! But they are interesting nonetheless.

The first photograph shows a short section of curving wall with the top edge of an upright stone, c0.60m in length, roughly parallel to, presumably, the inside wall face. Just behind the photographer another slightly curving wall face, visible for c2m, was traced among the beach stone and shingle. Reddish brown midden deposits containing shell and bone were also observed close to these features.

The second photograph shows one of several raised ridges of shingle which extend underneath the sand dunes to the east. In the foreground of the photograph can be seen a curving ridge of stone which may represent the remains of a building. Modern vehicle tracks cross the image diagonally. Stone tools including ard points, struck cobbles, Skaill knives and stone bars were visible at this location and along the length of the beach.

Ard points are round section flagstones pointed at one end. Many have been chipped and pecked to shape. Ard points were used as stone shares on ploughs without a mouldboard. They passed through the soil breaking it up. Ard points are familiar at Bronze Age sites, and interestingly are also found associated with barrows and burial mounds from that period.

The third photograph shows two “earthfast” sub-rectangular stones to the right of Vicky. These may form part of a building entrance.