‘More opportunities to grow and learn’ at UHI Archaeology Institute

Fredrik and UHI Archaeology Institute students extending Trench X at the Ness of Brodgar in 2019. (Jo Bourne)

Time for another “student story” – this time from Fredrik Fongen, who relocated to Orkney, from Norway, to study at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. Here he explains why…

Fredrik Fongen

I came to Orkney College UHI on an Erasmus exchange from Norway and decided to stay. I did excavation skills and was part of the dig at the Ness of Brodgar in the summer before the semester started as part of my exchange. I was already then sold on coming here for a year.

It didn’t take long before I saw it as a perfect opportunity to transfer and maybe rather go back to Norway for a Masters.

I thought the flexibility and difference in what I could study, and the experience and expertise in the archaeology department in Orkney, as a wonderful opportunity.

I feel that a four-year degree gives me more opportunities to grow and learn from the many great teachers on staff in the UHI Archaeology Institute compared to the Norwegian three-year BA program.

I’m very happy with my choice so far and looking forward to Covid ending and getting back in the field.

Interested in studying archaeology? Orkney is the place to be

Holly excavating at The Cairns in 2015, alongside site director and UHI Archaeology Institute lecturer Martin Carruthers. (Tim Winterburn)

After graduating from the University of the Highlands and Islands with a BA (Hons) in archaeology in 2016, Holly Young returned to the UHI Archaeology Institute in 2019 to undertake a Masters…

Holly in Structure Ten at the Ness of Brodgar. (Jo Bourne)

Since a fairly young age I have always had an interest in history and archaeology.

Hailing from the Scottish Borders, I moved to Orkney after finishing High School due to the excellent skills of the UHI rep at our university fair, who said that if you wanted to study archaeology, Orkney was the place to be.

Since then, any mention of my course, and where I study, has been met with a similar comment.

Studying archaeology in Orkney is a one-of-a-kind experience due to the outstanding quality of the resources available as well as the sheer quantity of it. The Archaeology Institute is a great place to study as the tutors are able to offer a lot more help, one-on-one, creating a real sense of support. During my time in Orkney, I developed a real enjoyment of Scottish prehistory.

After graduating from my undergraduate degree in 2016, I went on to work for Cotswold Archaeology for three years. This gave me the opportunity to not only experience the archaeology you don’t get in Orkney, i.e the Romans, who are just everywhere down there, but gave me the chance to travel to parts of the UK I would have been unlikely to visit otherwise.

I was based in Gloucestershire but stayed in Suffolk for ten months while working on a large pipeline job for a windfarm. It was a great experience – not only excavating new archaeology but also to the way that commercial archaeology works in comparison to more research-based excavations.

Excavating at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney, in 2019. (Jo Bourne)

I left CA in 2019 to come back to Orkney to do my masters degree. Since then I’ve found a new passion, which is the study of marine molluscs. Their exploitation and appearance in archaeological contexts is so often overlooked and undervalued in archaeology so it’s been a total joy to unpick the shell assemblage from The Cairns excavation in South Ronaldsay and to see just how much information can be recovered from this unassuming resource. Also, let’s face it, shells are cool!

I’m now currently in the process of applying to do a PhD to continue the work I’ve done in the course of my Masters.

If you want to know more about studying archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, email studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk  or see our website

Thumbs up from archaeology students in annual satisfaction survey

UHI Archaeology Institute lecturer Martin Carruthers (left) with postgraduate students. (Tim Winterburn)

Students have given their experience with the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute a definite thumbs-up.

The 2020 National Student survey shows that overall satisfaction for undergraduate archaeology students was 92.3 per cent. The Scottish average was 85 per cent.

Meanwhile, the 2020 Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey revealed that student satisfaction was 88 per cent compared to a Scottish average of 78 per cent.

Welcoming the survey findings, director of the UHI Archaeology Institute, Professor Jane Downes, said: “The positive survey results are great news and testament to the hard work and dedication of the Archaeology Institute’s teaching staff.”

Mairead Morgan, a fourth-year BA (Hons) archaeology student said: “The teaching staff have been so encouraging and supportive, and their enthusiasm has both encouraged and inspired my own interest in archaeology.”

If you want to know more about studying archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, email studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk  or see our website

Fitting study around work, from anywhere in the world…

Ailsa at work in the field.

Ailsa Westgarth is a project manager at a commercial archaeology company with offices in Scotland and England. She is currently undertaking an MLitt in archaeological studies, fitting her course work around her day job.

Thanks to the wonder of 1990’s television that was Time Team, I knew from the age of 12 that I was going to be an archaeologist and that’s exactly what I did. I’m pleased to say I still have the same passion for the subject I did back then!

After studying archaeology at University of Bradford, I started work in developer-led archaeology. My commercial career has given me the chance to work all over the UK on a wide variety of types of site and periods. I’ve been lucky enough to work on sites on Hadrian’s Wall, excavate mammoth tusks and handaxes in Norfolk, find a “lost” late Saxon burial ground in Oxfordshire  and a Mesolithic flint scatter in Cumbria among many others.

I decided to study at UHI because I wanted to improve my knowledge of Scottish archaeology, having mainly worked in England, and I loved the fact I could fit in my studies around work, log in from anywhere in the UK, while getting to choose to take modules based on some of my interests.

I really don’t think I could choose a favourite period so the MLitt Archaeological Studies has let me learn more without trying to choose one area of study.

I was really nervous enrolling and worried about studying and writing essays for the first time in 18 years, but everyone in the department was really helpful and supportive – happy to give advice and feedback to help me build confidence in my abilities.

I’m part way through my second year and the department has been amazing, helping support me in my studies around my move back to England and into a project manager role.

Studying at UHI has also really helped with my day job, in ways I didn’t expect! My general writing and understanding of research skills have really improved and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the digital analysis module and look at the ways I can use digital techniques and datasets to supplement the data gained in the field.

If you want to know more about studying archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, email studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk  or see our website

Studying archaeology ‘was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,’ says Gerry

Gerry Gillies (front row, right) with some fellow UHI Archaeology Institute students and excavators/students from around the world during the operation to extend Trench X at the Ness of Brodgar in 2019.

Perth-based Gerry Gillies on his time as a mature student with the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

My name is Gerry and I’m a (very) mature student in my third year of a B.Sc. (Hons) in Archaeological Science. I went to university when I was just turned 17 and made a bit of a mess of it. Some young students take to it straight away, but I was a bit rebellious and not really interested in the subjects I’d chosen.

Many years later I saw this course and thought: “If only this was around when I was young” and then “Why not now?”

It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Gerry taking levels at the Ness of Brodgar excavation in Orkney.

Because of family commitments, I couldn’t move to Orkney so I’m studying out of Perth, which has been fine, especially seeing my fellow students during the week for a bit of mutual support. I’ve missed that this year but hope we’ll be back to normal in 2021-22.

Comparing this time around to when I was young the two main differences I’ve found are how friendly, approachable and supportive the teaching staff are and the enthusiasm of the students for the subject. It’s been a breath of fresh air. There has also been plenty of that on the field trips and field schools and I’ve been lucky enough to be on digs at both The Cairns and the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney.

Excavating Trench X at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney.

I’ve become especially interested in landscape archaeology and the Scottish Mesolithic and there is flexibility and encouragement here to pursue your own passions while still getting a good grounding in all areas and eras.

I’m loving my time so far and I’d strongly encourage anyone who missed out or messed up when younger to go for it. You won’t regret it.

Why should the young have all the fun?

If you want to know more about studying archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, email studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk  or see our website