A Year in the Life of Perth College Archaeology & History Soc

Perth College UHI archaeology student Corrie Glover writes about the exciting activities Perth Archaeology and History Society organised in 2019.

Perth Archaeology & History Society was established in October 2018 to allow Perth students to raise funds for conferences, lectures and field trips.

Without realising, the Society has become a family of like-minded individuals willing to discuss class topics, twitter debates, pottery, shell middens, the joys of neat trench edges, excavating beetles and which hill fort is best suited for defence against a zombie apocalypse. 

2019 was a brilliant year to be an Archaeology student in Perth College UHI. The society members organised Culloden Memorial Evening – a night of guest speakers, Irn Bru, bagpipes and showing of the 1964 classic ‘Culloden’ – in the hopes of raising enough money for a field trip. The society was commended and it’s efforts recognised at the Perth OBI awards where we were presented with Best Society and Best Student Led Event, much to our surprise! 

While the society took a break over the summer, our members kept the spirit of the society alive at excavations at the Cairns, Ness of Brodgar and King’s Seat before reuniting at the Scottish Crannog Centre in October. ​

Trench T at the Ness of Brodgar, July 2019

With a refreshed committee, plans were made for Darroch Bratt to make his way to Perth and give a public talk about his PhD research into the Archaeology of Whisky, a combination which the Society fully endorses! (Available on Brightspace soon!) 

PhD student Darroch Bratt, Skaill Farm, Rousay. His PhD title is: The Origins and History of Distilling & Whisky Production in the Scottish Highlands and Islands: An Historical & Archaeological Approach.

Challenging ourselves further we took a plunge into the depths of academia and invited Dr Andy Heald to Perth College UHI. Andy gave a lively presentation titled ‘Living and Dying in Iron Age Caithness’ which left most of us speechless and considering our next field trip to Caithness. (Also available on Brightspace soon!)

Bob Carchrie

2020 is now upon us and another public talk is being planned (follow our Facebook for more info!) We have plans to attend a SCARF workshop, the Scottish Student Archaeology Conference in Glasgow University, UHI’s Student Archaeology Conference, PKARF, TAFAC, Pictish Arts Society Lectures, First Millennia Studies Group as well as more field trips!

If you are based at Perth College UHI and would like to join us get in touch at uhi.pahs@gmail.com, follow us on Facebook and Twitter or join us for our weekly blether. On 6th February 2020 we will welcome the Caithness Broch Project where they will talk about Tall Towers with Grass Roots. See the Eventbrite link for more https://www.eventbrite.com/o/uhi-perth-archaeology-amp-history-society-27999009653

Best wishes, 

Corrie Glover 
Chairperson UHI Archaeology & History Society 

The Hidden Histories of the Ness of Brodgar

The Mystery Trench T at the Ness of Brodgar

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute MSc student Will Lowe is undertaking his work placement with us in the Marketing Department here at Orkney College.

As part of his project Will is looking at post excavation processes and the ways in which information is shared across both the academic and wider community.

Over to Will……

Hi everyone! My name is William Lowe and I’m a MSc student at the University of the Highlands and Islands and in this blog post I will be writing about the 2019 Ness of Brodgar dig and some of its discoveries. Now for those who don’t know what the Ness of Brodgar is, it is an extensive Neolithic site in the centre of an area known as the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney”, a world heritage site situated on the mainland of the Orcadian archipelago.

If you are interested in reading up on the site I would recommend either the team’s daily blog or even the National Geographic article on the Ness of Brodgar

Bone unearthed from Structure 27 in Trench T at the Ness of Brodgar

The aim of this blog is to show off some of the finds made this year and how by carefully examining them we can piece together the overall history of this site and the people connected to it. In order to do that I have selected 3 finds in particular.

For the first objects I will disregard the rule that I just set and discuss two objects in particular, these are a piece of bone and a piece of pot that were discovered in the new area, known as Trench T…the “mystery trench”. These may seem like mundane finds compared to some others, but sometimes it is these mundane objects that tell the best stories. They were found in Structure 27, a new structure that has no parallels on the site, let alone Scotland!

Pottery sherd from Structure 27 Ness of Brodgar

These objects were part of the “trash” from the rest of the site that was thrown in the structure after it was abandoned, but not put out of use it seems. The mound was far larger than what the diggers first envisaged, so much so that it must have been clearly visible from far away, and Cristina, the trench supervisor, believes this was done on purpose in order to show off to whomever was in the vicinity!

Macehead unearthed at the Ness of Brodgar

The second object is a macehead that was found on Friday. It is a stunning find that was never finished, which is unfortunately a mystery we don’t know the answer to. What we do know is that it’s made out of olivine basalt, which may be from another Orkney island to the south-west called Hoy. This is important because it shows that the inhabitants were being extremely selective about their rocks. Similarly other objects from previous seasons known as a “pitchstone” – a volcanic glass from the island of Arran several hundred miles to the SW of Orkney and similar to obsidian was knapped using a technique similar to that found in south Scotland, showing the links the site had and how far they spanned.

An example of a decorated stone found earlier this year at the Ness of Brodgar

The last object is a decorated stone. A myriad of decorations have been found in the past years by Nick and his team, and although similar decorations have been found in Maeshowe, they are still a mystery. Maybe as we find more and through a little research, we will be able to discover more about their hidden histories!

If you are inspired to take the plunge and apply for an undergraduate or postgraduate course with us at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute then drop us a line on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or give us a ring on 01856 569229 and ask for Sean. If I’m not there then leave a message on my voicemail and I’ll get back to you.

UHI Archaeology Students Work Placement Experience

Placement with the Arran Rangers at Brodick Castle

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute undergraduate programme offers a professional placement in a commercial or academic organisation.

This provides students with the vital experience of working in the often demanding environment of an organisation and we believe equips students with an insight into the requirements of an employer.

Stromness Museum. Photo: Marzagalli

This year, eight of our third year undergraduate students opted for the module that included a placement of several weeks in heritage and commercial archaeology organisations across Scotland. The students themselves had an opportunity to suggest areas of interest in which to work and in collaboration with their tutors narrowed down potential employers likely to offer placements.

Helping to maintain the Bronze Age Roundhouse reconstruction at Brodick Castle

The areas of study were wide ranging and included such diverse organisations as SUERC Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, Stromness Museum, National Trust for Scotland, The Crannog Centre, Alder Archaeology and the Museum of London Archaeology.

I was involved in researching the history of the artefacts in a small museum in Orkney in addition to contributing to the outreach activity with local schools….Because it was a small museum I felt that I had a good opportunity to learn about a wide range of curatorial tasks and this positive experience has led me to consider this path as an eventual career.

Gianluca
Felsite axes examined by Paul on his work experience with Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology

I gained an understanding of the steps required to obtain dates and the strengths and weaknesses of using radiocarbon dating…I found that this placement also gave me the tools to apply to my research requiring dating and chronologies

Gary
Surveying roundhouse remains in Arran

After the placement…..I developed a broader understanding of the various sites within the local area and the evolution of environmental archaeology within Perth and Kinross….and have a greater understanding of how commercial archaeology works

Kyle

Following their placement the students presented their experience with the group and reflected on how the exercise contributed to their research and career progression.


If you are inspired to take the plunge and apply for an undergraduate or postgraduate course with us at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute then drop us a line on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or give us a ring on 01856 569229 and ask for Sean. If I’m not there then leave a message on my voicemail and I’ll get back to you.

Experimental Archaeology at The Cairns

The Cairns Excavation looking across the ditch to the exterior broch wall

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute student Paul Jack is preparing to start his exciting Carnegie Vacation Scholarship project at The Cairns dig in a few weeks time.

Paul took a few minutes out from his busy day to talk me through his project which will involve working at The Cairns excavation to re-create an Iron Age furnace.

Paul takes up the story, “So, under guidance from Martin Carruthers, I’ll first be building a traditional ‘bowl’ type furnace based upon archaeological examples from Iron Age Britain. The furnace itself will be constructed from local clay and I’ll be using some form of a bag bellows to blow air into the furnace.”

“The plan is then to construct a series of little thumb bowls out of the clay with varying quantities of grass, wood, stone, and hopefully bone as a temper before placing them in the furnace to be fired. This is to examine if the different temper materials affect the properties in such a way that may be beneficial, or detrimental, to the construction of a mould for bronze working. I’ll also use shell so that there is a point of overlap with Bronitsy and Hamer (1986) to compare my results against.”

Two moulds for casting penannular brooches unearthed last year at The Cairns

Paul continued, “There is a section of academia that believe that experimental archaeology should purely be concerned with providing hard data, but there’s been a growing corpus over the past few decades focusing on interpreting the bodily experience through the archaeological record. I want to try and marry this data driven side of experimental archaeology with the experiential side of experimental archaeology.”

The metal working area at The Cairns

“To do this I will be reflecting on the process of constructing the furnace and processing some bog ore. I’ll also be measuring heat within the furnace (as we are doubtful about the possibility of actually being able to smelt some iron ore). This means that my ability to keep a consistent temperature within the furnace will be used as a proxy for the success of our pretend smelt. The difficulty involved in the process coupled with the hard data produced from the temperature of the furnace will be reflected upon and will hopefully lead to a better understanding of the experience of prehistoric metalworking. The research will then progress by converting the bowl type furnace to a short shaft furnace and the whole experiment will be repeated to compare the two different furnace types.”

Bronze pin re-created from the moulds found at The Cairns.

This is of course not the first time that research has been completed concerning metal smithing at The Cairns. Three years ago Ben Price, one of MSc students created a 3D model of a pin and then cast it in bronze, revealing for the first time in 2000 years a metal article that was to be produced at The Cairns. To remind yourself of that ground breaking research check out the blog post here

The Carnegie Trust Vacation Scholarships provide funding for undergraduate students who wish to develop their own research projects over the summer. Students learn how to manage a research project and prepare for postgraduate study and will have the opportunity to see their research results published in academic journals or presented at conferences

UHI Archaeology Students Society Wins Two Awards

The Culloden Memorial. Photo: UHI Student Kath Page

Perth College UHI students gathered on 21st May 2019 to celebrate the prestigious OBI Awards which recognise Outstanding, Best and Inspiring staff and students.

There is a vibrant social side to the student experience at the University of the Highlands and Islands – from social media groups that arrange regular meetings of students to the more traditional clubs and societies. UHI Archaeology student and Chairperson of the Archaeology & History Society, Corrie Glover, talks about the success of one of those university societies………

“Over 120 people attended the event, which was led by HISA Perth President, Prince Honeysett and included guest speakers from NUS and Board of Management.

Part of the Culloden battlefield. Photo: UHI student Sue Dyke

With some categories having over twenty nominations our newly formed Perth Archaeology & History Society did not see ourselves as likely winners. However, the Society, established in October 2018 took home two awards that evening for “Society of the Year” and “Best Student-Led Event”.

Our Society was initially formed for members to help each other find volunteer opportunities, arrange field trips and network with regional employers. However, a community of friends has developed within the Society as we planned our first event ‘Culloden Memorial Evening’ in April 2019. With a small budget we sold tickets for an evening which included a presentation from historian Paul Philippou about origins of Jacobitism, talk from writer Ellen Orrock on the challenges she faces when writing fictionally about Culloden before showing Peter Watkins ‘The Battle of Culloden’ (1964). We patriotically provided Tunnocks and Irn Bru before ending with a local bagpiper.

UHI Archaeology students at the Culloden Battlefield site during a field trip to the area last year. Photo: UHI student Kath Page

The awards were granted to our Society for a truly student-led event which raised the profile of the UHI and the Archaeology degree students who study there. Since the awards Perth Archaeology & History Society has begun to welcome new members both in and out of the UHI as well as plan more trips and events for the new term.

The cottage at Culloden. Photo: UHI student Sue Dyke

We hope to reach out to new degree students in September as well as existing Archaeology and History students and societies across the UHI to collaborate and raise the profile of both these subjects. “

The Team receiving the awards

If you are interested in joining the Archaeology & History Society, then drop Corrie a note using the form below or check out their Facebook page here.

There is also an Archaeology Society at Orkney College UHI if you find yourself living a little further north. They can be contacted on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

The above post was written by UHI Archaeology student Corrie Glover.

UHI Archaeology Students Awarded Carnegie Scholarships

Ness of Brodgar

Congratulations to University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute undergraduates Gary Lloyd and Paul Jack, who have been awarded Carnegie Vacation Scholarships to complete research at the Ness of Brodgar and The Cairns.

The Carnegie Trust Vacation Scholarships provide funding for undergraduate students who wish to develop their own research projects over the summer. Both Gary and Paul submitted their research project design to the Carnegie Trust February and were accepted last week. Students learn how to manage a research project and prepare for postgraduate study. Students will have the opportunity to see their research results published in academic journals or presented at conferences.

Gary at the Ness of Brodgar. Photo: Woody Musgrove

Gary has worked at the Ness of Brodgar as a UHI Archaeology Institute student for the past three years and his research project is examining the Spatulate stone tools excavated from the site. These tools are described as course stone artefacts, but check out the Working Stone website for more details on this category of implement.

Gary said,” The assemblage at the Ness of Brodgar has not been examined as a group and the more complex examples may be unique to the Ness. There are 70+ stone tools that have been labelled as belonging to the Stone Spatula category and I am going to spend eight weeks completing an assessment, recording and cataloguing them, and determine if they have been found elsewhere locally or in the region “

There will be a further blog post detailing Paul’s work at The Cairns very soon….it is also very exciting research and ever so slightly different!!!

Photograph of Gary by kind permission of Woody Musgrove. Check out his website and photographs here. 3D model by kind permission of Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark. See 258 further models on his Sketchfab site here.

Querns, Family Life and Achievement…Mature Student Life @UHI

Mandy examining The Cairns querns in the lab

We were joined a few weeks ago by University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute student Mandy Dailly, who started working in the lab with Martin Carruthers on a research project involving quernstones found at The Cairns.

This is her story in her own words…………

“My name is Mandy and I am a 37-year-old ‘mature’ student in my fourth year of a distance learning BA(hons) in archaeology with UHI. When I started the degree, I was a single parent of three, ranging in age from four to fifteen, and had spent my working career in the care sector. I had been desperate for a change of direction for a long time, for a chance to ‘make something of myself’, but with a family to support it always seemed like too much of a risk to leave the security of a steady job.

Having left school at sixteen with no higher qualifications, I didn’t even really believe that I was capable of studying at degree level. In 2015, changes to my job were just the push that I needed, and I applied to UHI, initially to study for a joint honours in Scottish History and Archaeology. I was terrified and overwhelmed to begin with. I had so little confidence and felt like such a fraud that I very nearly left after about a month. Thankfully one of the history tutors phoned and talked me down off the proverbial ledge. She told me that it was a common issue with mature students that they often try and do everything perfectly, working too hard and putting themselves under too much pressure because they’ve often made considerable sacrifices to be there. She assured me I was doing fine and told me to relax and enjoy it. Returning to study was a big adjustment at first, but I am so grateful to Dr Ritchie for that pep talk because without it I may well have given up.

Lunchtime at the Ness of Brodgar

After second year I attended the practical archaeology field school at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney. It was such an incredible experience on so many levels. Firstly, I was able to see in practice, the things I had been learning about in theory for two years, which was mind-blowing. I learned so much. The Ness is a really special site and is so well set-up for teaching as well as research. Your socks can’t help but be knocked clean off by just being there, let alone actually being allowed to get in amongst it! Also, for the first time in a long time, I was away from home on my own.

It was a logistical juggling act, but my kids were well looked after and while I missed them, for two weeks I was an individual person, doing something I loved in a special place with a great bunch of people. It was so liberating! One of the best things about taking part in these digs is getting to make new like-minded friends and finally meeting people I recognise from the online video conferences and tutors in the flesh. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming. That experience changed everything. I realised that while I enjoyed history, a career in archaeology was what I really wanted. When I returned home, I switched to a single honours in archaeology and am in no doubt that it was the right decision for me.

Cristina with Anna and Mandy at Ness of Brodgar

Fast forward to 2019 and despite stressing about doing as well as possible in my final term, I couldn’t be happier. I have exceeded my wildest expectations in terms of my grades (so far!), and although I still suffer the nagging voice of self-doubt I have way more confidence in my abilities than I did in 2015. This is in no small part due to the incredible teaching staff who are truly inspiring individuals with a real passion for what they do, which really brings out the best in their students. Knowing they believe in you seriously helps you to believe in yourself.

4th year undergraduate student Amanda Dailly (Mandy), Ness of Brodgar, Jul 2018

UHI’s childcare fund gives me extra time to study every week and the Student Development Fund has enabled me to take part in the incredible summer digs. I am truly grateful for every bit of assistance I’ve had over the last three and a half years. I have now applied to study the taught masters in archaeological practice next year, something I could never have imagined myself doing when I started, and so will be moving to Orkney with my family in the summer. I can’t wait!

Obviously, aside from my children, studying with UHI is without a doubt the best thing I have ever done. It has given me an entirely different outlook on life and myself, not to mention some very exciting possibilities for the future for the whole family. I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone thinking of undertaking a degree to go for it, no matter what age you are or how long it has been since you studied. You never know where it could take you. “


If you are inspired to take the plunge and apply for an undergraduate or postgraduate course with us at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute then drop us a line below or give us a ring on 01856 569229 and ask for Sean. If I’m not there then a voicemail will kick in and I’ll get back to you.

UHI PhD Student Magdalena Awarded Prize at AEA Conference

Magdalena presenting her paper at the AEA Conference in Denmark

Magdalena Blanz, PhD Student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, is undertaking research into seaweed as fodder, food and fertiliser in the North Atlantic Islands: past, present and future opportunities.

Magdalena attended the AEA 2018 conference, hosted by the Association for Environmental Archaeology at Moesgaard Museum, near Aarhus, Denmark from 29th November to 1st December 2018.

Magdalena’s paper was  entitled “Recreating past effects of seaweed-fertilisation on the isotopic and chemical composition of barley to further palaeodietary reconstructions” for which she was awarded the prize for best student presentation at the conference.

The research concerns how fertilisation with seaweed changes the chemical and isotopic composition of the barley, and what implications this may have for reconstructing past diets. In this study, barley was fertilised with seaweed, and found an elevation in δ15N values of the seaweed-fertilised crops. This indicates that when we study δ15N values in animal and human remains, the position of the consumers of these crops in the foodchain (i.e. trophic level) may be overestimated if seaweed-fertilisation is not taken into account.

Magdalena receiving her prize

For more information on Magdalena’s research and experimental phase of the project, see her previous blog posts:

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


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 studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or see our guide page on this blog.

Two Field Trips in One Day

Martin Carruthers addresses the group of UHI students near the summit of King’s Seat Hillfort

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology undergraduate and postgraduate students undertake their studies and research from locations across the whole of north Scotland through the use of video conferencing and a virtual learning environment. 

The blended learning approach adopted by UHI also gives students studying archaeology an opportunity to experience work in the field.

Last week, the staff of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute set off to conduct field trips across Scotland in order to give the widest possible number of students experience of outdoor learning.

Students making the descent to Midhowe broch and chambered cairn, Rousay

On Friday 30th November 2018, Dr Scott Timpany together with Martin Carruthers led a group to King’s Seat Fort, Dunkeld in the Highlands of Scotland where, during the summer, a group of UHI Archaeology students were involved in the ongoing excavations at the site. On the same day, and nearly 300 miles north, Professor Jane Downes led an excursion to the ‘Egypt of the North’ island of Rousay, Orkney. The weather was so windy that it was feared that the ferries may be cancelled, but the window of opportunity remained open for a few hours and the teams made it across to collect students from various locations across Scotland.

Students descending the steep hill side from King’s Seat Hillfort

With field booklet in hand, the students from Inverness, Perth, Moray and Argyll Colleges visiting King’s Seat Fort battled their way through the woods surrounding the hilltop site. The weather miraculously cleared to a cold, blue sky day, to allow Martin, Scott and the UHI students who were involved in the excavations at the hillfort to explain the site, the archaeology and the landscape.

Examining the well at the King’s Seat site

King’s Seat Hillfort has been the subject of archaeological investigations by Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust, Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Society, archaeologists from AOC Archaeology and UHI and, according to the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust website, little was known about the site until King’s Seat Archaeology Project started their excavation. Their website continues….”Fragments of crucible, stone and clay moulds used for smelting and casting metal objects were identified suggesting that the site was important in the production of pretige metalwork and may even have been a centre of production in the early historic/Pictish period (c.600-900AD)” The full report can be accessed via the project website.

Approaching Rousay on the ferry.

As the team from the south were scaling the heights of King’s Seat Hillfort, the Orkney contingent approached the Island of Rousay as the clouds gathered ominously above the ferry.

Inside the Midhowe Chambered Cairn building – Professor Jane Downes explains the form and function of the tomb to the students

Driving along the deserted single track road that serves the island, the team soon arrived at the impressive Midhowe Chambered tomb which has been protected from the elements by a huge hangar like building. Once inside, the whole amazing prehistoric structure can be viewed from above from a series of walkways. Back outside in the gathering storm the intrepid group examined the Midhowe Broch which is located literally on the edge of Eynhallollow Sound. Here, Jane explained how such sites can be used as an indicator of how climate change affects coastally eroding archaeology sites and the research being carried out jointly with ICOMOS Climate Change & Heritage Working Group.

Midhowe Broch

The day was concluded with a visit to Taversöe Tuick , Blackhammer and Knowe of Yarso Chambered Cairns while 300 miles south,the students and staff concluded their day in Dunkeld at the local pub for well earned refreshments.

If you would like to explore the possibility of studying and contributing to the research undertaken at the UHI Archaeology Institute at undergraduate or postgraduate level then please either e-mail us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or see our website.

Thanks to Kevin Kerr for photographs of Rousay.

UHI Ross Drummond and the Dunyvaig Castle Dig

The picturesque location of Dunyvaig Castle and excavation site 

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute MSc student, Ross Drummond talks about his work at the Dunyvaig Castle excavation.

Conas atá tú? It’s Ross again, reporting about Part Five of my ‘Summer of Digging’; excavations at Dunyvaig Castle as part of the Islay Heritage Project. This edition is an extra bonus blog, as my Placement with the university only involved 8 weeks of work & excavations; so the extra two weeks experience in Islay rounded off my participation in and interaction with over 5,000 years of Scottish archaeology over the summer.

The three week excavation work at Dunyvaig Castle is part of a much larger and wider project (the Islay Heritage Project), which will involve further excavation work in addition to desk-based and other research methods over the next 10 years; to further investigate Islay’s past and enhance our understanding of it. The director of the Dunyvaig Project is Steven Mithen, a Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading and also the Chair of Islay Heritage; with Darko Maricevic being the director of the Dunyvaig excavation & the Director of Archaeology for Islay Heritage as a whole.

Dunyvaig Castle, located at Lagavulin Bay on the south coast of the Isle of Islay, was once the naval fortress of the Lords of the Isles, the chiefs of Clan MacDonald and the greatest Gaelic Lordship of late Medieval Scotland.

Dunyvaig Castle: a wilder day on site serving as a reminder of the stormy past that the castle has lived through

The Dunyvaig Project will provide a comprehensive study of the castle, its hinterland and role in the economic, social and political history of the Western Atlantic Seaboard. It will transform Dunyvaig into a vibrant heritage centre for the residents and visitors to Islay while maintaining its rugged and romantic appeal.

The main aims of the project were to use the geophysical surveys from 2017 to assist in putting trenches over areas of the highest archaeological potential. Although the castle would be the focal point of the project’s investigation, it didn’t operate on its own; as it was important to get an idea and see evidence of what happened outside the castle walls as well. Resistance surveys were carried out to detect walls and structures, with areas and anomalies darker in colour indicating higher resistance; and more likely to have archaeological remains.

While I was still up in Orkney at the Ness of Brodgar finding those mysterious miniature pots, the team in Islay were working hard opening up this year’s trenches; so by the time I arrived at the start of the second week of the excavation, proceedings were well under way and the three main trenches for this year had been fully exposed.

Upon arrival I was informed I would be working in Trench 1 for the duration of the project under the enthusiastic and experienced guidance of Amanda Clarke. Amanda is an associate professor with the University of Reading and has a wealth of excavation experience and knowledge behind her. She plays a big hand in the running and teaching of a fieldschool involving the University of Reading, having spent many years as director of the Silchester field school in England.

Trench One is located in the castle courtyard and was only previously surveyed by the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments in Scotland (RCAHMS) in the 1970s. Trench One looked to investigate buildings at the either side of the entrance into the courtyard, the entrance area itself, the relationships with the outer walls, possible battlements stairs, evidence for a possible gatehouse and the approach to the main gate. Together with its extension, Trench 1 looked to generate the evidence for the bombardments and the repairs to the outer wall, and investigate one of the outer buttresses postulated by the RCAHMS’ survey.

It was theorised that the castle wall had a ‘double skin’ or two layers of walling, and it was thought that there may be the presence of a staircase in between these two walls. This part of the castle had been bombarded and badly damaged following three major attacks between the 16th and 17th centuries. On the very right of the trench inside the courtyard wall what was known as ‘the well’ but could have been a water system or water latrine. This was poor enough condition upon arrival at the site as farming equipment and metal materials from more recent times had built up inside. Great effort was made to clear ‘the well’ but unfortunately time wasn’t on the team’s side to give a full investigation; so this feature will have to wait until next year to be looked at in-depth. However, ‘the well’ again highlighted the castle as a ‘living monument’; being used for different purposes at different times through its history.

Building B – the latest structure to emerge from Trench One

On the left side of the internal wall of Trench 1 was Building B. This was a late insertion and was propped right up against the courtyard wall, which dates to the 16th century with a later add-on from the 17th century following demolition in the bombardments. The earlier layers were made up of clay and the later layers made up of mortar, with the clay bonded walls being a rare find in construction dating to this time period. The external area of Trench One at the back of the courtyard wall (on outside) showed the make-up of the wall and indicated several layers. The presence of turf in this area was built on top of earlier wall material and is thought to have plugged the gap and been a quick-fix following attacks on the castle.

Trench Two looked to target the sea gate to establish what activities were undertaken in this area and how the sea gate itself was used at different times. An electrical resistance survey carried out months prior to the excavation did not identify any further substantial structures in this area, which suggests that the direct access to the sea may have been important throughout the history of the castle. There were three main phases in Trench Two. The first phase involved the ramp, which provided access in & out of the Seagate. Initial thoughts are that this seems to be a probable structural slipway, but further excavation next year will give us a better insight. The trench had evidence for structural collapse or dumping, found in the presence of rubble; which was covered by the turf blocking of the Seagate.

There was a seal horizon of clay which appeared to level the ground; with this turf wall blocking off the sea gate and bringing its use to an end at some point in time. The second phase was indicated by the presence of a few walls. Signs of a possible double wall which was mainly built of rubble and turf but not much mortar; and all walls appeared to exist together at some point in time. The third phase was indicated by an intense period of burning.

Wall in Trench 2 along with some areas of intense burning

Trench Three was made up of a series of smaller trenches, located several hundred yards outside the castle walls; which looked to investigate the wider landscape of the settlement outside of the castles interior. Visitors to the site would have noticed ridge and furrows and other earthworks above ground level which indicted the presence of buildings or other archaeological related material beneath the overgrowth; so the nature of some of these were also examined. Trench Three revealed the remains of a rectangular T-shaped building, with burning in the trench also possibly suggesting evidence for an oven or a kiln. It appears that the building had burned down at some stage, with a red material laying on top of the building surface. However, whether this was deliberate or accidental is currently difficult to tell. There was evidence for a house which went out of use in the 17th century. There were also finds of pottery but none of the pieces discovered dated after the 17th century. The finds of pottery suggest people may have been supportive of the castle and that the pottery indicates the castle as a trading place.

One of the buildings in Trench Three along with the possible oven/kiln in the foreground

However, the site wasn’t without some prehistoric evidence as Trench Three also provided the find of a prehistoric blade. This find highlights the attractiveness of the location in the wider environment and shows the site was an area of settlement long before the castle was built. Geophysics carried out in the area also suggested a possible road and a number of structures and possible enclosures.

A major aspect of the Dunyvaig Project as a whole was the involvement of an archaeological field school. Similar to archaeological excavation projects run by UHI Archaeology during the summer up in Orkney, the Islay Heritage Project was run by the University of Reading (UOR) who also have a field school running in Silchester, in England. The field school provided participants the opportunity to acquire archaeological field skills and also involved the use of the Archaeology Skills Passport, which students can use to record and keep track of their progress in archaeological fieldwork; and build up their skills over time. Also similar to the UHI excavations up in Orkney, the Dunyvaig Project (for the majority of participants); gave students their first real taste and experience of an archaeological excavation. This seemed fitting given it was the first year of the Dunyvaig Project, so it gave an entirely new and fresh feel to all involved in the excavation.

As well as general excavation and fieldwork techniques, students were also trained in other various aspects of the archaeological process. This included geophysical surveying, palaeoenvironmental surveying, finds processing and environmental sampling; all of which gave students a fuller experience and appreciation for the wide world which archaeology entails.

Another large part of the Islay Heritage Project was the involvement of the local community. Local inhabitants of Islay were encouraged to get involved in the excavations as volunteers and were a welcome addition to the on-site workforce. As well as the excavations at Dunyvaig Castle being open to the public for guided tours on a daily basis, locals were also included in the excavation with special dedicated days and associated activities such as the ‘Dunyvaig Bake-Off’ and an ‘Artist’s Day’ with Dietmar Finger.

The involvement of local school visits were also an especially beneficial aspect to the excavation. It was great to see the joy and fascination which took over the children when digging and finding their very own artefacts; while also learning all about the history of the site and their local area in general. There were 130 school children who visited the site and took part in activities, with the involvement of six primary schools and one secondary school. In total over the 3 week excavation period there were over 400 visitors who came to the site; all of whom were given guided tours of each trench by the students themselves.

The Seal of Sir John Campbell of Cawdor, dating to 1593 (Image: Islay Heritage Facebook Page)

During the third and final week of this year’s excavations, a remarkable find was discovered. Zoe a first year University of Reading student, used her ‘archaeological eye’ to notice what turned out to be the find of the season. The object found was none other than the Seal of Sir John Campbell of Cawdor; who took ownership of Islay in 1615. The seal dates to 1593 and originally would have been attached to a wooden, antler or lead handle. The castle was eventually abandoned by the Campbell’s of Cawdor in 1677 following continuous sieges and bombardments; so the fact this seal was found suggest it may have been either hidden or forgotten and lost in the chaos of attack.

The seal was among several artefacts and finds on show at the Public talk on the excavation which took place on the second last night of the project. There was a massive turnout at Ramsey Hall, in Port Ellen, for the talk in which the supervisors from the project discussed the findings of the Dunyvaig Project and plans for future work. Zoe even got a round of applause from the public when the seal was discussed. The great turnout by the people of Islay for the public talk was a great way to bring the successful excavation project to an end. Having come straight from site to the talk, it’s safe to say the excavation team absolutely devoured the pizzas that Steve had kindly arranged to be delivered to the hall following the end of the talk.

A packed Ramsey Hall in Port Ellen for the public talk on the Dunyvaig Project

For many participants the dig was their first ever time on an archaeological excavation and we can say that it was an extremely successful three weeks. The find of the seal was just the icing on the cake of an already prosperous first year and indicates great things for the future of the project.

Members of the excavation team working together to back fill the site on the final day

I speak on behalf of all UHI students who took part in the excavation when I say that it was an absolutely great project to be a part of, and one that will hopefully see more UHI students return over the coming years and add to our understanding of Islay. Also a shout out to all staff and students from the University of Reading for making myself and all other UHI students feel very welcome and valued members of the team. It was also great that several of the lecturers and teaching staff from UHI Archaeology (including the Director of the UHI Archaeology Institute Professor Jane Downes, Dr Ingrid Mainland and Dr Jen Harland) came to visit the excavation and catch up with the UHI students about how the project was going along. The collaboration of the two universities ran very smoothly and I think benefited both greatly; so hopefully this joint venture will continue for many years to come.

UHI Archaeology Institute students on the Dunyvaig Project dig. From L to R….Mairead, Ross, Darroch, Angus, William and Duncan

I think I also speak on behalf of the whole student contingent (both UOR and UHI) when I say a massive thanks to Steven, Darko, Amanda and all the other supervisors; for allowing all students to learn and enhance their archaeological skill sets & understanding in such a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

A big acknowledgement of gratitude also goes out to staff at the Port Charlotte Youth Hostel for basically letting us take over the place for the three week duration of the project.

Well, this blog officially marks the final chapter of my Archaeological Adventures and Summer of Digging for 2018 with UHI Archaeology Institute. It’s safe to say it’s been a hectic old few months but it’s been an absolutely fantastic experience, and one not many people will have the fortune to experience.

Thank you to all the readers of my blogs and those who have interacted with and followed my Archaeology Adventures over the summer through UHI Archaeology’s various social media accounts. I hope I’ve managed to convey the story of each excavation in a clear and interesting manner; and maybe one or two of ye learned something new along the way as well.

All the best,

Ross Drummond, MSc, UHI Archaeology Institute 

For any further info on the Dunyvaig excavations and the Islay Heritage Project as a whole, make sure to check out their website.