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.
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!
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!
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.
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 email@example.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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. “
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 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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com or see our website.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the fourth episode of his story detailing his experience of studying archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands, MSc student Ross Drummond tells us about his time at the world renowned Ness of Brodgar excavation in Orkney.
Conas atá tú? It’s Ross again! Reporting about Pt. 4 of my ‘Summer of Digging’, this time I was taking on the absolute monster which is The Ness of Brodgar; Orkney’s largest archaeological excavation of the summer.
A lot of you may already know about The Ness of Brodgar already through the amount of media attention it has received in recent years, featuring heavily in a 2017 3-part BBC Documentary series ‘Britain’s Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney’; which attracted the attention of a remarkable 2.1 million viewers for the first episode.
For those of you not familiar with The Ness of Brodgar I shall provide a brief summary, but for more detailed info check out the website (http://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/ ). The first work on the Ness involved a geophysical survey in 2002, with revealed a huge complex of anomalies, and had high archaeological potential. The following year a large notched stone was ploughed up in the field between the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, which looked like it could have been part of a Bronze Age cist, with the possibility of human remains. A small trench was opened and a large rectangular wall was found, this was the revealing of structure One. In 2004 8 test-trenches were opened up uncovering more structures and Neolithic materials, and the rest they say is history… With excavation work taking place for several weeks every summer since.
The earliest evidence onsite dates as far back as 3500 BC with activity at stopping around 2300BC, and although there is a large number of buildings present, the site is not simply domestic. It is thought that The Ness was a gathering place where Neolithic people from Orkney and further afield would come together for feasting, trading and celebration of important political and celestial events.
Since Structure One first appeared in 2003, over 30 additional structures have been found since. The largest structure onsite is Structure Ten, measuring some 25m long, 19m across and has 4m thick walls. It is absolutely massive and is the last structure in use on the site, with its ‘closing’ around 2450 BC. However, the structure was not just abandoned, its ‘death’ was marked by a huge feast and large numbers of animals were slaughtered. When uncovered in 2008, the bones of around 400 cattle were found placed in the passageway surrounding the structure.
Similar to my first excavation of the summer at The Cairns, The Ness of Brodgar also accommodated some of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) archaeological students completing the ‘Excavation’ module as part of the degrees. This gives students the opportunity to learn techniques and various other components of fieldwork as a graded academic class, in the place of an in-class module in the previous college semester. In addition to students from the various UHI campuses, The Ness of Brodgar was also home to students from Willamette University, Oregon who spent a total of 5 weeks on-site; taking part in the excavations and learning a large set of archaeological processes and techniques as part of their academic curriculum.
The Excavation module was again overseen by Rick Barton, Project Officer for Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA). Students were assessed on various different skills and techniques over their time at The Ness, which were explained and demonstrated by Rick and other trench supervisors first; before students were given the opportunity to display their knowledge and abilities independently. Students were guided through group tool box talks and given further individual one-to-one training whenever the students themselves felt they wanted to tackle further skills and tasks; with staff and supervisors always on hand to accommodate and make time for everyone.
Due to my Placement with the university, I have had the pleasure and privilege of being able to take part in both The Cairns and The Ness of Brodgar excavations. They are both absolutely fantastic excavations to be a part of and no matter if it’s your very first time digging on an archaeological site or if it’s another place to add to the CV, both sites are invaluable in experience gained. The skills and training received is also something that will stand to students as they pursue a career in archaeology; and the UHI Archaeology Institute pride themselves on providing students with the best practical in-the-field training possible.
Students are exposed to a whole range of different techniques and skills which are used on sites in commercial archaeology. One of the main aims for the university is for students to be able to walk into a commercial job upon completing their degrees, with broad excavation experience behind them; and have the confidence and competency to fit right into any team. There are a large amount of techniques worked on during UHI fieldschools such as environmental sampling, artefacts processing, archaeological recording (i.e. the written record – contexts sheets, finds deposit sheets), archaeological photography skills, archaeological surveying and the drawn record (including planning and section drawing).
Most of the techniques conducted are helped by the presence of specialists in each area who guide students through the process and all supervisors are well equipped and knowledgeable in helping out with most techniques as well. The staff and volunteers at both The Ness of Brodgar and The Cairns are also very welcoming and supportive of past former students who return to help out with the excavations each summer. The UHI also highly encourage promotion from within as several of the supervisors from both sites are former Master’s students with the college themselves (as exemplified by my supervisor Andy, who completed her MSc with the UHI a few years back).
I think all students who took part in the fieldschool would testify to how great an experience it was, especially in a place like Orkney where the archaeological landscape is so rich and sites are present in abundance; it’s great to be added to the history and story of these sites (no matter how small/brief your presence on them is). I myself am probably going to have a tough time sorting out my CV once the master’s is done, after all the experience I’ve gained over the summer!
On arrival to the site, the new recruits and I were given a run through procedure and Health & Safety, followed by a tour and explanation of the site by site director Nick Card. This was followed on by a talk about finds and what to look out for while excavating by Anne Mitchell. After the morning briefing the new diggers were split up and sent to various different trenches around site. Kacey, fellow UHI student Hannah and I made our way over to Structure One, which was being excavated under the wonderful guidance of Andy (who was a former MSc graduate with the UHI Archaeology Institute herself). Also part of the Structure One team were my classmates from the Neolithic module in semester two, Fabrizio and Allessandro; as well as Giles and Marc. So we had a solid little team, with a good representation from the Institute as well which was nice.
I spent most of my time working in the midden area between Structures One and Twenty One with Hannah. The midden area was very artefact rich, containing animal bone and more pieces of prehistoric pottery than I can count. It was a constant process of cleaning and taking down the ground level in spits, as midden deposits are very rich in information; so it’s important to keep an eye out for any changes in soil or any possible finds of high importance, which could be missed if the process was just rushed through. Towards the end of the first week, our patience paid off as Hannah discovered a large vessel within the midden area. Exciting as the find was she then had the arduous and difficult task of lifting the vessel, which she did expertly and the pottery survived intact.
My own time to shine came the following week, when on my second last day on The Ness I brought the ‘Luck of the Irish’ in full force with me to site. Having only seen and heard about miniature pots found at The Ness off Anne the previous day while I was discussing finds with the ‘Digging up the Past’ workshop; I was fortunate enough to find two of these little pots in the one day!
While trowelling back in the midden area just near the exterior wall of Structure Twenty One I came across an oddly shaped piece of pot. Had there not been the discussion with Anne the previous day, the odd shape of the pot when the first glimpse of it was revealed from the ground, may not have stood out so much. I called Andy over and her excitement about the find made me realise it was fairly significant. Unfortunately the pot wasn’t fully intact when found, with the top missing. There were a few incisions on the exterior of the pot but it is difficult to judge whether these were deliberate or just random. There have been a few of these thumb pots found over the years, but as of yet their exact use and function remains a mystery. My own favourite theory about the pots is that they could be prehistoric shot glasses, although given the size of the pots, the Neolithic people would have had to be drinking some fairly strong concoctions!
One pot would have been regarded a great day anyway, but I wasn’t finished yet. As the clouds began to darken and approach, the rain began to fall, and the team began preparations for covering up the site until the morning. I was just finishing cleaning up the loose soil when I noticed the base of something sticking out of the ground around the same area where the first pot was found. This time I knew exactly what it was! With pack up for the day looming and the weather worsening, I decided to save the pot from possible damage from being left out in the elements overnight. Upon safely removing it from the ground I knew I made the right choice as this pot was in a lot better condition than the first one and possessed clear incisions. Andy couldn’t believe it when I popped up with another pot, and Nick and Anne were delighted; this time more so as there was still soil contained within it.
Onsite pottery specialist Roy Towers judged the second pot to be different than the previous thumb pot, his thinking is that this was an imitation pot and would have mimicked a large vessel. The material that fills it will have to be examined carefully and possibly analysed for pot residue, but the expectation is that the base of the imitation pot will be flat on the interior, just like a full-size pot and in contrast with the often-rounded base interior of thumb pots.
When the second pot was found Roy was in the middle of a tour and in astonishment had to pause briefly while examining the pot. I ended up getting a round of applause off the 50 strong tour group, so it was an unexpected and added bonus to go with the finds I guess haha. I even got the blog for the day called after me ‘Luck of the Irish’ and as fate would have it, it would have to be Day 33 and all! Rick thought it was hilarious due to the ‘th’ coupled with the ‘r’ sound, which has already been discussed in my previous blog about the Skaill excavations (see blog at archaeologyorkney.com for inside on joke); but Rick is probably just jealous it wasn’t him who found the pots.
The following evening was the end of site party, and marked the departure of many of the Ness of Brodgar team who had been working on the site over the summer. Nick graciously had the whole team over to his house, and everyone celebrated the season’s great work and progress made over the few weeks. As we all sat around the fire pit Nick thanked all the team for their hard work over the summer, and reiterated how The Ness was like a family, and how great it was to see faces again who had been there previous summers. Everyone had a great time, with a fire spinning show (provided by Andy), singalongs, laughter, fake tattoos and maybe a beverage or two consumed; but it was a lovely way to bring official excavation proceedings to an end, and a good note to mark my end of involvement with the excavations.
My final day of involvement with The Ness would be at the Open Day. As the majority of the lecturers from the Skaill excavation were away at the time and on Anne’s suggestion; I was given the task of running a stall and communicating some of our findings from the season to the public. Having played such a major role in the Skaill excavations myself and having only recently completed the blog post on the experience this was a great opportunity and the day went off really successfully. I discussed the history of the site, the team’s findings from the season and even had a few finds with me to show visitors on the day. The Stenness Hall had a constant flow of visitors throughout the day, who came for a look having already been to see the magnificence of the Ness of Brodgar in the flesh. On site however, The Ness proved its importance and wide appeal yet again with over 1,100 people visiting the site on the Open Day.
As part of my Work Placement focusing on outreach and social media use in archaeology, I also had the pleasure of taking part lending a hand with two ‘Digging up the Past’ workshops as well as helping out my supervisor and Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist Dan Lee in hosting a group from Connect. These were fantastic opportunities to be a part of and it was great to introduce archaeology to people who have never dug before. As well as getting tours of the site and talks about finds, participants were able to get an insight into the archaeological process as a whole and having a go at specialist workshops with Chris Gee (stone working) and Dr Ingrid Mainland (animal bones). It was also particularly great to see the joy and excitement on the faces of the participants when they uncovered finds from the ground (all of which were added to the site’s find collection as a whole). I even surprised myself in how much I had learned about The Ness in a week, when I was conducting the site tours for ‘Digging up the Past’ in Dan’s absence the second week.
My experience at The Ness is one I won’t forget quickly. Besides my luck with finding the two miniature pots, it was great to meet up with people again who I had been working with at The Cairns such as Rick and Gary (A Team for life!). It was a very worthwhile and enriching experience also to be a part of the two ‘Digging up the Past’ workshops while on site, and great to see the fantastic work HES Rangers and UHI staff conduct as part of those activities. It was also a brilliant experience just to be a part of an excavation on that scale, having been on smaller projects the previous weeks on Rousay and Sanday; the first few days were a bit of an adjustment, but it was a great comparison and shows the potential that archaeological sites have up here in Orkney to capture the public’s attention.
I would like to express my thanks to site director Nick Card, for not only allowing me the chance to take part in the excavations on The Ness of Brodgar, but who also kindly offered some time out of his ridiculously busy schedule on-site to sit down with me and talk about how The Ness has developed and expanded over time; not only in a physical sense with the trenches but also in terms of outreach and media attention. It was a great insight into the excavation itself and also very helpful in relation to my own placement aims with the institute.
I would also like to thank Anne Mitchell, who was very helpful onsite and also instrumental in pinning down my role in The Ness Open Day. Anne’s role in the excavations in general is absolutely crucial and Nick described her as an ‘indispensable’ part of the team, especially behind the scenes. I also want to thank Sigurd Towrie who I liaised with every day, discussing social media agendas and was very helpful in finding a role for myself in using material for the UHI social media accounts.
Also a massive shout out to all the volunteers and students who endured long days and early mornings of tiring work, I think all would agree it was worth it in the end! I was only onsite for 2 weeks myself due to my involvement in other excavations, but some of the team members were working at The Ness from start to finish all summer; so a massive admiration and appreciation must go their way, which was reiterated by Nick at the end of site party. A large amount of gratitude also goes to all those who work behind the scenes not only during the excavation period, but throughout the year cataloguing finds, etc. There’s too many people to name but Nick holds you all in the highest regards and The Ness ‘machine’ would not be able to run without your continued hard work and effort.
As massive and globally known as The Ness of Brodgar is, only 10% of the site has been uncovered so far, and unfortunately there is no real constant source of funding coming into the site. The only way the site keeps going and excavations continue each summer is from the kind donations given by the public. If this has peaked your interest in the site or if you have already been, and want to keep The Ness of Brodgar going for not only future generations to enjoy, but for the team to come back again next summer, donations big and small are very welcome, information can be found on the website. Your continued support and interest in the site is very much appreciated by all!
Also can’t sign off without giving another shout out to Kirkwall Accies (last time I promise). I may have turned up to The Ness Open Day with a slight sporting injury from a football final the day before, but as they say ‘No pain, no gain, we won the final and completed the Double! Hon Accies!
Well this blog officially brings an end to my Placement with the institute this summer. I will have one more blog to come out in the near future about my experience at the newly formed Islay Heritage Project, run by the University of Reading and UHI, but for the next few weeks I’ll be putting the head in the books and attempt to transfer my crazy summer of digging into an academic paper. Thanks for all the support and interest shown in my blogs and social media posts over the summer! I’ll see ye all on the other side (hopefully)!
Keep it Breezy!
Slán go fóill, Ross Drummond. UHI MSc Archaeological Practice student