Orkney College archaeology undergraduate named UHI Higher Education Student of the Year

Gary Lloyd on site at the Ness of Brodgar. (Picture: Jo Bourne)

Gary Lloyd, an archaeology student based at Orkney College UHI, has been named overall winner of the University of the Highlands and Islands Higher Education Student of the Year award.

In addition, Gary took home two special awards for “Best Performance in Undergraduate Archaeology student” and “Best Undergraduate Archaeology student dissertation”.

Gary recently graduated with a first class BA (Hons) archaeology degree and is now studying for a masters degree in archaeological studies.

Congratulations Gary from all at the institute.

Click here for full details.

Student Research – Reconstructing the Bronze & Iron Age Landscape of Gairloch

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute postgraduate student Hannah Genders Boyd updates us on her continuing MRes research into the Bronze and Iron Age landscapes of Gairloch on the west coast of Scotland.

Hannah takes up her story…….” Hi, I’m the latest Research Masters student to join the Archaeology Institute at UHI, based at Orkney College. I’ll be spending the next year undertaking research in environmental archaeology: primarily using pollen analysis techniques in order to reconstruct a prehistoric landscape.

I’m working with a supervisory team from three institutions: Dr Scott Timpany from UHI, Dr Althea Davies from the University of St Andrews and Dr Tim Mighall from the University of Aberdeen, whose collective expertise will guide me through the project.

My background is in history, archaeology and climate heritage – but putting these things together to tackle Environmental Archaeology is a new challenge for me.

Over the following year I will be undertaking a masters by research (MRes) degree, which is a postgraduate course that involves completing original research and producing a 30,000 word thesis at the end of it. My research is based on a group of hut circles (Bronze and Iron Age roundhouses) in Gairloch, over on the West Coast of Scotland.

One of the hut circles at Achtercairn, in Gairloch. Image credit: Dr Scott Timpany

These were originally excavated as part of the WeDigs community project in 2014, and my role now is to understand how the people who lived in these structures interacted with their environment. The Wedigs community are a passionate group of Wester Ross locals who first caught my attention when they were nominated for a Heritage Angel Award back in 2018. I’m looking forward to building on their work and feeding into this exciting ongoing project.

I’m using pollen analysis (palynology) to reconstruct the landscape in which these structures were built and looking for evidence of how these communities were utilising this area, such as evidence of pastoral or arable farming. The pollen I’m analysing was preserved in a nearby peat bog. A 4.2m core was extracted from the bog, which was then sub-sampled for pollen and these samples were processed to create slides.

Pollen grains viewed through the microscope (x400) – tree pollen of alder and hazel can be seen in this photo. Photo Dr Scott Timpany

By identifying the variety of species present, represented by their pollen, we can begin to build a picture of the prehistoric landscape and how it changed over time.

My research will specifically be looking at the Bronze and Iron Age periods to which the hut circles have been dated, a period of around 2400 years (from 2000 BC to AD 400). The project will investigate wider themes such as the temporality of these settlements and whether they were used seasonally, together with how people were manipulating this landscape (e.g. woodland clearance and farming).

I hope to be able to understand more about how these communities responded to climatic changes: we know the end of the Bronze Age saw a serious climatic downturn, I want to know how resilient communities in this area of western Scotland were to environmental challenges and how they adapted to such changes. This is particularly interesting to consider now as communities, and heritage sites, on the West Coast are once again dealing with increased rainfall and other climatic deterioration. I’ll be aided in answering these questions by other techniques, including geochemical analysis and radiocarbon dating.

The view out from the hut circles, looking towards the Isle of Skye. Image credit: Scott Timpany

This year is going to be challenging, as I’m jumping in to palaeoenvironmental studies with both feet. But nonetheless I’m excited. This project offers the chance to delve into an amazing archaeological landscape in Wester Ross and get to grips with how it has been shaped by human activity over time.

Improving our understanding of Bronze and Iron Age land use systems through research which takes into account architecture and landscape is deemed a priority by the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework . Here my research will marry environmental evidence with the knowledge gained through survey and excavation by the WeDigs group: it’s a fantastic opportunity to work alongside the community and enhance the project with specialist knowledge, shining new light on the region through an improved understanding the prehistoric landscape.”

Hannah Genders Boyd
University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute
@HGendersBoyd

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 and we can discuss your options.

UHI Archaeology Student Awarded the Robertson Medal from The Carnegie Trust

Professor Jane Downes, Professor Andy Walker, Professor Neil Simco, Neil Ackerman, Professor Dame Anne Glover, Professor Edward Abbott-Halpin, Professor Colin Richards

Neil Ackerman (32), a PhD researcher at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, has been awarded the Robertson Medal from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for academic year 2019-20.

The silver medal is awarded each year to the scholarship candidate judged to be the most outstanding for that year’s competition. Neil becomes the university’s first postgraduate student to receive this honour. He was selected from 18 awards made in this year’s Carnegie postgraduate scholarship competition.

His research, entitled ‘Scotland’s earliest built environment: halls, houses and big houses’, looks at the earliest buildings of Neolithic Scotland. This period reveals a settled farming architecture for the first time, and also a growth in the size of public meeting halls. Studying the Neolithic period from the perspective of both monumental halls and domestic architecture will uncover a new understanding of the earliest Scottish Neolithic period.

Neil Ackerman and Chair of the Carnegie Trust for Universities of Scotland Professor Dame Anne Glover

Developing an insight into this varied architecture across Scotland, as well as producing a precise chronology, will also revolutionise the knowledge of the Neolithic in Scotland and wider contacts at the time.

Originally from Edinburgh, Neil graduated with a first-class degree in BA (Hons) in archaeology, based at Orkney College UHI in 2016, before working at Aberdeenshire Council’s archaeological historic environment team for nearly three years. He moved back to Orkney in 2019 to set up his own company, Ackerman Archaeology Limited, and continue with his academic studies. He is undertaking his postgraduate degree through the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute with the aid of the Carnegie scholarship funding.

Professor Jane Downes, director of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute said: “I am delighted that Neil has been recognised for his exceptional work. His undergraduate research supported by a Carnegie Trust vacation scholarship has contributed to our understanding of roofing technology from the Neolithic period. His original thinking has advanced understandings of the extraordinary site of the Ness of Brodgar on Orkney and has had international recognition.”

Talking about receiving this award, Neil said: “This means so much to me. I have not always had a straightforward path to get to this stage. I left school at 16 with few qualifications and worked in various service jobs, before returning to education. I never thought I would go to a university, far less study at this level. “

Neil being presented with his medal today at Orkney College UHI

“To have received a Carnegie Trust scholarship was a massive achievement and to now be awarded the Robertson Medal on top is a huge honour. It helps to confirm all the decisions made to be where I am now. I have a highly supportive supervisory team and together we have put a lot of work into developing a subject that we feel is very important. It is heartening to see our efforts rewarded.”

Neil was presented with his award on Thursday 23 January 2020, at Orkney College UHI, by Chair of the Carnegie Trust for Universities of Scotland Professor Dame Anne Glover and its chief executive chair Professor Andy Walker, Professor Neil Simco, vice-principal (research and impact) at the University of the Highlands and Islands with Professor Edward Abbott-Halpin, principal of Orkney College UHI.

The Carnegie Trust also operates a vacation scholarship scheme for students undertaking a degree course at a Scottish university. In 2019, four students from the University of the Highlands and Islands were successful in receiving awards.

Applications for this year’s scheme is open until 31 January 2020. For more information visit our website www.uhi.ac.uk

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.