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.