New Archaeological Science BSc (Hons) Degree Course Now Enrolling

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to announce the introduction of a new BSc Archaeological Science degree.

This exciting new degree complements our existing archaeology programmes by exploring the range of science-based methods that form an integral part of archaeological research.

The new course offers an opportunity for students to focus on the scientific elements of archaeology including archaeobotany (e.g. cereal grains, seeds, fruit stones), biomolecular archaeology (ancient DNA, lipids, isotopes), geoarchaeology, osteoarchaeology (human bone), palynology (pollen grains), wood and charcoal analysis, together with zooarchaeology (animal and fish bone).

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On this course, you will develop scientific skills and knowledge through a range of science-orientated modules including Science and Archaeology, Biomolecular Archaeology and Archaeological Science Dissertation. As part of the course, you also receive practical laboratory-based learning through our residential module Practical Environmental Archaeology.DSC_0095

There will also be opportunities to participate in on-site archaeological excavation at world renowned sites, such as the Ness of Brodgar through our field schools and excavation modules. You will also be able to take part in ongoing archaeological scientific research being conducted by staff, such as in palaeoenvironmental studies  and zooarchaeological studies.

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As part of the new degree, you will have the option to gain real-world experience of working within the archaeological sector and in furthering your archaeological scientific knowledge through participating in our Placement Module. This module will allow you to make new contacts and increase your future employability for life after your degree. The module will also allow you to experience elements of Postgraduate research should you wish to continue your education with us at Masters or PhD Level.

More information and online application for a start date of September 2018 can be accessed by clicking through to our UHI course webpage.

 

Archaeology MLitt by Research Studentship Available

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to offer a one year MLitt by Research in Archaeology EU/UK fees only full-time studentship, starting 1st Oct 2017.

Topic: Marine Mammal exploitation in Late Iron Age and Medieval Orkney.

During the late first millennium AD, the Northern Isles of Scotland saw the introduction of a new material culture and permanent settlement by incoming settlers from Scandinavia -the ‘Vikings’- which was part of a broader colonisation by these Norse peoples into the North Atlantic islands. These were largely farming societies, using developed Iron Age technology, but whose agricultural economies were heavily subsidised by wild species, including marine mammals.

IMG_13264The relative contributions, management, and sustainability of sea mammal populations, prior to the 16th century, are, however, currently less well documented and understood than are systems used for terrestrial species. Such data would contribute both to socio-economic reconstruction of early Norse populations, and to millennial scale population dynamics in the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean ecosystems, helping to inform on current and future sustainability of whales, seals and other North Atlantic species.

This MLitt by Research project will take as its focus human interactions with seals and whales in one specific area of the Norse North Atlantic, Orkney. It will seek to establish diachronic variability in the exploitation of and attitudes to these species both within the Norse period (ie c. 8th-15th centuries AD) and between the Norse and preceding Late Iron Age periods.

This will involve research into the distribution and relative frequency of sea mammals, including both artefactual and zooarchaeological evidence, for relevant sites alongside a detailed taphonomic analysis focusing on depositional context, carcase utilisation, butchery, bone fragmentation and artefact use/production.  Historical and ethnographic sources will also be drawn into the study where appropriate.

Research results will form the basis for selection of samples for aDNA analysis as part of a larger project into sea mammal exploitation and population dynamics in the North Atlantic. This MLitt project will also provide data for a pilot study for DataARC, an NSF-funded cyberinfrastructure project that aims to link and organise complex transdisciplinary data sets related to Arctic research.

Specific topics for analysis may include:

  • what whales and seals represented in practical economic terms, as well as social and cultural significance
  • whether Orcadian communities actively hunted great whales, or other cetaceans, prior to the spread of commercial whaling in the 16th and 17th centuries, or if they were mainly exploited in natural or induced strandings.
  • interactions of island economies, climate change, and animal biogeography

This project is being undertaken as part of an ongoing NSF-supported transdisciplinary international collaborative investigation of the roles of marine mammals (seals, cetaceans, walruses) in North Atlantic subsistence and market economies from the early through late Middle Ages (NSF Award #1503714) (PI Dr. Vicki Szabo, Western Carolina University).

The research student will be based at the University of the Highlands of Islands Archaeology Institute at Orkney College in Orkney.

The supervisory team will be led by Dr. Ingrid Mainland at the UHI Archaeology Institute together with Dr.  V. Szabo (WCU), Dr. Colleen Strawhacker (University of Colorado, Boulder) and Dr. Jen Harland  (UHI Archaeology Institute).

For further information on this opportunity, please contact Dr. Ingrid Mainland (Ingrid.mainland@uhi.ac.uk)


The studentship covers fees only at the University of the Highlands and Islands Home/EU rate for a total of 12 months (including writing-up) (https://www.uhi.ac.uk/en/studying-at-uhi/first-steps/how-much-will-it-cost/tuition-fees-research-postgraduate-students/). The project is expected to start on the 1st October 2017.

International are welcome to apply however please be aware that you will be required to make up the difference between Home/EU and International fees.

Applicants must possess a minimum of an Honours degree at 2:1 and/or a Masters Degree (or International equivalent) in a relevant subject.

To apply please send a CV indicating qualifications, any prior research experience (including publications) together with a statement of interest in the project and contact details for two academic referees to Ingrid.mainland@uhi.ac.uk

Closing dates 19th June 2017. Interviews 3rd July, by Skype.

New Student Intake Arrive

Across the University of the Highlands and Islands, archaeology students are experiencing their second induction day on their course.

This year, we have been successful in attracting students from all over the world for both our degree and masters courses.

For those in Orkney, today is their first day of fieldwork….visiting the Broch of Gurness and Skara Brae. Martin Carruthers, Mark Littlewood and Dr. Scott Timpany introduced the Iron Age and the Neolithic using the sites to explain how these places fit into the landscape and how research at sites such as The Cairns, Smerquoy and, of course, The Ness of Brodgar feed into the teaching and learning that the students will experience.

New Virtual Archaeology Lab

Archaeology Virtual Lab @ The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are enhancing their digital approach to teaching by creating a virtual archaeology lab.

One of the strengths of The University of the Highlands and Islands in general and The Archaeology Institute in particular, lies in the fact that Archaeology courses at undergraduate level can be accessed across the Highlands and Islands. Our students study at campuses from Shetland and Orkney in the north, across the Western Isles and throughout the Highlands at Perth, Inverness, Elgin and Oban in addition to many smaller UHI Learning Centres. They can access lectures and other resources anywhere in the region, at any time, if they have access to an internet connection.

The Archaeology Institute has enriched the learning experience in recent years by introducing award winning virtual fieldtrips which enable students to ‘visit’ archaeological sites through the use of 360 degree camera footage, commentary, video links and detailed hotspot text. Using the same technology, the services of the Education Support Unit at the University of the Highlands and Islands and funding from the University of the Highlands and Islands Curriculum Development Fund, The Archaeology Institute are creating a virtual archaeology lab. This will enable students to examine finds in laboratory conditions and gain experience in the analysis of both ecofacts and artefacts – from microscopic pollen grains, ancient cereals and weed seeds, fragments of mammal and fish to Neolithic Grooved Ware Pottery.

Dr. Ingrid Mainland, Curriculum Leader for Archaeology stated that, “This is a major step forward for both distance learning students and those studying at The Institute and will add a further dimension to our teaching.”

For an example of a virtual fieldtrip go to our You Tube channel http://bit.ly/25ZOoOD

Living on an Island – The AEA Conference.

Over 70 delegates from across the world arrived in Kirkwall on the 1st April for The Association for Environmental Archaeology (AEA)Conference and Professional Zooarchaeology Working Group Conference.

“Just a few lines to say thanks for a great conference. Lecture programme most interesting; great excursions (thanks especially to Mark for helping us appreciate the exceptional archaeology) and fine conference dinner.I enjoyed every second of it. Even the weather which wasn’t always exactly the best – though we did have glorious sunshine on the Saturday – did not put a damper on proceedings.” Michael O’Connell, Palaeoenvironmental Research Unit, School of Geography and Archaeology, National University of Ireland Galway.

Living and working on an island was the central theme of the AEA Conference held at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. Led by Dr. Jennifer Harland, Dr. Ingrid Mainland and Dr. Scott Timpany, the conference addressed some of the most important issues facing island communities across the world – namely isolation, environmental change and how communities connect with the rest of the world. The aim of the conference was to cast light on how ancient island communities coped with change and perhaps draw some conclusions on how threatened island communities can adapt to change in the future.

It became apparent early in the planning of this meeting that islands hold immense appeal to archaeologists as a destination for fieldwork and indeed as a venue for a conference! One of the conference organisers, Dr Ingrid Mainland said,” What was intended to be a short day of papers quickly expanded into 3 days as delegate requests started to come in. We were delighted to welcome over 70 delegates from across the world on Friday. “

Papers were presented describing archaeological findings from a wide variety of locations from the islands of the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands, to Iceland and the cold reaches of the North Atlantic. Topics were equally diverse addressing many aspects of environmental archaeology including the fragile environment of central Mediterranean islands 5000 years ago to the study of land snails in the Western Isles and how they can inform us on ancient environmental change to a paper studying the role of humans on the evolution of own Orkney Vole.

Dr. Mainland added that, ”This was the third AEA conference on the theme of islands and it was interesting comparing the topics discussed at the first meeting back in 1980 when the environment and climate change were not such mainstream topics for discussion. This now places Orkney on the map in the study of island ecosystems within environmental archaeology.”

For a copy of the Abstracts go to the AEAOrkneyProgramme.

Archaeology On Rousay

Landmark conference field visit RousayArchaeology on Rousay was in the limelight last week as the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute welcomed delegates to Orkney for the LANDMARKS workshop. Led by Mark Edmonds (University of York), Ingrid Mainland (UHI) and Dave Cowley (Historic Environment, Scotland), the workshop brought together some of the leading figures in landscape research from around the world for four days of lectures and field visits to west Mainland and Rousay.

The aim of the meeting was to exchange ideas about the practice of landscape survey, to review new technologies and to explore how patterns seen from the air and on the ground are interpreted. Papers on research from the Northern Isles were given alongside presentations on work in England, on the Continent, in Ireland, Greenland, Iceland and east Africa. Taking in everything from scatters of Palaeolithic stone tools to memory maps of Stromness, the workshop addressed basic questions of scale. Archaeologists spend much of their time studying sites. But people live across landscapes as a whole, reworking them over time, and the meeting brought home the importance of work, on land and at sea, that keeps those broader horizons in mind.

With presentations on airborne laser survey and underwater bathymetry, on field-walking, oral history and community involvement, the meeting tackled many issues of analysis and interpretation. The organisers said they were delighted with the papers and with the in-depth conversations that carried people around West Mainland and Rousay. Speaking at the close of the event, Mark Edmonds added that, “This was a great opportunity to talk about how best to investigate and understand the landscape around us and we all learnt a great deal over the four days. We were also very pleased that our grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh allowed us to invite several students from the UHI and from other Scottish universities.”

A Splash of Colour from the Iron Age

Sometimes the smallest things tell us so much about people’s lives and yet at the same time raise so many questions.

A surprise discovery came in the form of a tiny splash of colour from the Iron Age! Cecily was processing some soil samples from The Cairns site on South Ronaldsay and her incredible eagle eyes spotted this beautiful multi-coloured glass bead! The object came from soil samples retrieved from the interior of the broch during the late occupation of the structure and date from about 100-150AD. It’s miniscule (yes that is a penny next to it!).

Glass bead 4In this image looking at the broken section of the bead you get to see the central perforation cut clean through. Most interesting you can see another pale green wedge of glass present on the left side of the bead. This is probably ‘cullet’, re-cycled glass from an earlier object partly melted down to make this bead. The source of the recyclate was probably a Roman vessel or bangle. Keep in mind this was found on South Ronaldsay in Orkney meaning of course that someone who lived or visited that site on the South Orkney Island of South Ronaldsay must have had access to Roman Britain at some point. But again some questions….was the Roman glass part of a treasured collection that took pride of place in someone`s life ? How did it come hundreds of miles from the nearest Roman settlement ? Was there regular contact between Roman Britain and Orkney ?

And then…..You wait all this time to get the first glass bead from the site and along comes another one – a much larger, whole one this time! This bead was thought to be fashioned from bone, but it can now be seen to be another yellow-amber coloured bead! But when put under the microscope the object takes on another character……

We now strongly suspect this is amber! Here it is under a microscope with top-light on the left and back-lighting on the right. On the back-lit image you can see the livid red translucent colour shining through the crust quite effectively. Now that raises a few more questions…where did it come from ? Did it come from The Baltic and how did it find it`s way to Orkney ? Is there another story this intriguing bead can tell us. In any event this would have been a treasured personal possession that someone would have dropped and lost in the hurly burly of life in The Cairns Broch.

The Cairns Bead
The second complete bead under the microscope.

There will be more on these small finds from The Cairns which tell us so much about the ordinary life of people that lived on South Ronaldsay two thousand years ago. Project leader is Martin Carruthers at martin.carruthers@uhi.ac.uk

The Cairns Character

 

Every now and then something turns up on an dig that just connects me with a living person from thousands of years ago. The Cairns Character was unearthed a few years ago in South Ronaldsay and for me, living in South Ronaldsay, it immediately made a connection.

I have included photographs of the site where he (is he a he or a she ?) was found and I have especially included pictures that were taken on one of those short Orkney days in winter – when perhaps this character was carved. I can see in my minds eye, someone sitting by the fire 2000 years ago, surrounded by their family – perhaps with a howling gale knocking at the door – gently carving a stone found on the beach. There`s a nose and two eyes and a little crooked smile….it`s a piece that connects me personally with the living from the Iron Age and perhaps suggests they were not so different to us ?

We know very little about the character, and perhaps will never know, but we can perhaps paint a story from his discovery.

The character was discovered in a pit dug into the remains of the domestic building, Structure B. Lying to the north and north-west of the main trench, the Structure B complex contains cellular, rectilinear and sub-circular building remnants, with many well-preserved hearths, stone fixtures and fittings, thresholds, wall piers and floors.

This complex, Martin Carruthers from The Archaeology Institute University of the Highlands and Islands explained, was undoubtedly domestic, and produced artefacts consistent with this – substantial amounts of pottery, stone tools, and an extensive animal bone assemblage.

The stone head had been carefully deposited in a pit, along with a number of other artefacts, presumably at the end of the site’s life. We can only guess as to the carving’s purpose – was it intended to portray a spirit or god, or was it merely a cherished possession.

Martin explained: “One recurring aspect of this site is the fact that there’s a whole series of later features that have muddied the waters somewhat.On the one hand we’ve been able to piece together these really intimate details of life within these structures – the domestic artefacts, the metalworking etc, but at the same time the overall shape of some of the buildings remain obscure – obliterated through time and continual reuse.”

Thanks to Sigurd Towrie and the Orkneyjar website. Click here for more information on The Cairns and a link through to Orkneyjar

The excavation was supported by Orkney Islands Council, Orkney College UHI, the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) Aberdeen University and Glasgow University. The team would also like to thank the South Ronaldsay community and landowner Charlie Nicholson.

Wrecks of experimental ships discovered in Scapa Flow

Historic Environment Scotland commissioned ORCA and SULA Diving to conduct side scan sonar and archaeological diving surveys in 2015 of two wrecked vessels located off Flotta Island, Orkney, N.Scotland.

The vessels were first brought to the attention of the authors by Hazel Weaver of the MV Valkyrie after they were dived by Rob Baxandall.

Archival research indicates these are the remains of Anti-Torpedo Close Protection Pontoons (ATCPP), an experimental protection device used for close protection of naval vessels at anchor in Scapa Flow from attack by aircraft-launch torpedoes. The pontoons were only in operation in Scapa Flow for 13 months (March 1941 – April 1942) and few were brought into service.

As such they represent a rare, frequently mis-identified heritage resource, for which very little is known about their operation. Had the site not been reported, a unique heritage asset would have been overlooked and the identity of similar vessels would have remained unconfirmed.

Many thanks to Hazel Weaver and Rob Baxandall for their help and co-operation.

Also don`t forget to visit the Secrest of the Sea exhibition in Orkney Museum in Kirkwall if you are in Orkney…..http://wp.me/p6YR8M-f1

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Eating out in Skye 8000 years ago.

NUTS found during an archaeological dig in Skye were from the hunter gatherer period more than 8,000 years ago, tests have confirmed.

The hazelnut shells were discovered during the five-day excavation by Staffin Bay in September 2015 when University of the Highlands and Islands archaeologists investigated a suspected Mesolithic structure, in collaboration with the Staffin Community Trust (SCT).

Radiocarbon dates have now confirmed the excavated lithics date to the Mesolithic period, towards the latter half of the 7th millennium BC.

Two fragments of charred hazelnut shell both returned dates of circa 6800-6600 BC (calibrated). The hazelnuts were recovered from soil samples from the lower part of the sequence at the site, suggesting human activity may have occurred over a long period of time.

The north Skye archaeological excavation has yielded a fragment of worked bone, and several thousand flints which could provide a fuller picture of Staffin’s hunter-gatherer period. The flint assemblage recovered from the same layer is currently being quantified and analysed.

While the structure at the site is likely to date to the post-medieval period, confirmation of Mesolithic dates for the layers below could provide further clues about life in the area 8,000 years ago. The new dates are just a bit earlier than the earliest dates from material recovered from the base of the section excavated at the nearby An Corran rock shelter, which was excavated in the 1990s. Both sites were essentially contemporary and one of many dating to this period along the Staffin Bay coastline.

Dan Lee, Archaeology Institute UHI, lifelong learning and outreach archaeologist, said: We are really pleased to have such convincing Mesolithic dates from the site. This hints at the huge potential for additional excavations in the area and presents a great opportunity to understand life in the Staffin area during this period.”

SCT director Dugald Ross said: “The lab confirmation of human activity in the local area close to 9000 years ago is a huge bonus to all who took part and we eagerly await the next phase of research.”

SCT would like to thank the Garafad township and Kilmuir Estate for permission to carry out the excavation. The project was funded by the Scottish Funding Council via Interface Scotland, Highland Council and the Carnegie Foundation of New York.

SCT and UHI are to discuss how further work can be carried out in the Staffin area following this exciting discovery from the community-led project, which was attended by more than 200 people, including pupils from Staffin and Kilmuir primary schools.


The Staffin Community Trust has developed projects on behalf of the community since 1994. The organisation was set up after a worrying fall in the Staffin population. The SCT’s objective is to improve Staffin’s economic prospects, stimulate social and cultural activities and improve services, with the Gaelic language an integral part of that. The SCT is now a company limited by guarantee with a board of eight directors, who all live in Staffin, and more than 60 members. www.staffin-trust.co.uk

Contact details:

Primary: Hugh Ross (SCT local development officer) 01470 562464 staffin.ldo@gmail.com

Dan Lee (UHI Archaeology Institute) 01856 569214 Daniel.Lee@uhi.ac.uk

 

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