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.

 

Test Pits at The Cairns, South Ronaldsay

During two days in April, Martin Carruthers and a group of Archaeology Masters students travelled down to The Cairns on South Ronaldsay, Orkney to commence test pitting.

Digging in the face of rain, hail, driving snow and brilliant sunshine….in fact a typical Orkney Spring day….the team made some interesting discoveries.  Their efforts were shared on social media as it happened and this BLOG is a summary of their initial thoughts.

12998709_1182088541836059_8743601261358807708_nThe geophysics completed last season highlighted areas that could benefit from closer scrutiny. We found brilliant evidence for the kinds of ancient activites going on in the hinterland of the broch, including arable field soils dating to the Iron Age, ashy midden overlying the eastern side of the Iron Age village, and a possible hollow way or track that runs up to the front entrance of the broch enclosure and probably separated animals from cultivated crops over two thousand years ago. We also found distinctive Iron Age pottery, stone tools, flint, lots of animal bone and a rare furnace base (or hearth bottom) a residue from iron working. 13055070_10153630854136325_938696353005683775_o

In this shot we lined up the figure in the background with the end of the linear feature that we knew from the geophysics. The photographer is stood at the other end of the feature. The test pit in the middle established that the feature is an Iron age feature and appears to be a hollow-way or track. This is a remarkable survival of a landscape feature actually associated with a broch, and we think one of the very few ever excavated. We hope to return to see more of this feature in the future !

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The stone in the section edges is either rubble from Iron Age structures or, as I think, the remains of post-Medieval ridge and furrow beds. The heaped up stone forming the ridge would itself be rubble from the Iron Age remains.

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And….just to prove that The Cairns never disappoints, a very nice mid Iron Age rim sherd emerged from test pit 10 on the first day.

All in all, a very productive two days.

Finding The Utrecht

A marine archaeology project led by Kevin Heath of Sula Diving and funded by Orkney Island Council. Research completed by Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA).

Even now the weather in Orkney can cause difficulties for modern ships. With all our sophisticated navigation equipment and ships, vast seas and gale force winds can combine to close down the islands to all communications. Just imagine trying to sail around our beautiful, but treacherous islands while at war – in a small wooden ship – without local knowledge and without weather forecasts. Then imagine heading into mountainous seas with just your skill as a seaman to keep you from smashing against the rocks. That was the reality facing the warship Utrecht in the winter of 1807.

Built in Rotterdam, the Utrecht was part of the Dutch Navy. On 15th February 1807 the 38 gun warship was on it`s first voyage and was one of three frigates that were sailing to Curacao to reinforce the Dutch garrison stationed there against the British. The vessel was driven off course in a blizzard and was stranded off the North coast of Sanday with a recorded loss of 50 – 100 men. The remaining crew and soldiers came ashore and were stripped of their valuables by the islanders. A detachment of soldiers proceeded to Sanday where they found the survivors “in great distress… objects of pity rather than fear… [who]… had delivered themselves to the authorities in Orkney”. The survivors were brought to Kirkwall where they were briefly imprisoned at a makeshift prisoner of war camp at Gaitnip. They were subsequently taken to Leith where some of them joined the Royal Navy. The remaining survivors were returned home to Holland.

The project aims to build on previous work that located and conducted a preliminary assessment of the remains of the Dutch Frigate Utrecht, which was stranded off the Holmes of Ire, Sanday in 1807.

The remains of the Utrecht represent a unique resource in Orkney waters. The Utrecht is the only vessel of its type known to have sunk in Orkney waters – the closest equivalent being the remains of The Svecia off North Ronaldsay.

The second phase of this project recorded and planned the extent of the site and its artefacts. This would provide an invaluable baseline by which to monitor the wreck site, deterring high risk activities such as the site being plundered before protection measures are instigated. Recording the remains of the vessel through completion of this project contributes to local and national heritage management strategies e.g. Historic Scotland’s Strategy for the protection, management and promotion of marine heritage 2012 – 15, and the Scottish Historic Environment Policy. This project also carried out side scan and magnetometer surveys in order to define the extent of the wreck site. The archaeological dive team carried out site analysis; producing an archaeological record, wreck site and artefact distribution plan.

An illustrated report will be produced and lodged with the relevant local and national bodies. The initial display at the Sanday Heritage Centre will also be added to, using data from the project to highlight the story of The Utrecht.

A 3D model using photogrammetric software will be created of the wreck site elements; this will raise the profile of the wrecksite and will provide an interactive tool to encourage diver tourism in the Outer Islands.

Although the story of the shipwreck has been recorded in local archive sources and regional shipwreck anthologies, the location of the remains and associated artefacts were unknown until discovery during the initial phase of this project. There are several conflicting reports about the size of the vessel, the numbers of crew and passengers and the number of people who lost their lives as a result of this stranding – conflicts that will only be resolved by more detailed desk-based assessment and further investigation of the wreck site.

Click through to video of the cannon discovered in situ.

Thanks to :

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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.

Open Day at The Archaeology Institute

Invitation to University of the Highlands and Islands The Archaeology Institute Open Day

“Archaeology in a Day”


 

Venue: The Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI, East Road, Kirkwall KW15 1LX

Date: Friday 4th March 2016

Time: 1pm to 4pm

Come along to our open day (Archaeology in a Day) to discover what studying Archaeology at The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has to offer. Not only can you visit our academic departments, talk to our staff and current students, view our learning facilities, but you can also experience workshops on aspects of practical archaeology.

The workshops include:

  • Osteoarchaeology (where you can observe a class examining excavated bones)
  • Finds from The Cairns excavation
  • 4000 year old Ceramics
  • Rocks and archaeology
  • Examining Teeth!

You will also see how we use the unique archaeological landscape of Orkney to further your studies. The “Archaeology in a Day” Open Day is open to anyone who is considering studying Archaeology at undergraduate or post graduate level in addition to anyone who is considering one of our short courses. We shall be videoing some of the workshops and posting on to our You Tube channel http://bit.ly/1PF093k so even if you can`t visit Orkney in person, take advantage of one of our strong points and experience distance learning “Archaeology in a Day”.

If you wish to attend then please contact Mary on 01856 569225 or Sean on 01856 569229, send us a message on our Facebook page http://on.fb.me/1SfIx3F , send us a message through Twitter @UHIArachaeology or e-mail Mary at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk.

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

 

Project partners:

 

 

Funders:

 

Do Orcadian Tombs Align with Solar Events ?

 

Research conducted by Andrea Boyar BA, Post Graduate student at The Archaeology Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands, Orkney.

Introduction

Orkney forms one of the most intensively studied regions in Britain, providing a ‘core area’ for research (Barclay 2004: 34-37). The aim of this study was to establish to what extent Neolithic cairns in this region align with solar events

Research Objectives

  • Determine the orientation of the entrance passages of the Orcadian chambered cairns.
  • Establish trends within the range of orientations.
  • Analyse the extent of alignments that fall into the range of orientations.

Background Context

The funerary monuments of Neolithic Orkney are characterised by stone-built burial mounds situated near water, perhaps indicative of the importance of sea migration (Phillips 2003: 384). These cairns contained inhumations and cremations reflective of collective burial practices, in addition to an assortment of animal bones, stone tools, pottery, and other grave goods (Davidson and Henshall 1989: 52-59). The monuments appear to have been in use for a few hundred years, and there is a “strong possibility” that many were re-used before being deliberately decommissioned (Lee 2011: 43).

Types of Neolithic Cairns in Orkney

Orkney Carin types

Case Study: Rousay

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Distribution map of the Rousay chambered cairns, showing orientation of entrance passages acording to azimuths measurements

The island of Rousay was selected for a case study due to a high concentration of well-preserved burial architecture. The primary fieldwork aim was to record cairn azimuths in order to measure deviation from solar alignments. Key to this analysis was Stellarium, an open source planetarium used to establish the Sun’s position in the Neolithic period in Britain. By utilising precise measurements, rather than relying upon cardinal point orientations, this approach allowed for a more temporal conclusion to be reached on the relationship between solar alignment and mortuary architecture in the Neolithic.

Project Results

Azimuth results
Azimuth of Rousay Cairns

Orkney-Cromarty cairns were predominantly orientated towards the southeast, with an avoidance of northern orientations

Maes Howe cairns were more variable; there appears to be a shift from the southeast to the southwest, with a complete avoidance of the north

Hybrid cairns were the most random, containing northern orientations within examples of atypical subterranean architecture

Project results

Research Findings

  • Early Neolithic cairns placed an importance on the Midwinter sunrise, while late Neolithic cairns exhibited a shift towards the Midwinter sunset
  • An avoidance of a northern orientation, which would theoretically place a tomb in a state of perpetual darkness
  • The outlier cairns orientated to the north demonstrated atypical subterranean architecture, perhaps indicative that these specific tombs were built to intentionally keep light out of the interior
  • Azimuths provided a temporal range for illumination periods – an area of further research

Further Research

Considering how this study has evidenced seasonal intervals beyond the solstices as significant, it would be worthwhile to look at how times of illumination may relate to periods when Neolithic Orcadians would visit a tomb, inter their dead, and manipulate the remains. Applying the methods utilised in the Rousay case study to the rest of the region may reveal further insight relating to the temporal function of astronomy in Neolithic Orkney.

Conclusion

Neolithic Orcadians were an agrarian society, and as such, the changing seasons would have played an integral role to the sustainability of their way of life. For reasons unknown, solar alignments were incorporated into burial architecture; with a focus on the Solstice period, a time when one cycle ends and another begins. It is possible that sunlight was simply useful for physically seeing inside the chamber itself, however, it appears that these alignments reflect an underlying cosmology indicative of the cultural importance of the sun to an agricultural community. Cairns are mortuary structures, thus the alignments evident within them may reflect pivotal periods in the year associated with ancestral rebirth or renewal

 

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