The Cairns Day Five 2017

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Woody working in the broch

In contrast to yesterday the weather has been kind. Happily, and despite some reduced numbers on the team today, significant progress has been made.

In the north-east quarter of trench Q the furnace structure has revealed ever more detail of its construction and use and further articulated remains of a young sheep (or goat) have been lifted from the teardrop shaped construction in front of the furnace along with a variety of animal bone including a jawbone probably from an older animal. Some of the collapsed stone behind the furnace has also been shown to be contemporary with its construction, so Dave has told me.

Meanwhile, back in the Broch itself the hard-working crew led by Woody (who probably has a real name, but nobody knows) has managed to complete the herculean task of emptying several tonnes of rubble from the interior, lifted over the standing structure and across difficult terrain to finally reveal the remaining standing construction  inside the structure

For myself and the others, working in the new extension of the trench (currently known simply as “South West Extension”)  further sessions of heavy trowelling have successfully revealed a layer of large stones that may, or may not, be “a something”.

We have also convinced ourselves that we have one or two possible edges of a ditch (or the remains of ridge and furrow) that are revealed at this early stage. Time and trowel will tell as they say…

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Work continuing in the South West Extension
As an older volunteer, I can recommend The Cairns as a friendly environment in which to work, but in hindsight I would have done more to increase my fitness and stamina before the start of the dig. The first week ends with very few of my leg muscles being in good condition. You live and learn! ‘
Peter Shackleton, volunteer excavator

 

Ness to Ness: Art & Archaeology Workshop 2017

NesstoNessfront v3-page-001The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with Orkney College Art Department to offer a summer Art and Archaeology workshop.

  • Dates: 17th-20thAugust 2017
  • Venue: Orkney
  • All welcome. No experience necessary.
  • Cost: £220 per person for 4 days (accommodation and food not included)
  • Contact Mary Connolly at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or 01856 569225 to book a place

The schedule for the four days includes:

Thursday 17th August. Field Day. Ness of Brodgar and Ness Battery

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After an introduction to the workshop, we will visit the excavations at the Ness of Brodgar. You will enjoy a bespoke tour of the site with Site Director Nick Card and see its unique art with Neolithic art specialist Dr Antonia Thomas. In the afternoon we will have a tour of the remarkable buildings at the Ness battery and its unique WW2 painted murals with archaeologists Andrew Hollinrake and Dan Lee.

Friday 18th August. Studio Day. Printmaking with Charles Shearer

A&A 1For today’s session, we will be based in the art studios at Orkney College UHI in Kirkwall with designer Kirsteen Stewart. Inspired by the previous field days, you will develop your creative ideas through the medium of print with world-renowned printmaker Charles Shearer. You will also have the opportunity to learn the process of collagraph print production from drawing and cutting using a range of tools, through to the application of textures and materials that help give this process its unique character. Professor Mark Edmonds will also give a guest lecture where he will discuss the intersection of art and archaeology and his own printmaking practice.

Saturday 19th August. Field Day. Pier Arts Centre and Warbeth Beach

For today’s field trip we will have a dedicated tour of the Pier Arts Centre and its world-class collection of British Modernist paintings and sculpture, led by Education Officer and artist Carol Dunbar. The afternoon will be spent on Warbeth Beach where we will explore the materials used for art making in the Neolithic, and find our how this striking landscape inspires modern and contemporary artists.

Sunday 20th August. Studio Day. Printmaking with Charles Shearer

During this workshop, you will be able to develop your ideas from the previous three days further and continue to work on collagraph printmaking with Charles Shearer and explore other forms of mark-making with designer Kirsteen Stewart.

Cost: £220 per person for 4 days (accommodation and food not included).Contact Mary Connolly at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or 01856 569225 to book a place.

 

Archaeology in Uist-Barpa Langass

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Sounding more like a mercenary from Star Wars than an archaeological site, Barpa Langass is, in fact, a Neolithic Chambered tomb located in North Uist.

Barpa Langass is classified as a Hebridean styled roundcairn which are defined by their simple, round form, slightly pronounced funnel entrances, narrow entrance passages and simple chambers. The earliest of these chambered cairns incorporate circles of upright stones known as peristaliths. These stones wrap around the cairns creating a stone circle. Virtually none of these sites have been excavated in modern times and therefore we know very little about them.

IMG_4192The internal passageway and chamber were seemingly remodelled in antiquity, probably after a collapse. However, the site has also suffered considerable disturbance over the last 200 years. In the late nineteenth century, a second chamber was said to be accessible by a passage from the north side. By 1970 this chamber was no longer visible.

Up until recently, Barpa Langass was famously the best preserved Hebridean cairn in Scotland and the only example of a Neolithic tomb in the Western Isles where the chamber was still intact and accessible. However, around 2011, a partial collapse of stone including one of the principal lintels within the passageway has caused considerable damage to the site.

Finds unearthed by antiquarian Erskine Beveridge in around 1907 are now in the National Museum of Scotland and include Beaker and Iron Age sherds, as well as a few flints, a barbed and tanged arrowhead and burnt bone (possibly human).


If you are interested in studying archaeology in the Western Isles, then you can complete access, undergraduate and postgraduate courses at Lews Castle College UHI as part of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. See the UHI website or contact us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

The Cairns Day Four 2017

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Today was certainly a mixed one in terms of the weather, and the team worked through very warm sunshine and some really torrential rain showers as well! But results were well worth the labour!

20170615_102947Spirit unabated progress continued in the trenches. In the broch, the team have been excavating the lowest rubble deposits from the western half of the interior, revealing patches of tantalising black organic occupation material here and there. The hope is that once some more of the rubble has been removed we will see that the greater portion of the area is taken up with this nice deposit so that we can then begin to excavate in a strategic manner on a grid, taking many soil samples for analysis.

DCYP7YlXsAIpm3VEven the rubble, though, has significant points of interest. For example, Kath, one of our degree students found a nice sizeable chunk of whalebone set in the rubble snug against the broch inner wall face. There are also other little bone finds in here too, such as a sheep jawbone, shells and occasional stone tools. It appears that even the rubble infill relating to the abandonment of the broch (about the middle of the 2nd Century AD), apparently contained deliberate little deposits of items, a phenomenon we have previously witnessed in other zones of the broch infill.

20170615_162930Meanwhile in Trench Q, during our exploration of the extramural features around the outside of the broch on the north and east side we found quite thick blankets of silty soils and light rubble that contain a lot of artefacts and environmental remains. Hannah has been finding some chunky cattle bones, for example, and there has been a lot of pottery, including a nice sherd with decoration in the form of applied diagonal pellets under a nice rolled rim. This decorated pottery is Middle Iron Age in date and therefore roughly of the period of the broch, however, in this case it probably dates to a time just after the broch was abandoned.

Articulated animal bone next to the furnace in Trench QIn the western edge of Trench Q, Charlotte and Therese have been cleaning up in our furnace area, a feature we believe is associated with iron-working. Intriguingly, they have been finding articulated animal bones on the edge of the furnace zone, and this is in an area where we previously found a large pig skull that was severed clean off its body with a substantial edged object, most likely a metal blade! It seems likely that there are also special deposits in and around the furnace!

With the bursts of heavy rain our south-west extension became effectively unworkable with its spreads of clay and thick silty soils, so the part of the team that had been working there, migrated into the broch to help the others and progress in the last part of the afternoon was good.

Tomorrow, with the help of good weather, (fingers and toes crossed!), we should be able to reach our goal of establishing the uppermost occupation deposit across the western interior of the building- then the fun begins!

Martin Carruthers, Site Director

 

 

The Cairns Day Three 2017

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Getting ready for excavation inside the broch

Today’s fine weather allowed us to get going with preparing various parts of the site for excavation, and getting stuck in to trenches Q and M.

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Slabs from the souterrain roof

I started this morning re-homing the lintel stones from the souterrain. These were taken out at the end of last season in order to allow the excavation of floor deposits within the souterrain passage this year. This morning a small team of strong-armed diggers moved them to safer pastures outside the work area. Here they’ll be out of harm’s way (and visible if you swing by for a visit!).

Our reward for this hard work was the chance to get in the broch itself – so hard hats went on and the work began to get the broch ready for the serious excavation to come. The team moved out some slabs and stony fill in order to get down to the exciting floor layers below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAElsewhere on the site Therese and Charlotte cleaned up the furnace in Trench Q, and in the process found some articulated bone – a hopeful sign of even more interesting finds in this area.  In the finds tent Kevin and Kathryn reported surprisingly large amounts of pottery coming from all areas of the site – more than has been found in previous seasons – as well as a Skaill knife (a stone blade used in butchery and scraping hides, etc.).

Thankfully the rain largely stayed off during the day, allowing the team to make some progress and build momentum on site – we’re now really getting excited for the coming weeks.

Today’s blog was written by Hannah Boyd – a recent graduate of the University of Edinburgh and a newbie to The Cairns community. This is Hannah’s first time digging at The Cairns and she’s excited to get the chance to work on a broch site – particularly such a rich and interesting site as this!

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Removing rubble from the western area of the broch

The Cairns Day Two 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHi folks, Martin again, reporting on progress during day two of the project.

We spent the earlier part of the day cleaning over surfaces within the trench and generally tidying up its appearance in preparation for beginning to actually start excavating in earnest.

Indeed, it was during the general clean up, within the extension on the south-west side of the site that we made today’s star find!  Woody, who has just completed his degree studies with us, was cleaning the edge of the new trench when he made the fine.  It’s a beautiful bronze pin.  This particular type is known as a ‘Hand-pin’ because it has a head shaped like an arc or ring with three little beaded projections above.  The entire decorated head resembles a little hand.

This is a really nice find, and it’s quite chronologically suggestive as well since pins like this are an early form of the hand-pin (sometimes known as a proto-hand pin) and are thought to date to around the 3rd or 4th Centuries AD, and a little later- so about the same period as the later Roman period in Southern Britain.

The pin had come from a deposit high in the sequence of dark silty soils that we think might be the uppermost fills of the great enclosure ditch that surrounds the site.  This could be some very interesting dating evidence for the last infilling of the ditch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANearby, Kath, another of our degree students found a really nice piece of pottery with a ‘rolled’ rim, which is, again suggestive of a date in the earlier part of the Late Iron Age.

Meanwhile, as work progressed over on the northern part of the site to clean up in Trench Q, Christine, yet another UHI student found an equally chunky and impressive piece of pottery, but this time of a slightly different sort.  It had an everted (out-swinging) rim and a nice globular body.  This is more of a Middle Iron Age type- the period of the heyday of the broch itself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll, in all, considering it was a day largely given over to preliminary clean-up we have had a very nice set of finds and together with the feature and deposits we are encountering they are helping us to formulate the story of the site, yet further.

In future days, we’ll be bringing you perspectives from a range of people involved in the excavations at the site.

Please check in with us again tomorrow for more exciting developments from the trenches.

Martin Carruthers, Site Director, The Cairns

 

 

Extended MSc Archaeological Practice – limited number of funded places also available

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The MSc in Archaeological Practice at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has always included modules that prepare students for the workplace.

The requirements of the archaeological workplace are increasingly changing to include in-depth knowledge and professional experience of applied environmental archaeology techniques.

Building on our experience of research in the field of bioarchaeology we have now extended the MSc Archaeological Practice course to include additional targeted modules in environmental archaeology and geoarchaeology.

  • Archaebotany to archaeozoology (20 credits optional)
  • Practical Archaeology (20 credits core)
  • Geoarchaeology of the North Atlantic (20 credits optional, led by Professor Ian Simpson, University of Stirling)
  • Professional Placement in environmental archaeology with Dr Scott Timpany, Dr Ingrid Mainland and Dr Jennifer Harland (60 credits)
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Postgraduate students working at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney

Contact Dr Ingrid Mainland for more details or click through to the University of Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute to apply.

Start date: September 2017.


Funded Postgraduate Places

The University of the Highlands and Islands is pleased to offer a limited number of places with full tuition fee support for Scottish-domiciled/EU students, studying full time, on this course starting in September 2017 to help talented students join this key growth sector for the Scottish economy.

Fees will be 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 Programmes.

See the University of the Highlands and Islands web page for more details.ESF-&-SFC-Logo