Study Archaeological Science BSc (Hons) at UHI

Labwork in Perth College
Labwork in Perth College UHI

This year we are delighted to announce the start of a new archaeology degree course to add to our existing archaeology programmes at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The BSc Honours degree in Archaeological Science is designed to meet the needs of those with an interest in the scientific and forensic aspects of archaeology, as well as delivering on the fundamentals of archaeology, including excavation, survey and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) mapping.

Students auguring

Archaeological Science is a cornerstone of archaeological investigations and a number of analyses are regularly applied to archaeological materials recovered during excavations. Over the course of this degree programme you will be introduced to the different scientific methods that form part of archaeological study, such as osteoarchaeology (study of human bone), archaeobotany (study of plant remains), zooarchaeology (study of animal bone), together with other techniques including biomolecular archaeology (study of lipids, ancient DNA. Isotopes) and geoarchaeology (study of sediments, microfossils).

These different forms of scientific study are used to answer a number of archaeological questions such as:
• Where did we come from? – ancient DNA, isotopes
• What did people eat in the past? – archaeobotany, zooarchaeology, isotopes, lipids
• How did people live and die? – osteoarchaeology
• What impact did people have on their environment? – geoarchaeology, archaeobotany

Excavating intertidal peat at the Bay of Ireland, Orkney

Through this course you will develop your understanding and knowledge of different scientific methods and their application to archaeology. There will be opportunities for hands-on learning within a laboratory environment in order to put your scientific knowledge into practice and these can be further developed through taking an archaeological science placement and through modules such as archaeological science project and dissertation.

Modules on BSc Archaeological Science include:
• Science and Archaeology
• Excavation Skills
• Wetland Archaeology
• Practical Environmental Archaeology
• Archaeology Placement
• Archaeological Science Project
• Biomolecular Archaeology
• Archaeological Science Dissertation

Together with undertaking modules from the Archaeological Science degree you will also have the option over first and second year to take modules from across the different science and humanities degrees offered by UHI in order to explore different fields of study and gain a wider breadth of module choice.

Survey and excavation
Survey and excavation at The Cairns broch, Orkney

There will 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. For details see the The Scotsman article on ‘Archaelogists survey Scotland’s Forests under the Sea’.

More information and online application for a start date of September 2018 can be accessed by clicking through to our UHI course webpage. Or if you wish to talk to us contact Dr. Scott Timpany on 01856 569225 or through


UHI PhD Student Jasmijn Gains Award for Research Poster

Identifying and counting pollen grains from one of the research sites.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is celebrating the award of Best Research Poster to PhD student Jasmijn Sybenga at the Association for Environmental Archaeology Conference held in Edinburgh in December 2017.

Jasmijn started her PhD in February 2016 after finishing both undergraduate and graduate degree at Leiden University, the Netherlands. She grew up in the east of the Netherlands which is – in contrast to what many people would expect from the Netherlands – hilly and contains woodland.

“I’ve always been interested in the development of woodlands and how people would have managed and used woodlands in the past.” Jasmijn continues,” The topic of my PhD is therefore related to my interests and after a successful application I moved to beautiful Orkney, where the only thing that I sometimes miss are the trees!”

Jasmijn’s research poster was entitled,’ Investigating the feasibility of reinstating the natural woodland of the Highlands by using long-term palaeological records’ – and will contribute to Scottish Forestry Commission reinstatement policy for the natural woodland of the Scottish Highlands.

One of the research sites: Dalchork

The conference’s theme was the ‘Grand Challenge Agenda in Environmental Archaeology’ and focused on investigating the dynamics of complex socio-ecological systems, demography, mobility, identity, resilience, and human-environment interactions. The full AEA conference abstract goes on to say, “Environmental archaeology is ideally situated to contribute directly to these challenges, concerned, as it is,with the human ecology of the past – the relationship between past human populations and their physical,biological and socio-economic environments – through the analysis and interpretation of animal and plant remains within the depositional environment of the archaeological site and its surrounds.”

An auger survey to investigate the depth of the peat and gauge the overall stratigraphic sequence before taking a pollen core

Jasmijn continues…..”Areas of peatland in the Scottish Highlands have been afforested since the Scottish Forestry Commission (SFC) was established in 1919. During the 1980s and the early 1990s these upland areas have been extensively covered with non-native conifer plantations which drastically affected the landscape and present ecosystems. Over the last few years, plantations have started to be felled in order to reinstate peatland.

As an addition, the SFC who maintain most of the afforested peatland is keen on developing policies on the reinstatement of the “natural woodland” of the Scottish Highlands. Areas of peatland within the Highlands can contain significant depths of peat (>5m) that have accumulated over thousands of years. The anaerobic conditions of the peat create suitable conditions for the preservation of pollen grains, plant macrofossils and non-pollen palynomorphs (NPPs) which can inform on long-term vegetation patterns and climate change cycles. This is of particularly relevance to modern ecology where studies tend to be relatively short-term in comparison and therefore we can use these records to inform on much longer trends for example vegetation changes in response to human impact or changing climate.

Checking the stratigraphic sequence

My PhD project will use palaeoecological data from three peatland areas under the care of the SFC to create long-term vegetation records with particular attention on former native woodland. The aim is to understand what these woodlands would have looked like, what caused the demise of these woodlands and whether if planted today these woodlands would thrive or demise in the present conditions of these Highland areas. This information will have implications for future conservation strategies in the Highlands and potentially across Scotland.”

Jasmijn AEA Poster2-page-001
Jasmijn’s poster

Jasmijn’s PhD title is Seeing the Wood for the Trees. A Palaeological Approach into the Research of Past Natural Woodland in the Scottish Highlands. The research is funded by the Scottish Forestry Commission. PhD supervisors are Scott Timpany, Roxane Andersen and Melanie Smith. You can contact the Association for Environmental Archaeology through their website.

You can study our courses from any one of the colleges in the UHI network and that you can also study MLitt Archaeological Studies from anywhere in the world.

If you would like to chat with us and explore your options at the UHI Archaeology Institute then contact Mary on 01856 569225,e-mail us at  or see our website.

UHI Archaeology Institute Excavation Calendar 2018

The exciting archaeology research dig programme for 2018 is now confirmed. 

There are seven sites open in Orkney alone with further exciting community projects planned throughout the year. Check out this blog and social media for  updates.

The on-site teams welcome visitors and there is no charge for entry….although we welcome donations to help support the research. There are a few things to keep in mind when visiting:

  • The sites can be muddy following bad weather so sturdy boots are recommended
  • Sites can also be closed if the weather is particularly inclement, so if in doubt please check by sending us an e-mail
  • If you need any help in planning a trip to the projects listed below, then please feel free to contact us on We are always happy to help you find the site or answer questions.

There are also opportunities to take part in these community events, even if you have no experience of archaeology. So if you want to take part in these exciting community events then contact Dan Lee on .

The Cairns Excavation

The Cairns 1

  • Site Director: Martin Carruthers
  • Iron Age Broch and Settlement in a stunning coastal location
  • Location: Windwick Bay, South Ronaldsay, Orkney. Follow the sign to Windwick on the A961 between St Margarets Hope and Burwick.
  • Open to the public from 18th June to 13th July 2018
  • Tours are available Monday to Friday. There are no set times, but the site opens at 10.30am each morning and closes at around 4.30pm.
  • Open Day is Friday 6th July. All welcome.
  • Access to the site involves a short, but steep unpaved road over a small bridge.
  • Archaeologists will be working on site during the week. No-one will be on site during the weekend.
  • You can also follow on social media.

Ness of Brodgar Excavations


  • Site Director: Nick Card
  • World renowned Neolithic Excavation
  • Location: Stenness, West Mainland, Orkney
  • Nick Card, Site Director Ness of Brodgar, will be giving a talk to the Orkney Archaeology Society on 21st June. Venue: Orkney Theatre, Kirkwall. Time to be confirmed.
  • Site open to the public from 4th July to 22nd August 2018
  • Tours are available
    • Monday to Friday at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.
    • Saturday & Sunday 11am and 3pm.
  • Archaeologists will be working on site during the week. The site is open at the weekend for 2 guided tours, but archaeologists will not be present.
  • Booking essential for ‘Digging up the Past’ workshops for young people (see here to book) which will be running on:
    • 24th July 2018
    • 31st July 2018
    • 7th August 2018
    • 14th August 2018
  • Open Days will be 15th July and 19th August.
  • Please check the Ness of Brodgar Trust website for up to date information. You can also follow on social media.

Cata Sand, Tresness Chambered Tomb & Loth Road Bronze Age House


  • Site Directors: Professor Vicki Cummings (UCLan), Professor Jane Downes (UHI), Professor Colin Richards (UHI), Chris Gee
  • Neolithic & Bronze Age excavation in collaboration with UCLan.
  • Location: Cata Sand, Tresness, Sanday, Orkney. The Loth Road excavation is close to the ferry terminal and will be signposted.
  • The sites are on the northern Orkney island of Sanday. The ferry timetable is available here.
  • Open to the public from 7th July to 4th August 2018
  • You are welcome to visit the three sites under investigation. The sites open at 10.30am each morning and closes at around 4.30pm.
  • Access to the Tresness and Cata Sand sites involves a long walk along Tresness beach from the B9069.
  • Archaeologists will be working on site during the week.
  • The site is in the intertidal zone and so will be submerged for some parts of the day. Please check with staff concerning working times as they will depend on the tides. Contact:

Skaill Farmstead Excavation, Rousay

20170714_133753 LowRes

  • Site Directors: Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dr Jen Harland and Dan Lee
  • The work at Skaill aims to explore the remarkable deep time represented along the west shore; from the Neolithic, Iron Age, Pictish, Viking and Norse periods to the 19th century clearances. Why not visit the coastally eroding site at Swandro as well, which is a further 10 min walk along the coast from Skaill.
  • Location: Skaill, near Midhowe Broch, Rousay. There is a regular ferry service to the island.
  • Open to the public from 9th – 22nd July 2018 (note, the team will not be on-site 14-17 July)
  • The site opens at 9.30am each morning and closes at around 4.30pm.
  • Access to the site involves a walk down a steep hill from the car park for Mid Howe Broch and left (south) along the shoreline (15 min walk). The ground is uneven and the path is a little overgrown in places. Please do not access from Westness Farm.
  • Archaeologists will be working on site during the week.
  • The Open Day will be on the final weekend 21st-22nd July
  • Contact:

If you wish to be added to our mailing list for community archaeology volunteers then please use the contact form below or contact

See the web page on Visit Orkney for more information on transport links and accommodation.

This page will be updated as new events and activities are confirmed.

From Lincolnshire to Orkney – TJ’s journey into archaeology

TJ and Leo, her companion dog, working in the lab

Terri-Jane (TJ to everyone) is an archaeology student with the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. She starts the ‘Archaeology and Local Studies’ Course in January 2018.

TJ’s story is a success story and demonstrates that there is more than one route into archaeology. Having found her passion for the subject, TJ wanted to share her journey, and takes up the story from here ….

“As a child I wanted to become an archaeologist, but I was not encouraged to follow this route. I am dyslexic and in those days there was not the support in place to follow a university career that there is now. So I kept my interest alive by visiting our local museum, travelling to lectures and watching programmes on television.”

TJ at the Mapping Magnus Community dig in Palace Village

“I became wheelchair dependent in 2013 and I thought that was the end of my idea of studying archaeology. But in 2016 I moved to Orkney and started an art class at Orkney College UHI and there I met Sorcha….the Highlands and Islands Students Association (HISA) Regional Vice President. Sorcha is an archaeology student, and we talked about my interest in the subject and how I wanted to be involved, but didn’t know how. Following a few more conversations, I was in the Archaeology Institute at Orkney College – talking to staff about volunteering, enrolling on the Archaeology and Local Studies course and accessing all areas! Everyone was so enthusiastic and ,Wow, the next thing I knew I was invited to the Mapping Magnus community dig at Birsay.”

The Mapping Magnus community dig, Palace Village, Orkney

“Kath, one of the second year archaeology students, picked me up in her car and off we went to the Mapping Magnus dig at Palace Village, Birsay. I was so excited, but also a little bit nervous. I was about to take part in a real dig, researching the location of a medieval palace!

It was a beautiful sunny day and as we arrived at the dig Kath took me to the site over boards laid down for my wheelchair. Almost immediately I was at work with a trowel and sieving soil samples coming out of the dig. I was working at an archaeological dig!”

Mapping Magnus Community Dig

“I was so excited to be taking part and within a few minutes I came across my first finds; a medieval fish bone, three animal bones and a collection of limpet shells. The team were so friendly and supported me through the whole process and, perhaps more importantly, I was treated like everyone else. My disability was not a hindrance.

I am now actively involved in the Archaeology Institute’s volunteer programme, volunteering for everything I can at the college in Kirkwall. Only last week I was in the lab washing bones from The Cairns broch and then cataloguing finds from the Orkney World Heritage Site field walking project. There is no stopping me now!”

TJ has signed up for the Archaeology and Local Studies course and starts in January and is on the volunteer list to take part in future community archaeology projects.

The Archaeology and Local Studies distance learning course is designed for people who are interested in learning more about the archaeology of the north of Scotland – from the mesolithic to the medieval and including the study of such incredible structures as brochs.

The course involves 2 hours a week taught classes for 10 weeks. Applicants for the course do not need experience of archaeology and the course can be studied as a standalone course worth 20 credits or used as an access course for studying at university level. As such it is a good opportunity to see if archaeology is for you and learn about the subject.

You can study our courses from any one of the colleges in the UHI network and that you can study MLitt Archaeological Studies from anywhere in the world.

If you would like to chat with us and explore your options at the UHI Archaeology Institute then contact Mary on 01856 569225, e-mail us at  or see our website.



Archaeology Evening Class 2018 – Introduction to Archaeology

DSCN0333The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are now enrolling students for the ‘Introduction to Archaeology’ Evening Class to be held at Orkney College, Kirkwall, Orkney in February 2018.

  • Venue: Orkney College, University of the Highlands and Islands, East Road, Kirkwall.
  • Course length: 10 weeks (2 hour sessions)
  • Commences: 21 February 2018
  • Time: 7-9pm on Wednesday evenings at Orkney College (fieldtrips 6-8pm). The archive session is on a Thursday 5-7pm to make use of late opening at Orkney Library & Archive.
  • Course fee: £100

This new course, taught by leading practitioners and lecturers at the UHI Archaeology Institute, introduces the basic theory, methods and practice used in Archaeology.

Key areas covered include an introductory overview, basic research, chronology, environmental archaeology, landscape archaeology, finds, geophysics and excavation.


The aim is to provide an over-view of archaeology and archaeological practice for general knowledge and volunteering. The classes are workshop-based, hands-on and thematic, delivered in a relaxed and friendly environment.

Class details:

  • 21 February: Introduction to Archaeology (Martin Carruthers)
  • 28 February: Animal bones (Dr Ingrid Mainland)
  • 8 March: Archives and archive research. Meet at Orkney Library & Archive, Archives room. (Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon) (5-7pm)
  • 14 March: Landscape archaeology, geophysics & aerial photographs (Dr James Moore & Amanda Brend)
  • 21 March: Research: Orkney Sites and Monuments Record Office and National Monument Record of Scotland (Julie Gibson & Dan Lee)
  • 28 March: Environmental Archaeology (Dr Scott Timpany)

EASTER HOLIDAY – no classes (college holidays 2 – 13 April inclusive)

  • 18 April: Digital Heritage (Dr Jen Harland & Crane Begg)
  • 25 April: Artefacts and drawing (Martin Carruthers & Crane Begg)
  • 2 May: Fieldtrip 1 (Landscape and Orkney World Heritage Site) (6-8pm)
  • 9 May: Fieldtrip 2 (Buildings & wartime) (6-8pm)

The timetable may be subject to change.

This course is not networked or available online as it is workshop based. 

If you are interested in attending please contact Tina Brown or Telephone Tina directly on 01856 569206 or through the Orkney College switchboard on 01856 569000.

3 Day Archaeology Short Course – The Cairns, Orkney, Summer 2018


The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to announce that the popular hands-on field-based short course is being offered once again during the summer of 2018.

Located at one of Orkney’s leading excavations, The Cairns broch, this three day short course aims to provide participants with basic training and understanding of the practices and processes in Field Archaeology.

  • Date: 20-22 June 2018 (3 full days 9:30 – 16:30)
  • Venue: The Cairns Broch excavations, South Ronaldsay, Orkney
  • Cost: £200.00 per person
  • Booking: contact Mary Connolly at

Training will cover:

  • excavation techniques
  • finds identification
  • the principles of stratigraphy
  • basic site survey and archaeological recording (drawn, written and photographic record).

Participants will be trained by professional archaeologists from the UHI Archaeology Institute and will form part of the large team at the excavation site. If you read this blog,  then you will know that The Cairns is a friendly dig situated in a breath-taking location overlooking the sea.


The course aims to equip participants with the skills and confidence to engage with other archaeological field projects or lead onto further studies in the discipline.

We recommend that you bring steel toe boots/wellies, full waterproofs, packed lunch and flask. Toilet facilities are provided. Participants are to meet at the excavation site each day at 9:00. Accommodation, travel and lunch are not included. See the Visit Orkney website to book accommodation.

Places are limited (12 max.) so book now!

For more information about the UHI Archaeology Institute visit our website and blog.

The Ness of Brodgar- Summer 2017

DJI_0562-view to hoy

The plans for the Ness of Brodgar dig season 2018 are well under way, and with the end of the year in sight, perhaps it is time to catch up with some of the highlights of the 2017 season. 

Hints at links between the Ness of Brodgar and the Stonehenge area were unearthed this summer, during a record-breaking season at the Stenness site. Over the eight-week excavation, around 21,500 visitors made their way to the Ness, where a team of international diggers were hard at work on the Stone Age complex. At the helm, as usual, was site director Nick Card, of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

Once again, the Ness lived up to its reputation of throwing up lots of new questions, but also some magnificent finds. Of particular interest this year were the two items that suggest contact between Orkney and the Stonehenge area. The first of these was a fragment of pot recovered from a trench extension over Structure Twenty-Six. This came as something of a surprise as the decoration on the sherd was very reminiscent of pottery from Durrington Walls . That said, there were also distinctly Orcadian features, which led us to wonder whether the original vessel blended decorative elements from these two world-renowned sites – but which were hundreds of miles apart.

Fragments of the 'incense' cup - only 4 others of this style are known - all from the Stonehenge-Wessex region
Fragments of the ‘Incense ‘ cup – only 4 others of this style are known – all from the Stonehenge-Wessex Region

Parallels between the Orkney and Wessex sites have been noted before — particularly when Mike Parker Pearson, who excavated at Durrington Walls, visited the Ness in 2010 and 2014 — but a second discovery in Structure Twenty-Six brought these back into the spotlight.

On the surface, it didn’t seem very significant but, thankfully, Claire Copper, who had just finished a research project on these artefacts, immediately recognised it for what it was — a beautiful little ‘incense cup’. After much checking, we were delighted when it was confirmed the cup was what we thought it was. There are only four other examples of this particular type of ‘cup’ in the UK and they all hail from the Stonehenge area.

These tiny artefacts are often highly decorated and mostly found in Early Bronze Age contexts — often associated with burials. Their use has been the subject of debate over the years. It has been suggested that they were used to carry embers to a funeral pyre, or perhaps for the burning of incense during burial ceremonies.

Tracing the walls

Elsewhere on site, it seems likely that the “Great Wall of Brodgar” was one of the first constructions on site. The four-metre-thick wall was unearthed in 2007. Shortly afterwards, the discovery of a second wall — to the south-east of the site — prompted the theory that the complex was completely enclosed.

Trench J in 2008 - red shows GWB and yellow, Structure 5
Trench J in 2008 – red shows Great Wall of Brodgar and yellow Structure 5

Last year, a trench was extended down towards the Stenness Loch looking for evidence that the wall sections were once connected. Unfortunately, nothing was found. This year, however, close examination of an aerial photograph from 2016 revealed very faint, but definite, marks on the landscape around the site. Not only did these “crop marks” clearly show the location of the two known wall sections but highlighted the layout of the enclosing side walls. The difference was that the wall running along the side of the Stenness Loch was closer to the water than originally thought.

We were disappointed last year when there were no upstanding traces of the connecting wall, but it now seems we had been digging in the wrong place. We had tried geophysics on the Stenness loch side, but overhead power lines and a fence line scrambled the results. With no scans to worth with, we had to extend the trench based on our suspicions and it now seems we did not taken the extension far enough down towards the water. Hopefully next year we’ll open a small exploratory trench over the revised location and see what comes up.

The inner face of the Great wall of Brodgar once again see the light of day

Meanwhile, the trench containing the corner of the ”Great Wall” — and the adjacent building, Structure Five — was re-opened this year for the first time since 2008. Nick suspected that Structure Five was was an early Neolithic building and this proved correct. The building is very reminiscent of the early house at the Knap of Howar (3600BC), in Papa Westray. But, in true Ness of Brodgar fashion, is much bigger.

It also became clear that the “Great Wall” not only curved to follow a path along the shore of the Harray Loch, but curled closely around Structure Five — suggesting that it, too, was a very early element in the history of the site. This was confirmed by excavation, which showed nothing lay beneath the wall section except the natural boulder clay on which it was built.

It may be possible to date the construction of the wall using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) — a technique that could provide the last date on which the ground beneath the wall’s foundation was exposed to sunlight — something that may be explored in the future.

Frustration and delight in Trench T

While work progressed and questions answered, Trench T — to the south-east of the main site — proved particularly obstinate. Here, work to excavate a huge midden mound began in 2013. At first it was thought this was nothing more than a “monumental pile of rubbish” — a visible example of conspicuous, Stone Age consumption, and a reflection of the status and affluence of the Ness, left there for all to see. In 2014, however, the stump of a standing stone turned up at the foot of the mound, hinting there might be more to it.

In 2015, sections of walling and orthostats were found at the bottom of the trench, followed, last year, by massive stone slabs in the remains of a puzzling structure. We felt these structural remnants represented a chambered cairn, similar to the one he had excavated at Bookan, at the other end of the Ness, in 2002.


But, as the weeks passed, the sheer scale of the building — dubbed Structure Twenty-Seven by the archaeologists — became clearer. The building was huge and the stone slabs so big that it was suggested they were re-purposed standing stones. These massive megaliths were used to support orthostats that clad the structure’s less-than-perfect interior wall face.Given its position, it Structure Twenty-Seven is also likely to pre-date many of the other buildings on the Ness.

Describing the trench as a “source of frustration and delight”, Nick had hoped to reveal more of Structure Twenty-Seven this season, but progress was slowed by the discovery of pits and fragments of walling.

“Everything about Trench T is just different,” he said. “This year we extended it, hoping to quickly expose more of the structure — whatever it is — but, as usual, you should always expect the unexpected and we came down upon intermediary structural elements that had to be dealt with and recorded. Some of these may relate to Structure Twenty-Seven but I think there’s other things happening in this area and this has really muddied the waters.”


He added that more of the building’s south end was uncovered and that there are also hints of what might be its entrance. “We had also thought that Structure Twenty-Seven had been substantially dismantled in the Neolithic — its stone plundered for use elsewhere and that not much of it had survived. But this summer, we found another section of nicely built drain, that may have been underneath a flagged passageway around the exterior of the building — somewhat similar to that around Structure Ten in the main trench.”

In addition, more of the building’s 2.3-metre-thick back wall was uncovered and found to be in a better state of repair, with several courses surviving. All we can hope for now is that work in 2018 will bring us a clear idea of the layout of this puzzling building.

Back to the Iron Age

Meanwhile, at the top of Trench T, another fragment of pottery, added to the evidence that the Neolithic midden mound was remodelled in the Iron Age, thousands of years after the site was abandoned. Not only was a ditch cut into the mound, but a revetment wall, on the upslope side, was enhanced by a large bank, itself held at the rear by another revetment wall.

“If these structures ran right round the crest of the mound — with the ditch open and highly visible on the downslope and the bank above — the visual effect would have been striking in the extreme,” said Nick. “Indeed, because of the height of the midden mound it was built on, the structure would have been visible for miles around. No doubt this was the intention of the Iron Age builders, as there are many other examples in Orkney of their willingness to alter the landscape and any older structures visible within it.”

Public Interest

Over 14 years since the discovery of the Ness complex, the site continues to produce stunning artefacts and discoveries on a daily basis. But on a site where the extraordinary has become the norm — and with it the expectations of the public — is Nick concerned there is a danger interest could wane?

The first tour of the season is shepherded by site dog Bryn

“We have still got stunning finds coming up on a daily basis that, ten years ago, or at any other site, would hit the headlines across the country. 2017 saw more artwork, stunning stone tools and — in a first for the Ness — a beautiful example of an Early Bronze Age barbed-and-tanged flint arrowhead, recovered from the exterior of Structure Ten. I think that these days people are looking beyond the initial ‘wow’ factor and are just as interested in how finds — no matter how small — fit into the story of the site as a whole. The arrowhead, for example, was a lovely find and a delight to behold, but just as important is its role in interpreting the life, and death, of the Ness.”

Close up of the arrowhead - a first for the Ness

It was found in a lump of midden filling the outer passage of Structure Ten — the so-called ‘cathedral’ — which overlaid the animal bone we think was the result of a decommissioning feast. Elsewhere in this passage, in the same context, we found a distinctive piece of Beaker pottery from the same period. These finds, together with the dating evidence so far, are key to the idea that the start of the Bronze Age heralded the demise of the Ness. And perhaps more importantly, shows that Bronze Age influences had made it this far north.

But it is not just the artefacts that draws people to the Ness. It is the whole package of seeing an excavation under way; the trenches; the archaeologists…With visitor numbers for 2017 up by 63 per cent and the daily online dig diary recording a 30 per cent increase in traffic it is clear that public interest — local, national and international — continues apace.

“Since we started work, one of our main aims was to take the archaeology and share it with as many people as we can,” said Nick. “Going on the visitor figures, this seems to be working, and we’re looking at other ways to improve things, online and on-site.”

He added: “Overall, it’s heartening to see that interest continues to grow because over 75 per cent of our funding comes from the general public and without that support the Ness just wouldn’t happen.”

You can support the excavations by making a donation or buying a copy of the excellent guidebook at

The site is supported by the Ness of Brodgar Trust (, American Friends of the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney Islands Council and the Orkney LEADER Programme 2014-2020.

Both undergraduate and postgraduate archaeology students at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are given the opportunity to be involved with the archaeological investigation at the Ness of Brodgar in addition to The Cairns and other archaeological excavations across Orkney and Scotland. If you want to study archaeology and be involved with the research taking place at UHI Archaeology Institute then contact us on or see our website.