Viva success for UHI PhD student

Magdalena Blanz (right) with one of her PhD supervisors, Dr Ingrid Mainland, senior lecturer at the UHI Archaeology Institute.

UHI Archaeology Institute student Magdalena Blanz has passed her PhD viva examination.

Magdalena’s PhD thesis, Seaweed as Food, Fodder and Fertiliser in the North Atlantic Islands: Past, present and future opportunities, looked at the importance of seaweed to past and present island communities. Part of this, involved researching how the chemical and isotopic composition of skeletal material is changed by the consumption of seaweed and the impact of fertilising grain crops with seaweed.

Her PhD was 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 Programme.

But it is double congratulations to Magdalena, who also has a post-doctoral research appointment at Vienna Institute for Archaeological Science (VIAS), University of Vienna.

Funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the project is entitled Farmers without borders: Ecological perspectives on the spread of animal husbandry from the Mediterranean to southeast Europe (6500-5500 BC).

It deals with the interrelationships of environmental, biological and socio-cultural factors that enabled the spread of domestic animals in the Balkans, by analysing absorbed organic residues in pottery, stable isotope analysis of animal remains, statistical analysis of archaeological kill-off profiles and computational modelling.

If you are interested in postgraduate research at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, please get in touch by e-mailing studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or see our guide page.

International research project looking at Northern Isles’ place in European trade networks launches next week

A major international research project investigating Orkney and Shetland’s place in the European trade networks of the 15th to 18th centuries launches next week.

Looking in from the Edge (LIFTE) is a three-year programme involving the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, the University of Lincoln and the German Maritime Museum, in Bremerhaven.

During the period under investigation, a system of trade gradually brought much of the globe within its influence. In Europe, it led to peripheral places becoming closely tied into continental European trade networks, transforming their largely subsistence and low-level trading economies to commercialised, surplus-producing ones. At the forefront was the Hanseatic League — an organisation of German merchants formed around 1150 and which expanded into the North Atlantic in the 15th century.

Although the league’s influence in Shetland has been extensively documented, less is known about its interests in Orkney and this will be an early focus of the project.

The University of the Highlands and Islanders Archaeology Institute research team involved in the Looking in from the Edge project. From the left: Paul Sharman, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dr Jen Harland, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, Julie Gibson, Professor Neil Simco, (UHI Vice-Principal [Research and Impact]) and Professor Jane Downes (Director of the UHI Archaeology Institute). Dan Lee, Dr Siobhan Cooke and Anne Mitchell are missing from the picture.

The UK team is led by Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, who will work with Dr Natascha Mehler from the German Maritime Museum, who is leading the German team.

Dr Gibbon explained: “Tapping into the rich research that has already been carried out in Shetland, we’re looking to find out what was going on in terms of trade in Orkney. We know the Hanseatic League was prominent in Shetland but its impact on Orkney is little researched. Was Orkney sharing in that wealth? Who was trading with whom? What was being traded? Where were the trading centres?

“The project will give us an opportunity to look into the mechanisms of early modern trade and how the Northern Isles adapted to a changing economic world. How did this emerging international trade change the islanders’ way of making and trading their wares and products? What were the consequences of this rapidly changing and expanding world on the social and economic ways of life for the islanders?”

The Skaill multi-period farmstead, Rousay, Orkney, one of the archaeological sites forming part of the research project. (Picture: Bobby Friel/@takethehighview)

The UK team includes Associate Professor Mark Gardiner from Lincoln University and a University of the Highlands and Islands team comprising Dr Jen Harland, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Paul Sharman, Julie Gibson, Dan Lee, Dr Siobhan Cooke and Anne Mitchell.

Funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council and the German Research Council, a key element of the project is involving local communities and training volunteers in research methods from archaeology and history.

Research at the Orkney Library and Archive has begun, seeking historical documents for material directly or indirectly referencing trading operations. This, together with placename evidence and analysis of archaeological material from the county, will allow the researchers to identify and target potential sites for survey and excavation. The results will allow Orkney and Shetland’s connections to the wider economic realm of early modern Europe to be closely examined.

Leader of the German research team, Dr Natascha Mehler, from the German Maritime Museum, surveying the trading site at Gunnister Voe, Northmavine, Shetland, which was in use around 1600. (Picture: Mark Gardiner)

The online launch event on Tuesday, October 20, from 7pm until 8.30pm, comprises five short talks on aspects of trade in the North Atlantic — what we know and the project’s aims.

These will be followed by a question-and-answer session chaired by Dr Ingrid Mainland.

The programme for the evening is:

  • 1900–1905: Introduction (Dr Ingrid Mainland).
  • 1905–1920: The archaeology of trade in the North Atlantic (Dr Natascha Mehler, Dr Mark Gardiner).
  • 1920–1935: Historical sources for trade in the North Atlantic (Dr Bart Holterman).
  • 1935–1950: Looking ahead – the project research: archaeology (Paul Sharman).
  • 1950–2005: Looking ahead – the project research: history (Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon).
  • 2005-2030: Questions.

For details on how to access the launch event, click here.

‘The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands’ – November launch for third volume of UHI Archaeology Institute’s research series

Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands Cover

A November release date has been set for the third volume of the UHI Archaeology Institute’s research series.

The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands focuses on the ongoing excavation at the Neolithic site in Stenness, Orkney, and will be launched on Wednesday, November 18.

UHI excavation at the Ness of Brodgar began in 2006 and the interim monograph presents over a decade’s worth of information on all aspects of the monumental Neolithic complex, providing a comprehensive and up-to-date account of the project’s findings.

The book features contributions from institute staff as well as specialists from around the world. The result is 27 chapters, each devoted to different aspects of the site, its excavation and interpretation.

Structure Eight. Ness of Brodgar. (Scott Pike)
Looking along the length of Structure Eight at the Ness of Brodgar. (Picture: Scott Pike)

The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands, edited by Nick Card, Mark Edmonds and Anne Mitchell, is published by The Orcadian and will be available to the public from November 18, priced £35.99.

The second volume in the UHI Archaeology Institute series, Landscapes Revealed: Remote Sensing Across the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, was launched last week.

Online seminar: The lost township of Broo – climate change or human agency in a coastal sand disaster?

Excavations of 17th century buildings at Broo Site II, Dunrossness, Shetland. (Picture: Gerry Bigelow)

Later this month, the next University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Research seminar considers geocatastrophe, using a lost Shetland township as an example.

About three hundred years ago, Broo was overwhelmed by windblown sand. The environmental catastrophe was probably not the first time that sand from the nearby Quendale Beach had caused problems, but this time the sand blew far inland and the community did not recover.

Through the history of Broo, the online seminar looks as the causes, processes and consequences of geocatastrophe.

The Shetland Islands Climate and Settlement Project (SICSP) has been investigating the causes, processes and consequences of the Broo geocatastrophe for over a decade. The coasts of Scotland and other parts of Europe offer many examples of archaeological sites and later monuments that have experienced comparable episodes of sand movements. Climate change has been proposed as a cause of these, sometimes catastrophic events, but other factors may also have played key roles.

The seminar, at 4pm on Friday, October 30, will be led by Dr Gerry Bigelow, emeritus associate professor of history, Bates College, Maine, and Visiting Reader with the UHI Archaeology Institute.

Dr Bigelow will discuss findings from the Broo research that contribute to understanding this environmental and historical phenomenon. In addition, the presentation will outline some of the challenges and opportunities that are involved in archaeologies of extreme events and buried landscapes.

For details on how to view the free seminar, click here.

Climate change and heritage – online talk by Archaeology Institute director

The moai statues of Easter Island. Under threat from climate change. (Picture: Jane Downes)

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Professor Jane Downes will present her research on climate change and heritage to an international audience next week.

Professor Jane Downes.

In an online talk on Tuesday, October 6, Professor Downes will, together with Dr Will Megarry of Queens University Belfast, detail the research behind the Google Arts and Culture Heritage on the Edge resource, which highlights dramatically the impacts of climate change on the statues of Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

The free ICOMOS-UK talk, available via the Zoom app or a web browser, begins at 7pm. To register, click here.