Mapping Magnus dates for the diary 1

Upcoming activities in the Palace village area of Birsay for August and September 2017.

Be a part of this exciting archaeology project commemorating the Magnus 900 year! More activities will be announced soon. Places for local residents and volunteers from Orkney available now.

Book your place now (limited places available): studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

Phone 01856 569225

Boat noust survey. 15 & 16 August

What? Record and survey the historic boat Nousts / Boat houses at Skipi Geo and Point of Buckquoy. Learn survey techniques with Dan Lee.

Where? Meet at Skipi Geo, Northside, Birsay (15th), Point of Buckquoy car park (16th).

When? 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

Village survey. 25 & 26 August

What? Record and survey the upstanding archaeology in and around Palace Village, Birsay. Learn survey techniques with Dan Lee.

Where? Meet at Palace village car park opposite kirk.

When? 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

Archive research training. 1 & 2 Sept

What? Research the history & archaeology of Birsay with Dr Sarah-Jane Gibbon in the Orkney Library and Archive. Contribute original research to the project.

Where? Meet at Orkney Archives Room (upstairs), Kirkwall Library

When? 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

Coastal Survey. 6, 7 & 8 Sept

What? Record the coastally eroding sites from Palace village to the point of Buckquoy area with archaeologist Dave Reay.

Where? Meet at Point of Buckquoy

When? 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

Village excavations. 25 Sept – 6 Oct (2 weeks)

What? Help the Archaeology Institute team dig test pits in Palace Village around the medieval site of the Bishops Palace. Join in for a day or whatever you can manage.

Where? Meet at Palace village car park opposite kirk. Booking essential.

When? 10am – 4pm each day

Please note: Booking is essential for all activities.

The Cairns Day Seven 2017

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The Cairns is located overlooking the stunning Windwick bay

The weather was kinder to us today which meant that the site was a hive of activity.

With many visitors to the site, Ole and Kevin spent much of the day running guided tours, sharing their impressive knowledge of the broch and its associated features.

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Stirling University students cleaning the southern outer broch face

After yesterday’s introduction to the type of finds that can be expected on site, the students from Stirling University: Stephan, Maria, Bethan and Hanneke were set to work cleaning the exterior of the southern outer wall face of the broch and reported small finds, mainly comprising bone and stone tools.  Cleaning is an important component of managing the site as it enables us to see areas of contrast, colour or potential features that become obscured after an area has been exposed to the elements for some time, or compacted due to footfall.

The Cairns has several areas which have suffered from historical collapse and teams have been clearing “shillet” – a mix of shattered stone, soil and rubble from these areas to enable identification of structures underneath. Now that the broch floor is mainly clear of this, Woody and Alex continued the planning and recording of the floor features, a necessary task to complete before any further excavation can continue.

To the north of the site near Trench Q, there is another area of historical collapse. Duncan, one of our eagle-eyed UHI students discovered a fragment of bone pin whilst clearing away more shillet. This was a remarkable find due to the method of “rough trowelling” used to clear away this coarse rubbly deposit.

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Fragment of bone pin

On a personal level, today has been very exciting. Myself, Paul and Kathryn, all of us UHI students, had the opportunity to plan and grid the souterrain floor and begin the task of gathering 100% of the floor deposits for sampling. The floor was divided into 14 squares known as F1-14 (Structure F is the souterrain) and alternate squares were excavated, material from each square was separated into sample buckets for processing later.

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Paul, Kathryn and myself recovering floor samples from the Souterrain

The area that Paul was excavating is directly underneath a (now removed) lintel that was found to contain an aperture that may have been used for pouring a libation into the souterrain. It is hoped that the soil samples may show whether liquids were indeed poured into the opening and what these liquids were. Tantalisingly, during the excavation of his first grid square, Paul discovered a substantial piece of bone, possibly a femur from a yet unknown species. This discovery would correlate with Goodfellow’s 1901 account of bone being discovered nearby in the broch entrance that he had mistaken for a souterrain. The next few days will no doubt reveal more exciting finds in the souterrain deposits.

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Paul’s exciting discovering in F12

Blog written by Kath Page second year UHI Archaeology BA Hons student.

UHI Masters Student Professional Placements Begin

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Simon working on another Ness….the Ness Battery, Stromness on a rather cloudy day in January

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute MSc programme includes a professional placement in a commercial or academic organisation.

This provides students with the vital experience of working in the often demanding environment of a large organisation. This year, two of our students, Simon and Charlotte, requested a placement in marketing at the UHI Archaeology Institute to gain experience in the increasingly important world of social media communication.

Simon takes up his story……….

“My name is Simon Gray and I am a current Masters student with the UHI Archaeology Institute and for the last seven years I have spent my summers excavating as part of the team at the Ness of Brodgar.

Over the course of this 2017 season, I will be making a series of short, episodic videos filmed on site documenting the key finds and continuing research of the excavation. Further to this, each video will include interview footage and a real ‘behind the scenes’ perspective to bring across the experience and dynamic of the dig team, many of whom, like myself, return each year as a result of their commitment to and love of the site and the team respectively.

It is my intention for these videos to be uploaded to the UHI Archaeology Institute Youtube channel and shared through social media and as many press outlets as possible in order to relay the story of this season’s excavations to the archaeological community, the local Orcadian population and indeed the wider public.

During the two open days on site, and on a frequent basis throughout the weeks as I spend my time at the Ness, I plan to engage actively with the public in order to factor their thoughts and opinions into my research.”

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Charlotte excavating the animal bone adjacent to the furnace at The Cairns

Charlottes professional placement aims to develop the social media platforms for The Cairns site and increase local engagement through both digital and traditional non-digital marketing routes. Charlotte has already set up @thecairnsbroch Twitter account for The Cairns site and posts on a daily basis live from the site as part of her MSc placement. New tee shirts also now adorn the diggers and local people are being encouraged to visit through leafleting and other initiatives in the local community.


For more information on studying MSc Archaeological Practice at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute see our blog page http://wp.me/p6YR8M-326

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

 

The Cairns Day One 2017

 

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Photo thanks: Jim Bright.

 

Welcome everyone to the new blog for The Cairns.  Today was day 1 of the new season of excavations.

Today consisted mainly of preparing the site by removing the covers that have protected the site over the winter and spring months.  This can be an arduous, physically demanding process but it’s also a very rewarding one as we slowly (or sometimes not so slowly, as indicated by today’s progress!) see the archaeological features emerging.

The site is already looking very impressive and together with its new extension on the South-west, we’re going to be spending most of our time this season in three main areas of the site.

DCIwA22WsAEOVYY.jpg largeThe first area is within the broch itself.  As we delve further, and more intensively, into the floor deposits of the massive monumental roundhouse we hope to continue to build a picture of life inside this imposing structure and the range of activities that went on inside.  The second area is so-called Trench Q, which lies to the north and east of the broch, and where we expect to reveal more of the extramural complex of buildings that lies around the broch.  Essentially we think this area represents a village, contemporary with the occupation of the broch.

Thirdly, but by no means least, we intend to fully excavate the underground souterrain or earthhouse (Structure F), which lies outside the broch entrance and dates to the period immediately after the broch was abandoned and filled in with rubble

We have a fairly large team of diggers and over the next four weeks they will be providing daily updates giving you regular insights into our progress and the wonderful finds that the site has to offer.  Each of our key areas of investigation will be covered in these blog posts and you will be able to experience the discoveries very close to the moments that we make them.

Tomorrow we will be able to begin cleaning up the surface of the site and begin to start excavating in earnest, so please join us on the blog to see what emerges!

Martin Carruthers, Site Director.

If you want to follow us on Twitter you can also do that @thecairnsbroch

Iron Age Leisure Time at The Cairns

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The Cairns archaeology site in South Ronaldsay, Orkney has its fair share of spectacular pieces, such as the carved whalebone vessel, but it is the small finds that provide a glimpse into the ordinary everyday existence of people during the Iron Age.

There are quite a large number of small carved discs from the site, and these are usually interpreted as gaming pieces, or gaming counters in the academic literature of the Iron Age period. If this is indeed what they were then they’re a really interesting insight into the ‘leisure’ time or social lives of the Iron Age inhabitants of the site. Most of these counters have come from the later post-broch Iron Age or Pictish levels of the site.

They are usually small, well-made sandstone discs or counters (although we have a whale-tooth example as well), and are similar to modern draughts counters.
18518395_10154700266656325_6349977046841925377_oOccasionally, there are taller, upright pieces like one in the photo here made from a black shale material such as lignite, cannel coal or even jet.

Martin Carruthers, Site Director, continues, “Perhaps these were used in another game, or maybe these are the King/Queen pieces in the game. There are only a very few more like this one from Scottish Iron Age sites such as Scalloway in Shetland. One of the things we’d love to find would be one of the stone plaques or slabs with incised gridlines that appear to have been the boards that the game was played on. These have been found on a few Iron Age sites- we can only hope for one turning up in a future season!”

The final picture shows a nicely carved sandstone ‘counter’ and a smooth, conglomerate pebble. The pebble is perhaps more 18451700_10154700266891325_3279832134332830650_odoubtful as a gaming piece, but it was found next to the carved one and it was certainly selected and brought to the site by human hand. Both pieces were found next to the central hearth in Structure E-one of our Late Iron Age buildings.

Perhaps in your minds eye you can imagine a winter’s evening with a family group gathered around the fire, using these pieces to play a game, while outside the wind howls over the Orkney landscape.


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If you want to know more about The Cairns and are in Orkney on 21st-23rd June 2017 then enrol on our new short course.
For details see our blog post.
Or e-mail Mary Connolly: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

Bud(dough) Biscuits kept us going on Art & Archaeology Field Workshop

Students travelled from all over the United Kingdom – from Gloucestershire, Bristol, North Berwick, Aberdeenshire, Moray, the West Midlands and Orkney – to take part in the Art & Archaeology Orkney Workshop that was held at Orkney College from 30th March to 1st April.

Eleven students studying the Art & Archaeology Masters Module arrived on Thursday to begin a three-day workshop exploring Orkney, its art and, of course, its archaeology.

Having spent the first part of the course meeting on screen through video conference lectures and seminars, the group travelled to Orkney from all over the UK for our 3-day field workshop – it was really great to meet everyone in person at last.

We started in the Orkney College Art & Design Department with Rebecca Marr’s talk on Tom Kent, followed by a practical studio photography workshop, working with artefacts and objects, some made by the students themselves.

The session was entitled Photography: the Present in the Past and examined the representation of objects and how documenting artefacts will always be influenced by the choices made during the photographic process.

IMG_4003In the evening, following a few hours discussing the course and exploring Kirkwall, the group attended the Endeavour – A Creative Collaboration event at the Pier Arts Centre. This event involved artist Neville Gabie, the Centre’s Piergroup and students from Orkney College UHI’s Art and Design Department.

The weather was not kind on Friday as a sea fog enveloped the islands closely followed by torrential rain. It was, of course, the day assigned for our students to visit the World Heritage Site. The rain cleared as the mini-bus approached the Ring of Brodgar allowing everyone to enjoy the experience and discuss Neolithic art present at the Ness of Brodgar and elsewhere. The afternoon was spent in Stromness Museum which had been the focus of our first project.

Despite a rather drizzly start to Saturday we headed out to the West Shore near

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Stromness. Photograph thanks to Helen Garbett

Stromness for a morning of drawing, recording, casting and generally ‘making things’ in the landscape. We then ended up at the Pier Arts Centre to look at the collections and to discuss our first project which had focused on objects in the Stromness Museum. Buddo was the most popular choice of subject and had been ‘recreated’ in clay and dough –  the recipe for the biscuits will be shared later!

It was a very intensive and creative 3 days with many ideas for further collaboration coming out of the general discussion. Everyone is now looking forward to meeting up again, both on the VC and in person and all agreed that the Art & Archaeology Orkney Field Workshop was a great success and should be repeated very soon!

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“Thank you Anne Bevan @OrkneyCollege @UHIArchaeology for 3 inspiring art and archaeology days….bursting with ideas now. ” Helen via Twitter


If you are intrigued by the art, history and archaeology of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and want to learn more then either drop us a line through studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or go to our guide to courses on this blog or visit our University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute web page