The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute invites you to be an archaeologist for a day.
Join the team uncovering the story of this exciting site at our Open Day at Skaill Farm on the island of Rousay, Orkney.
The site is open from 10am to 4pm on both days, so come across to the island of Rousay and make a day of it…bring the children and they can join in too, finding out about our Viking and more recent past. There are tours and displays for those who don’t want to join the team in the trenches.
The site is located next to the beach and the Midhowe Broch and is also an ideal place for a picnic.
The ferry departs from Tingwall regularly throughout the day. The timetable can be viewed here.
We look forward to seeing you there. See the interactive map below for location of Skaill Farm.
The digging season at The Cairns is nearly over and Martin Carruthers, Site Director and Lecturer at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, talks us through the penultimate day at the excavation.
Today we started the process of placing the covers over parts of the site. We began in the Area Q/M in the North of the site weighing down tarpaulins with tyres. Nevertheless, we remain in an active digging mode in other parts of the site.
Inside the broch the team have resumed excavating the western area on a sample grid. They are now working on floor/occupation deposits beneath the level of the two successive hearths that have been excavated and lifted. Tomorrow will be the last day when excavation occurs here, so will they find lots of lovely environmental information? And will they encounter any nice artefacts to rival the previous finds such as the Iron Age glass bead and the Roman vessel glass in this area? We’ll let you know…
The slightly wetter conditions overnight (in fact it was misty early on today!) have served to very nicely show the soil colours on the site so in the south extension we have been cleaning this area for final photography. Low and behold more animal bone has been appearing in this area, which has previously been so rich in it. Once the excavation is complete for the season, it will be interesting to take a look at all the animal bone that has been generated by the work in the ditch to try to get some idea of the nature of the processes that this bone has been involved in.
Certainly, we have observed butchery marks on some of the bone but by and large the bone is present in large fragments with minimal processing and it therefore looks rather wasteful in terms of the additional calorific content that has not been exacted from these joints of meat. This has often been read off as an index of relative wealth, as poorer communities are expected to be less wasteful. However, we have also observed large parts of articulated carcasses amongst the animal bone suggesting that there may be other processes at work giving rise to at least some of this bone such as structured, or votive, deposition. The post-excavation work of looking in detail at all this bone will be very interesting, indeed.
Tomorrow will be the last day when any excavation occurs anywhere on site, and most of the site will be covered up by the end of the day, we’ll keep you posted on any last minute surprises (almost guaranteed on archaeological sites!).
University of the Highlands and Islands student Marianne Sim has written todays dig diary from the site.
Today started off very wet and dreary which had mostly cleared by mid morning – unfortunately, when the rain cleared the horse flies arrived…we had to soldier on regardless.
Most of the morning was spent photo cleaning the site in preparation for some aerial photography. This will probably be our last chance to see the whole site fully uncovered and looking pristine before the covers are put back on to protect the archaeology until next season. In some less active areas of the trench weeds and spoil from the trenches had accumulated over the year and we cleaned this up so Bobby could take some aerial photographs with his drone.
In the broch, the crucial job of recording and photographing the new deposits exposed in the western quadrant continued as well as the continuation of sampling and revealing more of the occupation layers in the south west area. Photo cleaning the southern part of the broch floors has really shown the vibrant red, orangey-yellow floor layers around the hearth in this area.
In the southern extension the day has been spent excavating more of the ditch fill deposits in spits with some nice pot sherds and bone being recovered, including a scapula.
As with the rest of the site most of the day in Trench Q and M was spent tidying and prepping the site for Bobby’s drone shenanigans! However, as is often the way, when you least expect it, just before lunch we found a beautiful delicate beige-yellow glass bead beside a wall which I can tell you is not Roman but still very nice! There were also two red deer antler tines in the Q area.
Dr Jo McKenzie has kindly volunteered to write the blog today………….Hello from the beginning of the end – the last week of the Cairns 2018 field season! (and sadly, my last day on site).
Time seems to have gone very quickly, and it doesn’t seem a year since I was last at Cairns sampling the amazing sequence of floor deposits preserved within, especially, the north-eastern quadrant of the broch.
You’ll have seen some of the images of these floors in several of Martin’s posts – beautiful, intricate lenses of material, each tiny layer representing a different episode of activity and deposition by those who were the last before us to spend their days ‘doing stuff’ in the Cairns broch.
I use a technique called soil micromorphology to take small ‘block’ samples which are then used to make microscope slides, allowing us to analyse complex deposit sequences like the broch floors in enormous detail – as outlined in my blog from last year (LINK). Here’s a shot of one of those samples being taken. This tin is just 5×7 cm, but that’s plenty big enough to give us a fantastic sample through the many deposits in this small section through lenses of probable charcoal, burnt peat, burnt stone, bone and much more.
We now have a great sequence of samples through these complex deposits, traversing the north-east quadrant and nicely aligned within our 50cm grid (affectionately known as Terence for no good reason, except I suppose that it helps to be able to make a personal apology when you’ve kicked yet another of Terence’s nails out for the umpteenth time that day – as fellow north-east quadrant-ers Ole, Ross and Mike can testify!)
We’ve also been lucky enough to get enough depth of deposit to take a sample close to the large hearth setting in the north-west area of the broch, which is really good news as the closely-packed layers of paving in this area make getting good samples a challenge. Here’s today’s sample extracted, and turned carefully over for the excess material to be carefully shaved off the back of the tin so that the sample can be sealed. A lovely sample of dark, dense carbonised material representing activity around the cracked hearth surface.
It’s intriguing to spot tiny features within the tin samples which I know will be so interesting to examine in detail under the microscope – fine laminations of material, or inclusions such as charcoal or bone. Here’s an example of what must be pretty much the tiniest bones we find on site – a fish vertebrae, seen adjacent to the tin taken next to the north-west hearth setting, seen here magnified under my small geological viewer.
It’s also been great to see the site making such amazing progress – so many new structures being uncovered outside of the broch with Bobby’s team, and spending these last few days working right alongside the fantastic discoveries still being made inside the well. Above all, it’s been brilliant to get the chance once again to work with the great Cairns team – students, volunteers and old hands alike. I think today must have been the busiest I’ve ever seen the broch interior – and needless to say, there was plenty of archaeology for every pair of hands to tackle!
Today was, indeed, open day and a big thank you to everyone who came along and visited the site. There was a great turn out of visitors and fun was had by all.
One of our MSc students, Ross, even ran sessions for the children on making clay replicas of the well-known ‘Cairns character’ our carved head from an earlier season of the site. It was a privilege and pleasure to share our findings directly with the public, both locals and visitors from further afield.
While some of us led tours and showed visitors around, work continued in the key areas of the site. Within the broch the work of recording the slab floor in the western zone was completed, and by the end of the day this late floor could be lifted to reveal…charcoal rich soils…more floors in other words. Lest you think this is in any way disappointing to us – please be disavowed of that idea. In fact these multiple juxtaposed floors, one after the other, are the glory of the broch for us, and they represent a detailed and insightful record of what sorts of activities were going on in the broch, and they’ll yield lots of information on the chronology and tempo of the occupation in the broch.
Elsewhere in the broch, in the Northeastern zone, Jo has continued to take micromorphology samples from the floors here, in order to see even more detail of the activities two thousand years ago. In the process she has revealed beautiful, vividly coloured, (bright red, brown and black) thin laminations, or lenses, within the ashy floor deposits. It’s exciting to think what will be revealed in the finer microscopic resolution of her eventual studies.
In the well, work also continued on the lower fill deposits, and some startlingly well-preserved wood was recovered. This time brushwood was the order of the day, and a fair amount of it. Some quite long pieces of clearly knife-pruned branches and twigs came out, as well as finer mossy and heathery matter. Essentially, this material looks like lining at the bottom of the well.
Brushwood from the broch well
A view of the excavated and cleaned up well staircase
The brushwood in the base of the well
Over in area M/Q Bobby’s team are still revealing new wall faces and the relationships between them, in the area immediately to the northeast exterior of the broch. We really are now seeing a clear sense of the busy nature of the settlement and something of its development through time here. One amazing find relates to another find we made way back in week one. You may recall we found a very finely made antler mount with drilled perforations. This piece clearly hafted something like a knife, handle. Well on Friday another piece of the same haft turned up in a close by area. At first we thought this new piece of antler was likely to be the piece from the other side of the handle or haft, and that would have been nice enough. However, it turned out to be a refitting fragment of the same antler mount making the piece very long and quite a curving piece. It now looks like it intended to form one side of the handle of a two handed blade, something like a scythe or a serious cleaver.
In the south extension we drew things to a close for this year. Structure J, the village building constructed up against the broch wall here, is now looking very fine, indeed, thanks to everyone involved and to Sam who took care of this area for several days. We can now see the full outline of, at least one phase, of this building and its’ slightly dumbbell shape. We’ll excavate no further in here this season but we now have the building complete with some of its’ internal fixtures and fittings revealed and we can really explore its history of use and inhabitation in the following season.
For now, we have one week left of this seasons’ excavations. We’ll keep you posted as to how we fare with the key areas that we are working within, and any last week surprises that may yet come our way!
Last Friday and Saturday 29th & 30th June 2018, archaeologists from the University of the Highlands Archaeology Institute teamed up with members of the Blide Trust to learn more about the history of 54 Victoria Street, Kirkwall – the 18th Century HQ of the Trust.
The first day began with the digging of a test pit in the garden of the house and almost immediately the volunteer archaeologists began to unearth significant finds.
In fact the test pit was a great success with significant assemblages of pottery (modern and early post-medieval), animal bone (some with butchery marks), clay pipe and a possible gun flint were uncovered. Furthermore the team found evidence of undisturbed clay in the base of the trench. This was uneven and appeared to have been truncated, suggesting that the volunteers might have clipped a cut feature such as a pit or ditch (difficult to say conclusively in such a small trench).
At the lowest levels, a small piece of worked red sandstone with chisel marks and a sherd of medieval pottery were discovered suggesting medieval and early post-medieval activity on this part of the slope above the eastern side of the street.
Broadly speaking, our small trench indicates that medieval activity occurred this far south of the palace complex, situated just to the north.
Dan Lee, UHI Archaeology Institute Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist said, “Thanks to The Blide Trust for a really good couple of days last week. The set up was perfect and we have great contributions from members and lots of visitors (at least 60). The photo lab worked really well, and we followed up on some of the leads from the archive research, and photographed the building and red sandstone. Thanks for your hospitality and help.”
The project continues with staff from Orkney College UHI leading creative writing, arts and crafts sessions based on the results of the dig. It is hoped that a video will be produced and an exhibition held to explain the project and display the finds and creative work.
The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have been working at Skaill since 2015 exploring the Viking, Norse and post-medieval archaeology on the Westness Estate, Rousay and this year the dig recommences on Monday 9th July.
The name Skaill suggests that the site under investigation was home to a Norse hall or drinking hall and was perhaps a high status settlement during this period.
Westness was mentioned in the Orkneyinga saga as the home of the powerful Earl Sigurd. The present farm dates from the 18th and 19th Centuries and was caught up in the story of the Rousay clearances.
Located near to Midhowe Broch, the Site Directors, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dr Jen Mainland and Dan Lee, welcome visitors to the excavation which aims to explore the remarkable deep time represented along the shoreline. There is no need to book and the site is child friendly…so bring along the family to explore the past at this most historic of locations.
The site is 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. Archaeologists will be working on site during the week. The Open Day will be on the final weekend 21st-22nd July.
If we can ask that you do not access from Westness Farm. The location of the site can be found on our interactive map….