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

Ness of Brodgar Excavation Dates Confirmed


The Ness of Brodgar has quite rightly attracted a great deal of attention over the last few months, especially with the new BBC2 documentary series, Britain’s Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney hitting the screen.

Nick Card and the team can now confirm the schedule for this season’s introductory talk, the excavation itself and Open Days.

  • The Orkney Archaeology Society Ness of Brodgar talk will take place on 15th June at 19.00 in the Orkney Theatre.
  • The excavation will be open from Wednesday 5th July to Wednesday 23rd August.
  • Tours are available and will be conducted by team members at 11 and 1 Mon-Fri and by Historic Environment Scotland Rangers at 3 pm each day. Archaeologists will be on site most weekdays. However please check the Ness of Brodgar Trust website for up to date information as the weather has a habit of intervening at times!
  • Tours are also conducted at 1100 & 1500 on Saturday and Sunday during the dig season, but there will be no archaeologists on site during the weekend.
  • Open Days are being held on Sunday 16th July and Sunday 20th August. Last year over 1200 people attended each event and we are hoping for more this year. All are welcome…and there will be activities for the whole family, so bring along the children for a Neolithic Day out!

On seeing the sheer scale of the excavation visitors to the site frequently ask,”Who pays for all this?” We do not charge for admission and the tours are also free. You can stay as long as you wish. You can ask the archaeologists questions. You can even bring along activities and spend all day there. You will be made most welcome.

So who funds all the work?? Well, the answer is that the project is mainly supported by public donation through the Ness of Brodgar Trust and the American Friends of the Ness of Brodgar  with support from a plethora of other people who give their money or their time or both to help.  This includes Orkney Islands Council (who recognise the economic and cultural importance of archaeology in Orkney), Orkney Archaeology Society (who amongst other things organise the running of the massively important on-site shop), and the UHI Archaeology Institute.


However, the whole project could not happen without donations from the public….from you reading this, all the other people who visit the website and donate a few pounds or indeed on some occasions thousands of pounds, the people who visit the site and buy a few items from the shop or sponsor a square. This funding is what makes it happen.

Nick and the team would also like to thank all the volunteers who give up their time to work on the site and make the whole project work like clockwork.

If you wish to help support the project then please go to the Ness of Brodgar website and if you can, donate a few quid. Many thanks from the Ness of Brodgar team.

If you are intrigued by the history and archaeology of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and want to learn more, 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

Pictish Carved Stone Discovered in Orkney Cliff

The Pictish Cross Slab. Photo by Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark

It has to be said that Orkney is an amazing place to study archaeology. It seems that every month, news of another discovery lands on my desk.

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) with support from Historic Environment Scotland complete a delicate rescue mission to recover a rare Pictish Carved Stone from an eroding cliff face in East Orkney.

Erosion by the stormy sea surrounding Orkney is a tangible threat to coastal archaeological sites. This situation is brought home especially during the winter months when high tides and powerful winds combine to batter the coastline of these beautiful islands. However, sometimes these same waves, can reveal unique and important finds that have been lost to view for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Following one of these storms, Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark, an archaeologist based in Orkney, was examining an area of the East Mainland coast that had been particularly hit during a south westerly gale and discovered something amazing – a stone that had been unearthed by the sea, projecting precariously out of the soft, cliff face. This stone, on closer examination, was different to the other rocks at the site – it had obviously been worked and designs were visible and clearly ancient.

A dragon motif tantalizingly peered out from the emerging stone slab and pointed to a possible Pictish (3rd-8th centuries AD) origin, but further examination was difficult due to the location. This carved stone was clearly significant and needed to be quickly recovered before the next forecast storms that were due to hit the following weekend.

The race was on. Nick Card, Senior Projects Manager at ORCA (University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute), contacted Historic Environment Scotland, who realizing the significance of the find offered funding support to investigate, remove and conserve the precious object.

The reverse side of the slab. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute.

When the carved stone was carefully lifted, the significance of the find was clear – a Pictish cross slab, probably dating from the enigmatic 8th Century, emerged as the soft sand fell away from the front face. The exquisite design had been weathered, but an intricately carved cross flanked by the dragon or beast was clear to see. On the reverse side another Pictish beast design stared out from the stone face – beak open grasping what looked like the remains of a staff.

Sean and Dave excavating the stone. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute.

Nick Card takes up the story,”Carved Pictish Type 2 Stones are rare across Scotland with only 2 of this type having been discovered in Orkney. This is therefore a significant find and allows us to examine a piece of art from a period when Orkney society was beginning to embrace Christianity. Now that the piece is recorded and removed from site, we can concentrate on conserving the delicate stone carving and perhaps re-evaluate the site itself.”

“The Orcadian coastline is an extremely dynamic environment, and it was clear that we needed to act quickly” says Dr Kirsty Owen, HES Senior Archaeology Manager. Because the stone has been properly excavated, we have a better chance of understanding how it relates to the development of the site.”

The excavation of the Pictish stone was undertaken with funding from the Historic Environment Scotland Archaeology Programme, which is primarily intended to rescue archaeological information in the face of unavoidable threats.

The stone is now removed from the site and is scheduled for conservation and possible display at a future date. The site may be re-evaluated with funding being sought for further work.

3D model link below. Thanks to Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark.

Many thanks must also be extended to the landowner.

The Amazing Ness of Brodgar

IMG_0632It is easy to become immersed in the archaeology of the Ness of Brodgar….

The sheer scale of the Neolithic archaeology concentrated in one small area, the amazing stonework, the stunning location and of course the incredible artefacts that are continually coming out of the site. Just yesterday the first decorated stone emerged from the ground.

But as I was reminded today, the site as it exists, represents a very small proportion of the whole site; perhaps 10% or even less. This means that this site was huge in terms of the neolithic and if extant today would still be a sizeable settlement (if that is the right word) on Orkney!

The craftmanship involved in the creation of the stonework itself is stunning in several areas across the site. In fact it is the first thing you notice – once you get your eye in. This is not a rough assemblage of stones, piled one on top of another, but a carefully crafted building project that required skill and knowledge to assemble. In many respects the stone looks as if it was set in place last week and is just waiting for the builders to return from their lunch break!


Hopefully this will be the first in a series of blog posts concerning The Ness of Brodgar in which I will explore various themes.

If you want to explore the Ness in full then I recommend clicking through to http://www.orkneyjar.com/archaeology/nessofbrodgar/




Remembering The Hampshire

Marwick Head Orkney. Kitchener Memorial. Thanks to Scott McIvor

Illustrated talk: Remembering The Hampshire 

Date: Wednesday 1st June

Venue: Birsay Hall http://www.birsayhall.com/

Time: 7.30pm

Free admission

As part of the First World War Commemorative Cultural Programme, The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are giving a talk detailing some of the findings from the ROV survey of HMS Hampshire conducted two weeks ago. Edited footage from the ROV survey will be shown in addition to photographs of the wreck.

This survey forms part of an archaeological project to assess the condition and record the wreck and surrounding seabed and was recently undertaken by the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute working in partnership with Seatronics – an Acteon Company, Teledyne RESON, Roving Eye Enterprises Ltd and Triscom Marine Ltd.

Thanks to Roving Eye Enterprises for ROV footage and images.

Further survey work using the Seatronics Predator ROV is in the planning stage.

This project has received funding and sponsorship from Interface, Orkney Islands Council and NorthLink Ferries.

Permission to undertake this remote survey was granted under licence by the MOD.

For further information

Sean Page (Marketing Officer, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute). Tel: 01856 569229 e-mail sean.page@uhi.ac.uk

Update on recent discovery in Orkney

Yesterday, Professor Ian Ralston, Abercromby Professor of Archaeology , University of Edinburgh and Martin Carruthers of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute together with Clive the landowner, visited the site of the recently discovered subterranean structure in West Mainland, Orkney. The structure is slowly being emptied of 19th Century rubbish which includes glass bottles, a stone hot water bottle, an assortment of stone bottles, a teapot and a sheet of metal used for target practice (!) amongst other things.

There is even a glass bottle containing original 19th century amber coloured liquid – top still in place! In fact it is amazing that so many of these remnants of a ministers past life are still intact. Some bottles have broken, but not all.

In response to questions on social media concerning the next steps for this important find Martin writes, “We’ll perhaps build up this one over a little time. Geophysical survey would be a great start, and hopefully allow us to see if there are above ground traces of contemporary features. There are also some very interesting aspects to it’s location. It lies just a couple of hundred metres away from a substantial broch settlement (itself excavated by one of the ministers whose Victorian rubbish fills the new souterrain).

Also very interesting, is the fact that the little stream or burn that lies next to the souterrain rises from a natural spring nearby and then disappears back underground also quite close to the structure! If this hydrology was the same two thousand, or more, years ago, then I think this natural phenomenon would not have been lost on Iron Age Orcadians and their underground sensibilities!

We’ll look forward to finding out more before too long!”



Ness of Brodgar Excavations 2016

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The preparations are now finalised for the start of the new season of excavations at the amazing Ness of Brodgar Neolithic complex.

Guided tours are available from 6th July until the 24th August 2016.

  • Monday to Friday 11am, 1pm and 3pm
  • Saturdays and Sundays 11am and 3pm

The details for individual / family and group visits are below:

Individual visitors


On Saturdays and Sundays there will be no diggers to see, but there will still be free site tours at 11am and 3pm – again just turn up. 

Special Open Days will be held on Sunday 31st July and Sunday 21st August 2016, when the diggers will be on site and there will be demonstrations and activities for all the family. These will be publicised nearer the time. 

There is free car parking space at the dig on a grass field, please note vehicles are left at owners risk. The entrance to the dig field is very narrow and is NOT suitable for large vehicles such as camper vans – please park at the Standing Stones or Ring of Brodgar car parks and walk to the site. The walk through the World Heritage Site from either the Ring of Brodgar or Stones of Stenness is very pleasant and is recommended to anyone with the time. 

Please note there is no parking in any of the passing places on the Brodgar road and you must not park in any of these places – Police Scotland patrol the road regularly and may well issue you with a parking fine if you are found parked illegally!

Tour Group visits – more than 8 people 

For logistical & health & safety reasons, we regret we can’t take tour groups of more than 8 people on any of our regular public tours. Please don’t just turn up with a large group – we will have to turn you away. 

If you would like to visit with a tour group of more than 8 people you need to contact us well in advance by email    – click here to contact us  

We will do our best to help but it may not be possible to allow your group to visit depending on the availability of site staff, other booked groups etc.

Coach Parking

Please note that there is no parking for coaches or midi coaches at the Ness of Brodgar and coaches must not be left in the passing places on the Brodgar road.

We hope that with your help the 2017 excavation season will also be able to run for 8 weeks from Monday 3rd July until Friday 25th August 2017, but we do need your help to fund all our work.

Please visit our donations page for information on our fundraising goals and how with your help we will achieve them.Visitors are welcome during the dig season, but please note that it is not possible to visit or see the site outside of this period, as the site has to be covered to protect it from the Orkney weather.