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….
It’s Day Thirteen and Conal O’Neill, BA (Hons) Archaeology UHI student steps into the breach to write todays blog post from The Cairns.
As day thirteen of excavations on The Cairns draws to a close the amazingly good weather has remained.
Within the broch, or Structure A, soil sampling continues alongside planning by Therese while Gary continues to dig a large pit. A new addition to the team, at least since I arrived at the start of the week, is Jo, who has been enacting soil micromorphology, where small soil block samples are analysed to provide a detailed assessment of the microscopic floor layers of the broch.
Within my own area, of soil sampling within a grid, a worked bone, possibly antler, was discovered. Following the cleaning of the area surrounding the antler it was photographed, however then I was called away to write this blog, so excavating it will sadly have to wait until tomorrow.
In structure J, Sam continues to lower the soil in the corner of the structure, and further tidy it up for photographing. The ditch area, dug by Gary, Iona, has been further cleaned and excavated yielding lots more animal bone and revealing a large lump of slag in the process, which may actually be a furnace base.
In Structure O some high, superficial orthostats (upright stones) were removed to reveal the wall beneath and further excavation has revealed bone, pottery and possible worked bone.
Finally, in Area Q the team is continuing to excavate the trench to the level of Area M eventually forming a ‘super trench’!
Anyway the hut’s about to be locked up and Bobby’s threatening to lock me in here for the night, so before I become part of The Cairns I’m going to leave!
Conal O’Neill, BA (Hons) Archaeology UHI Student.
!!Stop Press!! Towards the end of the day Dr Scott Timpany arrived on site and told us that he’d managed to identify the wood species of the wooden bowl from the well. It’s made from Alder.
Meanwhile he has also been out in the landscape near to The Cairns visiting a wetland site where the conditions may allow us to obtain a picture of the ancient environment at the time of the site. There will be a very useful palaeoenvironmental record of hundreds if not thousands of years embedded in this!
Day Twelve at The Cairns and UHI Archaeology Institute student Gary Lloyd has unearthed something very special so I shall hand over to him to continue the story.
To this point the weather has been extremely cooperative and today was another beautiful day. Though with the sunshine the temptation is to play hooky and go to the beach, work at the site goes on.
For me the day began learning to use the EDM to get reference points for all of the small finds (artefacts) collected today and ended with a real surprise. But for now, I’ll talk about the rest of team.
Beginning at the south extension the team excavating the area of the ditch fill continues to expose animal bone and pottery fragments with Gary uncovering a large fragment of salmon coloured pottery. To the north of the ditch area Sam has been excavating and has now revealed the clearly defined arc of a wall in structure J along with a cache of animal bone.
Having spent most of my time in the Broch I hadn’t noticed, until today, the amount of work Bobby’s team has accomplished on the NE side of the site in the Q and M trenches. The maze of wall features is relatively complex and sorting rubble from wall has been quite a challenge. Dagmar, Hannah, Ruby, and Marianne, are working to expose walls at the north side of the trenches. Lindsay and Charlie are drawing back layer 1401 to determine if walls continue from trench M into trench Q and distinct structures are now coming into view including the large Structure (O) just outside the Broch entrance where Henrik has been working.
Inside the Broch the deliberate work of sampling the grids laid out on the floors is being carried out by Conal, Caitlin, Ross, and Hamish with samples collected for both chemical and environmental analysis. The floor area Ross has been working on is particularly rich in contrast, promising some valuable data. Martin’s daily expedition down into the well has yielded even more organic material from the silt, including another piece of wood with some bark still intact. The complexity of the hearth area in the NW quadrant is being carefully recorded by Therese.
Between the hearth and the pit, I had the pleasure of finding a beautiful piece of blue-green, potentially Roman, glass. This glass was discovered in the same layer as the glass bead found by Therese last week. I have to admit it’s the biggest thrill excavating I’ve had to date.
Gary Lloyd, BA (Hons) Archaeology student, UHI, Orkney.
Martin Carruthers, Site Director at The Cairns excavation and lecturer at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute continues the exciting story of the dig as it enters week three……………
Today I thought I’d discuss what we hope to achieve in the next half of the project season.
We will carry on with the broch and the work of teasing out the soil floors in the building. It is after all one of the main elements of the site and certainly one of the important contributions that we hope that the project can make; helping us to understand the complex, changing use and lives of brochs. We hope to be able to reach some of the earlier floors within the building. Rick’s team have been doing great work here in arduously sampling the floors on various grid patterns to keep spatial control of all the findings and the environmental and geochemical samples. The hearth in the western area of the broch looks likely to be a lengthy series of hearths, one laid out on top of another!
This will provide a great sequence of radiocarbon dates and a strong sense of the longevity of certain feature areas, like this, within the broch. Additionally, we aim to finish the excavation of the wonderful well-chamber under the floor of the broch, and to be able to recover all of the incredible organics that survive there (I think I’m still reeling from the preservation of the wooden items there and especially the bowl!). Of course there is still some of the anaerobic deposit to come out of this space and there could be other remarkably preserved objects to come! We’ll keep you posted.
I spent a little time in the well chamber today and I could certainly detect at least one more quite large wooden piece to come. In addition, there are large quantities of plant materials in these silts that we’ll have to recover in sample tubs.
Work in the Southern extension will now concentrate on the deposits in the ditch fills, with just a little work to define village building Structure J. The ditch fills, I feel, still have a few surprises to yield. After all our sneak preview of this feature last year produced 4 bronze objects, lots of pottery and animal bones. Beyond the finds themselves the merit of this ditch exploration is to give a sense of the longer history of the site as the ditch is likely to be filled with deposits from across the phases of the site.
In Area Q/M, on the north side of the broch, we anticipate amplifying the good results already achieved in here in elucidating the village buildings. Bobby’s team were at it again today- uncovering new walls and adding to the litany of features and likely buildings in this area! We have the grandly imposing Structure O just outside the broch entrance and running northwards from this another wall related to Structure K or Q! It will be very interesting to see what sense we can make of the jumble of walls in this zone by the time we’re ready to pack up and go home in two weeks’ time, and the likelihood of nice artefacts coming from this area in the meantime is high!
From tomorrow we’ll resume our usual practice of sharing perspectives from the wider excavation team with you as they recount their experiences and their findings!
Martin Carruthers continues the exciting story of Day Nine at The Cairns….
Hi folks, Martin here yet again. Not meaning to bore you by doing the blog again two days running but I thought I’d better describe today’s findings. What I have to share with you, however, is anything but boring! It’s been an amazing day on site.
If you’ve been following the blog thus far you’ll know from yesterday’s piece that we began to excavate the so-called ‘well’ that lies deeply under the floor of the broch. This subterranean structure is reached by a set of steep stone steps that curve down, slightly spiralling in a counter-clockwise direction. There’s a very sticky silty fill down there. It’s very wet and claggy and we’ve considered that it might hold out the promise of organic preservation. Today that promise has come true!
Within the partially rock-cut chamber, underneath the very fine upper grey silt deposit we uncovered a darker deposit, still very wet, but with a more compact consistency, and, I have to say, a quite a distinctive smell!
This morning we got the first hint of organic preservation from this dark deposit in the form of what appeared to be grass fibres, some of which even appeared as if they might be woven! There were also pieces of tree bark present. This was sufficiently stunning, and we were just contemplating the significance of this over morning tea break, but this was nothing to the shock of what emerged after the break. I was working in the well myself carefully examining the ‘dark deposit’, and noticed a strange solid curving object beginning to appear amidst the silt. Unbelievably, it was a wooden bowl…
I was astonished to see this very dark, very smooth object begin to appear more clearly as a vessel. The bowl is in several large chunks, but all in the correct relationship to each other showing that the vessel was complete, and it was clearly lying upright with the rim upwards. In form, the thing has a lovely out-swinging (or everted) rim just like a contemporary Iron Age pot. The bowl is round-bottomed like some Middle Iron Age ceramic vessels too. Within the curve of the rim I could see that there was further organic preservation – a mass of plant material. Startlingly, a second wooden object became apparent lying near to the wooden bowl, but closer to the bottom step of the staircase leading into the chamber. This time it was a long piece of round-wood about 20 centimetres long with a pronounced carved head at one end and a sort of carved ledge under the ‘head’. The object very closely resembles a modern wooden tent peg!
Before the end of the day we were able to lift the peg and the wooden vessel and safely pack it all up in protective layers and significant amounts of its own silty matrix within a plastic crate. The whole thing will have to be sent off to conservators to stabilise the object and prevent any deterioration of the precious wooden object. In the meantime we have not yet reached the bottom of the chamber. It was quite clear that in lifting the wooden bowl there was more organic material beneath, what seemed like a thick mass of plant fibres, perhaps the bowl was resting on a mat of some sort! Only a little time will tell as we continue to excavate this important feature!
Meanwhile in other parts of the site some great progress has also been made. Over in area M/Q Bobby’s team have yet again been revealing more wall lines. By the end of today they now have uncovered three sides of the building that lies just outside the broch entrance (Structure O). This looks like a large imposing building, with very well built walls utilising substantial blocks of sandstone, just the sort of grandeur that would be expected of one of the premier buildings within the broch-village complex. Also, in the same part of the trench a whopping whalebone vertebra has been uncovered and it has been carved, and pierced to provide handle holes, we think, and utilised as a chopping board with many serious chopping scars revealed on the surface.
In the south extension Linda’s team have been continuing to work away at the ditch fills, and, nearby, Angus has been revealing even more of Structure J, a village building tucked into the lee of the broch and its construction terrace.
Finally for this round up, back to the broch interior and Therese has been recording the slab floor in the Western quadrant and then she began to lift the shattered remains of the late hearth base slab. Underneath lay more burnt material and edges of stones that suggest an earlier hearth remains to be fully investigated. In the Southeast quadrant of the broch Ross continued to grid-excavate the beautiful ashy floor horizons with their riot of black and vivid red colours.
Gary and Paul have begun to remove the fill (masses of rubble) from a huge pit set in the floor of the broch and we’ll hopefully get to see what this very deep set feature is all about over the next few days- possibly a sub-floor tank that has been partly robbed out for stone and then filled in or something more enigmatic? We’ll see…
Well tomorrow’s another day and we’ll keep you posted on what emerges!
Martin Carruthers, Site Director and Programme Leader for MSc Archaeological Practice at the UHI Archaeology Institute takes up the story of Day Eight at The Cairns….
Martin here again with a today’s update, and what a cracking day today was! The sun shone down on us as we dug. In fact, it was one of those days when you feel bad about wishing it wasn’t quite so warm and dry, and sunny! In the full glare of the of the sun we made good progress across the site.
Over in the south extension Linda’s team have really started to work down the edge of the ditch, and it’s nice to see the profile start to emerge of this once very substantial enclosure. Also in this area Angus and Paul have been revealing more details of the building that crouches in the lee of the revetment. This building will, we hope, be one of the village buildings that allows us to test whether our broch village was founded at the very same time as the broch itself or sometime after.
Within the broch, Rick’s team have been recording the flag stone floor and hearth in the western area/room of the interior. This occupation level pertains to late use of the western zone and probably dates to sometime around the Mid 2nd Century AD. Soon the team will be able to lift this horizon and see what lies beneath. They strongly suspect there’ll be another hearth for one thing, but also that more rich floor deposits are awaiting our investigation.
Colin, Anthea and Deryck have further defined the newly emerged wall cell (‘A6’) within the northern segment of broch wall. It’s looking very nice with its mixed construction of coursed masonry and upright stone panels, and it’s much better preserved than we had expected, considering the damage it had received from above during a later Iron Age stone robbing episode. There also appears to be in situ floor/occupation deposits remaining within the base of the chamber. That’s great for ultimately giving us more information about the use of the chamber.
Also in the broch today we really started to excavate the subterranean feature in the northern interior of the broch. This type feature is known in the literature as a well, but there are various reasons for suggesting that something more is going on with these fascinating underground structures. Our ‘well’ is very nicely preserved, entirely intact in fact, and was completely sealed when we first discovered it. The entrance is very well built and flush with the broch floor level in this area. A very steep set of steps lead downwards and in an anti-clockwise direction to the partly rock cut chamber below. The structure is quite a substantial cavity about 2 metres deep in total as far as we can tell.
Today we began the arduous process of excavating and sampling (100% recovery) the deep and very silty fill. It’s very wet, loose and prone to a suction effect that makes it difficult to make headway. Nevertheless, we hope this will be a very worthwhile exercise and that we can recover pollen, and lots of other environmental information. Additionally, you never know what else may be in there in terms of artefacts. We’ll keep you posted…
In Area Q/M in the Northern area of the site, Bobby’s team have also been making very good progress revealing a beautiful flagstone floor associated with Structure K in one area. Meanwhile, towards the eastern end of Area Q/M various walls out the front and north of the broch exterior that have seemed quite disparate and bitty are now starting to come together very nicely, and they seem to be tracing the outline of a whopper of a building.
It looks very like one particularly long and sinuous stretch of walling represents a major building and part of the broch village complex, perhaps a type of building seen in other broch villages such as the one at Gurness in West Mainland, Orkney, which was itself an impressive and substantial structure close to the front of the broch and designed to be appreciated and to impress.
We’ll bring you updates and further images from these and other developments as they emerge!
Kath Page, third year UHI Archaeology Institute student continues the story of the dig at The Cairns….
Today was a beautiful sunny day at the Cairns and the sunshine brought lots of visitors to the site, including Fiona from the Orkney News to report on how the excavations are progressing.
After several days of carefully removing shillet to a depth of almost 4ft, Colin, Anthea and Deryck have uncovered a cell beneath the rubble on the North West side of the outer broch wall. The rubble, though to be wall collapse, was lying beneath a layer of temporary paving, this discovery adds another dimension to the story of the Cairns broch and future sampling of the floor deposits may be able to tell us the purpose of this feature.
Cell emerging from the rubble
Cell emerging from the rubble being cleared by Andrea
Inside the broch, students from UHI Archaeology Institute and Therese are continuing to retrieve geochemical samples. Therese and I are collecting 100% of the floor deposits around the hearth in the North West part of the broch interior, once retrieved, the area will be planned and eventually the flags will be lifted, hopefully revealing some more amazing finds. In the North West quadrant, Ross is collecting geochemical samples, and excavating a post hole setting and in the South West quadrant, Sue and Kathryn have begun the process of gridding out to enable them to collect geochemical samples from this area also. Gary has continued to clear rubble to further define the pit boundary in the North East quadrant of the broch and stabilise the stone work around the corbelled cell.
In the South West extension, UHI Archaeology students Angus and Paul have discovered a possible wall feature and uncovered an up turned saddle quern today. Elsewhere in this large trench, work has continued to define the edge of the ditch running around the broch and Don has removed the animal bone deposit he discovered earlier this week.
Sorcha, Marianne and Michael have discovered an unusual feature in Area Q. Two upright orthostats are protruding from the trench and they have discovered some deer antler, fire cracked stone, cramp and a sharpening stone. Further investigation in the coming weeks will help us to understand exactly what this feature is. In Trench M, a wall area has been defined and stone tools discovered close by, further along, in Henrik and Vicky’s section, some large flat flag stones have been uncovered. Continued excavation of the trench should be able to tell us how these features relate to each other.
The Cairns is an important placement for both undergraduate and post graduate students from the University of the Highlands and Islands and as well as universities further afield such as Stirling, Oxford and Trondheim! Today Rick gave a tool box talk to students on how to plan a feature and MLitt students George and Amber had the opportunity to plan a section of the hearth situated on top of the North East section of broch wall. Rick also gave tuition on the use of the EDM Total station to record small finds across the site – all important skills that will be required for any budding field archaeologist.
The weather forecast tomorrow is for more sunny weather, I may regret saying this, but I hope there is a breeze too as the broch interior is somewhat of a suntrap!
Hi everyone, its Martin here and today was the start of Week 2 of the project, so I thought I’d give a little round up of things on site.
In the south extension of the trench the digging caries on apace led by Linda. The upper ditch fills here are coming into ever more crisp focus, and the animal bone in Don’s area just keeps getting more extensive in the area it covers as well as the number of very large bone fragments.
There are semi-articulated bone groups and enough elements from the same species and from the same region of the animal body to suggest we have large portions of carcass being introduced into these upper fills. This is, in some ways, to be expected in the ditch as several Iron Age period ditches that have been excavated on Northern Isles sites have been similarly rich, and seem to show that ditches were important places for meaningful deposition as well as simply the disposal of waste products.
Meanwhile, still within the south extension, but slightly to the north, the area snug against the broch outer wall is changing rapidly, as well as throwing up some interesting finds. Large voids are appearing in the soils here and seem to hold out the promise of rubble and stonework just a little further down. Indeed, hopefully soon we’ll be able to reveal the connectedness of several hitherto disparate pieces of walling and show them to be all part of an entire building that we think should be roughly contemporary with the broch, essentially one of the village buildings that we call Structure J. The finds form this building today included several fairly well-preserved iron objects and two bone pins.
Inside the broch itself, the little team of Rick, Therese, Gary, Kath and Ross have been steadily excavating the floor in the western and south-eastern zones of the building. Last Friday’s glass bead found close to the hearth was a highlight, but hopefully there will be many more interesting items from these floors before we finish this season. The floor deposits are being excavated on a sample grid that allows us to control exactly where everything came from within the broch and allows us to build up a picture of distribution patterns across the floor. Hopefully, this will give us very good information about the range and location of activities within the broch during the Iron Age.
In the meantime this afternoon we recorded the opening into the cell within the broch’s western area. The lintels immediately over the entrance to the chamber have been destabilised in antiquity and we need to remove these in order to work safely inside the broch in this area. One way of recording these is through photogrammetry, where we place little targets on the masonry in order to act as reference points, and then we can create a very accurate rectified image and drawing based on this. You can see a photo of the cell doorway, the crooked lintels that we need to remove, and the photogrammetry targets in this blog.
In Area Q, Bobby and his team have been doing sterling work revealing several walls. In fact, these, are becoming very extensive, and I am beginning to hope that we are finally seeing some major stretches of wall reflecting big village buildings around this north-eastern side of the broch. Time will tell, but in the meantime the team are enjoying a rich array of animal bone from this area, including lots of red deer antler.
For the rest of the week we will be exploring the ditch, the broch interior, and the village buildings of Area Q further, whilst recommencing some areas from previous seasons including the souterrain passage immediately outside the broch. We’ll keep you updated as to how we get on.