Recording the Built Heritage of Kirkwall, Orkney

Building recording in Parliament Square, Kirkwall, Orkney

Training and supporting volunteers to record the built heritage of Kirkwall and adding the results to the national record online.

ORCA Archaeology have secured funding from Kirkwall THI for a short programme of archaeological building recording training, recording buildings, and historical urban archive research in Kirkwall town centre during 2019. This complements the results of the ‘Discovering Hidden Kirkwall’ Archaeology Programme undertaken by the UHI Archaeology Institute during 2016-2017, and focuses more explicitly upon built heritage.

The project will train volunteers in new skills, undertake recording in the town, leading to a better characterisation and understanding the Kirkwall conservation area. The results will be added to the national record online, for everyone to access. 

Initial training workshops: will be held 25 – 26 March 2019 (10:00-16:00) at Orkney College, Kirkwall, Orkney. 

Free training will be provided by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) from the Scotland’s Urban Past team. This will include sessions on ‘History Reconstructed’ which gives participants practical experience of researching buildings using a variety of sources (maps, aerial photos, architectural drawings, digital resources and documents). The team will examine three case studies with volunteers working on group tasks, ‘GIS training’ in open source mapping software, and  a ‘Kirkwall Snapshot Survey’ which will give practical experience of building and monument recording, photographic survey techniques and adding images and data to Canmore online. 

Activities to follow will include building recording in the town centre supported by the ORCA team in April and May, and urban archive research during April with Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon. 

Training is free of charge, lunch is provided, places are limited, booking essential.

Book now and get more info: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

St Magnus Cathedral Graffiti Project Launch

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with Orkney Archaeology Society for an exciting community archaeology project centred on the 870 year old St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney.

The project will involve the local community who will investigate, record and analyse the graffiti and mark making which is present on the walls both inside and outside the building.

St Magnus Cathedral occupies a special place in the history and identity of Orkney. Built from red and yellow sandstone in the 12th century by the same masons as Durham Cathedral, it is one of the most iconic buildings in Scotland. It serves as a parish church, a venue for a range of events and performances, and is one of the most popular heritage attractions for visitors to the islands. A wide range of markings from the last 870 years survive on both the internal and external stonework, and the cathedral contains one of the most significant graffiti assemblages in Scotland. These include masons’ marks relating to primary construction and rebuild, enigmatic symbolic designs such as hexafoils, and a wide range of both pencilled and inscribed ‘name-and-date’ graffiti. Only very limited attention has ever been afforded to these, but such inscriptions are increasingly recognised as an important part of the historical record.

Several hundred marks have been informally identified, and these are a highlight of the Cathedral tours. But despite the great interest in, and research importance of, this assemblage, it has never been the focus of a systematic, detailed study. It is likely that many more marks remain to be discovered. In addition, the soft sandstone is vulnerable to erosion and restoration of the building’s stonework continues. Many of the more lightly inscribed carvings, and the delicate pencil graffiti, are in danger of disappearance before they are fully recorded. These factors, in combination with the growing awareness of the significance of this resource, make this project timely and essential.

The aims of the project are to….

  • train a team of community archaeologists who will be sufficiently skilled and confident to undertake, under supervision, detailed building surveys
  • create a publication which outlines the key findings, places the graffiti in the cathedral within its historical context and adds to the knowledge of this unique building and the people who have used it
  • create an online resource which will be freely available to all, showing the photographs and the records of the project

The volunteers will be trained by archaeologists from the UHI Archaeology Institute to recognise and record the marks and enter them into the record – the first time that these important social marks have been recorded officially.

St Magnus Cathedral Tower

The project will be officially launched on Tuesday 22nd January 2019 at 7.00pm in the St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall when the team will discuss the background to the project and how to get involved as a volunteer.

The initial training dates for volunteers are to be held in late January and early February and to take part in the project, participants must attend one of the four hour sessions. Interest in the workshops has been very high, and as a result there are now very few slots available on the first three training workshops.  Organisers are looking to set a date for a fourth training workshop, and this will be confirmed at the launch on the 22nd Jan.

  • Workshop One: Saturday 26th Jan. 1pm-5pm, St Magnus Cathedral
  • Workshop Two: Tuesday 5th Feb. 1pm – 5pm, St Magnus Cathedral
  • Workshop Three: Saturday 9th Feb. 1pm-5pm, St Magnus Cathedral

UHI Archaeology Institute lecturer and project coordinator, Dr Antonia Thomas, commented that, “over more than 870 years, St Magnus Cathedral has played host to countless masons, pilgrims and tourists, many of whom have left their mark in graffiti and other carvings. This exciting project gives us the opportunity to examine several centuries of mark-making, and find out more about the social history of this special building “

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

Martin Carruthers, Orkney Archaeology Society Chairman said,” This is a really exciting project and one that we are delighted to be running. St Magnus Cathedral is such an important building for Orkney folk, and we are looking forward to working with the community to learn more about the people who have made their marks here since it was founded in 1137.”

The project is supported by a grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Visit the Orkney Archaeology Society website for more details.

Community Archaeology Dig to start in Caithness

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with Yarrows Heritage Trust to re-commence the community excavation of possible Iron Age structures at the Burn of Swartigill on 20th August.

Located in Caithness, the site was excavated in 2015 and 2017 and initial finds pointed to the possible presence of a substantial rectangular building and water management features.

During the 2015 fieldwork, a substantial mass of stonework and well-preserved archaeological features were unearthed and it was suggested that the linear wall lines picked up in the geophysics survey may reflect a long building with its long axis at right-angles to the stream. In addition, the building remains also appear to include a well-built circular structure – possibly an early roundhouse. A possible drain feature was also identified indicating an element of water management over and above that required for a purely domestic use. Samples taken from the site may even be able to shed light on the role and function of the site.

It was also established that previously recorded massive blocks of stone that were eroding out of the stream bank were also parts of wall lines and wall faces. Well-made and decorated Iron Age pottery was also recovered in addition to a quern rubber and hammer stone – the latter from the drain feature.

However the most surprising find was a copper alloy triangular fragment with a possible setting for an enamel or glass paste inlay. This would appear to have been a relatively valuable item from something like a brooch and perhaps hints that a certain social status was accorded to the Swartigill site during the Iron Age.

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Aerial view of the site. Thanks to Bobby Friel @takethehighview

Interestingly, radiocarbon dates suggest that the site was occupied in the period when brochs were evolving in the Northern Scottish Iron Age. It can be tentatively suggested that Swartigill represents an early Iron Age site, occupied before and during the establishment of brochs in the wider landscape.

The site is extremely complex and this year we aim to further explore the social and historical conditions that were present at an important moment of change during the Iron Age period in Caithness.

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One of the finds from the 2017 excavation….a beautifully shaped hone, a fine-grained stone used for sharpening metal objects

The Swartigill dig is a community dig. This means that local people are involved at all stages of the process and local volunteers receive basic training in archaeological methods and help with the actual dig. If you want to be involved in this exciting dig then call 01955 651387 or e-mail studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk. No experience required!

The excavation commences on 20th August and finishes on 7th September. The site will not be open at weekends this year.

Mapping Magnus – Manse Stane Walk 18th November

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Manse Stanes mark the places where the body of Magnus was rested on its journey from Egilsay across West Mainland Orkney to Birsay, and finally Kirkwall.

You can find out more about these less well-known but important Medieval sites by joining our team for a walk through the landscape of  Magnus at 11am on 18th November starting at Birsay Hall, Orkney. 

Tommy Matches from Birsay Heritage Trust, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon and Dan Lee from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute will begin by visiting the only surviving Manse Stane at Strathyre, Twatt, Orkney. The team will then continue to the Manse Stane site at Crustan and then try and locate some Manse Stone sites along the coast during a short walk at Northside using oral histories and local knowledge. Throughout, the team will discuss recent research concerning the story of Magnus and the results of the Mapping Magnus project so far, and explore Magnus related places in the landscape.

The walk is free and will give participants an opportunity to learn more about these important historical sites…..and of course take in the breathtaking scenery of this part of West Mainland Orkney.

  • Meeting place: Birsay Hall, Orkney
  • Date: 18th November
  • Time: 11am
  • All welcome
  • Free event

As ever, dress for the weather (waterproofs and stout footwear/wellies are essential!) and bring a packed lunch. Ground conditions are likely to be wet and boggy in places, so be prepared. The walk will end at 3pm. We will have a minibus to drive everyone between the main sites and the short walk at Northside.

There is no need to book, but please let us know if you intend to come to give us an idea of numbers and contact details should plans change due to the weather – studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

Mapping Magnus Northside Manse Stane walk poster V1 011117.ai

This walk is part of the Mapping Magnus Community Archaeology, Research and Training project which during 2017 and 2018 marks the 900th anniversary of the death of St Magnus.

Follow the conversation #Mappingmagnus

Mapping Magnus Dates for the Diary 2

20170826_151839Upcoming activities in the Palace village area of Birsay for September & October 2017 (updated).

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

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Next Workshop is:

Archive research training. 1 & 2 Sept

What? Research the history & archaeology of Birsay with Dr Sarah-Jane Gibbon in the Orkney Library and Archive. No previous experience required, training in archive reaesrch will be provided. Contribute original research to the project.

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

When? 10am – 3pm. Please contact us to book for the full days, but you are welcome to drop in for a visit.

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. Numerous sites from prehistoric settlement, Viking Norse remains to more recent boat nousts were recorded in the 1970s and 1980s during the Birsay Bay Project. The remains of these sites will be identified and their current condition recorded (photographic and written record). No previous experience required, training will be provided.

Where? Meet at Point of Buckquoy, Brough of Birsay car park, Birsay.

When? 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

Geophysical Survey. 12, 13 & 14 Sept

What? Help the team survey small areas in the village using Earth Resistance and Magnetometry techniques. Understand the process of geophsyical survey and its applciation in archaeology. Help put the key site in Palace Village, Birsay, into a wider context. No previous experience required, training will be provided.

Where? Meet at Palace village car park, opposite the kirk.

When? 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

Archive Research drop-in day. 23 Sept

What? Come and visit Dr Sarah-Jane Gibbon and the archive reaearch group in the Orkney Library and Archive to look at their research into the history & archaeology of Birsay and Palace village for the project.

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

When? 11am – 3pm. No need to book, just drop in anytime!

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. No previous experience required, training will be provided.

Dig open day on Saturday the 30th September.

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

When? 10am – 4pm each day

Please note: Booking is essential for all activities.