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

DSC_0083

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.

DCIM111MEDIADJI_0012.JPG
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.

DSC_0069
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

17917248_1535012393206773_27840224009278848518_o

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

P1170026-1

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.

A Summer of Archaeology in Rousay

20170714_133753 LowRes

Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Land and Sea: Exploring Island Heritage, Past and Present.

Dan Lee, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dr Jen Harland and Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute together with a team of local volunteers and school children embarked on a programme of archaeology in Rousay, Orkney over the summer 2017.

Rousay’s Summer of Archaeology culminated in a host of activities along the west shore during July. Excavations were carried out at the coastally eroding site at Swandro (by a team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute & University of Bradford) and at Skaill farmstead.

Together, the work at these sites aims to explore the remarkable deep time represented along the west shore; from the Neolithic, Iron Age, Pictish, Viking and Norse periods to the 19th century clearances. Work at these sites framed a series of community activities and workshops including test pit excavation at Skaill, training placements for Rousay residents, metalworking workshop, bones and environmental workshop, experimental archaeology, and open days at the two excavations. Over the month, the sites received hundreds of visitors, from Rousay and all over the world.

Chrissie and her test pit containing Norse midden

Excavations at Skaill farmstead were undertaken within the middle two weeks of July. The results of the geophysical survey in 2015 showed potential earlier features below the present 18/19th century farmstead. Subsequent test pits in 2016 identified several earlier structural phases below the farmhouse, including a wall with two outer stone faces and midden core, which is likely to date to the Norse period. The site represents a small ‘farm mound’ where successive phases of building, levelling and rebuilding give rise to a low mound.

The aim this season was to establish the extent and character of the farm mound, and the depth, quality and date of any deposits and structures in order to better understand the site for more detailed investigation. A line of 1m by 1m test pits at 10m intervals were excavated in two transects across the mound. The natural underlying glacial till was located at the northern, western and southern edges of the mound helping us to define the extent of surviving archaeology.

Ornate moulded red sandstone

In the centre of the mound, deep stratified deposits were found. These are likely to be over 2m in depth. Post-medieval deposits were found to overlay a distinctive Norse horizon. Norse pottery, fish bone, shell midden and elaborate red sandstone mouldings were found in the earlier horizons. The moulded red sandstone is significant, indicating high status buildings in the area during the late medieval period, and may help provide insights into the ornate red sandstone fragments nearby at The Wirk and on Eynhallow. Evidence for metal working, in the form of iron slag, has also been recovered from Skaill. Significant assemblages of animal bone, fish bone and pottery from the 17-19th centuries were also recovered. These will help us understand farming and fishing practices during the last few hundred years.

Planning the remains of the barn in Trench 2

To the north of the farmhouse, a small trench across a former 19th century barn was reopened and extended, showing the external wall footings and internal flagged floor. The building was demolished between 1840 and 1882 during a time when the farmstead was cleared and ceased to operate. In addition, a small evaluation trench across a suspected field boundary to the south of the barn was reopened from last season and completed. This contained a stone-lined drain and midden enhanced soil, indicating that earlier buried structures could be widespread at the site. Indeed, all of the earthworks that fell within one of the test pits contained structural remains such as walls.

Visitors!

Over the two weeks, Skaill received nearly 150 visitors, with 70 visitors over the test pit weekend. Several local children helping dig the test pits. Overall the season was a great success; helping raise the profile of the island, opening up the site to so many folk and increasing our understanding of the Skaill and Westness story.

The project has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant and additional funding form the OIC Archaeology Fund.

        

 

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

This post has been updated click here for new dates

 

Mapping Magnus Geophysics to Commence

Mapping Magnus Gen poster V1 070717

The first phase of the exciting community archaeology and training project, Mapping Magnus, begins on the 25th and 26th July.

Volunteer archaeologists together with a team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute will be involved in the initial geophysics survey in and around the gardens of Palace Village, Birsay.

Geophysical survey will be used as a prospective tool to investigate key areas within Palace village, providing targets for subsequent excavations, and opportunities for community training and engagement. 3-4 areas will be investigated using magnetometry and earth resistance survey:

  • Magnetometry / Gradiometry measures localized variations in the earth’s magnetic field caused by features in the top metre or so of the ground. The technique is especially suited to locating ditches, pits, pottery and tile kilns, hearths and ovens, ferrous debris, and burnt material.
  • Resistance survey effectively measures the moisture content in the top 0.75m or so of the earth’s surface. It is particularly suited to locating walls and rubble spreads, made surfaces such as yards, and stone coffins or cists. The technique can also be used to locate ditches and pits in areas where gradiometry is not suitable, for example due to the nature of the soils or the presence of large amounts of ferrous material on or beneath the surface.

20170527_093402

Further opportunities for community involvement and training in archaeological archive research and desk based assessment is also planned for the first phase of this project. School pupils will also be involved in discovering the exciting history of Birsay when the schools return after their summer holidays.

If you want to get involved contact  Dan Lee at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

20170527_135037


 

Archaeological Building Survey Opportunity, Kirkwall

Rear 10 Victoria Street 2

Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute will be completing a further Archaeological Building Survey Workshop on Friday 19th and Saturday 20th May 2017 (10am – 3pm).

This continues on from the work completed at Parliament Square in April and the town centre excavations, surveys and gardens digs last year in the Kirkwall THI Archaeology Programme. The workshop will include basic training in building survey techniques, mapping, photography and a trip to the archives.

The work will commence in the court yard to the rear of Finns former shop (10-12 Victoria Street), opposite RBS bank. Access is through the gate to the right of Spence’s Newsagents. The day will include training in scale drawing, photography, written records and how to look at buildings archaeologically. The building itself contains large amounts of re-used medieval stone.

Further workshops will also be recording the Old Castle on Main Street the following weekend (26-27 May, with some laser scanning the day after on the 28th).

For further information on the project see our previous blog post.

If you would like to take part in these free archaeology workshops then please contact Dan Lee on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk


Geophysics and Building Survey for Kirkwall THI Archaeology Programme 2017

chris-thi-kirkwall-geophysics-low-resArchaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have commenced the second phase of the Kirkwall  Townscape Heritage Initiative Archaeology Programme for 2017.

This consists of additional phases of geophysical survey in private gardens, following on from those in 2016 which located a medieval pier, and upcoming Archaeological Building Recording at key sites in the town.

An initial geophysical survey was begun yesterday in beautiful sunshine within garden areas of properties in Central Kirkwall. This phase involves the use of non-intrusive techniques which allows below ground structural remains and archaeological deposits relating to the development of the town to be assessed and visualised without the need for excavation. More details on the results soon.

Archaeological Building Survey:

Archaeological Building Recording is being used to target sites with accessible and significant built heritage in the Kirkwall conservation area. Basic recording will be undertaken such as compiling a written description, scale drawings and a photographic record. Local participants are welcome and will be trained in basic techniques.

Site 1: Parliament Square

The site consists of the remains of a substantial ruinous and roofless building with ornate sandstone door and window surrounds, a substantial fireplace arch and other visible architectural features.

Structrual remains of early building at Parliament Square
Structural remains of early building at Parliament Square

Site 2: Court to rear of 10 Victoria Street 

A two storey dwelling house (now vacant but roofed) forming the eastern side of the courtyard has large blocks of high-status red sandstone built into the lower wall fabric. This is particularly apparent where large quoin stones surround a ground level door. It is possible that the lower part of the building has medieval origins, or more likely constructed in the post-medieval period reusing medieval masonry from the Bishops Palace or other ecclesiastical buildings in the area

Sunstantial red and yellow sandstone blocks in Victoria Street doorway
Substantial red and yellow sandstone blocks in Victoria Street doorway

Site 3: 38 Main Street – Old Castle

The remains of the ‘Old Castle’ are visible to the east of and adjoining 38 Main Street. These comprise the remains of a substantial post-medieval building now consisting of a single ruinous elevation and structural features evident in the east facing elevation of 38 Main Street. The Old Castle was demolished and stone used in the construction of Manse Park in the mid 20th century. The surviving remains have degenerated in the last decade and have recently been stabilised with repointing and capping. The building at the corner of Junction Road is also the ‘Uppie Goal’ in the Kirkwall Ba game.

Remains of the 'Old Castle' on Main Street
Remains of the ‘Old Castle’ on Main Street

The Building Recording aims to complete an enhanced building survey over two days at each site. This survey will include training local volunteers and will run throughout March, April and May.

The survey involves:

  • Measured survey of visible and accessible external elevations
  • Scaled ground plan of courtyard/building
  • External photographic survey
  • External photogrammetry
  • External context recording
  • Basic written description

Laser scanning of the whole block, including all external elevations on Main Street, the property gardens and Junction Road is also proposed.

Local volunteers and trainees welcome. If you wish to take part in this community archaeology project then please contact Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist through our e-mail address…. studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk