A Summer of Archaeology in Rousay

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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

Boat noust survey. 15 & 16 August

What? Record and survey the historic boat Nousts / Boat houses at Skipi Geo and Point of Buckquoy. Learn survey techniques with Dan Lee.

Where? Meet at Skipi Geo, Northside, Birsay (15th), Point of Buckquoy car park (16th).

When? 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

Village survey. 25 & 26 August

What? Record and survey the upstanding archaeology in and around Palace Village, Birsay. Learn survey techniques with Dan Lee.

Where? Meet at Palace village car park opposite kirk.

When? 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

Archive research training. 1 & 2 Sept

What? Research the history & archaeology of Birsay with Dr Sarah-Jane Gibbon in the Orkney Library and Archive. Contribute original research to the project.

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

When? 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

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.

Where? Meet at Point of Buckquoy

When? 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

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.

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

When? 10am – 4pm each day

Please note: Booking is essential for all activities.

Mapping Magnus Geophysics to Commence

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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.

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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

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Archaeological Building Survey Opportunity, Kirkwall

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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

Orkney World Heritage Site Field Walking Exhibition Launch

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If you are in Kirkwall at 2pm on Thursday 12th January then you are cordially invited to the launch of the field walking exhibition being held at Orkney Museum.

The launch is being held at the Orkney Museum, Kirkwall, located in the small temporary exhibition space in the downstairs prehistoric gallery.

The exhibition is the culmination of a year long field walking project started in early 2016 amongst Orkney’s world famous monuments in collaboration with Orkney Archaeology Society. It has been planned and put together by a team of trainee archaeologists who have participated in the project. Exhibits include maps, finds, case studies and personal accounts. Stenness Primary School children have contributed posters about their experiences during a day workshop field walking next to the school.

The project ran throughout 2016 with a series of workshops and events designed to teach people about the practice of archaeological fieldwalking, the processes that occur after fieldwork, the finds and mapping, and telling the story of the project in a museum exhibition.

Throughout, the main aim of the project was to involve members of the local community and generate internationally significant research in the World Heritage Area, and thereby contribute to the wider understanding of these sites and landscapes.

Prize find! (Photo Rod Richmond)

Thanks to Orkney Archaeology Society (OAS) who were awarded grant aid funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund Sharing Heritage scheme to undertake the fieldwalking project within the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site Buffer Zone (HONO WHS), West Mainland, Orkney. Thanks also to Orkney Museum for supporting and hosting the exhibition.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute were commissioned by OAS to undertake professional services for the project, including the fieldwork, training workshops and post-excavation.

If you are intrigued by the 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