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

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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: Summing up the Palace Village Excavations

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are celebrating the success of the Mapping Magnus community archaeology excavations in Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney.

The team, including archaeologists, students and community volunteers discovered tantalising new evidence of medieval activity to the south of the kirk in Palace Village. We know that this area was the location of an early medieval Bishop’s residence and that there was a Bishop’s palace there in the 15th century – known as ‘Mons Bellus.’ But what evidence for these buildings did the team find in the trenches?

This blog is brought to you by Charlotte Hunter who is a University of the Highlands and Islands MSc student on professional placement with the UHI Archaeology Institute. Charlotte is working with Marketing and Communications at The Institute as part of her work placement MSc Archaeological Practice module.

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Trench 1: The main trench contained a variety of finds below a layer of windblown sand, layers of demolition rubble and midden – including quantities of fish and animal bone, vast amounts of shell and two pieces of Medieval pottery. Surprisingly, these pieces of pot were the only Medieval fragments found within the whole of the excavation.

As the excavation progressed more of the rubble was lifted revealing a rough pathed surface and potential wall. At this stage, the surface, midden and rubble appear to be 12th or 13th century in date, although more analysis needs to be done on the assemblages. Are we finding different assemblages because this was a high status ecclesiastical centre?

Trench A unearthed possibly the most intriguing piece of evidence from the excavation. Originally the team had not expected to excavate in this location until the homeowners decided to lift and resurface their rear path.

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Excavation revealed a 1m wide wall that continued below their house! At each side of the wall there were layers of midden, which may suggest that this wall is Medieval in date. Could this wall be part of the Bishop’s Palace complex or is this part of another structure relating to the Earl’s Palace barns and stables, known to have been built here in the 16th or 17th century ?

726_B4_206As the excavation was coming to a close a pundler weight was lifted from within the rubble next to the pipe that runs through the wall. A pundler weight was used when taxes and rent was paid in grain and kind. This instrument is known to have primarily being used in Orkney and Shetland. The age of this weight is unknown but could date as far back as the 14th century and used until the early 19th century. This intriguing find was a wonderful way of demonstrating the use of this area throughout different periods of history.

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Test Pit 2 was opened in the garden behind the location of the wall discovered in Trench A to investigate the direction of the wall. When first opened, stone flooring was discovered but this appeared to be 19th century in date. After recording the floor the slabs were lifted and excavation continued. Within the last couple of days of the excavation a wall of similar dimensions and build to that in Trench A started to appear in Test Pit Two, suggesting that this was the continuation of the same wall.

The new wall stood three courses high on the north face, however, the size on the opposing side was unclear. It has been suggested that this may have been due to stone robbing or had been partially destroyed.  Additionally this test pit contained fish bones of a variety sizes, animal bone and ‘packages’ of winkle shells throughout.

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Throughout the 2 weeks of the excavation there were 4 other test pits opened in homeowners’ gardens to investigate geophysical anomalies and understand the Bishop’s Palace area of the village. These test pits located other walls – perhaps relating to the Bishop’s Palace – and land surfaces, and helped define the medieval core of the village.

Each test pit shared a common factor – they all contained a large amount of wind-blown sand from the nearby beach. The vast quantity of sand may be an indicator of hiatus of activity within the former ecclesiastical centre, perhaps in the 14th century and prior to the construction of the Earl’s Palace and development of the post-medieval village.

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Despite the adverse weather conditions, the two weeks of the Mapping Magnus excavation were views by all concerned as a great success. The community volunteers and school children who visited the site not only gained new skills through the training they received from the archaeologist team, but learned about the exciting history hidden beneath their village.

The Mapping Magnus Project is not complete yet and further research is planned which will help us understand the history of Palace Village, Birsay the story of Magnus and his legacy in the parish.

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute team would like to thank all of the volunteers on site, pupils from all of the primary schools, the homeowners for allowing the team to dig in their gardens and for everyone that kept up to date with the dig.

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If you would also like to be part of the Mapping Magnus Community Archaeology Project then please contact us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk . Future activities include geophysical survey and walkover survey at Manse Stone sites and noust survey at Marwick.

Team led by Dan Lee, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, Chris Gee, Bobby Friel (ORCA), Colin Mitchell (ORCA), students Jim Bright (Digital Archaeologist) and Charolotte Hunter.

Follow the conversation #Mappingmagnus

Listening to the Piers Exhibition – Stromness Museum

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Stories, Stones and Bones: Stromness Museum’s ‘Listening to the Piers’ exhibition celebrates Stromness Piers

  • Exhibition open 4th November – 31 December 2017
  • Venue: Stromness Museum, Stromness, Orkney

The dynamic story of the Stromness piers collected during the project through stories, drawings, photographs and artefacts will be exhibited in the entrance porch of Stromness Museum from Saturday 4 November to 31 December 2017.

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The project co-ordinator Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist UHI Archaeology Institute, commenting on the award said: “It’s great that Stromness Museum was awarded this grant. Stromness piers have such a rich wealth of stories from their working past to the new ways we think about them today. We are all really excited about telling other people about our findings and sharing our heritage and history with them through this exhibition”.

Stromness Museum received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant as part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. This exciting project, ‘Listening to the Piers’, run in partnership with University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute, Heriot Watt Stromness campus and locally based artists was awarded £9,700 to investigate the piers of Stromness through creative engagement in archaeology, art and science workshops.

Commenting, Lucy Casot, Head of HLF in Scotland, said: “The Heritage Lottery Fund is a key partner in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and it was our ambition that people of all ages would have the chance to discover something new about the heritage they care about. With almost 100 projects happening across the country, over 15,000 people have done just that. We’re delighted that, thanks to funding from the National Lottery, Stromness Museum is part of that celebration, opening the door to fun, learning and everlasting memories for many people as we celebrate this special year.”

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Stromness Museum holds important collections of natural history, archaeology, maritime and social history and art. Growing sea traffic from the 18th century onwards saw the port grow with stone-built piers and slips appearing along the shore.

Oral history workshops introduced Stromness Primary School pupils to interview techniques to make recordings about the piers. On ‘Piers Day’ during ‘Per Mare’ week, at the end of July 2017, Listening to the Piers provided an opportunity for local people and visitors to explore different ways of seeing and interpreting these piers through archaeology, marine biology, photography and drawing workshops.

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Stromness Museum
The Stromness Museum exists to promote natural science, to preserve local history and to offer an enjoyable educational and informative experience to as large a range of people as possible.

Stories, Stones and Bones
Stories, Stones and Bones is for any not-for-profit group wanting to engage more people with the heritage and take part in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. Stories, Stones and Bones grants between £3,000 and £10,000 are available to groups who want to discover their local heritage. Projects can cover a wide spectrum of subject matter from exploring local archaeology and a community’s cultures and traditions to identifying and recording local wildlife and protecting the surrounding environment to managing and training volunteers, and holding festivals and events to commemorate the past.

Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. http://www.hlf.org.uk Follow us on facebook Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland and twitter @HLFScotland.

Join the conversation at #HLFScotland and #HHA2017 to be part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology
From World Heritage Sites to ancient monuments, listed buildings to historic battlefields, cultural traditions to our myths, tales and legends, the 2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, running from 1 January to 31 December will shine a spotlight on Scotland’s fascinating past, some of our greatest figures, attractions and icons, as well as our hidden gems.

 

Archaeologists for a Day – School Children help out at Mapping Magnus Dig

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Over the past couple of weeks, the University of the Highlands and Islands team at the Mapping Magnus excavation have involved local school children in the exciting excavations at Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney.

On 2nd to 4th October, children and teachers from Dounby Primary School, Stenness Primary School, Stromness Primary School, Evie Primary School, Firth Primary School and the Pathways to Independence Group were involved in an archaeology day at the site – building on work that they had completed in the classroom in the previous week.

The budding archaeologists arrived early on site at Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney and were keen and ready to get started. The weather tried its best to intervene, but the children were well wrapped up and enthusiastically looked forward to the first task.

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This involved the children in a decision making exercise in which they searched for any existing clues in Palace Village that may help us as archaeologists narrow down the potential site of the medieval Bishop’s Palace. The children set off looking for sandstone blocks and other features that could have originated in the old medieval palace in the walls of the present settlement.

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After exploring the area our volunteers then began examining some of the drawings and maps of the Palace Village alongside Dr Sarah-Jane Gibbon, Lecturer in  Archaeology at UHI Archaeology Institute, and Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist at UHI Archaeology Institute, to identify any clues that may help us identify the position of the old medieval palace. This exercise was completed in the The Orkney Archaeology Society trailer which provided welcome refuge against particularly heavy rain showers….many thanks to OAS who helped make this happen.

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After exploring the area and studying the documented evidence, our helpers headed to the main trench. The children were split into teams who then started washing some of the finds that had come out of our trenches, sieving deposits, excavating in the main trench and working in the smaller test pits. The teams rotated around, giving each child experience of the different aspects of field archaeology.

The day itself was very enjoyable and the team want to shout out a big thank you to all of our volunteers from Dounby Primary School, Stenness Primary School, Stromness Primary School, Evie Primary School, Firth Primary School and to the Pathways to Independence Group. Your hard work was greatly appreciated by the team and hope to see you at another excavation in the future.

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If you would also like to be part of the Mapping Magnus Community Archaeology Project then please contact us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk . Future activities include geophysical survey and walkover survey at Manse Stone sites and noust survey at Marwick.

Thanks to Charlotte Hunter for contributing to the blog post and photographs. Charlotte is a MSc student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and is on professional placement with us, helping with the communication of archaeology across the media.

Get involved in the conversation #MappingMagnus


The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Orkney Islands council and the UHI Archaeology Institute as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

 

Mapping Magnus Dig Update 4/10

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The team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and local community volunteers are now beginning to bring the Mapping Magnus dig in Palace Village to a close.

Everyone involved, from school children to local residents to students from UHI Archaeology Institute and volunteers from further afield, have all said how successful the dig has been and how it was so good to be involved in community research.

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The weather over the past week has been furious with several gales tracking over the exposed coastal site – but despite the weather the enthusiasm of everyone involved has carried the team through.

Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist at the UHI Archaeology Institute, takes up the story…

“We’ve found medieval middens and structures in most trenches. The schools outreach was very successful despite the weather! Many thanks to those of you who have helped out during the excavations. We have one last push tomorrow with backfilling the main trench, so any extra help would be much appreciated, even for just an hour or so. Chris Gee and the team will be there from 9am.”

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There are a few more activities to come on the project, such as geophysical survey and walkover survey at Manse Stone sites, and noust survey at Marwick. so we will keep you posted if you wish to be involved.

Please do lend a hand backfilling tomorrow if you can. There will be lifts available from Orkney College at 8am as usual. No need to book, just turn up.


The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Orkney Islands Council and the UHI Archaeology Institute as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

 

Mapping Magnus Community Dig – end of week one.

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The community dig at Palace Village, Birsay is progressing well and at the end of week one, exciting finds are being unearthed.

A team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands and volunteers from the local community have been excavating in Palace Village, Birsay, as part of the Mapping Magnus project. Charlotte Hunter, MSc student on professional placement at the UHI Archaeology Institute, takes up the story…..

“With one week left, the chase is on to find the medieval Bishop’s Palace. Four test pits have been opened along with the main trench in some of the local communities’ gardens in search of the Bishop’s Palace.

Community involvement in the project has been exceptional and has led to the unearthing of the most outstanding find so far….A couple of residents decided to remodel their outdoor paving and so asked the team to open a new trench in the ground exposed under their yard. This led to the discovery of an unknown, potentially medieval, wall  structure.

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From what can be seen by the style of the construction of this wall it may suggest that it dates to the medieval period. There was a large quantity of shell found both sides of the wall which is a Norse technique. The next challenge for this trench is to establish which is the internal and external side of the wall.

Throughout the rest of the site a couple of the test pits are beginning to come across what could be structural stones which may be part of the Bishop Palaces walls. Further excavation on these areas will be carried out in the final week of the dig.

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A few of the finds across the excavation have included a couple of pieces of medieval pottery, one being Norse. Other artefacts have included fragments of animal bone and pottery from the 19th and 20th century.

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There is still time for you to come and visit the team at this intriguing excavation, which ends this Friday (6th October). Who knows what will be discovered in the last days of the Mapping Magnus excavation!


The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Orkney Islands Council and the UHI Archaeology Institute as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.