Should I stay or should I go?

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An abandoned farm on the island of Sanday, Orkney

Despite the attractions of living on an island, it has to be said that small islands, especially those located on the geographic margin, are susceptible to de-population and eventual abandonment.

Examples such as St Kilda are well-known, but perhaps the islands closer to the centres of population are perhaps less recognised.

Orkney is a vibrant, busy place that is attracting both people and cutting edge, technology-based companies. There is very little unemployment and yet there are islands in Orkney that have been abandoned in the recent past.

Two of those islands are very visible whenever visitors use one of the ferries that ply between the Scottish mainland and South Ronaldsay. The islands of Stroma and Swona have been abandoned completely within living memory. They are located in the middle of busy shipping lanes and yet are never visited. The gaunt remains of farmsteads, kirks, landing places and other structures are a witness to the changing demands of society. Countryfile’s Adam Henson visited the island in 2012 and the 2017 BBC2 documentary programme, Britain’s Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney, detailed the haunting scenes that greet any travellers brave enough to sail across to Swona.

The islands of Orkney are fighting back and their future is looking brighter than at any time in the last thirty years as initiatives are increasingly developed to retain the population. Archaeology, art and the creative industries are playing an increasing role in these initiatives as training programmes are established that provide local inhabitants with the means to stay.


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Our Islands, Our Past Conference Call For Papers

The conference will be a celebration of island Identities, collective traits and traditions, through aspects of recent and contemporary archaeology. This conference intends to contribute to the Scottish Government’s ‘Our Islands, Our Future’ agenda, initiated by the Local Authorities of the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.

Please see our conference website for themes and further details.

We wish to encourage multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary contributions that engage critically with Scottish islands’ archaeology, as well as comparative islands perspectives.

We invite papers, posters, exhibitions and installations.  Abstracts of no more than 150 words together with name, e-mail and institution should be sent to: archaeologyconference@uhi.ac.uk.

Call for papers closes 30th April 2017.

Our Islands, Our Past-Connectivity and Communications

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The ferry to the northern islands of Orkney entering the Bay of Kirkwall.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute conference, ‘Our Islands, Our Past’, is being held in Kirkwall, Orkney from 14th September to 17th September 2017.

Over the next few months, we will explore the exciting and interesting themes of the conference in a series of blog posts. In this blog post we explore the theme of Connectivity and Communications within our island environment.

Living on an island in the North Atlantic in the 21st Century is an experience. It is almost universally accepted by most people living in the UK that they can communicate and connect to anyone else on the planet. The internet, rapid transit systems, motorways and the ever increasing capacity of airliners means that people take these things for granted.

There are no railways on Orkney. The nearest motorway is 200 miles to the south. The rapid transit system is the X1 bus which traverses the length of the Mainland on an almost hourly basis (amazingly there is even a night bus that runs at 2am on a Sunday morning).There are frequent ferries and flights that link us to the mainland of Scotland and beyond. And there is internet.

Even though I have spent most of my life living in an urban or semi-urban environment far to the south, I do not feel unconnected to the world – despite living in South Ronaldsay which is connected by four causeways to the main Orkney island.

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Barrier 4 linking the island of Burray with the island of South Ronaldsay.

But what was life like on South Ronaldsay before the building of the Churchill Barriers? How connected were the people in our islands in our past?

We are lucky in that we can still ask older residents who still remember the days before the Churchill Barriers. It would seem that connectivity between islands and people was by boat. Innumerable piers and jetties facilitated movement between the islands. The relatively sheltered waters of Scapa Flow allowed people, goods, news and ideas to move between the islands.

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Remains of piers in St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay

In the village of St Margaret’s Hope itself, even now, the houses on the shoreline each possess their own pier. And along the shoreline of South Ronaldsay itself, each house seemed to possess its own jetty. So perhaps we can say that the islanders of South Ronaldsay, in particular, did enjoy connectivity through the use of small boats and their individual piers and jetties and this perhaps led to the survival of the island before the barriers were built.

Almost all of these piers and jetties have fallen into disuse as the residents prefer the connectivity offered by the bus, car and the road over the barriers.

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Remains of the old ferry pier connecting South Ronaldsay and Burray

It will not be long before even the function of these strange lines of beach stones stretching out to sea, will be lost and they in themselves will become future archaeology.

Many thanks to Terry and Sandy Cuthbert-Dickinson at Ayre of Cara for their help in making the photograph of Barrier 4 possible.


Paul Sharman and Julie Gibson are working on a paper entitled ‘Prospecting for Orkney’s medieval harbours and landing places’ which they will explore at the conference as part of the wider connectivity and communications theme.

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‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Archaeology Conference-Call for Papers.

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are pleased to announce a Call for Papers for the ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ conference.

The conference will be a celebration of island Identities, collective traits and traditions, through aspects of recent and contemporary archaeology. This conference intends to contribute to the Scottish Government’s ‘Our Islands, Our Future’ agenda, initiated by the Local Authorities of the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.

Please see our conference website for themes and  further details.

We wish to encourage multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary contributions that engage critically with Scottish islands’ archaeology, as well as comparative islands perspectives.

We invite papers, posters, exhibitions and installations.  Abstracts of no more than 150 words together with name, email and institution should be sent to:

archaeologyconference@uhi.ac.uk.

Call for papers closes 30th April 2017.

CHAT conference was a great success

A big thank you to all those delegates who made the CHAT 2016 conference such a great success.

Last weekend saw the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute host CHAT 2016 (Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory) where 70 international delegates discussed a range of interdisciplinary papers from archaeologists, anthropologists, geographers, historians and artists – exploring archaeologies of rural places.

Delegates arrived from all points of the compass including the US, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, Greece, China, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, UK and of course Orkney.

35 papers were presented in addition to a varied programme of films, field trips, presentations, workshops and films including a world premier of Jasper Coppes’ new 16mm film `Flow Country` and Mark Jenkins film `The Imaginary Worlds of Scapa Flow`. A blog of the making of the film is also available here.

If you missed any of the papers or are interested in seeing the presentations, the conference has been filmed in collaboration with Landward Research Ltd and videos of the papers will be made available online soon.

Next year, CHAT will be held at The University of Amsterdam from 3rd-5th November 2017.

Abstracts of papers available here chat-2016-orkney-rurality-abstract-booklet-v1

“Many, many congratulations on organising a terrific event. I really enjoyed and valued the experience – much to think about” Delegate via e-mail.

“Thank you so much for a wonderfully lively trip to Orkney. Thanks for putting together such a well-curated conference. Everything fitted together perfectly. I have many highlights, from the inclusion of the journey which served to break down barriers on arrival as well as give a flavour of terrain, space, time; to the last session (Rural Futures) which I was so fortunate in chairing. I’d also highlight Jobbe Wijnen’s really striking paper on local resistance in his hometown to its selection as a the site of a refugee camp, the films and fringe, the fantastic field trip, wonderful new people  – and of course, reacquainting with old CHATters. So thanks Dan, and your team for a very special CHAT. And everyone else for bringing it together.” Sefryn Penrose (Chair, CHAT committee)

CHAT Conference Programme Extended

CHAT 2016 V1 Conference poster A4 WEB

CHAT 2016

RURALITY

21st – 23rd October 2016

Orkney Theatre, Kirkwall

Archaeology Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands, Orkney College, Kirkwall, UK

The Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory conference programme has now been extended to include two exhibitions. The exciting schedule now includes the following:chat-2016-extended-programme-v2-070916-page-001

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Archaeology Conference to Discuss Rural Areas

CHAT 2016 V1 Conference poster A4 WEB

Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT) Conference

  • Date:     21st – 23rd October 2016
  • Venue: Orkney Theatre, Kirkwall
  • Theme: RURALITY

Archaeology Conference to Discuss Rural Areas from an Archaeological Perspective

The University of the Highlands and Island Archaeology Institute is hosting an exciting international conference this autumn and encourages Orkney Residents to register for the event.

In a world that is becoming increasingly urban – over 50% of the world’s population now live in an urban environment – archaeologies of the present and recent past have tended to overlook rural places. Hosting the conference in Orkney away from the usual metropolitan centres will offer the CHAT conference a chance to experience rural areas by situating itself within one. Orkney is both rural and island, and a microcosm for wider issues. In the past and present Orkney is a gateway, a crossroads and a hub, typified by recent renewable technology test sites.

The conference theme – Rurality – aims to explore the varied experiences of rural areas archaeologically, explore the social and political economies, landscapes and materialities of the recent past and present in rural areas and islands. How are different modes of movement and travel within urban areas expressed archaeologically? Is it still useful to think of distinct urban and rural areas, or as some would suggest; are we all urban now? How are rural areas orientated towards the future with renewable technologies and other innovations?

These are the questions that a multi-disciplinary group of archaeologists, anthropologists, geographers, historians and artists will discuss during the conference. Talks range from archaeologies of rural landscapes in St Kilda, Nova Scotia, and Greece, to the archaeology of rural protest and management of rapid change.

The conference runs from 21st to 23rd October 2016 at the Orkney Theatre in Kirkwall, Orkney. Registration is necessary and booking can be made online (£45 waged, £25 un-waged). There is also a day rate for Orkney Residents. For more information see www.chat-arch.org , enquiries to archaeologyconference@uhi.ac.uk .


Notes: CHAT is an annual conference which is held in a different place each year, with a different theme, with the aim of exploring archaeologies of the historical period and present. There is an overall standing committee, and each conference is organised and run by the host institution. See http://chat-arch.org/about-chat for more information.

 

Nick Card to Present at World Archaeology Congress – Kyoto, Japan

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When Nick Card finishes work on one of the world’s most exciting Neolithic archaeological excavations, he is boarding a plane and flying to Japan to present to the World Archaeology Congress.

The paper is entitled The Ness of Brodgar – What can the past do for our future?…..examining the role that archaeology can play in the wider social and economic life of a community.

Nick writes…..Archaeology has always been the linchpin in Orkney’s tourism due to its range of iconic monuments. In recognition of its importance, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site was designated in 1999. This catalogue of outstanding archaeological sites was added to in 2004 with the discovery  of the site of the Ness of Brodgar. The Ness has subsequently grown to an internationally-recognised excavation, attracting thousands of visitors. The publicity generated not only benefits Orkney’s archaeology, but also Orkney’s wider economy. The Ness is used as a case study to show how the past can directly have relevance for today.

The congress paper is by invitation and is funded by the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Culture.