A Big Thank You – ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute held the inaugural ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference in Orkney over the weekend of 14th to 17th September 2017 and we would just like to say thank you to all those people who made the event such a success.

So, firstly, a big shout out for all the delegates that travelled from around the world to be present at our conference. And of course those delegates who gave so many interesting and stimulating papers that contributed so much to the ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ theme. And the Chairs who kept us all in order….

Also a big thank you to the organisations that supported us including Orkney College UHI, Orkney Islands Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Shetland Amenity Trust, ScARF and Historic Environment Scotland.

And the traders and others that gave up a weekend to support us………please click on the website links and help them in turn…

  • Artworks of the Earth – what a great display of art that added colour to the foyer
  • John Rae Society – who at short notice put together a great stand
  • Stromness Bookshop – thank you so much for putting together a display of brilliant and relevant books from stock
  • CHERISH – great to talk to you about the project and many thanks for putting together an exhibition stand and giveaways.
  • Orkney Archaeology Society – once again thank you to Hayley and George for putting together and manning the OAS exhibition stand. Check out their website for another chance to buy an Orkney Archaeology Review.
  • Brodgar Chocolates – added Brodgar shaped chocolate to the whole event!
  • BAR Publishing – thank you for both supplying books for sale, lots of goodies for the conference packs and supporting our student conference.
  • Archaeopress – once again thank you for your support and supplying titles for the front of house display
  • Oxbow Books – thank you for the conference pack material

And those who made the food for the occasion so memorable….

  • Orkney College Hospitality Department – the food and drink was just awesome in quality and quantity
  • Palace Stores, Palace Village Birsay – everyone on the conference fieldtrip was amazed at the selection of Orkney food on offer in the platter you made up for us. Presented brilliantly with descriptions of each food item and where they came from in Orkney. Just wow!

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And a special shout out for Norrie Rendall at Orkney Theatre….nothing was too much trouble, both in and out of the theatre.

And Barony Mills for opening up and making a Victorian Watermill come to life.

And of course the volunteers who gave up their weekend….Jim Bright, Julie Ritch, Therese McCormick, Magdalena Blanz, Siobhan Cooke, Jasmin Sybenga, Frank Forrester, Rick Barton, Darroch Bratt…..without whom the conference would not have happened.

And Mary Connolly, Kat Fryer and Ros Aitken of the Conference Organising Team….And the Conference Committee who set the theme and selected the papers and the multitude of other tasks that a conference demands.

The website for the ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference is still live and you can still join the twitter conversation at #oiopconference if you wish or just view the ‘as it happened’ comments.

If I have missed anyone out then please excuse me…and then e-mail me.

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Places Available on ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference Fieldtrip – 14th September

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Earls Palace, Palace Village, Birsay

Sustainability and Conservation in an Island context.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to announce that extra places are now available on the ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference fieldtrip to West Mainland, Orkney.

Due to demand there will be an extra mini bus which means that we can now offer this exciting fieldtrip to an increased number of delegates. If you have not registered then there is a section on the form which you can fill in….if you have registered and want to attend the fieldtrip then contact us on archaeologyconference@uhi.ac.uk. If you haven’t registered yet then Download Our Islands Our Past Conference Registration Form and send it to us over the same e-mail address.

This fieldtrip includes sites and landscapes from prehistory to the present, in the dynamic landscape of Orkney’s Atlantic coast. During the day-long trip we will see some of the well-known and World Heritage sites from different perspectives, and not so well known sites and visitor attractions. The fieldtrip will consider islands’ sustainability in relation to economic development, climate change, and community, thinking about sustainability in the past, and into the future.

In Birsay we will visit the Earl’s Palace and Birsay village, thinking about Birsay’s place in the Orkney Earldom, and examining the role of Birsay in the Magnus 900 events and new Pilgrimage Route. At the Brough of Birsay the Pictish and Norse sites give a focus for discussion of coastal erosion and conservation and management.

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Barony Mill – a working water mill

The Barony Mills highlight the role of community again in Birsay’s heritage, and illustrate sustainability, heritage and economic development past and present.

At Skaill Bay we will examine settlement and coastal change through the millennia, with illustration of resilience and adaptation as well as abandonment. Sites visited will include WHS Skara Brae, and Verron Broch at the other end of Skaill Bay.

Join the conversation and use our hashtag #oiopconference

See ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference website.

‘Our Islands, Our Past’-Three Island Regional Research Framework

Maeshowe Chambered Tomb, Orkney, Scotland
Maeshowe. Photograph: Jim Richardson

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to announce details of the ‘Three Island Regional Research Framework’ round-table discussion being held at ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference on the afternoon of Friday 15th September.

Download Our Islands Our Past Conference Registration Form and send to archaeologyconference@uhi.ac.uk

Julie Gibson, County Archaeologist for Orkney Islands Council, writes…”Regional research frameworks for archaeology, designed to complement the existing national framework (ScARF), have been identified as a strategic priority in Scotland[1]. In response, the Local Authority Archaeologists for Shetland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and Orkney, supported by UHI Archaeology Institute, are pulling together a project to develop a Research Framework for the three island-based Local Authority areas.

Our proposal is to develop three Local Research Agendas for the individual archipelagos (Shetland, Western Isles and Orkney) that will sit within a wider Regional Framework for the islands. The project will be delivered by UHI Archaeology Institute on behalf of the partners and project managed by a steering group comprised of partner and key stakeholder representatives.  Also working with us will be staff of The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland who are supporting the development of regional frameworks across the county and will host the island Agendas and Framework on the ScARF website.

This initial meeting will help structure the Agendas and establish themes for the overarching Regional Framework.  We want to work in partnership with a wide range of individuals who are active within archaeology, heritage and historic environment sectors across the region.  We will therefore be seeking advice, ideas and contributions from community heritage groups, museums, commercial contractors and academics. The aim is to identify what is important and significant for our region’s archaeology and to help provide research questions and targets to help us balance and focus our efforts on what is most significant to these islands.”

[1] Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy Delivery Plan Version 2 January 2017 section 2.1 http://archaeologystrategy.scot/files/2017/01/SAS-Delivery-Plan-16Jan2017.pdf


To register to attend the conference click here

‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference-International Speaker Line-up.

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Ring of Brodgar. Photo: Jim Richardson.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute looks forward to welcoming an impressive line-up of speakers and contributors to the ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference on the 14th- 17th September.

The conference sessions include speakers from around the globe on themes relevant to island life – past, present and future.

  • Session One: The Three Islands Group Research Framework (more on this session in a later separate blog)
  • Session Two: Identity and Culture
  • Session Three: Sustainability and Conservation
  • Session Four: Migration and Abandonment
  • Session Five: Connectivity and Travel
  • Session Six: Island Culture and Place

We look forward to welcoming an international array of delegates including  Adam Markham, Deputy Director of Climate & Energy the Union of Concerned Scientists, who will be opening Session Three with a paper entitled: Climate Change, Island World Heritage, and Lessons from Community Responses.

Adam writes in his abstract,Cultural resources, including archaeology, historic sites and intangible heritage are at risk from climate change on islands the world over. Climate impacts include sea level rise, coastal erosion, and extreme weather events. Irreplaceable archaeological and other cultural resources are being lost at an alarming rate, and with them, important and sacred places, and some of the stories and histories that help provide peoples’ sense of belonging. Island World Heritage sites provide an opportunity to draw local and international attention to the threat posed by climate change and to the special circumstances island communities face in responding to change. ”

Come along and listen to Adam in person at 11am Saturday 16th September 2017 when he is scheduled to present his paper.

Everyone is welcome to attend…register by sending in the Conference Registration Form to archaeologyconference@uhi.ac.uk.

See our Conference website for more details on ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference 2017.

Follow the conference on Twitter #oiopconference


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.