The Cairns Day Eight – 2018

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Under the blazing sun!

Martin Carruthers, Site Director and Programme Leader for MSc Archaeological Practice at the UHI Archaeology Institute takes up the story of Day Eight at The Cairns….

Martin here again with a today’s update, and what a cracking day today was! The sun shone down on us as we dug. In fact, it was one of those days when you feel bad about wishing it wasn’t quite so warm and dry, and sunny! In the full glare of the of the sun we made good progress across the site.

Over in the south extension Linda’s team have really started to work down the edge of the ditch, and it’s nice to see the profile start to emerge of this once very substantial enclosure. Also in this area Angus and Paul have been revealing more details of the building that crouches in the lee of the revetment. This building will, we hope, be one of the village buildings that allows us to test whether our broch village was founded at the very same time as the broch itself or sometime after.

The slab floor and hearth base in the western interior of the broch
The slab floor and hearth base in the western interior of the broch

Within the broch, Rick’s team have been recording the flag stone floor and hearth in the western area/room of the interior. This occupation level pertains to late use of the western zone and probably dates to sometime around the Mid 2nd Century AD. Soon the team will be able to lift this horizon and see what lies beneath. They strongly suspect there’ll be another hearth for one thing, but also that more rich floor deposits are awaiting our investigation.

details of the Broch wall-chamber A6 revealed
Details of the broch wall chamber A6 revealed

Colin, Anthea and Deryck have further defined the newly emerged wall cell (‘A6’) within the northern segment of broch wall. It’s looking very nice with its mixed construction of coursed masonry and upright stone panels, and it’s much better preserved than we had expected, considering the damage it had received from above during a later Iron Age stone robbing episode. There also appears to be in situ floor/occupation deposits remaining within the base of the chamber. That’s great for ultimately giving us more information about the use of the chamber.

Looking down the staircase into the well inside the broch during excavation
Looking down the staircase into the well inside the broch during excavation

Also in the broch today we really started to excavate the subterranean feature in the northern interior of the broch. This type feature is known in the literature as a well, but there are various reasons for suggesting that something more is going on with these fascinating underground structures. Our ‘well’ is very nicely preserved, entirely intact in fact, and was completely sealed when we first discovered it. The entrance is very well built and flush with the broch floor level in this area. A very steep set of steps lead downwards and in an anti-clockwise direction to the partly rock cut chamber below. The structure is quite a substantial cavity about 2 metres deep in total as far as we can tell.

Today we began the arduous process of excavating and sampling (100% recovery) the deep and very silty fill. It’s very wet, loose and prone to a suction effect that makes it difficult to make headway. Nevertheless, we hope this will be a very worthwhile exercise and that we can recover pollen, and lots of other environmental information. Additionally, you never know what else may be in there in terms of artefacts. We’ll keep you posted…

Part of the long wall face in area Q-M under excavation
Part of the long wall face in area Q-M under excavation

In Area Q/M in the Northern area of the site, Bobby’s team have also been making very good progress revealing a beautiful flagstone floor associated with Structure K in one area. Meanwhile, towards the eastern end of Area Q/M various walls out the front and north of the broch exterior that have seemed quite disparate and bitty are now starting to come together very nicely, and they seem to be tracing the outline of a whopper of a building.

It looks very like one particularly long and sinuous stretch of walling represents a major building and part of the broch village complex, perhaps a type of building seen in other broch villages such as the one at Gurness in West Mainland, Orkney, which was itself an impressive and substantial structure close to the front of the broch and designed to be appreciated and to impress.

We’ll bring you updates and further images from these and other developments as they emerge!

Martin Carruthers, Site Director.

The Cairns Day One 2018

Part of the team forms a human chain to move tyres out of the trench
Part of the team forms a human chain to move tyres out of the trench

Welcome back everyone to the daily blog for The Cairns excavations from me, Martin Carruthers the site director!

It’s absolutely fantastic to back on site and be able to share our findings with you once more. Each day of the project we’ll be bringing you updates and perspectives from different members of the team.

We welcome back many familiar faces to take part once again in the project and we also say hello to an equal number of new faces to the site. Altogether the team already shows great promise in terms of good humour and commitment, necessary qualities in these very opening stages of the work, as well as beyond.

In the broch
In the broch

Today was the first day of the new season, and although a little advance party of us took a lot of the covers off the trench last week we nevertheless had a lot more tidying up of the site to do today with the big team. After site introduction and the obligatory health and safety briefings, it was onwards to moving the tyres out of the fenced area of the site and gathering up weathered fragments of plastic to generally neaten up things.

Cleaning trench area Q
Cleaning trench area Q

Early in the afternoon we were able to actually start the job of cleaning the surface of the trench bringing it up to good condition for the start of excavation proper. The wonderful thing is that even in the midst of this house-keeping activity we made some lovely finds! Whilst cleaning up in the broch, Therese found a lovely little piece of worked bone, a pierced and shaped antler mount of some kind.

Meanwhile, over in Bobby’s area, that’s the belt of settlement lying to the North of the broch (Trench area Q) the clean-up brought to light another beautiful antler mount, this time most of a handle for a large blade. You can clearly see the perforations for rivets that would have held this antler plate in place on the tang of an iron blade, probably a chunky knife. This is all quite unbelievably exciting for day one and essentially a clean-up job!

Over in this year’s trench extension on the Southern side of the site the work to clean over the newly revealed deposits was also going well. It looks very much like here we have the upper fills of the great ditch that encircles the broch period settlement. The deposits today were gratifyingly full of animal bone, shell, and pieces of pottery, boding well for the richness of these ditch-fills.

Looking down the entrance of the broch into the interior where the covers where being removed
Looking down the entrance to the broch into the interior where the covers are being removed

Tomorrow, we’ll press on with the site cleaning and then really start to get our teeth into the deposits and features. We’ll keep you posted on how we get on!

UHI Archaeology Institute Excavation Calendar 2018

The exciting archaeology research dig programme for 2018 is now confirmed. 

There are seven sites open in Orkney alone with further exciting community projects planned throughout the year. Check out this blog and social media for  updates.

The on-site teams welcome visitors and there is no charge for entry….although we welcome donations to help support the research. There are a few things to keep in mind when visiting:

  • The sites can be muddy following bad weather so sturdy boots are recommended
  • Sites can also be closed if the weather is particularly inclement, so if in doubt please check by sending us an e-mail studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk
  • If you need any help in planning a trip to the projects listed below, then please feel free to contact us on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk. We are always happy to help you find the site or answer questions.

There are also opportunities to take part in these community events, even if you have no experience of archaeology. So if you want to take part in these exciting community events then contact Dan Lee on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk .

The Cairns Excavation

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  • Site Director: Martin Carruthers
  • Iron Age Broch and Settlement in a stunning coastal location
  • Location: Windwick Bay, South Ronaldsay, Orkney. Follow the sign to Windwick on the A961 between St Margarets Hope and Burwick.
  • Open to the public from 18th June to 13th July 2018
  • Tours are available Monday to Friday. There are no set times, but the site opens at 10.30am each morning and closes at around 4.30pm.
  • Open Day is Friday 6th July. All welcome.
  • Access to the site involves a short, but steep unpaved road over a small bridge.
  • Archaeologists will be working on site during the week. No-one will be on site during the weekend.
  • You can also follow on social media.

Ness of Brodgar Excavations

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  • Site Director: Nick Card
  • World renowned Neolithic Excavation
  • Location: Stenness, West Mainland, Orkney
  • Nick Card, Site Director Ness of Brodgar, will be giving a talk to the Orkney Archaeology Society on 21st June. Venue: Orkney Theatre, Kirkwall. Time to be confirmed.
  • Site open to the public from 4th July to 22nd August 2018
  • Tours are available
    • Monday to Friday at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.
    • Saturday & Sunday 11am and 3pm.
  • Archaeologists will be working on site during the week. The site is open at the weekend for 2 guided tours, but archaeologists will not be present.
  • Booking essential for ‘Digging up the Past’ workshops for young people (see here to book) which will be running on:
    • 24th July 2018
    • 31st July 2018
    • 7th August 2018
    • 14th August 2018
  • Open Days will be 15th July and 19th August.
  • Please check the Ness of Brodgar Trust website for up to date information. You can also follow on social media.

Cata Sand, Tresness Chambered Tomb & Loth Road Bronze Age House

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  • Site Directors: Professor Vicki Cummings (UCLan), Professor Jane Downes (UHI), Professor Colin Richards (UHI), Chris Gee
  • Neolithic & Bronze Age excavation in collaboration with UCLan.
  • Location: Cata Sand, Tresness, Sanday, Orkney. The Loth Road excavation is close to the ferry terminal and will be signposted.
  • The sites are on the northern Orkney island of Sanday. The ferry timetable is available here.
  • Open to the public from 7th July to 4th August 2018
  • You are welcome to visit the three sites under investigation. The sites open at 10.30am each morning and closes at around 4.30pm.
  • Access to the Tresness and Cata Sand sites involves a long walk along Tresness beach from the B9069.
  • Archaeologists will be working on site during the week.
  • The site is in the intertidal zone and so will be submerged for some parts of the day. Please check with staff concerning working times as they will depend on the tides. Contact: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

Skaill Farmstead Excavation, Rousay

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  • Site Directors: Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dr Jen Harland and Dan Lee
  • The work at Skaill 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. Why not visit the coastally eroding site at Swandro as well, which is a further 10 min walk along the coast from Skaill.
  • Location: Skaill, near Midhowe Broch, Rousay. There is a regular ferry service to the island.
  • Open to the public from 9th – 22nd July 2018 (note, the team will not be on-site 14-17 July)
  • The site opens at 9.30am each morning and closes at around 4.30pm.
  • Access to the site involves a walk down a steep hill from the car park for Mid Howe Broch and left (south) along the shoreline (15 min walk). The ground is uneven and the path is a little overgrown in places. Please do not access from Westness Farm.
  • Archaeologists will be working on site during the week.
  • The Open Day will be on the final weekend 21st-22nd July
  • Contact: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

If you wish to be added to our mailing list for community archaeology volunteers then please use the contact form below or contact studyarchaology@uhi.ac.uk.

See the web page on Visit Orkney for more information on transport links and accommodation.

This page will be updated as new events and activities are confirmed.

Cata Sand and Tresness Excavation Fieldwork Reports now Available

Cata Sand Site 1

The Data Structure Reports (DSR) detailing the exciting 2017 excavations at Cata Sand and Tresness Chambered Tomb, Sanday, Orkney are now available for download.

Taking the the Cata Sand excavation DSR first, the document examines the aims of the excavation, methodology, context narrative, discussion, outline of future work and post-excavation strategy, references and registers. 

Introducing the report, the team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the University of Central Lancashire write……”On the eastern side of Cata Sand, Sanday, a small sand dune known as the Grithies Dune is located in the intertidal zone. In December 2015 we identified archaeological material eroding out of the sand immediately to the south of the Grithies Dune. We returned in March 2016 to undertake an evaluation. We opened up a small trench roughly 8 x 5m over an area where we had previously seen archaeological deposits.”

Aerial Photograph of Cata Sand Excavation 2017

“The work involved the removal of windblown sand only rather than the excavation of any of the archaeological layers revealed. This simple cleaning exercise, however, produced 41 artefacts including flint debitage, Skaill knives, coarse stone tools and pottery. The evaluation revealed that the remains of occupation, including a house, lay exposed just beneath windblown sand. In order to ascertain the extent of the occupation here we then conducted a large-scale geophysical survey of the area using magnetometry. This revealed an area of magnetic enhancement around the Grithies Dune roughly 20m in diameter. We returned for a four week period in 2017 to excavate the archaeological remains concentrated at the Grithies Dune site.”

The full Cata Sand Data Structure Report can be downloaded in pdf……Download the Cata Sand DSR 2017

Tresness Chambered Tomb

Moving on to the The Tresness Chambered Tomb excavation, the DSR explores the archaeological background to the site, methodology, excavation results, recording of the eroding section, assessment of the erosion at the site, management recommendations and suggested further work, post-excavation schedule, public outreach activity, bibliography and registers.

The Tresness Chambered Tomb is located on the southern tip of the Tresness peninsula, Sanday, Orkney. It is a site which has not seen significant previous excavation. This report describes excavations conducted in August and September 2017 and offers an assessment of the on-going erosion at the site.

The full Tresness Chambered Tomb Data Structure Report can be downloaded in pdf…..Download the Tresness DSR 2017


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The excavation team included Prof Colin Richards, Prof Jane Downes, Christopher Gee from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Dr Vicki Cummings from UClan in addition to participants from the Sanday Archaeology Group, University of Cambridge, and students from UHI and UCLan, but also involved specialists from as far away as the School of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, Galicia, Spain.

A few thank yous from the team…………..”We are very grateful to Colin and Heather Headworth who allowed us access to their land. Scottish Natural Heritage granted permission for this work to take place on an SSSI. The project was funded by the University of the Highlands and Islands, the University of Central Lancashire and the Orkney Islands Council. Hugo Anderson-Whymark came out at short notice to conduct photogrammetry at the site, and we are also grateful to Tristan Thorne for taking aerial shots with his drone. Ingrid Mainland and Jen Harland from the UHI Archaeology Institute came out to site to help us with the whales.

The Sanday Archaeology Group were as supportive as ever and in particular we would like to thank Caz, Ruth and Cath for logistical and practical support, both on site and in terms of storage! Ruth and Ean Peace organised the talk in the community centre and also provided us with historical accounts of whaling.

John Muir at Anchor Cottage and Paul and Julie at Ayres Rock must be thanked for providing accommodation. We are grateful to Sinclair Haulage for acquiring (and securing!) our portaloos and to the Sanday Community Shop for arranging to transport the whales to Kirkwall. Sean Page helped with the press releases.

We are very grateful to our volunteers who worked incredibly hard in such a beautiful but exposed setting: Justin Ayres, Edd Baxter, Irene Colquhoun, Ana Cuadrado, Grant Gardiner, Stephen Haines, Joe Howarth, Arnold Khelfi, Mike Lawlor, Rob Leedham, Therese McCormick, Ginny Pringle, Alex Shiels, and Cemre Ustunkaya.”

 

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.

 

Open Day at Mapping Magnus Dig

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A team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute together with volunteers from the local community will be holding an Open Day at the Palace Village dig, Birsay on Saturday 30th September 2017.

All are welcome and the event is free to enter. One of the questions we are asked by potential visitors to our Open Days is, “Can I bring my children?” Children of all ages are welcome and there will be opportunities for them to look at and take part in some of the activities on site.

The Open Day starts at 10am and is planned to end around 3pm to allow the team to clean the area for the next day. There will be signs directing you to the dig site on the day from the Palace Stores.

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There is no need to book…just turn up and discuss the progress of the dig with the team. Already a substantial wall has been unearthed as the trial trenches take shape….who knows what will be discovered on the Open Day itself?

Contact: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or 01856 569225 for further information.

Open Day Poster Mapping Magnus V2

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has been commissioned by Orkney Islands Council to deliver a programme of community archaeology activities and events that will explore the story of St Magnus and medieval Orkney.

The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

 

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

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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.