From Perth to Orkney – a fourth year student placement

Finds cataloging from HONO WHS Field Walking project 2
Finds Cataloging from HONO WHS Field Walking Project

Sam Golder, BA (Hons) Scottish History and Archaeology Undergraduate at The University of the Highlands and Islands (Perth Campus), talks about his volunteer placement in Orkney.

“History has been a favourite subject of mine throughout school while archaeology was a passion that was harder to pursue.  After a bit of research in my last year I applied for a course at Perth College UHI which incorporated both of these subjects. I started my degree course in September 2014 and have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges that present themselves readily, even if they are quite stressful at times.

Orkney is a place that I have often visited over the years (mostly in summer) due to the fact I have family in the area. This is only the second time that I have travelled up during the winter and my 5 day trip has already turned into 7 days due to Storm Caroline!! Over the years I have visited most of the well-known sites on Orkney (many before they had visitor centres) which is probably where my passion for archaeology began.

Finds cataloging from HONO WHS Field Walking project 1

I am now in my last year of my 4 year course and this is the first time I have been able to get hands on with the archaeological side of my degree which is a bit different to just reading books!!! I now understand why so many people refer to Orkney as the place to be if you want to study archaeology.

During my time in Orkney I have been set tasks by Dan Lee (Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist) which have included sample and finds sorting, finds washing, recording finds and taking environment samples. These were all very interesting with finds ranging from 18th century pottery from Caithness to animal bones and teeth from The Cairns in South Ronaldsay. Wet-sieving of environmental samples was also very interesting and made me realise why I was asked to bring waterproofs as it got a bit wet and dirty!!!

Wet sieving Mapping Magnus samples
Wet Sieving Mapping Magnus Samples

Throughout the week I also sorted out and ordered a folder relating to the site of Skaill Farmhouse in Rousay which has been excavated over the last few years. This involved typing up site registers and sorting out a vast collection of sheets relating to the site. Therefore, by undertaking some of these tasks I now understand the background to what goes on in the field, during and after an excavation. It has also opened my eyes to some important matters such as the fact that there can never be too many labels which MUST be legible or else it can get extremely frustrating for people dealing with samples and finds further down the pipeline.

Overall, my trip to Orkney has been a very enjoyable and experience which has provided me with some new skills that I will be able to use in the years to come as I continue my foray into the world of archaeology.

The staff are all very friendly and helpful and the volunteering options are endless which has allowed me to obtain a wealth of knowledge that I could not have gained in Perth. I am currently writing my dissertation on ‘The last 100 years on St Kilda’ and after I complete this and my degree I plan to further my experience within archaeology by returning to Orkney next summer to take part in the dig at Skaill Farmhouse and also The Cairns in South Ronaldsay. ”


If you want to know more about the courses we offer at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute contact us on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or see our website.

 

New Archaeological Science BSc (Hons) Degree Course Now Enrolling

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to announce the introduction of a new BSc Archaeological Science degree.

This exciting new degree complements our existing archaeology programmes by exploring the range of science-based methods that form an integral part of archaeological research.

The new course offers an opportunity for students to focus on the scientific elements of archaeology including archaeobotany (e.g. cereal grains, seeds, fruit stones), biomolecular archaeology (ancient DNA, lipids, isotopes), geoarchaeology, osteoarchaeology (human bone), palynology (pollen grains), wood and charcoal analysis, together with zooarchaeology (animal and fish bone).

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On this course, you will develop scientific skills and knowledge through a range of science-orientated modules including Science and Archaeology, Biomolecular Archaeology and Archaeological Science Dissertation. As part of the course, you also receive practical laboratory-based learning through our residential module Practical Environmental Archaeology.DSC_0095

There will also be opportunities to participate in on-site archaeological excavation at world renowned sites, such as the Ness of Brodgar through our field schools and excavation modules. You will also be able to take part in ongoing archaeological scientific research being conducted by staff, such as in palaeoenvironmental studies  and zooarchaeological studies.

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As part of the new degree, you will have the option to gain real-world experience of working within the archaeological sector and in furthering your archaeological scientific knowledge through participating in our Placement Module. This module will allow you to make new contacts and increase your future employability for life after your degree. The module will also allow you to experience elements of Postgraduate research should you wish to continue your education with us at Masters or PhD Level.

More information and online application for a start date of September 2018 can be accessed by clicking through to our UHI course webpage.

 

Letter from Canada – UHI Archaeology Exchange Student Blogs from Ontario

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Gzowski College, Trent University

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has an active international student exchange programme. UHI Archaeology student, Euan Cohen, has just started his studies at Trent University, Ontario, Canada and is writing a blog about his experience.

Euan takes up his story….”Hello all back home, at University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and whoever may be reading this anywhere. I have been at Trent University in Ontario, Canada now for two weeks. It’s been such an eventful two weeks that I have found it difficult to take time to snap photos, write and even take a seat.

On the 29th of August I made my way to Toronto Pearson’s International Airport to meet up with other International student who were arriving that day. As everyone took their seats and introduced themselves with their names and nationalities two things became apparent; the incredible variation of homelands and, how extremely jet lagged everybody was.

Otonabee River at Dusk
Otonabee River at Dusk

I was lucky, I had been on the time-line for around three weeks before. Travelling to New York City, Montreal and Toronto before gave me more than enough time to adjust and my sleeping pattern was back to normal. Those cities above mentioned were all excellent, I would say that if it wasn’t for this exchange programme I’m not sure I would’ve been able to dive into these cities so soon and in the same trip!

On arrival at Trent an International Orientation week was planned for us all to participate in, and it pretty much started from the get go. As soon as we arrived we ate and lived together allowing everyone to meet each other. The next few days breakfast was served from 7-8 am and for all of the travel wearied students this was proving hard – though I think these early wake ups were the quick cure to the jet lag.

There were a load of activities planned and as I am writing this so late it seems to have all merged into one whole load of tiring fun. Two highlights do stick out, first being the culture show.

All of the different nationalities and cultures were truly on display here as groups from all over the globe took to the stage to perform. A group from Japan performed a sort of shadow samurai warrior dance to music that involved a lot of invisible sword swinging. Separately, a Nigerian and Vietnamese student performed some stand-up comedy.

River running through the campus at dusk
River running through the campus at dusk

The second highlight would be canoeing on the winding Otonabee river that runs through the university, groups of three brave, but not so seafaring students were trusted to go out together, and this brought people together. Paddling can be a difficult game as each boat member has to be relatively in sync if the boats to go anywhere so communication is key and having a laugh with the lack of English communication was fun. I’m still friends with the two others I shared a boat with.

After a nice weekend to relax and recuperate, it was time for the main Orientation week (O-week).  I have not mentioned yet, I am an undergraduate doing my third year here in Archaeology (BA), here Anthropology is considered much the same. So from an Anthropological perspective this was what I had been waiting for, to view some North American enthusiasm, reminiscent and only comparable to watching movies displaying this.

What a week! Everyone got painted up as we watched soccer (football, this’ll be tough) games, there were parties and at the end of the week there was a gown ceremony, with a formal dinner, to end the madness. Speeches from past students and current professors including Professor Symons, the founding president of Trent whom the campus is named after, gave a very warm welcome to a University he was visibly proud to be a part of. I’ll try to be good in the weeks to come and take more photos.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, next update will be in a fortnight by then the classes will have started. Thank you!” Euan Cohen 2017


If you want to know more about applying to study archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute then either contact Mary Connolly through studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk  or see the UHI website

 

Archaeology in Uist-Barpa Langass

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Sounding more like a mercenary from Star Wars than an archaeological site, Barpa Langass is, in fact, a Neolithic Chambered tomb located in North Uist.

Barpa Langass is classified as a Hebridean styled roundcairn which are defined by their simple, round form, slightly pronounced funnel entrances, narrow entrance passages and simple chambers. The earliest of these chambered cairns incorporate circles of upright stones known as peristaliths. These stones wrap around the cairns creating a stone circle. Virtually none of these sites have been excavated in modern times and therefore we know very little about them.

IMG_4192The internal passageway and chamber were seemingly remodelled in antiquity, probably after a collapse. However, the site has also suffered considerable disturbance over the last 200 years. In the late nineteenth century, a second chamber was said to be accessible by a passage from the north side. By 1970 this chamber was no longer visible.

Up until recently, Barpa Langass was famously the best preserved Hebridean cairn in Scotland and the only example of a Neolithic tomb in the Western Isles where the chamber was still intact and accessible. However, around 2011, a partial collapse of stone including one of the principal lintels within the passageway has caused considerable damage to the site.

Finds unearthed by antiquarian Erskine Beveridge in around 1907 are now in the National Museum of Scotland and include Beaker and Iron Age sherds, as well as a few flints, a barbed and tanged arrowhead and burnt bone (possibly human).


If you are interested in studying archaeology in the Western Isles, then you can complete access, undergraduate and postgraduate courses at Lews Castle College UHI as part of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. See the UHI website or contact us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

Extended MSc Archaeological Practice – limited number of funded places also available

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The MSc in Archaeological Practice at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has always included modules that prepare students for the workplace.

The requirements of the archaeological workplace are increasingly changing to include in-depth knowledge and professional experience of applied environmental archaeology techniques.

Building on our experience of research in the field of bioarchaeology we have now extended the MSc Archaeological Practice course to include additional targeted modules in environmental archaeology and geoarchaeology.

  • Archaebotany to archaeozoology (20 credits optional)
  • Practical Archaeology (20 credits core)
  • Geoarchaeology of the North Atlantic (20 credits optional, led by Professor Ian Simpson, University of Stirling)
  • Professional Placement in environmental archaeology with Dr Scott Timpany, Dr Ingrid Mainland and Dr Jennifer Harland (60 credits)
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Postgraduate students working at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney

Contact Dr Ingrid Mainland for more details or click through to the University of Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute to apply.

Start date: September 2017.


Funded Postgraduate Places

The University of the Highlands and Islands is pleased to offer a limited number of places with full tuition fee support for Scottish-domiciled/EU students, studying full time, on this course starting in September 2017 to help talented students join this key growth sector for the Scottish economy.

Fees will be funded by the European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council as part of Developing Scotland’s Workforce in the Scotland 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programmes.

See the University of the Highlands and Islands web page for more details.ESF-&-SFC-Logo

UHI Archaeology Students on Tour

There is no substitute for studying archaeology in the field, so over Easter, students from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute journeyed to the Western Isles to study a cross section of sites dating from the Early Neolithic to the Medieval.

The itinerary was full and included visits to Barpa Langass (Early Neolithic Tomb), Pobuill Phinn (Late Neolithic Stone Circle), Lionacleit (submerged woodland), Baile Sear (eroding later prehistoric settlement mounds), Bornais (Iron Age broch, wheelhouse and Norse settlement), Cladh Hallan (Bronze Age village), Howmore (medieval chapels) and the medieval Borve Castle. All in two days!

The location of Barpa Langass served as an introduction to the overall landscape of the Western Isles with Dr Rebecca Rennell, Lecturer in Archaeology at Lews Castle College UHI, explaining in detail the context of the monument as the wind whipped around the exposed hillside.

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Up until recently, Barpa Langass was famously the best preserved Hebridean cairn in Scotland and the only example of a Neolithic tomb in the Western Isles where the chamber was still intact and accessible. However, sometime around 2011, a partial collapse of stone, including one of the principal lintels within the passageway, caused considerable damage to the site, which is sadly no longer accessible.

Progressing to Lionacleit submerged woodlands, the students, under the instruction of Dr Scott Timpany, examined the remains of trees and had a brief introduction to the stratigraphy of the location by trying their hand at auguring.

The second day was marked by a visit to Baile Sear – a small island located off the west IMG_4266coast of North Uist. The island itself is subject to severe and ongoing coastal erosion which has exposed a large number of Later Prehistoric remains. Next on the relentless itinerary was Bornais Iron Age broch, wheelhouse and Norse Settlement. This location is marked by a cluster of three substantial mounds. Bornais 1 initially produced pottery of Middle Iron Age and pre-Viking Late Iron Age date (cAD500-800). Bornais 2 and Bornais 3 yielded grass-impressed sherds of the Viking period.

A very interesting feature of the location of the mounds and the chronological sequence of the three mounds is the suggestion that the origin of the township territories and organisation may lie in prehistory-possibly at the beginning of the Middle Iron Age. Cladh Hallan, Howmore and BroveCastle were also slotted into Day Two…these sites will form part of blog posts in the future.


If you are interested in our research work, then check out our conference………..

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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, e-mail and institution should be sent to: archaeologyconference@uhi.ac.uk.

Call for papers closes 30th April 2017.

The Ness Battery, Hoy Sound, Orkney

Orkney is well known for prehistoric archaeology and indeed maritime remains from both world wars. Perhaps less well known are the WWI and WWII heritage sites that still exist on land.

Situated on Hoy Sound, Ness Battery guarded the western entrance to the naval base of Scapa Flow, Orkney. The site itself comprised several gun emplacements, searchlight positions, AA gun positions and a huge command centre which had the task of halting any hostile move through the Hoy Sound.

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The impressive Ness Battery was the subject of a visit by our students last week. Guided through the complex by Andy Hollinrake, the students were given the full history of the site including stories of the personnel that worked to guard the Royal Navy warships anchored in Scapa Flow.

Andy related how each ship that appeared on the western approaches to Hoy Sound were signalled and ordered to stop and await inspection before sailing into the naval base. On one occasion the ferry from the Scottish mainland failed to stop when hailed and so was treated to a salvo of fire from the guns in the battery. The skipper soon heeded the signal, turned round and headed back to the mainland. Andy further elaborated on the story by saying that the gun loaders were so well trained that they could fire at such a rate that 3 or 4 shells could be in the air at once!

IMG_3896The huge, concrete protected gun positions were impressive in themselves, but in a way, the surviving huts (the only surviving examples of coast battery huts present in Britain) were even more impressive as they allowed us to glimpse into the lives of the men who operated this site. The Mess Hall was extraordinary as its walls were covered with an amazing mural depicting English rural life-complete with a windmill, half-timbered houses, wooded lanes and even a gypsy encampment.

A brilliant field visit and our thanks go to Andy Hollinrake for his on-site lecture and tour!


For more information on the Ness battery see http://www.nessbattery.co.uk/