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/

New Student Intake Arrive

Across the University of the Highlands and Islands, archaeology students are experiencing their second induction day on their course.

This year, we have been successful in attracting students from all over the world for both our degree and masters courses.

For those in Orkney, today is their first day of fieldwork….visiting the Broch of Gurness and Skara Brae. Martin Carruthers, Mark Littlewood and Dr. Scott Timpany introduced the Iron Age and the Neolithic using the sites to explain how these places fit into the landscape and how research at sites such as The Cairns, Smerquoy and, of course, The Ness of Brodgar feed into the teaching and learning that the students will experience.

Student Life @ The Ness

It is a strength of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute that students are given the opportunity to dig at sites such as The Ness of Brodgar.

Studying archaeology at the UHI Archaeology Institute means that, not only can you study at one of the colleges across Northern Scotland, but you also are given the opportunity to work on some of the most exciting archaeology projects in Northern Europe….be that The Ness of Brodgar, The Cairns, Swandro, Kirkwall THI, Smerquoy or innovative collaborations such as the Yesnaby Art and Archaeology Research Project. That means getting your hands dirty, getting some on site experience and putting it all into context….

Kyle Roscoe, a BA Archaeology and Scottish History undergraduate studying through The University of the Highlands and Islands Perth Campus takes up the story……

“In the beginning, studying to become an archaeologist seemed like a perilous journey and, to us first years, the end goal can sometimes seem unobtainable. So far, the path seemed paved only with jargon-filled textbooks cemented to the ground with sleep rubbed from the tired eyes of last-minute essay writers.

However, as our time here at the Ness draws to close, that goal appears so much closer.

It has reminded us who study on the Scottish mainland of the benefits of studying archaeology through UHI. The Ness is unrivalled in its importance to understanding prehistory, but more so in the perseverance of its outstanding team of professionals and volunteers. I have never seen so many people smiling while being battered with icy cold rain as I have in this past fortnight.

These past two weeks have brought life and personalities to those characters we see over VC every Wednesday, brought understanding to the diagrams in Renfrew and Bahn and most of all inspired us to shrug off any doubts we maybe had about a future in archaeology.

Through field school we have absorbed so many skills, from excavation to flotation, from planning to recording and from living with complete strangers to entering a beer-drinking competition with them and still making it in on time in the morning!

When you come to the Ness, you immediately get a sense of the overwhelming capabilities of what prehistoric peoples could achieve, and I think being thrown into the deep end quite like we have, has given us the ability to picture the possibilities of what we could achieve and has set our bars pretty high for the future. While this fortnight has truly been an enlightening experience, unfortunately as quickly as we stuck our trowels in the ground for the first time we’re hanging them up for another year of studies.

I’d like to thank everyone at the Ness for making this experience one to remember and I really hope we can all come back and do it all again.”


For more information on archaeology courses available at The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute click through to https://www.uhi.ac.uk/en/archaeology-institute/study-here

New Virtual Archaeology Lab

Archaeology Virtual Lab @ The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are enhancing their digital approach to teaching by creating a virtual archaeology lab.

One of the strengths of The University of the Highlands and Islands in general and The Archaeology Institute in particular, lies in the fact that Archaeology courses at undergraduate level can be accessed across the Highlands and Islands. Our students study at campuses from Shetland and Orkney in the north, across the Western Isles and throughout the Highlands at Perth, Inverness, Elgin and Oban in addition to many smaller UHI Learning Centres. They can access lectures and other resources anywhere in the region, at any time, if they have access to an internet connection.

The Archaeology Institute has enriched the learning experience in recent years by introducing award winning virtual fieldtrips which enable students to ‘visit’ archaeological sites through the use of 360 degree camera footage, commentary, video links and detailed hotspot text. Using the same technology, the services of the Education Support Unit at the University of the Highlands and Islands and funding from the University of the Highlands and Islands Curriculum Development Fund, The Archaeology Institute are creating a virtual archaeology lab. This will enable students to examine finds in laboratory conditions and gain experience in the analysis of both ecofacts and artefacts – from microscopic pollen grains, ancient cereals and weed seeds, fragments of mammal and fish to Neolithic Grooved Ware Pottery.

Dr. Ingrid Mainland, Curriculum Leader for Archaeology stated that, “This is a major step forward for both distance learning students and those studying at The Institute and will add a further dimension to our teaching.”

For an example of a virtual fieldtrip go to our You Tube channel http://bit.ly/25ZOoOD