From Lincolnshire to Orkney – TJ’s journey into archaeology

TJ and Leo, her companion dog, working in the lab

Terri-Jane (TJ to everyone) is an archaeology student with the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. She starts the ‘Archaeology and Local Studies’ Course in January 2018.

TJ’s story is a success story and demonstrates that there is more than one route into archaeology. Having found her passion for the subject, TJ wanted to share her journey, and takes up the story from here ….

“As a child I wanted to become an archaeologist, but I was not encouraged to follow this route. I am dyslexic and in those days there was not the support in place to follow a university career that there is now. So I kept my interest alive by visiting our local museum, travelling to lectures and watching programmes on television.”

TJ at the Mapping Magnus Community dig in Palace Village

“I became wheelchair dependent in 2013 and I thought that was the end of my idea of studying archaeology. But in 2016 I moved to Orkney and started an art class at Orkney College UHI and there I met Sorcha….the Highlands and Islands Students Association (HISA) Regional Vice President. Sorcha is an archaeology student, and we talked about my interest in the subject and how I wanted to be involved, but didn’t know how. Following a few more conversations, I was in the Archaeology Institute at Orkney College – talking to staff about volunteering, enrolling on the Archaeology and Local Studies course and accessing all areas! Everyone was so enthusiastic and ,Wow, the next thing I knew I was invited to the Mapping Magnus community dig at Birsay.”

The Mapping Magnus community dig, Palace Village, Orkney

“Kath, one of the second year archaeology students, picked me up in her car and off we went to the Mapping Magnus dig at Palace Village, Birsay. I was so excited, but also a little bit nervous. I was about to take part in a real dig, researching the location of a medieval palace!

It was a beautiful sunny day and as we arrived at the dig Kath took me to the site over boards laid down for my wheelchair. Almost immediately I was at work with a trowel and sieving soil samples coming out of the dig. I was working at an archaeological dig!”

Mapping Magnus Community Dig

“I was so excited to be taking part and within a few minutes I came across my first finds; a medieval fish bone, three animal bones and a collection of limpet shells. The team were so friendly and supported me through the whole process and, perhaps more importantly, I was treated like everyone else. My disability was not a hindrance.

I am now actively involved in the Archaeology Institute’s volunteer programme, volunteering for everything I can at the college in Kirkwall. Only last week I was in the lab washing bones from The Cairns broch and then cataloguing finds from the Orkney World Heritage Site field walking project. There is no stopping me now!”

TJ has signed up for the Archaeology and Local Studies course and starts in January and is on the volunteer list to take part in future community archaeology projects.

The Archaeology and Local Studies distance learning course is designed for people who are interested in learning more about the archaeology of the north of Scotland – from the mesolithic to the medieval and including the study of such incredible structures as brochs.

The course involves 2 hours a week taught classes for 10 weeks. Applicants for the course do not need experience of archaeology and the course can be studied as a standalone course worth 20 credits or used as an access course for studying at university level. As such it is a good opportunity to see if archaeology is for you and learn about the subject.

You can study our courses from any one of the colleges in the UHI network and that you can study MLitt Archaeological Studies from anywhere in the world.

If you would like to chat with us and explore your options at the UHI Archaeology Institute then contact Mary on 01856 569225, e-mail us at  or see our website.



From Chicago to Orkney – the journey of a second year student

Connor examining pollen grains to understand how landscapes have changed from the past to the present day.

Connor Marrs is a second year student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. He is 22 years old and originally comes from Chicago.

I was intrigued by the motivation of someone like Connor who exchanged life in a big U.S. city for life on an island off the northern tip of Scotland. So, when sitting in the university cafe overlooking the Bay of Kirkwall, I asked him why he decided to study archaeology first of all and then why come to Orkney to study the subject. He replied….

“I was always interested in European history and especially Scottish history and, while at High School in Chicago, started to look at universities in Scotland. While travelling through Scotland, I applied to be a volunteer at The Cairns Broch and, following an exchange of e-mails, ended up in Orkney taking part in the dig! The Cairns is a friendly dig in a breath-taking location overlooking the North Sea and within a few days, I was hooked. By the end of the dig I knew that I wanted to study archaeology and I wanted to study archaeology in Orkney”

Studying pottery from the Ness of Brodgar

“Following further discussions with Dr. Ingrid Mainland and Martin Carruthers, they detailed the options open to me and how I could study here in Orkney. They were really helpful and supportive. So I applied and have not looked back since!”

Connor moved on to say that the social life in Orkney is great. The students at the UHI Archaeology Institute, because of the relatively small numbers, form a tight knit community very quickly. Everyone is like-minded and enthusiastic about archaeology in general and Orcadian archaeology in particular and so build strong relationships very quickly.

Ceramics seminar

All sounds fantastic….but I also asked Connor if there were any downsides. Anything that students coming here to study should be aware of. He said yes….the first winter can be daunting. Although Chicago experiences deep snow on a regular basis, the winter in Orkney is somewhat different. There is very little snow, but being an island, transport links can be affected by the weather. You may not be able to get to your destination as quickly as you would like sometimes!

Student field trip to the Broch of Gurness, Orkney

If you would like to chat with us and explore your options at the UHI Archaeology Institute then please e-mail us at 

Also keep in mind that you can study our courses from any one of the colleges in the UHI network and that you can study MLitt Archaeological Studies from anywhere in the world.



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 or see our website.


New Archaeological Science BSc (Hons) Degree Course Now Enrolling


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).


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.

excavating whales cata sand

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

Gzowski College
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  or see the UHI website


Archaeology in Uist-Barpa Langass


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

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


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)
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