St Magnus Cathedral Graffiti Project Launch

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with Orkney Archaeology Society for an exciting community archaeology project centred on the 870 year old St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney.

The project will involve the local community who will investigate, record and analyse the graffiti and mark making which is present on the walls both inside and outside the building.

St Magnus Cathedral occupies a special place in the history and identity of Orkney. Built from red and yellow sandstone in the 12th century by the same masons as Durham Cathedral, it is one of the most iconic buildings in Scotland. It serves as a parish church, a venue for a range of events and performances, and is one of the most popular heritage attractions for visitors to the islands. A wide range of markings from the last 870 years survive on both the internal and external stonework, and the cathedral contains one of the most significant graffiti assemblages in Scotland. These include masons’ marks relating to primary construction and rebuild, enigmatic symbolic designs such as hexafoils, and a wide range of both pencilled and inscribed ‘name-and-date’ graffiti. Only very limited attention has ever been afforded to these, but such inscriptions are increasingly recognised as an important part of the historical record.

Several hundred marks have been informally identified, and these are a highlight of the Cathedral tours. But despite the great interest in, and research importance of, this assemblage, it has never been the focus of a systematic, detailed study. It is likely that many more marks remain to be discovered. In addition, the soft sandstone is vulnerable to erosion and restoration of the building’s stonework continues. Many of the more lightly inscribed carvings, and the delicate pencil graffiti, are in danger of disappearance before they are fully recorded. These factors, in combination with the growing awareness of the significance of this resource, make this project timely and essential.

The aims of the project are to….

  • train a team of community archaeologists who will be sufficiently skilled and confident to undertake, under supervision, detailed building surveys
  • create a publication which outlines the key findings, places the graffiti in the cathedral within its historical context and adds to the knowledge of this unique building and the people who have used it
  • create an online resource which will be freely available to all, showing the photographs and the records of the project

The volunteers will be trained by archaeologists from the UHI Archaeology Institute to recognise and record the marks and enter them into the record – the first time that these important social marks have been recorded officially.

St Magnus Cathedral Tower

The project will be officially launched on Tuesday 22nd January 2019 at 7.00pm in the St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall when the team will discuss the background to the project and how to get involved as a volunteer.

The initial training dates for volunteers are to be held in late January and early February and to take part in the project, participants must attend one of the four hour sessions. Interest in the workshops has been very high, and as a result there are now very few slots available on the first three training workshops.  Organisers are looking to set a date for a fourth training workshop, and this will be confirmed at the launch on the 22nd Jan.

  • Workshop One: Saturday 26th Jan. 1pm-5pm, St Magnus Cathedral
  • Workshop Two: Tuesday 5th Feb. 1pm – 5pm, St Magnus Cathedral
  • Workshop Three: Saturday 9th Feb. 1pm-5pm, St Magnus Cathedral

UHI Archaeology Institute lecturer and project coordinator, Dr Antonia Thomas, commented that, “over more than 870 years, St Magnus Cathedral has played host to countless masons, pilgrims and tourists, many of whom have left their mark in graffiti and other carvings. This exciting project gives us the opportunity to examine several centuries of mark-making, and find out more about the social history of this special building “

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

Martin Carruthers, Orkney Archaeology Society Chairman said,” This is a really exciting project and one that we are delighted to be running. St Magnus Cathedral is such an important building for Orkney folk, and we are looking forward to working with the community to learn more about the people who have made their marks here since it was founded in 1137.”

The project is supported by a grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Visit the Orkney Archaeology Society website for more details.

Community Archaeology in Orkney- Fieldwalking Starts Soon

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Early Bronze Age arrowhead discovered by Chris Gee while field walking in the World Heritage Site Buffer Zone, Orkney

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have secured funding from Orkney Archaeology Society and Historic Environment Scotland for this year’s community fieldwalking project.

Organised by Dan Lee and Chris Gee, they will be building on the success of the 2016 Orkney World Heritage Site Buffer Zone fieldwalking project in which over 2000 finds were located, recorded and catalogued by archaeology volunteers. Last year, significant scatters of flint, pottery and cramp were found, including stand-out finds such as flint knives, WWII material and decorated pottery.

9-zoom-using-the-gps-on-field-1The project will commence in the next few weeks (dependant on the weather) and will concentrate on fields in the Ring of Brodgar and Maes Howe area, and wider buffer zone which extends either side of the lochs.

If you wish to participate in the fieldwalking and acquire training then contact Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist, on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

We ask that participants are local to Orkney as dates and sites can change at short notice due to farm activity, weather and other issues outside of our control.

Thanks to Orkney Archaeology Society (OAS)  and Historic Environment Scotland (HES) for grant funding to undertake the fieldwalking.

fieldwalking-poster-080317-page-001There is also a talk being held on Wednesday 8th March by members of the 2016 fieldwalking team at 7.30pm in Stenness Hall. All are welcome and it is free to enter.

Bring along your finds for a show and tell.

If you are intrigued by the history and archaeology of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and want to learn more then either drop us a line through studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or go to our guide to courses on this blog or visit our University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute web page


Orkney World Heritage Site Field Walking Exhibition Launch

exhibition-poster

If you are in Kirkwall at 2pm on Thursday 12th January then you are cordially invited to the launch of the field walking exhibition being held at Orkney Museum.

The launch is being held at the Orkney Museum, Kirkwall, located in the small temporary exhibition space in the downstairs prehistoric gallery.

The exhibition is the culmination of a year long field walking project started in early 2016 amongst Orkney’s world famous monuments in collaboration with Orkney Archaeology Society. It has been planned and put together by a team of trainee archaeologists who have participated in the project. Exhibits include maps, finds, case studies and personal accounts. Stenness Primary School children have contributed posters about their experiences during a day workshop field walking next to the school.

The project ran throughout 2016 with a series of workshops and events designed to teach people about the practice of archaeological fieldwalking, the processes that occur after fieldwork, the finds and mapping, and telling the story of the project in a museum exhibition.

Throughout, the main aim of the project was to involve members of the local community and generate internationally significant research in the World Heritage Area, and thereby contribute to the wider understanding of these sites and landscapes.

Prize find! (Photo Rod Richmond)


Thanks to Orkney Archaeology Society (OAS) who were awarded grant aid funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund Sharing Heritage scheme to undertake the fieldwalking project within the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site Buffer Zone (HONO WHS), West Mainland, Orkney. Thanks also to Orkney Museum for supporting and hosting the exhibition.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute were commissioned by OAS to undertake professional services for the project, including the fieldwork, training workshops and post-excavation.

If you are intrigued by the history and archaeology of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and want to learn more then either drop us a line through studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or go to our guide to courses on this blog or visit our University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute web page


Sharing Heritage: Orkney World Heritage Site Fieldwalking Project celebrates £9900 Heritage Lottery Fund grant

Fieldwalking near Maes Howe, Mainland Orkney
Fieldwalking near Maes Howe, Mainland Orkney

Orkney Archaeology Society has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Sharing Heritage grant, it was announced today. This exciting project, Orkney World Heritage Site Fieldwalking Project: Learning About Archaeology Amongst Orkney’s World Famous Monuments, in the West Mainland of Orkney and led by Orkney Archaeology Society with partners at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, has been given £9900 to undertake archaeological fieldwalking in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site Buffer Zone.
The project, due to start this week, aims to follow the process of a fieldwalking project from discovery in the field, through a series of archaeology workshops, culminating in a temporary exhibition at Tankerness House Museum in Kirkwall in the autumn. The project is open to local volunteers who will be trained in field practice, lithics, finds processing, map making, presenting results, report writing and the final museum exhibition, which will be run as a series of workshops throughout the year. There will also be a fieldwalking workshop run in collaboration with the Historic Environment Scotland Rangers at Stenness Primary School.

Axe butt found in a field in the stenness area
Axe butt found in a field in the Stenness area

Fieldwalking involves the surface collection of artefacts in ploughed fields on a grid so that distribution patterns over larger areas can be observed. Fieldwalking around Maes Howe and along the Ness of Brodgar peninsula has the potential to add a significant layer of landscape interpretations to the area. This will enhance the results from the recent World Heritage Area geophysical survey undertaken by the University’s Archaeology Institute. This revealed a multi-period landscape of enclosures, settlements, rig and furrow cultivation and prehistoric sites beneath the ground surface. Fieldwalking has already proved fruitful in the area with the discovery of Barnhouse Neolithic settlement by Professor Colin Richards in the 1980s using this technique. The current fieldwalking project will recover artefacts from every period – for example material from the WWII camps around Maes Howe- not just prehistoric finds, bringing the story of the landscape up to the present day.
There are a number of trainee places available for the fieldwalking and various follow up workshops. Contact Dan Lee at the Archaeology Institute if you wish take part. Volunteers are also needed to help with all aspects of the project.
The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and supported in kind by Historic Environment Scotland, Orkney Museums, and Professor Mark Edmonds. Orkney Archaeology Society would like to thanks local landowners for supporting the project and allowing access to fields.
Martin Carruthers, OAS Chair said:
‘Orkney Archaeology Society are excited by this fantastic opportunity to support the local community in discovering the wealth of heritage below their feet in the Orkney World Heritage Area. We are looking forward to the excitement, enjoyment and learning that such projects can bring.’

Dan Lee, Archaeology Institute Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist said:
‘We are thrilled to be working with Orkney Archaeology Society in such an iconic landscape to provide learning experiences in archaeology for the local community. We hope that local volunteers and trainees will enjoy bringing new stories to this important landscape’

Lucy Casot, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland, said: “Sharing Heritage is a wonderful opportunity for communities to delve into their local heritage and we are delighted to be able to offer this grant so that the Orkney World Heritage Site Fieldwalking Project can embark on a real journey of discovery. Heritage means such different things to different people, and HLF’s funding offers a wealth of opportunities for groups to explore and celebrate what’s important to them in their area.”

Contact Dan Lee (University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute) for more details and to register as a volunteer 01856 569214 Daniel.Lee@uhi.ac.uk