Swartigill Friday

Day Five 2The Swartigill dig is a community dig. This means that local people are involved at all stages of the process and local volunteers receive basic training in archaeological methods and help with the actual dig.

Today, local school children joined us in the field. As part of a wider school project, they were shown the features that had been discovered so far and then helped with the dig itself…discovering a little about the people who worked and lived on the site nearly two thousand years ago.

Rick Barton takes up the story….

“Yesterday (Thursday), we made a great deal of progress. The weather was kind and the sun even came out for a few hours. We have started removing rubble infill from the structure at the north end of the trench (which I’ve started calling Structure A).

Day FiveThe shape is starting to appear with the revetment wall on the north-west side continuing to curve slightly to the south to meet up with the big boulders that we saw just after stripping. Bobby recovered a single fragment of pottery, a rim shed, from that rubble deposit.

Volunteers are taking down the mineralised soil overlaying the rubble to the south of Structure A and it seems to be fairly sterile. Starting to reveal more wall lines or possible revetments within the centre of the trench, running on an east-west alignment.

Meanwhile, in the south-east corner, we have boxed out a sondage to investigate the stonework poking through the subsoil, where it appears to match the anomaly on the geophysics. This stonework is well built from substantial blocks, forming a wall on a roughly north-south alignment with rubble spread to the east in the trench.

There is a very black layer forming between some of the rubble, but it doesn’t seem to be organic. Looks like either very degraded stone (that black material that seems to turn to dust) or a scene of manganese panning (though I’ve never seen it so consistent).”

Dr Scott Timpany is arriving tonight and will be taking peat and soil samples from around the site to help determine the form of the local landscape in the Iron Age period.

The Swartigill excavation is a joint community project involving the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Yarrows Heritage Trust.

Written by Rick Barton 2017. Photographs by Robert Friel.

Swartigill Update


Following brief interruptions due to the weather, the Swartigill community dig is now progressing well.

Project Officer, Rick Barton, is managing the site on day to day basis and takes up the story so far….

“Monday was a bit disrupted by the snow, but we got a good afternoon’s work in and made some good progress defining the rest of the rubble and possible structural features in the north end of the trench. As you can see in the photo, there are numerous possible wall lines and linear features showing through. These could be revetment walls, secondary structural features or just very well organised rubble at this stage, but I think you’ll agree that it’s looking more and more complex all the time.

image00015Tuesday we opened up the slit trench to the east of the site from 2015 and continued excavating a sondage to the south of the main conglomeration of features. Interestingly we are starting to get some structural features coming through in there too. The bit of wall-like structure that you saw in the north end of the slit trench in 2015 looks like it is in a rough alignment of stonework heading toward the northeast and seems to match up very well with the resistance survey in this area. This is

Day Four aThe wall-like structure that you saw in the north end of the slit trench in 2015 looks like it is in a rough alignment of stonework heading toward the northeast and seems to match up very well with the resistance survey in this area. This is interesting since it suggests that potentially, the geophysics is right and we may have a large sub-circular feature appearing in that area.

We spent most of Wednesday cleaning the site for photographs, and I placed geo-ref points around the trench so we can use aerial shots for planning the rubble in the centre of that jumble of features.

Day Four b

So, the plan for today (Thursday) is to start removing the rubble and really examine the mineralised soil and underlying colluvium/alluvium that seems to be covering everything, so we can really start to see what’s happening to the south and south-east areas of the trench.”

Written by Rick Barton 2017. Photographs by Robert Friel.

The Swartigill excavation is a joint community project involving the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Yarrows Heritage Trust.

Celebrating World Heritage Day in Orkney

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney “Glowed in the ArchaeoDark” to celebrate World Heritage Day with storytelling, music and face painting.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute teamed up with DigIt2017 for the World Heritage Day event in Orkney as part of the ‘Scotland in Six’ celebrations.

Workshops were initially organised in the week prior to the event with The Orkney Youth Cafe. Everyone made the light staffs, learnt about Neolithic Orkney and face painting based on the Neolithic art from the Ness of Brodgar Site. The group also devised a dance led by Vicky Green which was enacted as a finale to the event.

DSCN0606The night was clear with just a slight threat of rain as a host of young people congregated at Skara Brae to hear traditional Orkney tales in the replica Neolithic house, paint their face (which progressed to arm painting at one point!), rehearse and enjoy refreshments in the visitor centre.

DSC_4406As the night closed in, everyone boarded the coach and set off for the Ring of Brodgar, where the participants were adorned with glow strings and asked to line up on the boardwalk leading to the stones. The torches were switched on and the long column of young people was joined by drummers to add drama to the occasion.

It looked and sounded spectacular as the dark night of the Ring of Brodgar rang with the laughter of people celebrating the day. Within a short time, a crowd had gathered, including a family who had travelled from Yorkshire to holiday in Orkney and had heard about the event from the local newspaper.

Slowly, the procession wound its way around the stones and as a finale performed a carefully choreographed performance at the entrance to the stones.

Everyone agreed that it was a magical evening in a magical location and an excellent way to celebrate World Heritage Day.

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Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology

HHA2017 Logo2017 is the year to delve into the past and discover Scotland’s fascinating stories and unique experiences. Scotland’s rich heritage, captivating history and world-renowned archaeology will come to life through a range of new and exciting experiences and events aimed at locals and visitors alike.

From World Heritage sites to ancient monuments, world-class visitor attractions and cultural traditions, Scotland offers iconic experiences and hidden gems to visitors, all year round.

Scotland’s vast history, heritage and archaeology have a fascinating story to tell and there are countless secrets to uncover at ruins, ancient monuments and remarkable archaeological sites, as well as museums and galleries across Scotland.

Each area of Scotland has its own distinctive heritage and traditions that shape its environment, as well as the lifestyle and humour of its people today. Visitors can discover this for themselves through unique events and attractions in 2017.

We are connected not just by genetics, but by our traits, our beliefs and our spirit. You will find something of yourself in Scotland, as well as a warm and welcoming people.

Visit Scotland has announced a unique event line-up for 2017 themed year: Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

For more information on the Scotland in Six events see our previous blog page and the DigIt2017 webpage.


The Ness on Tour in the USA & Canada

image-4Nick Card, Site Director Ness of Brodgar, looks forward to presenting the exciting story of the Neolithic site to members of the Archaeological Institute of America.

A series of lectures have been arranged to detail the secrets of the spectacular Ness of Brodgar Neolithic complex to members of The Archaeological Institute of America in February and March 2017.

Public engagement in archaeology is integrated into the work we do at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute – whether that is through digital media, public involvement in community archaeology, open days at our sites or presenting research findings directly through lectures.

This lecture tour in the United States and Canada now gives us an additional opportunity to engage people on the North American continent face to face and in many cases thank them for their continued support and interest over the last 14 years.

Due to the level of interest generated in the Ness of Brodgar, lectures are being added as I write this, but to date, the tour takes in 16 locations and starts on 16th February and finishes on April 2nd. Nick will travel over 12,000 km in the process!

revised-itenerary-mapThe full programme is available from the Archaeological Institute of America website

The lecture tour has been made possible by the generous award of the Samuel H Kress Lectureship for 2016-17 by the Archaeological Institute of America. Nick would like to express his gratitude for this award.

If you are intrigued by the history and archaeology of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and want to learn more, 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

Training Event at Pett Level Submerged Forest, East Sussex

Pett Level Submerged Forest. Photograph courtesy of Thomas Desaille

A three day training and recording event at the submerged prehistoric forest at Pett Level, East Sussex.

Environmental geoarchaeologist Dr Scott Timpany from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, carried out a Historic England funded project at this fascinating site in 2014 and will be joining the team again for all three days as more trees are recorded at the site.

The programme of events is now confirmed:

Friday 23rd September: A evening classroom session with mini lectures looking at the site, the recording methods that will be used and the CITiZAN project as a whole. There’ll also be a round up of work from local societies.

Saturday 24th September: (low tide 12.05): A guided walk of the site followed by a recording session

Sunday 25th September: (low tide 13.35): Foreshore recording session

It is possible to just attend the talks and/or the guided walk. Everyone who attends all three sessions will receive a CPD certificate and a CITiZAN edition Archaeology Skills Passport. As with all CITiZAN training sessions, there is no cost for attending.

Timings, the classroom session venue and the foreshore meeting places to be confirmed.


For more details contact Lara Band at lband@mola.org.uk or on 07718 570384

Archaeology, Teaching and Learning for Class 6

Using archaeology to help teach school children is an important element in our outreach programme.

Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, has been working with Glaitness School and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Rangers to integrate fieldwork into the Year 6 curriculum.

The project not only involved the study of archaeology, but also delved into biology by examining animal bones, art by using Neolithic rock art techniques, creative writing through listening to the stories associated with the site, a little science and of course  history and culture!

Neil Oliver from the BBC helping Year 6

The visit was designed to be integrated into the Year 6 curriculum – to include a programme of cross curricula learning experiences which would draw on the day. In effect the idea was to create an ongoing project which would utilise the resources available at the Archaeology Institute UHI. This is an ongoing project which the teachers and archaeologists will continue to develop as the term progresses.

The whole idea does not stop there….the pupils have used digital technology to publish their work by uploading to their own website blog. The project will develop as the children, with guidance from their teacher, add to the digital record of their learning.

But don’t take my word for it….click through to the Glaitness School blog and see for yourself..Glaitness School Year 6 blog

Kirkwall Garden Dig Success

The Kirkwall Garden Dig held over the weekend was a great success. Over 300 people visited the BBC site and residents learned the basics about archaeological investigation.

The project was a collaborative community archaeology programme in which Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative, The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Scotland’s Urban Past worked together to bring an archaeological extravaganza to Kirkwall. The Kirkwall Garden Dig project is part of The Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative Archaeology Programme ‘Discover Hidden Kirkwall’. This community archaeology initiative has already uncovered parts of the medieval shoreline of the town in a previous excavation held in May 2016.

The project included BBC Radio Orkney together with 4 other residents of Kirkwall town centre who invited archaeologists to dig small exploratory test pits in their gardens. The public saw archaeology in action in the BBC Radio Orkney garden by visiting in person or linking through to a live stream on their Facebook page. Updates were also broadcast on BBC radio throughout the fieldwork.

The excavations were accompanied by workshops in which members of the public tried archaeological techniques such as sieving, finds washing, digging and surveying. Scotland’s Urban Past team also helped budding ‘Urban Detectives’ record their built environment, focusing on the areas around each of the trenches, contributing to the national record.


An astonishing number of finds were unearthed, ranging from prehistoric flint to artefacts from the last few hundred years. Finds included large numbers of animal bones, including a huge pig’s jaw bone discovered in the BBC Radio Orkney garden – probably dating back to when the area was part of the Flesh Market in the 17th and 18th centuries. Remains relating to the former Kirkwall Castle were not reached, however sherds of medieval pottery were recovered. Test pits along the west side of the street relieved deep sequences of layers and evidence for the old shoreline. Other finds included a bone chess piece, a decorated clay pipe bowl and a rather intriguing loom or fishing weight. These finds will be be further analysed, adding to the evolving story of ‘Hidden Kirkwall’.

To become an ‘Urban Detective’ and help record some of your local heritage visit http://scotlandsurbanpast.org.uk/

Many thanks to BBC Radio Orkney for their help and local residents for taking part.

The Kirkwall Garden Dig is supported by: