Mapping Magnus: Summing up the Palace Village Excavations

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are celebrating the success of the Mapping Magnus community archaeology excavations in Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney.

The team, including archaeologists, students and community volunteers discovered tantalising new evidence of medieval activity to the south of the kirk in Palace Village. We know that this area was the location of an early medieval Bishop’s residence and that there was a Bishop’s palace there in the 15th century – known as ‘Mons Bellus.’ But what evidence for these buildings did the team find in the trenches?

This blog is brought to you by Charlotte Hunter who is a University of the Highlands and Islands MSc student on professional placement with the UHI Archaeology Institute. Charlotte is working with Marketing and Communications at The Institute as part of her work placement MSc Archaeological Practice module.

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Trench 1: The main trench contained a variety of finds below a layer of windblown sand, layers of demolition rubble and midden – including quantities of fish and animal bone, vast amounts of shell and two pieces of Medieval pottery. Surprisingly, these pieces of pot were the only Medieval fragments found within the whole of the excavation.

As the excavation progressed more of the rubble was lifted revealing a rough pathed surface and potential wall. At this stage, the surface, midden and rubble appear to be 12th or 13th century in date, although more analysis needs to be done on the assemblages. Are we finding different assemblages because this was a high status ecclesiastical centre?

Trench A unearthed possibly the most intriguing piece of evidence from the excavation. Originally the team had not expected to excavate in this location until the homeowners decided to lift and resurface their rear path.

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Excavation revealed a 1m wide wall that continued below their house! At each side of the wall there were layers of midden, which may suggest that this wall is Medieval in date. Could this wall be part of the Bishop’s Palace complex or is this part of another structure relating to the Earl’s Palace barns and stables, known to have been built here in the 16th or 17th century ?

726_B4_206As the excavation was coming to a close a pundler weight was lifted from within the rubble next to the pipe that runs through the wall. A pundler weight was used when taxes and rent was paid in grain and kind. This instrument is known to have primarily being used in Orkney and Shetland. The age of this weight is unknown but could date as far back as the 14th century and used until the early 19th century. This intriguing find was a wonderful way of demonstrating the use of this area throughout different periods of history.

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Test Pit 2 was opened in the garden behind the location of the wall discovered in Trench A to investigate the direction of the wall. When first opened, stone flooring was discovered but this appeared to be 19th century in date. After recording the floor the slabs were lifted and excavation continued. Within the last couple of days of the excavation a wall of similar dimensions and build to that in Trench A started to appear in Test Pit Two, suggesting that this was the continuation of the same wall.

The new wall stood three courses high on the north face, however, the size on the opposing side was unclear. It has been suggested that this may have been due to stone robbing or had been partially destroyed.  Additionally this test pit contained fish bones of a variety sizes, animal bone and ‘packages’ of winkle shells throughout.

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Throughout the 2 weeks of the excavation there were 4 other test pits opened in homeowners’ gardens to investigate geophysical anomalies and understand the Bishop’s Palace area of the village. These test pits located other walls – perhaps relating to the Bishop’s Palace – and land surfaces, and helped define the medieval core of the village.

Each test pit shared a common factor – they all contained a large amount of wind-blown sand from the nearby beach. The vast quantity of sand may be an indicator of hiatus of activity within the former ecclesiastical centre, perhaps in the 14th century and prior to the construction of the Earl’s Palace and development of the post-medieval village.

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Despite the adverse weather conditions, the two weeks of the Mapping Magnus excavation were views by all concerned as a great success. The community volunteers and school children who visited the site not only gained new skills through the training they received from the archaeologist team, but learned about the exciting history hidden beneath their village.

The Mapping Magnus Project is not complete yet and further research is planned which will help us understand the history of Palace Village, Birsay the story of Magnus and his legacy in the parish.

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute team would like to thank all of the volunteers on site, pupils from all of the primary schools, the homeowners for allowing the team to dig in their gardens and for everyone that kept up to date with the dig.

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If you would also like to be part of the Mapping Magnus Community Archaeology Project then please contact us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk . Future activities include geophysical survey and walkover survey at Manse Stone sites and noust survey at Marwick.

Team led by Dan Lee, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, Chris Gee, Bobby Friel (ORCA), Colin Mitchell (ORCA), students Jim Bright (Digital Archaeologist) and Charolotte Hunter.

Follow the conversation #Mappingmagnus

Listening to the Piers Exhibition – Stromness Museum

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Stories, Stones and Bones: Stromness Museum’s ‘Listening to the Piers’ exhibition celebrates Stromness Piers

  • Exhibition open 4th November – 31 December 2017
  • Venue: Stromness Museum, Stromness, Orkney

The dynamic story of the Stromness piers collected during the project through stories, drawings, photographs and artefacts will be exhibited in the entrance porch of Stromness Museum from Saturday 4 November to 31 December 2017.

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The project co-ordinator Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist UHI Archaeology Institute, commenting on the award said: “It’s great that Stromness Museum was awarded this grant. Stromness piers have such a rich wealth of stories from their working past to the new ways we think about them today. We are all really excited about telling other people about our findings and sharing our heritage and history with them through this exhibition”.

Stromness Museum received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant as part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. This exciting project, ‘Listening to the Piers’, run in partnership with University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute, Heriot Watt Stromness campus and locally based artists was awarded £9,700 to investigate the piers of Stromness through creative engagement in archaeology, art and science workshops.

Commenting, Lucy Casot, Head of HLF in Scotland, said: “The Heritage Lottery Fund is a key partner in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and it was our ambition that people of all ages would have the chance to discover something new about the heritage they care about. With almost 100 projects happening across the country, over 15,000 people have done just that. We’re delighted that, thanks to funding from the National Lottery, Stromness Museum is part of that celebration, opening the door to fun, learning and everlasting memories for many people as we celebrate this special year.”

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Stromness Museum holds important collections of natural history, archaeology, maritime and social history and art. Growing sea traffic from the 18th century onwards saw the port grow with stone-built piers and slips appearing along the shore.

Oral history workshops introduced Stromness Primary School pupils to interview techniques to make recordings about the piers. On ‘Piers Day’ during ‘Per Mare’ week, at the end of July 2017, Listening to the Piers provided an opportunity for local people and visitors to explore different ways of seeing and interpreting these piers through archaeology, marine biology, photography and drawing workshops.

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Stromness Museum
The Stromness Museum exists to promote natural science, to preserve local history and to offer an enjoyable educational and informative experience to as large a range of people as possible.

Stories, Stones and Bones
Stories, Stones and Bones is for any not-for-profit group wanting to engage more people with the heritage and take part in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. Stories, Stones and Bones grants between £3,000 and £10,000 are available to groups who want to discover their local heritage. Projects can cover a wide spectrum of subject matter from exploring local archaeology and a community’s cultures and traditions to identifying and recording local wildlife and protecting the surrounding environment to managing and training volunteers, and holding festivals and events to commemorate the past.

Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. http://www.hlf.org.uk Follow us on facebook Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland and twitter @HLFScotland.

Join the conversation at #HLFScotland and #HHA2017 to be part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology
From World Heritage Sites to ancient monuments, listed buildings to historic battlefields, cultural traditions to our myths, tales and legends, the 2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, running from 1 January to 31 December will shine a spotlight on Scotland’s fascinating past, some of our greatest figures, attractions and icons, as well as our hidden gems.

 

Archaeologists for a Day – School Children help out at Mapping Magnus Dig

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Over the past couple of weeks, the University of the Highlands and Islands team at the Mapping Magnus excavation have involved local school children in the exciting excavations at Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney.

On 2nd to 4th October, children and teachers from Dounby Primary School, Stenness Primary School, Stromness Primary School, Evie Primary School, Firth Primary School and the Pathways to Independence Group were involved in an archaeology day at the site – building on work that they had completed in the classroom in the previous week.

The budding archaeologists arrived early on site at Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney and were keen and ready to get started. The weather tried its best to intervene, but the children were well wrapped up and enthusiastically looked forward to the first task.

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This involved the children in a decision making exercise in which they searched for any existing clues in Palace Village that may help us as archaeologists narrow down the potential site of the medieval Bishop’s Palace. The children set off looking for sandstone blocks and other features that could have originated in the old medieval palace in the walls of the present settlement.

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After exploring the area our volunteers then began examining some of the drawings and maps of the Palace Village alongside Dr Sarah-Jane Gibbon, Lecturer in  Archaeology at UHI Archaeology Institute, and Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist at UHI Archaeology Institute, to identify any clues that may help us identify the position of the old medieval palace. This exercise was completed in the The Orkney Archaeology Society trailer which provided welcome refuge against particularly heavy rain showers….many thanks to OAS who helped make this happen.

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After exploring the area and studying the documented evidence, our helpers headed to the main trench. The children were split into teams who then started washing some of the finds that had come out of our trenches, sieving deposits, excavating in the main trench and working in the smaller test pits. The teams rotated around, giving each child experience of the different aspects of field archaeology.

The day itself was very enjoyable and the team want to shout out a big thank you to all of our volunteers from Dounby Primary School, Stenness Primary School, Stromness Primary School, Evie Primary School, Firth Primary School and to the Pathways to Independence Group. Your hard work was greatly appreciated by the team and hope to see you at another excavation in the future.

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If you would also like to be part of the Mapping Magnus Community Archaeology Project then please contact us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk . Future activities include geophysical survey and walkover survey at Manse Stone sites and noust survey at Marwick.

Thanks to Charlotte Hunter for contributing to the blog post and photographs. Charlotte is a MSc student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and is on professional placement with us, helping with the communication of archaeology across the media.

Get involved in the conversation #MappingMagnus


The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Orkney Islands council and the UHI Archaeology Institute as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

 

Mapping Magnus Dig Update 4/10

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The team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and local community volunteers are now beginning to bring the Mapping Magnus dig in Palace Village to a close.

Everyone involved, from school children to local residents to students from UHI Archaeology Institute and volunteers from further afield, have all said how successful the dig has been and how it was so good to be involved in community research.

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The weather over the past week has been furious with several gales tracking over the exposed coastal site – but despite the weather the enthusiasm of everyone involved has carried the team through.

Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist at the UHI Archaeology Institute, takes up the story…

“We’ve found medieval middens and structures in most trenches. The schools outreach was very successful despite the weather! Many thanks to those of you who have helped out during the excavations. We have one last push tomorrow with backfilling the main trench, so any extra help would be much appreciated, even for just an hour or so. Chris Gee and the team will be there from 9am.”

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There are a few more activities to come on the project, such as geophysical survey and walkover survey at Manse Stone sites, and noust survey at Marwick. so we will keep you posted if you wish to be involved.

Please do lend a hand backfilling tomorrow if you can. There will be lifts available from Orkney College at 8am as usual. No need to book, just turn up.


The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Orkney Islands Council and the UHI Archaeology Institute as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

 

Second Phase of Caithness Broch Festival to Commence

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Get Involved in Community Archaeology exploring Iron Age Caithness!

  • Trial trenches Bruan Broch 13 & 14 October 2017
  • Trial trenches Thing’s Va Broch 15 & 16 October 2017

The initial results are now in from the geophysics survey completed at Bruan Broch and Thing’s Va Broch in Caithness by archaeologists from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Caithness Broch Project and local community volunteers….and they show some very interesting findings which need further investigation.

Bruan Broch Geophysics AnnotatedThe geophysics results from Bruan Broch indicate a possible settlement to the southwest of the structure itself which, although it is not possible to date from geophysical data alone, could be contemporary with the broch. The settlement may even be a late Iron Age settlement known as a ‘wag’, which are often associated with former broch sites. The magnetometer survey also highlighted further anomalies, which may represent a continuation of the settlement to the south and east.

Following these exciting results, the team are undertaking trial-trenches at Bruan on 13 & 14 October to which the community are invited to visit and get involved.

Geophysics Things Va Annotated

The geophysics data from Thing’s Va Broch presented the team with a mystery; there are hints of features to the northeast of the broch that may represent structures that could be a Late Iron Age ‘wag’, but there is little of the magnetic enhancement that is usually associated with a broch. It is possible that these faint features relate to activity associated with the later role of the site referred to in its place name. The ‘Thing’s’ element to the site name indicates that it was used in the Norse period as a meeting place.

Furthermore, the data also showed an anomaly to the northeast of the broch which could represent a burnt mound. A cairn to the south may also be a burnt mound, but could be a substantial roundhouse of Late Iron Age date.

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Geophysics at Bruan Broch

The team decided that only a series of trial-trenches could help explain the activity at the Thing’s Va site. The archaeological excavations will commence on 15 October and end the following day, 16 October. Once again, the community is invited to get involved and will be made most welcome.

If you are interested in getting involved with this exciting series of archaeological digs then contact the team on studyarchaeoology@uhi.ac.uk or 01856 569225

Caithness Broch Festival Trial Trenching V4

For more information on the Caithness Broch Festival then see our previous blog post.


The community archaeology project is funded from the Tannach & District Wind Farm Charitable Trust Fund supported by Foundation Scotland, Bailie Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund and the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund.

Open Day at Mapping Magnus Dig

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A team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute together with volunteers from the local community will be holding an Open Day at the Palace Village dig, Birsay on Saturday 30th September 2017.

All are welcome and the event is free to enter. One of the questions we are asked by potential visitors to our Open Days is, “Can I bring my children?” Children of all ages are welcome and there will be opportunities for them to look at and take part in some of the activities on site.

The Open Day starts at 10am and is planned to end around 3pm to allow the team to clean the area for the next day. There will be signs directing you to the dig site on the day from the Palace Stores.

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There is no need to book…just turn up and discuss the progress of the dig with the team. Already a substantial wall has been unearthed as the trial trenches take shape….who knows what will be discovered on the Open Day itself?

Contact: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or 01856 569225 for further information.

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has been commissioned by Orkney Islands Council to deliver a programme of community archaeology activities and events that will explore the story of St Magnus and medieval Orkney.

The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.