Trondheim to Orkney – the adventure of a lifetime

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Standing stones at Stenness

21 year old Erasmus exchange student Martine Kaspersen has just completed her placement at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute in Orkney.

She kindly volunteered to write about her experiences in Orkney…….

“Archaeology and history has always been a big part of my life. As a child, my parents, sibling and I traveled to local museums and historic places regularly and since then, I’ve always found prehistory extremely fascinating. My parents were always supportive of my decision to take an academic education within the field of archaeology and my adventures started there!

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Martine in a seminar in the lab

I started the Bachelors programme in archaeology in Trondhiem in 2016. The course was great, we traveled basically around all of Trøndelag (Which is approximately situated in central Norway). We saw different sites and experienced hands on archaeology. This made us able to spot the difference between a Bronze Age materials and Iron Age materials – just by looking at the artefact.

Even before I started NTNU (Norwegian School of Science and Technology), I knew I wanted to go abroad during the degree programme. The hard part, was deciding exactly where I wanted to go. I had a hard time deciding on this, as I am used to city life and wanted to do something new. In the end, after a lot of thought and consideration, a friend suggested Orkney. One would think that a place with so many connections to Norway and Trondheim, a Norwegian born and raised in Trondheim should know about Orkney. The thing was, I didn’t! Orkney – for some odd reason – is not discussed in any history lessons in school, or at my archaeology course.

I found Orkney very interesting, and the nature and climate was something I already was familiar with (except the lack of hills, mountains and woodland), so the adaption to the place wasn’t too great for me. I fell in love with the history, monuments and how isolated the island can seem for a person who has spent most of her life in a city.

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The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Orkney, accompanied by my older sister and mother. January was cold, windy with a lot of rainy days. The people at the course was so amazingly welcoming and I found friends for life, right away. The courses were extremely interesting, and I put heart and soul into essays and presentations – which payed off pretty well. I also attended the Easter field trip to Bute, which was magnificent. I loved every part of it.

After a trip back to Trondheim during Easter, it was right back to writing essays, presentations and preparing for the exam. Everything went well in the end, and before I knew it, I had been in Orkney for almost four months. I loved every single minute of it, and am very thankful for all the help, support and great adventures both the staff at the college and my friends have made possible.

Thank you for having me here, and bearing with me. I will now be heading back to Trondheim to finish my bachelor, and then straight to a Masters degree – and hopefully even a PHD.”


If you would like to explore the possibility of studying and contributing to the research undertaken at the UHI Archaeology Institute at undergraduate or postgraduate level then please either e-mail us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or see our website.

Funded Places Available – MSc Archaeological Practice

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is offering a limited number of funded places on the MSc Archaeological Practice course.

The MSc Archaeological Practice is a world leading archaeology course which equips you with the tools for work in the real world. Key practical skills are emphasised using the rich archaeological resource of Orkney as your research ‘laboratory’.

Core modules will develop your practical skills in a suite of archaeological techniques including project management, excavation, non-intrusive field archaeology, environmental archaeology and post-excavation analysis. You will gain additional vocational experience through our professional placement enabling you to take full advantage of employment opportunities.

  • Study in the outstanding archaeological landscape of Orkney
  • Optional modules allow you to develop professional skills in a range of areas including archaeobotany, archaeozoology, geoarchaeology, survey & geophysics,
    digital recording of archaeological materials and sites
  • A 3 month professional placement offers the opportunity to further develop your professional skills in a chosen area(s)
  • The course is flexible to fit in with your personal and professional life

A limited number of places with full tuition fee support are available for Scottish-domiciled/EU students, studying full time, on the MSc Archaeological Practice starting in
September 2018. Eligible students must live in Highlands and Islands, including Moray, Perth and Kinross for the period of their studies.

Full details on the course, funding and how to apply see our website  or drop us a line at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

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Creating Links between Orkney and Europe

Signing the Memorandum of Understanding. at Midhowe Broch. Prof Jane Downes (UHI), Professor Eszter Banffy (DAI), OIC Convener Harvey Johnston
Signing the Memorandum of Understanding. L to R Professor Jane Downes (UHI Archaeology Institute) Professor Eszter Banffy (DAI) and OIC Convener Harvey Johnston

Last week marked the first step in a collaboration between archaeology research institutions in Orkney and Germany.

An important memorandum of understanding was signed at Midhowe Broch, Rousay, on 26th April between UHI Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Römisch-Germanische Kommission (DAI).

Signed in glorious sunshine by Professor Jane Downes of the UHI Archaeology Institute and Professor Eszter Baffy of the DAI, the document was witnessed by Orkney Islands Council Convener Harvey Johnston.

The memorandum document confirms the willingness of the UHI Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI and DAI to co-operate on future research projects and details the ways in which the three organisations will work together including:

• The exchange of personnel
• Joint research projects and workshops
• Technical support and training
• Other joint projects which will be specified at a later date.

The signing was conducted as a major series of archaeology surveys were undertaken across the island. These projects include the international “Boyne to Brodgar” Neolithic project whose partners working in Orkney are DAI, UHI Archaeology Institute, Historic Environment Scotland and University College Dublin, represented by Assistant Professor Stephen Davis.

All Eyes on Rousay. Major International Archaeology Projects Commence in Rousay, Orkney

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Midhowe Broch, Rousay, Orkney

The island of Rousay in Orkney is renowned for the wealth of its archaeology; so much so that it is known as the Egypt of the North.

Over the next few weeks a team of archaeologists from around the world are assembling on Rousay to help unlock some of the questions still remaining about the distant past of this mysterious place.

Starting on the 16th April, an internationally renowned team from the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Römisch-Germanische Kommission (DAI) based in Berlin, together with archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute will begin the largest geophysics survey of the island to date. The first phase of the project will continue for two weeks, with the results connecting many of the sites researched by the UHI Archaeology Institute, the University of Bradford, and Historic Environment Scotland.

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Looking across from Rousay to Mainland Orkney.

Professor Jane Downes, director of the UHI Archaeology Institute said, “We are very pleased and excited to be involved in this major international project on Rousay and we are looking forward to seeing the results from the cutting-edge geophysics technology that the team from DAI have brought with them. This will make a substantial contribution to the “Boyne to Brodgar” programme- an Irish/Scottish Neolithic research project. This fieldwork forms one of a whole series of projects happening on the island over the next two weeks including the ‘Gateway to the Atlantic Workshop’ that this week will bring together archaeological scientists working particularly on coastal erosion, climate change and heritage in the North Atlantic and Arctic, and the following week continues an archaeological survey involving experts from Historic Environment Scotland and UHI Archaeology Institute students. We are signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the DAI, for partnership working longer term. It is indeed an exciting time for archaeology in Orkney.”

Dr Alison Sheridan (National Museums Scotland) and Professor Gabriel Cooney (University College Dublin) of the Boyne to Brodgar Initiative added that, ““We are absolutely delighted and honoured that the DAI team have come to Orkney to undertake their survey on Rousay. With this work, and the survey that they already carried out in the Boyne Valley in Ireland, the team are contributing enormously to the Boyne to Brodgar research initiative to understand Neolithic people, their monuments and their interactions in Britain and Ireland”.

Background to the Events on Rousay
Orkney – Gateway to the Atlantic: Rousay Workshop
19th and 20th April 2018
Venue: Rousay Community School

The UHI Archaeology Institute are hosting an international workshop on the island of Rousay, 19-20th April 2018. This workshop is organised on a multi-disciplinary basis bringing together colleagues who are working on a similar range of issues in the North Atlantic region, and in comparative islands environments. We aim to examine sustainability, resilience through time and work towards understanding impacts of climatic and environmental change. This meeting will provide an opportunity to catch up on existing projects, and an impetus and basis for planning further in-depth collaborations and projects.

Organisers: Professor Jane Downes (Director of the UHI Archaeology Institute), Dr Ingrid Mainland (Curriculum Leader and Programme Leader for MLitt Archaeological Studies) Julie Gibson (County Archaeologist for Orkney and Lecturer in Archaeology)

Boyne to Brodgar Project
This major archaeological project aims to develop the understanding of early people in Scotland and Ireland and place within a wider European and global story. Through the study of prehistoric monuments, Boyne to Brodgar aims to increase awareness of and engagement with an early chapter in Scotland’s history. Outreach and community archaeology projects are planned across Ireland and Scotland which will help people to understand their shared heritage.

Memorandum of Understanding
A memorandum of Understanding will be signed between Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Römisch-Germanische Kommission (DAI), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Orkney College UHI in which the three organisations confirm their willingness to co-operate and may include:
• The exchange of personnel
• Joint research projects and workshops
• Technical support and training
• Other joint projects which will be specified at a later date.

Student Field Trip to Bute – Easter 2018

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Archaeology students from the University of the Highlands and Islands colleges across Scotland gathered this Easter for a residential field trip to the island of Bute.

The island itself has a fine collection of archaeological sites ranging from the Mesolithic to post-medieval and has been the subject of study by both Martin Carruthers and Dr Scott Timpany – the two members of staff who led the excursion.

Jasmijn Sybenga, PhD student at the UHI Archaeology Institute takes up the story….

“The trip started from Orkney College UHI on a rather cold, but clear early Friday morning. We rarely get frost in Orkney, but if we did then it would have been one of those mornings. It was early and it was cold, but everyone was excited and looking forward to the trip.

After a long journey we finally arrived in Bute. On Saturday we visited sites in the northern part of the Island starting with a long walk through ancient forest Rhubodach where still past management practices were visible in the composition of trees today. After passing the forest, we emerged into open fields where Michael’s Grave Neolithic Cairn was situated. This cairn is severely reduced by robbing and ploughing but is still well displayed in the landscape.”

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Excavations in 1903 revealed the chamber, which was divided into two equal compartments by a septal stone. The floor of each compartment was covered by a layer of black earth with charcoal also present. Items from the chamber are now in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS) and included an undecorated pottery sherd and a piece of pitchstone. Other sherds, a flint flake, fragments of burnt human bones, a tooth of a pig and ox bones were also found at the same time and place, but are now lost.

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Jasmijn continues, “At this point we had a discussion about the past landscape and the palaeonvironmental study that has been carried out at Red Loch area close to this site. We continued our walk up a hill where large stones containing cup marks were scattered around the Glenvoidean Chambered Cairn. This cairn is well situated in the landscape and must have been visible from afar.

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We followed the path back through the forest where we went up a hill once more to visit the Cairnbaan chambered long cairn. In the afternoon we met Paul Duffy who is the director of Brandanii Archaeology and Heritage in Bute. Together we walked part of the old tramline that was opened in 1882 to transfer tourists from Rothesay to Port Bannatyne.

This tramline passed the site of Cnoc an Rath. It remains unknown what this ring and ditch earthwork was used for but recent suggestions include that it was part of a Viking site.

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On our return to Rothesay (where we were staying in a hostel) we visited Rothesay Castle. ”

The castle itself was first mentioned in 1230 when it withstood a siege by Norsemen. The building is one of the best preserved castles in Scotland. Archaeological excavations were undertaken during 2002. A watching brief was carried out during the excavation of a new trench in connection with construction work on the new shop site down to the moat.

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Day Two of the fieldtrip to follow…….

Each monument name is linked to Canmore, where you should be able to learn more.


If you would like to explore the possibility of studying and contributing to the research undertaken at the UHI Archaeology Institute at undergraduate or postgraduate level then please either e-mail us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or see our website.

UHI Archaeology Institute Annual Review – now online

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Annual Review is now available for download.

The document runs to 36 pages and details the staff, fieldwork, research and some of the commercial projects undertaken over the last year or so.

Download UHI Archaeology Institute Annual Review

Enjoy!

Making Metal, Casting Society at The Cairns, Orkney

ring headed pin moulds with cast pin
Ring headed pin moulds with cast pin

New radiocarbon dates from The Cairns archaeological excavation shed light on the possible structure of society in the 3rd and 4th Centuries AD in Orkney.

Martin Carruthers, Site Director at The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute research excavation at The Cairns, Orkney, talks about the latest research findings from the site.   

“We have been very lucky at The Cairns over the years of the excavations to find a substantial set of remains and residues that relate to Iron Age metalworking. This includes at least two iron-working furnaces, and many other features and artefacts, but there is one particularly big and concentrated event that took place beyond the broch in the northern part of the site, in the area we call Trench M. The remains of this episode include furnaces, bronze waste; bronze splashes and droplets, crucibles, and very significantly: moulds for casting fine bronze objects. Over sixty moulds and mould fragments have been recovered. These were used to cast a variety of objects ranging from simple bronze rings, to distinctive decorated dress pins, called ‘projecting ring-headed pins’, and penannular brooches, which are the lovely open-ring, cloak brooches that are sometimes referred to as ‘Celtic’ brooches.

The remains of 'Structure K' where the jewellery-making episode ocurred
The remains of structure K where the jewellery-making occurred

The volume and nature of the items being produced suggests that this was a socially significant collection of prestigious items aimed at denoting the identity, and status of those who were to wear the items; badges of their belonging and importance within the community. Importantly, it is the entire suite of materials found together, as well as their precise distribution pattern within the trench, that indicates strongly that this material relates to an in situ metalworking event, rather than a secondary event, such as merely the refuse disposal of old moulds, or even their ritual deposition. This is important because the closer we can get to the actual context of the metalworking events the clearer and more direct our picture of the process becomes.

The moulds for casting the bronze jewellery were found in an area several metres in diameter, scattered within and across the remains of an Iron Age building (Structure K) that was already ruinous and unroofed by the time the metalworking was happening. That building was itself found to overly the partially in-filled remains of a large enclosure ditch that had originally surrounded the broch period settlement. We therefore knew from the assessment of the layers (the stratigraphy) on site that the metalworking episode did not occur very early on in the sequence of events and buildings on site but it remained to be seen if it was going on towards the end of the monumental broch period on site, or if it was actually occurring after the broch was put out of use, which we know occurred around the mid-Second Century AD based on previously obtained radiocarbon dates. The calendar date of the metalworking was therefore of great interest. Did the jewellery-making episode date to the period late in the life of the broch, or was it happening after the broch itself was decommissioned and put out of use?

Two moulds for casting penannular brooches
Two moulds for casting penannular brooches

Craft and Chronology
Newly obtained radiocarbon dates make it clear which of these scenarios is correct. The new dates show that the jewellery-making occurred sometime between the AD240’s and the mid AD300’s. This places the metalworking very definitively after the end of the broch. Now, with this enhanced understanding of the chronological and structural context of the metalworking we can begin to consider the social context of this episode of metalworking. It is happening at a period of quite dramatic change in the material circumstances of Northern Iron Age communities in Scotland, at the end of the conventional Middle Iron Age and the beginning of the Later Iron Age periods, and contemporary with the mid to later Roman period further South.

It is very interesting that this episode therefore occurred after the culmination of the monumental phase of the site; after the demise of the massive broch at the heart of the community. One prominent British Iron Age scholar (Professor Niall Sharples from Cardiff University) has previously suggested that across Atlantic Scotland a pattern can be observed in which, around the time of the end of the brochs, when monumental domestic architecture is on the wane, there is a very substantial rise in the volume of items that reflect the presentation of the individual through personal adornment. This phenomenon seems to be reflected at The Cairns also.

Jewellery as social currency: Feasting, and gift-giving?
At the end of the bronze-casting event a fairly thick, very rich animal bone midden was laid down in the vicinity and slightly overlying the metalworking area. The close relationship between the metalworking and the animal bone is shown by the presence of a few of the crucibles and mould fragments amongst the midden also. What’s in this midden?

Well lots of domesticated animals, including cattle, sheep and pig, especially large cattle long bones. In addition, there were other mammal bones such as red deer, otter, and even a small quantity of horse. The midden also contained carbonised soils, ash and broken fragments of pottery. Many fire-cracked beach cobbles were also excavated, and these represent the exploded remains of ‘pot-boilers’, heated cobbles that were immersed in vessels to heat up water and cook some of the food. It seems that the people gathered at our feast were consuming beef on the bone, boiled pork, and roasted mutton and venison, some of which may have been washed down by beverages drunk from many pottery vessels.

The close stratigraphic association between the fine metalworking and the feasting raises the question of what exactly was going on here. One possibility that I like very much is that the feasting could be the spectacular social event at which the products of the jewellery-making were handed out, or gifted, to their intended recipients by those who had sponsored the metalworking in the first place. We may therefore be peering into the social circumstances of the jewellery-making and the distribution of its products amongst the community at The Cairns. If this is so, then it is a fascinating insight into the moment at which objects like the pins, brooches and rings started off on their biographies, their journey through people’s lives.

This is a very rare opportunity to see more clearly the initial nature of the social and political significance of these objects from their start-point. It would mean that the sharing or gifting of the jewellery was surrounded in the circumstances of a big social occasion, a massive party, if you like. We are seeing their birth and the important role they played in the power-play and social strategies of Iron Age groups and individuals. With the circumstances of the jewellery-making we are able, for once, to investigate the intended status and significance of these items within the context of their birth, rather than depending on the information we usually get, which is based on the discovery of these objects much later in their lives, in fact at the end of their lives, when they went in the ground, perhaps many decades, or more, after they were originally made and worn. Most theories about the brooches and pins and their role in society have been based on what we glean from them in this end-state, but the assemblage of metalworking evidence from The Cairns; the moulds, crucibles, and other items, together with the massive remains of the feasting allows us to grasp what was going on at the point in time when these jewellery items were instigated.

Jewellery, Society and the wider Northern Scottish Iron Age
It is highly intriguing that the birth of these prestigious pieces of jewellery appears to have been accompanied by communal, outdoor feasting and judging by the volume of animal bone it involved a large part, if not all, of the community. In the absence of the big spacious monumental buildings, such as the brochs, which may have previously served to gather large numbers of people under one roof at important times in the life of the community, we can ponder whether feasting events like this were the new arena for expressing the identity and solidarity of the community.

If we now recall Professor Sharples’ aforementioned thesis that the changes at the end of the Middle Iron Age to late Iron Age involved a major transformation of the way people expressed their social identity, from the communal to the individual then this evidence for big community feasting in the early part of the Later Iron Age is very interesting. Perhaps this serves to somewhat modify that concept, because in the post-broch era at The Cairns, for one, the community appears to have retained ways of expressing their greater collective identity. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that everyone was singled-out and gifted one of the pieces of fine jewellery that were produced.

At one level, perhaps, everyone in the community was involved in the feasting, but only some were ennobled by receiving a pin; a ring, or a brooch. So it may well be that we are looking at the strategies for creating and maintaining the concept of the entire community at the same time as signalling social difference, and hierarchy within the community of this post-broch period. If so, the excavations are really coming up trumps in terms of allowing us to peer into the social circumstances of Iron Age communities.

New dates for Structure B1: Have we found the elite sponsors of the metalworking?
The period of the jewellery-making is after the end of the broch and we were previously unclear which buildings amongst the many post-broch structures were occupied at the time of the bronze-working. The new dates also allow us to pin-point whereabouts on site, at least some of, the community were living at the time the jewellery-making was taking place. Armed with the new radiocarbon dates, it turns out, that one of the large rectangular post-broch buildings (perhaps a Wag-like building of the type found in Caithness and at The Howe in Orkney) known to us as Structure B1, located about 30 metres to the south-west of the jewellery-making area was first constructed and occupied between the Mid-3rd to 4th Centuries AD, and therefore at the same time as the metalworking.

The big formal hearth in Structure B under excavation- a high status bui...
The large formal hearth in Structure B under excavation

Structure B1 lies directly over the reduced and in-filled remains of the broch. One of the most remarkable aspects of this building is its very large, formal and complex central hearth, which was over 3 metres in length in its fully developed form. This hearth and the central location of the building directly juxtaposed with the remains of the abandoned broch almost co-opting its former position and grandeur have always made us wonder if it was one of the key buildings in the immediate post-broch period at The Cairns, quite possibly the highest status building on site at that time, and may be the successor to the central broch in socio-political terms.

It is intriguing therefore to now know unambiguously that Structure B1 was contemporary with whoever was managing the wealth required to sponsor the lavish jewellery-making on site. Pushing this further, it is tempting to speculate that it was the important and powerful household resident in Structure B1 who instigated and organised the production of the jewellery, and the feasting, with all the capacity that those remarkable objects and events had for the creation and maintenance of the post-broch Iron Age community at The Cairns.”

Martin Carruthers, Site Director at The Cairns and Programme Leader for MSc Archaeological Practice, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.


Martin would like to thank Professor Dave Barclay, Forensic Consultant, and Professor Emeritus, Robert Gordon University Aberdeen for the very kind and helpful donation, which made it possible to fund the most recent radiocarbon dates discussed in this piece.

If you would like to explore the possibility of studying and contributing to the research undertaken at the UHI Archaeology Institute at undergraduate or postgraduate level then please either e-mail us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or see our website.