A Summer of Archaeology in Rousay

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Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Land and Sea: Exploring Island Heritage, Past and Present.

Dan Lee, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dr Jen Harland and Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute together with a team of local volunteers and school children embarked on a programme of archaeology in Rousay, Orkney over the summer 2017.

Rousay’s Summer of Archaeology culminated in a host of activities along the west shore during July. Excavations were carried out at the coastally eroding site at Swandro (by a team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute & University of Bradford) and at Skaill farmstead.

Together, the work at these sites aims to explore the remarkable deep time represented along the west shore; from the Neolithic, Iron Age, Pictish, Viking and Norse periods to the 19th century clearances. Work at these sites framed a series of community activities and workshops including test pit excavation at Skaill, training placements for Rousay residents, metalworking workshop, bones and environmental workshop, experimental archaeology, and open days at the two excavations. Over the month, the sites received hundreds of visitors, from Rousay and all over the world.

Chrissie and her test pit containing Norse midden

Excavations at Skaill farmstead were undertaken within the middle two weeks of July. The results of the geophysical survey in 2015 showed potential earlier features below the present 18/19th century farmstead. Subsequent test pits in 2016 identified several earlier structural phases below the farmhouse, including a wall with two outer stone faces and midden core, which is likely to date to the Norse period. The site represents a small ‘farm mound’ where successive phases of building, levelling and rebuilding give rise to a low mound.

The aim this season was to establish the extent and character of the farm mound, and the depth, quality and date of any deposits and structures in order to better understand the site for more detailed investigation. A line of 1m by 1m test pits at 10m intervals were excavated in two transects across the mound. The natural underlying glacial till was located at the northern, western and southern edges of the mound helping us to define the extent of surviving archaeology.

Ornate moulded red sandstone

In the centre of the mound, deep stratified deposits were found. These are likely to be over 2m in depth. Post-medieval deposits were found to overlay a distinctive Norse horizon. Norse pottery, fish bone, shell midden and elaborate red sandstone mouldings were found in the earlier horizons. The moulded red sandstone is significant, indicating high status buildings in the area during the late medieval period, and may help provide insights into the ornate red sandstone fragments nearby at The Wirk and on Eynhallow. Evidence for metal working, in the form of iron slag, has also been recovered from Skaill. Significant assemblages of animal bone, fish bone and pottery from the 17-19th centuries were also recovered. These will help us understand farming and fishing practices during the last few hundred years.

Planning the remains of the barn in Trench 2

To the north of the farmhouse, a small trench across a former 19th century barn was reopened and extended, showing the external wall footings and internal flagged floor. The building was demolished between 1840 and 1882 during a time when the farmstead was cleared and ceased to operate. In addition, a small evaluation trench across a suspected field boundary to the south of the barn was reopened from last season and completed. This contained a stone-lined drain and midden enhanced soil, indicating that earlier buried structures could be widespread at the site. Indeed, all of the earthworks that fell within one of the test pits contained structural remains such as walls.

Visitors!

Over the two weeks, Skaill received nearly 150 visitors, with 70 visitors over the test pit weekend. Several local children helping dig the test pits. Overall the season was a great success; helping raise the profile of the island, opening up the site to so many folk and increasing our understanding of the Skaill and Westness story.

The project has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant and additional funding form the OIC Archaeology Fund.

        

 

Swandro and the Roman Coin

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The small roundhouse from Swandro where the coin was found.

The race against the tide at the Swandro excavation on the island of Rousay, Orkney is gathering pace this week and the teams efforts have been rewarded by some quite amazing finds.

The sea has battered the Swandro site, on Rousay, over the winter and the lower (seaward) parts of the site have sustained more damage. This can be seen in the stones forming the lower course of the chambered cairn.

Here these stones appear to have been smoothed and the material retained by them sucked out by the force of the sea. Despite this, the archaeology further up the sea cut terraces have survived more intact although there has still been some signs of physical damage.The buildings here have provided some exciting results. A circular structure forming what appears to be a small roundhouse has provided an exciting find: a copper alloy Roman coin.

Dr Steve Dockrill (the co-director of the project with Dr Julie Bond) commented, ” The bust on the coin is clearly visible although much of the lettering isn’t at present clear. The reverse contains a standing figure, possibly representing the emperor with waht might be an image of Victory at the side. This type of coin is similar to issues dating to the mid 4th Century AD.”

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The probable 4th Century coin ‘as found’. Specialist conservation may provide greater detail

Further excitement occurred in a later Pictish building where the excavation of a cellular building containing evidence for both iron working and copper alloy casting. The excavation team has been aided by the UK’s leading archaeo-metallurgist, Dr Gerry McDonnell who has expertise in examing debris from archaeological metal working residues.

Steve added, ” Gerry has examined much of the material from Orkney and Shetland over the years and that he has been extremely excited by the findings from last year and the work that he has carried out on the floor layers this last week.” The most recent piece of evidence being that of a fired clay tuyere, this is the clay used to hold the bellows in the furnace.

Dr Gerry McDonnell and Rose
Dr Gerry McDonnell explains the working of the fired clay tuyere to Swandro’s finds assistant Rose.

The Swandro – Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust is a SCIO (Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, registered number: SC047702) set up by the excavation team and supporters of the Swandro excavation and environs,  and is managed by a board of unpaid charity trustees.

The Trust aims to respond to the finite resource of Orkney’s coastal heritage that is being destroyed by the sea. Due to global warming, the effects of climate change and melting polar ice is promoting higher sea levels and changing weather systems, which is exacerbating an existing problem. The coastline of Westness on the Island of Rousay has a particular series of vulnerable sites.  The Knowe of Swandro, Rousay forms the immediate focus for the Trust due to the  a devastating effect of coastal erosion on the archaeology at the Knowe of Swandro.

Our charitable aims are to advance education, heritage and culture for people of all ages, backgrounds and levels of capability from anywhere in the world through the pursuit of archaeological activities, in the widest possible ways, at Swandro and its environs by:

  • encouraging and providing opportunities to learn about the heritage and archaeology of Swandro and its environs;
  • encouraging and providing opportunities to become involved in archaeological activities at Swandro and its environs;
  • offering a range of activities, including without limitation: public lectures; exhibitions; tours; visits; summer schools and work experience opportunities and public participation, in a volunteer capacity, in the widest possible range of archaeological techniques and tasks, all in pursuit of the widest possible understanding of, interest in and development of the archaeological work at Swandro and its environs;
  • facilitating the publication of the results of and the maintenance of the records of archaeological activities carried out in relation to Swandro and its environs;
  • facilitating the promotion of the preservation of and public display of the collections of archaeological artefacts and ecofacts, obtained from Swandro and its environs;
  • working with other organisations and individuals, including schools and universities, to further the aims of the organisation;
  • serving Swandro and its environs by an active involvement in its future excavation and presentation.

See their website for more details.

 

Project Update: Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre, Land and Sea

20170613_164533_LRWork at Skaill farmstead, Westness, Rousay, got underway last week with some building survey, walkover survey and a workshop with the Rousay Community School.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute were joined by the Historic Environment Scotland (HES) survey team to record the remains of the buildings at Skaill farmstead and The Wirk (Norse tower). This is the first phase of the Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Land and Sea: Exploring Island Heritage, Past and Present project – a summer of activities and reaearch.

20170613_162201_LRThe HES team produced accurate scaled drawings of the buildings (plans and sections) using a plane table and alidade – a basic but very effective survey method which results in highly accurate scale drawings. At Skaill farmstead, these included features such as the fireplaces, doorways, blocking, alcoves and shelves allowing the different phases of construction to be identified. The house was extended four times to the north as the farm expanded during the 18th and 19th centuries. In the barn, the beautiful corn drying kiln was recorded along with a flue, a grain store, winnowing doors and vents. A dairy was identified at the northern end of the house.

Walkover survey was started around the farmstead with the help of volunteers. Features such as the stone walled enclosures, and earthworks such as banks and terraces were recorded. These sites were mapped with a handheld GPS and help to place the farm buildings into a wider context. An earlier phase of enclosure, perhaps and early hill dyke, was walked on the steep slope above the road.

Ten pupils from the Rousay Community School had a day of activities during the week. This started with a class-based workshop about what archaeologists do, how we know where to look, what we find and what this can tell us. They looked at finds and thought about what you might expect to find below the ground, especially in a farm mound such as that at Skaill, and above the ground in terms of built heritage.

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The class then visited Skaill farmstead and after a picnic lunch found out about building recording and photography from the HES team. Pupils traced from the geophysics plot of the farm and we looked at what we could see on the ground. They finished by drawing their own plans of the farm buildings. The weather was kind and a good day was had by all.

We look forward to starting the excavations at Skaill and Swandro next month!

The project has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant and additional funding from the Orkney Islands Council Archaeology Fund.

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Dates for the diary:

  • 10-23 July: Excavations at Skaill farm. Test pit weekend/open days 22-23 July. Volunteers and visitors welcome.
  • 3-28 July: Excavations at Swandro coastally eroding site. details available soon.

Volunteers welcome! Please get in touch if you want to take part in the fieldwork at Skaill.

Contact The Archaeology Institute for details on how to take part: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk tel: 01856 569225


 

Community Archaeology and Open Day in Rousay

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The first phase of the community archaeology project – Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Land and Sea: Exploring Island Heritage, Past and Present – will be commencing on the 13th June and continuing until 16th June 2017.

This phase of the project includes archaeological building recording by the Historic Environment Scotland survey team and walkover survey with the UHI Archaeology Institute at Skaill farmstead, Westness, Rousay, on the shores of  Eynhallow Sound. The built remains of the 18th-centry farmstead will be recorded.

IMG_0992Come and join the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Historic Environment Scotland team to survey the intriguing remains at Skaill farmstead.

There are still two places available for anyone who is interested in buildings archaeology and would like to take part in the survey on  14th and 16th June. Volunteers don’t need any experience of archaeology as training in basic survey techniques will be provided.  Contact Dan Lee at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk to book a place.

The project will continue on 15th June with the team holding a workshop at Rousay School in the morning and a site visit in the afternoon.

The full programme culminates at Skaill farmstead in an open afternoon on Friday 16th June where visitors will be invited to meet the team, see the results of the work and try some practical activities. All welcome!

This is the first event in a series of community archaeology events on Rousay this summer. Watch out for excavations at Skaill 10-23 July.

   

 

New Project on Rousay, Egilsay & Wyre Awarded Funding

20160705_120034(0)Stories, Stones and Bones: Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Land and Sea – Exploring Island Heritage, Past and Present.

Rousay Heritage Trust celebrates £7800.00 Heritage Lottery Fund grant as part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017

Rousay Heritage Trust has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant. This exciting project, Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Land and Sea – Exploring Island Heritage, Past and Present, in Rousay, Orkney,  led by the Rousay Heritage Trust in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute and the University of Bradford, has been given £7800.00 to run a programme of archaeology themed events during 2017.

20160707_152631These are to be centred around the archaeological excavations at Swandro and Skaill, on the western coast of Rousay, and on the Viking and Norse periods. This project is part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

The project will provide a programme of hands-on and memorable experiences for a range of ages within the island community will complement the wider St Magnus 900 year commemorations and will focus more fully on the archaeology and history of Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre in the Viking / Norse period.

Project events include a Viking themed boat flotilla with guided trips around Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre looking at the Viking and Norse sites and their history. Members of the community can learn skills in archaeology during test pit excavations at Skaill, surveying a Viking house at Swandro, experimental archaeology workshops and more. These activities link in with the ongoing archaeological investigations by the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the University of Bradford researching long-term change along the Westness coast. The project culminates in the production of a new free booklet for all Rousay, Egilsay & Wyre residents containing useful information about the islands, their heritage and archaeology and the results from the summer’s activities.

Poster Building Recording.ai

Commenting on the award, Bryan Milner (Chair of Rousay Heritage Trust) said: “ We are662_B1_022 delighted that our Summer of Arts and Sport in recent years are now to be followed by a Summer of History.  This is especially appropriate because not only are Rousay, Egilsay & Wyre rich in archaeological sites but also because Egilsay is where Magnus was martyred 900 years ago”.

Dan Lee (Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist, UHI Archaeology Institute) added: “we are thrilled to be part of such wide-ranging and exciting events centred upon the remarkable archaeology of Rousay, Egilsay & Wyre in the St Magnus 900th commemorative year”.

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The abandoned kirk at Skaill, Rousay

Rousay Heritage Trust is a charity with the main objectives of the advancement of the education of the public in the history, culture, natural history and any other features of life in the island of Rousay, Orkney and the preservation for the public benefit of the historical, cultural and natural heritage of Rousay and of its sister  islands, Egilsay and Wyre. Contact: Helen Castle helen@rewdt.org 01856 821229

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.  www.hlf.org.uk  Follow us on Facebook Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland and twitter @HLFScotland. Use the hashtags #HLFScotland and #HHA2017 to be part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

Coastal Erosion and Heritage in Orkney- New Trust Launched

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Whenever the weather forecast is on the TV, my eyes always drift to the top of the map. This, I suppose, is natural as I live with my family in Orkney and the weather decides how we live our life that day.

The forecast for the end of this week (w/e 13th January 2017) looks interesting – a severe weather warning involving high winds and snow showers.

However, the combined power of the wind, rain and the action of the sea is also more than a way of life in Orkney, it is affecting the very existence of many heritage sites in the archipelago. It is well known that Orkney possesses amazing world-class sites, but the area has also been identified as an area that experiences some of the worst coastal erosion issues in Scotland.

Coastal erosion combined with climate change is, of course, an international issue and it is heartening to see that Historic Environment Scotland has recognised the problem as recently reported by BBC News.

archaeology-on-the-edgeIn the light of the issue, the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute in partnership with staff from the University of Bradford, The City University of New York, The William Paterson University of New Jersey, Orkney Islands Council and REW Development Trust have created the Swandro-Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust. The trust is aimed at providing resources for the continued work at Swandro-a priority archaeological site that is in imminent danger of destruction from coastal erosion.

 

Click through to the Swandro-Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust website and blog for more details.

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Finding the Vikings-Skaill Dig Update

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The international dig on Rousay is now beginning to uncover finds. Test pits have been opened around the 18th Century farmstead at Skaill to investigate the underlying Viking farm.

Test Pit 1: This is in effect an extended trench from last year. A double skinned wall of Norse date has been discovered together with deposits of pottery, steatite and large cod fish bones. It would appear that this wall had been dismantled and overlain by two additional phases of wall, on which the current surviving farmstead was built.

Test Pit 2: This pit unearthed the external wall and inetrnal floor of a dismantled farmhouse with a corn drying kiln. This is depicted on an old estate plan and now survives as an earthwork.

Test Pit 3: This pit exposed the top of a stony bank that is likely to be Norse in age.

Test Pit 4: This pit was located to the west of the double skinned wall of pit 1. Vitrified fuel ash, fish bone and possible structural remains emerged in this pit.

The main trenches have been left open for visitors to examine.

The Kids Archaeology Summer Club day last Thursday was very successful with 16 children helping with the digging, drawing,finds washing and interpretation of the artefacts.

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The Kids Archaeology Summer club is continuing Thursday 14th July and Thursday 21st July. All are welcome and it is FREE to join in.

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