The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute invites you to be an archaeologist for a day.
Join the team uncovering the story of this exciting site at our Open Day at Skaill Farm on the island of Rousay, Orkney.
The site is open from 10am to 4pm on both days, so come across to the island of Rousay and make a day of it…bring the children and they can join in too, finding out about our Viking and more recent past. There are tours and displays for those who don’t want to join the team in the trenches.
The site is located next to the beach and the Midhowe Broch and is also an ideal place for a picnic.
The ferry departs from Tingwall regularly throughout the day. The timetable can be viewed here.
We look forward to seeing you there. See the interactive map below for location of Skaill Farm.
The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have been working at Skaill since 2015 exploring the Viking, Norse and post-medieval archaeology on the Westness Estate, Rousay and this year the dig recommences on Monday 9th July.
The name Skaill suggests that the site under investigation was home to a Norse hall or drinking hall and was perhaps a high status settlement during this period.
Westness was mentioned in the Orkneyinga saga as the home of the powerful Earl Sigurd. The present farm dates from the 18th and 19th Centuries and was caught up in the story of the Rousay clearances.
Located near to Midhowe Broch, the Site Directors, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dr Jen Mainland and Dan Lee, welcome visitors to the excavation which aims to explore the remarkable deep time represented along the shoreline. There is no need to book and the site is child friendly…so bring along the family to explore the past at this most historic of locations.
The site is open to the public from 9th – 22nd July 2018 (note, the team will not be on-site 14-17 July) ,the site opens at 9.30am each morning and closes at around 4.30pm. Access to the site involves a walk down a steep hill from the car park for Mid Howe Broch and left (south) along the shoreline (15 min walk). The ground is uneven and the path is a little overgrown in places. Archaeologists will be working on site during the week. The Open Day will be on the final weekend 21st-22nd July.
If we can ask that you do not access from Westness Farm. The location of the site can be found on our interactive map….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Work 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.
The 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.
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.
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.