Final Week Starts at Swartigill Dig

Aerial 3
The site in it’s landscape

Rick Barton, Project Officer for Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) writes about the latest developments at Swartigill….

We are into the last week of the excavations at the Burn of Swartigill in Caithness, and we have achieved all our key objectives for this season.

We now know that the structures that were originally seen in the erosion of the burn edge pre-date the construction of the passage structure. The deposits overlaying the walls of these earlier structure have been cut into to accommodate the northern revetment wall of the passage. This is important chronological information about the development of the buildings, and ties in with our understanding of the chronology of the site from the C14 dates.

We have also, mostly, defined the extent of the main structure in the trench, which appears to be a sub-oval shape, rather than round or rectangular, with an entrance on the east side. This slightly squashed aspect could be due to the fact that this structure is respecting existing features and buildings around it, using the space that’s available.

DCIM102MEDIADJI_0443.JPG
Aerial shot of the trench. Photo: Bobby Friel

The passageway on the north side of the main structure follows the curving alignment of the wall around to the east, and seems to be dropping down in elevation as it goes. Did I hear someone say Souterrain? Well, it’s a possibility, but there is still work to be done here to fully define this feature, as it continues out of our current excavation area to the east.

There are tantalising glimpses of some well-preserved patches of occupation deposits within the main structure. Protected and preserved under a layer of peaty soil, bright red areas of ashy deposit and very compacted surfaces with lots of charcoal are beginning to show through. We will be taking some samples from small amounts of these deposits this year, to further examine their potential in post-excavation. We will hopefully get some datable material from them too.

Aerial 4
A view of the sunken passage on the north side of the trench

This year we extended the trench to the south to investigate a second geophysical anomaly on the earth resistance survey, and it’s looking more and more likely that we have second large structure on the site. We have seen some interesting upright set stone in this area, which look like they have been incorporated into an interior wall face. We are also starting to see a curving alignment of rubble to the south of this, which could be overlaying a structural wall in this direction.

Thanks to the P7-9 classes from Watten and Thrumster primary schools for their hard work helping to uncover this tantalising addition to the site on Monday.

SB18SF34a
The beautiful polished shale bangle from the sub-oval house

We have only a few days left of this season, Friday the 7th is our last day on site. There is still plenty to do, so if you would like to get involved, come along and see us.

Year of Young People – Summer Events in Orkney

DSC_0117
Workshop at Skaill Farm Open Day 2017

Each year we receive requests from young people around the world to volunteer at our summer archaeology digs in addition to the many students who work with us.

Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning & Outreach Archaeologist The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, has been working with the Orkney Community Learning and Development team to formulate an exciting archaeology programme tailored to these young people.

The calendar of events forms part of the Year of Young People programme, aimed at inspiring Scotland through its young people – celebrating their achievements and valuing their contribution to communities, and creating new opportunities for them to shine locally, nationally and globally.

Opening The Cairns 2017
The Cairns Excavation, Windwick, South Ronaldsay, Orkney

We now have the largest number of young people volunteering at our excavations than at any time in the last ten years – whether as students from the University of the Highlands and Islands, other national and international universities, voluntary organisations, pupils from local schools or young people interested in archaeology living in Orkney and further afield.

  • 18th June – 13th July. The Cairns Excavations, Windwick, South Ronaldsay
  • 4th July – 22nd August. The Ness of Brodgar, Stenness
  • 6th July.  The Cairns Open Day
  • 7th July – 4th August. Cata Sand Excavations, Tresness and Loth Road, Sanday
  • 9th July – 22nd July. Skaill Farmstead Excavations, Westness, Rousay
  • 15th July. Ness of Brodgar Open Day
  • 21st & 22nd July. Skaill Farmstead Open Weekend, Westness, Rousay
  • 24th & 31st July. Ness of Brodgar. Digging Up The Past workshops. Booking if required for this event. Book here.
  • 7th & 14th August. Ness of Brodgar Digging Up The Past workshops. . Booking if required for this event. Book here.
  • 19th August. Ness of Brodgar Open Day

The full Orkney calendar of events is available here….

If you wish to attend any events as a young (or not so young) person then drop us a line at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

YOYPsupporting_Logo_RGB

Celebrating Young People in Archaeology – Work Placement at UHI Archaeology Institute

DSC_0125
Travis working in the lab

Celebrating the contribution young people make to Archaeology during the Year of Young People

At the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute we are developing ways to provide young people with an opportunity to experience archaeology in a workplace environment.

Travis, a 16 year old S5 pupil at Kirkwall Grammar School in Orkney, is currently undertaking a work placement with us. Each week Travis works with our team at the Institute learning new skills and gaining vocational training. The emphasis is on understanding some of the processes of archaeological work, from the field to the archive.

He has the opportunity to develop skills in a wide variety of areas including finds washing, wet sieving, archiving, photography, excavation, field walking and digital archaeology. In fact as part of the archaeology team, Travis is contributing to the archaeological research taking place in the Institute and is gaining a whole range of experience that will help him develop his career path.

Mapping Magnus 1
Travis holding the piece of Medieval pottery he unearthed at the Mapping Magnus dig at Palace Village, Birsay, Orkney

Travis continues, ” I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and when the UHI came into the school and we helped in the archaeology at the RBS Bank (part of the Kirkwall THI project), I thought that this was something that I was interested in. So I e-mailed Dan Lee and he offered a work placement at the University. I was involved in the Mapping Magnus dig in 2017 where I joined the excavation team and found a piece of pottery. That was exciting and despite the weather I really enjoyed it. I have been asked if I would like to help at the Ness of Brodgar in the summer and I am really looking forward to that.”

Mapping Magnus 2
A close-up of the medieval pottery discovered by Travis at the Mapping Magnus dig

Travis went on to say that he would like to continue to study archaeology and ideally continue to work in Orkney on some of the incredible sites located on the islands.

Travis is using a BAJR Archaeology Skills Passport to document his progress and log his training. The passport has been designed by British Archaeological Jobs and Resources to help students and volunteers document the main skills that they need to gain employment as a professional archaeologist. All of our students are issued with a BAJR passport to record their practical training. They can be obtained from the skills passport website.


You can study our courses from any one of the colleges in the UHI network and that you can also study MLitt Archaeological Studies from anywhere in the world.

If you would like to chat with us and explore your options at the UHI Archaeology Institute then contact Mary on 01856 569225, e-mail us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk.  or see our website.

YOYPsupporting_Logo_RGB

Digging up the Past 2018 – Archaeology Workshops for Young People @ Ness of Brodgar

DSC_0119

Thanks to everyone who registered for these courses. I’m sorry but all the courses are now fully booked for this year. 

Throughout the summer, if you are aged between 12 and 16, you could be part of the dig team for one morning at the world famous Ness of Brodgar archaeology dig.

The dates are as follows:

  • 24th July 2018
  • 31st July 2018
  • 7th August 2018
  • 14th August 2018

Each session starts at 9.30am and ends at 12.30pm.

You will be involved in workshops on archaeological techniques and finds….. and you will have the opportunity to dig at the world renowned Ness of Brodgar dig. This is your chance to get hands on and learn some new stuff about archaeology!

 

We advise that you wear stout boots, warm clothes, bring a water bottle or drink and waterproofs – just in case there is a passing rain shower. Lunch is not provided, so bring along a snack too. All sessions will be under the supervision of Historic Environment Scotland rangers and archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

There is no charge for the sessions.

These ‘Digging up the Past’ sessions are very popular so booking is essential. If you want to take part then please contact the rangers on 01856 841732 or e-mail orkneyrangers@hes.scot

YOYPsupporting_Logo_RGB

 

 

Mapping Magnus: Summing up the Palace Village Excavations

726_B4_006

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.

726_B4_052

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.

20170928_110141

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.

20171004_094818

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.

20171003_140156

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.

20171003_115520

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.

726_B4_015

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

DSC_7129

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.

20170725_111511

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.”

20170725_143412

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 


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

Mapping Magnus 1a

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.

Mapping Magnus 2a

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.

Mapping Magnus 3a

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.

Mapping Magnus 7a

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.

Mapping Magnus 5a

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.