From Lincolnshire to Orkney – TJ’s journey into archaeology

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TJ and Leo, her companion dog, working in the lab

Terri-Jane (TJ to everyone) is an archaeology student with the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. She starts the ‘Archaeology and Local Studies’ Course in January 2018.

TJ’s story is a success story and demonstrates that there is more than one route into archaeology. Having found her passion for the subject, TJ wanted to share her journey, and takes up the story from here ….

“As a child I wanted to become an archaeologist, but I was not encouraged to follow this route. I am dyslexic and in those days there was not the support in place to follow a university career that there is now. So I kept my interest alive by visiting our local museum, travelling to lectures and watching programmes on television.”

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TJ at the Mapping Magnus Community dig in Palace Village

“I became wheelchair dependent in 2013 and I thought that was the end of my idea of studying archaeology. But in 2016 I moved to Orkney and started an art class at Orkney College UHI and there I met Sorcha….the Highlands and Islands Students Association (HISA) Regional Vice President. Sorcha is an archaeology student, and we talked about my interest in the subject and how I wanted to be involved, but didn’t know how. Following a few more conversations, I was in the Archaeology Institute at Orkney College – talking to staff about volunteering, enrolling on the Archaeology and Local Studies course and accessing all areas! Everyone was so enthusiastic and ,Wow, the next thing I knew I was invited to the Mapping Magnus community dig at Birsay.”

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The Mapping Magnus community dig, Palace Village, Orkney

“Kath, one of the second year archaeology students, picked me up in her car and off we went to the Mapping Magnus dig at Palace Village, Birsay. I was so excited, but also a little bit nervous. I was about to take part in a real dig, researching the location of a medieval palace!

It was a beautiful sunny day and as we arrived at the dig Kath took me to the site over boards laid down for my wheelchair. Almost immediately I was at work with a trowel and sieving soil samples coming out of the dig. I was working at an archaeological dig!”

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Mapping Magnus Community Dig

“I was so excited to be taking part and within a few minutes I came across my first finds; a medieval fish bone, three animal bones and a collection of limpet shells. The team were so friendly and supported me through the whole process and, perhaps more importantly, I was treated like everyone else. My disability was not a hindrance.

I am now actively involved in the Archaeology Institute’s volunteer programme, volunteering for everything I can at the college in Kirkwall. Only last week I was in the lab washing bones from The Cairns broch and then cataloguing finds from the Orkney World Heritage Site field walking project. There is no stopping me now!”

TJ has signed up for the Archaeology and Local Studies course and starts in January and is on the volunteer list to take part in future community archaeology projects.


The Archaeology and Local Studies distance learning course is designed for people who are interested in learning more about the archaeology of the north of Scotland – from the mesolithic to the medieval and including the study of such incredible structures as brochs.

The course involves 2 hours a week taught classes for 10 weeks. Applicants for the course do not need experience of archaeology and the course can be studied as a standalone course worth 20 credits or used as an access course for studying at university level. As such it is a good opportunity to see if archaeology is for you and learn about the subject.

You can study our courses from any one of the colleges in the UHI network and that you can 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.

 

 

Archaeology Evening Class 2018 – Introduction to Archaeology

DSCN0333The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are now enrolling students for the ‘Introduction to Archaeology’ Evening Class to be held at Orkney College, Kirkwall, Orkney in February 2018.

  • Venue: Orkney College, University of the Highlands and Islands, East Road, Kirkwall.
  • Course length: 10 weeks (2 hour sessions)
  • Commences: 21 February 2018
  • Time: 7-9pm on Wednesday evenings at Orkney College (fieldtrips 6-8pm). The archive session is on a Thursday 5-7pm to make use of late opening at Orkney Library & Archive.
  • Course fee: £100

This new course, taught by leading practitioners and lecturers at the UHI Archaeology Institute, introduces the basic theory, methods and practice used in Archaeology.

Key areas covered include an introductory overview, basic research, chronology, environmental archaeology, landscape archaeology, finds, geophysics and excavation.

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The aim is to provide an over-view of archaeology and archaeological practice for general knowledge and volunteering. The classes are workshop-based, hands-on and thematic, delivered in a relaxed and friendly environment.

Class details:

  • 21 February: Introduction to Archaeology (Martin Carruthers)
  • 28 February: Animal bones (Dr Ingrid Mainland)
  • 8 March: Archives and archive research. Meet at Orkney Library & Archive, Archives room. (Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon) (5-7pm)
  • 14 March: Landscape archaeology, geophysics & aerial photographs (Dr James Moore & Amanda Brend)
  • 21 March: Research: Orkney Sites and Monuments Record Office and National Monument Record of Scotland (Julie Gibson & Dan Lee)
  • 28 March: Environmental Archaeology (Dr Scott Timpany)

EASTER HOLIDAY – no classes (college holidays 2 – 13 April inclusive)

  • 18 April: Digital Heritage (Dr Jen Harland & Crane Begg)
  • 25 April: Artefacts and drawing (Martin Carruthers & Crane Begg)
  • 2 May: Fieldtrip 1 (Landscape and Orkney World Heritage Site) (6-8pm)
  • 9 May: Fieldtrip 2 (Buildings & wartime) (6-8pm)

The timetable may be subject to change.

This course is not networked or available online as it is workshop based. 


If you are interested in attending please contact Tina Brown Tina.Brown@uhi.ac.uk or Telephone Tina directly on 01856 569206 or through the Orkney College switchboard on 01856 569000.

3 Day Archaeology Short Course – The Cairns, Orkney, Summer 2018

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is pleased to announce that the popular hands-on field-based short course is being offered once again during the summer of 2018.

Located at one of Orkney’s leading excavations, The Cairns broch, this three day short course aims to provide participants with basic training and understanding of the practices and processes in Field Archaeology.

  • Date: 20-22 June 2018 (3 full days 9:30 – 16:30)
  • Venue: The Cairns Broch excavations, South Ronaldsay, Orkney
  • Cost: £200.00 per person
  • Booking: contact Mary Connolly at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

Training will cover:

  • excavation techniques
  • finds identification
  • the principles of stratigraphy
  • basic site survey and archaeological recording (drawn, written and photographic record).

Participants will be trained by professional archaeologists from the UHI Archaeology Institute and will form part of the large team at the excavation site. If you read this blog,  then you will know that The Cairns is a friendly dig situated in a breath-taking location overlooking the sea.

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The course aims to equip participants with the skills and confidence to engage with other archaeological field projects or lead onto further studies in the discipline.

We recommend that you bring steel toe boots/wellies, full waterproofs, packed lunch and flask. Toilet facilities are provided. Participants are to meet at the excavation site each day at 9:00. Accommodation, travel and lunch are not included. See the Visit Orkney website to book accommodation.

Places are limited (12 max.) so book now!


For more information about the UHI Archaeology Institute visit our website and blog.

The Ness of Brodgar- Summer 2017

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The plans for the Ness of Brodgar dig season 2018 are well under way, and with the end of the year in sight, perhaps it is time to catch up with some of the highlights of the 2017 season. 

Hints at links between the Ness of Brodgar and the Stonehenge area were unearthed this summer, during a record-breaking season at the Stenness site. Over the eight-week excavation, around 21,500 visitors made their way to the Ness, where a team of international diggers were hard at work on the Stone Age complex. At the helm, as usual, was site director Nick Card, of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

Once again, the Ness lived up to its reputation of throwing up lots of new questions, but also some magnificent finds. Of particular interest this year were the two items that suggest contact between Orkney and the Stonehenge area. The first of these was a fragment of pot recovered from a trench extension over Structure Twenty-Six. This came as something of a surprise as the decoration on the sherd was very reminiscent of pottery from Durrington Walls . That said, there were also distinctly Orcadian features, which led us to wonder whether the original vessel blended decorative elements from these two world-renowned sites – but which were hundreds of miles apart.

Fragments of the 'incense' cup - only 4 others of this style are known - all from the Stonehenge-Wessex region
Fragments of the ‘Incense ‘ cup – only 4 others of this style are known – all from the Stonehenge-Wessex Region

Parallels between the Orkney and Wessex sites have been noted before — particularly when Mike Parker Pearson, who excavated at Durrington Walls, visited the Ness in 2010 and 2014 — but a second discovery in Structure Twenty-Six brought these back into the spotlight.

On the surface, it didn’t seem very significant but, thankfully, Claire Copper, who had just finished a research project on these artefacts, immediately recognised it for what it was — a beautiful little ‘incense cup’. After much checking, we were delighted when it was confirmed the cup was what we thought it was. There are only four other examples of this particular type of ‘cup’ in the UK and they all hail from the Stonehenge area.

These tiny artefacts are often highly decorated and mostly found in Early Bronze Age contexts — often associated with burials. Their use has been the subject of debate over the years. It has been suggested that they were used to carry embers to a funeral pyre, or perhaps for the burning of incense during burial ceremonies.

Tracing the walls

Elsewhere on site, it seems likely that the “Great Wall of Brodgar” was one of the first constructions on site. The four-metre-thick wall was unearthed in 2007. Shortly afterwards, the discovery of a second wall — to the south-east of the site — prompted the theory that the complex was completely enclosed.

Trench J in 2008 - red shows GWB and yellow, Structure 5
Trench J in 2008 – red shows Great Wall of Brodgar and yellow Structure 5

Last year, a trench was extended down towards the Stenness Loch looking for evidence that the wall sections were once connected. Unfortunately, nothing was found. This year, however, close examination of an aerial photograph from 2016 revealed very faint, but definite, marks on the landscape around the site. Not only did these “crop marks” clearly show the location of the two known wall sections but highlighted the layout of the enclosing side walls. The difference was that the wall running along the side of the Stenness Loch was closer to the water than originally thought.

We were disappointed last year when there were no upstanding traces of the connecting wall, but it now seems we had been digging in the wrong place. We had tried geophysics on the Stenness loch side, but overhead power lines and a fence line scrambled the results. With no scans to worth with, we had to extend the trench based on our suspicions and it now seems we did not taken the extension far enough down towards the water. Hopefully next year we’ll open a small exploratory trench over the revised location and see what comes up.

The inner face of the Great wall of Brodgar once again see the light of day

Meanwhile, the trench containing the corner of the ”Great Wall” — and the adjacent building, Structure Five — was re-opened this year for the first time since 2008. Nick suspected that Structure Five was was an early Neolithic building and this proved correct. The building is very reminiscent of the early house at the Knap of Howar (3600BC), in Papa Westray. But, in true Ness of Brodgar fashion, is much bigger.

It also became clear that the “Great Wall” not only curved to follow a path along the shore of the Harray Loch, but curled closely around Structure Five — suggesting that it, too, was a very early element in the history of the site. This was confirmed by excavation, which showed nothing lay beneath the wall section except the natural boulder clay on which it was built.

It may be possible to date the construction of the wall using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) — a technique that could provide the last date on which the ground beneath the wall’s foundation was exposed to sunlight — something that may be explored in the future.

Frustration and delight in Trench T

While work progressed and questions answered, Trench T — to the south-east of the main site — proved particularly obstinate. Here, work to excavate a huge midden mound began in 2013. At first it was thought this was nothing more than a “monumental pile of rubbish” — a visible example of conspicuous, Stone Age consumption, and a reflection of the status and affluence of the Ness, left there for all to see. In 2014, however, the stump of a standing stone turned up at the foot of the mound, hinting there might be more to it.

In 2015, sections of walling and orthostats were found at the bottom of the trench, followed, last year, by massive stone slabs in the remains of a puzzling structure. We felt these structural remnants represented a chambered cairn, similar to the one he had excavated at Bookan, at the other end of the Ness, in 2002.

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But, as the weeks passed, the sheer scale of the building — dubbed Structure Twenty-Seven by the archaeologists — became clearer. The building was huge and the stone slabs so big that it was suggested they were re-purposed standing stones. These massive megaliths were used to support orthostats that clad the structure’s less-than-perfect interior wall face.Given its position, it Structure Twenty-Seven is also likely to pre-date many of the other buildings on the Ness.

Describing the trench as a “source of frustration and delight”, Nick had hoped to reveal more of Structure Twenty-Seven this season, but progress was slowed by the discovery of pits and fragments of walling.

“Everything about Trench T is just different,” he said. “This year we extended it, hoping to quickly expose more of the structure — whatever it is — but, as usual, you should always expect the unexpected and we came down upon intermediary structural elements that had to be dealt with and recorded. Some of these may relate to Structure Twenty-Seven but I think there’s other things happening in this area and this has really muddied the waters.”

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He added that more of the building’s south end was uncovered and that there are also hints of what might be its entrance. “We had also thought that Structure Twenty-Seven had been substantially dismantled in the Neolithic — its stone plundered for use elsewhere and that not much of it had survived. But this summer, we found another section of nicely built drain, that may have been underneath a flagged passageway around the exterior of the building — somewhat similar to that around Structure Ten in the main trench.”

In addition, more of the building’s 2.3-metre-thick back wall was uncovered and found to be in a better state of repair, with several courses surviving. All we can hope for now is that work in 2018 will bring us a clear idea of the layout of this puzzling building.

Back to the Iron Age

Meanwhile, at the top of Trench T, another fragment of pottery, added to the evidence that the Neolithic midden mound was remodelled in the Iron Age, thousands of years after the site was abandoned. Not only was a ditch cut into the mound, but a revetment wall, on the upslope side, was enhanced by a large bank, itself held at the rear by another revetment wall.

“If these structures ran right round the crest of the mound — with the ditch open and highly visible on the downslope and the bank above — the visual effect would have been striking in the extreme,” said Nick. “Indeed, because of the height of the midden mound it was built on, the structure would have been visible for miles around. No doubt this was the intention of the Iron Age builders, as there are many other examples in Orkney of their willingness to alter the landscape and any older structures visible within it.”

Public Interest

Over 14 years since the discovery of the Ness complex, the site continues to produce stunning artefacts and discoveries on a daily basis. But on a site where the extraordinary has become the norm — and with it the expectations of the public — is Nick concerned there is a danger interest could wane?

The first tour of the season is shepherded by site dog Bryn

“We have still got stunning finds coming up on a daily basis that, ten years ago, or at any other site, would hit the headlines across the country. 2017 saw more artwork, stunning stone tools and — in a first for the Ness — a beautiful example of an Early Bronze Age barbed-and-tanged flint arrowhead, recovered from the exterior of Structure Ten. I think that these days people are looking beyond the initial ‘wow’ factor and are just as interested in how finds — no matter how small — fit into the story of the site as a whole. The arrowhead, for example, was a lovely find and a delight to behold, but just as important is its role in interpreting the life, and death, of the Ness.”

Close up of the arrowhead - a first for the Ness

It was found in a lump of midden filling the outer passage of Structure Ten — the so-called ‘cathedral’ — which overlaid the animal bone we think was the result of a decommissioning feast. Elsewhere in this passage, in the same context, we found a distinctive piece of Beaker pottery from the same period. These finds, together with the dating evidence so far, are key to the idea that the start of the Bronze Age heralded the demise of the Ness. And perhaps more importantly, shows that Bronze Age influences had made it this far north.

But it is not just the artefacts that draws people to the Ness. It is the whole package of seeing an excavation under way; the trenches; the archaeologists…With visitor numbers for 2017 up by 63 per cent and the daily online dig diary recording a 30 per cent increase in traffic it is clear that public interest — local, national and international — continues apace.

“Since we started work, one of our main aims was to take the archaeology and share it with as many people as we can,” said Nick. “Going on the visitor figures, this seems to be working, and we’re looking at other ways to improve things, online and on-site.”

He added: “Overall, it’s heartening to see that interest continues to grow because over 75 per cent of our funding comes from the general public and without that support the Ness just wouldn’t happen.”

You can support the excavations by making a donation or buying a copy of the excellent guidebook at www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk.


The site is supported by the Ness of Brodgar Trust (www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk), American Friends of the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney Islands Council and the Orkney LEADER Programme 2014-2020.

Both undergraduate and postgraduate archaeology students at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are given the opportunity to be involved with the archaeological investigation at the Ness of Brodgar in addition to The Cairns and other archaeological excavations across Orkney and Scotland. If you want to study archaeology and be involved with the research taking place at UHI Archaeology Institute then contact us on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or see our website.

 

 

 

From Chicago to Orkney – the journey of a second year student

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Connor examining pollen grains to understand how landscapes have changed from the past to the present day.

Connor Marrs is a second year student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. He is 22 years old and originally comes from Chicago.

I was intrigued by the motivation of someone like Connor who exchanged life in a big U.S. city for life on an island off the northern tip of Scotland. So, when sitting in the university cafe overlooking the Bay of Kirkwall, I asked him why he decided to study archaeology first of all and then why come to Orkney to study the subject. He replied….

“I was always interested in European history and especially Scottish history and, while at High School in Chicago, started to look at universities in Scotland. While travelling through Scotland, I applied to be a volunteer at The Cairns Broch and, following an exchange of e-mails, ended up in Orkney taking part in the dig! The Cairns is a friendly dig in a breath-taking location overlooking the North Sea and within a few days, I was hooked. By the end of the dig I knew that I wanted to study archaeology and I wanted to study archaeology in Orkney”

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Studying pottery from the Ness of Brodgar

“Following further discussions with Dr. Ingrid Mainland and Martin Carruthers, they detailed the options open to me and how I could study here in Orkney. They were really helpful and supportive. So I applied and have not looked back since!”

Connor moved on to say that the social life in Orkney is great. The students at the UHI Archaeology Institute, because of the relatively small numbers, form a tight knit community very quickly. Everyone is like-minded and enthusiastic about archaeology in general and Orcadian archaeology in particular and so build strong relationships very quickly.

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Ceramics seminar

All sounds fantastic….but I also asked Connor if there were any downsides. Anything that students coming here to study should be aware of. He said yes….the first winter can be daunting. Although Chicago experiences deep snow on a regular basis, the winter in Orkney is somewhat different. There is very little snow, but being an island, transport links can be affected by the weather. You may not be able to get to your destination as quickly as you would like sometimes!

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Student field trip to the Broch of Gurness, Orkney

If you would like to chat with us and explore your options at the UHI Archaeology Institute then please e-mail us at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk. 

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

 

 

From Perth to Orkney – a fourth year student placement

Finds cataloging from HONO WHS Field Walking project 2
Finds Cataloging from HONO WHS Field Walking Project

Sam Golder, BA (Hons) Scottish History and Archaeology Undergraduate at The University of the Highlands and Islands (Perth Campus), talks about his volunteer placement in Orkney.

“History has been a favourite subject of mine throughout school while archaeology was a passion that was harder to pursue.  After a bit of research in my last year I applied for a course at Perth College UHI which incorporated both of these subjects. I started my degree course in September 2014 and have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges that present themselves readily, even if they are quite stressful at times.

Orkney is a place that I have often visited over the years (mostly in summer) due to the fact I have family in the area. This is only the second time that I have travelled up during the winter and my 5 day trip has already turned into 7 days due to Storm Caroline!! Over the years I have visited most of the well-known sites on Orkney (many before they had visitor centres) which is probably where my passion for archaeology began.

Finds cataloging from HONO WHS Field Walking project 1

I am now in my last year of my 4 year course and this is the first time I have been able to get hands on with the archaeological side of my degree which is a bit different to just reading books!!! I now understand why so many people refer to Orkney as the place to be if you want to study archaeology.

During my time in Orkney I have been set tasks by Dan Lee (Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist) which have included sample and finds sorting, finds washing, recording finds and taking environment samples. These were all very interesting with finds ranging from 18th century pottery from Caithness to animal bones and teeth from The Cairns in South Ronaldsay. Wet-sieving of environmental samples was also very interesting and made me realise why I was asked to bring waterproofs as it got a bit wet and dirty!!!

Wet sieving Mapping Magnus samples
Wet Sieving Mapping Magnus Samples

Throughout the week I also sorted out and ordered a folder relating to the site of Skaill Farmhouse in Rousay which has been excavated over the last few years. This involved typing up site registers and sorting out a vast collection of sheets relating to the site. Therefore, by undertaking some of these tasks I now understand the background to what goes on in the field, during and after an excavation. It has also opened my eyes to some important matters such as the fact that there can never be too many labels which MUST be legible or else it can get extremely frustrating for people dealing with samples and finds further down the pipeline.

Overall, my trip to Orkney has been a very enjoyable and experience which has provided me with some new skills that I will be able to use in the years to come as I continue my foray into the world of archaeology.

The staff are all very friendly and helpful and the volunteering options are endless which has allowed me to obtain a wealth of knowledge that I could not have gained in Perth. I am currently writing my dissertation on ‘The last 100 years on St Kilda’ and after I complete this and my degree I plan to further my experience within archaeology by returning to Orkney next summer to take part in the dig at Skaill Farmhouse and also The Cairns in South Ronaldsay. ”


If you want to know more about the courses we offer at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute contact us on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or see our website.