Mapping Magnus Community Dig – end of week one.

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The community dig at Palace Village, Birsay is progressing well and at the end of week one, exciting finds are being unearthed.

A team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands and volunteers from the local community have been excavating in Palace Village, Birsay, as part of the Mapping Magnus project. Charlotte Hunter, MSc student on professional placement at the UHI Archaeology Institute, takes up the story…..

“With one week left, the chase is on to find the medieval Bishop’s Palace. Four test pits have been opened along with the main trench in some of the local communities’ gardens in search of the Bishop’s Palace.

Community involvement in the project has been exceptional and has led to the unearthing of the most outstanding find so far….A couple of residents decided to remodel their outdoor paving and so asked the team to open a new trench in the ground exposed under their yard. This led to the discovery of an unknown, potentially medieval, wall  structure.

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From what can be seen by the style of the construction of this wall it may suggest that it dates to the medieval period. There was a large quantity of shell found both sides of the wall which is a Norse technique. The next challenge for this trench is to establish which is the internal and external side of the wall.

Throughout the rest of the site a couple of the test pits are beginning to come across what could be structural stones which may be part of the Bishop Palaces walls. Further excavation on these areas will be carried out in the final week of the dig.

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A few of the finds across the excavation have included a couple of pieces of medieval pottery, one being Norse. Other artefacts have included fragments of animal bone and pottery from the 19th and 20th century.

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There is still time for you to come and visit the team at this intriguing excavation, which ends this Friday (6th October). Who knows what will be discovered in the last days of the Mapping Magnus excavation!


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.

 

 

Open Day at Mapping Magnus Dig

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A team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute together with volunteers from the local community will be holding an Open Day at the Palace Village dig, Birsay on Saturday 30th September 2017.

All are welcome and the event is free to enter. One of the questions we are asked by potential visitors to our Open Days is, “Can I bring my children?” Children of all ages are welcome and there will be opportunities for them to look at and take part in some of the activities on site.

The Open Day starts at 10am and is planned to end around 3pm to allow the team to clean the area for the next day. There will be signs directing you to the dig site on the day from the Palace Stores.

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There is no need to book…just turn up and discuss the progress of the dig with the team. Already a substantial wall has been unearthed as the trial trenches take shape….who knows what will be discovered on the Open Day itself?

Contact: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or 01856 569225 for further information.

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The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has been commissioned by Orkney Islands Council to deliver a programme of community archaeology activities and events that will explore the story of St Magnus and medieval Orkney.

The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of Magnus 900, commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

 

Mapping Magnus September Update

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Activities are well underway in the Mapping Magnus project with well attended workshops happening most weeks during August and September. Geophysical survey, measured survey at some noust sites and walkover survey have all engaged trainees and visitors.

Just to remind you that the Mapping Magnus project involved archaeologists from The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute who were commissioned by Orkney Islands Council to deliver a programme of community archaeology activities and events that explored the story of St Magnus and medieval Orkney. Anyway….here is a brief overview of the last month……

Geophysical survey (28/07/17)

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Earth Resistance results from Burnside, Palace, Birsay

Earth Resistance survey (good for locating walls and buried structures) was undertaken by Dr James Moore and one trainee in the garden of Burnside, Palace village, Birsay. This is on the eastern side of the medieval Bishop’s Palace and buried structures could be expected.

  • The areas of high resistance to the east of the house relate to the paths and surfaces you can still see on the surface.
  • The very high resistance anomaly at the west is likely to relate to a wall running through the veg patch – this seems to be running roughly NNW – SSE. It could represent a building.
  • The anomalies around the flowerbed in the middle of the garden: the results are unclear, but they do seem to share a similar alignment to the wall found nearby. As a very tentative interpretation perhaps a stone built structure c. 9x5m, probably quite damaged/areas of rubble?

More geophysical survey is planned for 12-14 September

Noust Survey (15-16/08/17)

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Training in plane table survey

Measured survey using a plane table and alidade was undertaken at Skipi Geo and Point of Buckquoy boat nousts. Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, and the team from ORCA trained one trainee. Scaled plans, showing the slope edges and faces, were produced for both sets of nousts. We had around 50 visitors during the surveys who enjoyed learning about the survey process, nousts and the Magnus project.

Our trainee said “The course exceeded my expectations as I didn’t expect to learn so much in such a short space of time, very friendly approach to teaching”. “Fully enjoyed my experience and look forward to returning”. He rated the workshop “10 / 10”.

Village Walkover Survey (15-16/08/17)

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Walkover survey was undertaken in Palace village and the area around the Man’s Well near Barony Mill, focusing on the areas and sites that are significant in the Magnus story. The survey started off with a walk around the village with 7 trainees examining a sequence of historical and modern maps, identifying changes and visiting key sites and buildings. This centred upon the Bishop’s Palace area to link in with the geophysical survey and upcoming excavations. Sites recorded in the NMRS were visited and the record updated with additional description and photos where required. This was a useful way for the group to identify potential new sites and a previously unidentified structure, perhaps an old house, was recorded. The group also recorded the location of pieces of red sandstone built into the various garden walls in the village on accurate maps. The idea was to map where this high status medieval material has ended up in order to understand the medieval core of the village in more detail. It was noted that the village core and Bishop’s Palace area sit upon a distinctive raised area.

Hen-Harrier-1The second day involved walking with 8 trainees along part of the Magnus Way from the village, recording a new site (a possible bridge pier) on the way by the burn. We also followed a young female Hen Harrier as she skittered up the burn area, which was incredible. We visited the Man’s Well site, where Magnus’s bones were supposed to have been washed, and updated the record for this key site. We then walked the neighbouring field, looking at leats and burn channels and recorded the site of a reputed click mill (horizontal mill). This consisted of a low platform edged with upright stones (although there was no evidence of a leat or walling). The day certainly had a watery theme.

20170826_133300One participant commented “I learned much about the history of Birsay and Magnus”. The most interesting/memorable thing for one participant was “seeing new things in old stones”. Another participant commented that, “The workshop exceeded expectations as I wanted to explore my local area and learn a bit about archaeological practice”. Another commented, “very enjoyable couple of days. Good instruction and good company”.

All agreed or strongly agreed that they had learned something new about archaeology and heritage. All gave the day 9 or 10 / 10.

The next event includes more geophysics on the 12, 13 and 14 September leading to an archaeological excavation in Palace Village itself on the 25 September to 6th October…more on this story to follow.


Mapping Magnus is supported by:

Community Archaeology Coastal Survey. 6,7,8th September 2017

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Join a team of archaeologists, led by Dave Reay, from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, recording the eroding sites from Palace Village to Buckquoy on 6, 7 & 8th September 2017.

Numerous sites from prehistoric settlement, Viking Norse remains to more recent boat nousts were recorded in the 1970s and 1980s during the Birsay Bay Project. The remains of these sites will be identified, along with any new sites, and their current condition recorded (photographic and written record).

  • No previous experience required, training will be provided.
  • Please contact the team through studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk to book your place
  • Meet at Point of Buckquoy, Brough of Birsay car park, Birsay.
  • 10am – 3pm. Booking essential.

The Mapping Magnus project involves a whole series of archaeological events in August and September 2017 (see poster below).

So….. if you want to get involved and find out more about the archaeology of St Magnus then contact the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or 01856 569229

 

Community Archaeology Mapping Magnus Ad


The Mapping Magnus project is supported by:

Bay of Ireland Community Archaeology Dig – 5th & 6th September

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The Bay of Ireland, looking across Scapa Flow to the Island of Hoy

Join the archaeology team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute on 5th & 6th September at the Bay of Ireland, Orkney investigating Late Mesolithic landscapes.

This project, led by Dr Scott Timpany and Dan Lee, invites volunteers to team up with archaeologists to open test pits on the foreshore of the Bay of Ireland to investigate the landscape of the Late Mesolithic. 

In 2013 an oak trunk was discovered within the intertidal peats at the Bay of Ireland in Stenness. Previous to this discovery it was known that such intertidal peats in coastal locations across Orkney were of an early date, often around 6000 years old! Excavation, recording and radiocarbon dating of the oak trunk took place in 2015 and it was confirmed as dating to the Late Mesolithic period with a felling date of c. 4400 cal BC; making this the only wooden artefact of Mesolithic date so far found in Orkney. A study of the pollen grains and the seeds within the peat next to the oak trunk showed that it was deposited in a reed-swamp environment fringed by woodland of willow and birch.

Excavating the oak trunk in 2015. Photo John Barber
Excavating the Oak Trunk in 2015. Photo: John Barber.

Although no tool marks have been found on the oak trunk it has been shown to be radially split, meaning it was cut in half before being placed in to the peat. The landscape information from the pollen suggests oak trees may have been present somewhere in the wider landscape but were not growing close to the Bay of Ireland. This suggests that the oak trunk was cut in half elsewhere and then deliberately placed into the reedswamp by Later Mesolithic people. But what was the oak trunk for? Was it a marker place in the landscape? Maybe an indication of a routeway to what is now the Brig O’Waithe to the Loch of Stenness? Is there other evidence of the activities of these people at the Bay of Ireland? Can we find tools or evidence of wood working?

In order to answer these questions, a team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are going to be carrying out some small excavations on the foreshore at the Bay of Ireland on the 5th and 6th September and we would be delighted if people would like to come and help and see if they can find some evidence of these enigmatic former Orkney residents.

The team plan on undertaking some test pits through the peat near to the location of the oak trunk to see if further artefactual evidence can be found. Over the course of the two days we will also have the opportunity to discuss how the landscape of Orkney has changed since the Mesolithic to today as well as further details on the Bay of Ireland project and environmental archaeology.

If you would like to get involved in the dig or simply just want to come along to see the site and have a chat then please do get in touch through studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

*** We have some travel grants available for Orkney residents from the north and south Isles to attend the excavations. Contact above for details***

Community Archaeology – Palace Village, Birsay

20170527_134825The second phase of the exciting community archaeology and training project, Mapping Magnus, begins on the 25th and 26th August 2017.

Local volunteers are invited to team up  with archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute to complete an archaeological survey in Palace Village, Birsay.

We will be meeting at Palace Village, Birsay car park opposite the Kirk at 10am, everyone is welcome to join the survey, mapping and recording…whether you have archaeological experience or not!

The area around Birsay is closely linked with the story of St Magnus and this project will give volunteers the opportunity to learn surveying and mapping techniques and add to the archaeological record relating to the Magnus story.

The Mapping Magnus project involves a whole series of archaeological events in August and September 2017 (see poster below).

So….. if you want to get involved and find out more about the archaeology of St Magnus then contact the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or 01856 569229

Community Archaeology Mapping Magnus Ad


This project is supported by:

Exciting New Project for Stromness-Listening to the Piers

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Stories, Stones and Bones: Listening to the Piers – Exploring the history of Stromness through the town piers.

The Stromness Museum celebrates £9700.00 Heritage Lottery Fund grant as part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017

IMG_1907The Orkney Natural History Society Museum, Stromness, has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant. This exciting project, Listening to the Piers – Exploring the history of Stromness through the town piers is led by Stromness Museum in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. The programme involves organising arts and science workshops for the public and local schools and is aimed at exploring the history of Stromness through the town piers. This project is part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

The Stromness Museum is teaming up with the UHI Archaeology Institute, local artists, and marine scientists from the International Centre for Island Technology (ICIT) Orkney Campus to give the local community a chance to learn about life on and around the town’s stone-built piers, past and present. The events form part of the ‘Per Mare’ during 2017 when Stromness celebrates the 200 year anniversary of becoming a Burgh of Barony. The project will provide the opportunity for all ages of the community to explore different ways of seeing and interpreting the piers using innovative science and arts workshops held on a ‘Piers Day’ (Tuesday 25th July) during the Per Mare week (24-30th July).

The project team will work with local school children and residents to record stories,IMG_1894 memories and the history of the piers during May and June. Workshops on Piers Day will include archaeological test pit excavation on the town beaches to explore what the town threw away, sea life in the piers and intertidal zone, drawing (5-minute sketches), photography (artefacts and sea life) and time-lapse filming. Participants will learn new science and arts-based skills and help create new insights into the piers. These events are free and open to all ages.

The project will culminate in a temporary exhibition this autumn at the Stromness Museum, including artefacts, drawings, photographs and a new listening post with stories collected during the sound recording workshops.

Commenting on the award, Janette Park (Honorary Curator) said: “The museum is delighted to be able to run such a ground breaking project during such an important year as the 200th anniversary of Stromness becoming a Burgh of Barony. The piers of Stromness are a hugely important part of the shared community history of the town. The opportunity to explore and document the piers for the future will be a lasting legacy.”

Dan Lee (Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist, UHI Archaeology Institute) added: “We are really looking forward to exploring these iconic piers and the history of Stromness with such exciting arts/science workshops; combined they will help us all learn about the piers and understand them in new ways”.

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Credits: Stromness Piers artwork: Diana Leslie, Photographs: UHI Archaeology.


Stories, Stones and Bones is designed 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.

The Stromness Museum is an independent museum maintained and managed by a committee of volunteers elected from the members of the Orkney Natural History Society Museum SCIO. 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. The museum contains natural and cultural history with galleries focussing upon Canada and the Arctic, maritime history and models, natural history, wartime Orkney and ethnographic material.

See their website for more information: http://www.orkneycommunities.co.uk/stromnessmuseum/index.asp