Has a community archaeology team found a previously unknown prehistoric settlement in Northern Scotland?
The community around Thurso were invited to take part in the latest archaeology event in the Caithness Broch Festival last week in which a team were trained in basic archaeological techniques by archaeologists from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) and the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Over 40 people attended the event organised by Caithness Broch Project and experienced ‘hands on archaeology’ in a series of trial trenches at Thusater Burn near Thurso in the North of Scotland.
In fact, so many people turned up that an additional trench had to be opened. This trench was soon commandeered by the children of the volunteers who under supervision from the ORCA team started to develop their excavation skills at a pace!
All three excavated trenches soon revealed archaeological features consistent with that anticipated by a previous geophysical survey conducted by the ORCA team several weeks ago. Rubble and stony deposits containing cultural material were encountered, although perhaps the most exciting structural find was a perfectly preserved hearth constructed of orthostats, a base slab and packing stones.
Under the blazing sun, the team’s hard work was rewarded by finding a hammer stone and possible striking stone used for starting fires and a wonderfully preserved pigs tooth. The latter find is usually associated with high status sites.
The investigation raised the possibility of the mound containing prehistoric structural remains although more research is needed to confirm their extent and the actual period of occupation. The hearth, together with the finds point to domestic use – perhaps a ‘wag’ or, even more excitingly for the Caithness Broch Project, the remains of a broch.
Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager ORCA, said, ” It is incredibly exciting to be involved with the team from Caithness Broch Project and local people investigating this site, especially as this is the first time that it has been excavated. This is the first stage of a project which aims to investigate the wider prehistoric landscape of this area of northern Scotland and ultimately help provide the community with the tools to boost tourism in the area.”
Caithness Broch Project member Kenneth McElroy added, "The dig was a really exciting community event - I was especially pleased to see that for many of the volunteers this was their first experience of an archaeological dig.It was a superb few days and we'd love to come back and try and find out a bit more about the site!"
The Caithness Broch Festival Archaeology Programme aims to provide CBP members and the general public with training in field-walking, geophysical survey and excavation within Caithness. These will develop skills in project set-up, survey, field-walking, finds recognition, finds cataloguing, GIS and reporting, as well as basic excavation techniques.
The result of these activities will be to form a skilled and engaged group that can develop and sustain archaeological projects within the county. Participants will contribute to the wider understand of these sites and landscapes and present the results.
The Archaeology Programme also presents an opportunity to stimulate tourist interest in the region by providing events which can be publicised and promoted in order to draw in higher numbers of visitors. Tourism could also add to the funding opportunities through visitor donations to, and additional memberships of, the Caithness Broch Project.
Thanks to the following for supporting the project:
The team from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology were back on the island of Rousay two weeks ago to work with the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Römisch-Germanische Kommission (DAI) and the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute (UHI) on the largest geophysical survey ever undertaken on the island.
Once again, Frank Forrester, our work placement student from the University of Bradford, continues the story of the project..........
"Our first day, Dan Lee and I travelled to Rousay, meeting up with Jane Downs and Steve Davis of University College Dublin and going through the different sites of Rousay. before meeting the DAI team. The four team members of DAI where Knut Rassmann, Ruth Beusing, Johannes Kalmbach and Andreas Grundmann.
The team ventured out into the brilliant sunshine and travelled around the Rousay landscape, looking over the sites to be surveyed and finalising the overall approach. The UHI team then had to travel back to Kirkwall, while I stayed with the DAI team, helping them set up the surveying equipment.
The equipment itself was a 14 magnetometry system. Built on a carbon fibre frame, the 14 sensors where placed at the back-on wheels with high suspension. This frame was designed so that no metal from the quad bike, that pulled the system would interfere with the results. The cart had its own GPS attached, which was feeding back to a known base station point. This guaranteed the accuracy of the location of the cart, which in turn located the sites revealed from the survey.
Surveying started on the second day. An amazing 45 hectares were surveyed in a single day. The quadbike, allowed the team to be very moveable when surveying the fields, and yet still be fast enough to cover the large area detailed in the overall plan.
In the morning of the third day I had the chance to go through the results of the previous day. This was an amazing opportunity, as I had never seen magnetometry data on such a large scale. Being able to already pick out sites from the first set of data showed the importance of this survey and how much it can help understand the archaeology and landscape of Rousay.
Ruth and I went and collected some magnetic susceptibility data of the stone from around the area of the survey. These points included a field dyke, Midhowe Broch, Swandro, Broch farmstead and Skaill farmstead. This data was collected by using a probe sensor, first taking a measure from a control sample, then of the air around the different spots, of the stone itself and finally of the surrounding air again. This is to make sure that there is a clear measure between the stone measurement and the surrounding area.
Thursday the 19th April saw the start of the Gateway to the Atlantic: Rousay Workshop. We met the speakers and delegates at the ferry, before going on a fieldtrip of the island. This was followed by a late lunch before the start of the talks.
The second day of the workshop started with coffee at the Rousay community school, before moving into the talks. After lunch, and to stretch the legs after a long period of talks, the group went and saw some clearance sites on Rousay, as it is the only island of Orkney that was cleared. This small break was followed by a round table discussion and brainstorming session of possible future collaboration and projects. This workshop experience was incredible to see as the collaboration of all these different partners coming together is something I had never seen before. It showed me how projects can be formed between different organisations dealing with big questions."
The Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) team not only use the standard methods to survey archaeological sites, but also aerial drone photography and video.
This section of coast on the small island of Papa Westray in Orkney has experienced severe coastal erosion which has exposed significant archaeology. ORCA were commissioned by Historic Environment Scotland to complete a survey of the area around St Boniface's Church as part of a larger community archaeology project which will provide a baseline assessment of coastally eroding archaeology.
The drone video clip will form part of the baseline assessment and, together with the 3D models produced by Jim Bright and the ORCA team, gives the archaeologists a unique perspective on the structures eroding out of the cliff. The drone videos provide a very quick and cost effective method of assessing a coastline and in future may be used to create 3D models.
The coastline is eroding at an alarming rate at this point and has already receded 30cm in one year. The plan is to undertake further drone flights in subsequent years which will enable the team to assess the damage quickly and cost effectively. Using such technology also allows a client to examine a structure or remains remotely from a connected computer anywhere in the world.
The drone is operated under strict guidelines by a fully trained member of the ORCA team.
For more information on the 12th Century St Boniface's Church, cross slab and the Norse hogback grave stone see Canmore.
The Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology team are using a 3D modelling method that provides a rapid insight into the physical remains at any site under investigation.
The 3D model shown above was created by the ORCA team for the baseline assessment of coastal archaeology threatened for Historic Environment Scotland. Coastal erosion is one of the main threats to shoreline archaeology in the islands of Orkney.
The site at Munkerhoose is within a section of eroding coastline stretching over 80m in length. The exposed section is over nine meters wide and stepped in a series of narrow uneven terraces. This aspect is due in part to the excavation and back fill of the northern and central portion of the site in 1990. The most significant threat to the site is from high energy storms from the open ocean to the north and northwest.
The section is annotated and by clicking on each number on the 3D model above, the details of the coast at that point can be examined. You can also rotate the coastline model or zoom in using your mouse. Taking each point.....
Point 1 Dense Midden Deposits. The area with few stones is midden material - mainly domestic rubbish from the nearby structures. An excavation in 1990 identified several features within this area.
Point 2 The piled stones here are parts of an ancient structure. They have been protected from erosion by dumped material from the 1990 excavation.
Point 3 shows in detail the remains of a large Iron Age roundhouse excavated in 1990.
Wave action has had the most significant impact in the features within the lower section of the site, such as the point identified here, where soft deposits from below wall sections have been undermined and smaller pinning stones and wall cores washed out, leading to collapse or destabilisation.
Point 4 shows a roundhouse passageway. Erosion has exposed a structure not visible in 1990. This passageway could be internal, as part of this roundhouse structure, or external, between it and a separate structure to the south of the roundhouse.
Point 5 shows further structural remains which is another newly exposed structure, possibly another roundhouse; the sagging horizontal slabs are the floor. This area has suffered significantly from wave action.
The detail captured by the ORCA team in these 3D models provides a very cost effective method of providing baseline data which in turn enables everyone involved in the project to analyse, measure and compare erosion effects at different sites very quickly.
This pioneering approach to using 3D modelling has been used to some effect at the world renowned Ness of Brodgar excavation where multiple 3D models tracked the progress of the disassembly of the north wall of Structure One and enabled archaeologists working at the site to plan the excavation more rapidly than if field sketches were used.
In short the 3D team can collect the data and within days create a detailed model....for anyone to view anywhere on the planet - as long as they have an internet connection of course!
The creation of the 3D models above were in connection with the Community Archaeology Baseline Assessment Project completed for Historic Environment Scotland in March 2018. See ourprevious blog post for details of the overall project.
The team from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology entered week two of the Papa Westray community archaeology project with the sun shining and the wind dropping to a moderate gale force.
Back on the island, Frank Forrester, our placement student from the University of Bradford, continues the story of the project..........
"Arriving on Papa for my second week, we only had one final site to complete: St.Boniface/ Munkerhoose. One of the aims of the project was to place St. Boniface in context within its wider landscape. This meant in practice completing an survey of the fields surrounding the site in order to produce a topographical survey. This involved a walk over the land using a GPS, measuring the height of of the land."
Frank continues, "Following instruction from the ORCA team I soon found that it was important to cover all of the site systematically, which was best done by simply walking back and fore, in the same spacing. I ran a tape measure out on one side of the field, and another in line at the opposite end - giving me a line to walk. My thanks must go to Rick who taught me how to work the GPS and set me off to work walking up and down three fields."
Finally, "Adding the modern structures that are on the land was also important as it helps to tie in the topographic survey to the coastal survey and the OS maps. This is done by taking key points of the structures, such as corners and changes in wall lines.
However, this surveying was fairly challenging as gale force winds would blow me off course. This was all worth it though, as the topographic map that has been produced through my surveying gives a great representation of the area."
Thanks to Frank for taking the time to write about his experiences on the Papa Westray project.
The team from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology continued with the Papa Westray baseline assessment of eroding coastal archaeology.
Accompanied by an intrepid band of local volunteers, they battled through the rain, sleet and snow to finish the work.
University of of Bradford work placement student Frank Forrester continues the story....."On the third day we were back working at Kings Craig/Whitehowe, completing more surveying work. This included a photo record of the site, highlighting its current state, and tying in the samples taken and key features. We also found a bone pin, which was literally poking out of the section. This was a very exciting find because it adds to the artefact record and provides an insight into the culture of the people that once lived at the site. A detailed analysis back at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Institute will confirm its age and type of animal bone.
"Our fourth day involved the team finishing off some of the surveying at Cott/Shorehouse before moving on to our third and final site St.Boniface/Munkerhoose.
This site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument that is on the west coast, just north of the twelfth-century St. Boniface church. The site was first investigated in 1998 and showed a roundhouse, situated in a mass of other structure features. However, due to the location of the site, erosion has already resulted in a large section being lost to the sea.
We completed a walk over survey in order to record how much has been lost, and locate features that are still recognisable from the first investigation.
During the fifth and final day, Dr James Moore, Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute; joined us to complete a drone photographic survey of the site. This was exciting for me as it was the first time I had seen a drone work on an archaeological site. This work was very useful as it allowed us to obtain a fantastic digital record of the site in a very short amount of time."
The week had one final card to deal Frank.....the weather was progressively getting worse as the week progressed. Howling wind mixed with snow, sleet and rain hammered against the windows of the departure lounge on Papa Westray as he waited for his flight home. Can you imagine his delight as he saw the small plane start to approach the airstrip, only to be cruelly dashed as the pilot judged it too dangerous to land and flew back to Kirkwall. Frank was left marooned on the island for another night, but it did give him the opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of Papa Westray for a little while longer.
The first week of the community archaeology baseline assessment project in Papa Westray is now over.
The ORCA team had to contend with bitterly cold weather, snow, hail and finally sunshine in the week as they worked with the community volunteers surveying and recording the eroding archaeology present around the coastline of the island. Our work placement student from Bradford University, Frank Forrester, continues the story....
"I arrived at Papa Westry airport at midday, before being picked up by my two colleagues and driving to our first site, Cott/Shorehouse. This site has a series of exposed structures jutting from the coastal section, under a mound that is visible from the surface above. The costal section has a heavy mixture of modern material, as it is situated next to a farm. I was put to work sketching the section, so that it can be used to better understand the site for the writing up of the report. Afterwards I worked with community volunteers to collect some samples that were prominent within the section.
This is important because hopefully we can use these samples to obtain dates from the site, which will give us a greater understanding of the age of the Cott/Shorehouse site. Rick later surveyed in these samples once they were tagged so they could be related to the survey. "
Frank continues,"On our second day we moved onto the second site, Kings Craig/Whitehowe. This site has a deep coastal section ranging from 1 to 5m deep, with the deepest section being below the current Whitehowe farmstead. The archaeology that is visible, ranges from the glacial till at the bottom, through shell middens, agricultural soils to possible Norse structures. The majority of the site was too high for us to be able to take samples and some were covered by pushed over soil. However, from the sections that were accessible we were able to take samples, with volunteer help, which will help give us a better idea for dating the site."
Check out the next blog post for Days 3, 4 and 5 .....when some exciting finds began to be unearthed.
The project was funded by Historic Environment Scotland.
A team from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology and the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute will be on Papa Westray during March 2018, recording the current state of some of the archaeological sites being eroded by the sea.
Volunteers from the community are invited to take part in surveying and recording training at three eroding coastal sites across the island, starting with a workshop on 3rd March at Cott/Shorehouse.
All are welcome and you do not need archaeology experience to take part. There is no charge for the sessions and you will have the opportunity to learn some basic archaeological techniques.
Wear stout boots and wet weather gear, just in case the weather closes in and bring a packed lunch if you wish to stay for the whole session.
Contact Paul Sharman on email@example.com for more information.
The project is funded by Historic Environment Scotland.
Orkney was one of the most important British naval bases in both world wars and for most of this period was a hive of activity on land, sea and in the air.
RNAS and RAF air bases were scattered across the islands and thousands of sorties were flown by aircraft from these airfields. Tragically, some planes did not return to base and now lie in the waters around Orkney.
In 1986, one of the lost planes from World War II was located by HMS Bildeston, HMS Gavinton and Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service craft Kinloss on the seabed of Scapa Flow during a military exercise. Unfortunately, the aircraft disintegrated as it was recovered, but a Merlin aero engine was brought to the surface, cleaned up and together with the aeroplane’s armament was sent to Lyness Museum. The remainder of the aircraft remained on the sea floor.
During 2014, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology and Sula Diving completed a collaborative project surveying the archaeological remains on the seabed of Scapa Flow. The wreck site was re-visited in order to video, photograph and record the remains. The wreckage itself lies in 22 metres of water and is likely to be from the cockpit area of a single seater aircraft. No human remains were identified, indicating that the pilot escaped before ditching.
An oxygen regulator, oxygen tanks, hydraulic pump, oxygen/hydraulic pipe work, wiring and some fuselage were recorded amongst numerous steel and aluminium sections. Gauges recovered many years ago suggest that the aircraft is a Spitfire manufactured after 1943…so the crash must have occurred after this date.
However the details of the crash remain a mystery. There does not seem to be any mention of a Spitfire ditching in this area during World War II. Even the aircraft registration number cannot be confirmed from the artefacts recovered.
For now, the Spitfire and pilot’s identity remains a mystery……………..unless anyone reading this knows anything different? This aircraft, in common with the remains of all military aircraft and designated military vessels, is now covered by the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.
For more information see http://www.crashsiteorkney.com/mystery-aircraft-in-scapa-flow
Thanks to Kevin Heath at Sula Diving http://www.suladiving.com/
The ORCA team sometimes have to work in the harshest of conditions and in some of the most isolated areas of Britain. This means that the team has to rely on its own resources to get the job done, but on other occasions the sun shines and the rain and wind stays away.
Such were the conditions on the first few days of the geophysics survey at Kergord on Shetland, with clear blue skies and a few clouds that didn't threaten rain or hail or snow, and the geophysics survey was completed without resort to wet weather gear.
The project, commissioned by Balfour Beatty Construction Services UK, was to undertake a scheme of archaeological fieldwork at Upper Kergord, Shetland, in advance of the development of a proposed electricity converter station.
The investigation focused on four excavation areas targeted over features identified through walkover survey, desk based assessment and during watching briefs of geotechnical works.
The excavation encountered features that represent elements of the Post Medieval/crofting period landscape, including a shieling-type shelter, as well as structural remains which potentially provide evidence for Neolithic or Bronze Age land management.
If you are considering commissioning an archaeological survey, however large or small, in connection with a planning application or development then contact Pete Higgins, ORCA Senior Project Manager, on 01856 569345 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog has been created by Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology in beautiful Orkney. We aim to add features and news about our work on the islands and further afield on a regular basis.