The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, in partnership with the Yarrows Heritage Trust and ORCA Archaeology, have completed their first week of excavation at the community dig, near the Burn of Swartigill.
Rick Barton, Project Officer with ORCA Archaeology, talks us through the first week at this intriguing dig in Caithness, Scotland
We are at the end of the first week of excavation at the Burn of Swartigill. The covers and tyres came off to reveal that the site had survived well over the winter. The team wasted no time, extending the trench to the east and west to further explore the extent of the structural features present.
So far, we have made some interesting discoveries about the nature of the site. Structure A, the passage around the north side of the site, widens out on the east side, while to the west, it terminates in a small rubble filled cell.
In the centre of the trench, we are further defining the shape and form of Structure B, which appears to be a squashed rectangle in shape. The hearth in the centre of the structure, initially encountered during last year’s excavation, appears to be a later feature. The hearth setting overlays rubble, which appears to be the post abandonment infill of the building.
The ashy deposits from the hearth mingle with peaty layers within the structure, suggesting that after the building was abandoned, it was open to the elements and people still used the shell of the building as a shelter - perhaps as a seasonal shieling, a temporary shelter used while pasturing animals. The remains of the structure continued to gradually collapse around them. This may also account for the presence of a distinctly Viking or Medieval looking whetstone, recovered in a previous year’s excavation on the site form rubble overlying this structure.
The site was then inundated with alluvial soils, deposited by the adjacent watercourse over several centuries, covering the structures. On the east side of the site, this overlays a paved surface, which may represent a yard outside Structure B.
Elsewhere in the trench we are preparing to sample more of a deposit that appears very rich in charred organic material. Hopefully the analysis of this deposits will give us some valuable information about the sort of activities undertaken on the site during the Iron Age, and the lives of the people who lived there.
Drone video footage by kind permission: Bobby Friel @Takethehighview
The Archaeologists will be on site until Thursday the 29th of August and then back on site from Tuesday the 3rd of September until Sunday the 8th.Come along to the see the site, and even have a go at excavation – no experience is required.
Newark Bay is the site of an early medieval chapel and extensive cemetery and was the focus of rescue excavations by the late Professor Brothwell between 1968 and 1972.
Due to various circumstances, the work never came to publication. ORCA Archaeology is part of an Historic Environment Scotland funded project to address this with the local community. Check out our earlier blog for more details on the project.
Like so many sites in Orkney, coastal erosion is a significant problem and has caused structural and human remains to have been lost over the years since Professor Brothwell's original excavation.
The local community, including the Friends of St Ninians, 12 volunteers, 1 tractor, 2 dogs and 250 already filled sandbags gathered at Newark over the last weekend to continue work on protecting the site, The team had an hour to put sandbags and rocks in place to protect the eroding archaeology at the site.
By 12 noon the team viewed the 250 sandbags and many large rocks that had been put in place through sheer hard work. The sandbags will protect the archaeology for a little while and will be monitored as the first phase of the project gets under way.
The team, including Mansie the black Labrador, were very pleased with their efforts and more than one member commented that it was, "Amazing what you can do in one hour on a fine day in Orkney."
ORCA Archaeology, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scotland's Urban Past team have organised five Building Recording Days in historic Kirkwall and Stromness.
These are community archaeology events to which everyone is invited - experience is not required as full training will be given - but we ask that you book a place as below.
The team have set dates in Kirkwall during May and June (book to attend these events by writing to email@example.com) and the Scotland’s Urban Past team are coming up again to run a one day workshop in Stromness (you will have to book to attend this event through the Scotland's Urban Past Eventbrite page)
These days are designed to follow on from our training in March, and archive day in April, but feel free to come along if you missed these, we can easily get you up to speed. We’ve set up a regular survey afternoon, with the aim of conducting rapid recording and taking photos for properties in the Kirkwall conservation area.
The Scotland’s Urban Past team will run a workshop in Stromness on the 4th June, and will show us how to add the results of all our surveys onto the national record online.
This project is supported by:
The team from ORCA Archaeology & the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are holding a Historical Urban Archive Research Day at the Orkney Library Archive on Saturday 4th May 2019, 10am - 3pm.
Booking is essential as there are only limited places on this free training event. No experience is required...just an enthusiasm for the historic built environment!
This day is part of the Kirkwall Community Archaeological Building Recording project, which aims to undertake a rapid survey of the built heritage in Kirkwall. It is a follow on event from the Scotland’s Urban Past workshops, and provides a Kirkwall focus for research.
Led by Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, the day of research in the Orkney Archives will focus on a case study area (e.g. a street, or group of houses) in the conservation area (Laverock, Midtown and The Bough). This supports the three detailed building recording exercises undertaken in 2016-17 and will allow participants to use a wide range of sources and learn how to link them.
This event is designed to be a training workshop for members of the public and no previous experience is required. The workshop will set the group up for rapid building recording and additional archive research in Kirkwall town centre during May and June.
The workshop is funded by the Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 01856 569225 to book your place.
ORCA Archaeology is pleased to announce that they have been awarded a grant of £202,000 by Historic Environment Scotland to complete an important archaeology research project centred on Newark Bay, Deerness, Orkney.
Newark is the site of an early medieval chapel and extensive cemetery and was the focus of rescue excavations by the late Professor Brothwell between 1968 and 1972. Due to various circumstances, the work never came to publication and part of this new ORCA Archaeology project will be to address this.
Like so many sites in Orkney, coastal erosion is a significant problem and has caused structural and human remains to have been lost over the years since Professor Brothwell's original excavation.
Some 250 burials were recovered, making it one of the largest medieval cemeteries in Scotland. It was also the location of a post-medieval mansion house, partly revealed during excavation. Subsequent work at Newark includes recovery of a Class II Pictish Carved Stone, the second almost complete example of its type from Orkney.
Professor Brothwell’s archive is not publicly available, and with his excavation findings remaining unpublished, the potential for further analysis of the skeletal assemblage has yet to be fully exploited. This project therefore aims to address these issues and aims to:
The project will be rolled out over three years starting in April 2019........
Publication: bringing together all work at the site from Professor Brothwell onwards, providing a current statement of knowledge and understanding, and setting out recommendations for future research.
Archive: bringing the Newark archive within the public domain via a digital repository. Includes cataloguing all skeletal material and digitising the archive.
Analysis of the skeletal remains, including full recording, C14 dating and isotopic analysis of a percentage of the assemblage. A full report will be published of findings.
Creation of a collaborative ancient DNA project. Creation of mobile exhibition about the site to be held at Orkney Museum and local community hall(s).
Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager, ORCA Archaeology said, “We are very excited to have secured this funding for work at such an important site that is continually under attack from coastal erosion. We are looking forward to involving the community in the process through outreach training and workshops and, over the next three years, this project will provide vital information for the record which in turn will help us understand more fully the society that these people created in Orkney during the medieval period. The site includes finds from the Pictish through to the Viking period.”
The community are integral to the project. They have a long-term investment in the site at Newark and want to see previous work brought to publication and the archive disseminated. This project provides opportunities for their involvement throughout.
The fields of Orkney are now ploughed and so that means the new fieldwalking season is upon us.
The call for volunteers went out and a band of intrepid community archaeologists are led out into the spring Orkney sunshine to search for artefacts thrown up by the plough.
Chris Gee, of the ORCA Archaeology team organising the programme, takes up the story......"Even though we are still early in the fieldwalking of the World Heritage Area this season the results are already very interesting, providing new information on recorded sites, revealing unknown ones, and as usual raising more questions.
A field which was marked with three “Tumuli” on the OS map was walked. Although “tumuli” would indicate burial mounds of some sort often the labels were applied with little evidence of what the site actually was. In this case the tumuli were visible in the field as very low mounds with a slightly darker reddish-brown soil than the surrounding. On the surface at the centre of one of the mounds we found a chunk of cramp. Cramp is one of the products of cremation, often placed carefully within the stone cist along with the cremated remains or sometimes within the makeup of the burial mound.
On the mound alongside we found two flaked stone bars. These flattish flaked flagstone bars which were used in cultivating the land are often found within, and sometimes placed around the edge of Bronze Age barrows. Our flaked stone bars had smoothed areas which showed that they had been fairly extensively used before deposition. These stone tools were used to renew the land and bring it to life once more in an eternal cycle, maybe this is what was also expected of them in the context of human life and death.
We walked a new field in an area that we have covered in previous years which is just over the loch from the Standing Standing Stone circles and Barnhouse. In this field we found extensive spreads of cramp which indicates that there was much funerary activity here in the Bronze Age. The funerary cremation fires here would have been clearly visible for miles around and particularly from the large monuments over the Harray Loch.
Further to the two hitherto unknown Neolithic settlement sites that we found last year another one has turned up this year. In fact on the first traverse of the first field to be walked one of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute students picked up the butt end of a ground stone axe or chisel. It was obvious that there was something in the field as soon as we looked at it as there was a slight rise that looked a bit darker in colour (due to occupation ash and midden enhancing the soil). Fragments of burnt stone, flint chips and small scrapers, along with larger stone tools were recorded from the surface. Just as we were about to leave the field I picked up a fine flint chisel arrowhead and several pieces of grooved ware which had also been ploughed up.
Taken together these finds and their distribution suggest a Neolithic settlement site with at least a Late Neolithic element to it. Judging by the extent of the spread it probably consisted of a few houses, perhaps something like Crossiecrown, just outside Kirkwall.
The site is just across the loch from the Barnhouse-Brodgar monuments and not far away from Maeshowe. They would have been clearly visible from each other. The questions we are now asking are how the people in this smaller settlement interacted with the cluster of large monuments and settlement in the area and over the loch (it may have been very wet marsh at that time) and vice versa. How much interaction was there and what form did it take?
I suspect the clear inter-visibility and proximity in this case was not accidental and that it had meaning to people in both locations. Although given the density of prehistoric settlement within and well away from the World Heritage area it may be reckless to read too much into the location of one settlement. What we can now say though is that as well as the large prehistoric settlements like Barnhouse-Ness and Bookan there are apparently several smaller Neolithic settlements consisting of maybe a couple of houses in each case in very close proximity to the large monuments.
The great thing about field walking is that it is very easy to do (particularly on a bonny day!) and the results are almost instant, allowing us to discuss the landscape and what our latest finds are telling us immediately with the community archaeologists.
I am particularly grateful to all the interest shown to this project, and actually archaeology in general in Orkney, by all the landowners that I have met. I have had many interesting chats and learned so much as a result of meeting the people that know and have a first hand interest in their land.
Thanks also to Orkney Archaeology Society, Historic Environment Scotland and others who have sponsored this project.
If you want to get involved in fieldwalking in Orkney then contact Dan Lee on email@example.com
Training and supporting volunteers to record the built heritage of Kirkwall and adding the results to the national record online.
ORCA Archaeology have secured funding from Kirkwall THI for a short programme of archaeological building recording training, recording buildings, and historical urban archive research in Kirkwall town centre during 2019. This complements the results of the ‘Discovering Hidden Kirkwall’ Archaeology Programme undertaken by the UHI Archaeology Institute during 2016-2017, and focuses more explicitly upon built heritage.
The project will train volunteers in new skills, undertake recording in the town, leading to a better characterisation and understanding the Kirkwall conservation area. The results will be added to the national record online, for everyone to access.
Initial training workshops: will be held 25 – 26 March 2019 (10:00-16:00) at Orkney College, Kirkwall, Orkney.
Free training will be provided by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) from the Scotland’s Urban Past team. This will include sessions on ‘History Reconstructed’ which gives participants practical experience of researching buildings using a variety of sources (maps, aerial photos, architectural drawings, digital resources and documents). The team will examine three case studies with volunteers working on group tasks, ‘GIS training’ in open source mapping software, and a ‘Kirkwall Snapshot Survey’ which will give practical experience of building and monument recording, photographic survey techniques and adding images and data to Canmore online.
Activities to follow will include building recording in the town centre supported by the ORCA team in April and May, and urban archive research during April with Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon.
Training is free of charge, lunch is provided, places are limited, booking essential.
Book now and get more info: firstname.lastname@example.org
ORCA Archaeology have secured grant funding from Historic Environment Scotland and the Orkney Archaeology Society for a new landscape project in Orkney.
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site Landscape Project will provide hands-on training and memorable experiences in field archaeology to the local community. The study area will be around Maeshowe and Brodgar, taking in parts of the parishes neighbouring the Loch of Harray and Loch of Stenness, West Mainland, Orkney.
Parts of the landscape will be studied with archive research, field walking, walkover survey and lochside surveys - picking up surface finds and recording features visible on the ground surface. These will explore landscape change from the Mesolithic to the present day.
Previous field walking in the area has recovered prehistoric flints, axe heads and quern stones which often correspond to ancient settlements. Some of these have also been identified during large scale geophysical survey, and this project aims to bring together evidence from these wide ranging sources. Finds from the more recent past are also being collected, such as those from camps used during WW2, bringing the story right up to the present day.
The project aims to take people through the whole archaeological process from finding objects in the field, to mapping, processing finds, and interpreting the results. Participants will produce internationally significant research in the World Heritage area, contribute to the wider understanding of these sites and landscapes through time, and learn new skills.
Field walking will start in March 2019 and continue into April. Other activities will be spaced throughout the year. For updates see this blog and social media.
Check out the background to archaeology landscape projects completed in previous years.
If you are interested in taking part contact email@example.com
Despite the atrocious weather, a team from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) and 9 participants undertook a walkover survey around the Hall of Clestrain on the 13th October 2018.
The aims were to record sites that relate specifically to the house, and sites from other periods, in order to put the house into a wider context.
Archaeological walkover surveys are used to record earthworks and structures in the landscape using basic techniques: a written, sketch drawn and photographic record, along with recording the location of sites with hand-held GPS. Participants were trained in basic techniques of field recognition and recording.
The survey covered the walled garden, the area around the house and the trackway to the road, recording sites from all periods. The site of a nearby prehistoric standing stone and hut circle were also visited. In total, 17 sites were recorded. Within the walled garden, landscape garden features were recorded: a mound, pathways, pond and old trees.
The garden wall itself is very high with decorative recesses. Just to the north, outside the garden, a large earthwork with a knocking stone could relate to an earlier phase of farm buildings. Along the trackway to the east, a World War II search light emplacement was recorded. The walled garden would have been in use during the time of John Rae’s childhood. The range of sites recorded during the survey demonstrate the rich history of the Hall of Clestrain area.
Future work could record some of the walkover sites in more detail and conduct geophysical survey to further characterise the garden, potential former farm buildings and prehistoric sites.
Participants commented.............‘For me, the most interesting part of the course was seeing the approach taken to initially survey the land. It really gets you thinking more about what could be under your feet and begin to think outside the box more.’
‘Very clear explanation with follow-up and support on the ground’
‘I did not really know what to expect before arriving and was unsure whether or not I would be of any use, but it was fantastic.’
‘Really useful to learn more about GPS and methods of landscape recording’
‘A really useful day. Many thanks for arranging it.’
‘I look forward to participating in future events and learning more!’
For more information on the John Rae Society see their website.
Join the ORCA team working with The John Rae Society on a series of archaeology activities to explore and record the Hall of Clestrain and surrounding gardens - the home of John Rae in Orkney.
The programme starts on Saturday 13th October with a day of community walkover survey of the walled gardens with the aim of tracing features from old maps and recording structures and earthworks on the ground.
Participants will be trained in basic field recognition and survey of the built heritage. The archaeological works around the hall aim to place Clestrain in a wider context and explore the history and development of this important building.
Dan Lee said 'ORCA are excited to work with The John Rae Society on this important project, to explore, research and restore one of Orkney's most iconic buildings, starting with a community training event’.
If you want to join the team working on this exciting community archaeology project then drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org
Booking is essential as there are limited places available for training. Please do come for the day or just an hour. You are also welcome to come and visit us during the day. Trustees and archaeologists from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology will be there to talk to you about the project.
No previous experience of archaeology is needed, but if you join us then bring a packed lunch, waterproofs and sturdy boots.
The John Rae Society is based in Stromness, Orkney. It is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO), registered in Scotland and the Registered Charity Number is SC044463.
Its purposes are :
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.