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Professor Brothwell’s archive is not publicly available, and with his excavation findings remaining unpublished, the potential for further analysis of the skeletal assemblage has yet to be fully exploited.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 :
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 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.
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.