A team from ORCA Archaeology discovered a 3,500 year old burial cist last week while undertaking exploratory archaeological excavations on behalf of SSEN Transmission in Orkney.
The cist was found intact at the proposed Finstown substation site, just below the ground surface, and consists of a stone-lined box capped with a large flat stone, and would probably have contained the remains of an individual who lived during the Bronze Age.
The burial was discovered by ORCA Archaeology as part of SSEN Transmission’s commitment to undertake environmental survey works ahead of construction, should the substation be approved.
Local soil conditions aren’t great for the preservation of bone, and at first sight the cist appears empty, but careful excavation may reveal some traces.
Standing around the cist in perhaps the same position as mourners did 3,500 years ago, the ORCA team discussed with SSEN Transmission the importance of the find and the next steps involved in excavation and recording, and the implications of the discovery for our understanding of how people lived and worked in the landscape.
Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager ORCA Archaeology said, “Previous survey work told us there was significant archaeology present at the site and we are pleased that within the first few days we have our first major find. It is fascinating to think that we are the first people in 3,500 years to look into this structure. We are working with SSEN Transmission to record the archaeology of the site, and this is a great start.”
SSEN Transmission has submitted a planning application for the onshore substation near Finstown. The substation is a critical component of the proposed network reinforcement which is required to support renewable electricity generators across Orkney looking to connect to the main GB transmission system for the first time. Its progress, as well as that of the reinforcement programme, remains subject to all planning and regulatory approvals.
SSEN Transmission’s Environmental Project Manager, Simon Hall continues,
“As a responsible network operator, we take our environmental standards very seriously and strive to do everything we can to ensure that our proposed works minimise disruption and impact to our host communities, whilst meeting our License obligations. For this particular project, that includes working with local archaeological experts ORCA as part of our pre-construction assessments to fully understand the archaeological features and history at the Finstown site. We are delighted that it has resulted in the discovery of such an exciting feature that otherwise may never have been found. We look forward to continuing to work closely with ORCA Archaeology as the excavation progresses.”
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 email@example.com or ring 01856 569225 to book your place.
ORCA Archaeology is pleased to announce that they have been commissioned by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) to commence archaeology excavation at the site of the proposed new sub-station at Finstown.
Orkney is recognised to be at the forefront of the rapidly expanding renewable sector in the UK. The proposed Finstown Substation will form part of the multi-million pound Orkney Transmission Connection and Infrastructure project which aims to reinforce the electricity transmission connection between the renewable energy providers on the islands and the mainland of Scotland.
The planned archaeology work at the proposed substation site will involve a programme of excavation, which will investigate anomalies identified through earlier surveys conducted by ORCA Archaeology.
Magnetometer (geophysical) surveys revealed several areas of archaeological interest (Figure 1 below), which were subsequently investigated by trial trenching. Interestingly the large anomaly shown at 8 in Figure 2 has been interpreted as a lightning strike rather than archaeology, but looks pretty spectacular in any event!
The sub-station site sits in an area of low glacial mounds laid to pasture, at the foot of Hill of Heddle. An old road or track formerly ran through it along the present field boundary angling NE from Stymilders, which itself was the site of a 19th century school. The field boundary is shown in Figure 2 below.
The trial trenching found extensive deposits of ‘midden’ - material containing debris from human occupation - and several stone structures, probably dating from the Bronze Age (about 2000BC to 800BC in Orkney) near Stymilders and the Neolithic (4000BC to c. 2000BC) in the eastern field, (feature 7 in Figure 2 above).
The current excavation follows on from this previous work and targets the known areas of archaeological potential. The ORCA Archaeology team will open a series of large trenches as shown in Figure 3 below, take samples of the midden material, investigate and record the structures present.
Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager, ORCA Archaeology commented, “This is a rare opportunity to excavate a large area of good archaeological potential and we anticipate it will add significantly to our understanding of how people interacted with the landscape near the World Heritage Area.”
SSEN’s Environmental Project Manager, Simon Hall adds, “Given Orkney’s vast, rich and highly significant archaeology, we are fully committed to work with all relevant bodies to avoid or mitigate impacts and protect Orkney’s archaeological heritage.In the event of any archaeological discoveries of interest we are committed to ensure these are fully documented, preserved if possible, with our findings shared with interested parties.”
For further information on the proposals see the SSEN website at............
Media contact: Sean Page, Marketing Officer. E: firstname.lastname@example.org T: 01856 569229
A team from ORCA Archaeology unearthed sections of wall and cobbled surface this week while undertaking a watching brief for an Orkney Islands Council infrastructure project in the centre of Kirkwall.
To date, three walls in total have been uncovered during the works. One substantial wall set back from the road junction is built using immense stone blocks and lime mortar indicating that it is part of the now demolished fourteenth-century Kirkwall Castle.
The castle itself was built without royal consent in the late fourteenth century by Earl Henry Sinclair while Orkney was still ruled by Scandinavian kings and was said to be one of the strongest castles in the realm. In the early seventeenth century the castle saw action when it was defended by the rebellious Stewart Earls against the Scottish King’s forces under the Earl of Caithness. The structure was so strong that cannon balls were said to “split like wooden golf balls against the walls”!
Following the siege, an order was given by the Scottish King James VI to dismantle the castle in 1615 so that it could not be used again as a centre of rebellion. This process of destruction was completed in 1865 when the remaining structure was demolished to make way for Castle Street. There are now no visible signs of this immense fortification to be seen above ground, although previous building works in the 1980s revealed massive stone walls close to the present site which most likely were the foundations of the castle.
While the ORCA Archaeology team continues to dig the fascinating and substantial finds, the road project continues.
Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager ORCA Archaeology commented, “ This is an area of the city that we know was the site of the castle and it is exciting to see the remains of the possible curtain wall and part of the fourteenth-century Kirkwall Castle in situ..”
The whole site will be recorded, added to the historical archive and covered over again so that the infrastructure works can progress without delay.
A watching brief investigation involves the use of rapid archaeological recording techniques and is usually carried out in response to planning conditions. Work programmes are created to fit in with budget and development requirements.
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
Newly released video shows wreckage deposited on the seabed of Scapa Flow, Orkney, when the WW1 German battleship SMS Kaiser was salvaged.
For more details on this joint project with SULA Diving see the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology blog https://bit.ly/2SNvL2M
The centenary of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow, Orkney is approaching in June 2019. Historic Environment Scotland commissioned the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology and SULA Diving to complete a full survey of the wrecks and debris remaining on the sea bed following the interwar salvage operations.
The seven remaining ships of the High Seas Fleet have seen Scapa Flow become one of the most well-known dive sites in the World. Those wrecks are still the primary focus of recreational divers, but the remains of the vessels that were mostly recovered and removed from Scapa Flow have also been a recognised diving resource for many years. However, the exact extent and composition of these so-called salvage sites was unknown until this week, when the report of the second phase of work on these sites was published online.
The overall aim of the Scapa Flow Salvage Sites Project was to determine what remains of the many vessels of the German High Seas Fleet that were salvaged in the years that followed their scuttling in June 1919. Phase One, undertaken over the winter of 2016/17, involved a side scan sonar survey of the main anchorages and other areas thought to have been involved in the salvage process. In the second phase of this project, divers and remotely operated vehicles examined and recorded the remains in detail. The overall result is that the vast majority of salvage sites in Scapa Flow have been located and the remains at each site have been directly investigated and recorded.
The salvage of the German High Seas Fleet was an unparalleled achievement. It was initially said that the recovery of the larger German vessels was an impossible task given their sheer size and weight (some up to 28,000 tonnes displacement), but a unique method was used to recover these vessels, most of which were lying upside down on the seabed in depths up to 45m. The basic principle was simple - fill the vessels with air to the point that they floated to the surface.
The process of flotation itself caused parts of the vessels to fall away, leaving behind debris which has now been recorded to form an incredible record of the details of construction of these warships and the ground-breaking salvage process. The fascinating wreckage examined ranges from huge mast sections complete with spotting tops, searchlights, a diesel engine from a ships boat to smaller items such as gyrocompass remains. The report itself is a mine of information for anyone interested in the construction of these historically important vessels and what happened to them. Where possible, photographs of objects on the seabed are matched with those taken of the same object when the ship was in use.
The full report is now available for public download through the Scapa Flow Historic Wreck website http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com/projects/salvage-sites-phase-2/
Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager at Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology said,
” The German High Seas Fleet Salvage Site Project provides an insight into one of the most spectacular episodes in maritime history when forty four warships were raised from the seabed of Scapa Flow and salvaged. The report brings together the archaeological remains of this operation and not only records the position and scale of the debris field, but also tells the story of these ships and their salvage through the remaining artefacts.”
Philip Robertson, Historic Environment Scotland’s marine expert said, “As the centenary of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet approaches, the publication of this report marks a significant milestone for marine archaeological heritage in Scapa Flow, and we are particularly grateful to the many volunteers who have assisted us in documenting what survives of the Fleet following one of the greatest salvage feats of all time.”
Click here to see video of the wreckage of the German battleship SMS Kaiser.
The High Seas Fleet was interned at the Royal Navy base Scapa Flow, Orkney at the end of the First World War. Admiral Ludwig Von Reuter, ordered the fleet to be scuttled so that the British could not make use of this vast resource.
This resulted in the sinking of 52 of the 74 interned vessels. After the scuttling, 44 of these vessels were salvaged and various components of the ships’ structures lie on the seabed marking these wreck sites, a valuable cultural heritage resource.
Media Contact: Sean Page, Marketing Officer, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, Kirkwall. E: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 01856 569229
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.