ORCA Senior Project Officer, Paul Sharman, recently attended the Harbours in Space and Time International Conference in Mainz, Germany where he presented a paper on an ongoing research project, 'Prospecting for Orkney's Maritime Infrastructure'.
The event was the final conference of the German Research Council's (DFG) Special Priority Programme 1630 'Harbours from the Roman Period to the Middle Ages'.
The abstract of Paul Sharman (ORCA) and Julie Gibson's (UHI Archaeology Institute) paper can be downloaded here.
Check out the conference 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 :
Rick Barton, Project Officer for Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) writes about the latest developments at Swartigill….
We are into the last week of the excavations at the Burn of Swartigill in Caithness, and we have achieved all our key objectives for this season.
We now know that the structures that were originally seen in the erosion of the burn edge pre-date the construction of the passage structure. The deposits overlaying the walls of these earlier structure have been cut into to accommodate the northern revetment wall of the passage. This is important chronological information about the development of the buildings, and ties in with our understanding of the chronology of the site from the C14 dates.
We have also, mostly, defined the extent of the main structure in the trench, which appears to be a sub-oval shape, rather than round or rectangular, with an entrance on the east side. This slightly squashed aspect could be due to the fact that this structure is respecting existing features and buildings around it, using the space that’s available.
The passageway on the north side of the main structure follows the curving alignment of the wall around to the east, and seems to be dropping down in elevation as it goes. Did I hear someone say Souterrain? Well, it’s a possibility, but there is still work to be done here to fully define this feature, as it continues out of our current excavation area to the east.
There are tantalising glimpses of some well-preserved patches of occupation deposits within the main structure. Protected and preserved under a layer of peaty soil, bright red areas of ashy deposit and very compacted surfaces with lots of charcoal are beginning to show through. We will be taking some samples from small amounts of these deposits this year, to further examine their potential in post-excavation. We will hopefully get some datable material from them too.
This year we extended the trench to the south to investigate a second geophysical anomaly on the earth resistance survey, and it’s looking more and more likely that we have second large structure on the site. We have seen some interesting upright set stone in this area, which look like they have been incorporated into an interior wall face. We are also starting to see a curving alignment of rubble to the south of this, which could be overlaying a structural wall in this direction.
Thanks to the P7-9 classes from Watten and Thrumster primary schools for their hard work helping to uncover this tantalising addition to the site on Monday.
We have only a few days left of this season, Friday the 7th is our last day on site. There is still plenty to do, so if you would like to get involved, come along and see us.
The community dig at Swartigill in Caithness is now underway and Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) Project Officer Rick Barton continues the story from last year………
“We are approaching the halfway point of this season’s excavations of early Iron Age structures at the Burn of Swartigill at Yarrows in Caithness, and we are making good progress. We have had a lot of help from some fantastic volunteers throughout the dig so far, and the team has been getting bigger every day. The alluvial layers shrouding the archaeology on the site are gradually being removed to reveal some interesting structural features and deposits.
So far we have defined the edges of what appears to be a large sub-oval structure, with the hint of a central hearth setting defined by a ring of stones and darker patch of soil which contains lots of charcoal and ash layers. The structure is bound by an external passage to the north, which was accessed from the west where a threshold stone and pivot mark the entrance. The passage has a very well made surface of flat boulders, which form the capstones for a very substantial drain.
We are starting to investigate the walls showing along the erosion edge of the burn. It was the natural the exposure of these features that originally led to its discovery. This part of the site seems to be ceramic central, with lots of sherds of prehistoric pottery present within the layers overlying the walls. There are also traces of some peat ash starting to show, which we will be investigating and sampling later in the week.
There is still lots of work to do this season, and there are tantalising traces of other structural features coming to light. Some of the alignments of the walls, taken together with what we know from the geophysics, suggests that there are multiple structures on the site, and we may be seeing just a small part of a larger settlement.
All visitors and volunteers are very welcome, and no previous experience is necessary.”
The Swartigill excavation is a joint community project involving the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Yarrows Heritage Trust.
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.
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.