Our Orkney Archaeology Review, produced annually by the Orkney Archaeology Society to showcase work which has been grant-aided by the Society in the preceding 12 months.
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Welcome to the third Orkney Archaeological Review. Once again, our ambition is to expand the Review with more articles and illustrations, more pages, and a wider coverage of the ground-breaking and exciting archaeology that is happening in our islands.
We open with the Ness of Brodgar and explore not just the recent revelations of the site, but the necessary realities of modern archaeology: funding; closed season research; possible endgames for the site; and the place of the Ness in the tourist and wider economy of Orkney. This is followed by an account of photogrammetry – cutting edge digital technology – being used at two of our major sites, The Ness and The Cairns.
We move from prehistory to medieval town expansion in an article that traces land reclamation in Kirkwall, particularly in the Norse era but also in the Scottish period. The illustrations show vividly just how much of the town’s 900-year history is still extant. The next article takes the focus to Westray and a rich, but little explored site, The Knowe of Skea. What has been revealed is a complex and long occupation record from the Neolithic through to (possibly) Early Christian, and finally Norse use.
The stated 900th anniversary of St Magnus’ martyrdom was an excellent opportunity for a research, training and community project, and is the subject of our next piece. Most activity focused on Palace in Birsay and the surrounding Barony. Magnus’ life and death is Orkney’s best loved story and this article shows how detailed archaeology can work hand in hand with school and community enthusiasm.
Our next piece on Swandro in Rousay is a good illustration that the unexpected should always be expected when you start digging… The Knowe of Swandro was thought to be Iron Age in date, however recent excavations have taken that date back to the Neolithic and forward to the Norse Period. The article also highlights the continuing tension between coastal erosion and archaeological survival in Orkney.
We revisit the amazing YAARP project in its third year which has produced some amazing images, celebrating the links between art and archaeology.
Conservation on a much larger scale in Rousay features in our next piece that comes from Historic Environment Scotland, who are tasked with looking after our key monuments. This article looks specifically at work to update the interpretation of the well-known Neolithic sites on the island. This work includes digital technology similar to that featured earlier in the Review.
Our third article to feature Orkney’s North Isles is an account of the recent Cata Sand excavation on Sanday. This dig was carried out in 2016 and 2017 and like Swandro, the site is under imminent threat from coastal erosion. An early Neolithic house is examined in detail and we have the bonus discovery of an intriguing whale pit on the site.
The marvellous Tomb of the Eagles Visitor Centre on South Ronaldsay is a tribute to the work of Ronnie and Morgan Simison in bringing that Neolithic tomb so vividly to life for thousands of visitors over more than thirty years. The next piece gives an account of the Neolithic tomb and the Bronze Age Burnt Mound, as well as discussing the important role of public presentation and interpretation of the site.
Our final article revisits the long-term excavation of The Cairns, also in South Ronaldsay. This Iron Age broch site has undergone extensive exploration and has featured in previous Reviews. This article takes us outwith the broch itself to investigate Iron Age metalworking capacity in the north part of the site. Fascinating finds are described and linked to a suggested expression of Later Iron Age collective identity. This final piece ends the Review on a speculative and perhaps controversial note – as befits the exploratory and challenging nature of good archaeology.
We have brought together articles that cover all the major periods of Orkney’s pre-Twentieth Century archaeology, and we have ranged over the Mainland and four of the North and South Isles. Not least, the contributors have pointed up the important role our local community and our annual visitors have in developing and supporting archaeology in Orkney.