Day of Archaeology

Today is the Day of Archaeology, a worldwide event where archaeologists from all sectors blog about their working lives giving an insight into the profession. RCAHMS is joining in on the fun, and will be posting staff blogs throughout the day describing some of our work here at RCAHMS, but also some of our favourite archaeological sites in Scotland.

Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #dayofarch and be sure to check back here throughout the day for more updates.

 

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Brian Wilkinson RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

Brian Wilkinson

Britain From Above Activity Officer

Sandwick, known locally as the Easting, is an east-facing bay with a gently shelving, broad sandy beach on the Isle of Unst, Shetland. Sloping up from the bay is a hillside where you can see the substantial remains of Sandwick township, comprising the unroofed and collapsing walls of dwellings, barns, byres, and enclosures that housed and sustained a community of farmers and fishermen in the historic past.

Sandwick Bay view E

I first visited Easting in 2009 with the Scotland’s Rural Past project to undertake field survey training with Unst Archaeology group, and begin a school project with Uyeasound primary school. Our initial recce visit revealed an amazingly rich archaeological landscape, with the footings of older, perhaps Norse buildings underlying several of the farmsteads.

Elsewhere there were signs of prehistoric occupation, including a reconstructed Iron Age building, the original eroding into the sea and excavated by the local community together with the SCAPE trust, and the low sub-rectangular turf and boulder bank of a previously unrecorded Neolithic dwelling. Clearly this fertile landscape had been valued as a place able to support a farming community over several thousand years.

A surprising piece of evidence for an historic farming economy could be seen in the remains of a Norse farmstead eroding out of the sand dunes down on the beach. Excavated in the late 1970’s and occupied during the 13th – 14th centuries it shows the same basic layout as the historic farmsteads further up the hill; with a dwelling at one end of the building, and a byre at the other.

Sandwick Norse house view N

This building leaves no doubt as to which end was which. The entrance into the north end is cow-shaped! The walls at the foot of the door are narrow and the doorway gradually widens as it goes up, just as the width of a cow increases with its height from hooves to belly. This discovery finally solved the puzzling problem of the dimensions of excavated Norse byre entrances being too narrow for cattle to pass through.

 
Sandwick Norse house view S

It can sometimes be difficult to look at an archaeological site and imagine what it was and how people used it. This doorway’s profile helped me make a mental picture of the Norse farmers of Sandwick and their cattle of long ago (as illustrated by my colleague Danny’s useful impression).

Danny interprets the door

Day of Archaeology 2012

RCAHMS is once again participating in the Day of Archaeology! On June 29th, we’ll be blogging and tweeting throughout the day about what we get up to here at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and talking about some of our favourite sites across Scotland.

You can follow our updates on the day here on It’s Not Just A Trowel and also over on the official Day of Archaeology page.

We will also be tweeting on the Day which you can follow on our Twitter page and also by following the hashtag #DayofArch.

Be sure to check back here on the June 29th!

 

Robert Adam RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

My name is Robert Adam and I am an Aerial Photographer with the RCAHMS and part of my photographic duties are to record photographically archaeological and architectural sites from the air and on the ground. In 2007, I accompanied a survey team to record sites in the Yarrows area of Sutherland and The Grey Cairns Of Camster was one of the many sites I was assigned to photograph.
 
 
I was lucky enough to accompany my colleagues to the Yarrows area a few years ago as part of an archeological survey team in 2007. One of the many sites I photographed, the Grey Cairns Of Camster stand out. Not only are they constructed beautifully, it is amazing that they have stood so long intact considering the desolate and remote area they are in. The weather for instance should have been a factor in their ruin. It was a tight squeeze to get in and quite difficult to light and photograph it to show of the fine features. I am no archaeologist, but it was a highlight of my field work trip to photograph the two cairns and learn about their history from my colleagues.
 

Susan Hamilton RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

I’m Susan Hamilton. I work in the Survey and Recording section at RCAHMS, and am responsible for a number of data-led projects, which include exciting work sharing our database with a number of partners, for example the National Trust for Scotland, the Orkney Council Archaeology Service and the Garden History Society in Scotland. 

General oblique aerial view in Inchkeith and its defences, taken from the SE.

I’ve chosen the Island of Inchkeith, in the Firth of Forth.  Located in a strategic defensive position in the middle of the Firth, it helped protect the important Port of Leith and the City of Edinburgh as well as the sheltered anchorage provided by the Forth.  As a result, it is covered in defensive structures, some of which date from the 16th century.

Today, some of the most visible remains are the concrete and brick shells of the First and Second World War defences.  I’ve been on fieldwork on Inchkeith and was struck by the evocative nature of the island.  It has been more or less uninhabited since the end of the Second World War, and in some parts it is hard to believe it is almost 70 years since up to 1000 service personnel were stationed here. In a number of the buildings, wooden rifle racks and shelves for helmets survive by the entrances. Observation posts retain painted regimental badges on the walls and small tables where maps and plans (or the daily rotas) may have been laid out.

View of N concrete lined sunken entrance trench to 9.2-inch gun emplacement Battery Observation Post, taken from the N.

For me, what is interesting about places like Inchkeith is that they demonstrate the massive changes that the infrastructure of the Second World War imposed on the Scottish landscape.  Although this island fortress may be an extreme example, it reflects the very real fear of invasion and the threat of aerial attack under which people lived.  Sometimes it seems easy to present a British view of the conflict coloured by ‘Dads’ Army’ and ‘Boys Own adventures’.  As we enter a period when there will be fewer and fewer survivors telling their stories, we need places like Inchkeith to remind us of the difficulties and folly of war.

Kevin Grant RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

With every colour in a tartan plaid spread on the sky…

Kevin Grant CBA Bursary Scheme Community Archaeology Trainee

Out on the edge of the old world, on the blue-green ribbon of machair and mountains which makes up  the Innse Gall, the barking of a seal punctuates the regular lapping of the Minch in the rugged, rocky, haven of Loch Aineort. Or at least, I imagine it will.

In 2 weeks, I head out to my favourite archaeological landscape: Loch Aineort, on the east side of the Island of South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Blogging won’t be easy, given that a phone call can be a challenge there – that’s why I’m writing this pre-emptive blog, which will be posted on my behalf, while I’m cold, damp, and midgey-bitten in my favourite archaeological landscape.

The ruins of the inn at Loch Aineort, looking west across the Loch to Hafn, the last spur of land before the open sea.

Loch Aineort was once the main port for the Uists back in the 18th century, when the MacDonalds of Clanranald wielded their power from here across the seas. The ruins of an inn lie choked in scrub at the head of the Loch, a place where a dry roof and a warm fire would have been heaven for travellers coming ashore from many of the small stone-built and rock-cut moorings nearby. Blackhouses, the low, round ended byre-dwellings of the 18th and 19th centuries, dot the landscape, nestled down against the wind. A glance at an aerial photograph of the area reveals cultivation remains everywhere:  scars left by the Cas Chrom, the foot plough, cover the tiny tidal island of Riosgaigh where 10 crofters had a share of potato-land in 1805.

View into the loch from within one of many Blackhouses surrounding the loch

The Loch has bore witness to great events: it was probably from here that Clanranald departed with his men for the Jacobite rebellion and Culloden. One of his men chose Loch Aineort as the setting for what was to become one of the most significant and beautiful poems ever written in the Gaelic language. His description of sunrise illustrates why it is my favourite place: it is the perfect example of a true archaeological landscape: a place where the land, people, and culture are intricately entwined.

‘Chrian a’ faoisgneadh gu h-òrbhuidgh
Às a mogal…

Chinn dach dath bhiodh ann am breacan,

Air an Iarmailt’

 

‘As the Sun Bust Yellow-Golden

Out of her husk…

With every Colour in a Tartan Plaid

Spread on the Sky’

Alastair MacMhaistir Alasdair, The Galley of Clanranald c1751 (Trans. R. Black).

To view information held about this site at RCAHMS, visit the site on Canmore

Scotland’s Rural Past New Publication

The Scotland’s Rural Past project is coming to end at RCAHMS and they have just released a second publication which is ‘A Practical Guide to Recording Archaeological Sites’. This new guide has developed out of training courses and contains practical, hands-on advice on the techniques used for recording archaeological sites, it is an invaluable tool for anyone who would like to discover more about the rich history and heritage of this country.

I’ve just got my hands on a copy and don’t know how I’ve managed without it! You can access a free pdf copy here.