Eight research projects share OIC’s £50k archaeology fund

Getting down to the floor level of the Cairns roundhouse, in South Ronaldsay. (Sigurd Towrie)

Eight projects look set to benefit from Orkney Islands Council’s archaeology fund this year.

Councillors at last week’s OIC development and regeneration committee meeting hailed the fledgling fund as having been a great success, with many of the 2010 supported projects attracting widespread media attention.

And it was previously agreed by members to up the fund to £50,000 for this year only.

Councillors heard that the total project cost of all eight applications for this year was £241,750, with council assistance amounting to £44,224, following the backing of members.

Perhaps the highest proflie excavation to receive OIC support this year is the ongoing excavation at the Ness of Brodgar, in Stenness, described in the report before councillors as the “jewel in the crown of Neolithic architecture in Europe.” Led by Nick Card, of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the project has been allocated £6,400.

Five other ORCA projects were also successful in attracting funding. These are:

◆ The Cairns Archaeological Field Project (£4,400) — the continuation of a project focusing on an Iron Age roundhouse in South Ronaldsay.

◆ The Banks Chambered Tomb, South Ronaldsay (£2,980) — a “rare opportunity to rescue an exposed human bone assembly” from the recently discovered chambered tomb. The project, said the report, will relate to the nearby Tomb of the Eagles and encourage additional visitors to the area.

◆ World Heritage Site geophysics (£1,600) — Phase 13 of an ongoing project to survey the landscape around the Heart ofNeolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, which will provide a “greater insight of the landscape context and enable better management of the WHA.”

◆ Roeberry Barrow, Cantick, South Walls (£4,107) — The first example of a square, Pictish burial mound in Orkney. The site may demonstrate a “special connection” between the South Isles of Orkney and the north-east of Scotland.

◆ The Braes of Ha’Breck, Wyre (£9,765) — the continuation of a project studying a newly-discovered Neolithic settlement with associated quarry. Members heard that the project is “making a significant, positive impact on Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre.”

Staying in the inner North Isles, the Orkney Gateway to the Atlantic project (Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre), led by Stephen Dockrill,of the University of Bradford, looks set to receive £6,100.
This project, which is in collaboration with New York University, is study into resource exploitation, sustainability and resilience from the Neolithic to the Late Norse period.

Finally, after a year away, Dr James Barrett will hopefully return to the Brough of Deerness this year to continue his project investigating the remains of a Norse settlement. Councillors backed a grant of £4,648 to go towards the University of Cambridge project, which began in 2008. Three Viking Age houses have been investigated so far — found to be dug into earlier, Pictish, layers dating from the sixth- to ninth-century.

The main Viking Age phase of settlement has been interpreted as a chiefly stronghold, rather than an ecclesiastical centre or a temporary refuge. However, the excavations have shown that the site’s function changed through time, so the story may ultimately prove to be more complex. Understanding these temporal trends and their wider implications remains the most critical goal of further excavation at the site.

In addition to the above projects, members gave the green light to a number of grants, totalling £10,000, to enhance the visitor experience — and bring a historical re-enactor north — at excavations across the county.


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