A new website – www.howe.scapaflow.co – highlighting the environmental archaeological record provided by the excavations at Howe, near Stromness, has been launched.
Environmental samples were collected from the site contexts throughout the excavation process, and the evidence of the plants found there has added greatly to the information available to us about the site and the life of its occupants.
The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme’s Access to Ancient Environments project enabled Orkney Museum to catalogue the environmental remains from the Howe excavation and provide public access to the data.
As part of this project, Ways with Weeds; the forgotten plant uses of Howe provides a searchable website which looks at the plants found at the archaeological site in a different way.
Instead of focusing on the cultivated crop plants such as wheat, barley, oats or flax, it looks at the ways that the other plants identified at the site could have been used.
More than 70 non-crop species – flowering plants, mosses and seaweed – have been found at Howe. They include a number of plants which have often been referred to in archaeological reporting as “weeds of cultivation” or “settlement weeds”. Often they are ignored altogether.
In the end, all but four of the plants found at Howe were found to have known usages. By exploring the ways that plant matter may have been turned into objects and buildings, or used for food or lighting or as medicine, it is possible to get closer to the day-to-day existence of the people of Howe.