Archaeology in Orkney

County archaeologist Julie Gibson and Dr Jane Downes (Orkney College UHI) discussing the discovery of yet another cist site in Rendall.

There is an oft-quoted saying that if you scratch the soil in Orkney it bleeds archaeology. However hackneyed this may appear, believe it or not, it is far from an exaggeration. It’s practically true.

Orkney is notoriously rich in archaeological remains. As well as the visible monuments we can still see and visit today, there is a wealth of lesser-known and unexcavated sites.

Looking after this rich heritage is an important job, and one which falls to our county archaeologist, Mrs Julie Gibson.

Although Orkney’s climate can often be thanked for revealing previously unknown aspects of our past, the storms and tides are also responsible for destroying much.

Orkney suffers some of the worst coastal erosion in Scotland, and while it is undoubtedly exciting to record and work on the new treasures unearthed by nature, it is heartbreaking to watch them being eroded and lost forever by the same forces.

It takes skill and luck to find these sites – and time and money to save them.


Orkney College UHI Archaeology Department

The archaeology department runs the Masters in Archaeological Practice course, taking students from all over the world and providing training in the practical side of being a professional archaeologist.



The Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) was established in 2007 and offers services in archaeology and geophysics.

Prior to ORCA being set up, archaeological services were provided by ORCA’s prior incarnation as the Projects Unit of the Orkney Archaeological Trust, which had built up an excellent reputation and a regular client base.

ORCA is housed within the Archaeology Department of Orkney College UHI and undertakes research and commercial archaeology.  All the archaeology department’s excavation projects are managed through ORCA.


The Orkney Archaeology Society

Orkney Archaeology Society is a charity registered in Scotland (SC030611) which developed from the Friends of Orkney Archaeological Trust.

The aims of the society are:

  • to support the management and development of Orkney’s archaeological & historical resource by charitable means;
  • to serve the interests of the membership of the Society and the general public by providing information on archaeology and archaeological activity in Orkney through publications, meetings, conferences, exhibitions, projects and other activities and events.

The OAS organises a programme of walks and talks, including visiting speakers talking on European and world archaeology and provides financial assistance to archaeological projects in Orkney and keeps a volunteers list to help match up people with time and enthusiasm with projects that need some help.

Becoming a member of the Orkney Archaeology Society helps to continue the excellent and vital archaeological work carried out in the islands. Click here for details.