SCHARP Blog

What's going on with Scotland's eroding coastal heritage

Orkney: our wettest, windiest and busiest ShoreUPDATE yet

A group of people standing on a beach in front a cliff with the remains of a broch on top

The ShoreUPDATE team at Backaskaill Broch

Hello from Orkney, where we’ve spent an amazing couple of weeks exploring eroding coastlines, and encountering world class archaeology in the best company of our SCHARP volunteers and new friends. It’s been the busiest, blowiest and wettest ShoreUPDATE trip yet, and we’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

A group of people standing in a small straight-sided grassy noust

The Clestrain Gang. Our SHoreUPDATE group in Kirkwall taking shelter in a noust.

We met a great group of people at our first Orcadian training day in Kirkwall and braved the weather to record a beautifully-preserved stone-lined boat noust in Clestrain near Orphir.

Natalia talked about our CoastSCAPE photography and video project with art students at Orkney College.

A group of students at a talk

Natalia telling art students about the CoastSCAPE project

We hope to build an exhibition based on young people’s take of the coastal heritage of their local areas through photography and film, which will be shown around Scotland over the next 2 years.

The island of Sanday was our next stop, a high-priority for us as its soft coastline and sandy beaches are very vulnerable to the powerful waves the island experiences.

A group of people standing on a beach as one person talks and points

Cath in action expaining Backaskaill Broch to the group

Thanks to Cath Parker, the monument warden for Orkney, and Sanday resident, everybody knew we were coming and a little bit about what the project was about. As a result we enjoyed our busiest and most productive ShoreUPDATE event yet.

Two boys pointing at a small piece of bone visible in the eroding soil of a coast edge

The boys point out their bone find at Backaskaill Broch

We were very lucky in being able to spend several days on the island, getting to know both the people and the archaeology; guiding new volunteers through the process of using the Sites at Risk Map to locate and research sites, recording the sites and their condition while out on the coast, and then submitting survey records through the project website.

A boy using a smartphone to record an eroding archaeological site

Bleddyn creating a new site record with the app

In order to see as many of Sanday’s spectacular archaeological sites as possible, we split into groups to visit different parts of the coast where some of the most vulnerable sites were to be found.

Highlights included a Neolithic chambered cairn perched precipitously on the eroding coast edge at Els Ness; the variety of remains relating to the kelp industry;

A girl standing next to an eroding coast edge, with a pit cut into the surface and flat stones visible lining the pit.

Thyrma being a human scale next to a beautiful cross-section through a kelp-burning pit

brochs half sectioned by the sea, revealing internal details and features; and settlement mounds containing evidence of hundreds of years of occupation clearly visible as the remain of walls and layer upon layer of deposits made up of food waste and ash swept from cooking fires.

A group of people standing on a pebble beach below an eroded edge containing stonework and different soil deposits

Sanday volunteers at the settlement mound at Newark

The wealth and variety of eroding sites provided the perfect opportunity for volunteers to learn about recording the wide-ranging and often complex sites that characterises the coastal archaeology of Sanday.

We thoroughly enjoyed visiting great sites and meeting local volunteers, enjoying the warmth of the welcome, Orcadian friendliness and hospitality, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that we had a bonus few hours extra on Sanday as a fully-booked ferry changed our plans.

An eroded coast edge showing sand, layers of black soil, and patches of shell

The settlement mound at Northskaill – what a site!

We took advantage of the opportunity to visit a few more of the top-priority sites around the island, and they certainly rewarded us for our effort. The settlement mound at Northskaill is a great example of clearly-stratified layers being revealed as the sea cuts a section across the site, while we were really intrigued by the remains at Cleat.

An detail of an eroded coast edge with a black burnt area visible in the soil

One of the many burnt deposits exposed in the eroding coast edge at Cleat

Here, in a coastal exposure, cists, structures, hearths and patches of burning are visible over a 50 metre stretch, where animal bones, fish bones, shell, fragments of burnt bone, burnt clay, charcoal and heat-cracked stone can be spotted in the exposed soils. Cath will be organising trips to go and see these sites over the summer – so Sanday volunteers, make sure you take advantage of the opportunity because they really are amazing. There’s more than enough to record and monitor around the coast of the island for many more fascinating and exciting ShoreUPDATE survey days to come.

A stone protruding from an eroding section, with vertical parallel scratches

Viking runes or natural scratches? A stone in the eroding section at Cleat

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This entry was posted on April 26, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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