Sunday, February 12, 2023
HomeArchaeologyExcavating the CA Archive: Scotland 4

Excavating the CA Archive: Scotland 4

For the fourth instalment of my Scottish travels, I’ll head as far north as it’s attainable to go in the British Isles, up first to Orkney after which Shetland. These areas are fantastically wealthy in archaeology, and the journal’s protection displays this. In phrases of canopy tales alone, they account for, by my reckoning, 12 of the so-far 396 covers, which makes them one in every of the most constant stars in the 56-year historical past of the journal.

As famous beforehand, these columns on Scotland are devoted to the reminiscence of Katharine MacDonald (1976-2022), an previous good friend, excellent archaeologist, and proud Scotswoman who had a selected love of the Highlands and Islands.


Orkney is referred to so many instances in the historical past of Current Archaeology that I’ve needed to be extremely selective in my sampling. If you’re curious, then do a key phrase search of the on-line archive (and if you don’t subscribe to the on-line version, then right here is a good purpose to take action:

CA 154 surveyed Orkney’s archaeology in gentle of the incontrovertible fact that the Orkney Archaeological Trust was simply being established at the time. The cowl featured the Neolithic Knap of Howar, positioned on the island of Papa Westray.

An distinctive place to begin is CA 199 (September/ October 2005), a particular version that belatedly celebrated the creation of the ‘Heart of Neolithic Orkney’ World Heritage Site (see But the first-ever mentions of the islands are available passing in CA 2 and 5 (May and November 1967), whereas the first site- particular research waited till CA 56 (May 1976), when the Bronze Age burnt mounds of Quoyscottie (close to Dounby, on the north finish of the island known as the Mainland) had been examined by a hardy crew in the spring of that yr.

A really completely different, and emotionally impactful, Norse web site on the southern shores of the Mainland then featured for the first time in CA 127 (December 1991) and once more in CA 154 and 212 (September 1997 and November 2007): that of Earl’s Bu and Church at Orphir, a web site which options in the Orkneyinga Saga of c.1136. This narrative describes a ‘large drinking-hall’ subsequent to a ‘magnificent church’, the stays of which survive to at the present time. For these curious to study extra of Orkney’s Norse heritage, I flag too CA 228 (March 2009), which visited Deerness on the far jap coast, and CA 253 (April 2011), which visited Birsay-Skaill on the reverse west coast.


Any of you who know Orkney will realise that the above websites, for all their scrumptious richness, had been merely designed to whet your appetites. The ‘red meat’ of Orkney’s archaeology comes from later editions of the journal, however replicate a a lot earlier time: the Neolithic. It is the gorgeous density of web sites courting to this era that gained Orkney its World Heritage standing.

Proceeding chronologically by the pages of Current Archaeology, we are going to begin with Barnhouse and Maeshowe, which first appeared in CA 131 (October 1992), after which once more in CA 154 (September 1997). The former is straight away adjoining to the Stones of Stenness, clustered with different Neolithic websites, together with the Ring of Brodgar, in a pure bowl in the south-western Mainland. At this time, the space was topic to a programme of fieldwalking funded collectively by the Societies of Antiquaries of Scotland and London. This would result in the discovery of what was considered a Neolithic settlement there. CA 154 adopted up on this discovery, reporting that the web site’s uncommon format led the excavators to conclude that it, too, had a ritual element, alongside that of its close to neighbours.

News of those neighbours – led by an examination of the big Neolithic complicated (buried beneath a man-made mound the dimension of 5 soccer pitches) generally known as the Ness of Brodgar – then comes first in CA 224 (November 2008), and repeatedly after that, together with in CA 241 and 259 (April 2010 and October 2011; each cowl tales), and once more in CA 328 and 335 (July 2017 and February 2018), the latter one other cowl story. The web site’s most up-to-date protection got here in final month’s situation, CA 395. The adjoining related henge and stone circle generally known as the Ring of Brodgar then appeared on the cowl of CA 347 (February 2019). This is kind of the constellation of Neolithic stars.

The outstanding Neolithic complicated generally known as the Ness of Brodgar has featured on the cowl of Current Archaeology repeatedly, together with in CA 241, CA 259, CA 335, and CA 347.

Perhaps the most well-known Neolithic web site of all in Orkney – and probably the British Isles – additionally makes an everyday look in the pages of Current Archaeology: Skara Brae, on the Mainland’s west coast. Although often namechecked, it didn’t obtain devoted protection till CA 268 (July 2012), however from then on it featured often, together with in CA 316 and 318 (July and September 2016), and most not too long ago in CA 361 (April 2020).

Finally, earlier than I depart the Mainland, I need to point out one different web site of this period, the gorgeous Neolithic home at St Ola, simply south of Kirkwall, that featured in CA 291 (June 2014). Here was found the oldest artwork but discovered on the islands – testimony to the extraordinary richness of the Neolithic communities residing there at the moment.

Shetland made the cowl of CA 308 with a function about the Iron Age broch at Old Scatness.

Moving away from Orkney’s Mainland, I need rapidly to go to three of the archipelago’s islands. The first and closest of those is Wyre, to the north-east of Mainland, which CA 268 (July 2012) visited as a part of a function on Orkney earlier than Skara Brae, analyzing the islands’ earliest farming village. Next up is Westray, additional to the north-east, the place the journal toured the well-known Links of Noltland (a Neolithic/ Bronze Age farming settlement courting from about 3300- 800 BC) in CA 275 (February 2013) and 387 (June 2022). Third and at last (and furthest north-east of all), we come to Papa Westray, the place CA 154 (September 1997) and 318 (September 2016) visited the Neolithic Knap of Howar: two ‘houses’ with surviving stone cabinets and stalls that date to the third millennium BC – modern with Orkney chambered tombs resembling Midhowe.

I’ll conclude this primary go to to the Islands of Scotland with a short go to to the far north and Shetland. The remoteness of this location has meant that Current Archaeology’s visits have been modest compared to these made to Orkney, however, particularly, the journal has made repeated journeys to look at the advantageous Iron Age brochs that survive there, together with Old Scatness broch in CA 177 (January 2002) and 308 (November 2015), and Mousa broch (on the island of the identical title) in CA 274 (January 2013) and 330 (September 2017).

I’ll proceed my island peregrinations in the subsequent situation, heading west and, in time, south to the Western Isles and Hebrides, visiting prehistoric and later websites, particularly these of the Viking Age.

Joe Flatman

About the creator
Joe Flatman accomplished a PhD in medieval archaeology at the University of Southampton in 2003, and since then has held positions in universities, and native and – most not too long ago – central authorities. Since March 2019, he has been a Consultancy Manager in the National Trust’s London and South-East Region, main a crew engaged on Trust websites throughout Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. You can observe him on Twitter @joeflatman.


Most Popular

Recent Comments