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HARP's year so far!

posted 17 May 2017, 10:54 by Harp Archaeology

What a great start HARP has had to 2017! Grace has been writing some interesting blog posts which if you haven’t checked out, I highly recommend you do. And we had a wonderful group in Cyprus in April with our Introduction to Archaeology, Bioarchaeology and Lithics courses! This year, we decided to run the Introduction and Bioarchaeology courses at the same time at the Lemba Archaeological Research Centre, which meant that we had a lovely group of 13 people studying and working on archaeological material. I thought I woulduse this blog post to go through a bit of what we do at each Cypriot course, and especially to talk about our new Lithics course. 

Spring in Cyprus! 

The Intro to Archaeology is really an introduction to archaeological field recording and artefact identification and recording. It gives participants the chance to learn the skills needed to record various features on a site and practice those skills while they develop a portfolio record of their work. This all sounds a bit dry, but at a time when the infrastructure projects (particularly in the UK) need qualified and experienced archaeologists, being able to show that you have the skills to identify and record archaeological featurescan give you the edge in the job market. The course is set around the Lemba Experimental Prehistoric Village which is beautiful and provides the perfect setting. Not only do we do on-site recording – drawing, photography, registers, and context sheets, but also post-excavation recording and artefact identification – drawing, photography and some analysis. Typically, we have had participants with a range of experience, some who have dug elsewhere and some who are new to archaeology. What is great, is that all of them have told us that they feel that they really get the chance to build their skills and to better understand that archaeological process through this course. 

This year we had a really international group for the Intro course, from Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Germany and the United States. It’s interesting when people come from different disciplines and with different understandings of archaeology, based on where they have worked or studied. For example, archaeology in Australia and New Zealand actually has a lot in common with North American archaeology when dealing with the archaeology of indigenous peoples, though it differs in some key areas, sharing their understanding of archaeology from their part of the world, gives participants a wider view of archaeology globally. This is an important aspect of the discipline now, as evidenced by projects like Kate’s last year (www.globalarchaeology.ca) and conferences like this one in Cambridge

The Bioarchaeology course again brought together a group of individuals from different backgrounds and countries… though this time with a bit of a North American leaning. We had a really lovely group of Canadians, Americans and Irish with us this year. Some came with no prior osteological experience and some with an introductory course under their belts, while others had done some osteological studies but had been away from it for a while. By keeping it to a small group, I am able to give the students a little bit more one-on-one attention and really give them the chance to ask questions and focus on things they have an interest in. We use archaeologically-derived skeletal material and the students have the chance to clean it, identify and record it. It’s highly fragmented and quite a challenge for the students to work with! The hands-on experience is interspersed with lectures and talks on the human skeletal anatomy and visits to interesting archaeological sites in the area. 

With all the HARP courses in Cyprus, we try to introduce the students to some of the local archaeological sites and get experts in various material cultures to talk to the students about the practical side of their research. This year Dr. Lindy Crewe was able to give us a talk on pottery – how it’s analysed, what to look for and record, and some of the types of pottery on Cyprus. Dr. Paul Croft gave us a great talk on animal bones in archaeology, and what we can learn from the analysis of animal remains in terms of diet, cooking habits and herding or hunting practices. Sarah Douglas was also able to enrich the course with a discussion and talk on gender in archaeology and how we need to make sure we are keeping an open mind about what we interpret, and bring together biological data with material culture to help create a narrative. One of our participants, Marc McAlester, is a photographer and it was such a pleasure to have him explain cameras and how to take the perfect picture, either on site or especially in the laboratory. Finally, some of our students stuck around (or came out to join us) for an intensive lithics training week with Dr. Carole McCartney.

This was our first Lithics Course, but it won’t be our last! Carole was a great teacher, who has an unbelievable wealth of knowledge about lithics, local geology and the processes involved in making lithics. Using her own site, Ayia Varvara-Asprokremnos as the focal point, students had the chance not only to understand how lithics are identified, studied and recorded, but also to work with material from the 10,000 year old site,and learn about the earliest peoples on Cyprus. The students for this intensive lithics week got to learn how to identify, record and even make some of their own chipped stone tools. We had a fun excursion, river pebble hunting to find chert sources and then taking them back to Lemba to have a go at flint knapping. 

As well as learning all about chipped stone, students had the opportunity to participate in some ofthe environmental processing of the samples from Ayia Varvara-Asprokremnos. This not only contributed to the overall processing of the site material, but gave students the chance to learn more about how environmental samples are processed and why. 

All in all, it was a great 3 weeks in Cyprus this spring. Made truly enjoyable because of the nice group of students we had, who jumped in to every task and lesson with enthusiasm, energy and interest. So a big thank you to all who participated and contributed to the courses. The specialist and general skills acquired on these field schools will help students achieve their archaeological goals we hope, and make them more employable in both research and commercial excavation. 

Next up, we have our Jacobites, Clearance and Scots project, where we get to return to the amazing Atholl Estates and stay at the Forest Lodge while we set out to survey more of the military roads in that area. If you are interested in reading more about this, check out the July/August issue of History Scotland where Ian and I have written an article about the work that has been done so far. Following quickly on the heels of the Jacobites project, we’ll be heading up to the Isle of Mull for another excavation season at Kildavie.

So it’s going to be a busy and exciting couple of months ahead and we’ll make sure to get a few more blog posts up here to keep you up to date with the latest and greatest of HARP’s 2017 field season. With the lovely start that we’ve had this year, I can’t help but be excited with what’s to come! 



Visiting the National Museum's Japanese Collection

posted 28 Feb 2017, 13:28 by Harp Archaeology

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has been undergoing a ‘Masterplan’ of refurbishment for over a decade, and it is now entering its fourth phase. This will involve the creation of new galleries for the museum’s East Asian and Ancient Egyptian collections, to open in 2018. 

As a museum enthusiast myself, and about to embark on an adventure to Japan, I got in touch with the museum to ask if I could have a look at their archaeology collection. I was put in touch with the East Asia curator, Dr Rosina Buckland, who was very willing to show me some of the ceramic material.

The National Museum has a Japanese archaeology collection primarily thanks to the efforts, contacts and commitment of Neil Gordon Munro (1863 – 1942), who is known as being one of the first Westerners to befriend the Ainu people of northern Japan. He went from training as a doctor at Edinburgh University to eventually living much of his life in Japan and using his physician’s training to give free medical care to the Ainu people. After the mainland Japanese had colonised the northern island of Hokkaido, the homeland of the Ainu, these people became very socially disadvantaged and marginalised within Japanese society. So his treatment of them allowed an increased level of dignity during a difficult period of identity negotiation for them. Since about ten years ago the Ainu have had official recognition as a minority people, and they work actively to preserve elements of their traditional culture. 

Munro was given a large number of objects by members this community – some of which are on display in the museum’s ‘Living Lands’ gallery – as well as gathering c.1,600 archaeological objects from his personal interests in archaeology. He conducted his own excavations at three key shell mound sites around Yokohama, west of Tokyo, where much of the material I looked at came from. Through this material, he created connections with Japan which have lasted into our time. Rosina told me stories about excited Japanese museum curators recently visiting these collections, and gathering together the very items of pottery they had seen in Munro’s published writings. She described Ainu people coming all the way to Scotland to learn something of their own personal cultural history – analysing the craftworks which Munro had collected from their kinsmen years before. They then recreated these older craft styles, to share the skills within their modern community. The objects had also travelled, touring around various Japanese museums.

I also met Dr Louise Boyd, the new assistant curator for these collections, who walked with me around some of the galleries – Inspired by Nature, Artistic Legacies, Living Lands – where a few of the East Asian items are displayed in amongst other collections. She told of her own experiences living and studying in Japan. She explained that things work quite differently there – connections and personal acquaintances being very important. As a representative of a company, known to someone within another organisation and introduced through those connections, exploring Japanese cultural heritage is relatively easy. Acting on my own, as I was doing that day just out of interest, would be deviating slightly from the Japanese norm.

 When asked about the future stories to be told from the archaeological material when the new galleries are established, Rosina told me their intentions to ‘highlight the shared foundations of East Asian civilisation.’ She showed me many items whose form and production technology – such as kilns in which the ceramic would have been fired – crossed to Japan from the Korean peninsula. A mug-shaped object, large enough for a decent cup of tea, represents one example of shared vessel form I was shown. Stone materials, tools and decorative items too have been shared across seas and diverse people groups in East Asia. Magatama, curved comma-shaped pierced stones, are also found in both areas – featuring from the Japanese prehistoric Jomon period (c.10,000 BC to 300 BC), into the Kofun (3rd – 6th centuries AD) period.

The Jomon (‘cord-marked’) pieces were generally larger and coarser than vessels from other periods – made using the coiling production method. There was still a huge amount of investment in their production, evident in the intricate marked and sculpted decoration, much of which was on the vessel rims. Some even had crude, accidental glaze on the exterior – as ash fell during firing and melted onto the clay fabric, which soon became a deliberate decorative addition.

The next ceramic period in the collection, Yayoi (300 BC – 300 AD), is represented much less. It is a shorter time period, so less time for pottery creation and development. Pieces become markedly different in appearance – finer, and colour begins to change. 

The following Kofun period is named as such because of the large mounded tombs that began to appear, housing much of the ceramic material. Vessels become finer still, greyer, and acquire the name sueki (offering ware). Some shapes continue – such as the pedestal, persisting since the Jomon – whilst new, oddly lopsided jug-like items appear. 

From these large tombs, specifically funerary material was also obtained. Miniature ceramic architectural pieces and guardian haniwa figures surrounded the interred, and the entranceways to their final resting place. These rather comical figures had rounded bases, which were designed to be placed in the ground– posing dynamically in what was likely quite an intimidating display to represent the deceased. 

The collection contains some prehistoric figural ceramics, with the dogu from the Jomon. Unfortunately there are no complete figures in this collection, but the parts that are represented still inspire intrigue and speculation as to what motivated their creation. Rosina says that the odd goggle-eyes especially have led some to consider connections to North American communities. One theory even suggests a connection to aliens!

Although I had seen less than a third of the collections which will be selected from to form the new East Asia gallery, I came away with a much greater knowledge of how sharing and understanding between peoples stimulated the growth of East Asian culture. The new gallery is set to stimulate more people into learning about different ideas, with a planned outreach programme and interactive elements to enhance visitor interaction. 

By telling the story of a connected East Asian past, the gallery will continue to make connections between the museum and East Asia. Through interacting with these objects and their stories, visitors will be interacting with a piece of East Asian culture – making their own connections. 

Grace Macpherson

Museum website: http://www.nms.ac.uk/

Trusty's Hill

posted 17 Feb 2017, 06:57 by Harp Archaeology

Trust a Hill to be the place
to burn and bring this little place
out from the Dark.

Ages young and old inspired.
Legends re-told; All Our Stories required
to GUARD carefully what was shown
to be beyond the ‘Pictish’ stone.

Objects of fine craft
coming all the way from France.
Royalty and creativity both here.

Bowle-d over by new knowledge,
Tool(i)-s more advanced than Thomas – 
the Solway landscape exceeded expectations,
uniting times and spaces ‘at the forefront of culture creation.’

The ‘Dark Age’ kingdom of Rheged has until now been a kingdom with a history – records and stories – but absent of a materiality. Many of these records are poems written by the Welsh bard Taliesin in the 6th century to praise the kingdom’s rulers Urien and later his son Owain mab Urien. An archaeological investigation in the town of Gatehouse of Fleet has now revealed promising evidence of Rheged’s material existence, so I thought I would add to the records by composing my own poem about said investigation!

On the 21st of January in Gatehouse of Fleet (Dumfries and Galloway), the results of this archaeological investigation were made widely available in the new publication which was launched that day. 

The enthusiasm in the room was palpable, with audience members excited to hear more about what cultural treasures this landscape holds; presenters Ronan Toolis and Christopher Bowles clearly eager to be sharing the results of their research project; and hosts from the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society still celebrating the society’s 150 year anniversary with this investigation – the Galloway Picts Project. The presentation at the book launch, like the publication itself, was very much a collaborative effort, as Ronan and Christopher both communicated some of the highlights of what was found. 

Trusty’s Hill had sparked the imagination of many who could actually find the place (sign-posting is not one of its strongpoints as a cultural landmark) for years, as there is a curiously carved stone to the side of the path to the summit. First recorded by Stuart in 1856 with the title ‘Trusty’s Hill,’ the symbols were always a key component which made this place important – linking it to hill forts with similar Pictish carvings, such as Edinburgh castle and Dunadd. The symbols have been variously classified over the years as Pictish Class I, Pictish Class II, graffiti, ‘strays outside the main distribution’, etc. But these classifications don’t give us much of an idea of the role they actually played within the landscape in which they were created, or who the people were who lived alongside them. That’s where archaeologists, and their completely scientifically justified obsession with context, step in. 

Sometimes that’s done wading through mud, with a few pennies of change clinking in their pocket to fund the project and only a couple young lads from Dumfries Academy to help out – as the first archaeological investigation at Trusty’s was done, under the supervision of Thomas in the 1960s – producing less than encouraging results. But nowadays, thanks to ‘more resources (people and equipment), better techniques (modern CIfA standards and professional archaeologists) and better weather!’ (Toolis) this archaeological search for context at Trusty’s Hill ‘exceeded expectations’ (Bowles). 

The carvings were found to be part of an extremely connected landscape of people and cultural interaction , representing a probable local adaptation of the Eastern/Northern Scottish Pictish art – the artist was ‘likely familiar, but not an expert’ (Toolis). The pottery too, revealed Trusty’s Hill to be the dwelling site of people with far-flung contacts, extending to Merovingian Gaul in the Loire region of France. And looking at the distribution of this Merovingian E-Ware pottery across the rest of the UK, we can see that they appear only at ‘power centres’ along the West coast, including the nearby sites of the Mote of Mark hillfort and the ecclesiastical centre Whithorn – giving the site a suggested prestige status.

The Anglo-Saxons from across the Northern Sea, were also having an impact in the activities happening at this Galloway hillfort – potentially influencing the shape of a cross-shaped metalworking mould found, and imparting the Germanic II animal motifs displayed on a circular horse head mount. Metal working was very well represented at the site, at the fine and high standard ‘hallmark of an elite power centre’ (Bowles). Christopher Bowles described the people living and working at this site as ‘at the forefront of culture creation in the Solway,’ ‘taking from the past, to create in the present, making objects for the future.’ 

It was exciting to hear the two principle investigators make these temporal connections when presenting the lives and products of the former residents of Trusty’s Hill. It was also exciting that they presented their discoveries from many different scales of analysis – small finds and the relationships, activities and ideas they represented; the site itself, closely related in form to the site of Dunadd royal centre of Dalriada; the local landscape of settlement and ecclesiastical centres; and the broader scale of Britain as a whole. It is from this multi-scalar perspective that the ‘lost’ kingdom of Rheged emerged – traditionally thought to have been within Cumbria, presenting interesting questions as to what will now happen to the map of ‘cultural heritage’ across the country.

There were over a hundred people present at the event, many of whom had been volunteers at the excavation or else involved in the Heritage Lottery Funded ‘All Our Stories’ project within the community which followed. The Gatehouse Development Initiative (GDI) played a key role to continue and keep up local enthusiasm for Trusty’s Hill, by encouraging the Primary School pupils to write sagas, create artwork and get up on the hill itself. An exhibition was also created at the Mill on the Fleet Museum with the assistance of Ronan Toolis, along with further guided walks. At the book launch, Ken Smyth was there as the GDI representative, encouraging increased inter-generational enthusiasm for what has been found at Trusty’s Hill, spreading word of the poetic efforts of the school children. When asked about what the future holds for Trusty’s Hill, Ronan Toolis hands it very much over to the local community – leaving many trained as tour guides, and many more enlightened by the details in the publication. So the more passion for local heritage the community can share, the better the future will look for this newly crowned ‘royal centre.’ That passion was definitely stirred at the launch of this publication. 

Grace Macpherson

Additional links:

http://www.gatehouse-of-fleet.co.uk/ - for further information on the work of the Gatehouse Development Initiative, and town news

http://gallowaypicts.com/wordpress/ - the blog of the project, including summary reports, teacher resources and research strategies

http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/the-lost-dark-age-kingdom-of-rheged.html - where you can get yourself a copy of the publication and find out more

https://www.poemhunter.com/taliesin/ - the poems of Taliesin and some biographical information about the bard

Meet Grace! Guest Blogger for #HHA2017

posted 13 Feb 2017, 10:25 by Harp Archaeology   [ updated 13 Feb 2017, 10:30 ]

2017 is a big year for archaeology, and for us here at HARP, with the launch of Visit Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeo
logy, and our own launch of new projects and tours!  To continue the theme of new launches, and as part of #HHA2017, we are delighted to announce a new guest blogger who will be sharing stories from local archaeology enthusiasts to national collections of Far Eastern treasures.

Grace Macpherson is a recent graduate of Archaeology from the University of Glasgow, and we’ve been fortunate enough that Grace has joined us on a couple of HARP projects in the past whilst completing her studies. Hailing from Dumfries and Galloway, Grace is about to embark on a life changing adventure to Japan, but has happily agreed to be our guest blogger for the next few weeks before jetting off! 

We’ll be sharing Grace’s stories in our blog space here so be sure to check in over the next few weeks to see what she has been up to! And keep up with all things #HHA2017 

Top 10 HARP moments for 2016

posted 30 Dec 2016, 10:29 by Harp Archaeology

In the spirit of the holidays and the end of the year, I have decided to join the general masses and create a top 10 for HARP this year. It’s been a great year for us, with lots of wonderful students and new opportunities. We are hoping that we will continue to grow and expand in the coming year, with new projects, tours and research. I hope that you and yours are enjoying the holiday season and are looking forward to a healthy, happy and prosperous 2017. Here are my top 10 memories from HARP 2016!

1. 1st bioarchaeology field school in Cyprus. This year we were able to run our first bioarchaeology school at the Lemba Archaeology Research Centre in Cyprus with three very enthusiastic and interested students. We had a wonderful time working at the Lemba Archaeology Research Centre and with our colleagues at the Paphos Museum.

2. Recording Craig settlement. The Jacobites, Clearance and Scots project is always one of my favourite projects, and this year we had such a good time recording the settlement site of Craig on the Atholl Estates. The site commands an absolutely beautiful view and the standing remainsof the 18th century settlement are really impressive.

3. Another highlight for me this year was the insight into the vegetation by one of our participants on the Jacobites, Clearance and Scots project. Victoria is a biochemist by training and her experienced eye at the settlements and along the survey of Wades’ Roads was able to pick out non-indigenous plants and tell us about the previous land-use of an area. This kind of landscape analysis is quite unique and combines a specialist understanding of archaeology and botany. 

4. Visiting Killiecrankie. We hadn’t had a chance to visit Killiecrankie in 2015, but this year, we got a great talk by one of our students, Kieran, who has been studying the Jacobite uprisings. This battle site is really very picturesque and when taken alongside the history of the uprising there, it becomes even more evocative of a location. The image of a hoard of half-naked Highlanders charging down the hillside is one that is sure to make an impression. 

5. Dr Kate from Global Archaeology at Kildavie. Kate Leonard, a fellow Canadian, was able to come and join us at Kildavie this year which was really great. Kate has had a super exciting year of archaeology and travel, moving around to a new country and new archaeological experience each month. Check out her website here:  www.globalarchaeology.ca She was really great to work with and made a rather rainy season a bit easier. 

6. Kildavie excavation. This was a memorable one… compared to previous seasons where we have had lovely, sunny and warm weather… this year was a bit wild, weather-wise. Moments that stick out: the tent snapping and nearly blowing away, rain coming sideways, the last day winds which nearly blew us away! Not to mention the rather precarious convenience on the top of the hill in the tent. Our student team was awesome! Resilient and enthusiastic, they worked so hard in all weather and really made some great progress on the excavation. 

7. Skalia skeletons. While the excavation at the Chalcolithic through Middle Bronze Age site of Kissonerga-Skalia is not strictly speaking a HARP project, withso many HARP employees working there, it feels like it is! And for me, nothing is better than getting the chance to excavate a skeleton (especially in the sunshine of Cyprus). This year, we had some Chalcolithic skeletons in the north east corner of the site come up during excavation by Paul Croft and his team which were quite interesting and will be part of the bioarchaeology field school next year.

8. Kildavie report. Ian has put together the excavation report for the work done at Kildavie over the last three years of work. This is a preliminary report, and it’s been a lot of work, bringing together all the paper work and drawings from the last few years. It is really neat to see the synthesis of the work; each context sheet contributes to the overall understanding of the site or area. It really shows how important it is to look at the bigger picture, but how each little piece or context helps create this big picture. 

9. Working with Archaeology Scotland. Ian has worked with Archaeology Scotland in the past, and this year I was able to help out on a project in Motherwell, to the south east of Glasgow, looking at the preservation of a small cemetery within a nature reserve. This was a chance to work with groups of individuals who do not typically engage with archaeology and history, and I really enjoyed it. We cleaned and made notes about the grave stones, and it was really interesting to see how people became engaged and invigorated by the thrill of identifying and reading old grave stones. 

10. The Real Outlander Tours. By far and away, this is the most exciting thing for me. Building off our Jacobites, Clearance and Scots field school, Ian and I are planning to run tours for those with an interest in archaeology and Jacobite history. Spending the time putting together the tour and realising not only how much work we have done in the Perthshire area, but also how interesting this time period is, and how much of an impact it has had on the face of Scotland today, is really inspiring. I really can’t wait for these tours! For anyone interested: www.therealoutlander.uk

That’s it from me for this year. I am looking forward to 2017! We have a great programme of field schools ahead – both the Bioarchaeology and Introduction to Archaeology courses in Cyprus are fully booked, and we are looking forward to our first ever Lithics course in collaboration with Carole McCartney. We still have some spaces available on the Jacobites, Clearance and Scots project in June, and we are still trying to determine when Kildavie will be running. The Real Outlander tours will be running in May/June and September and we still have some spaces available. Hopefully 2017 will be the biggest year yet for HARP! Have a very Happy Holidays!! 



#TheRealOutlander ...... TOUR!

posted 3 Oct 2016, 02:41 by Harp Archaeology   [ updated 3 Oct 2016, 02:42 ]

This blog post is a particularly exciting one for me, as it is sort of a culmination of the last couple of years of research and interest to announce and explain The Real Outlander Tour that Ian and I will be running next year, 28th May- 4th June, and 17th-24th September. We have had a wonderful field school season this year – with successful, fun and interesting projects in Perthshire in June and at Kildavie on Mull in September. We have had, without fail, great groups of students who have really gotten on board with our research programme and have learned and practiced archaeological methods on the survey and excavation of 18th century sites. 

Now, I have been a fan of the Outlander (or Cross-stitch in the UK) books for a very long time. I think Diana Gabaldon is a really wonderful story-teller, but she also really picked the right time period and place. Jamie and Claire’s world, 18th century Scotland, is an incredibly interesting and evocative time and place – the Jacobite uprisings in combination with changes in science, philosophy, technology and medicine with the Enlightenment, made it a volatile and exciting time. And with all that, there are the normal, everyday people – not the princes or chiefs, but the crofters, farmers, fishermen, seamstresses, etc… whose lives were irrevocably changed by economic and agricultural transformations beyond their control. 

We see some of the effects of these changes in the archaeology, with the abandoned settlements scattered through the Highlands and the field system changes involved with a shift to sheep grazing, but what are the changes on at the local level? We all know the stories (and Outlander highlights much of this displacement and despair) of families too poor to sustain themselves after the uprisings, of Scots forced from their ancestral lands by changes in agriculture and economy. But surveying these sites and seeing the abandoned townships, and people’s homes, creates an immediate desire to understand more about the lives of the people who built these places and lived here for generations.

Ian and I began thinking about our Jacobites, Clearance and Scots project from the aspect of The Grand Tours that naturalists, antiquarians, explorers and young students were undertaking from the 17th century, with them reaching their peak in popularity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These individuals were coming to the Scottish Highlands to see the locals in their natural habitat, ironically, at a time when things were irrevocably changing for them. Our survey of the military road network in Perthshire is intended to follow some of the roads that these travellers would have traversed and we want to try and see what they would have seen, as well as recording the different elements of the road construction. In recording all different aspects of the visible archaeological record, we have been able to start to un-pick some of the details of the changing landscape of the 18th and 19th centuries in our survey areas. 

So, it is with great excitement that Ian and I are embarking on our next venture with HARP – and offering our version of The Grand Scottish Tour. We will be taking small groups of people along the roads that the 18th and 19th century travellers took and looking at the sites where these major political events took place, but also where the ordinary crofter lived, worked and eventually left. This is such an amazing opportunity to talk to people about archaeology, what we do as archaeologists and specifically, to talk about the stories and history of 18th century Scotland. When I have done tours in the past (tour guide on Hadrian’s Wall), my favourite part was being able to talk to people about the archaeology and then get to see them engage with the visible remains of the past; and this tour will be essentially that – a chance for people to engage with the history, archaeology and landscape of one of the most interesting, challenging and haunting time periods in Scotland’s past. 

In this tour, we will bring together the grand-scale history with the local archaeology and introduce our visitors to the best of 18th century Scotland. Big thanks in all this are owed to the students who have come out to the Kildavie and Jacobites, Clearance and Scots field schools in the past few years, as without their help and hard-work, we wouldn’t have nearly as much amazing stuff to talk about and show others. Looking forward to a future blog post about the tours… 

In the meantime, check out the new tour website at www.therealoutlander.uk and our Facebook page.



Living the archaeological life: digging on the Isle of Mull

posted 14 Sep 2016, 11:29 by Harp Archaeology

Our latest Blog Post comes from Dr. Kate Leonard of Global Archaeology who has been working with us at Kildavie for the 2016 season!

The excavation site at Kildavie on the Isle of Mull

Having recently left the dry golden Alentejo plains of southern Portugal my first morning on the Isle of Mull in the west coast of Scotland was shockingly misty and green! I’m here digging with an archaeological field school run by Heritage and Archaeological Research Practice (HARP) who have been collaborating with the Mull Archaeology Interest Group (MAIG) to investigate the small abandoned historic settlement of Kildavie.

We start the day with a quick breakfast in a chalet that overlooks some of the beautiful wooded hills and pastured valley’s that blanket the island. Once we’ve finished our breakfasts all the staff, students and volunteers assemble outside the chalets and divide up between project vehicles and cars driven by volunteers from the local community. This is a good time for making announcements while the entire group is in one place. Then, as one big archaeological convoy we head west along the narrow roads to the remote excavation site.

        Two local inhabitants having a look at the
                                Kildavie excavation

The excavation is situated in the North West Mull Community Woodland of Langamull at the end of a gravel forest road and down a winding walking trail that takes you to the base of a steep slope. On a clear day you can see across the Sea of the Hebrides to the Isle of Skye and the Small Isles. You can also spot the big passenger ferries that run from the islands of South Uíst and Barra through the Sound of Mull to the mainland port at Oban. As is always the case with maritime climates the view can change quite a lot over the course of a day!
                                                                                                                                                                                                      The view north from the excavation

There are three areas of the abandoned village that are being targeted for excavation this season (stay tuned for the next blog post to find out more….) and the field school students are divided between these. Each area is focused on a different type of structure and has two trenches open to uncover as much as possible about the activities carried out in the settlement. When we arrive on site the students stow their bags, grab the tools they will need for the day and head over to their area. My group is focusing on excavating two small trenches to investigate the construction of the walls and the entrance of a dry-stone built structure.

        Casting some shade in order to take a photo
                                    on a sunny day

A team of students stay back at the chalet’s for sandwich duty and around 11 o’clock they arrive on-site with lunch for the entire team. That’s over 30 sandwiches! Excavating is hard work and everyone welcomes the sight of the big red bin of sandwiches being carried down the trail. The entire group breaks for lunch around mid-day giving us the rest of the early afternoon to finish up the work we started that morning.

            HARP students doing a to scale plan of a structure and 
                                                    wall tumble

                HARP students revealing the floor layer of a structure at Kildavie

Over the two weeks the students dig at Kildavie with HARP they get to learn the basics of excavation: how to record the archaeological layers (including the building’s masonry), the proper way to take archaeological photos, how to set up and use a dumpy level, doing scale drawings of archaeological features, and of course ‘trowel-wielding 101’. If they are lucky one of the excavators may find something shiny. One of the students on my team found this exquisite hand-blown blue glass fragment in the structure we are excavating.

Being outside all day results in hungry diggers! The staff and students are divided between a few chalets so there isn’t one big communal kitchen. To get around this the HARP staff put together ‘dinner packs’ for each student chalet that includes a recipe and all the ingredients for a wholesome healthy meal the students cook for themselves. These range from vegetarian chilli to ginger-pork stir fry. Cooking and eating together is a big part of the excavation experience. It gives both the students and staff a chance to reflect on the work they did and what needs to be done next. It’s also a chance to recover if the weather wasn’t exactly sunshiny that day!

                A small hand-blown glass fragment

HARP runs a few different field schools over the year in both Scotland and Cyprus that focus on different archaeological research questions. To find out more about the dig at Kildavie and the others HARP organises have a look at their website and stay tuned for the next Global Archaeology blog post.

                    The excavation team heading up the trail at the 
                                                       end of the day

                                        The HARP students enjoying some lunch

Kate is currently in month 9 of a 12 month project traversing the globe and lending a hand on archaeology projects in a different country each month of the year! You can follow Kate's progress at the Global Archaeology website and Facebook page. We'd like to extend a huge thank you to Kate for all her help at Kildavie, we had a great season despite the weather!

Looking back at #TheRealOutlander 2016

posted 4 Jul 2016, 08:32 by Harp Archaeology

Wow! It’s been over 2 weeks since we finished the Jacobites, Clearance and Scots project 2016, and it feels like yesterday. First of all, big thanks to everyone who participated and especially from me - Thanks to Ian, Aris and Dan who, as always, were so much fun to work with. This year I really enjoyed getting back out on the Atholl Estates and surveying the settlement of Craig. (Thank you Atholl Estates)! One of the things I love about working at HARP is the variety of people who come out to attend our fieldschools and workshops. We had a good mix of university students, those with an interest in archaeology, or those who are taking distance archaeology courses as part of a second degree. Everyone brings their unique perspective and background to the survey and sees things differently; this in turn makes me see things differently.

One of our returning students, Victoria, has a background in plant chemistry and is very interested in the botanical aspects of surveying an archaeological site. It was so interesting to hear her thoughts on the types of plants in the area and what may have been done to the land in the past to promote particular plant growth today. Not only that but she was able to identify plants which were introduced to a settlement site, a non-native herb; this gets my imagination going on the types of small kitchen gardens these 18th century homes may have had in these rather remote highlands.

Another returning student, Kieran, has an interest in battlefield archaeology and was able to give us a talk on the battle of Killiecrankie when we visited the site. He had clearly done some excellent research and was able to really tell all of us far more detail and information than we may have otherwise had at hand. The site of the Battle of Killiecrankie is rather spread out in a really beautiful setting with the Garry River running through the gorge, which makes for a nice walk as well. The most discussed topic of that visit was whether we thought that MacBane, an English soldier fleeing the charging Highlanders, could have actually made the 5.5m jump he claims to have across the river to escape. We remain undecided though all thought if they had a hoard of half-naked Highlanders chasing them with swords, that the chances of making it improved.

Overall, it was a great field season despite the midges and the drizzly weather which plagued the better part of the two weeks. We managed to survey a fairly large area of the Tay Forest lands to the south of Tummel Bridge and we finished with a stretch on the Atholl Estates east of Dalnacardoch. We had our fill of drains, ditches, quarries and culverts and I’m pretty sure Team 3 who were out with me at Craig on the last day has had enough of field clearance cairns for a bit. But we were really able to get an idea of what was happening in this Clune’s Lodge area, which is super exciting and interesting for us. This area has it all!

It was a busy last week with Ian’s public lecture at Pitlochry Town Hall on Thursday to a record turn-out; and we had a great day of visits on the last Wednesday, when we went to Ruthven Barracks, Newtonmore Highland Folk Museum and finally Killiecrankie Pass.

Ruthven is a wonderful site; very picturesque and rugged with the ruins of the Barracks from the end of the ’45. Also interesting, from an 18th century traveller’s perspective, was the number of roads recorded in that area from the medieval period when the Comyn family was there and wanted to ensure travel to and from Ruthven (particularly to maintain the supply of a favourite beer from Blair Atholl). The Folk Museum was fantastic, with a fully re-created, experimental 18th century township. It was really well done and I was particularly interested in how smoky the house interiors were. As a bioarchaeologist, I have to wonder how this would have affected their health and well-being, especially given the damp climate in which they live.

Well, this is turning into a much longer post than I had planned on, but there was so much going on this season that I wanted to touch upon. This project continues to supply more interesting information and it feels quite exciting to add to the overall understanding of the area with each feature surveyed. I can’t wait to get back next year! For now, Ian, Dan and I are sweating away in Cyprus, working on the University of Manchester’s excavations at Kissonerga-Skalia (check it out here). It certainly makes for a change from the rainy, chilly Highland days we had a week ago. Check out HARP’s new Instagram account @harparchaeology and we’ll try and post up some pictures there as we go.

Next up for HARP are our excavations at Kildavie on the Isle of Mull! Check it out on our page here. Also, if you’re interested with more to do with HARP, and particularly supporting some of our projects, check out the ‘Support Us’ page on this website.

I think it may be time for a Keo!



#TheRealOutlander is back...

posted 3 Jun 2016, 14:39 by Harp Archaeology

Just a quick post as we are busy getting ready for our Jacobites, Clearance and Scots project, starting tomorrow!! I am super excited about this project! Last year, with our excellent teams, we managed to identify and record around 350 sites!! These ranged from small, single drains or culverts, to larger homesteads and townships. I think by far and away the most regularly occurring site type was the quarry. I am sure the students could record a quarry in their sleep by the time we were finished our two weeks of field survey.

Not surprising perhaps since we follow the line of General Wade’s Military Roads through the highlands, and it takes A LOT of stone to make a level road. These 18th Century roads were so well built and well-placed that in many areas the modern road now runs right over top of the old road. Last year we spent a lot of time in the Calvine area, just west of Blair Atholl, and we will be returning to that area to finish off bits and pieces. We are very lucky that we have amazing support from the Atholl Estates (amongst other very positive landowners) to continue our work on their lands.

Our non-invasive walk-over survey is intended to identify sites of archaeological or historical interest, and has proved to be very productive. Last year, we were lucky enough to have wonderful sunny weather (something I am keeping my fingers crossed will happen again this year). But for those days were it’s less than dry, we are once again staying in the luxurious Forest Lodge on the Atholl Estates which is a lovely 18th Century hunting lodge – quite in fitting with the theme and feeling of the fieldschool.

Well, as we round up the supplies and pack our waterproofs (hoping for the best but preparing for the worst) we are looking forward to what this season will bring! Stay tuned! We’ll be posting up pictures on facebook and we’ll post up here again before the end!




Adventures in Cyprus...

posted 17 May 2016, 06:44 by Harp Archaeology

This is a slightly delayed post I’m afraid. It’s a busy time for fieldwork and preparing for the next HARP field school. Well, we have finished up with our Cyprus field schools for Spring 2016, and I certainly enjoyed my time out there. Our Introduction to Archaeology group this year came with a variety of backgrounds and from various places around the world making it a really unique team. We spent the first few days learning how to properly record archaeology – how to draw plans, sections, elevations and profiles. This included working with a dumpy level and taking archaeological site photographs which can be used to illustrate contexts for publication.

This year, we were also lucky to have the opportunity to contribute to the on-going HARP experimental archaeology project on Bronze Age Beer Making by partially excavating one of the old drying kilns. This experience gave the students a chance to practice their context recording and identifying archaeological features, while providing information on the destructive processes affecting the kiln and thus informing on the original excavation of the kiln at Kissonerga-Skalia.

The second week of the Introduction course also included quite a few site trips, including to the local UNESCO world heritage sites of the Mosaics and Tomb of the Kings. These visits were led by local archaeologist and faunal specialist, Paul Croft, who is able to provide a unique and interesting perspective on the archaeology in the area. We had a couple of guest talks as well – Paul spoke to us about archaeozoology and why animal bones are so important in archaeological site recording. And Lisa Graham came back to talk about pottery analyses, using real Cypriot material derived from the multi-period site of Prastio-Mesorotzos to illustrate her talk. It was really great to have two specialists come out and provide us with a good understanding of what they do.

As the second week was more about the post-excavation work that archaeologists undertake, we also had the opportunity to do some artefact drawing and photography, and of course, I did a presentation on human remains in archaeology and gave the students a chance to look at archaeologically-derived human remains. The students also had the opportunity to learn the basics of standing building recording. We used the Lemba experimental round houses to introduce the concepts of how to recording built heritage and give the students more chances to practice their plan drawing and context recording.

Finally, we ended the two-week session with a trip to the Paphos Museum and an end-of-project BBQ! Thanks to Amandine, Chris, Ellen, John and Maria for participating in the course!

Next up for HARP is our Jacobites, Clearances and Scots field school in Blair Athol!  This project is one of my favourites and I am really looking forward to getting back to this beautiful part of the world and back out into the field. Next post we’ll talk a bit about what we did last year, and what we hope to do this year!



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