Between Islands Online Exhibition

The Orkney Museum is excited to announce that the Between Islands Online Exhibition is now live. It looks at the heritage, arts and crafts of the three island groups, the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland. Here is a brief introduction to the exhibition.

Alex MacDonald, coordinator of the Between Islands Project writes:

I am delighted to say that the first of our Between Islands museum exhibitions is now online!

https://orkneybetweenislands.wordpress.com/

Orkney: Between Islandsexplores the inspiration and legacy of islands in the arts, crafts and literature of Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides. Material includes books and prints documenting island journeys and scenery, paintings by island artists, portraits of island writers and their publications, and examples of island crafts, with a particular focus on Harris Tweed and Fair Isle knitting, but also exploring the lesser-known Orkney and Shetland tweed industries and the promotion of contemporary makers by The New Craftsmen. Featured objects are drawn from the permanent collections of Orkney Museum, Orkney Library and Archive, Shetland Museum and Archives, and Museum agus Tasglann nan Eilean.

Material from the partner museums is complemented by historic photographs, archive recordings, interviews with contemporary artists and craftspeople, paintings, objects and links to makers and collections across Scotland which further illuminate the stories behind featured objects, places and personalities.

The Orkney Museum collection has been curated by Rachel Boak, and designed and produced by Rebecca Marr and Mark Jenkins of cultural heritage and arts creative partnership Kolekto.  Many thanks to them for all their hard work in creating this resource. 

Walter Traill Dennison Donation Part 2

Walter Traill Dennison’s great-grandson, Duncan MacLaren, with Orkney Museum curator Ellen Pesci displaying a fob watch belonging to Walter’s father.

[Tom Muir, Engagement & Exhibitions Officer]

In part 1 we looked at some of the artefacts belonging to the writer and folklorist, Walter Traill Dennison (1825-94) that had been kindly donated by his great-grandson, Duncan MacLaren, Duncan’s sister Jean McLeod and Duncan’s son, Duncan MacLaren Jr. Here we look at a few more of these treasures from Orkney’s past. Unfortunately, problems with this WordPress site has prevented me from uploading more images that I had wanted to share with you.

Duncan’s daughter, Clare MacLaren, showing a pair of shoe buckles that once belonged to James Fae of Clestrain, the man who captured the pirate John Gow. See also below.
Walter Traill Dennison’s walking stick.
Clare holding an ivory billiards ball that once belonged to James Stewart of Burray, a notorious Jacobite sympathiser who died in gaol in London while awaiting trial.

These artefacts will be on display in a special exhibition at the Orkney Museum in the next couple of months.

To make a donation to any of the museums please follow the link and support us. Thank you.

Walter Traill Dennison Donation Part 1

Duncan MacLaren with Orkney Museum curator Ellen Pesci displaying a fob watch belonging to Walter Traill Dennison’s father. Orkney Photographic.

[Tom Muir, Engagement & Exhibitions Officer]

When it comes to Orkney’s folklore and folk tales there really is only one true master. No, not me, I merely follow in the footsteps of the great man. Walter Traill Dennison (1825-94) was a gentleman farmer, living at West Brough, Sanday, but he was so much more. Writer, poet, antiquarian, historian, Walter’s 1880 publication, ‘The Orcadian Sketch Book’, contained stories and poetry with many written in the Orkney dialect. But this was not the first time that the Orkney dialect had appeared in print. Eight years earlier, in 1872, Dennison had published the book ‘The Loves and Death of Lady Sarah’, a long poem in English based on an Orkney legend. Accompanying this was a humorous poem in Orkney dialect, ‘Paety Toral’s Travellye’, the story of a love-sick young man who crawls onto a roof to get a sight of his beloved through the smoke-hole. Unfortunately, he falls through the hole, onto the fire, and gets his head stuck in a three toed pot. In the confusion a figure is sighted among the ash and steam resembling the Devil, complete with curved horns. Both of these poems would appear in ‘The Orcadian Sketch Book’.

Walter Traill Dennison. Orkney Library & Archive, L2973.

Walter also recorded folk tales that he heard from the Sanday crofters and cottars when he was a boy. These were published just a few years before his death, but sadly it was only stories of the sea that made it into print. Nevertheless, this is the most important collection of Orkney folk tales that have been preserved. The museum commemorated the centenary of his death in 1994 with an exhibition and also contributed to having his folk lore and tales republished by the Orkney Press as ‘Orkney Folk Lore & Sea Legends’ the following year.

Duncan MacLaren, Walter’s great-grandson, at the Walter Traill Dennison exhibition in Sanday, 1994. This exhibition was the first one that I ever researched and wrote. The exhibition was then displayed at Tankerness House Museum (now the Orkney Museum) before travelling to Bergen University Library and at other venues in Hordaland. Duncan and I have been in touch ever since.
Tom Muir and Orkney Museums Officer Bryce Wilson, at the Dennison exhibition in Sanday, 1994.

Last December I received a letter from Duncan MacLaren, Walter’s great-grandson, which left me speechless. I had been expecting a Christmas card, as we always exchange one every year, but this was the ultimate Christmas present. He was offering the Orkney Museum all of Walter’s artefacts that were still in the family. This included artefacts that had been in the Dennison family for centuries, with connections to the capture of John Gow the pirate, the Jacobite Rebellion and a bit of Spanish Armada thrown in for good measure. These were being given by Duncan and his sister, Jean McLeod. His son, Duncan Jr, was also giving the West Brough Scrap Book to the museum. I passed on the letter to Ellen Pesci, Social History Curator, and it was decided that the scrap book, and the catalogue of Walter’s private museum, should be handed over to the Orkney Library & Archive. This is the most appropriate place to house them and to give access to researchers. On the 27th May 2022 Duncan arrived with his son, Duncan Jr, and daughter Clare. We welcomed them warmly. Many of these artefacts were well known to me, from Dennison’s catalogue, but I had no idea that they were still in existence.

The MacLaren family, Clare, Duncan and Duncan Jr, showing some of their family treasures.
Duncan gives Ellen the watch that belonged to Walter’s father, James Dennison. James was born at Noltland Castle, Westray.
Assistant Archivist Lucy Gibbon,Orkney Library & Archive Team Leader Vikki Kerr and Orkney Museum’s Social History Curator Ellen Pesci look at the catalogue of Dennison’s private museum. Most of the archaeological artefacts were sold to the Kirkwall antiquarian, James Cursiter (uncle of the painter Stanley Cursiter) who donated them to the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow.
Just like Christmas.
Ellen loves a bit of bling!
A pipe made from the wood of the Spanish Armada ship, El Gran Grifon, wrecked on Fair Isle, 27th September 1588.
Armada pipe, with amber stem.
Duncan MacLaren Jr presenting the West Brough Scrap Book. Walter collected pictures, wrote poems and short stories and had friends contribute things to his scrap book.
Amazingly, Walter had cut out the signatures from family letters written by some of the major lairds in the 17th and 18th centuries. Lucy and Vikki were very excited about this, as those letters, minus the signatures, are now in the Library’s Archive.
Culture Team Manager Nick Hewitt, Lucy Gibbon, Vikki Kerr and Ellen Pesci, with the West Brough Scrap Book.
Duncan MacLaren Jr shows retired Orkney Museums Officer Bryce Wilson the West Brough Scrap Book.
The West Brough Scrap Book.

To make a donation to any of the museums please follow the link and support us. Thank you.

The Newark Project: the story so far. Summer exhibition 2022

[Tom Muir, Engagement & Exhibitions Officer]

The summer exhibition for 2022 was meant to have coincided with the finish of the Newark Project, looking at the eroding cemetery in Deerness, which was in use from around 600-1400 AD. Originally excavated by Don Brothwell from the Natural History Museum in London between the years 1968-74, the Newark Project covers many aspects of the site’s history. The site will be written up and the skeletons that have already been recovered will be analysed in detail, using the latest in DNA technology. The site is currently in danger from coastal erosion and this aspect will also have to be addressed. The project was delayed by COVID-19, so this exhibition is not the final results but ‘the story so far’. This post gives you a taste of what is on display.

Don Brothwell overseeing the Newark excavation. Orkney Library & Archive, photo by Ernest Marwick.

Introduction to the exhibition.

Every place has a story and Newark in Deerness is no exception. Down by the shore, at the eastern end of the bay bearing the same name, tradition has it that centuries before there had been a small church with a graveyard. Such a building would have been a landmark from the sea, and there it is, clearly marked on 16th Century maps.

Over the years the coast has changed dramatically due to high tides and violent storms driven in by strong, southerly winds. The site has been under threat for some time, with erosion increasing drastically over the last hundred years.

In 1968, before more of the site could disappear, the eminent anthropologist, Professor Don Brothwell, started excavating the graveyard with the help of volunteers, including students from York University. The dig was financed by the Natural History Museum, London, and over several years more than 200 skeletons were removed and are still in their care. Since 2000, other skeletal material has been excavated and is now respectfully stored at the Orkney Museum. Carbon dating has given an astonishing range, from approximately 600AD to 1400AD, covering Pictish, Norse and Medieval periods. It is one of the earliest Christian graveyards in the North Atlantic region. In 2016 a Pictish sculptured cross fragment was discovered eroding from the banks, further underlining its importance.

For various reasons, Don Brothwell had not managed to complete/publish papers on all his Newark findings by the time of his death in 2016. The Newark Project has sought to rectify that, with new scientific research and the retrieval and archiving of as much information as possible. Thanks to a major grant from Historic Environment Scotland, the programme is underway. The culmination of the Newark project was to have been featured in this exhibition, but COVID-19 has played havoc with the timescale, so this is very much ‘the story so far’.

Earl Robert Stewart, the illegitimate son of King James V, feud (leased) the land in Deerness to his son-in-law, Patrick Leslie (Lord Lindores), who built a fine manor house which was called New Wark (work) c.1580s. This building would be bought by John Covingtrie in 1716 and remained in the family until it was inherited by the Balfour family later that century. The house had been extended but had fallen into ruin by the close of the 18th century. No trace of the original building now remains.

Bone combs dating to the late Iron Age/Pictish and a stone, lignite bangle dating from the Mediaval Norse period (unfortunately broken during excavation).
Later finds.
Notebook belonging to the historian J. Storer Clouston mentions his observations at Newark. Orkney Library & Archive.
Earl Patrick Stewart renewed to fue (lease) of Newark to his brother-in-law, Lord Lindores, in 1591. Orkney Library & Archive.
Minutes from the Baron Court, held at Newark by John Covingtrie, 15th September 1718. Orkney Library & Archive.
Class 2 Pictish symbol stone shows a cross and animal motif. Found through coastal erosion in 2016. This is the first time that the stone has been displayed to the public.
The Newark Pictish symbol stone, showing both sides. Copyright John Borland.
There are also two Iron Age earth-houses on the site. Here is the entrance to one of them. Orkney Library & Archive, photo by Ernest Marwick.
Above and below, two more of Ernest Marwick’s photos of the excavation, c1970. Orkney Library & Archive.

To make a donation to any of the museums please follow the link and support us. Thank you.

Why, Where and How?: Investigating small mammals remains

PART 2

by Andrzej A. Romaniuk (PhD in archaeology, MSc in osteoarchaeology)

A word of introduction for Part 2

This blog post follows directly Why, Where and How?: Investigating small mammals remains PART 1.  In the first part I explained a little bit about why and how we study micromammals, i.e. very small mammals like rodents or shrews. I also provided some explanations why the Orcadian environment is a surprisingly good environment to study those species, both currently and in the past. In this part, however, I will talk a little bit specifically about my own research on micromammal remains found at key Orkney archaeological sites, stressing the history of research, issues encountered, what the results are, and potential for later research.

As in Part 1, I would thank Dr Robin Bendrey (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Jeremy Herman (National Museums Scotland), whose ongoing support was crucial for the completion of this research. I would also like to thank Dr Gail Drinkall (Orkney Museum) for the interest in my work and support in obtaining necessary materials.

Figure 6 – Burnt Orkney vole mandible and partially burnt vole axis vertebra from Skara Brae. Burning can be differentiated from other sources of decolouration in a variety of ways, from as simple as visual analysis (burning includes firstly most exposed surfaces, including teeth; staining firstly affects the bone surface, often leaving teeth with their original colour) up to complex biochemical work (burning shows carbon oxidation on the surface with the loss of other elements, staining usually includes oxygen but with the presence of other elements, such as e.g. manganese). [Romaniuk et al. 2016, fig. 6]

How the research started?

My first encounter with Orcadian micromammals happened back in 2015. As a part of my Masters degree I decided to investigate micromammal remains retrieved from the famous Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae during Prof. David Clarke’s excavations back in the 70s. Results, published by the Royal Society in 2016 and later covered by the BBC, showed large assemblages in the site centre, commingled with human refuse and exhibiting signs of burning (Fig. 6). They also differed in structure to previously known natural accumulations by owls and other predators. Additionally, vole bones were found in the remains of several coprolites (fossilized faeces) of dog or human origin. I suggested, that observed patterns may be a result of an intentional accumulation of micromammals by humans, due to pest control and/or food processing and consumption. At that time I was very certain of the work I had done, but knew way more has to be done to be certain of these results.

Figure 7 – Location of all sites studied during the 2017-2021 PhD research, provided by the National Museums of Scotland (Edinburgh), Orkney Museum (Kirkwall) and Alder Archaeology (Perth). Settlement sites came from two key islands, Mainland, a centre of the archipelago, and Westray, a fringe island important for travellers sailing to Shetland and Faroe archipelagos. Each isle was represented by one site representing the Neolithic period (IV-II millennium BC, Skara Brae and Links of Northland) and one Norse and later Mediaeval period (VI – XV centuries AD, Birsay Bay and Tuquoy). Additionally, an iron-age broch of Bu (c. V century BC) and a Norse boat burial on Sanday (IX-XI century AD) were included to provide a contrast to the settlement sites. [Map by author]

How it developed into a PhD project?

Due to a favourable press reception and encouragement by staff at both the University of Edinburgh and National Museums Scotland, and later by Orkney Museum and Alder Archaeology, I continued my work on Orcadian micromammals as a part of my PhD. I firstly started by broadening the scope of my work to include new archaeological sites. I wanted to check whether the Skara Brae pattern repeats at other Neolithic sites, and how it differs from assemblages obtained from later sites (Fig. 7). I also started a side project on Skara Brae coprolites, aimed at providing more information about the provenance of those faeces and bone remains within them.

Figure 8 – Example of a difference between assemblages created by an owl, diurnal raptor and fox when micromammal skeletal elements are considered (data from Andrews 1990). With some caution, one can correlate studied micromammal remains with a specific predatory pattern. As it can be noticed, owls generally leave most complete specimens, especially skull bones, and a very small amount of loose teeth. In turn, foxes leave very small amount of skull remains but high amount of loose teeth, with most common finds being robust bones like femur or humerus, bones that tend to survive better the process of digestion. However, other factors can easily bias the results, putting them into question or completely invalidating them. It is especially common when other factors present in archaeology are considered (see Fig. 9) [Romaniuk 2022, Fig. 3.16].
Figure 9 – Visualisation of proportions between skeletal elements of four key anatomical areas (skull, vertebral column, front limbs and hind limbs), from expected outline for the whole specimen (upper left), two archaeological sites from different time periods (upper middle and right), and known stages of micromammal assemblage deterioration (lower row, data recalculated from Terry 2004). Large micromammal bone accumulations are often a result of predator activity, from owls to foxes and cats, with initial alterations (e.g. bone digestion, scattering of body parts, see Fig. 8) often unique to specific predatory species. However, once deposited, animal remains do not remain static, being a subject to a variety of factors. Those factors are varied (trampling, mechanical and chemical erosion, dispersal by the wind and water, gradual entry to a geological layer and eventual fossilization) and often affect the final outline of a studied assemblage. Does the difference between presented two sites shows exclusively the passage of time? Not really, as both sites may also represent different mode of deposition. In case of Skara Brae, between the closely built together roundish buildings, in case of Birsay Bay interior of the building. However, an additional impact of post-depositonal factors is highly likely. [Romaniuk 2022, Fig. 6.05 and 6.08].

How the PhD project changed over time?

However, with time I shifted towards a more methods-oriented approach. Some issues widespread in archaeological material are simply never encountered or considered by contemporary researchers. As there may be no references to a specific phenomenon, archaeologists themselves have to conduct experiments to establish their own references for identification, for example the impact of burning on bones under different conditions, like wildfire or intentional cooking. As I could not perform any on-field experimentation, I concentrated on working with statistics and statistical modelling to answer several specific questions, notably how representative micromammal remains are in comparison to modern references (Fig. 8), how factors common in archaeology affect the pattern of a deposition (Fig. 9) and how both affect identifiability of specific depositions, e.g. of predators. Sampling strategies employed during the excavations were also investigated (Fig. 10) as I realised some discrepancies between the sites may stem more from how they were retrieved rather than showcasing actual differences.

Figure 10 – Example of how the scale of sampling may affect the species composition of a single archaeological layer, given the percentage of the context covered. In a way, any archaeological dig is just a sample of the past, often very narrow in scope and biased towards specific finds (e.g. structural remains) at the expanse of the others. To further cut costs, what is excavated is sampled even further, which is often the case for harder to retrieve finds (including micromammals). That is why researching sampling and its impact on archaeology is crucial for understanding, whether what we see is actually a representation of the past population or rather a random selection of stuff that happened to be noticed and picked by the excavators. The issue may be further complicated due to sampling possibility to differently affect various types of data, e.g. species present and anatomical proportions, resulting in different thresholds for representativeness. In the example above we can clearly see, that any sampling not taking into account at least 40-50% of the original content may result at best in incorrect proportions, and at worst in a grave misinterpretation (below 24%). [Romaniuk 2022, Fig. 6.01 bottom].

What was the overall research conclusion?

The research generally confirmed the sequence of introductions known from previous studies but also showed a greater depth to this issue. While Orkney voles and field mice were introduced to Mainland roughly at the same time, around IV millennium BC, they definitely took different routes when colonizing other isles. Field mice, species more prone to scavenging near human habitation, arrived at Westray far later than voles, which prefer wild environments or fields of low vegetation. The Early Norse period saw both pygmy shrews and house mice populations already established through the archipelago. In contrast, no evidence for black rats, species widespread in European ports at that time, has been found. It may be due to those species being used to tropical vegetation and crowded harbours, not small fishing villages and unending fields and pastures.

Figure 11 – SEM image of an unerupted, still-developing first upper molar of a house mouse. In palaeoecology and archaeology any remains of juvenile micromammals are rare due to their general fragility, a point especially valid for still-forming teeth. This specific find survived deposition and later retrieval thanks to being completely encased by a bone in which it formed, which shattered during the inspection. Its presence is significant as it conclusively confirms house mouse nesting within human habitation in Birsay Bay, the site dated to Norse/Mediaeval times. Mice stay within the nest till the eruption of the first two out of three molars, and even at that point they start to roam next to the nest before attaining more adult features. This specific individual, to whom this molar belonged, died while still being cared for by its mother [Romaniuk 2022, Fig. 5.31].

Were there more specific results?

The rest of the results of my PhD are harder to convey, mostly because of their importance for the methodology of my discipline rather than Orcadian natural history. As expected, different types of deposits could be identified, from confirmed predators (owls, diurnal raptors and dogs) to evidence for accidental entrapment or natural mortality. Differences in age structure were found especially between Neolithic and Norse assemblages, with Birsay Bay showing predominance of young mice, perhaps all-year nesting (Fig. 11), and field mice from Skara Brae generally older, perhaps due to only seasonal infestation of human habitation. However, the location and age of an assemblage proved to be important during the assessment. Older accumulations, as well as open-space deposits, showed a higher degree of deterioration, not necessarily visible in general completeness of finds but more in the degree of fragmentation present as well as survivability of fragile bones (e.g. hand and feet bones or vertebra). Moreover, while some accumulations could come from a single predator or one specific event, there were cases with more than one predator responsible and/or more than one possible factor present. It was visible especially within the periods of active human habitation, with humans erecting structures driving accumulations, moving accumulations with other refuse or soil, and so on.

How a site-related results look like?

… But how does it actually relate to a specific archaeological site? The best example is how my PhD work reframed my understanding of Skara Brae. The evidence of multiple sources of deposition was indeed noted, with comparisons with other sites revealing a strong impact of deterioration and dispersal over time. Due to that, the comparisons with references I used had to be altered via statistical modelling. The adjusted methods revealed an off-site assemblage contemporary to the site coming most likely from an owl, with the majority of deposition within the site also likely coming from owls roosting or nesting on constructions. Considering plaster remains were found in the same depositions, the remains might have initially been deposited on a roof slope, falling down into comingled human refuse on its own or with parts of a deteriorating roof structure. However, dogs also deposited faeces with vole remains. It was to a minuscule degree, perhaps an accidental catch. The presence of burning was confirmed by checking element composition of affected bones surfaces, but considering the relative small amount of such finds it might have come to only occasional events, perhaps as accidental as with dog deposition.

Figure 12 – The right half of a rat mandible. Discerning closely related species using only visual clues can sometimes be impossible, especially if available material is only a singular bone or tooth. That is why archaeologists working with animal or plant remains sometimes need to use different methods, for example ones relying on biochemistry. Proteins, like collagen present in the bone, can differ in structure between specific species, and these differences can be noted e.g. by checking the weight of specific sections of the protein chain ( “peptides”) in the mass spectrometer (Buckley et al. 2009). In the case of black and brown rats there is a minor but easy-to-spot difference in one peptide, that is why shown mandible was successfully identified as coming from a brown rat by Dr David Orton and Dr Sam Presslee, from the University of York. [copyright National Museums Scotland]

Can those results be used in further research?

Optimally, conclusive research should provide ground for further studies or support other research in the field. Those studies can follow its initial success, further examining already gathered material, but even negative results can provide suitable grounds for worthwhile work. It proved to be the case for micromammal material found in a Viking boat burial at Scar, Sanday. Original excavations noted extensive signs of burrowing by a variety of species, notably otters, but I still had faint hopes I will find some micromammals contemporary to the boat burial itself. In the end, it turned out that the majority of finds relevant for my research were most likely deposited far later than boat burial itself. It was especially the case for the rat remains found, identified as brown rats (Fig. 12), introduced to Europe around the XVI century. However, burrowing itself was not necessarily recent. After the PhD was done one brown rat bone was radiocarbon dated to around the same time their introduction to the isles should have happened. If true, those finds could be a good DNA source for any research related to the dispersal of brown rats across Europe. Personally, I hope much more of such examples will become evident once my work is more known to the wider academic community.

Ending (for now)

It is all I can tell within a few short sentences. For those interested in further details, and not afraid of dull academic works, a recently defended PhD thesis “Rethinking Established Methodology In Micromammal Taphonomy: Archaeological Case Studies From Orkney, UK (4th millennium BC – 15th century AD)”, available online here: http://dx.doi.org/10.7488/era/1960. While I am not sure yet what the second part of year 2022 will hold for me, I do think about continuing my work on small Orcadian animals in one way or another. Perhaps I will try to utilize stable isotopes to get an insight into their diet, or DNA to check how it relates to modern specimens. I may also analyse their shape to see how they adapted to insular environments. Regardless, I think Orkney is the best place for such research for aspiring researchers, now and in the future.

About the Author – My name is Andrzej Aleksander Romaniuk, a recent PhD graduate from the University of Edinburgh (Archaeology, Feb 2022). I specialise in micromammal archaeology, taphonomy and data analysis, on the side slowly exploring the realm of coding and teaching basics of data science with Edinburgh Carpentries. I hope to either continue my academic career (postdoctoral research) or get a job where my skills may be of use. https://andrzejromaniuk.github.io/CV/

Further reading – author’s work:

  1. Theses:

Romaniuk 2022 Rethinking Established Methodology In Micromammal Taphonomy: Archaeological Case Studies From Orkney, UK (4th millennium BC – 15th century AD). Dissertation submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Archaeology. Edinburgh, The University of Edinburgh School of History, Archaeology & Classics. http://dx.doi.org/10.7488/era/1960

Romaniuk 2015 From simple studies to complex issues: Research on rodent bone assemblages from Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland. Dissertation submitted for MSc in Osteoarcheology course. Edinburgh, The University of Edinburgh School of History, Archaeology & Classics.

  • Peer reviewed papers:

Romaniuk et al. 2020 Combined visual and biochemical analyses confirm depositor and diet for Neolithic coprolites from Skara Brae. Archaeol Anthropol Sci Vol. 12 is. 274 doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01225-9

Romaniuk et al. 2016 Rodents: food or pests in Neolithic Orkney. Royal Society Open Science 3(10): 160514. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160514

BBC coverage of 2016 publication:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37690206

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-37699357

  • Conference presentations:

Romaniuk et al. 2020 Statistics, taphonomy and representativeness: Making the most out of archaeological micromammal assemblages. In López-García, JM, Blain, H-A, Blanco-Lapaz, Ŕ & SE Rhodes eds. 3rd Meeting of the ICAZ Microvertebrate Working Group, September 1st – 2nd 2020, Tarragona (Spain): Abstracts Book. P. 10

Romaniuk et al. 2018 Micromammals, humans and environments – long- term perspectives on human-micromammal relationships on Orkney, Scotland: Preliminary interpretations. In Pişkin, E, Sevimli, E, Özger, G & G Durdu eds. 13th ICAZ international conference: abstracts. Ankara, Middle East Technical University. P. 174-175

Romaniuk 2017 “Of rodents and men” – The evolution and nature of human-micromammal relationships in prehistoric Orkney and Scotland. In Romaniuk, A, Steinke, K & R Guildford eds. Association for Environmental Archaeology Autumn Conference, Edinburgh 2017: Grand Challenge Agendas in Environmental Archaeology. P. 50

Romaniuk & Herman 2016 Rodent osteology from a zooarchaeological perspective – rodent skeletal remains from a Neolithic site at Skara Brae, Orkney, United Kingdom. In E Tkadlec ed. Rodens et Spatium July 25 – 29 Olomouc 2016, programme and abstract book. Olomouc, Palacký University Olomouc. P. 87

Further reading – other sources mentioned:

Andrews 1990 Owls, caves and fossils. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Terry 2004 Owl Pellet Taphonomy: A Preliminary Study of the Post-Regurgitation Taphonomic History of Pellets in Temperate Forest. PALAIOS 19(5): 497–506.

To make a donation to any of the museums please follow the link and support us. Thank you.

Why, Where and How?: Investigating small mammals remains

PART 1

An Orkney vole.

by Andrzej A. Romaniuk (PhD in archaeology, MSc in osteoarchaeology)

A word of introduction for Part 1

Having a chance from the Orkney Museum, I would like to present here a blog entry about my PhD research. While the results have been shown several times during international conferences, I must admit I have not yet properly tried to convey my work significance to a wider audience, especially in a format longer than a couple of paragraphs.  As a non-native speaker, it is in part due to my own lack of writing skills. However, a PhD-level work is often a lonely and stressful experience, in a way isolating young researchers from any audience besides the immediate cycle of collaborators, conference attendees and various journal editorial boards. A less formal writing form can be a great way of getting out of this stressful isolation, and perhaps finding further value in one’s work not yet noticed by an aspiring academic.

Research results can be very hard to convey to someone not familiar with the topic. In my case, I think it is more important to showcase how research is being made, from reasons and tools utilized up to issues encountered along the way, with results being briefly mentioned in the very end. In today’s academic reality research does not necessarily follow only one scientific discipline and its methodology, but often branches to others to better study and explain observed phenomena. That is why I will try to first explain “what”, “where”, “why” and “how” (PART 1), with details about my research left for another blog post (PART 2).

I would thank Dr Robin Bendrey (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Jeremy Herman (National Museums Scotland), whose ongoing support was crucial for the completion of this research. I would also like to thank Dr Gail Drinkall (Orkney Museum) for the interest in my work and support in obtaining necessary materials.

Figure 1 – Micromammal remains, mostly of voles, from a singular archaeological stratum at Skara Brae, laid out on a A4 paper sheet. To get so many small remains soil has to be thoroughly sieved, either by hand or by using water flow, through a series of meshes of decreasing size. If all contents are sieved, such work may take the majority of time during archaeological digs, though it is more common to sieve only a selected portion of retrieved soil. Later sorting, identifying and siding also can be a time-consuming task, due to a single accumulation having hundreds or thousands of bones. [Romaniuk 2021, Fig. 2.01]

What are micromammals?

For well over six years, and through two different degrees, I have been working with the smallest species of mammals encountered on Orkney: common (Orkney) voles, field and house mice, black and brown rats, and pygmy shrews.  Terrestrial species like these are sometimes called “micromammals” by professional zoologists and other scientists, as their weight at most is measured in hundreds of grams, with their bodies easily fitting into one’s palm. It may come as a surprise, but well over 50% of all known mammal species can be considered micromammals, making them the biggest, and most diverse, part of the mammalian kingdom.

Why we study them?

However, I do not work with living specimens, but rather their remains, specifically bones and teeth retrieved during archaeological digs (Fig. 1). It may sound odd, given how often such finds can be found in one’s backyard with an hour of shovelling, but they can be a great source of information about the past. Due to a very short lifespan and a high reproduction rate, micromammals can adapt rapidly to any changes in their vicinity, both environmental and man-made. Archaeological finds of specialised micromammals, with their own preferences towards food, weather and the relationship with other animals, can tell us much about how the environment looked and what species may have occupied it in a specific period of time. In turn, remains of species closely related to humans, such as e.g. house mice or guinea pigs, may help in understanding past human behaviour. In the case of house mice, their strong reliance on humans makes them a perfect proxy to reconstruct patterns of human migrations or shifts in subsistence strategies. In turn, guinea pigs show a different spectrum of human behaviour, from being utilized as a food and a status symbol in the pre-Columbian societies of Southern America up to being widely known, lovable pets in modern times.

Figure 2 – Orkney voles are a subspecies of common voles, one of the most ubiquitous rodents of the European continent. They were introduced to Orkney quite early, perhaps as early as 5-4th millennium BC. What is fascinating about them is that common voles have not been introduced anywhere else in the British Isles, with the nearest insular population being on the Channel Isles. Moreover, they were most likely introduced only once and in a relatively large number, establishing a genetically diverse population early on (Haynes et al. 2003, Martínková et al. 2013; see also Berry 2000). [Photo © Peter Reynolds]

Why I wanted to study them on Orkney?

But why study small mammals from the Orkney islands, especially given how few species there are in contrast to Mainland Britain or continental Europe? Primarily, because of how intertwined is the history of terrestrial species on Orkney with human migrations and gradual transformation of the isles’ nature to suit farming, herding and fishing. When the glaciation ended, a rapidly rising sea level cut Orkney off from the rest of Britain relatively quickly, resulting in no other way to get there than to swim through Pentland Firth. Therefore all terrestrial mammals currently living on Orkney, including micromammals, were introduced by people, intentionally or not, through the last six thousand years (see Fig. 2). It provides an interesting opportunity to see when and what species were introduced in specific time periods, what was the likely initial reason for introduction, how they adapted to insular life and whether further introductions or changes in human activity have affected their populations. Moreover, a relatively low number of species and a relative ease in connecting changes occurring to external stimuli, renders Orkney really helpful in establishing methods to be later used in more complex cases. In the case of Continental Europe, dozens of micromammal species are often found during archaeological digs, making research on their remains really challenging to provide conclusive results up to a species level.

Figure 3 – Stacking photography station at the Entomology lab, National Museums of Scotland, with a squirrel left femur visible on the computer display. Micromammal bones are often very small, and even if identifiable in whole by a naked eye, specific features of their shape or unique marks left on their surface may simply be not visible without the use of a microscope. Moreover, the diminutive size also makes visual documentation of features quite hard, as traditional photography barely catches the complexity found under a microscope, with at best only some features visible. One of the solutions is “focus stacking”, a method in which multiple photos, taken from different distances, are combined by software. Stacked photos provide a greater depth of field, with more details visible. The author used a stacked photography station at the NMS, assembled originally to document a variety of bugs from the entomology collection, with the help of Ashleigh Whiffin, assistant curator at NMS [copyright National Museums Scotland]

How we research them?

There is a variety of approaches through which micromammal remains can be explored, though many require the use of microscopes or more complex documentation techniques due to how small micromammal bones and teeth often are (see Fig. 3). Starting from basics, the best way of identifying any animal up to specific species, as well as estimating the age or health of an animal, is through checking their teeth. Especially molars are uniquely adapted to a specific diet, resulting in a multitude of different and unique patterns, easily attributable even if worn. Wear itself can be a great indicator of approximate age, especially if there are known modern-day references for the studied species (see Fig. 4). Bones, while harder to discern between specific species, can be nevertheless a never-ending source of data, especially about age (general skeletal development), health (presence of fractures or signs of illness) or specific animal taphonomic history. “Taphonomy” relates to all the processes that happen to the remains from the moment of death until complete destruction or fossilization, including e.g. dismemberment and bone fragmentation, their digestion (Fig. 5), burning or even disappearance from the assemblage. In the case of different predators, one can see a relationship between specific skeletal completeness and other changes, for example owls regurgitating mostly complete skeletons with no, or only mild, digestion marks present, while foxes providing faeces with very few surviving, mostly robust bones. However, micromammals can also die accidentally, e.g. by self-entrapment in man-made features, or due to natural causes. Non-predatory death may denote species nesting nearby, perhaps even within the settlement, with the presence of juvenile specimens pretty much confirming it.

Figure 4 – Photographs of field mice molars crown surfaces, showing different stages of wear (left- unworn, centre and right – heavily worn). Teeth with finite growth, once erupted and used for chewing food, start to slowly deteriorate due to constant attrition. With time they deteriorate more and more, in a process removing more and more of the crown morphology, starting from tips of teeth cusps (unworn seen on the left photo) and ending with almost complete removal of any discernible features (especially right photo). Due to the attrition being often well correlated with the aging process it is frequently used to approximate age for both alive and dead animals as well as pre-modern humans. However, it is good to remember, that the rate of attrition for a specific individual or a population may vary from what is expected, for example due to genetics, food hardness, diet, health or seasonal factors. [copyright National Museums Scotland]
Figure 5 – Images of the bone and teeth surfaces obtained by Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM in short). The use of SEM is beneficial for any work including very small (<1cm in size) finds. Imaging is done in a vacuum chamber, which helps in obtaining high-quality images of features as small as single grains of pollen. Additionally, electron imaging captures only the shape of a studied sample, not its surface colour, what removes an issue of heavy decolouration for elements that have been in the soil for very long. For micromammal specifically, SEM is often used to identify signs of digestion on their surface, and undeniable proof that a specimen was eaten by a predator. In cases displayed one can notice digestion marks on both teeth (A, edges rounding 1 and 2) and bone surfaces (B, wavy cracking in 3; C  4 and D showing bone deterioration around the edges of bone fusion). [Romaniuk et al. 2020, Fig. 4]

Ending (for now)

I have provided lots and lots of information in this blog post, but what I wish you all to remember from it is that archaeology is a much more complicated subject, going beyond on-field excavations and often blending with other branches of sciences, especially biology. The number of possible factors one has to consider during the research before drawing appropriate conclusions is astonishing, more similar to what we can expect from detective stories with a lab-based work spin rather than literature hunt we all associate academia with. Some very mundane finds, like e.g. mice or shrew bones, can be a surprisingly informative source of information, and Orkney, despite a rather small pool of species inhabiting it, provides a great environment for long-term studies on such finds. You will find more details on my research specifically in the second blog entry.

About the Author – My name is Andrzej Aleksander Romaniuk, a recent PhD graduate from the University of Edinburgh (Archaeology, Feb 2022). I specialise in micromammal archaeology, taphonomy and data analysis, on the side slowly exploring the realm of coding and teaching basics of data science with Edinburgh Carpentries. I hope to either continue my academic career (postdoctoral research) or get a job where my skills may be of use. https://andrzejromaniuk.github.io/CV/

Further reading – author’s work:

  1. Theses:

Romaniuk 2022 Rethinking Established Methodology In Micromammal Taphonomy: Archaeological Case Studies From Orkney, UK (4th millennium BC – 15th century AD). Dissertation submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Archaeology. Edinburgh, The University of Edinburgh School of History, Archaeology & Classics. http://dx.doi.org/10.7488/era/1960

Romaniuk 2015 From simple studies to complex issues: Research on rodent bone assemblages from Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland. Dissertation submitted for MSc in Osteoarcheology course. Edinburgh, The University of Edinburgh School of History, Archaeology & Classics.

  • Peer reviewed papers:

Romaniuk et al. 2020 Combined visual and biochemical analyses confirm depositor and diet for Neolithic coprolites from Skara Brae. Archaeol Anthropol Sci Vol. 12 is. 274 doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01225-9

Romaniuk et al. 2016 Rodents: food or pests in Neolithic Orkney. Royal Society Open Science 3(10): 160514. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160514

BBC coverage of 2016 publication:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37690206

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-37699357

  • Conference presentations:

Romaniuk et al. 2020 Statistics, taphonomy and representativeness: Making the most out of archaeological micromammal assemblages. In López-García, JM, Blain, H-A, Blanco-Lapaz, Ŕ & SE Rhodes eds. 3rd Meeting of the ICAZ Microvertebrate Working Group, September 1st – 2nd 2020, Tarragona (Spain): Abstracts Book. P. 10

Romaniuk et al. 2018 Micromammals, humans and environments – long- term perspectives on human-micromammal relationships on Orkney, Scotland: Preliminary interpretations. In Pişkin, E, Sevimli, E, Özger, G & G Durdu eds. 13th ICAZ international conference: abstracts. Ankara, Middle East Technical University. P. 174-175

Romaniuk 2017 “Of rodents and men” – The evolution and nature of human-micromammal relationships in prehistoric Orkney and Scotland. In Romaniuk, A, Steinke, K & R Guildford eds. Association for Environmental Archaeology Autumn Conference, Edinburgh 2017: Grand Challenge Agendas in Environmental Archaeology. P. 50

Romaniuk & Herman 2016 Rodent osteology from a zooarchaeological perspective – rodent skeletal remains from a Neolithic site at Skara Brae, Orkney, United Kingdom. In E Tkadlec ed. Rodens et Spatium July 25 – 29 Olomouc 2016, programme and abstract book. Olomouc, Palacký University Olomouc. P. 87

Further reading – other sources mentioned:

Berry 2000 Orkney Nature. London: Academic Press.

Haynes et al. 2003 Phylogeography of the common vole (Microtus arvalis) with particular emphasis on the colonisation of the Orkney archipelago. Mol. Ecol. 12: 951–956.

Martínková et al. 2013 Divergent evolutionary processes associated with colonization of offshore islands. Mol. Ecol. 22: 5205–5220.

To make a donation to any of the museums please follow the link and support us. Thank you.

Rare Orkney Chair

[Tom Muir, Engagement & Exhibitions Officer]

We are resuming more regular blog posts once again, now that the summer exhibition about Newark is up and running and the new Scapa Flow Museum has opened its doors to the public. Towards the end of last year we were offered a very special Orkney chair, made by the man who was responsible for reversing their fortune, David Munro Kirkness. He saved the chair from extinction, standardised the design and won a contract to supply them to Liberty of London. The story of this particular chair is told below in the words of the donor, Janice Thomson, and our Social History Curator, Ellen Pesci.

Label on the underside of the Orkney Chair.

[From Janice Thomson]

A number of years ago we inherited an Orkney chair by D.M. Kirkness. Under the chair is an inscription which indicates that the Chair was made by D.M. Kirness in 1901 from the oak couples from St Magnus Cathederal between 1540 and 1555. I have attached a copy of the full inscription for your information.

Just to give you a bit of background: The chair was handed down to  my mother-in-law after the death of Robina ( Bina) Gunn who used to stay in Clay Loan, Kirkwall. We then inherited it when my mother-in-law died. We’ve had it for some time now but feel that it should be returned to Orkney as we have no family to leave it to.

I’ve done a little research on the chair and the inscription is the same as was in the order books for D.M. Kirkness for a chair given to Queen Alexandra, although I don’t think it will be that specific chair. [Queen Alexandria was the wife of King Edward VII, this would not be her chair]

The label reads: ‘Made from oak couples used in the extension of St. Magnus Cathedral, by Bishop Reid between the years 1540 and 1558. Made by DM Kirkness, 14 Palace Road, Kirkwall, Orkney. 1st May 1901.’

We understand that Robina Gunn stayed in Clay Loan, Kirkwall and was a telephonist along with “Dolly” Thomson of Roebank, Hight Street Kirkwall during WW2. She never married and we are not sure if she had any other family members. She is buried in the St Olaf cemetery in Kirkwall ( we found her stone some years ago). We think she was born in the late 1800’s.

Miss Gunn was a friend of my mother-in-law and when she died, left the Chair to her.  My father-in-law was the Minister of the old Kings Street Church, Kirkwall, (1951- 1960) and Miss Gunn was a member of the church.  We think she died some time later.

We don’t have any further information about her but I hope this is of help.

The chair in storage at Janice’s house.

[From Ellen Pesci, Social History Curator]

Without a single example in Orkney Museum, D.M. Kirkness chairs have almost become the stuff of legend, given that the chair I have often referred to until now is kept on display 700 miles away in the Victoria & Albert museum in London! I always felt quite sad that we couldn’t champion his work in his home island, especially given how it was thanks to him that the status of these beautifully crafted chairs was elevated from the vernacular to commercially desirable furniture back in 1890, a status still upheld by local makers today.

To be offered not only an original D.M. Kirkness chair is wonderful, but for it to have been crafted from the oak used in the extension of St Magnus Cathedral by Bishop Reid in the mid1500s, a time when the buildings which later became Tankerness House were still serving as Catholic manses for the clergy of the cathedral, is a perfectly fabulous connection to the museum. 

I am so grateful to Janice and her family for deciding to offer us this chair, it will be cherished in our collection, and will become a much admired artefact in the museum.

Ellen with the Kirkness chair in the Orkney Museum.
After the chair was featured on BBC Radio Orkney this arrived at the museum, as Ellen explains. ‘A day after the radio interview, a couple came in with a little printed D.M. Kirkness catalogue which they’d found in the eaves of their home. The couple had done a bit of research into their home, which is called Margot and situated on Bignold Park road in Kirkwall. Their research revealed that the house had been designed by David Kirkness for his sister, Margaret. It seems as though the catalogues had been stored in the attic, but had made their way into a nook which was only discovered when the couple removed some panelling! I suspect that this catalogue was probably an early 20th century one, given the prices, which are more than double what he was charging in 1890.
The Orkney chair by David Kirkness, on display in the Baikie Library of the Orkney Museum.

To make a donation to any of the museums please follow the link and support us. Thank you.

Scapa Flow Museum Part 2, The Galleries

Tom Muir, Engagement & Exhibitions Officer, Orkney Museum.

The new Scapa Flow Museum opens on Saturday 2nd July 2022. It is still based at the former fleet’s pumphouse at Lyness, next to the ferry terminal, but a new building has been erected to house the internationally important collections of artefacts from both World Wars. This blog is just a taste of what is in store for the visitor.

Entrance and the new café windows.
The entrance lighting is based on the hoops of the boom defence nets, while the walls are painted with a ‘dazzle’ pattern, as used on warships to break up their profile. These are working shots taken when work was still being carried out on the museum.
Reused boom defence nets.
Model of the German battleship SMS Baden. It was beached at Swanbister Bay, Orphir, during the scuttling and was later sunk off Cornwall when it was used for target practice by the Royal Navy.

Display in pumphouse with signal lamp.
Small room showing computer graphics of Lyness during the war. A short film, ‘The Fleet in Action’, is shown in another part of the pumphouse.
Embroidered tablecloth, Caldale Air Station, World Was I and home made toys from World War II.
Children friendly research area with the painting, ‘The Dome’ by Jim Baikie.
Wash stand from HMS Iron Duke (right). The Union flag was flown by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe on his flagship, HMS Iron Duke, during the Battle of Jutland, 31st May/1st June 1916. Later that year he sent it south to be draped over his mother’s coffin as he was unable to attend her funeral. It was flown from HMS Duncan over the site of the battle during the centenary commemorations of the Battle of Jutland in 2016. It is a new exhibit, kindly donated by the Jellicoe family.
Display on HMS Hampshire, lost off Marwick Head, Birsay, on 5th June 1916. 737 men lost their lives when the ship struck a mine during a storm. Among the dead was Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War. Some items were illegally removed from the wreck in 1983 and were returned to Orkney by the Admiralty.
A gun from HMS Hampshire.
Items from HMS Hampshire, including souvenirs made from wood that washed ashore after the ship had sunk.
Items from the battleship HMS Vanguard, which blew up through an internal explosion of its magazines on 9th July 1917 in Scapa Flow. 843 men lost their lives, there were only three survivors but one died of his injuries soon after.
The destroyers HMS Opal and HMS Narbourgh were lost in a blizzard when a navigational error saw them collide with the cliffs at Hesta Head, South Ronaldsay, on 12th January 1918. The blizzard was the worse in living memory with visibility down to virtually zero. 188 men lost their lives, there was only one survivor, William Sissons, who clung to the cliff for 36 hours before being rescued.
Artefacts relating to Ernest Stanley Cubiss, who was lost on HMS Opal. His fascinating story unfolded after a diver found his engagement ring (front left, centre) during a dive on the wreck site. The destroyers were salvaged after the war and very little of them now remains.
The battleflag from SMS Hindenburg. It was taken as a souvenir and later used in Orkney as a children’s play tent. It is another new exhibit which has undergone conservation.
Road sign damaged by shrapnel during the air-raid on the Brig o’ Waithe houses, 16th March 1940. James Isbister became the first British civilian casualty of an air-raid on that day.
Propeller blade from a JU 88 German bomber, shot down at Pegal Burn near Lyness on 17th October 1939.
The battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk in Scapa Flow on the night of 14th October 1939. The German U-boat, U47, had penetrated the defences and found the old battleship at anchor near Scapa Bay. 835 men and boy sailors lost their lives. The Royal Oak name plate was illegally taken from the wreck in the 1970s before being handed back to the Admiralty, who donated it to the museum.
Model of the tender Daisy II, which served HMS Royal Oak and saved many of her crew on the night she was sunk.
Whisky barrel from HMS Royal Oak.
As a result of the loss of HMS Royal Oak Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, ordered the building of the barriers that bear his name. Many Italian POWs were used as labourers during their construction.
Italian POWs were employed to work on the building of the barriers after the capitulation of Italy in 1943. This gave them some freedom to leave the camp and sell trinkets that they made. Many were given as gifts to local friends.
The reception desk, with ‘Rosie the Riveter’ duck.
The gift shop will be fully stocked by the opening date.
Enjoy a break in the new café.

Orkney.com have made a lovely wee film about the new museum, featuring our Ellen and Jude who explain the process. Click on the link below.

https://www.orkney.com/news/scapa-flow-museum-orkney?fbclid=IwAR3pHP7-r16Gaq73iCFjUFF_qg3SZOLlg6sszhUVj8-KSxCiqNmGoNQ-ymw

To make a donation to any of the museums please follow the link and support us. Thank you.

Scapa Flow Museum Part 1, The Pumphouse

Tom Muir, Engagement & Exhibitions Officer, Orkney Museum.

The new Scapa Flow Museum opens on Saturday, 2nd July 2022. The historic pumphouse building has been restored back to its original appearance and a new world class exhibition space created where the historical artefacts relating to Scapa Flow in two World Wars can be safely displayed in environmentally controlled galleries. Many artefcats have been conserved and are on display for the first time. In this blog we are looking at the Pumphouse itself and the exterior of the museum. The galleries will follow in Part 2. More work is planned to renovate the oil tank, romney hut and to conserve the large guns and steam crane that have stood outside for many years. Their condition has deteriorated due to exposure to the weather and salt in the atmosphere. The guns will be placed inside once they have been stabilised, to preserve them for future generations.

A frequently asked question is how far is the Scapa Flow Museum from the ferry terminal at Lyness? Here is your answer. The museum is the white building, just a short stroll from the ferry.
The view of the ferry terminal from the museum sign.
The pumphose was used to pump oil from the overground tanks (one of which remains) to the oil tenders that fueled the naval ships in Scapa Flow.
The chimneys used to vent the fumes from the boilers that were used to power the machinery. One of them has had to be replaced, as it was in an unsafe condition. The new one is an exact copy of the original.
The new build is the dark grey structure on the right. It has been carefully attached to the original pumphouse to prevent any damage to the historically important listed building.
Displays inside the pumphouse, showing a signal lamp.
The boilers.
An underfloor oil pipe, now left visible, gives a glimpse of what lies under your feet.
One of the propellers from HMS Hampshire, which was lost after hitting a mine off Marwick Head, Birsay, 5th June 1916. 737 men lost their lives, including Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War. It was illegally salvaged in 1983 and returned to Orkney by the Admiralty.
The steam powered crane on rails, which was used at Lyness, is another conservation project.
Original World War II boom defence nets.

Orkney.com have made a lovely wee film about the new museum, featuring our own Ellen and Jude who explain the process. Click on the link below.

https://www.orkney.com/news/scapa-flow-museum-orkney?fbclid=IwAR3pHP7-r16Gaq73iCFjUFF_qg3SZOLlg6sszhUVj8-KSxCiqNmGoNQ-ymw

To make a donation to any of the museums please follow the link and support us. Thank you.

Sylvia Hays, “An Unappropriated World”: Recent Paintings. Orkney Museum 6th-27th November 2021

[Tom Muir, Engagement & Exhibitions Officer]

Sylvia Hays exhibition provided a much needed splash of colour to a dull, November morning. These photographs do not do the paintings justice, but they give you an idea of what there is to be seen. Below is her artist’s statement.

Sylvia Hays at the opening of her exhibition, “An Unappropriated World”; Recent Paintings.

“An Unappropriated World”


I lifted the phrase from a magnificent book The Hudson River and its Painters some years ago, copied it onto a strip of paper and taped it to the shelf above my desk where it joined another favourite quote: “ . . . the modest greatness of ordinary people” – Pushkin writing on Gogol’s The Captain’s Daughter. The quotations stayed there until the tape dried out. I was prompted to post
the second quote by an instinctive love for the idea. Only much later, when I needed an exhibition title, did I begin to ask myself what it could possibly mean. Is there such a place? Is there any part of the world that has not been appropriated already?


The Hudson River School is better known in America than here. I would have been aware of it from early on, years before I bought it on publication in 1972. The loosely-knit group of painters came to prominence around 1825 with the emergence of a distinctly American way of looking at the natural world through the lenses of romanticism and pantheism. In that year “an unappropriated world” occurs in an address which extols the role of the arts in society and the rich variety of the American landscape. For those painters based in New York City, travelling upriver as far as it was navigable or looking west into the Catskill mountains, the landscape must have appeared as wilderness. It was touched, settled, worked in places but not yet despoiled. If “an unappropriated world” was a romantic fantasy in 1825, still less is it an actuality today, some two centuries later. Even so there is a tenacious instinct, not only mine, to seek out those places that require silence and solitude to experience. ‘Place’ is not limited to geography. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at something new or something you see every day outside your windows. The point is that you’re seeing it as if for the first time. That as if is what is unappropriated. The as if marks the first moment of transformation from an act of observation to the full-blown vision of a painting. The problem is to hold onto that moment, to remain true to it while the painting gains its own reality and makes its own separate demands. Then enters the final period of negotiation between the original vision and what the painting demands to become. Unlike certain of the Hudson River painters (Moran, Bierstadt) I am not aiming for the conventions of the picturesque or the symbolic but to share my own response to the natural world with anyone willing to regard it. But like them, discussions – should they take place – “could be seen as dialogues conducted under the disguise of landscape about man’s place and thus his function in the world.” – Barbara O’Doherty, The American Vision, 1968.


I don’t like to be reminded that I am American though I was born there in 1938. I identify with Scotland and with my home in Orkney which constantly feed my painting. Yet there is still the reach, like a stretched umbilical cord, of forces that shape my work: an attitude to scale, space and the myth of wilderness even to be apprehended in an ancient settled land such as this.


Sylvia Hays.


1. Gorse, Findhorn
2018
110 x 123 cm
£3,500
2. Peninsula I
2020
50 x 55 cm
£500
3. Bring Deeps I
2019
50 x 55 cm
£500
4. Cloud Cover, Rousay
2019
120 x 130 cm
£3,500
5. Wyre to Eday
2021
110 x 120 cm
£4,000
6. After Midnight, June
2020
120 x 110 cm
£4,000
7. Simplified Sky
2020
45 x 50 cm
£500
8. No Wind. A Calm Separation. January
2021
110 x 120 cm
£4,000
9. Equinox
2021
110 x 120 cm
£4,000
10. An Teallach
2019
120 x 130 cm
£3,500
11. Change Coming
2021
55 x 55 cm
£700
12. Grove, Firth I
2018
53 x 63 cm
£700
13. Grove, Firth (oil sketch)
NFS
Kindly Loaned by
Pamela Beasant &
Iain Ashman
14. Grove, Firth II
2020
110 x 120 cm
£3,500
15. Scaur
2020
55 x 110 cm
£2,500
16. Coldbackie II
2019
120 x 130 cm
£4,000
17. Bring Deeps II
2020
50 x 55 cm
£500
18. 4pm, November
2021
26 x 34 cm
£250
19. Peninsula II
2020
54 x 58 cm
£500
Case containing sketchbooks.

If you are interested in buying a painting, please contact:

tom.muir@orkney.gov.uk

To make a donation to any of the museums please follow the link and support us. Thank you.

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A Family Ba’ Reunion

Katrina Clitherow holding her Nan’s Ba’.

[Tom Muir & Ellen Pesci]

On Saturday 14th August we had a special visitor to the Orkney Museum. Katrina Clitherow is the granddaughter of Barbara Clitherow, nee Yule, the winner of the first Women’s Ba’ on Christmas Day 1945. When Barbara passed away in 1999 it was her wish that her Ba’ should return to Orkney. Her two sons, Ronnie (Katrina’s father) and Brian, made an emotional trip to Orkney the following summer to donate the Ba’ to the Orkney Museum.

Katrina’s uncle Brian (left) and father Ronnie were featured in The Orcadian newspaper when they brought their mother’s Ba’ back to Orkney in 2000.

It was heart-warming to hear from Katrina just how special that trip was for the two brothers. I remember the occasion very well. The Orcadian did a feature, as did BBC Radio Orkney. The two men were blown-away by the degree of interest and the reception that they received. A display had been created in advance, so they could see where their mother’s Ba’ would be shown.

Sadly, we learned from Katrina that her father, Ronnie, had passed away and that it was his wish for his ashes to be scattered in Orkney. His ancestral islands had obviously made a lasting impression on him. Katrina had travelled north with her boyfriend, Dan Grimstead, to carry out his wishes. Seeing her Nan’s Ba’ once more was also something that she wanted to do.

As a child Katrina remembers her ‘Nan’s’ Ba’ as a special thing, safely shut up in a display cabinet and definitely not for the bairns to play with. Appeals by Katrina to play with it was flatly refused. It was too precious to be thrown around!

Katrina had written an e-mail to our Social History Curator, Ellen Pesci, asking if she would be allowed to hold her Nan’s treasured Ba’. Normally we do not allow people to handle the artefacts, but Ellen decided that in this special circumstance the family connection was too great to say no, as she explains:

“With every object the museum receives, comes a story, and with social history those stories are about people, family and places that we want to remember. Whilst we do our best to preserve and promote them, it can sometimes feel a little abstract to take an item and pop it into a glass case, where it will never again perform its intended purpose. So it’s particularly nice when an opportunity to reconnect an artefact with its story presents itself, as in the case of Barbara Yule’s ba’. When Katrina contacted me, I felt little hesitation in deciding to offer her the chance to hold the Ba’, as I could completely understand how special it would be for Katrina to hold it as her granny would have done 75 years before.”

Dan and Katrina in Ellen’s office.

While the museum was closed to the public the two honoured guests arrived in the courtyard and knocked on the door. They were led upstairs to Ellen’s office where the Ba’ was temporarily held. Her face lit up on seeing the Ba’ once more. Memories of her Nan came flooding back as she took the Ba’ from Ellen. It was the first time in her life that she had actually held it. A very emotional experience for us all, but especially for Katrina.

We chatted happily for a while. I recounted the story of how the men who were opposed to the Women’s game stole the Ba’ and hid it in the cathedral graveyard. I reminisced about her father and uncle’s visit and just how important the Women’s Ba’ is to the story of the game and to the museum. We visited the display where Katrina saw the photo of her Nan as a young woman. I had sent her the photo digitally and Dan had coloured it. After a while they left the museum, to carry on their exploration of Orkney.

Barbara Yule.

We always appreciate the things that are donated to the museum, especially when they have such a strong family story. It is lovely to hear just how much this can mean to a family. We never lose sight of that, but it is lovely to be reminded every now and again. Sometimes it is the little things that mean the most.

Katrina with her Nan’s Ba’ at the Ba’ display case.

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