Mapping Magnus

St Magnus Church Egilsay

St Magnus Church Egilsay © Copyright Helen Baker

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has been commissioned by Orkney Islands Council to deliver a programme of community archaeology activities and events that will explore the story of St Magnus and medieval Orkney. The Mapping Magnus project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of Magnus 900 commemorating the 900th anniversary year of the death of St Magnus during 2017.

Palace Village Birsay

Fieldwork activities will be focussed in Palace village and the surrounding area of Birsay. Based around the central themes of the Mapping Magnus project – Movement & Pilgrimage, Religion & Power, Stones & Bones – activities will include archive research,
storytelling and collecting, geophysical survey, walkover survey, excavation, coastal survey, a noust survey and community and schools workshops.

Other key places within the story, such as the site of Magnus’ Martyrdom on Egilsay and the Mansie Stane sites where his body was rested during transit will be included. All activities will involve training and hands-on experiences for the local community and schools, and local volunteers are encouraged to get involved.

Dates for the diary: Excavations in Palace village: 25 Sept – 6th October 2017

There will be an emphasis upon hands-on archaeological research, fieldwork and experiences providing members of the community with an opportunity to explore the Magnus Story in exciting new ways. The project events include archive research and training with Dr Sarah-Jane Gibbon, an exploration of the journey of St Magnus through a walkover survey at the martyr site on Egilsay, a survey of the route taken to Birsay and sharing of oral histories through music and storytelling workshops.


By OS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Archaeological fieldwork will be concentrated in Birsay, with an emphasis on Palace village and the sites of the medieval Christ’s Kirk and the Bishops Palace – key places in the story of Magnus. The project aims to characterise the medieval settlement at Palace and contribute something new to our understanding of life at the time of Magnus. Activities will complement and draw together previous archaeological work in Birsay Bay and finds from the project will be brought to life using the latest 3D modelling.

The project will work with local schools to provide hands-on learning experiences in the class and field.

For more information or if you want to take part please contact the UHI Archaeology Institute.

Contact details:

The Mapping Magnus project will contribute to other Magnus related projects during 2017 including the St Magnus Way Pilgrimage route and wider Magnus 900 activities. Antony Mottershead, Orkney Island’s Council Arts Officer, said:

“We are very happy to be working with the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute through the Mapping Magnus project. The knowledge and expertise within their team will enable them to quickly focus in on areas of interest and, we hope, add significantly to our understanding of Orkney during the lifetime of Magnus”.

Dan Lee, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist, said:

“We are really excited to be able to run such a wide and varied programme of community focused archaeology events focused on the story of St Magnus in this important commemorative year. We hope that together we can learn something new about the world of Magnus, and the life and death of one of the most significant historical figures in Orkney”. 

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