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Orkney Archaeological Society Review

By Bernie Bell

I would have started this with “I heard the thud of something substantial dropping through the letter box”, but this is Orkney, and we don’t have a letter box, so I heard the front door open, then close, and went to see what marvels had arrived in the post. At least it’s not election stuff any more – for now.

OAS review

Photo G Vickers

It was the Orkney Archaeological Society (OAS) Review, so, having had my lunch, I sat down with my cuppatea, to have a look.

Its precursor – the OAS Newsletter has had its ups and downs in recent years – sometimes a bit too dryly ‘academic’, sometimes a bit thin – literally  – a very, very slim document indeed!

Sometimes – just about right – articles which were strongly informative, whilst still being accessible to the non-academic-non-archaeologist, and even a bit of light-heartedness sometimes, too.
So I was very interested to see what the second edition of the Review would be like.

Quite a bit of what’s covered in the Review is familiar to me – but that’s because I’m fortunate enough to live on Orkney, so I can keep up with what’s happening here.  Folk with an interest in Orkney’s archaeology but who don’t live here, presumably rely for information on the OAS Facebook page, and other websites and blogs, such as the UHI Archaeology Dept. blog.  The OAS Review fills out the information available from these on-line sites.  For that matter, for an old dinosaur such as myself, who is still happier sitting down with a ‘hard copy’ to read, the Review is a gift!

This one has a good, and interesting mixture.  The ‘Man of the Moment’ – Nick Card – has taken time  – a commodity he must be short of these days – to write a piece about Trench T.  The trench which started off looking like Eric’s home-made guitar ………….

T trench

T Trench photo OAS T Guitar photo B Bell

…………and expanded, and keeps on expanding and raises more and more questions.  I’m probably not the only one with a theory about Trench T.  Nick gives the facts, as known so far, with explanatory diagrams.  That’s how the work gets done, and the pieces of the puzzle start to form a shape.  But….there can always be a huge find to make a bit more sense of it all.  What might that be, for Trench T?

I don’t mean to go through all the articles, one by one – my reader can read the Review for themselves if they wish to, as it is available to non-members, for £6 and they might even be tempted to join the OAS, which would mean they would then get the Review for FREE!  Funding is needed, very much needed, for archaeology research in Orkney, and the OAS helps a lot with diverse projects and endeavours, financially as well as by ‘spreading the word’.

It’s available to buy, on line here

To pick out a few of the articles – Mark Edmonds’ piece about the ‘Conversations with Stones’ project and exhibitions, is a personal favourite, maybe because I’m what one of my nephew’s referred to as ‘stone mad’.

I’ve written of my response to the exhibitions in Stromness, in a piece which is in ‘The Orkney News’ Circles, Lines, Tales to Tell and Roads to Travel  I wrote of my response to these exhibitions, as a member of the public.  Mark, naturally, writes of the background to the whole project, and the far-reaching research which went into producing the exhibitions and associated book.

As I often say to archaeologists – what they produce is the result of years of hard work, what I write is just what’s in my head!

And that’s where the Review does it’s job, giving us an insight into the solid work behind what the public sees of what the archaeologists do here on Orkney.

I said I wasn’t going to go through each article, but it’s hard not to:- The Cairns by/with Martin Carruthers, takes us into life in the Iron Age, and is appropriately followed by an item on metal-working, including a bit of early bling in the form of the very groovy ‘Carins Pin’.

Also having said that much of the material in the Review is familiar to me, I have to admit that the content of the article about Rousay was……unfamiliar.  The information available on-line has covered the newly formed Swandro Orkney charitable  trust and other explorations taking place on Rousay, but I hadn’t come across the information which is presented in the Review.  I am a dinosaur – don’t browse the Interweb, and so, may have missed something, which is where the Review does its job again, in filling that gap.

That only leaves the  items about the Ness, field-walking and the Links of Noltland, which are very familiar territory – I think!

The OAS Review – is exactly that – what it says on the tin – a review of the well-known sites and information about them, and also the not-so-well-known sites and information – with a bit of art thrown in the very well-known shape of Jeanne Bouza-Rose and her work, which she uses to promote and support the Ness in particular, and archaeology in Orkney, generally.

That’s what it’s about – people – people in the past, people in the present, contributing, working, producing results, and…..producing the OAS Review!


Bernie Bell is a regular contributor to The Orkney News

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