The OAS Review!

By Bernie Bell

Our copy of the Orkney Archaeology Society Review 2022 arrived in the post – we get a free copy because we’re members of the OAS,  and they are also available to buy from the OAS shop…..

Considering the fact that, in a way, not much has been happening in the last couple of years due to Covid, an awful lot has actually been happening in Orkney Archaeology and the Review brings together articles about all kinds of aspects of archaeology, from all kinds of people.

Phew – where do I begin?  The introduction by Editor of the Review, George Vickers, dedicates this edition to Caroline Wickham-Jones who passed from this life recently.  George’s tribute to Caroline is accompanied by what must be the best picture of her there is – emerging from the Tomb of The Eagles, beaming to the world.

Wherever you are Caroline – I hope you’re still smiling.

And then we have…..

‘The Ness Excavation 2021’ by Sigurd Towrie – describing how it felt to be back on site after two years.  Last year, the dig was on a more limited scale but…this year…it’s back again….. full site….and Sigurd and others, I hope, will be writing a dig diary to keep those who can’t get to the Ness up to date with developments.

‘Cultural Change and Identity: Red deer and Neolithic Burial Practices in Orkney’ by Kath Page – pretty much exactly what the title says it is. That isn’t dismissing this article in any way – Kath Page has thoroughly covered her area of study – the significance of the animal bones chosen to be deposited in different locations.

 ‘Orkney Energy Landscapes’ by Dan Lee and Richard Irvine – there is something about it here….

…and more about in the OAS Review!

‘Scapa Flow Museum’ by Jude Callister and ‘The Hoy and Walls Trail’ by Gavin Lindsay and Ian Collins.  Trouble is …I’m not too keen on war stuff….but if you are – these will be of interest.

One thing though – on page 63 there’s a picture of an Anderson-type shelter, which took me back to my childhood. No, not during the war – I’m not that old!   But the house I lived in from the age of 5 to 11, still had an Anderson shelter nearby.  It was over-grown on the outside and dank and smelly on the inside but for me and my friends it was a den – a really good den where we laid plans, told stories and tried digging in the floor hoping to find treasure.  Needless to say – we didn’t.  It made a brilliant noise if you banged on the outside and tremendous acoustics when we made noises inside.  We were mucky, noisy kids –  good times.

‘Desperate Measures or Delicacies: Shellfish and diet at The Cairns’  by Holly Young – another title which tells you just what to expect, and then Holly doesn’t disappoint.  To us today the idea of eating limpets would be – yukky.  But – needs must and back in the Neolithic, as in many countries now, anything that can be eaten will be eaten – barring taboos.  They might be yummy.  Has anyone tried them?

‘St. Magnus Cathedral Graffiti Project’ by Fran Hollinrake – Fran is Custodian at the cathedral, and she’s just right for the job – it’s not just a job to her – she has a genuine interest in the place, its people, its history and its mysteries including graffiti which ranges from the early days to a feint inscription in pencil dated 1940.  We frown on graffiti in such places – and rightly so – but it’s something we humans do  – we like to leave our mark.

There is an excellent, free leaflet about the St. Magnus’ graffiti, which tells the tales….

And….’Review of the St. Magnus Graffiti Project Report- July 2021’  by Kaila Shepherd, which includes an image of a symbol which I think of as representing balance and order in the Universe – though  some choose to call them witches marks.  Depends on how you look at things.

The Report has been published in full, and is available on the OAS website

‘The World of Stonehenge, British Museum: 17th February – 17th July 2022’  by Dr. Antonia Thomas – I can’t even begin to describe/explain the importance of this exhibition and its accompanying book.  Antonia’s piece in the Review has clear words and great images – I’d strongly recommend getting the book –


‘Investigating loss of Cultural Heritage from Coastal Erosion using a 3D multidisciplinary approach’ by Nicole H. Burton, Dr. Stephen Dockrill, Dr Julie Bond, Dr Mairi Davies, Dr Lyn Wilson, Dr Simon Woodward, Tom Sparrow, Lindsey kemp, Prof Andrew Wilson.

It’s a huge problem in Orkney – the sea is eating away at parts of the coast – some archaeology digs are desperately trying to discover and record as much as possible before sites disappear forever. 

The dig at Swandro, Rousay, is kind of heart-breaking. They found a stone there with the hand prints of a Pictish Smith still on it – imagine…..

 By the way – the 3D point cloud image of Midhowe Broch by Nicole Burton on page 103  is very groovy indeed!

 Another site which is disturbing to watch eroding away is at Newark Bay

More sciency stuff –  ‘A Microscopic Analysis of the Stone Spatulate Tools from the Ness of Brodgar’ by Gary Lloyd.  This has to be read to be appreciated.  It’s very hard to try to work out what these objects were for – they are spatulate – but to what purpose?  By using a powerful microscope Gary could detect traces of wear and even residues on the tools, giving a better idea of possible use. Really – it does need reading, to properly estimate the value of this work.

And….AND….talk about sciency stuff….Howie Firth, Director of the Orkney International Science Festival  writes of ….’The Mathematics of the Neolithic.’  Geometries for the ring of Brodgar –  Examples of the Fibonacci sequence in nature.  Switch your brain on before reading this – and have a camomile tea when you’ve finished it.

We began with Caroline Wickham-Jones and we end with a memory and tribute to her from Dr. Colleen Batey, entitled ….. ‘Caroline Wickham- Jones “A Generous Friend and Scholar”.  Indeed.

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