Birsay-Skaill landscape archaeology project
This project is now nearing final publication. Since 2015 we have been working on this intensively, and continued field investigation has been subordinated to the final analysis and publication effort.
Between 2003 and 2015, survey and geophysics have been carried out at two locations on the west mainland of Orkney, at Birsay Bay and the Bay of Skaill. These areas were selected because they are characterised by sandy low-lying landscapes, fronting bays where coastal erosion has been severe. Most sites found so far have been disturbed by the sea, most famously Skara Brae in 1850. Small-scale ‘rescue’ excavation in the 1970s succeeded in recording a series of rich sites, but these were small in extent and the wider landscape remained an under-researched and untapped resource. As the threat of coastal erosion grows, we can only hope to understand its likely effects in future by researching the whole landscape picture.
A major element of the project is piecing together the evidence for past climate change. The areas covered by this project are covered by varying depths of windblown sand, a factor which has severely affected the environment in the past. Humans have adapted to this by stabilising and managing the landscape for agriculture and settlement, but at times - such as the end of the ‘Medieval Warm Period’ in the 14th 15th centuries AD - the effects of the incoming sand have been so severe that settlements and fields have been abandoned and people have moved elsewhere.