Sunday, 10 April 2011
Archaeology Day on Graemsay
Yesterday, despite the mist, Dan Lee (project officer for ORCA), his partner Antonia Thomas, also an archaeologist and a few hardy folk from the Orkney Mainland visited Graemsay for a day looking at some archaeology on the island. The event had been organised by the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership to give the Graemsay folk an opportunity to explore some of the heritage on the island. OK we don't have a Skara Brae, or any other major discoveries - but we have lots of "grassy mounds" and some wartime relics (the concrete variety, not human - just to be quite clear!).
We started off at Sandside, where a cist had been discovered in the mid 1970's by Gertie Seatter, then of Sandside while out walking her dog. A skull was spotted poking out of the shore line after a storm and after some excavation work a single burial cist was found (radio-carbon dating put it around 11th Century AD - apparently a time when the isles were becoming Christian, and there were elements of both pagan and Christian burial. There were no "artefacts" found with the burial).
Although there is little to see at the site now, we did explore a little along the shore and Dan pointed out a potential earlier settlement site than the current 19th Centuray buildings, with flagstones lower down the soil base, and some signs of a midden with shells embedded. Though it has to be said interest soon turned to the beach itself and searching for shells. We told the visitors of the Graemsay tradition - you're not allowed to leave the "shell beach" until you've found a "groatie buckie" (a mini cowrie shell). Some frantic searching took place as folk thought they would miss out on the hot soup for lunch if they couldn't escape from the shore!
Churchill Barriers had been constructed. The guns were no longer needed at Burray as the barriers were now the protection for the Naval fleet in Scapa Flow.
The gun battery on Graemsay linked up with that on Hoy and at Ness on the outskirts of Stromness, protecting the entrance to Scapa Flow. As well as the gun emplacement and lookout tower, there were also magazine stores and search light points, generator sheds, and the remains of the concrete bases of accommodation huts with fireplaces still in situ.
Also at Hoy Low is a site thought to be an early Christian church, St Colms. There is evidence, apparently, of some foundations of the early church, though the WWII generator building foundation seems to have been dumped on top of part of the site!
Finally the mist begins to clear and the visitors could get their bearings..... Hoy Hills in the background.
However even the flagging spirits of the children were revived by lunch in the community hall, with hot soup, tea and cake after which Dan gave a talk, placing the archaeology and WWII heritage in a wider Orkney context. Then there was time for another foray, this time meandering along the shore via Sandside and the Hoy High lighthouse back to the pier just in time for the ferry home.
We folk on Graemsay thoroughly enjoyed the day and the company, and thanks are due to Dan for making it an informal but informative day!