Projects


Fiona YoungBy Fiona Young, Community Engagement Project Officer, Scotland Creates

Groups of 16 – 24-year-olds have been meeting regularly in five museums across Scotland to select, research and interpret the nation’s collections and tell us about their sense of place. It’s all part of Scotland Creates – A Sense of Place, a partnership project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Creative Scotland.

‘How do I sum up the exhibition? It was an amazing sight, seeing all the ideas that we started with come together to create something awesome. It was hard work but it paid off seeing the people who came along to see the animations.’ – Sam Fairbairn, Edinburgh participant.

Participants at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock curated a beautiful exhibition Legacy of Lace about the local industry, with a spectacular mix of contemporary and traditional lace. A trip to Molton Young and Boreland  inspired short films documenting the lace making process and a one-off lace piece designed by the group was produced there. To add extra flair, Scottish Ballet worked with a group of young participants from the area to produce a lace industry inspired dance! Dancers wore their own lace fascinators and Scottish Ballet kindly loaned a lace costume for the exhibition. Designed by Anthony MacDonald and made by Morag McKerrell, the costume was one of seven worn by the corps de ballet on stage, each in a different colour, in Carmen.

Legacy of Lace exhibition at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock

Legacy of Lace exhibition at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock.

Museum nan Eilean participants curated A Reir na h-Aimsir – Without Rain there would not be Magic, an exhibition reflecting the changeable and magical weather of the Western Isles. This was enhanced by stunning photographs of island weather taken by local young photographers and a weather inspired dance performed by local pupils. Through a partnership with Live Music Now Scotland, young musicians wrote and performed a song with the band Skerryvore explaining their love of their home:

‘We wake up every day
In this beautiful place
It’s where I want to stay
It’s where I want to stay.’

The McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Greenock were inspired by the rich collection of Clyde pottery and put their design and photography skills to good use by curating Colour, Design and Creativity. They even added an entrepreneurial edge by selling their own designed coasters! Our partners Scottish Ballet again worked with us to produce a pottery industry inspired movement piece with the Greenock Wanderers under 16s rugby team, an exciting and successful collaboration.

Coasters designed by the volunteers at the McLean Museum and Art Gallery

Coasters designed by the volunteers at the McLean Museum and Art Gallery.

National Museums Scotland participants scripted, storyboarded and produced three exciting animated films about Edinburgh’s scientific innovations with animator Cameron Duguid, whom they interviewed and selected to work with them. The group chose and researched the featured objects and their research was enhanced by visits to the Roslin InstituteTouch Bionics and James Clerk Maxwell’s house. Their opening event was part of the first Scottish Museum Takeover day and was enhanced by a variety of events for their peers including a song writing workshop with young pop-rock group Miniature Dinosaurs.

Miniature Dinosaurs and participants in the song writing workshop perform their composition

Miniature Dinosaurs and participants in the Museum Takeover Day song writing workshop perform their composition.

You can see a video all about Museum Takeover Day here:

The Youth Action Group (#YAGsop) at the McManus drew many inspirations from Dundee’s past, putting a new digital twist on journalism and combining the city’s cinematic and lens based industries with new technology and today’s Dundee. Their exhibition Sense of Place featured their very own electric cinema and was accompanied by a beautiful magazine. The group commissioned local dance company Small Petit Klein to choreograph a piece influenced by their explorations and this was performed at their opening night.

Poster advertising the exhibition at the McManus, Dundee

Poster advertising the Sense of Place exhibition at the McManus, Dundee.

As you can see there’s been lots happening across all venues! What has triumphed across all partner museums is the commitment and quality of work produced by the participants. Each individual has given their time and enthusiasm to the project and in return have grown in confidence and ability.

But it’s not over yet! You can see highlights of all these wonderful objects and creativity in Scotland Creates: A Sense of Place from 9 May – 31 August, in the Grand Gallery at National Museum of Scotland. Look out for events around the exhibition and join the conversation on twitter #scotlandcreates.

By Elaine Macintyre, Digital Media Content Manager

What did you think of that? Did it make you smile? Did it perhaps make you feel that museums aren’t boring and old, but places where it’s actually possible to have fun?

If so, then the digital component of the Scotland Creates project has already started to achieve its aims – and we’re only half way through.

Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Creative Scotland, Scotland Creates – A Sense of Place is a partnership project between National Museums Scotland and four other museums: the Dick Institute, Museum nan Eilean, the McLean Museum and Art Gallery and the McManus Art Gallery and Museum.

The project gives young people aged 16-24 years old the chance to work with the museums and other creative partners to curate their own exhibition, culminating in a joint collaborative exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, which opens on 9 May 2014.

As part of the project, I was tasked with coming up with a way of increasing the use of digital media as a tool for engagement and dialogue with young people. With more young adults watching YouTube than TV (in the US, at any rate), using film seemed like a no-brainer. Creating viral videos that would not only celebrate and promote the five museums involved but also help young people see museums in a new, more exciting light seemed like the way to go.

We partnered up with digital agency Sound Delivery and documentary film maker Suzanne Cohen to make it happen. The aim was to equip young volunteers from each museum with the skills to storyboard a 30 second promotional film and to produce all the assets required, from animation and artwork to filmed footage and photographs. These would then be put together by Suzanne, to create the final films in collaboration with the volunteers.

And so began two intensive but exhilarating days of training led by Suzanne, as young people from Edinburgh, the Western Isles, Kilmarnock, Greenock and Dundee converged on the National Museum of Scotland for a comprehensive crash course in film-making.

Film-making workshop

Suzanne helps young volunteers from Edinburgh edit a short film.

The participants began by investigating how short films can change people’s perceptions, viewing examples such as this film from the Time to Change campaign, which tackles stereotypes surrounding mental health issues. Next, they interviewed each other on camera to find out what might put young people off visiting museums. The words ‘boring’, ‘old fashioned’ and ‘not for me’ emerged frequently. Their brief for the rest of the two days? To work out how a short film could turn these opinions around.

Over the two days, the volunteers were introduced to a range of film-making techniques that could help them do just that, including vox pops, silent film, stop frame animation and (my personal favourite) bringing a museum object alive using the Morfo app.

The following short films were made in just a couple of hours. The brief was to prove that visiting a museum can be fun and they all succeeded admirably, if in very different ways:

Some of our young volunteers have been involved in film-making before, either as part of the Scotland Creates project, at college or as a personal interest, but others had no experience at all. Some were outgoing, others really quite shy, and none of the volunteers from the different museums had met before. Yet by the end of the first day all had emerged from their shells to share ideas and support each other collaboratively, inspired and enthused by the activities they’d taken part in.

The next step of the project sees our volunteers return to their museums and start building their storyboards and creating their assets. I can’t wait to see what they come up with – but even without that final outcome, I can’t help thinking that already the project has been a success, offering young people from across Scotland an opportunity to build confidence and skills, and to see museums and learning in a new light.

We may not replicate the viral success of Gangnam Style or Miley Cyrus, but we’re hoping our volunteers will make films they’ll feel proud to share across their social networks. We’re encouraging them to tweet about their experiences so far – here’s what @NoOneCallsMeSam had to say: “Working with @sounddelivery these past two days has been awesome! Looking forward to creating our museum promo in up and coming weeks.”  

Still don’t believe museums are fun? I’ll leave you with these stop frame animation films, made using replica objects. If you don’t think they’re fun, there’s no pleasing you…

Mhairi MaxwellBy Mhairi Maxwell, Glenmorangie Research Officer

How time has flown past! Our special exhibition Creative Spirit only has a few weeks left at the National Museum of Scotland until it closes on 24 February, when the objects will be packed away. So be quick to catch a glimpse of our attempts to breathe life again into Scotland’s rich Early Medieval craft heritage.

Creative Spirit showcases our recreations made in collaboration with artists and craftspeople, employing a wide range of traditional and innovative techniques, both hand-crafted and digital. Working with artists and craftspeople in order to reveal the sophistication of Early Medieval objects has been a privilege.

Meet the Maker day

Meet the Maker day, 7th December 2013. Left to right: Mhairi Maxwell (Glenmorangie Research Officer), Kerry Hammond (Powderhall Bronze), Colin Goldsmith (Ratho Byres Forge), Adrian McCurdy (cleft oak furniture maker), Peter Hill (Ratho Byres Forge), Jennifer Gray (designer and maker), Martin Goldberg (Senior curator of Early Historic and Viking collections), Johnny Ross (Sutherland Horncraft). Ian Dunlop (Satchel maker) and Barry Grove (stone sculptor), and digital whizzes at RelicArte could not make it along.

As an archaeologist I am familiar with rusty, incomplete shadows of objects, worn with the patina of age. Making anew these fugitive fragments from the past has given me an enriched appreciation of the skills involved in past and present craft. I am still in awe of the surprising and bright beauty of the finished pieces! Here I thought I would take the chance to highlight some of the challenges and themes which have arisen from our recreation projects.

For example, the drinking horns made by Johnny Ross of Sutherland Horncraft are glassy and luminous, causing me to re-evaluate my appreciation of horn as a material which is so often considered to be an ancient form of utilitarian plastic. I have fond memories of spending a week up in Sutherland with Johnny documenting the painstaking processes of boiling, scraping and polishing; an arduous but satisfying process!

Drinking horns

Designer and maker Jennifer Gray and Johnny Ross of Horncraft Sutherland with the finished drinking horns.

Martin Goldberg (Senior Curator of Early Historic and Viking Collections) and I have scrutinised and examined Early Medieval hand-bells in our collections and were constantly perplexed at exactly how the bells had been coated inside and out with a thin layer of bronze. In order to solve this mystery, by collaborating with the expert and specialist knowledge at Ratho Byres Forge and Powderhall Bronze, we explored four different methods of making a hand-bell. This was certainly one of the most challenging recreation projects undertaken! Indeed, in the past, there was potentially more than one way to make a brazed iron hand-bell.

Hand-bells

Hand-bells made by Ratho Byres Forge and Powderhall Bronze, using different techniques.

This film shows one of the processes we developed for our recreation based on the best preserved brazed iron bell from Scotland, kindly loaned by Birnie Kirk for Creative Spirit.

For our 3D recreation of the Monymusk reliquary, the challenge here was negotiating the line between imagination and authenticity: our result is not an attempt to make it brand new, but it functions as a complete object and allows privileged close-up and interior views.

This has also made me think about the craft of 3D digital recreation: similar considerations and decisions are involved in virtual recreation as in physical recreation, while you still get a feel of the sensory experience of objects. The opportunity to work with maker and designer Jennifer Gray, who uses a combination of 3D digital carving and traditional silver casting, effectively explored the tension between traditional and new techniques. I feel that the very ethos of the Glenmorangie project is encapsulated in her process, which effectively brings the past alive using innovative tools available to the present generation.

Bird head fitting for drinking horn

Bird head fitting for drinking horn created in ‘virtual wax’ by designer and maker Jennifer Gray.

What makes me most excited about digital technology is that it opens up the archive to everybody and offers new possibilities for interrogating objects. The crowd-sourced Pictish Puzzle online laboratory (#PictishPuzzle) developed in collaboration with RelicArte aims to refit thousands of fragments which were chipped off the face of the stunning Hilton of Cadboll stone. This has evolved to become a truly global effort. Log in at www.pictishpuzzle.co.uk to get involved and becomes authors of this recreation!

So now it’s over to you…

Karyn McGheeBy Karyn McGhee, Partnerships and Access Intern

As part of Kids in Museums Takeover Day on 28 November, the National Museum of Scotland was taken over by around one hundred young people to celebrate the launch of the Scotland Creates: A Sense of Place animated films.  Young people from various secondary schools and youth organisations around Edinburgh performed a science show in the Grand Gallery, replaced the reference books in the Info Zone and surprised visitors with a flash mob! You can read more about the day and the animated films in volunteer Sam Fairbairn’s blog post.

The final activity of the day was a song writing workshop with the band Miniature Dinosaurs, who became involved in the project through Live Music Now Scotland. In the space of four hours, the band and nine participants created a song from scratch based on our Science and Technology collections and performed it live in the Grand Gallery, a great achievement!

The first task saw the participants explore the galleries in search of inspiration for a chorus line. Many suggestions were given but the group decided on: ‘designed to land in the desert instead of the ocean’, from the interpretation of the Gemini Space Capsule in the Connect gallery.

Brainstorming lyric ideas in the song writing workshop

Brainstorming lyric ideas in the song writing workshop.

The next task brought some healthy competition into the song writing process, a game Miniature Dinosaurs like to call ‘Line of Best Fit’. The participants were separated into two teams, which then had to race against the clock (or crowing cuckoo) to come up with the next line of the song. The band were then responsible for picking their favourite line from the two teams. This process was then repeated until two verses and a chorus were created.

Song writing workshop

Working on the song, which was inspired by the Gemini Space Capsule in the Connect gallery.

The final song lyrics looked like this:

Verse 1

We’re back now on solid ground,
Faster than the speed of sound,
Asteroids burning through the sky,
Shoots for ‘X’ and reaches for ‘Y’,

Chorus

We will land in the desert
Instead of the ocean, (x2)
Crash land! Crash land!
Without a commotion

Verse 2

Gone our lights when sails went down,
Drift apart, we’re lost and found,
Space is empty but we feel so much,
A weightless feeling, a heavy touch.
All that was left to create was the music…

The afternoon brought an inspirational private performance from Miniature Dinosaurs accompanied by cheers and whoops from the participants. The participants were given a selection of drum rhythms, bass lines, guitar chords and melodies which they discussed as a group before selecting. Gradually the song was coming together, spirits were high and rehearsals began.

Working on the song

Miniature Dinosaurs perform for the workshop.

The final task was to perform the song in the Grand Gallery. All participants performed with Miniature Dinosaurs; singing, playing small percussion instruments and some even learned the song on their own guitars. It was a great performance by a brilliant band and excellent participants of a fantastic song. Well done everybody!

The final performance

Performing the finished song in the Grand Gallery.

The final performance

The group perform the finished song.

Here’s what Alban Dickson of Miniature Dinosaurs had to say about the day:

It was a privilege to have been part of such a great day at the National Museum of Scotland. We were very excited by this project, and the prospect of taking inspiration from Scotland’s creative legacy in science and transforming it into the domain of the arts.

Being part of a project, especially when up against the clock, is always a cohesive process and it was brilliant to see such a broad range of participants come together throughout the song writing process we helped them with. Everybody brought their own expectations and musical influences to the table and together they came up with some amazing and unexpected ideas for the song. Working in situ at the museum was yet again an amazing experience for ourselves and demonstrates that there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye within such a landmark building.

And this is what one of the participants, Steven Thornton, thought:

I really enjoyed taking part in the song writing workshop at the museum. A few days earlier I had looked at Miniature Dinosaurs on YouTube and was very impressed by their music. They are a great band! I knew we were going to have a wonderful time.

 I was a bit nervous when I arrived but I was soon put at my ease. Everybody was so friendly and excited about writing and performing a song. We looked around the museum for inspiration and had great fun creating the song together. I learned a lot about being a song writer. It certainly is not an easy job. When completed, we rehearsed over and over and then performed it in the museum concourse at the end of the day. This was the highlight of the workshop for me as I was on drums. It was a great success and we had enthusiastic applause from the large audience.

Thank you to Miniature Dinosaurs and the organizers for such a fantastic experience.

Sam FairbairnBy Sam Fairbairn, Scotland Creates volunteer

On Thursday 28 November 2013, our Scotland Creates volunteers launched three animated films presenting objects from our Science and Technology collection in a new and exciting light. The launch formed part of Museum Takeover Day, a national initiative to celebrate the contribution made by children and young people to museums. Special events at National Museum included performances of science show Alex’s Amazing Adventures by Holy Rood High School and a song-writing workshop with Scottish rock band Miniature Dinosaurs. The animated films, devised and directed by the volunteers, can be seen in the Connect and Shaping Our World galleries until 21 April 2014. The Scotland Creates project is supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Creative Scotland.

My summary

How do I sum up the exhibition? It was an amazing sight, seeing all the ideas that we started with come together to create something awesome. It was hard work but it paid off seeing the people who came along to see the animations.

How the day went

The day started off with a lot of last minute preparations while waiting for people to arrive. Then at two o’clock the guests started arriving and we were in charge of seeing that the guests were all in the room so that the introductions and the animations could be screened. Once the guests were all seated there was an introduction by the Community Engagement Manager, Christine McLean, who introduced what we had been doing and then the lights were dimmed, signalling the start of an introduction to what we had been doing in the build-up weeks leading to the opening. And then the animations started!

The first animation shown was Dolly the Sheep, then Bionic Arm vs iPad and finally it was the film about Einstein and James Clerk Maxwell. You can see the opening to Bionic Arm vs iPad here.

Once the previews had finished we then watched a flash mob dance by pupils from Craigmount High, Forrester High and Leith Academy. Then to finish of the day there was a live performance by Miniature Dinosaurs, which finished the official opening for the exhibition.

Pupils gave a surprise dance performance in the Grand Gallery

Pupils from Craigmount High, Forrester High and Leith Academy gave a surprise dance performance in the Grand Gallery.

Miniature Dinosaurs performing in the Grand Gallery

Miniature Dinosaurs performing in the Grand Gallery.

My final thoughts

The day went well, no problems came up and it all ran smoothly which was good, and the guests had good feedback on the animations. The exhibition runs in the Science and Technology galleries at National Museum of Scotland from 28 November to 21 April 2014 if you’re interested. I would certainly go see it.

Karyn McGheeBy Karyn McGhee, National and International Partnerships Intern

On Tuesday 24 September I joined the Scotland Creates Volunteers on a trip to The Roslin Institute (where Dolly the sheep was born!)  Having no idea what to expect, the whole trip was enlightening, educational and all round good fun.

The volunteers are part of a project called Scotland Creates:  A Sense of Place. They are working to curate an exhibition based on National Museums Scotland’s Science and Technology  collections, and have chosen Dolly the sheep as one of their objects to study.

The group outside The Roslin Institute

The Scotland Creates group outside The Roslin Institute, with Karyn and Scotland Creates Project Officer Fiona Young (right).

We were greeted by Nicola, The Roslin Institute’s Public Engagement Officer, who gave us a tour of the new and very flash building.  We were then taught about the basic science of Dolly and genetic modification. This gave us an insight into the research taking place at Roslin, its importance and how it relates to present day issues.

The afternoon brought us to Dryden Farm. Here we were met by Chris Proudfoot, a research fellow at The Roslin Institute, and John Bracken. John was a key member of the Dolly the sheep team – he was the person who came up with her name! We toured the farm where we were shown genetically modified sheep and pigs.

My initial thoughts on genetically modified animals were unclear, as it’s a subject I knew very little about.  Visiting The Roslin Institute taught me that there are very important reasons behind their research, such as tackling diseases. Being able to modify animal’s DNA could massively reduce the chances of major outbreaks of diseases such as Bird Flu.

Sculpture of Dolly the sheep on display in The Roslin Institute

Sculpture of Dolly the sheep on display in The Roslin Institute.

Karyn poses next to Dolly the sheep!

Karyn poses next to Dolly the sheep!

As a group, we discussed the display of Dolly in the museum.  Some of the group found it difficult to grasp the concept of a natural history specimen being located in the Connect gallery, which focuses on science and technology.  However, after visiting The Roslin Institute, a number had begun to fully appreciated her scientific significance and found it an appropriate place for her to be on display.  The majority of the group liked her interpretation and the ethical questions it raises, along with the choice of touch screen display. The spinning motion of Dolly’s display was hotly debated, with some members finding it expressive of her importance to science while others found it unsettling. Overall, after learning about Dolly’s love of attention and natural curiosity for people, perhaps this is what Dolly would have enjoyed, observing everyone and being put on a pedestal.

Dolly the sheep on display in the National Museum of Scotland

Dolly the sheep on display in the National Museum of Scotland.

Dolly the sheep stars in one of three animated films developed by our Scotland Creates volunteers, which  are showing show in our Science and Technology galleries at National Museum of Scotland from November 2013 – January 2014. Find out more at www.nms.ac.uk/scotlandcreates.

Dr Fraser HunterBy Fraser Hunter, Iron Age and Roman curator

The Clarkly Hill dig is done. Like the skeins of geese who’ve been flying over us for the past week, the archaeologists have migrated south to winter quarters, shaking off the mud from our boots. We’ve left the field to the whaups who’ve been crying indignantly at us since we trespassed on their land. There’s a flurry of work still to do – tools to clean and collect, trenches to backfill, portaloos to empty – the stuff you never see in Indiana Jones … But now we need to gather our thoughts, work out what it all means, and get the behind-the-scenes stuff started. Lists to type, numbers to correlate, samples to process, finds to wash. A lot of this will happen in Moray over the next few months – thanks to the funding we got from Moray LEADER and the Baxter Foundation, we can involve local enthusiasts in this, giving them a close-up look at how archaeological interpretation works.

Advanced rain protection techniques.

Advanced rain protection techniques.

So what have we found out? There are still loads of questions turning in my mind, and I need a few days in our library to chase up some ideas and knock the edges off some of my crazier interpretations. But it’s clear we’ve got a really long-lived site here – this was one of THE places to be in Moray. The oldest finds go right back to the Mesolithic, about 6,000-8,000 years ago, when a scatter of flints suggests that a band of hunter-gatherers visited here – perhaps just for a few days, perhaps regularly over several generations. I’m sure they were drawn here because it sat beside a loch which is now drained – in deep prehistory, this was a ready larder, with food there for the taking.

The most unexpected find was part of a circular enclosure with settings for stones, and a couple of massive plough-scarred boulders. I reckon this is the remains of a stone circle, dating back about 4,000-5,000 years – but I need to go and interrogate some of my prehistorian colleagues before sticking my neck out too far on this!

Could this be a stone circle? A curving dark enclosure surrounds some hefty stones, with stone-packed holes for others which are now lost.

Could this be a stone circle? A curving dark enclosure surrounds some hefty stones, with stone-packed holes for others which are now lost.

Stone circles (if that’s what this is) are very rare in Moray, so this would be a major addition to our knowledge. There’s certainly other stuff of this date – we also found a standing stone which had been deliberately taken down, and I wonder if these marks of an ancient past encouraged people to settle here in the Iron Age – there’s nothing like taking over an ancient site to show how important and well-connected you are.

A collapsed standing stone, and smaller stones which once formed a socket for it.

A collapsed standing stone, and smaller stones which once formed a socket for it.

Our massive roundhouse threw up some lovely surprises. The big black crescent which shows so clearly on the photos is a hollow where animals were kept, with traces of fences to guide cattle and sheep around the interior. A dark layer at the base is a gold mine for us – it’s sealed by later activity, and must be linked to the use of the house. There’s been a long debate over what these houses were used for – now the samples we’ve taken should help us answer this. We’re hoping for traces of prehistoric cow dung – again, not the sort of thing which Indiana Jones would get out of bed for. Our star find from here is also minor league by his standards, but we’re chuffed – it’s a lovely spiral bronze finger ring, confirming that our house was in use around 2000 years ago.

Our big roundhouse, with the natty orange buckets marking where posts once stood. You can see where we’ve dug through the hollow where the cattle were once kept.

Our big roundhouse, with the natty orange buckets marking where posts once stood. You can see where we’ve dug through the hollow where the cattle were once kept.

Careful excavation of the bronze spiral ring.

Careful excavation of the bronze spiral ring.

Our other trenches will need radiocarbon dates before we can put them in their rightful place. One produced a metal-worker’s workshop, either Iron Age or Pictish in date. Finds included a clay doughnut which acted to shield the skin of the bellows from the heat of the fire – a vital tool but a rare find.

Digging up the workshop.

Digging up the workshop.

A clay doughnut? No, it’s a heat-shield for a metal-worker’s bellows.

A clay doughnut? No, it’s a heat-shield for a metal-worker’s bellows.

Another trench produced a very odd building – a squashed oval shape, its interior dominated by a massive sandstone slab over a metre across, which acted as a hearth. It’s much bigger than even the hungriest family would need – was this a special building for preparing feasts at ceremonies? And what date is it? I’ve been flicking through mental images, trying to find something similar, but it’s tricky – could be anything from Neolithic to Pictish, so we need to go and raise money for radiocarbon dates to find out.

A view over the enigmatic stone circle (?) to an equally enigmatic building!

A view over the enigmatic stone circle (?) to an equally enigmatic building!

That’s the great thing about archaeology – finding the unexpected. We got more of the story we were looking for, about the Iron Age and the Pictish period, but we got far more besides – a glimpse into lost worlds. Now for a winter of reading and head-scratching as I try to make sense of it all.

Kids from Lhanbryde Primary School helping us to sieve the spoilheaps.

Kids from Lhanbryde Primary School helping us to sieve the spoilheaps.

Optimistic future archaeologists showing off their finds.

Optimistic future archaeologists showing off their finds.

Lhanbryde kids learning how to build a roundhouse.

Lhanbryde kids learning how to build a roundhouse.

The dig team recreate a roundhouse

The dig team recreate a roundhouse – “posts” in a circle, “cows” round the edge, and a very creative “fire” in the middle.

An unusual find – a decorated shale bangle fragment. Shale isn’t local to the area – this must have been imported from the far side of the Moray Firth.

An unusual find – a decorated shale bangle fragment. Shale isn’t local to the area – this must have been imported from the far side of the Moray Firth.

Preparing to lift another unusual find – a largely-intact pot. A challenge for the conservators …

Preparing to lift another unusual find – a largely-intact pot. A challenge for the conservators …

You can read more about the dig in Fraser’s first and second blog posts about Clarkly Hill.

Dr Fraser HunterBy Fraser Hunter, Iron Age and Roman curator

Well, we’re over the halfway stage in our dig at Clarkly Hill, and things are getting really interesting. We started with our favourite tool, the big yellow mechanical trowel, which lets us strip away the disturbed ploughsoil.

the archaeologist’s favourite tool

The archaeologist’s favourite tool.

After that, it’s been cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, in very un-Scottish sunshine, to show up the archaeological traces.

cleaning off the last of the ploughsoil to show the archaeological traces

Cleaning off the last of the ploughsoil to show the archaeological traces.

Sun may be good for the tan but it’s bad for the archaeology – we rely on spotting colour differences between soils, and the sun burns these out – so we weren’t too unhappy when the rain came. Suddenly we could see the traces more clearly – a massive Iron Age roundhouse in one trench, with the big black curve marking a hollow where the animals were stabled. It’s 17 metres across inside – try pacing this out to see just how big these houses were.

Remains of a massive Iron Age roundhouse

Remains of a massive Iron Age roundhouse.

Our second trench developed a nasty case of measles when it rained – dark spots all over the place, marking pits and postholes from ancient activity.

A nasty case of measles – there’s archaeology everywhere!

A nasty case of measles – there’s archaeology everywhere!

But it didn’t make much sense from the ground – so we took to the air, thanks to a kite camera kit which John Wells donated to the museum in memory of his wife Rosie (see www.armadale.co.uk for some of their archaeological photos).

Taking to the air

Taking to the air.

It’s not just an excuse to play with a kite – the aerial view gives us a much better perspective.

Now it makes more sense – a little... How many houses can you spot?

Now it makes more sense – a little… How many houses can you spot?

Suddenly a roundhouse pops out, with the curving outer wall. But hold on – there’s the ring of posts from another – and another – and another… Lots more than we thought we’d find – and lots to deal with in the limited time we have, but we’ll dig and sample and try to disentangle them. It’s clear this was a popular place to stay in the Iron Age.

There are two tantalising blobs in this trench which we’re also disentangling. One’s producing loads of bits of crucibles from bronze-casting, and we’re hopeful it’s an Iron Age or Pictish workshop. The other looks like the sunken floor of a building too, with a hearth at one end – and a big pot beside it, which seems to be mostly intact. What’s it for? Well, it’s hidden by the ash from the hearth, so we won’t find out till we dig some more!

A workshop? The ash from a hearth at one end, cobbling at another – and a pot lurking to the left (though it’s hard to spot)

A workshop? The ash from a hearth at one end, cobbling at another – and a pot lurking to the left (though it’s hard to spot).

Our final trench is giving up its secrets slowly. It’s really well preserved, thanks to a deep overlying ploughsoil, and there are traces of building and a cobbled yard. So far no dating evidence, but we’ll be diving into it this week to find out more.

Cobbles, enclosures, building traces – there’s a lot going on in here!

Cobbles, enclosures, building traces – there’s a lot going on in here!

In the corner, there are what one visitor rightly called “muckle stanes” – some massive boulders inside a circular enclosure. Is it remains of a stone circle? Or an Iron Age or Pictish feature? We’ll try to find out this week…

The “muckle stanes” and the enclosure around them – a target for the coming week

The “muckle stanes” and the enclosure around them – a target for the coming week.

No space here to talk about the finds – look at our Facebook page for that – and you can see some of our volunteers hard at work there. We’ve also had loads of schoolkids out – thanks to funding from Moray LEADER and the Baxter Foundation, we’ve been able to fund an educational programme linked to the dig. The kids get to learn and to go home muddy – what could be better…?

Work continues

Pupils visiting the dig.

OK, the trench calls – we’ve an awful lot still to do in the last week. We’ll hope for decent weather (light rain overnight, overcast days, no wind – we’re not that demanding, really) and lots of nice finds. Come back in a week or so to see what happened!

Dr Fraser HunterBy Fraser Hunter, Iron Age and Roman curator

Archaeologists from National Museums Scotland are about to get muddy in the cause of science. We’re heading into the field at Clarkly Hill, near Elgin, in pursuit of ancient secrets. It’s part of a long-running project we’ve had in Moray since the mid-‘90s, looking at a number of sites which are revolutionising our views of the Iron Age (the period around 2000 years ago), the impact of the Romans far beyond Hadrian’s Wall, and the emergence of the Picts.

So far we’ve dug at Deskford, where the magnificent carnyx head was found in the 19th century, and at Birnie, where we dug for over a decade, revealing a major Iron Age power centre which received bribes of silver from the Romans. Next up – Clarkly Hill.

Digging out a hollow inside one roundhouse where animals were stabled

Digging out a hollow inside one roundhouse where animals were stabled.

The site was found by local metal-detectorists, who turned up fascinating finds in a blank field. Thanks to trial trenching and the magic of geophysics (“geofizz” in Time Team slang) we found a major Iron Age settlement – a power centre like Birnie, with rich finds and Roman imports – and another silver coin hoard. How were they linked to Birnie? Were these near-neighbours the leaders of the area? This work is really helping us understand Iron Age societies – competitive groups, seeking to get one over their rivals. What have the Romans ever given us? The answer, it seems, was bling – lots of lovely shiny stuff for impressing the neighbours and showing off to the in-laws.

Discovering a fragmentary lamp made of soapstone

Discovering a fragmentary lamp made of soapstone.

One of the early finds: an Iron Age glass bead

One of the early finds: an Iron Age glass bead.

Another find: two sherds of Roman pottery.

Another find: two sherds of Roman pottery.

But Clarkly has more than this. There are some fabulous Iron Age roundhouses, but when they’re abandoned something weird happens – standing stones were set up, with strange things buried beside them… Valuable objects of silver and bronze, complete iron tools, soapstone lamps – and beside one, strangest of all, a human skull, buried face down in a pit… We’ve still a lot to do on this, but it seems it became a sacred or special site – a weird place which is hard to parallel.

Pit with a human skull buried at the base.

Pit with a human skull buried at the base.

The trenches at Clarkly Hill

An Iron Age roundhouse, with an unusual series of standing stones erected across it.

Times changed again, and over the top of this is a later, apparently Pictish settlement – with really fragile remains, difficult to dig, but rare and exciting – and only preserved here because a later sandstorm buried the remains below the reach of destructive modern ploughs.

Shallow foundations of what is probably a Pictish building

Shallow foundations of what is probably a Pictish building.

This is our third and last year at the site* – and we’ve a wildly over-ambitious programme for the next three weeks. I’m aiming to look at another roundhouse, an enclosure, some funny magnetic signals which we hope are iron-smelting furnaces, and a mysterious blob. The holy grail would be nice too, but we’ll be happy with some convincing buildings, some nice finds, and some black gold – the charcoal and charred grains we use for radiocarbon dating. We’re encouraging local folk to come along and help – not just on the dig, but also in the backroom work which makes it all tick and helps us make sense of it. Thanks to grants from Moray LEADER and the Gordon & Ena Baxter Foundation, we’ll be running workshops and practical sessions in Moray right through until December – for details, check out the project Facebook page.

So what’ll we find? The joy of archaeology is – you never know till you dig it. Come back in a week or two to hear how we’re getting on.

The excavation team in 2012

The slag miners after a hard day digging up iron slag (the residues of iron smelting).

(*Big thanks to our funders – Moray LEADER, Gordon & Ena Baxter Foundation, the Welsh Family Trust , the Keillar family, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the Association for Roman Archaeology, the Moray Society, the Moray Field Club and Cardiff University.)

Jennifer ReidBy Jennifer Reid, Partnerships Officer

On 19 June I received a phone call from my manager asking whether I “would mind” going to Benbecula for two nights to celebrate the opening of an exhibition?  Would I mind?! Let’s just say it wasn’t a difficult decision.

A week later I joined two colleagues from Learning and Programmes, Christine and Fiona, to board a (tiny!) flight to the Outer Hebrides.  We were on our way to visit Museum nan Eilean, Sgoil Lionacleit, whose exhibition ‘A Reir na h-Aimsir’ was opening the following day.  The exhibition was produced as part of a two year partnership project called Scotland Creates – A Sense of PlaceA Reir na h-Aimsir was curated by young people from across the islands and includes objects from the collections of National Museums Scotland and Museum nan Eilean. It focuses on weather and the effect that changes in weather conditions can have on life on the islands.

Rain gauge.

Rain gauge in the exhibition.

I am ashamed to admit it, but prior to this trip I had never been to the Outer Hebrides before. This trip provided me the perfect opportunity to visit, as well as see the exhibition. Thankfully Fiona and Christine had both visited before, and knew their way around.

I was surprised the next day to pull up to a High School, but Fiona was quick to explain that the museum was in the High School! We had also arrived on the last day of term, and safe to say there was a feeling of” excitement” in the air – and not a great deal of work being done! We made our way through the crowds of school children, and into the exhibition space at the heart of the school building. And wow! What a wonderful job everyone at Museum nan Eilean had done. The team had been working with a group of 16-24-year-olds on the design, layout, text and photography for the exhibition, which has led to a creative and engaging exhibition. I particularly enjoyed the way they had incorporated stories, legends and sayings about the weather, and investigated whether or not any of these had any real basis in meteorology.

Scotland Creates volunteers Peter and Ruiridh

Scotland Creates volunteers Peter and Ruiridh.

Scotland Creates volunteer Peter shows Community Engagement Manager Christine McLean round the exhibition

Scotland Creates volunteer Peter shows Community Engagement Manager Christine McLean round the exhibition.

Jenn chats to staff at the Museum

Jennifer (centre) chats to staff at the Museum. In the background is a Harris Tweed suit designed by Vivienne Westwood, on loan from National Museums Scotland.

At the opening event we were treated to a talk by Dr Eddy Graham, a renowned meteorologist based in Lewis, and a dance performance by pupils from the lower school.  There was also an impressive supply of cake!

Weather inspired dance

Weather inspired dance performed by pupils from the lower school.

The group has also been working with musicians from the band Skerryvore through Live Music Now to compose a piece of music inspired by the changing weather, which will be incorporated into the exhibition.

I would definitely advise checking out the exhibition if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the Outer Hebrides over the summer months, I am keeping my fingers crossed for another phone call…

You can find out more about one of the star objects in the exhibition, a green Harris Tweed suit designed by Dame Vivienne Westwood, in our object of the month feature, written by Scotland Creates volunteer Bethany Lane.

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