Yesnaby Art & Archaeology Research Project
Fieldwork: 20–31 July 2015, Yesnaby, Orkney: www.yaarp.org.uk
The Yesnaby Art & Archaeology Research Project (YAARP) is envisaged as a multi-year art and archaeology project, based in Orkney within the Archaeology Institute University of the Highlands and Islands. The project aims to investigate the landscape of Yesnaby, in the West Mainland of Orkney, as a means of developing our understanding and public awareness of this important but comparatively unknown archaeological landscape. 2015 is the first year of fieldwork and a combination of magnetic survey alongside visual arts practice is being undertaken. The core area of interest this year are the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age landscapes, comprising settlement, field systems, and other traces of human activity, in the area of the Peerie Hill on the south side of the valley.
YAARP was devised, and is led by, Dr James Moore and Rik Hammond. James is a lecturer at the Archaeology Institute University of the Highlands and Islands, whose main research interests are in landscape archaeology, geophysical and field survey, and later British Prehistory, principally in Atlantic Scotland. He is particularly interested in the integration of traditional survey techniques, phenomenological and experiential approaches, and artistic practice in recording, interpreting and presenting archaeological landscapes. Rik is a visual artist based in Orkney who works in a wide range of media – including drawing, video, digital/data-derived media and time-based interaction/intervention. Between 2011 and 2012, he was the Orkney World Heritage Site artist-in-residence and continues to work alongside archaeologists and other heritage professionals at sites in Orkney, such as the Ness of Brodgar, The Cairns excavations and The Orkney Museum. Rik and James began collaborating in 2011 and YAARP is the culmination of a development in their shared practice and research.
This year, the YAARP fieldwork team also includes: Emma Aitken, Christopher Gee, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, Sorcha Kirker, Colin Mitchell, Julie Ritch and Holly Young – a mix of volunteers, undergraduate and post-graduate students and staff from the University of the Highlands and Islands.
On the Day of Archaeology 2015, Rik kept hand-written notes throughout the day:
6.30am: Alarm. Up to make a cup of tea, feed the cat and hens, and make a packed lunch. Forecast is for a fine day. Walking boots still a bit damp from yesterday’s wet weather, but newspaper scrunched-up inside overnight has helped. Check the YAARP Facebook page on the iPad whilst the kettle boils – 136 Likes. Take various batteries off charge and look inside the fridge to decide what to put in my buns. Banana for breakfast.
7.00am: Make a cuppa for my partner and feed the cat (who didn’t get fed earlier and is now complaining). Put batteries in handheld Garmin GPSr, camera and video camera – and while I remember, rescue work trousers from the tumble dryer (they were also damp last night from yesterday’s rain). Finish getting dressed. Wearing much of the same clothes as yesterday – layers, ready for any weather (it is Orkney, despite being late July). Turn on GPSr (we’ve been tracking our movements all week during YAARP fieldwork, for use in developing visuals/maps etc.).
7.30am: Pack bags for the day. Two small rucksacks with packed lunch, flask, water bottles, cameras, sketchbook and pencils/pens, iPad, mini-tripod, waterproofs, hat, gloves, project paperwork, sunscreen and insect repellent – plus various bits and pieces like phone, penknife, whistle, torch, plasters etc. Oh, and three bubble making wands, our project badges (which have now arrived in the post) and a book on artists’ postcards… but more on those later.
7.45am: Head out and walk up to the top of the village (I live in St Margaret’s Hope on the island of South Ronaldsay, in Orkney) to meet fellow YAARP project team member Colin, who lives nearby and is driving us to Kirkwall where the Archaeology Institute of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) is located.
8.20am: Arrive Archaeology Institute at Orkney College UHI and meet the rest of the fieldwork team for today: UHI archaeology students Holly and Sorcha, and co-deviser and project director Dr James Moore (we also currently comprise Emma, Christopher, Sarah Jane and Julie, who aren’t with us today). Load the site van with project equipment (a Trimble paired global positioning system and two dual sensor Bartington Grad601-2 fluxgate gradiometers, laptop, tripod, field pegs, bamboo canes, ranging poles, plus project’s camera, GPSr and iPad) and our own kit. We head off to Yesnaby via a quick stop at the Kirkwall Co-Op.
9.20am: We pass our colleagues at the Ness of Brodgar archaeological excavations in Stenness and give them a wave, before opening our ‘Provocations & Interventions’ envelope for the day (a random envelope each day, containing a creative task or challenge for the team to consider, develop or complete – written by me and the contents unknown to the rest of the team). Today’s intervention is to site the location of our lunch break at least 500m away from where we ordinarily eat, in order to encourage us to break habit and experience the site from a different perspective.
9.35am: Arrive on site in Yesnaby – through farm gate and up track to park up by the derelict farm of Roundadee (a few hundred metres west of the fields we are surveying and just north of Peerie Hill and Cringla Fiold, aka Kringlafiold). It’s a fine, warm day out in Yesnaby and the views are glorious – west to the Atlantic and the famous Yesnaby cliffs and east towards the top of the Stenness loch, Brodgar and the Orphir hills in the distance. It’s a welcome change to the intermittent heavy rain, wind and overcast skies of the last couple of days and the team are in a bright, positive mood. We all apply sunscreen and insect repellent – the abundant horse-flies have been hungry this week and aren’t likely to leave us alone today. Before carrying the surveying equipment to the field, I pass out our new YAARP badges (plus a few I had made following The Cairns archaeological excavations last month, where we’ve also all been) and we discuss the plans for today. After a few photographs, Holly, Sorcha and James remove their badges (unwillingly), as they’re working with the gradiometers and need to be non-magnetic, otherwise it’ll distort the data being collected. Colin volunteers to be on pegging-out duty – continuing to lay out plastic stakes in a grid pattern across the field – and has also brought along his own experimental, open-source GPS, to calibrate with the station point we’ve marked in the field. Sorcha and Holly are doing the magnetic surveying today. Sorcha hasn’t used a gradiometer before, so is given instruction on how by James. Holly has had her training (and has taken to geophysics like a duck to water), so sets off to continue work. I put up the camping chairs and set the video camera up on a tripod to film some of the movement around the field. I also take the opportunity to scribble down a few notes for this diary.
11.00am: It’s 11am by the time we’re properly under-way today – a bit later than usual. We’re all scattered around the large field (Field ‘1’ – our geophysics project number is ‘595’) – so we have to shout to speak to one another and it’s a bit like a giant, loud game of ‘telephone’. I spend some time photographing everyone and listening to James instructing Sorcha on how to use her gradiometer (I should be having a go next week). Weather warm and fine. Horse-flies are feasting on us.
1.00pm: We break for lunch just before 1 and decide to eat in the field today (as it’s around 500m away from where we usually break by the van). During lunch Sorcha proposes we discuss her idea for a YAARP themed board-game (an idea which came from creative discussions the previous day around mapping, landscape interpretation, the history of Yesnaby, possible project postcards and heritage merchandising). James had also proposed we develop avatars or symbolic pictograms representing ourselves and this ties in with possible fictional board-game characters or superheroes. We come up with names for our alternate personae. I show Sorcha and Holly the book on artists’ postcards (we put together an idea yesterday for a YAARP one, using GPS tracks to create a map of the site, and including ourselves and named locations in the area). Most of our breaks have been group discussions about art and archaeology – where there’s cross-over and comparisons. Having a small, tight-knit fieldwork team has aided this. We watch James download the data from the gradiometers to the laptop, while he eats his sandwiches and we all have a look at the results via the Geoplot software. Colin shows us his home-made, kit form GPS and connects it up via Bluetooth to his smartphone and tablet, linking it into Google Earth and QGIS software. We talk about the comparisons between low-cost tech solutions, potentially suitable for community archaeology projects etc. and expensive, professional gear. He picks up a signal on his smartphone and checks the YAARP Facebook page where we have a message from a page follower who remembers the derelict farm Roundadee when it was inhabited. We learn about an outbuilding’s roof which was covered in toy doll’s heads! On the way back to the van – heading out to Skaill, beside Skara Brae, to use the public toilets – we glance over to the ruins of the outbuilding, now overgrown with thistles and nettles. Perhaps later…
2.30pm: We’re all back in the field by now (it takes a while to drive out to Skaill and back and due to the size of our team, follow the ‘if one person needs to go, we all go’ approach, for safety). Colin’s dutifully pulling out field pegs, in lines up and down the field, and Holly and Sorcha are determined to attempt to finish surveying the (rather large) field today. It’s all been about ‘lines’ today. I must bring in Tim Ingold’s book ‘Lines: A Brief History’ to add to the project library we have in the back of the site van (which includes Colin Renfrew’s ‘Figuring It Out: What Are We? Where Do We Come From? The Parallel Visions of Artists and Archaeologists’, ‘Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory’ by Lucy Lippard, Merlin Coverley’s ‘Psychogeography’, ‘Stone Worlds: Narratives and Reflexivity in Landscape Archaeology’ by Barbara Bender, Sue Hamilton and Christopher Tilley and ‘Counter-tourism: The Handbook’ by Crab Man (aka Phil Smith), amongst others). Despite not having much time in the field to read, the idea of the project library/reading list is to encourage discussions and further research by the team.
4.00pm: As it’s Friday, the end of our first week (and still sunny and warm), I bring out the bubble-making wands. James has a go (despite naming himself ‘The Beard’ in our alternate persona project, we begin to call him ‘Bubble Boy’) before we get Colin up from the bottom of the field to help fill the air around Holly and Sorcha with bubbles as they continue to survey with the gradiometers. It’s slightly surreal, but great fun – the idea being to get some photographs with the landscape around us altered in some way. We all agree that we need more and bigger bubbles in the future (e.g. the huge white bubble in the 60s TV series The Prisoner)! Sorcha finishes her work and joins in with the bubble making – and for a moment we witness an interesting psychogeographic moment where Holly is continuing to walk around following the strict grid pattern (at a steady, controlled pace) as she surveys with her gradiometer… combined with Sorcha, drifting about, lost in bubbles – with no idea where she is going or where she is. It’s still and almost silent up in the field beside Peerie Hill. The only sounds are the birds, the odd moo and bleet from livestock nearby and our laughing.
5.30pm: It’s probably gone 5 by the time we leave site and head back to Orkney College UHI to unpack the van and head our different ways home. James and I are meeting up tonight, with our partners, for a regular tabletop gaming session (maybe one day we’ll be play-testing a YAARP board-game). Until Monday…