Translocation Excavation Project
From October 2014: Digital Township Reconstruction in collaboration with St Andrews University
May – July 2013: Carolyn Lefley artist’s residency
8-23 June 2013: Community Excavation led by a multidisciplinary team
The excavation was part of the programme of events for the Bicentenary of the Kildonan Clearances 1813-2013. It brought the past into the present as people returned to these abandoned farming townships and dug down into the ground to the time of the of the Clearances. Timespan was and still is committed to exploring, promoting and presenting the history and culture of the area in interesting, innovative and interactive ways. The excavation was very much community orientated and that means locally, as well as the international community of the Diaspora. The multi-disciplinary team included:
Dr Keir Strickland – lecture, Orkney College UHI (site director)
Dr Chris Davies – Durham University (site supervisor)
Dr Matthew Dziennick – Edinburgh University (site supervisor)
Rick Barton – Freelance Archaeology, Shetland (site supervisor)
Carolyn Lefley – Artist and lecturer in photography (Artist in residence at Timespan/’Realm’ currently on exhibition in our gallery)
Adam Hannah – an anthropologist from Aberdeen University
St Andrews University – Caen Virtual World/Timespan Museum
This was a community excavation and the participants were from the local area, further afield and even visitors from Canada and New Zealand, part of the Kildonan Diaspora. The project was initiated by the will of the community, who wanted to learn more about the people of the Clearances and the homes they lived and worked in, i.e. a tangible history you can touch! There was huge interest in the dig and this was demonstrated by the number of volunteers and the hits and comments on Facebook etc.
The archaeology of the Highland Clearances has been dismissed in the past as not old enough to be of any great academic interest, but this view has changed as there is a greater awareness and appreciation of these undisturbed settlements on moorland hills as places where people want to visit and know more about, especially ancestral tourists. It is not just important locally, but it was important for wider tourism initiatives in the area and excavations, including the dig at Caen, updated what we knew about the structure of the buildings and what people used in their day to day lives. It was a real peek into the past!
From the very beginning it was a really exciting dig with lots of unexpected and surprising discoveries. The many assumptions we had about these types of buildings were turned on their head! Also, the site was found to be rich with objects, i.e. piles of pottery, glass, metal, a button, buckle, clay pipe, leather and even two pieces of copper from an illicit whiskey still! The pottery assemblage is unprecedented on sites like these and in the course of the excavation we were able to put together the story of the abandonment of the longhouse at the time of the evictions.