Julie Gibson, 44 years
old (but she looks much younger) is the Orkney Archaeologist and
works for the Orkey Heritage Society. We met her in Rousay and hat
a little chat about archaeology in Orkney.
First of all, we talked about coastal erosion. The sea is eroding
said Julie more than a hundred sites of national and international
importance. They are disappearing at various speeds because is so
random how it hits. It could get great chunks of site going in a
big storm. Particularly when the rocks are laminated and the sea
comes in and drives the air in front of it and explodes rocks in
chunks. One of our problems is that at the moment we don't have
special resources to record nor even attend those sites to record
the differences and the face of the shore from year to year.
Are there any particular
sites threatened by coastal erosion?
We have two Neolithic chambered tombs in Sanday, burnt mound
and barrows from the Bronze Age and brochs going because they are
put on the shore edge. And of course as the islands get smaller
their geometry changes. That means that more sites are on the edge
anyway. But all the islands have eroding sites. The sea level is
rising in Orkney and this is in contrast to the rest of Scotland.
And the weather seems to getting more erraticly stormy and storms
would cause the damage.
What about funds?
The British Government is not doing enough by any means. They
are saying that they are doing their best but I think the coastal
erosion problem in Orkney is the worst in Scotland and requires
more attention more urgently than the Government bodies are getting
into it. We have got an excavation this year which may or may not
be continued into next year for an early church site on Papa Stronsay
which is being eroded by the sea. And this is not seen as a major
excavation, but as a rescue salvage.
Are there any problems with local farmers? Some
islanders have an attitude that archaeology is a nuisance and it's
best to cover up very quickly and not to be spoken about. Other
islanders just love archaeologists and they enjoy having them there.In
Rousay for instance, a man knew there was an Iron Age souterrain
on his land but he didn't know where it was. He wanted to plough
the field and wanted to avoid that piece of ground. So he got all
of our publications and we walked around trying to measure where
the site should be, but people who originally dug it measured it
from the shore. And we didn't know where the shoreline was at that
time. We spent a lot of time, we even tried dowsing. We finally
found the site's location and the farmer could plough his field.
But some archaeologists don't appreciate the knowledge farmers have.
When people have lived for generations on one piece of land they
have quite memory and maybe they can tell you things that their
grandfather found or things about the monuments. The best way to
find out sometimes is simply to ask.
What about the impact of tourism on prehistoric sites? What do you
think about visitors centres as the one at Skara Brae?
I think Skara
Brae needed one, because there were lots of tourists coming there.
When the weather is really bad, sometimes they really need to be
indoor, especially elderly people. Skara Brae doesn't seem to be
suffering the impact of so many visitors. This is in contrast to
Maes Howe which any evidence says that the carvings are getting
To become a member of the local, lively Orkney Archaeological Trust and be personally involved in its efforts in maintaining Orkney rich archaeo heritage, you can send an e-mail message to Julie.