What are the options for participating in a guided archaeological dig in the Orkney Islands?

The Orkney Islands are a jewel in Scotland's crown - rich in history, mystery, and archaeological wonders. If you're considering a visit, there's no better way to immerse yourself in the islands' past than by participating in a guided archaeological dig. With an array of options available, you can discover the fascinating Neolithic history of this place, visit iconic sites such as the Stone of Brodgar, and even take a ferry ride to explore smaller islands. So pack your walking shoes, arrange your accommodation, and join us as we explore the options for your archaeological adventure.

Planning your Visit

Prior to setting foot on the Orkney Islands, it's crucial to organize your trip. This involves arranging accommodation, mapping out the sites you wish to visit, and scheduling your ferry transport.

The Orkney Islands offer a variety of accommodation options to suit different budgets. From luxury hotels in Kirkwall, the largest town on the islands, to small, quaint bed and breakfasts scattered across the islands, you'll find a place to rest after a day's exploration.

Your visit won't be complete without a tour of the islands' many Neolithic sites. The Stone of Brodgar, an ancient stone circle built over 4,500 years ago, is one of the must-see attractions. This structure, along with the nearby Standing Stones of Stenness, forms a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.

Getting around the islands is easy, with a reliable ferry service that connects the main island to the smaller ones. Bear in mind that the ferry schedules can vary depending on the time of year, so plan accordingly.

Joining a Guided Archaeological Dig

Many visitors to the Orkney Islands are drawn to the opportunity to participate in a real archaeological dig. These digs are guided by professionals, who will take you through the process of unearthing artifacts and structures from the Neolithic era.

One of the best places to join a dig is at the Ness of Brodgar, a site that has been under excavation since 2003. Here, you can sign up for a day tour, during which you'll learn about the history of the site, get a close look at the ongoing excavations, and even have a chance to get your hands dirty.

Remember, if you're planning to take part in a dig, it's essential to book in advance. These experiences are popular, and spaces can fill up quickly.

Exploring Small Islands

Beyond the main island, the Orkney archipelago is home to around 70 smaller islands, each with its unique charm. Taking a ferry to these islands opens up more opportunities for exploration.

On the island of Rousay, you'll find the Midhowe Cairn, a massive Stone Age tomb built more than 5,000 years ago. Meanwhile, the island of Westray is home to the Links of Noltland, a site where recent digs have unearthed structures and artifacts dating back to the Neolithic period.

These islands, along with many others, offer guided tours and walking trails that allow you to explore at your own pace.

Learning Through Archaeological Workshops

If you're interested in diving deeper into the process of archaeology, consider enrolling in a workshop. The Archaeology Institute at the University of the Highlands and Islands offers a variety of courses, from one-day workshops to week-long intensive courses.

These workshops provide hands-on experience in surveying, excavation, and post-excavation analysis. You could be mapping a site one day, excavating a test pit the next, and then cleaning and cataloging your finds. You'll also have the opportunity to learn about the latest technologies used in archaeology, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and 3D modelling.

In short, whether you’re a history enthusiast, a budding archaeologist, or just an adventurous traveler, the Orkney Islands offer an array of opportunities to engage with the past in a unique and hands-on way.

Visit the Historical Sites

In the heart of the Orkney Islands, you will find numerous historical sites that carry a significant amount of Neolithic history. One of the primary places to visit is the Skara Brae, a remarkably well-preserved Neolithic village discovered in the mid-19th century. The village offers insights into the daily life of the people who lived here over 5,000 years ago.

A visit to the Ring of Brodgar is also recommended. This stone circle, which is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, is surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of lochs and hills. It is a striking location that provides a unique opportunity to connect with the history of the islands. A further remarkable sight is the Stones of Stenness, another ancient standing stone circle that stands as a testament to the architectural skills of the Neolithic people.

But the archaeological wonders don't stop there. The isles are dotted with various chambered cairns - man-made stone burial sites - each with their own story to tell about the early inhabitants of these islands. Some of the famous ones include the Maeshowe Chambered Cairn, the Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn, and the Tomb of the Eagles.

Furthermore, for an insight into the Iron Age, you can visit the Broch of Gurness. This ancient settlement offers a glimpse into the transformation that occurred in the Orkney Islands from the Stone Age to the Iron Age.

Visiting these historical sites provides an immersive and informative experience for archaeology and history enthusiasts. But remember, each archaeological site has a different activity level, so ensure to pick the ones that match your fitness level and interest.

Concluding your Orkney Adventure

Your archaeological adventure in the Orkney Islands is sure to be a memorable one. From the moment you step off the ferry onto this ancient land, you'll be transported back thousands of years to a time when Neolithic and Iron Age societies thrived.

You'll have the opportunity to explore the stunning sites of the Ness of Brodgar, Skara Brae, and the Ring of Brodgar, amongst others. Discover the fascinating history of these places through guided tours and digs, and learn about archaeological techniques in workshops offered by the Archaeology Institute.

For a change of pace, you can take day trips to the smaller islands such as the Isle of Westray and Rousay. Here, you'll find unique archaeological sites and charming villages to visit.

Regardless of the activities you choose, be sure to have travel insurance to cover any unforeseen circumstances. And don't forget to check the activity level of each site, so you can fully enjoy your visit.

After a day’s exploration, retreat to the comfort of a star hotel or a cozy bed and breakfast, reflecting on the day's discoveries and the mysteries of the past that still whisper through the standing stones and chambered cairns of the Orkney Islands.

In conclusion, the Orkney Islands offer a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich archaeological history of the region. Whether you're an archaeology enthusiast or simply curious about the past, a visit to these islands is sure to be an unforgettable experience.