Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA)


Archaeologist on a dig site

Archaeology provides a unique insight into our human past, and archaeology is an exciting and stimulating area of academic research vital to the cultural identity of the region. The ways in which people have sustained and renewed both themselves through time can be researched through artefacts, architecture, landscape and the palaeoenvironment. The Highlands & Islands has particularly rich and diverse archaeological heritage - from Neolithic stone-built settlements, tombs and stone circles, to Iron Age brochs, Pictish and Viking settlements and burials, historical archaeology such as the Clearances to remains from the two World Wars - situated in landscapes which are distinctive and often fragile.

Research is conducted in Scotland, in the North Atlantic and in other island and coastal environments including Tanzania, Sri Lanka and Easter Island. UHI Archaeology research functions in clusters within five themes:

  • Period-based research: staff members have specialisms and active field projects in Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Pictish, Viking and post-medieval archaeology
  • Environmental Archaeology: UHI Archaeology has specialisms in environmental archaeology and archaeological sciences, particularly in zooarchaeology and palaeoecology
  • Landscape studies: Landscape studies are approached in a variety of different ways by research staff, through geophysical and topographic survey, through phenomenology, through current perceptions, and management
  • Cultural Heritage Management: Research in this field covers the significant threats to the archaeological resource including climate change and the concomitant coastal erosion, the relationship between archaeology and tourism, and the role of community in archaeology
  • Marine and Coastal Archaeology: specialist research staff undertake fieldwork including coastal and intertidal survey and excavation, and underwater archaeology including the wreck surveys.

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) was founded in 2007 in response to a demand for historic environment services in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. In 2014 ORCA became part of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute; a partnership which allows ORCA to contribute to the research and outreach capabilities of The Institute and at the same time utilise the considerable expertise and resources available. ORCA offer a comprehensive commercial archaeological service for both terrestrial and marine developers. Our staff have years of experience in all types of archaeological work throughout Britain and abroad, and particularly in and around Orkney and the Highlands and Islands region. ORCA is a registered supplier on the Achilles Utilities Vendor Database and a Registered Organisation with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. For more information on historic environmental consultancy and the research work undertaken by ORCA see the ORCA website.

For updates on work undertaken by ORCA and the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, follow our blog.

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) offers a comprehensive archaeological service to industry, communities, government agencies, developers and landowners. ORCA’s commercial and research capabilities include environmental impact assessments, historic environment consultancy, management and mitigation plans, environmental and archaeological geophysics, geomatics, laser scanning, standing building survey, archaeological evaluation, watching briefs and excavation, environmental archaeology (especially analysis of faunal bone, pollen, peat, waterlogged and charred plant remains), marine archaeology, interpretation of marine remote sensing data, exploration geophysics (including collection of sidescan sonar and sub-bottom profiling data), archaeological sciences, geoarchaeology and diving science.

ORCA have been closely involved with several marine renewable energy developments in Orkney Waters, the Pentland Firth and off the Western Isles, as well as sub-sea cable and gas pipeline projects off Shetland and in the North Sea, and with electricity infrastructure projects such as the construction of grid cable connections and converter stations.

For more information on historic environmental consultancy and the research work undertaken by ORCA also see the ORCA website

ORCA logo map_01.png

Key information and contact details

You can find more information at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology webpage.

Research Director: Prof Jane Downes

Email: jane.downes@uhi.ac.uk
T: +44 [0]1856 569320

Environmental Archaeology Research: Prof Ingrid Mainland

Email: ingrid.mainland@uhi.ac.uk
T: +44 [0]1856 569323

ORCA Senior Projects Manager: Mr Paul Clark

Email: paul.clark@uhi.ac.uk
T: +44 [0]1856 569223

ORCA Administrator: Kat Fryer

Email: kat.fryer@uhi.ac.uk
T: +44 (0)1856 569345

UHI Shetland Research: Dr Simon Clarke

Email: simon.clarke@uhi.ac.uk
T: +44 (0)1595 771000

UHI Outer Hebrides Research: Dr Mary Macleod

Email: mary.macleod@uhi.ac.uk
T: +44 (0)1851 7704669

UHI Archaeology Centre, UHI Orkney, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1LX, UK