New ‘Sònraichte’ Project Collections Officer

Hi! I’m Samantha, the new ‘Sònraichte’ Project Collections Officer. I want to take the opportunity to introduce myself to the community so that you have a little idea of what brought me to the Outer Hebrides and what I’m planning to do this year inside the ‘Sònraichte’ Project.

As a field archaeologist, my day-to day activity was to recover the assemblages that appear in the middle of a development, like this roman burial site just in the place of a future school!

History and Archaeological Science background
I’m a trained historian and archaeologist, and I am interested in archaeological finds and what they can tell us about the past. With this in mind, I completed a PhD in archaeological science in Barcelona, studying the cultural and technological impact of European ceramic transport jars and their role during the Spanish colonisation of the Americas. The research took me to diverse places and labs in Europe and the Americas. The day-to-day hassle to access the materials for my dissertation sparked the need to have an active role in making archaeological collections accessible.
After finishing my PhD, I volunteered and later worked with museums in New York and England to understand collections management standards and access to the information. I enjoy discovering the micro-histories that collections can show us about individuals and events in the past. I find the culture and history of Scotland interesting and when I found the opportunity to come to the Western Isles for the ‘Sònraichte’ Project, I couldn’t resist!

My favourite part of being an archaeological scientist is the lab! I spent some time in diverse labs around the globe; here in Greece, studying the technical requirements for a long-distance trading transport jar.

Preventative conservation has been a significant part of developing museum skills. Working for the NT taught me a few things about caring for museum collections 😉

The Sònraichte Project
Some of the archaeology collections held by Museum nan Eilean have legacy issues that don’t reflect current excavation procedures and museum standards, this results in making our archaeological collections difficult to search and access. Inside the ‘Sònraichte’ Project, I will be working with these archaeological collections to improve the collections management and increase knowledge of the museum’s assemblages.
The Archaeology of the Outer Hebrides is of great interest to both researchers and community members alike. The project aims to sort out these legacy collection issues and have an improved museum catalogue to promote and develop the archaeological collections: improving their accessibility.

A glimpse of some of the assemblages I’ll be working with
There are many assemblages on the list to sort out. I would like to share two of them, their current issues and why they’re relevant for researchers and the general public.
Myself, like much of the general public, have an interest in the remote archipelago of St Kilda These islands were occupied from at least 2000 years ago until 1930. They hold a rich cultural heritage. Such a beautiful and undisturbed time capsule is very attractive to social historians as well as archaeologists. The detailed information extracted from the excavations, at least from two different sites on the island, will complement and inform the social history collections that are currently held in Museum nan Eilean.
Since starting the project, I was intrigued by Dun Bharabhat, a significant Late Iron Age roundhouse on Loch Baravat. This dun island is accessible via an artificial causeway build in the loch. Some of the artefacts recovered from the excavations included typical Hebridean Late Iron age pottery, slag from metal working, and many bones of different animals consumed. A small selection of finds is already on display in the museum. Now, the rest of the assemblage needs proper cataloguing.

Because the site is in Lewis, I couldn’t resist paying a visit and understanding what an island Dun looks like in real life. So I put my wellies on and went up the hill to Loch Bharavat to familiarise myself with the site where the assemblage had come from originally. The place didn’t disappoint in the slightest!

In love every time that I do some fieldwork. Dun Bharabhat from the end of the causeway, you can even play spot the archaeologist inside the site!

Next Steps
Now that the project is up and running, the following twelve months will be re-examining parts of the collection to bring these assemblages up to current museum standards.
From now on, you can expect more updates about behind the scenes while cataloguing and ensuring the archaeological collections at the Museum nan Eilean are complete and accessible. Until next time, bye for now!

The ‘Sònraichte’ Project is funded by Museums Galleries Scotland.

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