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Robotics team attempts to uncover Orkney's Neolithic past

SAMS’ autonomous underwater vehicle ‘Freya’ has been on another voyage of discovery – this time conducting a survey to gain an insight into Orkney's archaeological past.

Working with Dr. Richard Bates (University of St Andrews) and local archaeologist Dr Caroline Wickham-Jones the SAMS AUV team conducted surveys of Loch Harray and Bay of Firth looking for evidence of submerged landscapes and possible settlements from the last 5,000 years.

This is the first time that such technology has been used to delve into, and attempt to explore, the Neolithic period in Orkney.

The work was supported by the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS). Freya is a yellow, three-metre long, underwater robot operated by the Oban-based SAMS, from the institute's Scottish Marine Robotics Facility.

The Gavia team of Dr John Howe, Karen Wilson and Colin Abernethy travelled to Orkney from SAMS to operate the vehicle and gather valuable data from the sea and loch floor.

This study is led by Dr Bates, a senior lecturer in earth sciences at the University of St Andrews and is part of the Rising Tides project which has brought together archaeologists, geophysicists and coastal geomorphologists from across Britain to investigate the submerged landscapes of Orkney.

Thousands of years ago, when people first settled in the Orkney, the islands were a very different place.

Lower sea levels meant that the islands comprised a single landmass, and many of the areas once settled by Orkney’s early inhabitants now lie underwater.

Orkney based Caroline Wickham-Jones, a researcher with the University of Aberdeen, is also involved in the study to find out more about past submerged landscapes.

For more information, see Dr Bates' blog on the Orkney investigation.

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