Archaeology Field Excavation Summer School

Archaeology Field Excavation Summer School

Join us for the opportunity to excavate in an incredibly important early medieval landscape that is key to understanding the development of the ‘Picts’. At a site that may have been a central place of the early kings of Pictland,  you will get the chance to excavate a variety of different archaeological features, such as the massive post-holes defining the fort, possible house floors and walls. While excavation is on-going, you will also be given the opportunity to gain experience with geophysical and drone survey, giving you a varied experience that will help you develop your skills in archaeological excavation, survey and recording. We will then follow up the excavation programme back in the lab, teaching you key skills of post-excavation and analysis.

Programme Dates

Sunday 23rd June to Saturday 13th July

Entry Requirements

Academic Entry Requirements

As the course is open to applicants with no prior experience of archaeological excavation, there are no academic entry requirements for this programme.

English Language Entry Requirements:

Applicants will need to demonstrate that they meet the necessary English language requirements. We will accept a Statement of Language Level Form signed by their home institution, confirming that the student’s level of English is B2 or above on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages in line with requirements for the Standard Visitor Visa. Alternatively, we also accept any formal certification from the approved range of official qualifications listed at Undergraduate Degrees - English Requirements | Study Here | The University of Aberdeen ( These must have been issued within two years prior to planned commencement at Aberdeen.



Price Includes:

  • All tuition, teaching materials and a transcript.
  • Lab and Site Materials.
  • Transport costs to and from excavation/field sites.
  • 18 nights accommodation (uncatered) in University halls of residence.
  • Leisure and Social activities 

Not included:

  • International travel to and from the UK.
  • Transport costs to/from the University from within the UK.
  • Travel or health insurance.
  • Visa costs, where applicable.
  • Subsistence costs

15 University of Aberdeen academic credits.

This is roughly equivalent to 7.5 ECTS or 3-4 US Semester credits.

Application Deadline

Applications currently closed.

Who it's for

The course is intended for those with no prior experience of archaeological excavation, however, we gladly welcome those who have previous experience and are looking to broaden their skill set. Training in the skills needed to plan, undertake and report on an archaeological excavation will be provided, helping you to build the foundations for your future education and career in archaeology, but we will try to tailor experiences to the individual participant wherever possible.

What you will learn

Upon the culmination of the course, you will have:

• a good understanding of the aims, methodology and results of an archaeological excavation.

• an ability to participate in research excavation and understand the logistics involved.

• acquired key practical skills in archaeological excavation, survey (including geophysical survey, standing-building survey and/or walk-over survey), recording methods and post excavation analysis.

• developed an understanding of stratigraphic relationships of archaeological features and deposits, and be able to describe and critically evaluate these.

• applied knowledge of the conventions regarding archaeological field records, including context sheets, plan drawings, section drawings, artefact drawings, artefact and feature photography, Harris matrices, and a site report.

In addition, fieldwork will be complimented by three days of lectures/tutorials where you will be introduced theoretical and methodological approaches necessary for modern day field excavation and investigation, including:

• geophysical survey, remote sensing and topographical survey

• excavation practice

• sampling and dating of archaeological deposits and features

• recording protocols including both paper based and digital methods

• section and plan drawing

• hand and drone-based photogrammetry, laser scanning and other forms of digital recording methods

• sample processing using soil flotation

• artefact analysis and cataloguing

• report writing

Programme Timetable

Find out more about what your summer school programme might look like by viewing our Archaelogy Field Excavation Summer School Timetable.*

If you have any questions about the details included here, don't hesitate to contact us at

*For illustrative purposes only, subject to change.

Project Information

This summer school feeds into the on-going research of the school coordinators, Dr. James O’Driscoll and Professor Gordon Noble of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, who are investigating the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ of Northern Britain and how interactions between Roman and native communities led to the development of the early medieval Picts. The Picts emerged at the beginning of the first millennium AD to defy the might of the Roman empire only to disappear at the end of the millennium, yet they left major legacies. They laid the foundations for the medieval Scottish kingdom and their captivating carved stones are some of the most eye-catching yet enigmatic monuments of early medieval Europe. The origins of the Picts and their precursors are poorly understood, despite the Picts playing a pivotal role in the emergence of the medieval kingdom of Scotland.

Over the course of the next ten years, this project aims to shed light on this period of Scottish history. We will investigate both Roman and native sites of this period, including some of the abandoned camps and forts left by the invading Roman army, and the hillforts used by the Iron Age and early medieval communities to repel them.

Archaeological Site Information

The 2024 field school will take place in the Rhynie valley at the edge of the Scottish Highlands, where over a decade of investigation has uncovered an incredibly significant and unique elite centre of residence, ritual and kingship dating back to AD 300–650. Within this landscape, we have uncovered the largest Pictish settlement every discovered, at a site known as Tap o’Noth. Here over 800 houses formed a large-scale community where we recovered evidence for on-site metalworking, trade with the Roman world and artefacts like glass beads and polished stone discs that can tell us about the individuals who lived here over 1500 years ago. Tap o’Noth overlooks a contemporary burial ground, settlement and ritual enclosure at the Craw Stane, where we have recovered incredible artefacts like the moulds for making animal figurines, imported Mediterranean and Continental pottery and glass, and defined a complex fortification used in rituals and elite lifeways.

Our 2024 excavation takes place at a nearby hillfort known as Cairnmore. Our previous excavations here have revealed a complex stone walled fort with massive wooden posts and evidence for two buildings – one large internal building inside the fort which may have been the house of an elite, and another outside the fort which may have been used for storage or processing of foodstuff. Our objective this year is to excavate more of the stone walls and massive postholes that make up the defences of the fort, and to investigate a largely untouched area of the site that has produced tentative evidence for metalworking.

Fieldwork and Physical Activity

This summer school is a field-based programme where you will be undertaking an archaeological excavation. Be aware that this involves physically demanding activity that includes shovelling and moving of buckets of soil, with a lot of time spent bending over on your knees while trowelling. We will accommodate those who are physically less able as best we can, by rotating students to other tasks like geophysical or topographical surveys and on-site sample processing.

You will be working in the picturesque Scottish outdoors. While known for its beauty, it is also known for its changeable weather, and you should be ready to work in a variety of different weather conditions! You will need to bring clothes suitable for hot weather (in Scotland 25 degrees Celsius is considered hot!), warm clothes for colder days and a rainproof jacket and trousers. A key piece of equipment is a good pair of work boots, both for your comfort and safety.

We will provide all of the necessary equipment you will need to undertake your excavation, which includes a trowel.

Finally, we ask that you follow all of the health and safety instructions we give you before and during the excavation, for your own personal wellbeing and the safety of those around you. If you have any further questions about the nature of the work being undertaken on this summer school, please contact us at