Programme Snapshots | Wilder Being: Destruction and creation in the littoral zone

Programme Snapshots | Wilder Being: Destruction and creation in the littoral zone

1) Can you describe your Being Human events in 140 characters?

Coastal erosion, prehistoric midden, sea monster, sea level rising, laser scanning, creating a new mythology, a Wilder Being…through excavation, film and costume

2)  Can you tell us a bit about the research that this relates to?

This research brings together archaeologists, artists, environmental scientists and members of the community to explore an archaeological site, which is eroding into the sea.  Coastal erosion of such archaeological sites in Orkney is a highly visible illustration of the effects of climate change and poses problems for researchers and cultural resource managers as to how to interpret and preserve some or any of these sites before they are lost. This event will raise the profile of humanities research by engaging a diverse audience in the practices of recording and thinking about the issues presented. The place-based event at the coast will highlight the connectivity between humanities and sciences, as it highlights the blurring of lines between land and sea, culture and nature.

3) What will people learn or experience that they can’t encounter elsewhere?

The first stage of our event was an innovative two-day long community beach workshop and pop-up laboratory on the island of Sanday in Orkney. This open public event (importantly held before the winter weather sets in) involved a group who observed and recorded artefacts and materials – both ancient and modern – and used drawing, photography, 3D laser scanning, measured survey and phone apps in traditional and novel ways. The workshop brought together school children, island residents and researchers from archaeology, anthropology, science and art – quite a unique gathering on one beach! We experimented with processes, techniques and ideas, and at the end of the day a ‘sea monster’ was constructed from beach debris.

Young artists and textile designers are now creating a ‘wilder mann’ or ‘wilder being’ costume, constructed from the local environment and influenced by the folklore of the islands.  This wilder costume will used in a performative role as part of the Festival of Humanities, worn by volunteers from the local community and providing a contemporary fusion of past and present.  This will form part of an event at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, alongside a film developed with the project and collaborative exhibits from participants.

The energy of sea and resultant coastal erosion are very real and visible part of island life. Plastic bottles, single shoes and kelp are washed up and mix with fragments of bone, pottery, remains of middens and structures from Neolithic, Pictish and Viking settlements. On this beach present and past are inseparable, woven together with folklore and stories passed down through generations.

4) How is this relevant to everyday life?


The exhibition on Mainland, Orkney will attract a wide audience, from those interested in art and archaeology, to those interested in environmental issues. It is anticipated the events will inspire dialogue on environmental change between a broad spectrum of age groups, as well as inter-generationally. The exhibition will endure beyond the Festival as it will travel around the islands in Orkney, reaching communities who will be invited to interact with the Wilder Being costume. We hope it may be adopted before it goes back to the sea!



5) And finally, please tell us five favourite things about your location/venue.

The island of Sanday is indeed very sandy – and our workshop took place on the beautiful Pool beach, being watched by seals (or were they selkies?)

  1. People have lived on Sanday for around 5000 years, the population now has only around 550, but there is a thriving Development Trust, whose aim is ‘to create an economically prosperous, sustainable community that is connected to the wider world, but to remain a safe, unspoilt environment where people are proud to live, able to work, to bring up and educate their children’. They’ve created an inspirational local heritage centre and have a brilliant shop to rival any national supermarket
  2. The location of our event is the world renowned Pier Arts Centre in Stromness. The gallery is housed in what used to be a warehouse for the Hudson’s Bay Company, trading and sailing from Orkney to Canada. This international connection is still reflected in the outlook of the gallery, which also promotes local projects like our own – we are very lucky to have this fantastic centre on our doorstep.
  3. Stromness is now home to the first and only marine energy test centre in the world (EMEC).  In this small town, marine scientists, environmental experts and engineers mix with archaeologists, artists, and fishermen – a real multidisciplinary mix.
  4. The work will tour around Orkney’s islands and mainland – lots more diversity of place and people for our Wilder Being costume to interact with, and we’re sure that in true Orkney style, a few new stories will develop along the way!


Wilder Being is just one of many activities during Being Human which connects cutting edge research in the humanities to issues shaping our everyday lives. For updates on the latest Being Human news follow us on Twitter @BeingHumanFest, on Facebook, and on Pinterest. Don’t forget to sign up to our e-newsletter too!