Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

Rare discovery lands WU student on cover of British Archaeology

Jessica Jessica "Jo" Heupel '14

Jessica “Jo” Heupel’s discovery of a Neolithic mace head has landed her on the cover of the January/February issue of British Archaeology magazine.

Heupel ’14 unearthed her first major find while participating in Willamette's archaeological field school at the Ness of Brodgar, a UNESCO World Heritage site on Scotland's Orkney Islands.

When she first found the ax head, Heupel says she didn’t fully understand its significance. She’s since learned she's made a rare discovery.

“According to one journalist at the site, this artifact was one of perhaps a mere dozen in all of Great Britain, and the first found in the Orkney Islands," she says. "While I am not an expert, I believe this discovery will help uncover some of the ritual and religious aspects of the site.”

The Ness of Brodgar is receiving worldwide attention of late, with British Archaeology magazine devoting an eight-page spread to the items found at the site.

(The Scene covered the dig in a full feature in the Spring 2012 issue.)

A photo of Heupel, a classical studies and archaeology double major, also accompanied a report on the excavations that was published by the British daily Observer in October.

The Ness of Brodgar site was unknown until 2004, when a farmer accidentally plowed up a stone that he suspected had archaeological significance. Subsequent excavations uncovered a complex of large structures, built atop one another.

“The site provides a rare window into understanding Neolithic society beyond the domestic house,” says Scott Pike, director of Willamette’s archaeological field school. “A complex society with a hierarchical social structure likely existed to facilitate the construction and maintenance of the so-called ‘temple complex.’”

Nick Card of Orkney College and Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology is the site’s excavation director. 

Currently, Willamette is the only American university to partner with the Orkney Research Center for Archaeology and the University of the Highlands and Islands on this award-winning and internationally recognized project.

Willamette’s Ness of Brodgar Field School provides students with four weeks of intensive, on-site training in archaeological methods and techniques. Last summer was the program’s second year of existence, with 12 student participants.

British Archaeology magazine is published by the Council for British Archaeology.