Monday, December 14, 2015


In very poor weather on Monday 7th December, four archaeologists ventured out to examine an eroding cairn on one of the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. What appeared to be the top of a substantial cairn of stones, and a circular spread of stones nearby, led to the unexpected find of a large number of plough points, stone mattocks, stone bars, hammer-stones and stone flaked knives, as well as sections of stone walls and uprights which were clearly once part of a Bronze Age house. Immediately another was seen just a few meters away, also covered with a mass of tools.

Walking along the sand, further Bronze Age features were found.

The houses are visible as differently shaped spreads of stones - 14 structures distributed over a kilometer, emerging from beneath massive sand-dunes formed in the second millennium BCE. An entire Bronze Age landscape, comprising both house structures and working areas. Professor Jane Downes, of the University of the Highlands and Islands, who specializes in the Bronze Age was stunned by the extent of the settlement area. "This must be one of the biggest complexes of Bronze Age settlement in the Scottish isles, rivaling the spreads of hut circles in other parts of mainland Scotland", she exclaimed.

The Bronze Age is probably the least understood period in Orcadian prehistory, and the vast quantity of plough points testifies to the dominance of arable agriculture at this time. It also confirms the strange practice of depositing numerous tools in houses after they were 'decommissioned'. Similar Bronze Age houses have recently been excavated on another of the islands, however the scale of this latest discovery is unparalleled in Orkney.

Professor Colin Richards of Manchester University, another of the group of discoverers, notes that "after a long history of excavating the large late Neolithic settlements or 'villages', most recently the Ness of Brodgar and Links of Noltland, we now possess a detailed understanding of Neolithic life in Orkney, but what happens in the following Bronze Age period is a bit of a mystery".

Edited from Archaeology Orkney (8 December 2015)
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