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Archaeologists Return to Rich and Enigmatic Orkney Site

13 July 2009

Archaeologists are returning to one of Orkney’s richest and most threatened sites in a bid to learn more about a Neolithic settlement.

The settlement is at the Links of Noltland, on the island of Westray.

However, severe wind erosion is causing the collapse of the dune system which has protected the archaeology for thousands of years.

It is an important area because extensive evidence has survived about the people who lived there over a long period of time from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age.

The main aim of this year’s work, due to run until August, is to uncover the full extent of a carefully-built multi-cellular Neolithic building which still survives to five courses high and the adjacent field system.

Peter Yeoman, Historic Scotland’s head of cultural resources, said: “The Links of Noltland is a very exciting site because it contains such a rich variety of well-preserved evidence for how people lived in Orkney over a very long period of time."

“The severe wind erosion and the destruction of the dune system also means it is under great threat."

“In recent years we have carried out emergency excavations in parts of the site where the archaeology has been uncovered, then rapidly blown away by the wind."

“The surface levels now exposed are those of around 3,000BC and we are keen to learn all we can about society at that time before the evidence is lost."

“What is particularly valuable is that we have a combination of buildings, field systems, waste products and artefacts from a long period of time and over quite a wide area."

“Very unusually for Orkney there is also excellent survival of bone."

“Taken together these elements can give a very full picture of how people lived, their diet, agriculture, farming and living arrangements."

“Our main aim this year is to uncover the full extent of the Neolithic building which we began work on last year, and its relationship to the adjacent field system."

“We know it was large and well-built – in a way that was meant to be seen and admired – so we want to record the entire ground plan and find out as much as possible about what it was for and the people who used it.”

The Links of Noltland settlement shows parallels to Skara Brae, where multi-cellular  structures were built by revetting the walls against midden, piled up to provide stability and to keep out the elements.

The settlement at Links of Noltland displays a greater depth of time and excellent preservation, allowing modern archaeological techniques to be used to recover the maximum amount of information from the site.

EASE Archaeology will carry out the excavation on behalf of Historic Scotland, which cares for the Links of Noltland.

The archaeologists are happy for visitors to come along and have a look at what is happening and a formal open day will take place mid-August .

Temporary interpretation panels will be put up to explain the project.

Notes for editors:

  • Links of Noltland lies behind Grobust Bay on the north coast of the island of Westray, Orkney.  

  • The site was first recorded in the 19th century by antiquarian George Petrie. Archaeological excavations were carried out between 1978 and 1981 led by Dr Clarke from the National Museums of Scotland.

  • The site was taken into care by Historic Scotland in 1984.

  • Monitoring of the site since 2000 by Historic Scotland revealed deterioration of the dune system and remains were exposed due to wind erosion. This led Historic Scotland to commission an emergency assessment of the area in October 2006 . The findings caused such concern that a first phase of rescue excavation took place in early 2007. Further work was undertaken in 2007 and 2008.

  • The results of the this year’s archaeological work will be fully published, along with the results from all the recent investigations on the site, once post-excavation work is complete.

  • Historic Scotland has 345 historic properties and sites in its care. These include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country, including Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart Castles, Fort George, Linlithgow Palace, the Border Abbeys, and Skara Brae. For further details visit:

  • Historic Scotland’s Mission is to safeguard Scotland’s historic environment and to promote its understanding and enjoyment.

  • Historic Scotland is delighted to be supporting the 2009 Year of Homecoming with a series of initiatives including family trails, spectacular events and the creation of a Homecoming Pass for heritage attractions in association with other heritage organisations.

For further information

Rebecca Hamilton
Marketing and Media Manager
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8685 / 07788 923871