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Links of Noltland Dig Extended - Archaeology Blog Is A Hit For Westray Heritage Centre

2 September 2009

A series of archaeological surprises has led Historic Scotland to extend this year’s excavation at a Neolithic site on Orkney.

The Links of Noltland attracted international attention with the discovery of Scotland’s earliest human figurine – dating back around 5,000 years.

The area chosen for this year’s dig was thought to contain one building – a fine farmhouse – but up to three more have now been found.

One contains around ten cow’s skulls arranged in what appears to be a ritualistic way, deliberately deposited within its walls with their horns embedded in the ground.

Richard Strachan, senior archaeologist with the Historic Scotland cultural resources team, said: “The site has turned out to be far larger than we thought so we have decided to extend this year’s excavation for an extra three weeks, taking it to the end of September.

“We very much want to investigate the additional buildings which have been identified, especially following this remarkable find of the cows’ skulls, which were all placed upside down along the inside of the wall, some of them interlocking.”

Members of the Ease Archaeology team carrying out the excavation on behalf of Historic Scotland have been running a daily blog which has been hosted by the Westray Heritage Centre website at

This has caught the public imagination and the number of daily hits on the site grew from 25 on 1 August to nearly 7,350 on 26 August.

Nancy Scott, a director of the centre, said: “The discovery of the human figurine was very exciting and the excavation is doing a great deal to highlight the significance of our island’s archaeology.

“We are delighted to be hosting the blog, and that it is proving so popular, as the whole aim of our centre is to promote the geography, history and way of life of Westray.”

The Westray Heritage Centre is open until the end of September and then by arrangement through the winter.

Notes for editors:

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

  • 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. Artefacts from these excavations are now on display in the National Museums Scotland.

  • The Links of Noltland is among Orkney’s richest and most threatened sites. Severe wind erosion is causing the collapse of the dune system which has protected the archaeology for thousands of years.

  • In recent years emergency excavations have been carried out 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 HS is keen to learn everything possible about society at that time before the evidence is lost.

  • It is important 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 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 than Skara Brae and excellent preservation, allowing modern archaeological techniques to be used to recover the maximum amount of information from the site.

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

  • 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