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Mystery Structure Found In Orkney Dig

19 December 2007

Archaeologists have discovered a mysterious Neolithic structure at one of Orkney’s most important sites. The announcement was made following the conclusion of a successful rescue excavation, led by Historic Scotland, at the Links of Noltland on Westray.

The project was designed to learn everything possible about Bronze Age houses that were being damaged by severe wind erosion of the sand dunes that had protected them for millennia.

Archaeologists also took the opportunity to carry out further work on a large Neolithic structure first excavated in the 1980s. Part way through the project the team made an entirely unexpected discovery.

Peter Yeoman, Historic Scotland senior archaeologist, said: “A previously unknown Neolithic structure has been found that is very different from anything else known to exist at this remarkable site.

“It was built using dressed stone to and was clearly intended to look impressive from the outside.

“This marks it out from houses of the time, the exteriors of which tended to be created with function rather than looks in mind.

“However there were some very special buildings, including certain tombs, where a great deal of architectural skill went into their architecture.”

Only one small section of the structure, which is about seven metres in width and possibly greater than that in length, has been excavated and further work will be needed to establish its function. But its existence adds another dimension to one of Orkney’s richest archaeological landscapes.
Finds show that the area was inhabited at many different times. In this case polished bone beads, tools, and grooved ware pottery associated with the structure, identified it as Neolithic maybe dating back to a time around 4000 years ago.

With the latest phase of excavation at an end the building is being backfilled to provide protection from winter storms.

Mr Yeoman said: “This has been a highly successful programme of excavation and research.

“We have been able to gather a great deal of information about the Bronze Age houses that had been exposed by storms.

“At the same time we discovered even more about the Neolithic structure excavated by Dr David Clarke and were delighted to find the measures taken by Historic Scotland to protect it had worked very well and kept it in excellent condition.

“We monitor the condition of this area very closely and will continue to do all we can to keep it safe as it is of great archaeological importance.”

Post-excavation work will now take place in order to get the fullest understanding of information gathered during the project.


Notes for editors
·Links of Noltland lies behind Grobust Bay on the north coast of the island of Westray, Orkney.

·The site is of exceptional significance and is believed to be more extensive than Skara Brae. It includes a settlement nucleus akin to Skara Brae and well-preserved contemporary field systems. Its potential to provide information about the transition from the late Neolithic to the early Bronze Age in Orkney is of key importance.

·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.

·In October 2006 Historic Scotland commissioned an emergency assessment of the area after remains became exposed due to wind erosion. The findings caused such concern that a first phase of rescue excavation took place in early 2007. The second phase, most recent phase of excavation took place between September to November 2007.

·The contractors carrying out the excavation were EASE Archaeology.

·An open weekend took place in November when 60+ visitors came along including some who came especially from Orkney mainland. Guided tours were provided by EASE – and for many it was the first time they had seen the Grobust building excavated since 1981.

·The results of the 2007 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 is currently developing a long-term conservation plan for the site.

·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.

·Historic Scotland’s mission is to safeguard Scotland’s historic environment and to promote its understanding and enjoyment.

For further information


Matthew Shelley
Historic Scotland
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8734
matthew.shelley@scotland.gsi.gov.uk