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New excavation at Neolithic Mystery site

21 July 2008

Historic Scotland organises further Orkney research.

Archaeologists are returning to a mysterious Neolithic structure discovered last year at one of Orkney’s most important sites.

Historic Scotland has funded extensive research and rescue excavations at the Links of Noltland, on Westray, where ancient structures are threatened by severe wind erosion of the sand dunes that protected them for thousands of years.

The 2007 programme revealed the corner of an entirely unexpected type of building, quite different from anything else know at the site.

It was built using dressed stone to look impressive from the outside.

This is unlike the houses of the time where the exteriors tended to be created with function rather than appearance in mind.

An eight-week season of excavation is due to start on 28 July, led by Graeme Wilson and Hazel Moore of EASE Archaeology.

Their small team will concentrate on the unidentified structure, which is in the western part of the area owned by Historic Scotland.

Patricia Weeks, Historic Scotland project leader, said: “This is potentially a very exciting project that may tell us much about a site which is believed to be more extensive than Skara Brae.

“The building the archaeologists will concentrate on is very unusual and took us all by surprise when it was discovered last year.

“Only special buildings, like certain tombs, tended to have a lot of attention paid to the external architecture.

“Our first glimpse of these remains showed that they are very well-preserved and indicate something that was built with a great deal of skill.

“We hope that these excavations will tell us what it was used for.”

Finds from last year, including polished bone beads, tools, and grooved ware pottery, identified the structure as Neolithic maybe dating back 4,000 years.

The first task will be to remove the backfilling which was carried out to provide protection from winter storms.

Historic Scotland is arranging open days for the Sundays of 31 August and 14 September from noon to 4pm. Visitors are welcome to watch the archaeologists at work at other times and the archaeologists will be at work from 8.45am to 5pm.

Members of the public should follow the road round past the castle to the car park then walk along the beach.

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.

  • Historic Scotland team is preparing a management plan for the site. The first draft of this is due for completion at the end of March 2009, following which there will be a stakeholder consultation.

  • 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. For further details visit:

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

For further information

Matthew Shelley
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8734