Excavations at The Links of Noltland are proving to be one of the most significant digs ever to take place in Scotland.
The site is revealing extensive settlement and finds spanning the Neolithic to Bronze Age periods and in 2009 the Orkney Venus figurine, or Westray Wife as she is also known, was discovered.
Links of Noltland, on the coast of Westray, is a property in the care of Historic Scotland that has fascinated archaeologists and antiquarians for generations. Sand dunes had protected the archaeology for thousands of years, but as the fierce winds have eroded the landscape, incredible settlements have been revealed.
The site was first identified in the 19th century, and following excavations in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s led by Dr David Clarke of the National Museum of Scotland, the site was taken into state care. A management programme was instigated at this time, including monitoring of the erosion throughout the 1990’s. This, and further work revealed the erosion of the site was accelerating and a programme of geophysical survey, test pitting and trial excavation was begun to determine how much of the site was at risk.
Since 2006 Historic Scotland has been working with EASE Archaeology to excavate and record the site and an interim report of the disocveries so far will be published in the coming months.
The strength of the winds is such that the surface level now exposed at the site dates from around 2600 BC and the range and preservation of the remains are incredible, greatly expanding what we know about life on Westray 4,500 years ago..
Finds from midden deposits include a range of pottery, bone and flint tools. Soil and bone specialists are working on site with the team.
At the end of last season an enigmatic and unique building was revealed which has cattle skulls deliberately set within the wall-core. Further work this year is concentrating on defining this building, with specialist analyses undertaken to determine the age, condition and diet of these cattle, placed within a seemingly ritualised context.
Many of the dig team are returning for their second or third season, putting up with changeable, and sometimes very wet and windy, weather to uncover more unique and significant discoveries.
You can follow the progress of the excavation by visiting the dig blog at www.westrayheritage.co.uk