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Orkney site named Rescue Dig of the Year at prestigious archaeology awards

3 March 2014

An internationally significant dig at the Links of Noltland on the coast of Westray in Orkney was named Rescue Dig of the Year at the Current Archaeology Awards in London.

The dig, which was commissioned by Historic Scotland and carried out by EASE Archaeology, sheds valuable new light on domestic and ritual life in prehistoric Orkney. The site has fallen victim to rapid coastal and wind erosion and archaeologists faced a race against time to uncover its secrets before it is lost to the elements.

Exposed to high winds, the dune system that has protected it for millennia is rapidly depleting. The settlement has been closely monitored for change since the 1980s and by 2005 the scale of erosion was accelerating at an unprecedented level, revealing spectacular Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological remains.

In response, Historic Scotland launched a rolling campaign of assessment and conservation works and rescue excavations undertaken by EASE Archaeology.

Overlooking the North Atlantic, the Links of Noltland comprises the well-preserved remains of over 20 buildings – including Neolithic structures contemporary with, and comparable to Skara Brae – together with extensive middens, field systems, and a Bronze Age cemetery. Discoveries have included the celebrated ‘Orkney Venus’ as well as three other figurines, grooved ware pottery, carved stone balls and numerous decorative and everyday objects.

Current Archaeology, the UK’s leading archaeology magazine, announced the winners of their 2014 awards at a ceremony presented by archaeologist and TV personality Julian Richards (of Meet the Ancestors fame) as part of the annual Current Archaeology Live! conference, held at the University of London’s Senate House.

Voted for by subscribers and members of the public, the awards recognise the outstanding contributions to our understanding of the past made by the people, projects, and publications featured in the pages of Current Archaeology over the previous 12 months.

Richard Strachan, Senior Archaeologist at Historic Scotland and project manager of the Links of Noltland dig said: “I am delighted that this incredible project has been recognised with such a prestigious award. It is an endorsement of the  national and international significance of the site, and the hard work of those involved in the project, all of whom faced challenging conditions.  Links of Noltland continues to surprise us, and is greatly enhancing our understanding of the Neolithic and Bronze Age.  It is a pleasure and a privilege to be involved in the project.”

Dr Matthew Symonds, editor of Current Archaeology said: “The Links of Noltland project saw off competition from some of the most exciting recent archaeological digs in the UK to emerge as the favourite in the prestigious ‘Rescue Dig of the Year’ category of the Current Archaeology Awards. Voted for entirely by members of the public, the result recognises the powerful glimpse that the dig provides of everyday life in the Orkney archipelago during the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Remarkable discoveries from the site include tiny enigmatic figurines, most famously the ‘Westray Wife’, Neolithic house walls standing close to their original height, and strange prehistoric ‘compositions’ – essentially collages of bone, flint, shell, and clay executed for uncertain motives. This mixture of the familiar and the enigmatic makes prehistoric home life seem both tangible and impossibly distant. Congratulations to everyone involved in the project.'

Notes for editors:

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

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For further information

John MacNeil
Media Relations Manager
Communications and Media
0131 668 8714 or 07854 366 827