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New dig season begins in Westray

28 June 2010

Excavations have begun again at one of the country’s most exciting archaeological sites.

Archaeologists are hoping the Links of Noltland dig – which last year revealed the Orkney Venus figurine, currently shortlisted for a British Archaeological Award – will uncover more fascinating finds to tell us more about how our ancestors lived on the Orkney island of Westray.

This season will focus on further excavation of the figurine building and also allow the team to investigate the unusual building that has cattle skulls placed within the wall foundations.

Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop said: “The Links of Noltland site has already taught us about the way people lived on Westray in Neolilthic and Bronze Age times and the potential of another season is very exciting.

“I am delighted that the significance of the discovery of the Orkney Venus, or Westray Wife as it is also known, has been recognised by the British Archaeology Awards. It is also wonderful that the figurine has been able to go on display at the Westray Heritage Centre for the beginning of the season to allow visitors to see it while the dig is going on.”

Work on the site began in 2006, but previous digs were carried out in the late 1970’s and 80s. Over decades the fierce winds have reduced the sand dunes that have protected the archaeology for centuries in incredible condition.

Historic Scotland Senior Archaeologist Richard Strachan is managing the project. He said: “The project is reaching a very exciting phase, as we race against the wind to recover the archaeological remains of the extensive settlement extending for around a thousand years from the late Neolithic to the Bronze Age.”

“We are concentrating on further defining the enigmatic and unique cattle skull building, uncovered at the end of last season, and in the coming weeks we will be reaching the floor surfaces of the figurine building.  This represents an exceedingly rare opportunity to excavate a Neolithic building to primary contexts using modern archaeological techniques.  On site specialist analyses are providing very important evidence how the land was managed agriculturally during this millennium.”

Hazel Moore of EASE Archaeology added: “What we have found so far has shed a lot of light on the way that the people living here farmed and dealt with the conditions. We have soil and bone specialists working with us and hopefully that will allow us to clarify the diet of the animals kept here and determine how domesticated they were.

“It is clear that the people who farmed here worked hard, but beads and other adornments we have found also show that there was leisure time that they spent making things like coat pins, very similar to the shape of toggles that you still see on duffle coats, which gives us an even better insight into what it would have been like to live on Westray in 2600 BC.”

The Orkney Venus is currently on display at the Westray Heritage Centre and the dig is being followed by people around the globe via a blog at www.westrayheritage.co.uk

Notes to Editors


About Historic Scotland:

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For further information


Lesley Brown
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8603 or 07920 768100
lesley.brown@scotland.gsi.gov.uk