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Westray's Living Heritage

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Girs and Steens

2011-12 Exhibition
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2012 Noltland dig update

The archaeological excavation at Links of Noltland has resumed for the summer season. The focus of attention this time is the Neolithic settlement, last investigated in 2010.

We are concentrating on three buildings (10, 18, 19) - all of which are thought to be houses dating to around 2800- 2600 BC. Structures 10 and 19 appear to have been in use over a very long period and we do not know when the earliest period of occupation dates to in either case.

Work this year will hopefully recover lots more information about the histories of these buildings, how they were used and reused and what happened to them when they were finally abandoned.

Currently we are removing midden deposits from Structure 19, revealing tantalising glimpses of large structural partitions within the interior, together with the remains of a probable dresser of Skara-Brae type.

Finds from this building have included some fine quality grooved ware pottery, a range of flint and stone tools and lots of other domestic refuse - food waste, peatash, shell etc.

Work on Structure 10 is more advanced. We had reached an intermediate stage in the excavations by the end of the 2010 season and we are now removing the last of a series of secondary floors and hearths which represent a late re-use of the building.

Fragments of a possible kiln-type structure have also been found nearby (now removed). This building has very finely built walls of quarried stone and appears to be well preserved. Finds from the late floors have included articulated deer bone, possibly placed there as a closing gesture at the end of the life of the building.

Structure 18 has been excavated to the level of its primary floor. This was made from a thick layer of yellow clay and was resurfaced on several occasions.

Elsewhere in this building, the articulated remains of cattle and sheep are suggestive of large scale butchery or feasting events unlike the bone found in the surrounding middens, these have not been smashed up to extract marrow. Finds from this building have included a cache of flint tools, fine pottery and whalebone tools.

The excavation team varies between 10 and 15 in number and includes many familiar faces who have worked on Westray in the past, including several dedicated folks who have worked almost every season so far at Noltland. We have been joined by several new folks this year, including undergraduate students from Glasgow and Southhampton, several PhD students from Edinburgh and even an archaeologist from the Norwegian state service.

We are especially fortunate to have so many skilled osteologists - both human and animal bone specialists - with us on site since the quality and quantity of bone being recovered especially from the middens is enormous! In addition to being able to undertake immediate identification of the remains, our specialists have also been able to collect samples for future DNA testing and isotope analysis.