Bronze Age bonanza in Orkney!
Archaeological discoveries are often made when they are least expected and this is exactly what happened on Monday 7th December 2015 at Tresness on the island of Sanday in Orkney.
In very poor weather, a group of top archaeologists set out to explore a known archaeological site at Tresness. As they walked along the beach towards the site, Professor Jane Downes (University of the Highlands and Islands), Professor Colin Richards (University of Manchester), Dr Vicki Cummings (University of Central Lancashire) and Christopher Gee (ORCA, University of the Highlands and Islands) spotted what appeared to be the top of a substantial cairn of stones emerging through the sand. What they had actually discovered was beyond their wildest imagination...
Hitting the Bronze Age bonanza!
Jane and Vicki spotted a circular spread of stones lying nearby in the intertidal zone (the part of the beach that is underwater at high tide). Investigating further, a large number of stone tools were discovered on the surface of the beach. The tools included: stone mattocks, stone bars, hammerstones, stone flaked knives and ard-points (which were the stone tips on wooden ploughs).
The archaeologists were getting more and more excited! Their examination of the beach then revealed sections of stone walls and uprights, which were clearly part of a house structure. No sooner was this spread of stones identified as the remains of a Bronze Age house, when another spread of stones was seen lying just a few metres away! This too was another house structure covered with a mass of stone tools. As the group continued walking along the sand, one after another, a series of Bronze Age structures were discovered!!
A Bronze Age landscape
The houses are visible as differently shaped spreads of stones. In total, 14 examples were found along a 1km stretch of the sand. This vast spread of Bronze Age (c. 2000 BC) settlement was sealed beneath the massive sand-dunes, and was only visible due to erosion.
What this discovery reveals is that an entire Bronze Age landscape – of houses and working areas – on Sanday was covered as the sand dunes formed in the second millennium BC. Prof. Downes, who specialises in the Bronze Age, was stunned by the size of the settlement area, “this must be one of the biggest complexes of Bronze Age settlement in the Scottish isles, rivalling the spreads of hut circles in other parts of mainland Scotland”, she exclaimed!
The Bronze Age is probably the least understood period in prehistoric Orkney. The vast quantity of ard-points found by the archaeologists suggests that there was lots of arable farming (growing crops) happpening in Orkney at this time. Similar Bronze Age houses have been recently excavated at the Links of Noltland on the island of Westray in Orkney. However, the scale of the Sanday discoveries is unparalleled in Orkney. Cath Parker, leader of the Sanday Archaeology Group, says “This is incredibly exciting. The archaeological landscape concealed beneath Sanday's shifting sands never ceases to amaze us. I'm sure the local community will relish the opportunity to be involved with any work which stems from this thrilling discovery.”
YAC will keep in touch with the archaeologists in Orkney, and will let you know what happens next. Watch this space!!