The ORCA Archaeology team are continuing work this week at the proposed SSEN Transmission sub-station in Finstown, Orkney.
The area of the dig is continuing to grow as more of the archaeology is uncovered. Trenches excavated last week have been extended to make one large area, while test trenches have discovered extensive midden (rubbish) deposits up to a depth of 0.6 metres.
Meanwhile the cist and associated features unearthed two weeks ago is the subject of detailed excavation by one of the team. The possible Bronze Age cist itself appears to be empty with no obvious contents, but the material partly filling the stone box has been packaged for later analysis.
Intriguing archaeology is also beginning to emerge across the whole area, with two possible domestic prehistoric structures being excavated on one of the mound summits. The full extent of the structures has been exposed, showing large flags and a sunken central area. Hand excavation of the occupation deposits and identification of the internal stonework is underway and should shed some light on the age and use of this possible prehistoric settlement.
The team have also been investigating the thick midden layers around the north and east sides of the mound. Midden is in effect an ancient rubbish dump and usually holds great interest for archaeologists as they contain a treasure trove (sometimes literally!) of items and remains which can give the team an understanding of every-day life at the site. The midden material at this site is very complex and close to the structures, which means that this area was occupied for a considerable length of time.
Even more interesting for the team was the discovery of pottery with Beaker-style decoration in one of the middens. The vessel was broken, but was recognisable as a style known in Orkney from other excavations and is always associated with domestic rather than funerary or ritual sites. These vessels date to the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age across Orkney.
Other members of the team have completed hand-dug trenches across the low earth bank apparently overlying a cobbled surface that runs around the ridge in the boggy, peaty ‘valley’ between the mounds. There will be more information on this extensive cobbled area as the dig progresses.
Further excavation has also revealed small stone heaps near the cist, with evidence of in situ burning under one of the stone heaps. Working out what this means in terms of what was going on around the cist is just one of the puzzles confronting the team.
The initial geophysical survey undertaken by ORCA Archaeology last year indicated that this site would contain extensive archaeological remains. The excavation phase of the investigation has more than confirmed this, and that the area contains possible archaeology dating back to the early Neolithic – the time of the first farmers in Orkney.
ORCA Archaeology were commissioned by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) to commence archaeology excavation at the site of the proposed new sub-station at Finstown.
Orkney is recognised to be at the forefront of the rapidly expanding renewable sector in the UK. The proposed Finstown Substation will form part of the multi-million pound Orkney Transmission Connection and Infrastructure project which aims to reinforce the electricity transmission connection between the renewable energy providers on the islands and the mainland of Scotland.
ORCA Archaeology, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scotland's Urban Past team have organised five Building Recording Days in historic Kirkwall and Stromness.
These are community archaeology events to which everyone is invited - experience is not required as full training will be given - but we ask that you book a place as below.
The team have set dates in Kirkwall during May and June (book to attend these events by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Scotland’s Urban Past team are coming up again to run a one day workshop in Stromness (you will have to book to attend this event through the Scotland's Urban Past Eventbrite page)
These days are designed to follow on from our training in March, and archive day in April, but feel free to come along if you missed these, we can easily get you up to speed. We’ve set up a regular survey afternoon, with the aim of conducting rapid recording and taking photos for properties in the Kirkwall conservation area.
The Scotland’s Urban Past team will run a workshop in Stromness on the 4th June, and will show us how to add the results of all our surveys onto the national record online.
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A team from ORCA Archaeology discovered a 3,500 year old burial cist last week while undertaking exploratory archaeological excavations on behalf of SSEN Transmission in Orkney.
The cist was found intact at the proposed Finstown substation site, just below the ground surface, and consists of a stone-lined box capped with a large flat stone, and would probably have contained the remains of an individual who lived during the Bronze Age.
The burial was discovered by ORCA Archaeology as part of SSEN Transmission’s commitment to undertake environmental survey works ahead of construction, should the substation be approved.
Local soil conditions aren’t great for the preservation of bone, and at first sight the cist appears empty, but careful excavation may reveal some traces.
Standing around the cist in perhaps the same position as mourners did 3,500 years ago, the ORCA team discussed with SSEN Transmission the importance of the find and the next steps involved in excavation and recording, and the implications of the discovery for our understanding of how people lived and worked in the landscape.
Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager ORCA Archaeology said, “Previous survey work told us there was significant archaeology present at the site and we are pleased that within the first few days we have our first major find. It is fascinating to think that we are the first people in 3,500 years to look into this structure. We are working with SSEN Transmission to record the archaeology of the site, and this is a great start.”
SSEN Transmission has submitted a planning application for the onshore substation near Finstown. The substation is a critical component of the proposed network reinforcement which is required to support renewable electricity generators across Orkney looking to connect to the main GB transmission system for the first time. Its progress, as well as that of the reinforcement programme, remains subject to all planning and regulatory approvals.
SSEN Transmission’s Environmental Project Manager, Simon Hall continues,
“As a responsible network operator, we take our environmental standards very seriously and strive to do everything we can to ensure that our proposed works minimise disruption and impact to our host communities, whilst meeting our License obligations. For this particular project, that includes working with local archaeological experts ORCA as part of our pre-construction assessments to fully understand the archaeological features and history at the Finstown site. We are delighted that it has resulted in the discovery of such an exciting feature that otherwise may never have been found. We look forward to continuing to work closely with ORCA Archaeology as the excavation progresses.”
This blog has been created by Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology in beautiful Orkney. We aim to add features and news about our work on the islands and further afield on a regular basis.