Archaeology Orkney The Cairns

Test Pits at The Cairns, South Ronaldsay

During two days in April, Martin Carruthers and a group of Archaeology Masters students travelled down to The Cairns on South Ronaldsay, Orkney to commence test pitting.

Digging in the face of rain, hail, driving snow and brilliant sunshine….in fact a typical Orkney Spring day….the team made some interesting discoveries.  Their efforts were shared on social media as it happened and this BLOG is a summary of their initial thoughts.

12998709_1182088541836059_8743601261358807708_nThe geophysics completed last season highlighted areas that could benefit from closer scrutiny. We found brilliant evidence for the kinds of ancient activites going on in the hinterland of the broch, including arable field soils dating to the Iron Age, ashy midden overlying the eastern side of the Iron Age village, and a possible hollow way or track that runs up to the front entrance of the broch enclosure and probably separated animals from cultivated crops over two thousand years ago. We also found distinctive Iron Age pottery, stone tools, flint, lots of animal bone and a rare furnace base (or hearth bottom) a residue from iron working. 13055070_10153630854136325_938696353005683775_o

In this shot we lined up the figure in the background with the end of the linear feature that we knew from the geophysics. The photographer is stood at the other end of the feature. The test pit in the middle established that the feature is an Iron age feature and appears to be a hollow-way or track. This is a remarkable survival of a landscape feature actually associated with a broch, and we think one of the very few ever excavated. We hope to return to see more of this feature in the future !


The stone in the section edges is either rubble from Iron Age structures or, as I think, the remains of post-Medieval ridge and furrow beds. The heaped up stone forming the ridge would itself be rubble from the Iron Age remains.


And….just to prove that The Cairns never disappoints, a very nice mid Iron Age rim sherd emerged from test pit 10 on the first day.

All in all, a very productive two days.