The Curious Discovery at The Cairns

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There is only one more day left to dig at The Cairns, but the mystery surrounding the lives of the people of The Cairns deepens, as human remains are discovered.

During the continuing archaeological excavations at the site on South Ronaldsay, Orkney, human remains were found in the most curious of settings. Carefully placed within a huge, worked whale bone vertebra, a human jaw bone complete with teeth was found. To complete the assemblage, two red deer antlers and a broken saddle quern were also discovered next to the whalebone. The importance of these objects to the inhabitants was highlighted by its location next to the entrance to the broch.

Martin Carruthers Masters Programme Leader for the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Site Director of The Cairns, takes up the story,

“Initially we could see that there were some red deer antler points projecting out of the deposit surrounding the whalebone, but today these were revealed to be almost full length antlers. They were laid out snug against each other and the southern side of the whalebone vessel, almost cradling it! It now looks like the whole event that led to the deposition of the human jaw involved quite a formal laying out of the various objects – the whalebone, the deer antlers, a large saddle quern, and stone mortar, as well as portions of a juvenile pig and a juvenile cattle vertebra! It’s quite an interesting little assemblage of materials drawn together in a moment of reflection on the part of those who put them in the ground, shortly before abandoning the broch and packing it with rubble inside and out! Perhaps there will be one last surprise before we lift the whalebone! ”


Thanks to Sigurd Towrie and Orkneyjar