The excavation at Smerquoy on the north-west facing slope of Wideford Hill, near Kirkwall, Orkney got under way last week.
The site is an ongoing investigation by students and staff from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, the University of Manchester and the University of Central Lancashire.
It is an important site and shows evidence of settlement by some of Orkney’s earliest farmers and dates from around 3500BC. Discovered by land owner Billy Sinclair and confirmed as an important site by Christopher Gee of UHI Archaeology Institute, Smerquoy has yielded numerous finds including a Neolithic axe, a flint knife, flint scrapers in addition to the settlement structures themselves.
Only this month the site featured prominently on the front page of Current Archaeology where Professor Colin Richards added to the story of Orkney’s first farmers by using evidence from the site.
Standing on the slopes of windswept Wideford Hill, I spent a few minutes with Professor Richards as he described and explained the features of the site. As he was talking, I began to see the outline of early Neolithic houses emerging from the soil. The thick stone, infill walls were evident in some detail, curving away and under the topsoil. Colin also confirmed that these structures were built before the main complex at The Ness of Brodgar and represent some of the earliest structure known on Orkney….so far! However, the archaeology of Neolithic Orkney is so exciting that further early settlements could come to light as more research is undertaken.
Colin further added that the sophistication of these structures is further enhanced by the knowledge that the houses were built onto terraces. These terraces were scooped out of the hillside and the spoil thrown forward to create a flat and level building surface….perhaps in an effort to aid drainage.
Pointing around the hill and the valley, Colin suggested that the whole area possessed a wealth of early Neolithic settlements which would be very prominent to anyone travelling from west to east.
You can visit the site, but please keep in mind that parking is very limited and the path requires good walking shoes or Wellington boots. The site itself is located about 5km along he Old Finstown Road heading out of Kirkwall towards Finstown. If you are travelling from Kirkwall to Finstown, go past the entrance to Smerquoy Farm and turn into the track on the right. Park up on the verge past the house and walk along the base of the hill. You should see the excavation to your right.