The Enigmatic Structure at Smerquoy

The excavation at Smerquoy had advanced a great deal since my last visit. A whole new trench had been completed. But before Colin Richards and Christopher Gee talked me through this enigmatic area, they guided me over to the back of the site. To an area where the earliest houses in Orkney were built during the Neolithic.

Standing in a deepening fog that was not being cleared by a high wind (Orkney is the only place I have lived where fog and high wind live quite happily together!) Colin pointed out the outline of a substantial house that had been built using clearly worked stone. There were two parts to the wall making up the house with a thicker wall appearing on the downslope side of the structure. To the back of the house there was a single wall which formed the wall cut into the hillside. These houses as discussed before were built on terraces cut into the hillside.

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Close up of the worked stone present in one of the houses

The shape of the house was rectangular and was divided by a line of standing stones or orthostats. A dark patch of earth set within the house clearly showed the position of a domestic hearth; the damp conditions aiding our view of the different colours of the floor. However before we moved on, Colin and Chris explained that the house area had at one point been deliberately covered in glacial till, levelled and then re-used for non domestic purposes.

And then we examined the structure that is being a little difficult to interpret. One thing is for sure, it was not a house. It was also built later than the other early Neolithic houses on the site. The walls were oval in shape and very thick with an infill of clay, ash, stone debris and early Neolithic pottery. The structure could have a burial function, but until further work is completed it’s use will remain a mystery.

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The mystery structure at Smerquoy

And finally…..The location of this site is quite dramatic; set on a hillside above the sea, but it is even more dramatic to my eyes when the weather is perhaps not as kind as it could be to the hard working archaeologists! A video clip showing the location of the site……on a foggy and windy  August day.