Newark Pictish Stone Research

New research project focuses on eroding medieval cemetery in Orkney

ORCA has been awarded a grant of £202,000 by Historic Environment Scotland to complete an important archaeology research project centred on Newark Bay, Deerness, Orkney.
Newark, Deerness, Orkney
Newark, Deerness, Orkney.

ORCA has been awarded a grant of £202,000 by Historic Environment Scotland to complete a research project centred on Newark Bay, Deerness, Orkney.

Newark is the site of an early medieval chapel and extensive cemetery and was the focus of rescue excavations by the late Professor Brothwell between 1968 and 1972. This work was never published and part of this new ORCA project will be to address this. 

Like so many sites in Orkney, coastal erosion is a significant problem and has caused structural and human remains to have been lost over the years since Professor Brothwell’s excavations.

Some 250 burials were recovered, making Newark one of the largest medieval cemeteries in Scotland. It was also the location of a post-medieval mansion house, partly revealed during excavation.

Subsequent work at Newark includes the recovery of a Class II Pictish symbol stone, the second almost complete example of its type found in Orkney. 

Pictish Carved Stone discovered at Newark Bay

Professor Brothwell’s archive is not publicly available, and with his excavation findings remaining unpublished, the potential for further analysis of the skeletal assemblage has yet to be fully exploited.

The Newark project aims to address these issues and:

  • Bring the site to publication
  • Disseminate the archive
  • Complete comprehensive skeletal analysis of the human remains
  • Create an ancient DNA project
  • Include the wider community through the use of outreach workshops, social media and other digital platforms
  • Train volunteers in basic archaeological recording techniques

The project will be rolled out over three years starting in April 2019.

Year One

Publication: bringing together all work at the site from Professor Brothwell onwards, providing a current statement of knowledge and understanding, and setting out recommendations for future research.

Archive: bringing the Newark archive within the public domain via a digital repository. Includes cataloguing all skeletal material and digitising the archive.

Year Two

Analysis of the skeletal remains, including full recording, C14 dating and isotopic analysis of a percentage of the assemblage. A full report will be published of findings.

Year Three

Creation of a collaborative ancient DNA project. Creation of mobile exhibition about the site to be held at Orkney Museum and local community hall(s).

Pete Higgins, senior project manager at ORCA said: “We are very excited to have secured this funding for work at such an important site that is continually under attack from coastal erosion.

“We are looking forward to involving the community in the process through outreach training and workshops and, over the next three years, this project will provide vital information for the record which in turn will help us understand more fully the society that these people created in Orkney during the medieval period. The site includes finds from the Pictish through to the Viking period.”

The community are integral to the project. They have a long-term investment in the site at Newark and want to see previous work brought to publication and the archive disseminated. This project provides opportunities for their involvement throughout.

1 comment

  1. Really interested to receive this latest email about Newark Bay.
    I came across a complete human skeleton in the sandy bank a few
    years ago, while walking along the bay during one of our many holidays on the islands.
    The find was grid referenced, photographed and emailed to Julie, who contacted us and was grateful for the information which enabled her to visit the site and attempt to secure it for the winter.
    I look forward to seeing the results of your plans, should I still be standing when they are complete!
    Best wishes
    Diane and John Tustin from Bolton Greater Manchester.

Comments are closed.