New Research Project Commencing in North Isles, Orkney

Mid Howe Tomb, Rousay, Orkney. Credit: Dan Lee

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology has been commissioned by the North Isles Landscape Partnership Scheme to undertake the Neolithic Landscapes of the Dead project, exploring the tombs of the isles.

The Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) based at Orkney College has received a grant from the North Isles Landscape Partnership scheme (NILPS) to undertake the Neolithic Landscape of the Dead project during 2020-2022.

An activities programme of research, walks, archaeological fieldwork and schools activities will investigate some of the most iconic tombs in the North Isles of Orkney as well as bring the lesser known sites into the spotlight – telling the stories of island tombs.

The project will also create new 3D models, interpretation, research archives and a new ‘tombs trail’. The trail will allow islanders and tourists to explore Neolithic sites in the North Isles.

Decorated internal stone at the Holm of Papa Westray tomb. Credit: Antonia Thomas

Few can doubt the importance of archaeology and heritage to the community and economy of Orkney and the Neolithic sits at the heart of the imagination and identity of the islands. Beginning some 5500 years ago and spanning a staggering 2500 years, the Neolithic was when people first farmed the land, grew crops, made pottery and adopted new forms of objects such as polished axes and maceheads.

The Neolithic was also a time when people’s relationship with the dead and their ancestors changed. People were buried communally in tombs, where bones and other offerings were jumbled together into one ancestral place. In Orkney, there are over 80 stone-built tombs of various architectural styles – ‘Maes Howe’, ‘Stalled’ and ‘Bookan’ types – with over 50 of these located in the North Isles. The tombs project will support islanders to explore and tell the stories of this remarkable group of tombs in the islands, and the secrets they may hold, which can play a part in supporting island communities now and into the future.

If you live in the North Isles of Orkney and would like to get involved in the project or find out more, please email: Enquiries.ORCA@uhi.ac.uk

Quoyness Tomb, Sanday. Credit: Antonia Thomas

Dan Lee (ORCA’s Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist) said, “We are really looking forward to working with islanders to celebrate the amazing Neolithic tombs in the North Isles of Orkney, and bring some of these less-explored sites into focus. Who knows what new stories they can tell?”

Andy Golightly Programme Manager said ”This is a really good opportunity for people living in the North Isles, to work with Orkney College to learn more about the unique tombs on their Isles and possibly gain new skills and experience. Having the information produced, displayed and available locally will also benefit visitors to the Isles, opening up more of the Isles history to a wider audience.” 

More information on this project https://www.nilps.co.uk/projects/tombs-of-the-isles

3 thoughts on “New Research Project Commencing in North Isles, Orkney

  1. gooseknoll Friday, January 10, 2020 (2:33pm) / 2:33 pm

    Great news! I can’t wait to hear of the progress on this!

  2. microtis Friday, January 10, 2020 (11:11pm) / 11:11 pm

    This is a really exciting project!

  3. Brenda Root Sunday, January 12, 2020 (1:57pm) / 1:57 pm

    I find this very interesting I have family from Orkney. I would love to learn more about them❤️

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