Excavation Fieldwalking Neolithic ORCA

Prehistoric quernstone is latest evidence of Neolithic settlement site on outskirts of Kirkwall

A huge prehistoric quernstone is the latest evidence of an Early Neolithic settlement on the outskirts of Kirkwall, Orkney.
The in-situ saddle quern looking towards Kirkwall, Orkney. (Ragnhild Ljosland)

A huge prehistoric quernstone is the latest evidence of an Early Neolithic settlement on the outskirts of Kirkwall, Orkney.

Ploughing near Saverock, St Ola, earlier this month uncovered the saddle quern and brought it to the surface of the field. It was spotted by Chris Gee, of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, who has fieldwalked the site, after spring ploughing, since 2014.

Chris Gee, from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), with the massive saddle quern revealed by ploughing earlier this month. (Ragnhild Ljosland)

Aided by volunteers and Archaeology Institute students, Chris, who is a project officer at ORCA, had previously identified spreads of large building stones around a low mound in the field and recovered a wealth of Neolithic artefacts, including stone and flint tools, pottery, a stone bead and an arrowhead.

The style of the pottery and the arrowhead suggests an Early Neolithic date (c3600-3200BC) for the Saverock settlement, meaning it pre-dates Skara Brae, Orkney’s best-known Stone Age occupation site, by centuries.

Back on site last week, careful excavation revealed the sheer size of the quern. Measuring 87cm long, 60cm wide and 46cm thick, it is estimated to weight over 200kg (440lbs). Beneath it were more sherds of Early Neolithic pottery.

It is hoped that charcoal found under the quernstone can be radiocarbon dated, allowing archaeologists to see where the Saverock site fits in with the three other known Early Neolithic settlements clustered around the lower slopes of Wideford Hill.

Between 1994 and 2013, the Cuween-Wideford Neolithic Landscape Project, led by Professor Colin Richards, identified and excavated four Neolithic settlements (Stonehall, Smerquoy, Crossiecrown and Wideford Hill) in the vicinity of Wideford Hill, and three others further afield (Varmedale, Muckquoy and the Knowes of Trotty).

During the project, excavation at the western base of Wideford Hill revealed the first evidence of Neolithic timber-built structures in Orkney.

Chris would like to thank John Hamilton and Derek Shearer for their assistance in recovering the quern and the landowner, William Harcus, for allowing access to the field.

The Neolithic quernstone after recovery. (Chris Gee)

1 comment

Comments are closed.