Neolithic ORCA Tombs of the Isles

Geophysics casts doubt on two Neolithic tomb candidates in Sanday

Geophysical surveys of two possible Neolithic chambered cairns in Sanday were among the Tombs of the Isles project activities that took place at the end of 2022.
Geophysics at Whalgeo.
ORCA’s Chris Gee carrying out geophysical surveys at Whalgeo, Sanday. (Dan Lee)

Geophysical surveys of two possible Neolithic chambered cairns in Sanday were among the Tombs of the Isles project activities that took place at the end of 2022.

The surveys produced some interesting results, not least that one is more likely to represent a settlement than a “House of the Dead”!

At Whale Point, the responses from a possible kerbed mound were inconclusive but several kelp burning pits were identified nearby.

Ruthietaing, Sanday
Chris at Ruthietaing, Sanday. (Dan Lee)

To the south, at Ruthietaing (or Rethie Taing as it is called in the records), strong magnetic responses suggest the stony mound is more likely to be a late prehistoric settlement (possible Iron Age) than a Neolithic Maeshowe-type tomb, as has previously been suggested.

Click here for more details and to download to report.

While in Sanday, the project lead, Dan Lee, also ran a workshop with the S1-3 pupils at Sanday Community School.

Although the weather was too wet to venture outside, the classes explored the science behind geophysical surveys and how they are used in archaeology to help characterise sites and landscapes.  

More geophysical surveys are planned for a number of other suspected North Isles tomb sites during 2023. Watch this space! 

Art and archaeology in Papay. (Antonia Thomas)

Also in November, Dr Antonia Thomas held an art and archaeology talk and workshop in Papa Westray.

Following an evening talk about rock art in Neolithic Orkney, the workshop explored the materials, inspiration, methods and pigments used in Orcadian rock art.

This used the decoration in the Holm of Papa Westray South, which contains some of the most intriguing motifs in Orkney, including the so-called “eyebrow” design, as a springboard to explore wider themes.

In 2018, Antonia undertook a survey of the rock art in the tomb and her report can be downloaded here.

If you haven’t yet explored our web resource to find out about all of the Neolithic tombs in the North Isles, why not take a look. It’s a functioning work in progress and we’ll be adding the results of our surveys and new research over the year.

Meanwhile, if you live in Orkney’s North Isles and would like to help develop these resources with some research, please get in touch.