Cattle skull with evidence of horn removal found outside Structure E
As a new archaeology student this is my first experience of both excavation and Orkney.
I arrived at The Cairns on Monday for the start of my two-week fieldschool module. After a tour of the site and a Health and Safety talk, I was assigned to an area just outside of Structure E, to the south-east of the broch. Here, I have been working for the last four days alongside Zoe and Ole.
In between tours, Ole has continued to excavate a deposit of loosely articulated, small animal bones that were first found last week. Zoe and I have been working in the area beside this deposit, mainly uncovering rubble.
Yesterday Zoe discovered some animal teeth attached to a small section of bone and thought that there was a potential of more bones lying underneath. Today, she uncovered further bones, including what is thought to be a scapula.
I hadn’t found much myself other than rubble and two small animal bones no more than 5cm long. Just before lunch, however, while I was excavating an area in the space between Zoe and me, an unusually shaped bone began to appear from the soil and rubble.
With Ole off giving a tour of the site, we called Martin over to have a look and see what he would make of it. After a couple of minutes of inspection, we came to believe that it was probably part of a skull with two horns that had been cut off leaving marks on the bone.
After lunch we came back to the area and took some photos before beginning to excavate the surrounding area so that we could have more space to work around the skull.
Throughout the afternoon we continued to excavate slowly and carefully around the skull using small leaf trowels and wooden tools to avoid damaging the bone.
Martin says this is really unusual to see such clear evidence of horn removal like this on such a large portion of skull from prehistoric Orkney.
The skull has slowly started to emerge from the soil around it with the back and a small portion of the front beginning to appear. It is a very interesting object with features that can been seen in the bone and horns that potentially indicate butchery, with pieces of horn left with a jagged edge and visible cut marks within the structure.
It has an interesting V-shaped feature beginning to emerge in the area to the front right of the horns. In the coming days we will continue to excavate the skull, and the area around it, to see how much has survived and whether there are other bones within, or near, the deposit that could be related to a series of individual deposits within the space.
An area that had started off the week as just a simple pile of rubble has become an interesting feature of the site with a large quantity of animal bone now being found. This will hopefully allow us to understand more about the space in which we are excavating.
BSc (Hons) Archaeological Science