Tresness, Sanday

Tombs of the Isles - Tresness, Sanday
Rectangular cairn.
Stalled chamber.
Notes:Located on the southern tip of the Tresness peninsula, south-east of the large tidal flat known as Catasand and east, across Stywick, of the Quoyness cairn.

The cairn has suffered greatly from coastal erosion. Its rapidly deteriorating condition led to a joint project by the University of Central Lancaster and National Museums Scotland, which saw the site excavated in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021.

This revealed the remains of an exceptionally well-preserved – though not particularly well-built – Neolithic stalled cairn with walls surviving to a height of 1.6m. Orthostatic pairs divided the interior into five compartments with an entrance passage in the east side.

Although the anticipated inhumations had not survived, a single cremation deposit was found as well as a large assemblage of material culture was recovered including two polished stone balls.

Among the mass of stone tools inside the structure were 130 Skaill knives – a coarse stone tool usually found in domestic contexts and associated with butchery. Their presence within the stalled cairn led to the suggestion that may have been used for defleshing or preparing corpses for burial.

Excavation suggests four to five phases of use in the Neolithic with evidence of insitu burning – perhaps hearths – inside.

The monument was also found to have been significantly altered, and robbed for stone, in the early Bronze Age with the addition of a beautifully built round cairn with a central cist. Human remains from the cist provided a radiocarbon date of between 1900-1700BC.
Tresness chambered cairn excavation blog
Working Stone – polished stone balls