Human burial recovered from South Ronaldsay shore

Archaeologists began work in South Ronaldsay on Monday, recovering the remains of a body exposed by coastal erosion.

Tasked with rescuing the ancient burial, on the shore of Widewall Bay, was a team from AOC Scotland – the company with the Human Remains call-out contract with Historic Scotland.

South Ronaldsay residents Willy Budge and Babette Bartlemess found the body at Kirkhoose – a discovery that could confirm the location of the church, or chapel, that gave the area its name. Today, there are no physical signs of this church, with local tradition implying it was dismantled at the start of the last century.

If the recovered body turns out to be a medieval burial, it follows that the elusive chapel could be nearby. With this in mind, the archaeologists were paying particular attention to the remains of some eroding mortared walls close by.  Could these be the last fragments of the Kirkhoose church?

The confirmation of a church presence would, according to county archaeologist, Julie Gibson, add weight to the presumption that the area was once the site of a Norse settlement. She added that other evidence for a settlement includes quantities of steatite – a material favoured by the Norse for the creation of “crockery”. Burnt material such as fire-blackened stone and earth, similar to that found at the “sauna” on the Brough of Birsay and by the Earl’s Bu in Orphir, has also turned up on the site.


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