Search for Mesolithic evidence resumes on Longhowe

A two-week excavation in search of evidence of Orkney’s Mesolithic past got under way on Monday.

The Mesolithic period, dating from around 9000-4000BC, is renowned in Orkney for the scarcity of evidence.  The Mesolithic inhabitants of Orkney were nomadic hunter-gatherers and much of the archaeological evidence for this period may be lying below more recent sites, as seems to be the case at Longhowe, by Minehowe.

Work on a small Bronze Age burial mound took place here in 2004, as part of the Minehowe project and, much to the archaeologists surprise, the material in the mound contained a number of very early stone tools. Dateable by their style to the Mesolithic, these tools had been deposited some five or six thousand years prior to the building of the mound.

In 2005, a wider search for Mesolithic remains was carried out, but this came up blankNevertheless, the evidence does seem to indicate that Mesolithic people once made camp here.

In addition to the stone tools, a number of stake-holes were found below the barrow and these have been interpreted as possible traces of a Mesolithic group, who stopped briefly on the top of the mound, perhaps to repair their tools and hunt for wild fowl in the nearby marshes.

This year, the archaeologists are returning to excavate the remaining three-quarters of the Bronze Age barrow on the mound.  Not only does it provide a good opportunity to examine the structure of the barrow but it will be possible to see whether it was built on top of an earlier, Mesolithic, site.

Mesolithic specialist Caroline Wickham-Jones said: “We have looked around and there is nothing elsewhere on Longhowe, so the later builders must have destroyed a Mesolithic site when building the barrow.

“There is also a rather nice line of stake holes which came up under the central cist, so we hope to remove that and see where they go, if they make any sense.  Although probably Bronze Age in date, they could well be Mesolithic, in which case this could be the first excavation of in-situ Mesolithic “remains” in Orkney.

“If there is evidence of Mesolithic activity there it wont be much, but it will be a start.”

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