Plough uncovers suspected chambered tomb outside Kirkwall

What appears to be a Neolithic chambered tomb has been unearthed on the outskirts of Kirkwall.

The underground structure was discovered by John Hourie, Heathfield, St Ola, while ploughing. He reported it to his neighbour, archaeologist Caroline Wickham Jones, who contacted the county archaeologist, Julie Gibson.

Julie explained: “The structure is located in a field on the crest of the hill overlooking Kirkwall and Scapa. Soils are thin, are rarely ploughed – this year’s ploughing work was the first time in decades. Bedrock is apparent in places.

“The structure itself is neat drystone construction, the wall curves round tightly and is beehived in by corbelling at the top.

“On the opposite side to the wall is a space topped by lintels, and indeed it was breaking one lintel that caused the site to be found.

“It’s early days yet, but it may be a Neolithic chambered cairn, some five or six thousand years old.”

The Orkney College geophysics unit looked at the site as part of their research programme.

Geophysicist Mary Saunders said: “An area of approximately 0.3ha was investigated, on Wideford Hill, using earth resistance and gradiometer survey.

“The survey area was centered around the area of collapse over the suspected monument, in order to give a wider context to the feature.

“The magnetic data was extremely ‘quiet’ and due to the lack of the types of response usually associated with domestic activities, it is suggested that this was not an area of settlement.

“The earth resistance survey was used to try and identify discrete stone built structures but the results of this strongly suggest the presence of a large area of near surface bedrock.

“It would appear that the monument has been constructed into the hillside, thus giving no obvious geophysical response against a background of very similar material.”

Julie Gibson added: “There is no doubt that Orkney’s archaeology is second to none. We don’t know what this is yet, but if this is indeed another underground tomb, like Crantit, it might well have material in it that has lain undisturbed for 5,000 years.

“I am very thankful that the landowner John Hourie is continuing a longstanding Orkney tradition of respect for the past by not putting any heavy machinery, or animals, on that piece of field for the moment, until something can be done with the monument.”

Nick Card, from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), in Orkney College, is engaged in discussions with Historic Scotland about a graduated response.

“Basically, we are wanting to feel our way in very gently here until we know precisely what we are dealing with,” he said.

(Visited 146 times, 1 visits today)