Smerquoy excavation diary — Entry Three

May 14 and 15 – Christopher Gee

A view of the structure from above.

A view of the Smerquoy structure from above.

After sponging out pools of rainwater, on Tuesday,  we continued cleaning up the tumbled stonework and rubble in the northern half of the house, prior to photographing and recording it.

At the north-west corner of the house, Murray has been investigating two rows of parallel upright stones, possibly a drain, leading outside from the interior of the house.

The extent and nature of these stone drains will hopefully become apparent over the next few days as the rubble is cleared from the house interior. Which area of the house will the drain lead from? I remember a couple of years ago while I was volunteering at the early Neolithic house at Braes of Ha’breck, in Wyre, there was a drain-like feature that led from directly underneath the hearth.

On Wednesday, John Brodie kindly came by the site with his big forklift with cage for photographing the site.

Colin, Billy and Giles went up and got some great photographs showing the lovely proportions of the building in plan as well as the rubble in the northern half and the ashy deposits in the south.

It is also possible to see part of an orthostat (upright stone) which may belong to the hearth, in the picture. The recess is visible in the north wall at the top of the image and the drain leading out can be seen at the north-west edge.

To the south, the partly capped drain can be seen as a dark mark running roughly east-west. It seems on the surface at least to contain a charcoal rich deposit.

I have been very pleased to see my friend Billy (the landowner) join the excavation on a daily basis. Billy’s family have farmed the land at Smerquoy since the second half of the 19th century, and it was them who brought the land that the site is located on back into cultivation in the 20th century.

In a sense, Billy and his father are direct inheritors of an old bond with the land at Smerquoy going back to the people that built the house well over 5,000 years ago. His father often wondered about the reddish soil in this part of the field. Billy too had observed it while ploughing and mentioned it to me several years ago.

The rest is pre-history, as they say. It is really thanks though, to Billy, his father and many other interested farmers throughout Orkney that we have been able to locate and investigate this outstanding site, and others, and facilitate hopefully an understanding of the past for everybody.

A tryst within ancient walls,
Two farmers,
Five and a half millennia,
Of earth, stone, sun and rain.

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