Overlooking Windwick Bay, the Cairns is a massive archaeological jigsaw puzzle, with a sequence of Iron Age buildings, representing centuries of use.
The site threw up an interesting viking surprise last year — as the archaeologists were working down through the archaeology in the smithy building, they uncovered a steatite (soapstone) sherd and steatite spindle whorl.
Although the nearest source of steatite is Shetland, it appears that these two items were crafted from Norwegian steatite — which is significant because both were in sealed deposits underneath a hearth that, according to archaemagnetic dating, appears to have been last used around AD600.
While this doesn’t necessarily push back the date of the Norse arrival in Orkney a few centuries, it does point at early links with Scandinavia.
The excavation blog is available at www.orkneyjar.com/archaeology/thecairns