Excavators return to Iron Age site

The Cairns excavation site at the end of the 2012 season.

The Cairns excavation site at the end of the 2012 season.

Archaeologists, led by Orkney College lecturer Martin Carruthers, returned to an Iron Age settlement site in South Ronaldsay this week.

The 2013 excavation at the Cairns is due to run for four weeks, ending on July 12.

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

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