Remains of Papay viking recovered as search continues for more graves

The well-preserved remains of a suspected Norse warrior, along with grave goods such as a sword and shield.(Crown Copyright Historic Scotland)

The well-preserved remains of a suspected Norse warrior, along with grave goods such as a sword and shield.(Crown Copyright Historic Scotland)

Following the discovery of a second viking grave in Papa Westray last month, archaeologists have undertaken a geophysical survey of the area to look for evidence of other burials.

The information from the survey, commissioned by Historic Scotland, is being analysed this week.

The second grave turned up in a trench that had been dug to lay pipework. As a result, AOC Archaeology, who are contracted by Historic Scotland to deal with human remains, travelled to the island to excavate.

The plan of the Papa Westray viking burial. (Crown Copyright Historic Scotland)

The plan of the Papa Westray viking burial.
(Crown Copyright Historic Scotland)

According to Historic Scotland: “This grave consists of a rectangular pit, with the skeleton buried in a crouched position towards one end.

“This burial had not suffered the usual total loss of grave objects that one would expect from an interment into sand, although all the objects are extremely fragile.”

The human remains were accompanied by a sword, fragments of wooden objects, the central boss from a large shield, some iron objects that may be arrows and what may be small mineralised fragments of cloth.

A spokesman for Historic Scotland added: “These extremely delicate objects suggest that this was the burial of a warrior, but the process of stabilising them to the point where they can be studied in detail has only just begun.”

Although there are no radiocarbon dates at present, the latest excavation follows the discovery, in April, of what appears to be a Norse boat burial from the same period.

Historic Scotland added: “The remains consist of a disarticulated skeleton accompanied by what seems to be an iron shield boss and about 130 very corroded iron nails.

“The 3D image of the nails show them forming the shape of part of a boat, and it now seems likely that the archaeologists have discovered the remains of a Norse boat burial.”

Prior to that, human remains were found in adjacent sand dunes, but these have been dated to around AD200 — centuries before the arrival of the vikings.

All the work has been commissioned by Historic Scotland in response to a call from county archaeologist Julie Gibson.

Historic Scotland would like to thank the landowner for his close co-operation with the excavations, and also to thank the people of Papa Westray for their support for the archaeologists on site and their interest in the finds.

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