Westray ‘sauna’ named one of top ten archaeological discoveries of 2015

The passageway leading into the mound at the Links of Noltland. (EASE Archaeology)

The passageway leading into the mound at the Links of Noltland. (EASE Archaeology)

A Bronze Age ritual building, uncovered in Westray, has been named one of the top ten archaeological discoveries of 2015.

The building, on the periphery of the prehistoric landscape at the Links of Noltland, came in at number two in the Heritagedaily.com list — which also included the discovery of Queen Khentakawess III’s tomb, in Egypt, and the discovery of the world’s oldest stone tools, in Kenya.

It was found to be almost complete and encased within a rapidly eroding mound.

Work by EASE Archaeology, in May 2015, uncovered stonework eroding out of the coast edge in front of the mound. This was revealed, through excavation, to be an almost perfectly preserved well house, with a stairway leading down to 2.5-metre-deep cistern and would originally have been roofed.

Bronze Age settlement remains are rare in Orkney are very poorly represented in the Orcadian archaeological record.

The mound of stone suggested the site was likely to be a “burnt mound” — a type of site generally interpreted as a cooking place. But the complexity of the Links of Noltland building suggested it was a “non-domestic” building of great importance to the community which built, and used, it.

According to Ease Archaeology’s Hazel Moore: “The hidden nature of the building, together with its restricted access and tightly packed cells, suggests that it served a more specialised function than most burnt mounds and that rather than being a gathering place for the many, it was used by a more select group.

“Feasting may well have figured large. Other possibilities, including use as a sweat-lodge/sauna are also likely.”

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