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The Past and Future of Archaeology on Westray

Hazel Moore & Graeme Wilson


In honouring Daphne Lorimer's long standing commitment to Orkney Archaeology we would like to focus on how archaeological work has been implemented and perceived in the past and how, in no small measure due to her contribution, it has emerged as a subject of great interest and importance not only to archaeologists but to local communities and visitors to these islands.

This paper focuses on Westray not only because it is an area with which we are familiar, but also because the developments there to a great degree mirror the changes which have taken place in archaeology more widely in Orkney.

It also offers us the opportunity to showcase something of the rich heritage of that island. In one particular, Westray is distinct and may lead the way for the future of archaeology in Orkney and beyond. The local community on Westray, who have long been the guardians of their heritage but seldom directly involved with its archaeology, have recently come together to plan how they may play a more proactive role in the development and promotion of the island's heritage.


The perception of archaeological remains has changed enormously over the past hundred years, spurred on by state recognition of the importance of preserving monuments and the coincident development of a protective legal framework. During this period, the practise of archaeology on Westray, as elsewhere, has also evolved from antiquarian investigation to modern excavations with access to a wide variety of multidisciplinary technical and scientific resources. During this time, the individuals engaged in archaeology have varied from interested amateurs to servants of the state and latterly to professional and university based archaeologists, almost all of whom have come as outsiders to the island.

The degree to which these changes have been recognised by communities, such as Westray, is debatable. While archaeologists have frequently visited the island, they have not engaged in a great deal of dialogue with the local community. Their findings have tended to be disseminated solely through academic publications and remain little known on the island itself. Most visiting archaeologists have been engaged in rescue work and have seldom had the time or opportunity to explore some of the other ways in which the local community expresses its links and interest in its own past, namely through oral history, genealogy, folklore, local place names, family traditions, customs and stories. Many people have archaeological remains on their land or in their gardens and are aware of the locations of odd 'lumps' and 'bumps' in the landscape, often with a story attached. In this way, the local perception of archaeology, although not always cognisant of the technicalities of excavation, has integrated archaeological remains within a larger understanding and appreciation of the history and continuity of life on the island.

In seeking to examine how things have arrived at their current situation, this paper will trace the development of archaeological enquiry on Westray, detailing the major findings and assessing the evolution and effects of various archaeological policies up to the present day. It will also look at the ways in which the community is now taking an active role in the archaeology of Westray and opening avenues for dialogue with archaeologists.

Digging up Westray: From Antiquarians to 21st Century Rescue and Research

In addition to antiquarian investigations, for which little information is available, there have been eight excavations carried out on the island to date, together with four or so smaller site evaluations. The excavations have all been carried out as rescue projects, designed to investigate and record sites or parts of sites at immediate risk from destruction. In most cases the threat has come from coastal erosion, reflecting the fact that a very high number of the known archaeological sites on Westray lie on or near eroding coast edges.

Five of the excavations were conducted in the 1980's; the results of three of these have now been published. Three excavations have been conducted since the late 1990's and the findings await further analysis.

Three largescale surveys have also been conducted. The most comprehensive of these was conducted by The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland in the 1930's and examined the entire island (RCAHMS, 1946). A follow-up survey, in the 1980's included a number of new sites, many of which were discovered eroding from the coast edge (RCAHMS, 1983). A rapid survey of the archaeology of the coastline carried out in 1997 found a number of new sites, including many of post-medieval date, which had not been recorded before (Moore & Wilson, 1998). A more recent desk-based survey puts the total of known sites on Westray at 211, with over half of these currently eroding or at risk from erosion in the near future (Moore & Wilson, in prep A). o Antiquarians and Collectors 1700-1906

The first observations on the archaeological monuments of Westray were recorded in the works of travellers to the island, Jo Ben (quoted in New Statistical Account 1842, 122) and James Wallace in the 16th C (1883) and the Rev. G. Low in the late 18th C (Cuthbert, 1995). Ben mentions, in passing, seeing Noltland Castle under construction and hearing of a Viking battle place at 'Highlandman's Hammer', thought to be located at a place known as The Bloody Tuaks. Lowe notes that he saw several brochs situated around the coastline of Westray, but that these were mostly in ruins. He also mentions seeing standing stones and a mound containing numerous animal bones at Cleat and hearing about numerous rich burials which had been exposed in the links around Pierowall (Ibid 118-120).

In the Statistical Account (1791-99), the Rev. J. Izat summarised the antiquities of the Island as they were known to him. He mentions Noltland Castle and the discovery of a series of probable Viking graves at Trenaby, together more ancient burial mounds situated near to the Langskaill Manse. In later years, the Rev. J. Armit, writing in The New Statistical Account (1841) built upon this record with mentions of a standing stone, further Viking graves, 'Pict's Houses' or 'Tumuli' and Crosskirk chapel, which had by then been abandoned as a place of worship.

It was during this period that some of the most spectacular archaeological remains on Westray were brought to light. In some cases this occurred accidentally, during the course of agricultural work, at other times it was natural forces, such as erosion, which was responsible for the exposure of remains. Some of these finds were subsequently investigated by antiquarians, others were merely noted by them as second-hand accounts. A small number of excavations were initiated by antiquarians keen to examine sites which stood within the landscape. The records of their work and findings were frequently brief and lacking in detail. It is likely that some investigations were not documented at all.

Viking Graves

Between the 16th-19th centuries a succession of human burials came to light in the area around Pierowall. These were exposed by a combination of sand quarrying and wind erosion. They were identified at the time as the remains of 'Danes' by their rich grave goods (Wallace, 1883). The nature of the burials and accompanying grave goods were noted by several informants, including Ben, Wallace and Low. The graves were said to have contained the remains of humans and animals, such as horses, dogs, sheep and cattle, alongside weaponry and personal items such as jewellery and combs.

In the 19th century these graves became the focus of antiquarian interest and a number were excavated. A review of the surviving evidence by Thorsteinsson (1968) has demonstrated that at least seventeen graves were located, organised in to three groups. This 'cemetery' can now be seen to represent the largest known group of pagan Viking graves in Scandinavian Scotland. The grave goods have largely been lost; those that survive are scattered between the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, Sheffield City Museum and the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Farnham. Nothing of the 'cemetery' is now visible and its exact location remains uncertain.

Korquoy/Curquoy chambered cairn

This is another of Westray's 'lost sites', being destroyed during agricultural works in 1860. The exact location is unknown, but it is thought to have stood somewhere on the slopes of Knucker Hill. A second-hand and brief note about this site was made by the antiquarian George Petrie (Petrie Large Notebook 7, 17-18).

From the scant information available, it appears to have been a massive long cairn, probably stalled, measuring some 30m long by 15m wide. It is said to have contained between 60 and 70 intact human burials, together with a quartzite ball. Nothing is known of the whereabouts of the human remains or artefacts removed from this tomb.

Vere Point chambered cairn

It is thought that at some time around 1906 an unidentified antiquarian dug into the cairn at Vere Point. The excavation exposed a long central chamber divided by at least two pairs of upright slabs.The mound was surrounded by an enclosure bank.

Human remains were recovered from within the cairn and it is said locally that the son of the local crofter was paid a shilling to bring the skulls to the antiquarian at the Pierowall Hotel in a wicker basket.

The chamber was subsequently made use of as a shelter for animals. The site has subsequently been identified as an example of a tripartite or stalled cairn and the survival of the enclosure bank recognised as extremely rare.

The site is currently visible as a low formless mound; it has been much disturbed and no longer reflects its original shape.

Pisgah/'Pisgow' souterrain

The location of this monument is uncertain but it is said to have lain somewhere in the village of Pierowall, near to Lady Kirk. It was found around 1850, when the sand dune which covered it was removed (RCAHMS 1983, 34).

It was recorded, to a relatively high standard for the time, by Thomas (1852), but unfortunately an exact location was not supplied, the only reference indicated that it lay near to the 'Scandinavian' graves. The souterrain was apparently deep and rock cut and had a slab roof.


A recurrent theme of these early investigations is their limited or non-existent records, together with their small scale and piecemeal nature.

The Viking graves at Pierowall, which can now be seen to have been arranged in groups, for example, were examined individually as they appeared from beneath the sand. The majority of the antiquarian investigations appear to have been primarily concerned with emptying the sites of their artefacts than in understanding the processes which had formed them. Most of the artefacts and remains uncovered during these investigations have now been lost, although a few pieces remain in museums spread throughout Britain.

Of the sites investigated by antiquarians, only Vere Point cairn remains visible today. eAt this point in time, there were few mechanisms to control the destruction of archaeological sites, either by archaeologists or landowners and no responsibility upon the investigators to record and report findings.

This period also saw widespread land improvements, during the course of which many archaeological remains came to light; with a large number of these being subsequently destroyed.

Many of the antiquarian investigators were alerted to the presence of archaeological remains when they had already been disturbed by agricultural works and thus were already damaged.

It is to the credit of these amateur and self-financed gentlemen that they took pains to record what they could. Nevertheless, the roll call of sites lost during this period is dismaying, especially since those that we know about, which must form only the tip of the iceberg, represent some of the richest remains known to have existed on the island.

State Interest and Public Works 1882-1970's

The growth of archaeology as an academic discipline during the 19th century eventually chipped away at the liberty of the gentleman antiquarian to investigate what pleased him in favour of a more scientific and 'objective' regime. Within the space of little more than thirty years, three key innovations set the scene for the development of modern archaeology.

Firstly, state interest in archaeology was expressed in the first Ancient Monuments Act of 1882. This afforded protection in law to a selected list or 'Schedule' of monuments, effectively passing responsibility for the protection of some ancient monuments from private to state hands.

The establishment of The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) in 1908 was charged with information gathering. The remit was, and remains, to survey and record the manmade environment and to compile and maintain a national record of these sites.

Then, in 1913, the Ancient Monuments Board was created to provide advice and instruction to the State on archaeological matters. The board were provided with the power to put forward sites of national importance for state protection.

In Orkney, the early and middle years of the 20th century saw a number of largescale state-sponsored excavations being carried out. These were conducted under the direction of academic archaeologists working with a local labour force.

Such projects not only provided much-needed local employment, but also brought the particularly well-preserved Orcadian sites to the attention of the wider public. The legacy of this work can now be appreciated in the number of sites which remain open to the public throughout Orkney.

The volume of work on Westray was limited in contrast with only three monuments taken into State care and no substantial excavation work undertaken. The sites at Noltland Castle, Cross Kirk and Lady Kirk Chapel continue to be maintained by the state and are open to visitors.

Noltland Castle

Noltland Castle is one of the few standing examples of a 16th century castle in the Northern Isles. It is a Z-plan castle, consisting of a rectangular central building with two square towers.

The main block was designed to have three stories, although it was never completed. It was built by Gilbert Balfour of Fife between 1560 and 1574. As one of Queen Mary's close associates, he was forced to flee to his Westray estates after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, being subsequently found guilty of treason in 1571. He was executed in Sweden in 1576 for plots there against the King.

The extremely defensive nature of Noltland Castle, manifested in the 71 gun loops which pierce its walls, is said to reflect Balfour's fear of being attacked by his enemies. The castle was enlarged in the 17th century with a courtyard range. Further buildings were added outside the east and west walls in the 18th century.

The castle remained in the Balfour family until 1911. It has been consolidated and is currently maintained by Historic Scotland as a Property in Care. It is open daily to the public and a guidebook is available.

Lady Kirk Chapel

Situated at the centre of Pierowall Village, the Church of St. Mary, known now as Lady Kirk is thought originally to date to the 13th C and served as the parish church until the late 19th century.

Earl Rognvald is said to have attended church at Pierowall in 1136 and it is possible that it was at Ladykirk, if not at a predecessor nearby. It is built of rubble masonry with freestone dressings in red and yellow sandstone.

It originally comprised of a nave with a chancel at the east end but was heavily restored during the 17th century: a carved skewput bears the date of 1674. There are graves situated both inside the chapel and in the graveyard which surrounds it. Two fine 17th century grave slabs commemorate members of the Balfour family.

The chapel is now roofless and ruined but it has been consolidated and is maintained by Historic Scotland as a Property in Care. It is open to the public.

RCAHMS Inventory of Sites on Westray

An archaeological survey of Westray was conducted in the 1930's by The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS, 1946).

This recorded some 61 entries, including both sites which had been examined in the field and those not visible but reported by local informants. Each site entry includes a grid reference, a descriptive and interpretative summary and, in many cases, a drawing.

Sites entries are grouped within a series of predetermined titles and are located on an accompanying map. This comprehensive survey continues to form the bench mark for all subsequent archaeological research on the islands

The proliferation in the number of known archaeological sites brought about by this survey amply demonstrated that Westray was at least as rich as other parts of Orkney in the remains of the past.

The findings also pointed up topics for subsequent research, such as range of chambered cairns, which was later investigated by Davidson and Henshall (1989). Because it noted which sites were undergoing erosion at the time of the survey, it has been used to add a historical dimension to more recent surveys examining the archaeology of the coastline (Moore & Wilson, 1998).


A predominant theme in archaeology throughout the 20th century has been the collection and systematising of archaeological records. In turn, the processes of making sense of this data by generating site and artefact typologies and developing chronological frameworks, has added greater legitimacy to the study of archaeology.

Through this work, it was revealed that a large number and range of archaeological remains survived throughout Scotland, including Westray, which dated from all periods of the past. Some of the sites considered of greatest importance were taken into state care, including three sites in Westray, but the majority were left at the mercy of renewed agricultural improvements during and following the war, together with infrastructure developments and natural forces.

Throughout this long period, no largescale excavation or site investigations were carried out on Westray.

State-Sponsored Rescue Archaeology 1970s-1990's

By 1974 it was thought that ' There can be no doubt that destruction of archaeological field evidence is taking place in Scotland on a mammoth scale' (Crawford, 1974, 183). The reasons for this were given both as an increase in the threats faced by archaeological sites and a concomitant failure on the part of state bodies to liaise with professional archaeologists to safeguard vulnerable sites.

In England the boom in development of the mid sixties onwards had provoked the response of massively increasing the number of professional archaeologists employed in the rescue excavation of archaeological remains before they were destroyed. The same had not happened in Scotland, but by 1977 this situation had begun to be reversed with the establishment of a Central Excavation Unit (CEU) within the Historic Buildings and Monuments Directorate of the Scottish Development Department.

This rapid response unit was staffed by professional archaeologists whose task it was to undertake excavations on sites at risk. At the same time, the appointment of a County Archaeologist to Orkney in 19xx marked a major advancement for local archaeology. Dr. Raymond Lamb, the first holder of this post brought a wide-ranging knowledge of Orkney archaeology and had the prescience to recognise coastal erosion as its single greatest threat.

He established a Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) for Orkney and greatly augmented the number of sites known by carrying out field investigations and post-storm surveys. On Westray his surveys for RCAHMS identified important new sites, such as Tuquoy, and documented the large number of sites which were at risk from erosion (RCAHMS, 1983). The intensive programme of rescue excavation carried out by CEU on Westray in the 1980's was, in a large part, the result of his campaigning.

Tuquoy Norse settlement

The settlement at Tuquoy lies immediately to the west of the ruined chapel of Crosskirk, on the coast edge. Excavations took place here during the 1980’s, prompted by damage caused to the site by coastal erosion.

Several different buildings were found, one of which was interpreted as a high status hall, another was interpreted as a smithy. A large number of finds were recovered, including an important assemblage of imported pottery dated to the 13th - 15th centuries AD, indicating contacts with Scotland and Northern Europe.

One of the most remarkable finds was a waterlogged pit containing organic remains thought to date to around the 9th century AD. The hall and much of the associated settlement has been dated to the 12th century AD. It is thought that the site may have been the base of Thorkel Flettir, and his heir Halflidi, crucial allies to Rognvald during his accession to the Earldom in the 1130s (Owen 1993).

Links of Noltland

T his is one of the most well known sites to be excavated in Orkney within the last half a century. It is located on the coast edge at Grobust within an area of eroding dunes and was first recorded by the eminent 19th century antiquarian, George Petrie. Excavations were carried out from 1978 to 1981.

Occupation at the site would seem to have been contemporary with that at Skara Brae, and it has been interpreted as another Neolithic village. Much of the excavation focused on one structure, which comprised two rooms joined by a passage.

This building was constructed in a pit dug into the sand and lined with midden material. Its layout was altered on many occasions before it was finally back filled. A remarkable assemblage of artefacts and animal remains, including ‘grooved ware’ pottery, flint tools and worked bone.

The structure was only partially excavated and no information was retrieved from any floor levels. In a trench dug nearby, the complete articulated remains of fifteen deer were found. (Clarke and Sharples 1990)

The site is now in the care of the State and nothing can now be seen of the excavation trenches. The finds are currently held by the National Museum of Scotland and some can be seen on display there.

Point of Cott Chambered Tomb

This site was excavated during 1984 and 1985 in response to severe coastal erosion. By the time of excavation a considerable portion of the cairn had already been lost to the sea. Excavation revealed it to be a long horned cairn containing a stalled central chamber dated to around 3500 BC. It is thought to have originally measured at least 30m in length and to have remained in use for some 1000 years.

This is one of the few examples where a cairn has been systematically excavated to ground level, allowing for a detailed look at the construction methods employed. It was found that the cairn was built using a hollow ‘box’ construction, allowing a large mound to be built while using the minimum amount of materials.

The finds from the excavation included pottery, flint, stone tools, pumice, animal bone and human remains. Of particular note are sixteen whale ivory beads (made from teeth) which were found in the central chamber and probably represent grave goods. No other whale ivory beads have ever been found.

All of the finds are now kept in te Orkney Museum, Kirkwall. At the end of excavation the site was partially reconstructed and remains visible today (Barber 1997).

Gill Pier Burnt Mound

A limited assessment of a burnt mound at Gill Pier was carried out in 1983 in response to coastal erosion (Lehane 1990).


Excavations were undertaken on three cairns near Stancro, Rapness during 1985. One of the cairns had been damaged by coastal erosion and work was carried out in response to the continuing threat.

Investigations revealed that the site comprised of three burial cairns, thought to have been constructed between 1500 and 1000 BC. They were found to consist of a central stone cist surrounded by a cairn which was retained in place by a low wall. The remains of a probable cremation pyre were found beneath one of the cairns (Barber, Duffy & O'Sullivan 1996).

Pierowall Quarry

Rescue excavations were carried out here during 1981 in response to the discovery of a carved stone during quarrying operations. Work uncovered the remains of a Neolithic chambered cairn and an Iron Age roundhouse which had been constructed directly above it.

Only a small portion of the cairn was excavated but it could be identified as a Maes Howe type. In all, three decorated stones were recovered, the largest and most elaborate of which is referred to as the 'Pierowall Stone' and is on display in tyhe Orkney Museum.

This has been compared with decorated stones at Newgrange in the Boyne Valley, Ireland.

The Iron Age roundhouse was constructed directly on top of the remains of the cairn. It had very thick walls and the dates obtained indicate that it is one of the earliest substantial roundhouses yet found (Sharples 1985).


This period witnessed an enormous change in archaeological practice. The excavations carried out were done to the highest standards of the time.

They brought about a leap in the amount and quality of the data recovered and, consequently, in the depth of specific information which could be obtained. The recovery of insect remains from a waterlogged pit at Tuquoy, for example, enabled the excavator to comment on the hygiene of the Viking inhabitants (Owen 1993, 333).

At the Point of Cott chambered cairn, meanwhile, the attention paid to site formation processes provided the excavator with the ability to challenge existing theories concerning totemism in the Neolithic (Barber 1997).

While archaeologists made great strides in their understanding of the past on Westray, few tangible signs of these sites remain visible today. To the dismay of the local community, only one site, Point of Cott chambered cairn, has been reconstructed for public display.

Some sites were found to be too badly damaged to make consolidation a possibility; others were located on rapidly eroding coastlines and remained vulnerable to further erosion. The scale of the threat to archaeology, not only on Westray, but throughout Scotland, has meant that the limited public funds available for excavation have had to be spread to cover as many sites as possible.

The cost of modern excavation has also steadily increased, draining an already stretched budget. The conflict of interest between archaeologists seeking to recover information from threatened sites and the desire of local communities to retain their archaeological heritage increased significantly over this period and continues to be an issue.

Privatised Archaeology: 1990's -Present

The creation of Historic Scotland in 1991 as successor agency to the Historic Buildings and Monuments Directorate marked the end of the Central Excavation Unit and the rise of the privatised archaeological sector.

Nowadays the bulk of archaeological work is undertaken by commercial archaeological units, carried out in response to development and is funded by the developer. Planning offices have recognised the need to seek expert advice. Where development is likely to have an impact upon archaeological remains, a condition to provide proper provision for investigation is written into the planning consent.

The result of this has been that both archaeologists and developers are now more aware and can work together to achieve their separate goals. In some circumstances, such as where sites are at risk from natural forces, Historic Scotland continue to commission and fund archaeological work.

In Orkney, the formation of Orkney Archaeological Trust (OAT) in 1996 served to consolidate the position of the County Archaeologist. Over recent years, the role of the County Archaeologist and her team at OAT has grown substantially.

The Trust continue to provide archaeological advice to the local planning authority and to maintain the Orkney Sites and Monuments Record, but have become increasingly involved in the promotion of Orkney's Heritage to a wider audience. The Trust have moved forward to develop strong in-house skills enabling a wide range of educational and research projects to be undertaken, often in partnership with other bodies and local groups.

These changes have had an effect on the way in which archaeological projects are carried out on Westray. Partnership projects involving Historic Scotland, OAT, University teams and commercial archaeological units have been undertaken in recent years. The community, through the Westray Development Trust, has also undertaken several heritage projects on the Island and has taken a greater interest in the work being done by professional archaeologists. This has opened the doors for greater dialogue between the community and archaeologists and holds out the possibility for even greater collaboration in the future.

Coastal Zone Assessment Survey

A survey of the coastline of Westray was commissioned in 1998 by Orkney Archaeological Trust (Moore & Wilson, 1999).

This project formed part of a Historic Scotland funded initiative to collect specific data on the archaeology of the coastal zone throughout Scotland in order to determine the areas most affected by erosion.

Though limited in scope, the survey increased the number of recorded sites known to lie within the coastal zone on Westray by more than half.

Unlike most of the previous surveys, this work recorded remains of all periods. One of the major findings of the work was that almost three-quarters of the sites recorded were either actively eroding or at risk from erosion.


A programme of excavation has been carried out since 1997 at Quoygrew, under the aegis of the Viking Age Transitions Project, directed by Dr. James Barrett, University of York.

The overall objective of this project is to investigate the changes in trade, economy and society at the turn of the 1st Millennium AD. Excavations have concentrated on a long house and an associated farm mound, part of which is threatened by coastal erosion. The project also seeks to investigate the wider landscape through a combination of geophysical investigation and survey (Barrett, 2003).

Berst Ness and The Knowe of Skea Focal Study

Excavation has been conducted at these sites between 2000 and 2003 in response to coastal erosion. Funding has been provided by Historic Scotland and Orkney Council, with further assistance from OAT. Elements of this project have been carried out in collaboration with the University of York.

The site comprises of five burial mounds, which stand on a headland and nearby on a tidal islet, a series of substantial stone buildings closely associated with an Iron Age period cemetery. To date, some 50-60 burials have been recognised, with a large proportion of them representing very young infants and children.

The burials date from at least the 1st century AD to the 7th or 8th centuries AD but the building may be considerably earlier. (Moore & Wilson, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004).

Links of Noltland Management Survey

A programme of assessment work, commissioned and funded by Historic Scotland, was carried out on this site and in the wider surrounding area in 2001. It was carried out as a joint project between the University of York and EASE Archaeology. The objective was to assess the totality of archaeological remains within a rapidly eroding area and to determine a strategy for the future management.

A comprehensive programme of geophysical, topographical and auger survey located a number of features of interest. These included the remains of three buildings clustered around a yard which were tentatively identified as of Bronze Age date. These lie some 110m to the south east of the more well-known Neolithic site (Moore, Wilson & Barrett, 2002).

Langskaill Souterrain and Norse Settlement

A souterrain, first discovered during pipe laying operations in the 1970's, was accidentally reopened in 2002 when a tractor cracked part of its roof. A rapid assessment in 2002, followed by limited excavation in 2003 found that the souterrain survives in an almost complete state. It was found to lie beneath the remains of a probable Iron Age building and a Norse long house (Moore & Wilson, in prep B).


The practise of archaeology has changed rapidly throughout the past twenty years and this has been reflected in the way that work has been carried out on Westray. The excavations begun in the 1990's are still ongoing; post excavation research has not yet begun at sites such as Langskaill or the Knowe of Skea.

The opportunities for multidisciplinary collaboration continues to grow and new methods of analysis are constantly emerging. These include such innovations as the ability to collect and analyse ancient DNA and to investigate changes in diet from isotope analysis of human bone. It is hoped that these techniques can be brought to bear on the projects currently underway.

Perhaps one of the greatest hopes for the future is the potential for greater collaboration between archaeologists and the community. It is now recognised that each has much to offer the other in terms of understanding the past and that both share the ultimate goal of promoting the rich heritage of the Island and in safeguarding it for the future.


This paper has briefly summarised the study of the past in Westray, over the last two hundred years. It has been seen that from the age of the antiquarian, archaeology increasing came under more centralised state control during the 20th century. From 1911, when Noltland Castle was taken into state care, national bodies carried out largescale information gathering exercises and later still, directly intervened to record threatened sites through rescue excavation.

Major structural changes within archaeology in the 1990's returned more control over archaeological matters to the local level. The Orkney Archaeological Trust was set up at this time and has developed to make full use of the new opportunities which these changes offered.

With the concepts of devolution and the stakeholder society in the air, local communities have also been encouraged more than ever before to take part in shaping their own lives. The Westray Community have shown an energy and an appetite to work together to secure their future.

This has been demonstrated most clearly in the work of The Westray Development Trust which has been instrumental in developing innovative responses to address the requirements of the island as it enters the 21st century. The community has, more than anyone else, guarded, cared for and enjoyed the monuments of Westray over the years. In recent times, awareness of the fragility and importance of local heritage has grown.

Forums such as the Westray Heritage Trust and the Westray Buildings Preservation Trust have been set up to safeguard and promote the Islands heritage. A local Heritage Centre has been established and several historic buildings have been purchased, with the intention of preserving them for the future. In 2003, an illustrated volume documenting the buildings of Westray was published, gathering together a wealth of family history and local history (WBPT 2003).

The community have recognised the key role which their heritage can play, not only in preserving a unique sense of place and identity but also as an asset to share with visitors to the island.

They are seeking to develop partnerships with archaeologists and are considering sustainable options for the presentation of their archaeology for tourism, education and display.

The challenge now is for archaeologists to play their part. While there may be historical explanations for why so little has been left behind from previous archaeological work, it can no longer be considered acceptable for archaeologists to work in a vacuum, taking little or no heed of local opinion.


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  • The Statistical Account of Scotland 1799 No.XIV, Parish of Westray, 251-264.
  • The New Statistical Account of Scotland 1842, Parish of Westray, 114-132.
  • The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) 1946, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland, Volume 2.Edinburgh.
  • The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), 1983, The Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Scotland 19: Papa Westray and Westray (with adjacent small islands). Edinburgh.
  • Thomas, F W L 1852 "An Account of Some Celtic Antiquities of Orkney..." in Archaeologia, 34 (1852), 88-136.
  • Thorsteinsson, A 1968 "The Viking Burial Place at Pierowall, Westray, Orkney" in Niclasen, B (Ed.) The Fifth Viking Congress, Torshavn, July 1965, Torshavn, 150-73.
  • Wallace, J 1883 A Description of the Isles of Orkney, Small, J, (Ed.). Edinburgh.
  • Westray Buildings Preservation Trust 2003 Fae Quoy Tae Castle. Westray
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