Return to Orkneyjar Latest News Excavation Background The Orkney Venus Archive Stories







Map Copyright Historic ScotlandThe Links of Noltland, in Westray, is an expanse of sand covering one of Scotland's most important prehistoric landscapes.

But this landscape, like others in Orkney, is under severe threat from coastal erosion. In recent years, the wind has stripped away the sand exposing the fragile archaeology underneath.

Funded by Historic Scotland, EASE Archaeology has been carrying out rescue excavations to record as much as possible before it is lost.

The site


Similar in age to Skara Brae, on the Orkney Mainland (pictured right), the earliest remains at the Links of Noltland date to the Neolithic period, about 5,000 years ago.

Picture: Sigurd TowriePeople continued to live in the area for at least a thousand years, into the Bronze Age.

The surface levels now exposed date from around 3,000BC and Historic Scotland is keen to learn all it can about society at that time before the evidence is lost.

It is important because extensive evidence has survived about the people who lived there over a long period of time from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age.

The Links of Noltland settlement shows parallels to Skara Brae, where multi-cellular structures were built by revetting the walls against midden, piled up to provide stability and to keep out the elements.

The settlement at Links of Noltland displays a greater depth of time than Skara Brae and excellent preservation, allowing modern archaeological techniques to be used to recover the maximum amount of information from the site.

2007 - the archaeologists return


Ateam of archaeologists returned to the Links of Noltland in February 2007 - 26 years after the original excavations - after concerns that recently-exposed archaeology could be obliterated by erosion.

Crown Copyright Historic Scotland
Aerial view of the Links o' Noltland showing the collapsed dune system – the group of Bronze Age houses under excavation is on the right.
Crown Copyright: Historic Scotland
Excavation of the suspected Bronze Age storehouse in the foreground. The site of the poorly-preserved house is to the right. The larger house is towards the sea.
Crown Copyright: Historic Scotland
Crown Copyright: Historic Scotland
Final excavation of the small store house showing paving and wall cupboards to the rear.
Crown Copyright: Historic Scotland
Final excavation of the small storehouse, showing paving and wall cupboards to the rear. The entrance is on the right (north, looking towards the large house 10m away).
Crown Copyright: Historic Scotland
One of a number of tethering posts in the west half of the large house, which indicates the internal functional division between byre and living accommodation.

The Links of Noltland is an area of sand dunes behind Grobust Bay on the north-west coast of Westray. These dunes are subject to severe erosion by the wind, a problem made worse by the activity of rabbits.

First recorded by the 19th century antiquarian George Petrie, the presence of important archaeological remains has been known about for years.

But it was only in the 20th century that excavations were carried out, when the National Museum, under the direction of Dr David Clarke, investigated the site between 1978 and 1981.

These excavations focused on one Neolithic building, which comprised two rooms joined by a passage. The building, which was reminiscent of the houses at Skara Brae, had been built into a pit dug into sand and lined with midden material.

It produced a large number of artefacts, including grooved ware pottery, worked bone objects and flint and stone artefacts.

In addition, evidence of extensive middens and cultivated fields was also found.

But this programme of work was never completed and the findings have yet to be published. The house was covered up and today nothing is visible on the surface.

In 1984, the site, and a large surrounding area, was designated as a Property in Care (PIC), managed on behalf of the state by Historic Scotland.

Erosion at the links has been a cause for concern for some years, but in October, 2006, an archaeological assessment was carried out by EASE Archaeology — well known in Westray for their work at the Knowe o' Skea.

As a result of this survey a decision was made to excavate a section as a matter of urgency.

Funded by Historic Scotland, a team from EASE moved in at the start of February. Although not an ideal time for an excavation, it was feared that if they waited, the exposed archaeology might not survive until the summer.

2009 - The Orkney Venus


Copyright Historic Scotland


In previous excavations seasons, the archaeologists focused on a structure that was once a fine farmhouse, carefully built to look impressive, and standing within a network of fields. After the main period of occupation was over it appears to have had secondary, less formal uses, perhaps as a store or holding pen for animals. As the building decayed it began to fill with rubble and midden.

In the summer of 2009, while working through this midden, the figurine now known as the Orkney Venus emerged. Its position suggests it came from a time after the structure’s use as a farmhouse was ended. Click here for more details.


The cattle skulls

Three other buildings were also revealed. One, which may have been attached to the farmhouse, contained what appears to be the ritually deposited skulls of at least 10 cattle built into the wall.

Some of the skulls have been placed with their horns interlocking and all are positioned upside down, with horns sticking into the ground.

Excavation Blog
Westray Heritage
Historic Scotland
Click here for more details