About Orkney
 About the Site
 Search Site 
  The Crantit Cairn, St Ola

The Crantit cairn excavation

Crantit Interior

The excavation of the Crantit cairn came in the summer of 1998.

Along with the archaeologists, arriving in Orkney for the eagerly anticipated dig, were television cameras. The excavation was to be the subject of the BBC Television programme Meet the Ancestors.

But perhaps most intriguing was the team of forensic scientists from the Strathclyde police force. These forensic experts were to be the first people to enter the tomb to search for any remaining evidence of the prehistoric occupants.

The day arrived and the cairn was opened, revealing for the first time its exact internal layout. It was very small, almost round, and partitioned with stone slabs into three stalled compartments that formed a "cloverleaf" pattern.

Inside, the archaeologists found three skulls lying in the northern compartment. The skulls were in a very poor condition and had been placed on top of, and slightly to the side of, a pile of other bones. The southernmost compartment was found to be full of soil and a crushed fourth skull.

Typical of most of Orkney's chambered cairns, the Crantit cairn did not contain entire bodies but only a few disarticulated bones.

Among these was a left kneecap, left hand and foot, right leg, left pelvis and right arm.

Despite the poor condition of the remains, it was possible to glean some information from the cairn's contents. The largest skull belonged to a female, aged over 30-years-old.

Her skull was in the same compartment as two smaller skulls that had been placed together. One was that of a child, aged between four and six-years-old, while a wisdom tooth in the third pile revealed that the third occupant had been about 15-years-old. The fourth skull was too degraded to identify.

The finds were considerably less than had been hoped for. And even worse, they were in such an advanced state of decomposition that DNA testing was impossible.

No animal remains, pottery or other artefacts were found and the forensic team's search revealed nothing - no footprints, fingerprints or other evidence that had been so eagerly anticipated.

The cairn that had promised so much, yielded so little.