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1 May 2004
Orcadian Crannogs project

Crannogs are small, artificial islands found in many of Scotland's lochs and inland waters. They are a class of monument not usually associated with Orkney. From the shore, most crannogs look like rocky mounds or low grassy islets, accessible to only the most dedicated explorer. This inaccessibility may be part of the reason Orkney's crannogs have remained firmly in the shadow of the county's grander monuments. Although only four or so crannogs listed in the official records, this is now thought to be the tip of the iceberg and this lost chapter in Orkney's archaeological record is about to take centre stage with a new project in Rousay and at Voy in Sandwick.
     At the helm is Bobby Forbes of Stromness-based Sula Diving, who is also one of the team which teaches underwater archaeology for the archaeology masters course at Orkney College. Taking advice from Orkney Archaeological Trust's archaeologists, Bobby and his team will spend the next few months examining the aquatic sites in an effort to better understand their place in the landscape and history. "Crannogs are a part of Orkney's archaeology that's never been looked at,” he said. “We're going to do some basic survey work – really just a preliminary ‘look see' to see how the sites ‘fit in' and where they come in the vast archaeological timescale of the areas. If we can generate enough interest in this, I hope we can expand the work to get a better view of the entire loch and the area surrounding it. For example, a paleo-archaeological core of the loch bottom to see how the Stenness Loch itself has changed since glacial times.”
     Although little is known or recorded about other crannogs in Orkney, elsewhere in Scotland they are known to date from the Bronze Age right through to the 17th century. Their role also varies with some incorporating dwellings while others were status symbols, fishing platforms or even refuges. A crannog was a way of utilising the wetter land for structures that didn't encroach onto good farming land. As the climate deteriorated throughout the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age, the resultant decrease in usable land meant that farmland became scarcer and therefore more valuable. This could also have led to a greater reliance on crannogs.
     Voy, at the north-western end of the Stenness Loch, is a classic example of a potentially rich archaeological site that has been neglected over the centuries. Bobby Forbes came across the site while carrying out survey work on the loch for Scottish Natural Heritage. Examining aerial photographs of the loch, he noticed two clearly visible causeways leading out to the two small islets at the end of the loch. Preliminary work in the area confirmed that the suspected crannogs were connected to the shore, with the remains of a large “anomaly” lying out further in the loch. The crannog nearest the shore has the remains of the structure on it, with a stone causeway – which is thought to have once been turfed over - leading out to it from the shore. The second islet also has a causeway but it has been badly eroded. There also appears to be no recognisable structures remaining on the island.
     But the possible crannogs are not the only points of interest in the area. Further round The Ness, Bobby and his team found an old stone quarry, with some of the stone still wedged up in it, and a boat noust. Neither of these sites are recorded in Orkney's Sites and Monuments Record. It is hoped that a team from the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology will also visit the sites as part of an ongoing study of Scotland's crannogs.

Source: Orkneyjar (16 April 2004)

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