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20 October 2010
Significant Neolithic tomb found in a Scottish garden

Archeologists believe the tomb Mr Hamish Mowatt discovered under a boulder in the garden of a bistro in South Ronaldsay (Orkney, Scotland) could lead to new insights into Orkney's earliest inhabitants. But they face a race against time as water washing in and out of the uncovered tomb could dissolve any pottery and human remains inside.
     "There is a big slab of stone about eight foot by eight foot and I had always wondered what was underneath it. I had a bit of time at the end of the summer and I thought I would take a look," said the discoverer. Mr Mowatt found a cavern underneath the slab of stone and he then pushed down a rod attached to an underwater camera he used for looking at wrecks, discovering a chambered cairn with skulls against the edge. "It was amazing to think that we were looking at something that had not seen the light of day for 5,000 years. One of the skulls was looking straight at me. It set me back for a moment," Mr Mowatt said.
     Mr Mowatt got in touch with Julie Gibbon, the Orkney county archeologist, who told him he had made a significant find. Ms Gibbon said she hoped Historic Scotland would support the excavation of the site - which is around 100 metres away from the Tomb of the Eagles, the chambered cairn where Orkney farmer Ronnie Simison found 348 human skulls in 1958.
     Until the newly found tomb is fully excavated it will not be known how extensive it might be. There are at least four skulls inside - but the archeologist believes there may also be shards of pottery - or other artefacts which can be rescued before the water washes them away.
     Ms Gibbon said the tomb needed to be examined quickly because of potential damage from water seeping in and out, but that said she had high hopes that the excavation would shed fresh light on Neolithic society and ritual. "I'm hoping Historic Scotland is going to support us. This is going to give us a lot of answers about Neolithic life," she said.

Edited from The Scotsman (2 October 2010)

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