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Archaeo News 

7 May 2003
Mystery Neolithic wooden structures in Orkney

The only wooden prehistoric structures found so far in Orkney (Scotland) have intrigued archaeologists and could produce some of the earliest dates for the islands. The most exciting discovery was of a series of large post-holes that show the position of a number of circular structures, each with a central hearth. Lack of stone foundations may indicate that that the buildings were wooden, perhaps dating back 6,000 years. Dr. Colin Richards of Manchester University, in charge of the recently completed excavation at the foot of Wideford Hill, explains: "We just never expected we would find wooden buildings in Orkney - there just aren't any timber buildings in Orkney. What we've got here are circular structures made up of a circle of timber posts and a central hearth." Originally thought to go back to the Mesolithic period, the Neolithic dating results from the find of a shard of characteristic pottery at the base of one of the post-holes.
     The size and distribution of the post-holes suggest a number of substantial buildings, possibly with wooden or wicker walls. Also found were the remains of a stone Neolithic structure which appears to be contemporary with the nearby houses at Stonehall and possibly dates from around 3,600 BCE. A short distance away is an area rich in finds, including stone axes, broken tools, quantities of flint and, especially, the decorated pottery known as Unstan Ware. Says Dr. Richards: "This is one of the richest sites I've ever dug on. There has been tons of Unstan Ware pottery, which only turned up in small quantities at the Knap of Howar. It looks like we've got a big working area away from the main house. There, when they broke their tools, they were just leaving them, which explains why there's so much intermingled with other finds." The circular post-holes structures were possibly built and used over several years, and followed by the later stone built house with an associated work area. The site gives a substantial assemblage of Neolithic material that can be now be compared with Stonehall. On the final days of the excavation Dr. Richards summed up the discovery: "There's a lot here we just don't understand yet. It's not much to look at but it's going to prove very important." Radiocarbon dating will now be used to determine the ages of the various structures.

Source: Orkneyjar.com (1 May 2003)

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