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Archaeologists in Scotland Unearth a Neolithic “Network” of Ancient Sites

Archaeologists in Scotland Unearth a Neolithic “Network” of Ancient Sites


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Scientists analyzing “ancient rock art sites” around the city of Glasgow on the west coast of Scotland have concluded that prehistoric man was likely to have lived “in a ring” of settlements around the area occupied by the city.

The west of Scotland offered ancient people highly-fertile farmlands and access to fish-rich inland waterways and coastal routes. As such, the River Clyde was settled from at least 3,000BC, according to a recent article in The Scotsman. With the creation and expansion of Glasgow city destroying most of the Neolithic sites and artifacts, archaeologists deem Faifley housing estate on the north side of Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, as the Holy Grail of Scottish Neolithic art.

Faifley Housing Estate in Clydebank, Scotland ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

A park on the edge of Faifley contains 14 examples of ancient rock art which are dated to at least 5000 years old. The markings leave a “tantalizing trail of evidence of how the country was populated in the distant past” according to Dr Tertia Barnett, principal investigator of Scotland’s Rock Art Project. Barnett told reporters at the Scotsman:

“It is likely the Clyde was an important artery, connecting different areas to the sea and to the islands. People would have travelled by water instead of through the wooded interior of the country and people were generally concentrated in the coastal regions.”

Ancient Whispers from Neolithic Artists

The most famous Neolithic artifact discovered at Faifley is unquestionably The Cochno Stone , described in 2016 by a researcher from the University of Glasgow as the “most important Neolithic cup and ring marked rock art panel in Europe.” Located next to Cochno farm, Auchnacraig, Faifley, this enormous Bronze Age 'cup and ring marked rock’ measures a whopping 13 meters (42 feet) by 7.9 meters (26 feet) and features about 90 individual carved symbols.

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Map of the petroglyphs on the Cochno Stone. Image: The Modern Antiquarian

The Cochno stone was first excavated in 1887 by the Rev. James Harvey and re-excavated and buried in the 1960s to protect it from vandalism. It was last re-excavated in 2015 and 2016 by Dr Kenneth Brophy, a senior lecturer in archaeology at Glasgow University, and according to a Live Science article published last year the 60’s excavation revealed “19th and 20th-century graffiti etched alongside the swirls, as well as painted lines intentionally made by an archaeologist named Ludovic Maclellan Mann, who worked at the site in 1937.”

The Cochno stone, Faifley. Some have argued the Cochno Stone is a calendar of some sort or a map showing the other settlements in the Clyde Valley. Source: Historic Environment Scotland

It was generally understood that Mann had intentionally painted white lines into the grooves of the carved symbols on the Cochno Stone to assist in measuring the prehistoric artwork, but according to archaeologist Kenny Brophy in a video released by the university, Mann was also “trying to prove that the symbols could predict eclipses and were marking movements of the sun and moon in prehistory.” Mann attempted to create a “mathematical grid to prove his notions” and ironically, Brophy added, “Mann's own data ended up disproving the archaeologist's theory” but they never made “any sense in reality” anyway.

The Cochno Stone at Faifley was excavated in 2015 and 2016 and then reburied to protect it from damage. Image: John Devlin/TSPL.

The Rock art Network

The Cochno Stone is 1 of 30 rock art sites in West Dunbartonshire with a further 36 listed in Inverclyde and Dr Barnett said “analysis of the style of carvings found in different geographical areas could also help to determine the significance of the sites and whether some identified meeting points where people gathered to share news and exchange artifacts, reported the Scotsman.

Including a concentration of rock art discovered at Rouken Glen in East Renfrewshire, Dr Barnett said, “The rock art sites are to be mapped out in relation to other Neolithic remains in a bid to build a stronger understanding of how the markings fitted into the wider landscape of the time."

The Devil’s Plantation

Dr Barnet, however, is not the first archaeologist to have plotted out and mapped the ancient sites of Glasgow and it would be unscholarly not to mention the enigmatic Harry Bell (1935-2001). During the 1980s this Glaswegian archaeologist obsessively searched for an “ancient network of aligned prehistoric sites” around the Glasgow area and eventually found a pentagram shape defined by connected sites. Bell’s work appealed to Glaswegian writer and director May Miles Thomas so much so that in 2010 he released a feature film called The Devil’s Plantation , based on Bell’s findings, which won a Best Interactive BAFTA 2010.

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Typical cup-and-rings marks. These are located in Northumberland. ( CC BY 2.5 )

Bell was greatly influenced by Alfred Watkins (1855-1935), the amateur English archaeologist who observed that prehistoric sites in Herefordshire formed an interlocking network of straight communication lines dotted with church yards and burial sites, ruined castles, old mounds, Bronze Age forts and Neolithic settlements. These alignments would later be called ‘leylines’ by 70’s and 80’s New Age authors. Beginning at a 2000-year-old burial mound in Devil’s Woods, 7 miles (11 km) south of Glasgow city center called “the Devil’s Plantation”, Bell “dowsed the lines” and “archaeo-orienteered” himself around the ancient landscape.

Critics of Watkins “old straight track” theory and Bell’s later findings in Glasgow point out that the high density of prehistoric sites in Britain mean that alignments and triangles can always be ‘conjured’ out of the random. The skeptical archaeologist Richard Atkinson demonstrated this by plotting telephone boxes and drawing leys based on the incoherent positioning of phone boxes.

In a project that might see old Harry Bell turn in his grave with excitement, the Scotland’s Rock Art Project now aim to build a comprehensive database of images and information of around 2,000 different sites around Scotland. This project is being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by Historic Environment Scotland, with departments from Edinburgh University and Glasgow School of Art also working on the research.


Prehistoric home unearthed in Scotland

The remains of what is believed to be one of Britain's earliest homes have been uncovered during construction works.

The ancient dwelling was uncovered during an archaeological excavation in a field on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

A large oval pit nearly seven metres in length and studded with postholes is all that remains of the dwelling that has been dated to the Mesolithic period, around 10,252 years ago.

A survey of the site was being conducted in preparation for the building of the Forth Replacement Crossing in a field in Echline, South Queensferry, just north of Edinburgh.

Rod McCullagh, a senior archaeologist at Historic Scotland, said: "This discovery and, especially, the information from the laboratory analyses adds valuable information to our understanding of a small but growing list of buildings erected by Scotland's first settlers after the last glaciation, 10,000 year ago.

"The radiocarbon dates that have been taken from this site show it to be the oldest of its type found in Scotland which adds to its significance."

The postholes are thought to have once held wooden posts that supported the walls and roof of the building. The roof itself was probably covered with turf, archaeologists believe.

Worked flint and hazelnut shells were found in the remains of the building

The remains of several fireplace hearths were also found inside the building and more than 1,000 pieces of flint, including arrowheads and other tools, were also found.

Other discoveries included large quantities of charred hazelnut shells, suggesting they were an important source of food for the occupants of the house.

Archaeologists believe the dwelling would have been occupied on a seasonal basis, probably during the winter months, rather than all year round.

Ed Bailey, project manager for Headland Archaeology, the company that carried out the excavation works, said: "The discovery of this previously unknown and rare type of site has provided us with a unique opportunity to further develop our understanding of how early prehistoric people lived along the Forth.

"Specialist analysis of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence recovered in the field is ongoing. This will allow us to put the pieces together and build a detailed picture of Mesolithic lifestyle."

Transport Minister Keith Brown said: "This ancient dwelling, which was unearthed as part of the routine investigations undertaken prior to construction works, is an important and exciting discovery.

"We now have vital records of the findings which we will be able to share to help inform our understanding of a period in Scotland's ancient history."


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  • A 5,000-year-old settlement has been discovered in the Bay of Skaill, Orkney
  • It could rival the world famous Skara Brae and give new insights into ancient life
  • It was found after coastal erosion unearthed animal bones and a carved stone
  • The site is already under serious risk from climate change and rising sea levels A Neolithic settlement dating back nearly 5,000 years has been discovered in Scotland and it could be on par with the world famous 'Skara Brae', experts predict.

Archaeologists discovered signs of the Neolithic village at the north end of the Bay of Skaill, Orkney after costal erosion unearth animal bones and a carved stone.

It is on the same island as Skara Brae which is considered the best preserved Neolithic settlement in Western Europe - dating back to 3,100 BC.

Sigurd Towrie from the University of the Highlands and Islands discovered a badly damaged wall that had been exposed by pounding tides and pouring rain.

Deer antlers, a boar tooth, a cattle jawbone and a large decorated stone have also been discovered at the site - said to date back nearly 5,000 years.

However, experts warned the new Neolithic site is 'disappearing at an alarming rate', so action needs to be taken to record details of the site for the future.

Eroding wall running out from an eroding section on to the beach. The dark material in the foreground is a layer of peat. Sigurd Towrie from the University of the Highlands and Islands discovered a badly damaged wall that had been exposed by pounding tides and pouring rain

Towrie discovered the stone while visiting the Bay of Bay Skaill after she noticed animal remains falling from an eroding section of shoreline.

'The finds suggest there is another settlement at the Bay of Skaill - one that, from previous environmental sampling, is likely to be 4,000 to 5,000 years old,' she said.

'If this is the case, and based on the scale of the eroded section, we may well be looking at a Neolithic/Bronze Age site on a par with Skara Brae - albeit one that is now disappearing at an alarming rate.'

Closer inspection found the stone marked with a pair of incised triangles and a series of rectangular bands running across the surface

Deer antlers, a boar tooth (pictured), a cattle jawbone and a large decorated stone have also been discovered at the site - said to date back nearly 5,000 years

Archaeologists discovered signs of the Neolithic village at the north end of the Bay of Skaill, Orkney after costal erosion unearth animal bones and a carved stone Dr Antonia Thomas, the Archaeology Institute's rock art specialist, confirmed the find was potentially a carved stone - with designs similar to those seen at Skara Brae.

Skara Brae is one of the largest and most complete Neolithic developments ever found, and given the title 'Scotland's Pompeii' due to it being so well preserved.

It has long been thought that more Neolithic settlements may have dotted the bay surrounding Skara Brae - all of a similar age and size.

During building work in the 1930s, a wall was discovered to the north of the bay along with midden material, animal bone and four burials, which were later moved.

The new finds have refreshed interest in who may have lived around the bay during the New Stone Age period and what life was like 5,000 years ago.

Incised rock surface at the Bay of Skaill, Orkney. Closer inspection found the stone marked with a pair of incised triangles and a series of rectangular bands running across the surface

The faint incisions on the rock face became clearer as the sun broke through the cloud cover

The cow mandible recovered from the eroding shoreline section. Towrie discovered the stone while visiting the Bay of Bay Skaill after she noticed animal remains falling from an eroding section of shoreline

The discovery of deer remains is an unusual find for a Neolithic site on Orkney, with the animal perhaps used for rituals rather than food, researchers explained.

The Bay of Skaill is now under close observation from the archaeology institute, although an excavation is unlikely in the near future given coronavirus restrictions.

Towrie said: 'UHI Archaeology Institute will continue to carefully monitor the extent of the coastal erosion and act as and when necessary.'

Skara Brae is considered the best preserved prehistoric settlement of any period in the British Isles, leaving a vivid impression of prehistoric life.

An 'exceptional' collection of artefacts recovered from the site tell a story of farming and fishing among its inhabitants, as well as jewellery making and crafts.

SKARA BRAE: A NEOLITHIC SETTLEMENT ON THE BAY OF SKAILL IN SCOTLAND

Skara Brae is an ancient neolithic settlement on the Bay of Skaill on the west coat of Mainland - the largest island in Orkney and includes eight houses.

They were occupied from about 3180 BC until about 2500 BC - it is the largest complete Neolithic village in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Neolithic house in the settlement of Skara Brae, circa 2,500 to 2,000 BC, Orkney Island, Scotland, United Kingdom

The site is older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids and has been previously dubbed the 'Scottish Pompeii' due to how well it is preserved.

It was discovered in 1850 after a severe storm - that killed 200 people - stripped Earth from a large irregular knoll and revealed the village.

The village contained a number of houses without roofs and after a small private excavation in 1868, it was left undisturbed until 1913.

It was plundered by a party with shovels who took away artefacts and a storm in 1924 swept away part of one of the houses.

This led the University of Edinburgh to send an expert to secure and investigate the site for future generations in 1927.

Climate change around 4,500 years ago, combined with a major storm is likely what led the inhabitants to abandon the village.

The remaining village is at risk of climate change today, with a 2019 assessment putting it as 'extremely vulnerable' due to rising sea levels.

One unusually severe storm could completely or partially destroy the village.


The Rock art Network

The Cochno Stone is 1 of 30 rock art sites in West Dunbartonshire with a further 36 listed in Inverclyde and Dr Barnett said “analysis of the style of carvings found in different geographical areas could also help to determine the significance of the sites and whether some identified meeting points where people gathered to share news and exchange artifacts, reported the Scotsman.

Including a concentration of rock art discovered at Rouken Glen in East Renfrewshire, Dr Barnett said, “The rock art sites are to be mapped out in relation to other Neolithic remains in a bid to build a stronger understanding of how the markings fitted into the wider landscape of the time."


The Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt

Egypt’s ancient monuments have always evoked an irresistible sense of wonder, but none more so than the enigmatic Sphinx. Located on the Giza Plateau on the banks of the Nile River, this monumental limestone statue is the largest monolithic statue in the world, measuring 240 feet long and 66 feet high. It represents a mythical creature of Egyptian invention—half lion, half human—which later found its way into Greek mythology. Believed to have been built during the reign of the pharaoh Khafre in the 3rd millennium BC to guard his pyramid tomb, some historians suggest that the Sphinx might date back 9,000 years. The Sphinx, it seems, is not quite ready to divulge its secrets.

The Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt


Archaeologists baffled by 'Scotland's Stonehenge' site: 'We don't know why it was built'

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Scotland: Expert discusses history behind Ring of Brodgar

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The Ring of Brodgar sits on one of Britain's northernmost regions. Planted on Orkney's mainland island, Scotland, the mysterious rock formation has eluded archaeologists for years. In what has been described as the country's "Stonehenge", the structure is set in a natural amphitheatre of hills surrounded by a ditch.

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Just under half of the original 60 stones survive today, with the site in general possibly occupied for 1,500 years from as early as 3,500 BC.

According to legend, it was a religious shrine, and possibly a place of ritual.

Others believe the ring was built in order to observe the equinox and solstice.

Yet, as Elaine Clarke, the site's World Heritage Ranger admitted, historians and archaeologists still have no idea as to the stones' origins.

Archaeology: The Ring of Brogdar sits on the far flung islands of Orkney (Image: GETTY)

Ring of Brogdan: The ancient Neolithic site has eluded researchers for decades (Image: Youtube/Orkney.com)

In 2016, she said: "We don't know why 5,000 years ago people were building these stone circles.

"So, as I often say to people, it can be whatever you want it to be, whatever you're comfortable with.

"We can certainly put suggestions and things forward, but we don't have conclusive answers."

The Ring of Brodgar is the only major henge and stone structure in Britain which is an almost perfect circle.

Britain history: Archaeologists are unsure how the rocks might have arrived at the site (Image: Google Maps)

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Most henges, in fact, don't contain circles, with Brogdar as one of the very few exceptions.

Much of the work carried out at the site up until 2008 had provided no conclusive answers.

The Ring of Brodgar Excavation, which ended in July of that year, looked to decode many of the mysteries.

Workers there revealed the largest Neolithic structure ever found in Britain - known as Structure Ten.

Ancient rituals: One theory maintains that the circle was used as a passage to the next life (Image: GETTY)

Neoltihic: The structure is the only major henge in Britain which is an almost perfect circle (Image: GETTY)

It measured an astonishing 82 by 65 feet, and was neither a tomb nor a domicile.

Four stone "dressers" were found inside the structure.

Archaeologists later speculated that it may have been used as an altar.

Then, in 2010, further work uncovered the use of paint in decorating the walls of the stones.

Archaeological discoveries: Some of the most groundbreaking archaeological discoveries on record (Image: Express Newspapers)

A number of slate tiles were found at the same time, believed to have once been used as roofing material.

Smaller relics, such as the "Brodgar Boy" have also been uncovered, a Neolithic clay figurine.

Measuring just 30mm long, the figure has a clearly defined head, body, and a pair of eyes.

It is one of the earliest representations of the human form to be found in Britain.

While it is still unclear what the ring once symbolised, many believe it holds the keys to understanding the development and evolution of Neolithic religion.

Scotland: People gather during a tour of the stones (Image: Youtube/Orkney.com)

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The site's excavations director, Nick Card, previously noted that "Orkney is one of the keys to understanding the development of Neolithic religion".

He said that with each discovery, "We're still really just scratching the surface".

One continuing theory is that the site is a liminal passage.

This has something to do with a transition of passing during a ritual, still practised in many cultures today.

Researchers there believe that Brodgar could once have facilitated the sort of ritual that ancient peoples believed helped send them on to whatever stage came next in their religion.


Evidence for Oldest Prehistoric Textiles in Scotland Discovered at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney

Evidence of woven Neolithic textile has been confirmed at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute research excavation at the Ness of Brodgar.

Only one other such example has been found in Scotland. The archaeologists at the site don’t physically have a piece of 5,000-year-old fabric, but the impression it leaves when pressed against the wet clay of a pot.

Organic material from prehistory does not survive often unless in very specific oxygen-free conditions in the archaeological record, so the study of Neolithic textiles has to rely on secondary evidence.

To date, there is only one other piece of evidence suggesting the use of woven textiles in Neolithic Scotland – another clay imprint discovered in 1966 in Dumfries and Galloway.
These exciting new discoveries have come to light during a project started in 2019 at the Archaeology Institute of the University of the Highlands and Islands by Jan Blatchford and Roy Towers to closely examine impressions left on the surfaces of sherds of Grooved Ware pottery unearthed at the Ness.

The project uses Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) – a technique that uses a photographic rig to take multiple photos of a subject, each with a differently angled light source. These pictures are combined, using computer software, to create a highly detailed digital image of the surface of an object that can be examined from all angles and enlargements and examined on screen. The results reveal surface details not visible during normal examination.

In this case, two co-joining sherds carry the imprint of a woven cloth. The impressions appear on the inner face of the vessel, suggesting they were made by the potter’s clothing during the pot’s creation.

These were first discovered by one of the Ness post-excavation volunteers, Lorraine Clay, who noted a clear impressed cord. She showed the sherds initially to Jan Blatchford and then Emma Smith, a regular at the Ness and a textile analysist and conservation specialist. Dr Susanna Harris, an expert in European prehistoric textiles, was able to give a second opinion on the RTI confirming the identification.

This impression of a piece of Z-ply cord, around 4cm long and 3mm in diameter, is so clear it is possible to see the individual fibres. Although the possibility of an additional textile impression was noted by Emma on initial viewing of the sherd, the ability to view the sherd under RTI has allowed this to be confirmed. The imprint appears to show finely woven cloth, but the impression is less defined than the cord, meaning details of the weaving technique used is difficult to ascertain – although the yarn used was probably plant-based, possibly flax.

Within Neolithic Scotland textile finds are incredibly rare, and no other examples on Orkney. The one other documented example from Mainland Scotland was found at Flint Howe, Dumfries and Galloway. It consisted of a small impression of a plain-weave textile on the exterior of a Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age vessel (reported on by Audrey Henshall in the Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society XLV 1968: 236-237.

Ness of Brodgar Site Director Nick Card said,” There is no evidence of textile tools available in Neolithic Orkney, suggesting textiles were made by hand, or using tools made with organic materials that have not survived in the archaeological record. This lack of material culture around textile production can help us to infer what techniques they may have been using.

The project is also revealing rare basketry and other cord impressions. A growing number of base sherds from the Ness have impressions of coiled mats used in the construction of clay vessels. These match examples found at Barnhouse and Rinyo in Orkney and also at Forest Road in Aberdeenshire. All specimens suggest fibre mats of spiral construction that may have eased the turning of the pot as it was formed and even facilitated its transportation whilst it was dried and then fired.”

Some body sherds have plied cord impressions on their exterior surfaces. Short lengths of plied cord impressions, known as ‘maggots’, are often used as a decoration on some Neolithic pots but the irregular and unevenly impressed nature of the markings on the Ness examples may indicate that the marks are accidental.

It may be that the pot was held in some form of basket whilst the clay was still wet. Further examination of the ‘maggots’ is ongoing. Cordage and textiles would have been essential in prehistory, facilitating essential survival activities such as hunting, fishing, foraging, storage, cooking and providing warm clothing, matting and bedding.

The incredible survival of organic remains at the Bronze Age site of Must Farm, Cambridgeshire, highlights the prevalence and complexity of fibre technology in British prehistory.

Work continues to document and interpret these impressions, which, it is hoped, will provide an invaluable insight into the fibre technology of the Neolithic.


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Dr Antonia Thomas, the Archaeology Institute's rock art specialist, confirmed the find was potentially a carved stone - with designs similar to those seen at Skara Brae.

Skara Brae is one of the largest and most complete Neolithic developments ever found, and given the title 'Scotland's Pompeii' due to it being so well preserved.

It has long been thought that more Neolithic settlements may have dotted the bay surrounding Skara Brae - all of a similar age and size.

During building work in the 1930s, a wall was discovered to the north of the bay along with midden material, animal bone and four burials, which were later moved.

The new finds have refreshed interest in who may have lived around the bay during the New Stone Age period and what life was like 5,000 years ago.

Incised rock surface at the Bay of Skaill, Orkney. Closer inspection found the stone marked with a pair of incised triangles and a series of rectangular bands running across the surface

The faint incisions on the rock face became clearer as the sun broke through the cloud cover

The cow mandible recovered from the eroding shoreline section. Towrie discovered the stone while visiting the Bay of Bay Skaill after she noticed animal remains falling from an eroding section of shoreline

The discovery of deer remains is an unusual find for a Neolithic site on Orkney, with the animal perhaps used for rituals rather than food, researchers explained.

The Bay of Skaill is now under close observation from the archaeology institute, although an excavation is unlikely in the near future given coronavirus restrictions.

Towrie said: 'UHI Archaeology Institute will continue to carefully monitor the extent of the coastal erosion and act as and when necessary.'

Skara Brae is considered the best preserved prehistoric settlement of any period in the British Isles, leaving a vivid impression of prehistoric life.

An 'exceptional' collection of artefacts recovered from the site tell a story of farming and fishing among its inhabitants, as well as jewellery making and crafts.

SKARA BRAE: A NEOLITHIC SETTLEMENT ON THE BAY OF SKAILL IN SCOTLAND

Skara Brae is an ancient neolithic settlement on the Bay of Skaill on the west coat of Mainland - the largest island in Orkney and includes eight houses.

They were occupied from about 3180 BC until about 2500 BC - it is the largest complete Neolithic village in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Neolithic house in the settlement of Skara Brae, circa 2,500 to 2,000 BC, Orkney Island, Scotland, United Kingdom

The site is older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids and has been previously dubbed the 'Scottish Pompeii' due to how well it is preserved.

It was discovered in 1850 after a severe storm - that killed 200 people - stripped Earth from a large irregular knoll and revealed the village.

The village contained a number of houses without roofs and after a small private excavation in 1868, it was left undisturbed until 1913.

It was plundered by a party with shovels who took away artefacts and a storm in 1924 swept away part of one of the houses.

This led the University of Edinburgh to send an expert to secure and investigate the site for future generations in 1927.

Climate change around 4,500 years ago, combined with a major storm is likely what led the inhabitants to abandon the village.

The remaining village is at risk of climate change today, with a 2019 assessment putting it as 'extremely vulnerable' due to rising sea levels.

One unusually severe storm could completely or partially destroy the village.


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Professor Jane Downes from UHI said: said, “During 2017 and 2018 we excavated a much as we could of the early Neolithic houses, but progress was slow due to the never ending blowing sand, and working between tidal inundations.

"Sea level rises and increased storminess - both relatable to climate change - mean the site will very soon have vanished completely.

"Our aim is to complete the excavation of the house floors and associated pits and hearths before they disappear completely.”

Tests on the floor deposits will hopefully give a full picture as to how these earliest farmers lived inside the houses, Prof Downes said.

The excavations has been funded by public donations, which "flooded in" following an online appeal, she added.

"Sufficient funds to commence the dig and to undertake assessment of the animal and plant remains were raised and the team would like to express their gratitude for the donations from people all over the world." Prof Downes added.

The archaeological site at Cata Sand on Sanday was discovered by four archaeologists – Prof. Jane Downes, Prof. Colin Richards, Chris Gee of the University of the Highlands and Islands, and Prof. Vicki Cummings of the University of Central Lancashire.

They were walking across the sands on their way to inspect a tomb at Tresness at the time.

The archaeologists were led to the site after spotting coarse stone tools along the sands.

A large number of pilot whale bones, which date from the 18th and 19th Century, were found buried in a pit at the site.

The team returned to the site during March 2016 to work at the site and then again in 2017 and 2019, with the series of houses and fragments of stone wall and stone-built hearths discovered.

Prof Downes said: "This was a first for Sanday and although the house remains are incredibly fragile and disappearing fast, floor deposits survive, and bones survives very well – this level of preservation offers a rare opportunity to be able to analyse plant and animal remains and find out how people sustained themselves in this dynamic environment.

"Two tiny and beautifully crafted shell beads were recovered from samples from the 2017 excavation. These give a rare glimpse into the exquisite craft skills that are lacking from other early Neolithic house sites."

Donations can still be made to support the archaeologists working at Cata Sands with money raised now going towards the post-excavation of the site.


5,000-Year-Old Fingerprint Found on Pottery Shard Unearthed in Scotland

Around 3000 B.C., a potter in what’s now Scotland’s Orkney archipelago left a fingerprint on a clay vessel. Some 5,000 years later, the mark remains visible, offering a rare glimpse into the ancient ceramic’s creation.

As David Walker reports for the Press and Journal, researchers discovered the print on a pottery shard found at the Ness of Brodgar, an archaeological site that features a huge complex of Neolithic buildings. Though scholars have unearthed a large collection of ancient pottery at the site, this is the first historic fingerprint recorded there.

“Working on such a high-status site as the Ness of Brodgar, with its beautiful buildings and stunning range of artifacts, it can be all too easy to forget about the people behind this incredible complex,” says excavation director Nick Card in a statement. “But this discovery really does bring these people back into focus.”

Ceramics specialist Roy Towers spotted the print while examining a clay shard, reports the Scotsman’s Alison Campsie. Researchers confirmed that the mark was a fingerprint through reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), which combines photographs captured under different light sources to create a detailed virtual model.

The Ness of Brodgar is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, which was designated as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1999. The cluster of islands in Scotland’s Northern Isles houses two Neolithic ceremonial stone circles—the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar—and a large chambered tomb called Maeshowe, as well as the remains of settlements and other ancient sites.

Archaeologists discovered the ruins of ancient buildings on the Ness of Brodgar isthmus, between the two stone circles, in 2002. Excavations since then have uncovered decorated stone slabs and a large building believed to be a Neolithic temple, as well as the largest collection of late Neolithic Grooved Ware pottery in the U.K., notes the Press and Journal. This style of pottery includes drinking cups, buckets, basins and other flat-bottomed vessels that were typically decorated with geometric patterns.

Researchers first discovered the Neolithic site at the Ness of Brodgar in 2002. (S Marshall via Wikimedia Commons under CC SA 4.0)

Writing on the Ness of Brodgar’s website, Towers explains that people at the Orkney site probably began producing the Grooved Ware ceramics around 3200 B.C. The practice continued for the next 700 years or so, with pottery styles changing significantly over time. Some of the many ceramic shards found at the site, for instance, featured red, black and white coloring.

The artisans’ work reflects the “talented, sophisticated, puzzling and outlandish (only to our modern minds) souls who made this abundance of pottery,” according to Towers. “And the pottery, even the most humble, crumbliest body sherd, is the key to understanding some of their thinking and gaining access, however limited, to their minds and thinking.”

Per the Scotsman, the Ness of Brodgar site was part of a period of cultural development that began to take shape around 4000 B.C., when farmers from northwestern and northern France arrived in Scotland and spread across the region. Orkney’s inhabitants developed a prosperous cattle farming culture and, between 3300 and 2800 B.C., built monuments and large houses, in addition to creating new art forms like the Grooved Ware pottery.

Per BBC News , ancient fingerprints are not uncommon finds at archaeological sites, which often contain a plethora of pottery. The researchers hope to further analyze the newly discovered fingerprint to determine the gender and age of the potter.

“Although finding the fingerprint impression won’t hugely impact our work, it does give us a highly personal, poignant connection to the people of Neolithic Orkney, 5,000 years ago,” says Card in the statement.

About Livia Gershon

Livia Gershon is a freelance journalist based in New Hampshire. She has written for JSTOR Daily, the Daily Beast, the Boston Globe, HuffPost, and Vice, among others.


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