OAS volunteers recently joined a Fieldwalking exercise as part of an Investigation of a site at REDLANDS being led by Prof. Colin Richards of Manchester University. Here is Colin's preliminary report on what has proved to be a significant site.
A research project was undertaken between 1994-2003 examining the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (3700 – 2200BC) occupation around the Bay of Firth, Mainland. Walking across the ploughed fields of Quanterness, Rennibister and Stonehall resulted in a number of settlements being located and excavated. Although this project is currently being written up and nearing completion two new sites have been discovered, one has been found by Christopher Gee at the Braes of Smerquoy, the second by Eoin Scott on the lands of Redlands, Firth.
The Redlands site, which appears as a low mound in the south-western part of the field, has actually been known for several years. In fact, it has been walked over twice before in the last five years and flint, stone and pottery has been collected from the plough soil. Because the field lies within the study area it was decided, with Eoin Scott’s and Robbie Tulloch’s kind permission, to undertake further investigations. The first stage involved a complete surface collection – this meant dividing the ground into 5m squares and carefully picking up all the visible archaeological material. Christopher Gee, Colin Richards and Mairi Robertson, aided by volunteers from the Orkney Archaeology Society and Orkney College, walked the field in mixed weather between 8th-10th April. An astonishing variety of material was picked up including polished stone axes and chisels, flint tools and pottery. Even part of a bronze wrist band was found Together, the material shows the settlement to have been occupied for an extraordinary amount of time spanning well over a thousand years (c. 3300 – 2000BC).
The second part of the investigation involved a geophysical survey of the area by James Moore and Christopher Gee from Orkney College. Geophysical survey measures differences in the magnetic field of the earth and is a technique that generally works well in Orkney and some very good results have been obtained elsewhere. After a long day working in damp conditions, the data was downloaded and processed by James and Christopher in Orkney College. To great surprise, the clearest image of a 5000 year old Orcadian settlement appeared before their eyes. The clarity is amazing and not only can circular houses been seen, but more importantly the entire settlement appears to be surrounded by a ditch or wall. The results of the survey effectively make excavation unnecessary although it is important to see if the boundary is a wall or ditch – or both. Apart from the great wall enclosing the Ness of Brodgar settlement, nothing like this has been seen surrounding a late Neolithic settlement in Orkney before.
(Image c. Orkney College Geophysics unit)
From just a few pieces of flint and stone on the surface of a field, aided by sophisticated geophysical equipment, an exceptional discovery has been made that will make us rethink the nature of society at the end of the Neolithic. Not least, what forms of social tension lead people to build large walls around their places of settlement? Perhaps the late Neolithic period in Orkney was not quite the peaceful and comfortable place that sites like Skara Brae tend to suggest and archaeologists have imagined.....