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Publication Account

Date 2002

Event ID 585698

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account




Settlement, probably of the early Iron Age, consisting of a roundhouse re-used as a potter's workshop and re-used chambers of a Neolithic cairn which lies on the small island of that name off the east shore of Eday itself.

In about 1936 C S T Calder investigated the group of ancient sites which lies at the south side of the islet. These included three Neolithic burial cairns (one being a multi-period stalled cairn) and two other structures which proved to belong to the Iron Age. Iron Age remains were also found inside one of the cairns. A reassessment of the later pottery shows that at least one of the Calf of Eday Iron Age sites very probably comprise another of those rare settlements in the northern islands which can be assigned to the early Iron Age, probably in the 7th/6th centuries BC and well before the broch period.

Structure 3

The mound containing Structure 3 was only partly explored (the west half) because of lack of time and turned out to contain an oval stone building which measured some 12.5 x 11.6 m (41 x 38 ft.) overall. The wall thickness was measurable at one point at 4.42 m (14 ft. 6 in.). Traces of at least two chambers within the thickness of this wall were found and the thickness behind these varied from 2.13 - 2.52 m (7 ft. to 8 ft. 3 in.); the stumps of two thin stones slabs were found in the western one. A single stone slab was projecting above the ground before work started and proved to be standing 1.60 m (5 ft. 3 in.) above the internal floor; it was fitted at right angles to the inner wallface is if to form the side of a smaller chamber between the other two mentioned. The north recess also had slabs in it, some of which lined its sides. A slab hearth was found in the central area.

Large amounts of pottery were recovered from the north recess. A pile of clay was found immediately to the north of the hearth. There was also a stone slab-lined pit with a clay base sunk into the floor and a stone mortar -- presumably for grinding the clay -- next to it. The excavator thought that all these features showed that the building had been turned into a potter's workshop at a later stage; presumably it had been a dwelling before that.

The pottery was different to that found in the chambered cairn (below). "Most of the sherds from Chamber B" (of the stalled cairn, below) "were thin and of good hard texture while those from Mound no. 3" (the house) "are coarse and thick, and many contain a much greater amount of crushed stone among the clay." [2, 147 and figs. 21 and 22]. Most of the rims are of simple barrel- and bucket-shaped urns and of some interest is the evidence for the construction of three of them. These vessels were built in rings, the upper edge of the ring below being made into a rounded wedge shape and fitted into a groove formed in the lower edge of the one above, the joint then being smoothed down [2, figs. 22 and 23]. Vessels made in this way often break along the joins of then rings, as was noted in the Everted Rim jars found at Dun Mor Vaul on Tiree (NM04 4).

Chambers A and B of the stalled cairn

"After the roof of the burial chamber (A) of the stalled cairn had disappeared and the interior had been partially filled up, judging from the pottery found at the higher level the chamber had been occupied by people of the Iron Age." [2, 143].

More plain Iron Age pottery was found in Chamber B and this included all the rims and bases drawn by Calder [2, fig. 20] except for no. 1 which is the decorated sherd from Chamber A. They included several rims and wall sherds of a high quality, hard, black, thin ware, bottom centre: EO 651A: it has a slipped grey surface) as well as some coarser sherds (not drawn).


The only clear evidence for the date of this Iron Age settlement comes from the shouldered rim sherd HD 698 which is not specifically mentioned in Calder's report. It is of a hard, buff-grey ware with a concave neck above the shoulder and must surely be a version of the standard carinated early Iron Age pottery which is found in small quantities in Atlantic Scotland. Since it is catalogued 'HD' it presumably belongs with the sherd collection from the Neolithic cairn.

Sources: 1. OS card HY53 00: 2. Calder 1939.

E W MacKie 2002

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