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Rousay, Westness

Farmstead (Norse)

Site Name Rousay, Westness

Classification Farmstead (Norse)

Alternative Name(s) Norse Hall

Canmore ID 2167

Site Number HY32NE 17

NGR HY 3754 2964

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/2167

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Rousay And Egilsay
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY32NE 17 3754 2964

See also HY32NE 3, HY32NE 4, HY32NE 7, HY32NE 32, HY32NE 44.

The great Norse Hall at Westness, which had been uncovered for several years, was planned in 1962 and shown to be over 100' long by c. 30' wide. Two periods were established. The building was originally a long- hall with stone-faced walls of turf set on the flat peaty soil behind the storm beach and with the outer end running up the rear slope of this beach. The building closely resembled the two great halls at Birsay, which were destroyed in the mid-11th century, but is better preserved. The second stage had a substantial rectangular building, possibly a tower, at one end, while the rest of the dwelling was rebuilt with thinner walls of drystone which might be no more than a sill course. Constructional analogies suggest that this stage belongs to the 12th c. The site was in the 12th century connected with the chieftain Sigurd of Westness and there can be little doubt that the dwelling was the hall of his ancestors.

C A R Radford 1962; D M Wilson and D G Hurst 1965.

The hall, at HY 3754 2964, was excavated by Radford two or three years ago. It is situated on a sandy storm beach near the shore. The visible remains are at least 18.0m long by 4.8m wide between walls 1.0m - 1.3m thick and up to 0.8m high.

Excavations and ground disturbance suggest the existence of further structures in the vicinity.

Surveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (NKB) 12 June 1967.

Students from Oslo and Bergen Universities, led by Mrs Sigrid Kaland are just completing their third season of excavations at this site and at HY32NE 7. This Norse farmhouse includes a long hall 15m long, with walls 1.0m thick and paving slabs laid outside. At one end are the remains of several smaller rooms still to be explored.

It is not yet datable other than late Viking - early medieval, but it is believed that there may be the foundations of an earlier house under the building being excavated at present. Pottery found appears to be later than Viking, but other items suggest an earlier occupation. As well as knives and pieces of iron, the excavators have found soapstone cooking pots.

Several more visits will be required to complete the excavations, after which it is hoped to hand over the site to the D o E.

It is unlikely that there is any direct connection between this farmhouse and the graves described on HY32NE 7.

Glasgow Herald 4 August 1969; S H H Kaland 1973.

A further excavation is planned for 1973.

Survey revised at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (AA) 10 October 1972.

Westness is situated on the W side of Rousay and is known for its cemetery (HY32NE 7) besides being mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga as the place of the kidnapping of Earl Paul. Archaeological survey and excavation have recorded a Viking farmstead close to the shore; this comprises two parallel longhouses, House I (a dwelling-house) and House II (which comprises two smaller houses set together to the S). The houses were set NE-SW across the sandy beach for shelter and the area between them was paved with slabs.

House I was nearly 35m long and between 6.5m and 7m broad with two large halls and a smaller room between; secondary walls indicated rebuilding during the period of use. The N hall measured 15m in length and was entered from the E; there were earth-filled benches along the walls and a stone-lined fireplace in the middle. The S hall measured 10m in length and had a curved entrance in the W long wall to protect it against the prevailing wind; the paved entrance led towards the central paved pathway. Artifacts from the house included fragments of knives, soapstone sherds, bone pins, combs and pottery with animal bones and carbonised seeds.

House II was 15m long and between 5m and 5.5m broad with the long walls curving inwards at their extremities; the doorway (in the N corner) opened on to a paved sunken pathway about 0.5m wide. This was evidently a byre with room for about 18 cows and edging-stones forming the benches on each side of the pathway. House III was a sheep-byre measuring 5m square and had a paved floor sloping down to a ditch on the E; there was a similar ditch on the W and the two ditches met in the corner where there was a narrow passageway.

Excavation of the farmstead has revealed carbonised barley, rye and flax while pollen analysis has indicated the cultivation of barley, rye and oats nearby. Bone evidence indicates the exploitation of seabirds (presumably from the nearby cliffs of Scabra Head), grouse, whale, seal, deer, otter and fish (mostly cod and ling). Fishing sinkers and 'vadbein' were also found.

S H H Kaland 1993.

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