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Rousay, Westness

Cemetery (Viking), Brooch(S) (Viking)

Site Name Rousay, Westness

Classification Cemetery (Viking), Brooch(S) (Viking)

Alternative Name(s) Moa Ness; Moaness

Canmore ID 2204

Site Number HY32NE 7

NGR HY 3759 2932

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2024.

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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 7 3759 2932

See also HY32NE 3, HY32NE 4, HY32NE 17 and HY32NE 32.

For 1963 discovery of Viking burial at HY 382 289, see HY32NE 44.

HY 375 293. At the end of October 1963 a Viking woman's grave was found whilst digging a hole to bury a cow. The site was on a low promontory on the SW side of the island, probably near where two Viking graves were found in 1826. (For which, see also HY32NE 3 and HY32NE 4 ).

The farm manager recovered two early-mid 9th Century tortoise brooches, a zoomorphic Celtic brooch datable to c. 750 A D, a bronze mount and some human bones, which were sent to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS) by the land-owners, Mr and Mrs Scarth. Further investigation of the site on behalf of the museum showed that the grave had been entirely disturbed, but the rest of the skeleton and part of a baby's skeleton, about 40 beads, a bone comb, fragments of a bronze bowl, other bronze mounts, and pieces of iron implements were recovered. The sides of the grave of which there were no surface indications, had probably been built of slabs laid horizontally.

A S Henshall 1963.

The site of the Viking grave, marked by two upright stones erected by the land-ower, was pointed out by the finder, Mr Flett, at HY 3759 2933.

Visited by OS (NKB), 11 June 1967.

The excavation of the Viking site at Westness by the Norsk Arkeologisk Selskap revealed a complete grave of a Viking warrior.

D M Wilson and D G Hurst 1971.

The grave referred to by Wilson and Hurst was situated only a few yards from the woman's grave at HY 3759 2933. Measuring c. 2 1/2 by 1 1/4 yds and faced with stone slabs, it contained the complete skeleton of a very large man who had been buried with his shield, the boss of which was in good condition and datable to the early 10th century. The grave also contained 23 objects which appear to be dice for some sort of game. Miss Sigrid Hansen, of Oslo University, in charge of the excavation, said it would appear that after the man had been buried, a woman and some animals were sacrificed on the top of the grave.

Glasgow Herald 10 August 1968.

Students from Bergen and Oslo Universities, completing their third season of excavations at this site, have uncovered a third grave, the nature of which is indeterminate as it has been disturbed by rabbits and only leg and foot bones have so far been found. There is the possibility of a fourth grave.

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

There is conflicting local opinion concerning the number of graves found here to date. It is expected that further excavations will proceed in the summer of 1973 but until an excavation report is published nothing positive can be added to the newspaper accounts. Three areas of excavation, partly re-turfed, are visible immediately S of the 1963 find which is on a slight rise surrounded, but apparently not encroached upon, by weathered rig and furrow cultivation.

Visited by OS (AA), 10 October 1972.

Further excavation of this Viking cemetery has exposed 32 graves as well as earlier foundations. Excavation of a boat-grave produced a male skeleton with weapons and tools. 5 oval graves nearby contained weapons, jewellery and tools, and other graves were of children. C14 dating places the cemetery in the 9th century.

S H H Kaland 1980.

Excavation of the Westness cemetery has revealed both Pictish and Viking graves of varying types, both with and without grave-goods. Radiocarbon assay indicates use from the 7th to the 9th centuries AD and skeletal analysis indicates that the remains comprise the whole community; a wide range of pathological conditions is indicated in a population aged up to fifty and measuring up to 1.7m in height. The graves were not identifiable on the surface but apparently had headstones or similar grave-markers at the time of use; the Vikings evidently respected the graves of the native population.

The Pictish burials were unaccompanied by grave-goods and laid extended in narrow and shallow trench-graves, some of which were wholly or partially slab-lined.

The Viking graves were rectangular or oval in form. The oval graves were slab-lined and possibly also slab-covered while the lining-stone behind the head was a taller 'stemstone'. Grave-goods varied with the status of the individual and included weapons (sword, axe, spear and arrows), shield-bosses, jewellery, tools (including sickles and adzes) and weaving implements.

Two boat-graves (measuring 5.5m and 4.5m in length respectively) were recognised from their rivet-patterns and decayed outline-stains; they were evidently three- or four-strake vessels of faering form and clinkered-oak construction. The boat from grave II had a rowlock of deer antler on the gunwale and a 'vadbein' of deer antler for the fishing-line on the other gunwale. In each case the burial was formed by placing the vessel in a hole in the ground and stabilising it externally with stones and clay before forming a midships burial-chamber by infilling the bow and stern with stones. Each boat contained the extended inhumation of a battle-scarred male accompanied by tools and weapons; swords, shields, axes and arrows in each case with a spear in one of them. Both burials contained farming tools (including adze and sickle); one also had a hone and a strike-a-light, and the other a fishing weight and bone comb.

A boat-shaped slab-setting was also found on the edge of the beach; it was evidently unfinished and unused.

S H H Kaland 1993.

HY 376 293 An area of c 1ha adjacent to the previously excavated cemetery at Westness, Rousay, was subjected to geophysical survey followed by trial trenching. The objective was to investigate potential archaeological deposits recently revealed by coastal erosion, to investigate the presence/absence of further burials or features associated with the cemetery, and to define the limits of the previous excavation trenches more closely.

Those deposits seen in the erosion face proved to be superficial and did not extend inland. Elsewhere, with one exception, trial trenching indicated that no substantial deposits survived outwith the previous excavation area. One trench, which was situated at the southern tip of the promontory upon which the site lies, uncovered parts of a human skull accompanied by a fragment of bone comb. This was interpreted as a disturbed burial, probably of Viking date.

Sponsors: Historic Scotland, Orkney Archaeological Trust.

G Wilson and H Moore 1997.


Note (1982)

Westness HY 3759 2933 HY32NE 7

In 1963 an oval cist was accidentally discovered; it contained a pair of oval brooches, a penannular brooch of eighth century date, bronze mounts, forty beads, fragments of a bronze bowl and a bone comb. Finds in NMAS.


(The Scotsman, 8 November 1963; Medieval Archaeol, 8, 1964, 240; Stevenson 1968; OR 545)

Note (1982)

Moaness HY 3753 2929 HY32NE

Rich cemetery investigated throughout the 1970s; excavations by Dr Sigrid Kaland, Historisk Museet, Bergen, continue.


(Kaland 1973; OR 549)

Orkney Smr Note

Viking-Age grave was found 1963 with a oair of oval

brooches, a Celtic brooch of extremely fine workmanship, bronze

mounts, forty beads, fragments of a bronze bowl and a bone comb.

The penannular brooch is of the highest quality: it is of silver,

inlaid with gold panels, decorated with zoomorphic designs in

filigree, and has studs of glass and amber.


Grave containing female skeleton with two bronze

tortoise-brooches [ AD 800-850], silver Celtic brooch with gold

filigree cAD 750 Irish] and decorative bronze-gilt panel from

book cover or reliquary. Found by J Flett, Westness Farm, in

burying a cow. Grave (and cow) subsequently re-excavated by A S



Information from Orkney SMR [n.d.]


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