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Westray, Pierowall Quarry

Chambered Cairn (Neolithic), Inhumation (Neolithic), Inscribed Stone(S) (Neolithic), Roundhouse (Iron Age), Structure (Late Neolithic), Scraper (Tool)(S) (Flint)(Neolithic), Unidentified Object(S) (Stone)(Neolithic), Unidentified Pottery (Iron Age), Unidentified Pottery (Late Neolithic)

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Westray
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY44NW 32 4389 4905.

HY 4389 4905. A low irregular mound in pasture at 20m OD to N of the Pierowall, was partially excavated in 1981 in advance of quarrying operations. The limited excavation showed that the mound contained the remains of an Early Iron Age settlement of the 1st and 2nd millennium which had destroyed all but the lowest metre or so of an underlying chambered cairn.(Confirmed by A S Henshall).

Attention to the site had been drawn by the discovery of a large decorated stone (1.30 x 0.41 x 0.52m) thought to have come from approximately where the cairn passage would have passed through the inner wall-face, and thus it may have been a passage lintel. It was found in two pieces, decorated with two pairs of spirals, concentric rings and other motifs, closely related to Irish megalithic art (cf: Newgrange). Two smaller decorated stones were found in the quarry dumps. Only a small part of the SE side of the cairn was exposed. The estimated diameter was about 18m edged by a revetment wall-face which stood up to 1m high in 14 courses; the bottom course was of very large slabs projecting about 0.1m. About 1.8m behind this was a second wall giving an estimated diameter of about 14m, and standing about 0.7m high in 8 courses. SSW of the estimated centre of the cairn, the core butted against two large slabs about 0.6m apart which were interpreted as part of a passage.

Immediately S of the wall-face the spread of rubble from the cairn was interrupted by the formation of a secondary platform on which had been built a rectangular structure dated to the late 3rd millennium and asssociated with Grooved Ware sherds. At about the same time, the cairn was levelled and the outer wall-face and rubble behind it were paved over at a height of 1.1m above ground surface. Subsequently, after a period of abandonment a stone round house was built just within and concentric with the outer face of the underlying cairn. The interior of the round house was at a lower level than its outer wall and had been dug into the remains of the cairn. A large flint assemblage and human & animal bones were also found at the site.

In 1983 only the base courses of the SE arcs of the wall-face of the cairn were to be seen, and the profile of the mound in the quarry section.

Full report forthcoming.(Interim report 1981 (SDD, IAM).

Visited by OS (JLD) 11 May 1983.


Field Visit (June 1981)

About half the original mound remains intact at the


Information from Orkney SMR (RGL) Jun 81.

Publication Account (2002)



Early Iron Age roundhouse on Westray which was discovered during rescue excavations in 1981; these took place after the discovery in the quarry of a decorated stone from a Neolithic tomb. The excavation has been reported in detail [1].

The remains of the roundhouse were found on top of the abandoned Neolithic cairn, which had probably become a turfed mound by that time. Only segments of the roundhouse wall remained and this had an irregular curvature, so that its overall dimensions cannot be estimated; it must however have been at least 16 m in overall width at one point. A thickness of 3.1 m could be measured at one point.

The old ground surface on which the wall stood gave a C-14 date of 560 +/- 80 bc (GU-1580). An occupation deposit was found outside the wall and more dates were obtained from bones from this, though most were of Neolithic age. Iron Age bones gave a date of 475 +/- 60 bc (GU-1581). Broadly speaking these two, when calibrated, confirm that the house belongs to the 7th and 6th centuries BC.

The pottery from the midden included fragments of vessels with vertical rims and sharp shoulders, closely parallel to the material from the second pre-broch village at Jarlshof (HU30 1). Thus as with Quanterness (HY41 5) and Bu (HY20 4) the radiocarbon dates and the distinctive pottery combined to give a clear picture of the age and cultural affinities of the house.

Source: 1. Sharples 1984.

E W MacKie 2002

Note (2020)

Pierowall Quarry

This burial site in Orkney Islands was a focus for funerary practices in the Neolithic period, between 4000 BC and 2451 BC.

Prehistoric Grave Goods project site ID: 60108


Total no. graves with grave goods: 1

Total no. people with grave goods: 1

Total no. grave goods: 7

Prehistoric Grave Goods project Grave ID: 74022

Grave type: Unknown

Burial type(s): Inhumation

Grave good: Worked Stone; Materials used: Stone (Uncertain/Unspecified); Current museum location: Unknown

Grave good: Worked Stone; Materials used: Stone (Uncertain/Unspecified); Current museum location: Unknown

Grave good: Worked Stone; Materials used: Stone (Uncertain/Unspecified); Current museum location: Unknown

Grave good: Assemblage; Materials used: Bone/Antler/Horn/Ivory/Tooth (Animal) [Bone]; Current museum location: Unknown

Grave good: Scraper; Materials used: Chert / Flint [Flint]; Current museum location: Unknown

Grave good: Scraper; Materials used: Chert / Flint [Flint]; Current museum location: Unknown

Grave good: Scraper; Materials used: Chert / Flint [Flint]; Current museum location: Unknown

Further details, the full project database and downloads of project publications can be found here:

An accessible visualisation of the database can be found here:

Orkney Smr Note

During extension to Pierowall quarry to provide stone for

the Gill Pier extension, a decorated stone was found in January

1981. The site was investigated on behalf of SDD by N R J Neil

and F W Moran of North of Scotland Archaeological Services, and

subsequently excavated by an Edinburgh team under the direction

of N Sharples. During that excavation, another major piece of

the decorated stone was found. The two pieces, which fit

together, are covered with spiral ornament of the Newgrange

style, and are on display in Tankerness House.

The excavation, which was only partial, suggested that the

decorated stone had been structurally part of the passage of a

second millennium BC this was replaced by a settlement and

subsequently by a massive circular structure of the Early Iron

Age, either a large roundhouse or small ring-fort.

[R1], [R2], [R3]


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