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between 12:00 Friday 15th December and 12:00 Monday 18th December


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)

Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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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.

Note (1983)

Pierowall Quarry HY 4389 4905 HY44NW

In January 1981, enlargement of the Pierowall stone-quarry produced a decorated stone; a small area of the site was subsequently excavated as it had survived the initial quarrying operations but was scheduled for subsequent destruction. Excavation, though comparatively limited in extent given the estimated size of the site, revealed a monument of two

main periods. The earlier was a chambered cairn belonging to the Maes Howe group, the later was a round house of early Iron Age date. The large round cairn was about 18m in diameter; it had two revetments (the inner 14m in diameter), and it enclosed a chamber entered by a passage on the SW side, which was visible in the quarry section. Associated with this are three decorated stones, in the Irish megalithic art tradition, as represented at Newgrange. The larger stone was probably positioned as a lintel over the entrance into the passage. This stone, elaborately decorated with pecked spirals, is now in Tankerness House Museum, Kirkwall. As the revetment collapsed there was considerable deposition of occupation material around the cairn, and at one point the disarticulated remains of at least six individuals were inserted into the rubble. These activities were radically altered by the wholesale destruction of the cairn around 2100 bc. in terms of uncalibrated radiocarbon dates. It was paved over at a height of about 1m above the ground surface and a small structure was constructed on a platform at its edge. The primary occupation in this structure contained large quantities of debris from the activities of a flint knapper, but this did not continue into the upper levels where proportionally more flint tools were present. The early Iron Age occupation saw the construction of a large stone-walled round house. Its walls were about 3m thick, but its dimensions are unknown because it was not a true circle. It lay directly on top of the cairn and the interior was sunk into it. Outside the round house was an extensive area of occupation material resulting from various domestic activities. Before quarrying, the site had been entirely masked by a sand-dune, approximately half of which still remains. (NM Sharples)


(Neil 1981; Neil and Moran 1981; DES 1981 26; OR 914).

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:

Archaeological Evaluation (1 August 2021 - 31 August 2021)

HY 43887 49040 A programme of assessment and geophysical survey was carried out in the hinterland of Pierowall Quarry.

A number of anomalies potentially of archaeological origin were identified. This was undertaken as a community project. It is hoped that further work will be undertaken in the future.

Archive: EASE Archaeology Funder: EASE Archaeology

Graeme Wilson and Hazel Moore – EASE Archaeology

(Source: DES Vol 22)

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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