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Westray, Tuquoy

Midden (Period Unassigned), Settlement (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Westray, Tuquoy

Classification Midden (Period Unassigned), Settlement (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Crosskirk; Cross-kirk; Ness Of Tuquoy

Canmore ID 2822

Site Number HY44SE 5

NGR HY 4546 4313

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. 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


Tuquoy, Westray, Orkney, rune-inscribed stone

Measurements: L 0.77m, W 0.41m, H 0.11m

Stone type: flagstone

Place of discovery: HY 4546 4313

Present location: HES store, Edinburgh.

Evidence for discovery: found 1982-3 during excavation of a late Norse settlement, reused as a building stone.

Present condition: worn.


Along the narrow face of the slab are lightly incised runes, representing a graffito inscription.

Date: early medieval.

References: Barnes & Page 2006, OR 14, 197-200.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2017

Archaeology Notes

HY44SE 5 4546 4313.

A kitchen-midden on the beach at Crosskirk (HY44SE 1) yielded a fragment of a bowl-shaped, steatite urn.

J G Callander 1930.

At HY 4546 4313 c.12.0m of closely packed burnt stones are exposed in the shore line. Extending W from them for c.60m are the traces of drystone structures, exhibiting signs of lintelled passages and cells, with some midden material of shells and animal bones. Presumably the source of origin of the steatite urn sherd.

Visited by OS(AA) 4 July 1970.

HY 454 431. Excavation of a trial trench on Tuquoy farm, which commenced in the summer of 1982, was continued and completed during the 1983 season. The earliest building phase within the trial trench was represented by a long and massively constructed, rectangular, hall-like building, which survives, for the present, untouched by the sea. Its full extent was not located, but it had minimum internal dimensions of 6.65m by 3.75m. Extensive traces of external lime plastering were found on one wall face. The walls were nowhere less than one metre thick, and the exceptionally broad, truncated end on one wall (1.42m) may have served as a reinforced entrance to the building. Since there was no evidence among the excavation finds to suggest that this grand construction was ever, in fact, defended from attackers, the monumental nature of the edifice may well be an indication of the high status of the patron of the builders, rather than of a serious defensive intention.

The interior of the building was paved over at least three times with large, well cut flagstones, right across the floor; but generally internal features were rare, although finds were of a high quality. This massive structure was partitioned on a least three different occasions. It can thus be conjectured that the large size of the building was subsequently found to be impracticable, and that the building evolved to serve a different function or functions.

A re-used slab, incorporated into the latest partition wall, was inscribed with a complete and legible runic inscription.

A second, large and probably rectangular structure, slightly later in date but of similar construction, was appended to the first. It was severely damaged by sea erosion, and again, its full extent was not defined within the trial trench. One of its component walls was dismantled, and a more solidly built, replacement wall was constructed over the remains of the found ations of the earlier one. The interior, though badly eroded, was packed with internal features and rich archaeological deposits.

At least four other, less substantial, building phases were also reprensented within the excavation area, suggesting continuous re-building and occupation over a period of time. An exceptionally rich depth of midden material, probably from a medieval settlement adjacent to the trial trench, filled into the ruins of the earlier phases of building.

The finds were exceptional both in quantity and quality. They included complete and fragmentary objects of bone, stone and steatite, copper alloy and iron; a large collection of coarse pottery, and a notable assemblage of imported medieval pottery, originating from several European countries, as well as from other parts of Britain, and testifying to the widespread connections of this important, high status settlement site.

Fuller accounts of the excavation results can be found in the 'Durham and Newcastle Universities' Archaeological Reports for 1983. Sponsor: SDD(AM)

O Owen 1983.

A third season of site assessment was undertaken. A gridded coring programme revealed that the site survives up to 50m inland and extends 150m along the eroding cliff section, W of the associated 12th century church of Cross Kirk (HY44SE 1). A dried up stream bed which originally sprang from the now drained Loch of Tuquoy physically dislocates the church from the settlement site. In general, within the immediate vicinity of the 1982-3 excavated area, structures abound; further away, rich midden-site deposits and occasional structures were identified; field soils surround the settlement. Other, probably unrelated, archaeological sites were identified, both in the field immediately N of the Norse and Medieval settlement site, and further W and E along the cliff face.

The section was straightened in adjoining segments, the face made vertical, drawn and photographed; all stratigraphic units were recorded and interpreted. A 0.5m wide strip was excavated along a length of c.55m of the section, and all soil deposits sampled for routine analysis, flotation and wet-sieving to ascertain the formation processes represented and to quantify the anthropogenic components of each deposit.

A complex sequence of late Norse/Medieval structures was partially excavated immediately W of the late Norse hall discovered in 1982-3.

The interiors of these structures survive behind the present section face. On the beach, a flagged passageway bordered by single-faced walls leads into an unexcavated structure behind the cliff face. It is of unknown function, morphology or date, though earlier than the late Norse period.

40m to the E, a large pit (c.7 by 3.5m across and 1.65m maximum depth) was excavated. It contained 0.6m in depth of extremely compacted, waterlogged, organic material, essentially manure, comprised of successive levels of animal dung and straw, probably the residue from byre floors, and grey ash. It contained many fragments of unburnt wood, both worked and unworked, twigs, grasses and straw, shells and microscopic remains, notably insects. This material produced a radiocarbon determination of 885 +- 65 AD. It was overlain by 1.4m of burnt stones and peat ash. The pit also contained a substantial butt-ended wall of uncertain date which continues behind the exposed section.

O Owen 1988.

Further excavation was undertaken by Owen in 1988; a carved fragment

of bone needle and a decorated wooden handle were revealed.

O Owen 1988.

HY 454 431 Serious damage to the eroding cliff section was reported in february 1993, following unusually sever winter storms. Parts of the section had collpased and, in places, up to 3m of archaeological deposits had been washed away. In early March, a small team recorded those parts which had been worst damaged.

The section immediately W of the late Norse hall discovered in 1982-3 was cleaned and re-drawn. More of the complex sequence of late Norse/Medieval structures was revealed. Deposits were seen to continue further to the W than had been exposed in 1988 when the section was last examined. A'flagged passageway' (recorded on the beach in 1988) was this year partly excavated. This is clearly part of an earlier structure with a substantial paved floor, which had been remodelled on at least two occassions.

The section to the E of the late Norse hall (where a large pit full of organic, waterlogged, organic material was partly excavated in 1988) was particularly badly affected by the damage. However, the sheer volume and weight of collapse here precluded its removal and may in fact help to protect what remains of the pit and the unusual deposits above it from further damage. It was photographically recorded but not distrubed. The 'new' section edge was surveyed as part of a continuing effort to monitor erosion at the site.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

O Owen 1993.


Field Visit (June 1981)

Late Norse or High Mediaeval settlement rapidly eroding from

shoreline. Massively heavy walls of quarried stones, mostly dry

laid but one massive section has lime mortar. Near here is an

opening running about 0.8m back into section, with wall-face one

side and rubble the other - may be a doorway but could equally

well be due to walls of different buildling-periods having moved

apart through subsidence. Extending W, the heavy slab-formed

floors have drains (the OS 'passages') running out under them,

very suggestive of byres. - This settlement is clearly a high-

status one and must be associated with Cross Kirk. It is

presumably the original nucleus of the estate of Tuquoy.

Information from Orkney SMR (RGL) Jun 81.

Field Visit (1998)

The extensive remains of a high-status Norse settlement extend for over 100m parallel to the coast. The eroding coastal section contains frequent lengths of walling, relating to a series of separate structures, along with associated features such as drains, pits and paved surfaces.

The site has been partially excavated over several seasons in the 1980's and early 1990's (Owen, 1993). The current section face has changed little since the last season of work in 1993; the majority of the features which were then visible could be relocated. Where there has been recent damage, this has removed no more than 0.5m of the section face and then only in isolated areas. What is more worrying, however, is the degree to which the section has been undercut by the sea. The softer deposits at the base of the section have been scoured out, creating an overhang of between 0.5m to 1m in depth. There has been very little turf regeneration over the 1993 cuttings and thus the exposed deposits, which include heavy masonry, are very vulnerable to further erosion.

Moore and Wilson, 1998

Coastal Zone Assessment Survey

Geophysical Survey (7 February 2018 - 16 March 2018)

HY 45459 43129 A geophysical survey was undertaken,

7 February – 16 March 2018, on land to the N of the site of

Tuquoy. The site, which suffers from severe coastal erosion

was discovered as an eroding section in 1981. Tuquoy

underwent excavation in 1982–83 and full assessment in

1988. This work revealed a high-status Norse period hall

with suggestions of medieval settlement immediately to

the west.

The survey aimed to improve understanding of the

nature and extent of the site inland and to contextualise

the excavation and assessment of the coastal section.

The gradiometer survey was successful in identifying the

surviving landward extent of the site, visible as a clear

and extensive settlement cluster, with a possible boundary

marking the settlement limits. Targeted earth resistance

survey was also successful. It revealed a series of features,

notably a substantial square structure, possibly a highstatus

tower-like building, to the W of the excavation


An earthwork enclosure was identified directly N of

the Cross Kirk site, with much of the surrounding ground

showing rig and furrow cultivation in the earth resistance

survey. A large building, square in plan, was identified

close to the coastal edge, with a smaller structure, possibly

with a corn drying kiln, present in the W field. A former

streambed, depicted on the 1st Edition OS map was clearly

visible in the earth resistance survey data running N/S

through the centre of the survey area. Several kelp-pits

were identified on the coast in the SW part of the survey

area and a number of other possible features were also


Archive: NRHE

Funder: Historic Environment Scotland

Amanda Brend – Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology



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