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Souterrain (Prehistoric)

Site Name Yinstay

Classification Souterrain (Prehistoric)

Canmore ID 3105

Site Number HY51SW 2

NGR HY 5084 1031

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish St Andrews And Deerness
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY51SW 2 5084 1031.

The underground structure is on the highest ground in the neighbourhood and on the farm of Yinstay. The place is surmounted by a lime-built cairn 10ft high. The chamber contained fragments of deer's horn, bones and teeth of horned sheep, oyster and whelk shells, burnt wood, and a few fragments of rather fine pottery.

Saga Book 1907.

Earth-House, Yinstay - This earth-house which is no longer accessible, was partly excavated in 1909. It was found to be oval on plan, 21ft 6in long 7ft broad and 2ft 6ins high. The side walls had not been built, but had been partly cut out of a clayey sandstone, and partly out of clay. Pillars supported a flat roof. A rude stone implement was found, inside the earth house, and this passed into private possession.

RCAHMS 1946.

No trace of this earth house could be found on the surface in the region of the modern cairn at HY 5084 1031

Visited by OS (RD) 9 April 1964.

A visit by Mr Howe at Yinstay (HY51SW 2) and can confirm most of what J.W.Cursiter said about the area.

'The first time I went I saw stones in a recently ploughed field almost diagonally opposite that of the

souterrain site.but only paid a cursory glance as I did not know at the time that this was the field referred by him as adjacent. The farmer is ploughing a third of this field at a time. Its southern boundary running roughly E-W

not many yards N from the cairn. Today the middle section was being ploughed and is very dark earth. However this does not appear to have any extraneous material. Upon closer viewing of the now dry ploughsoil (HY50881034 to

51021031) from the southern section boundary I could make out some burnt stone and small nuggets of what appears to be pot. The modern cairn also appears to contain at least a couple of burnt stones as part of the infill.

This is 2.0m across and 2.0m at its greatest height in an arc facing the road, but only survives to any height for less than a quarter of the circumference, rapidly tailing off. There isn't much of the red sandstone remaining but the outer wall is certainly mostly built up with broch-style blocks, some obviously carved, though that this came from its field rather

than another in the area is to my mind doubtful. I looked for signs of the souterrain by a field corner but what looked like a prospect (HY 50841032)for where the discoverer broke through is at the fence a few yards to the north

of the cairn, where by a tall toppled stone there is a slight depression of a few feet in length. Coming down to the road I noticed a water-filled depression (HY 509103) that looked like something, but there isn't anything I can point out and it is some distance away'.

So though I cannot back up J.W.Cursiter's theory of a broch there are strong indications of a prehistoric settlement that side of the Hall of Yinstay'..

Information via e-mail to RCAHMS from Mr M Howe, March 2006

'The Orkney Herald' in 1906 describes the excavation of this site. It also reveals how a modern cairn was built from earlier blocks and that a standing stone had been removed "in living memory". Stones, burnt material, pottery and food remains were found in a next door field.

M Howe 2006


Orkney Smr Note

Early in May 1906 the tenant of Yinstay was digging, when his spade fell through, into an underground

chamber. Examined by Cursiter; his report: site strewn with burnt stones, bones, shells, balck earth, pottery. Highest ground in neighbourhood. Surmounted by navigational cairn erected 1840-50 by Capt Thomas from stones dug up on site, among which red sandstone blocks, not local. Probably site of broch. Tradition of standing stone here. Chamber 3 - 4ft underground, original entrance not located, access difficult. Chamber oval, 19ft E-W, 10ft max breadth, roof height 2ft 6in supported on 9 water-worn stones set up as pillars. Floor muddy, not clear whether paved, walls rock-cut in part. In chamber found deer-horn, bones, sheep teeth, oyster and whelk shells, burnt wood, pottery. [R1, R2]

Plan reproduced by RCAMS which compares site with Biggings, Harray. After the excavation was over, a rude stone implement was found inside the earth-house, and this passed into private possession. [R3]

No trace now to be seen near the cairn. OS visit 1964.

Information from Orkney SMR [n.d.]


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