Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

Rousay, Skaill

Farmstead (Post Medieval), Kiln Barn (Post Medieval)

Site Name Rousay, Skaill

Classification Farmstead (Post Medieval), Kiln Barn (Post Medieval)

Canmore ID 351514

Site Number HY33SE 161

NGR HY 3739 3009

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

Toggle Aerial | View on large map

Digital Images

First 100 images shown. See the Collections panel (below) for a link to all digital images.

Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Rousay And Egilsay
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney


Excavation (11 May 2015 - 16 July 2015)

HY 3758 3264 (Breck), HY 37384 30093 (Skaill) and HY 37289 30396 (Brough) Archaeological investigations into the Rousay clearances took place at two sites, c2.5 km apart, in the W of Rousay, 11 May – 16 July 2015. Excavation was undertaken at Breck Farmstead in Quandale in conjunction with measured and landscape survey by RCAHMS of the neighbouring farmsteads. In addition, a building recording survey was undertaken and a test pit excavated at Skaill Farm, Westness. Geophysical survey (magnetometry) was also undertaken at Skaill and nearby Brough Farm. The project was in partnership with the ongoing excavations at Swandro multi-period settlement and tombs (University of Bradford), and investigation of the multi-period landscapes of the island.

At Breck (11–22 May 2015), eight small keyhole trenches were excavated within the farm buildings and four test pits around the nearby enclosure. Breck consisted of two building ranges separated by a close (but and ben with additional room, and corn kiln, barn and byre). The earth floor in the but end had been replaced and the remains of a leather shoe was found buried in the upper floor layer. In a similar manner, the original central hearth slab in the but end had been overlain by another slab which also had a rough back wall. A ‘Z’ motif had been carved into the SW end of the lower hearth slab and may have been a good luck charm. The hearth appears to have been replaced along with the floor. Paving slabs and stone roof slabs were found in the close. The presence of window glass suggests that the stone roof had small skylights. The corn drying kiln had a flue into the barn, both had been swept clean. A dump of pottery was found in the neuk bed and byre drain. Indications are that the farm was built in the late 18th to early 19th century as an outset into the hill land beyond the hill dyke. A team from RCAHMS led by George Geddes prepared notes on 68 sites within the Quandale area, and produced measured surveys of seven farmsteads (North House HY33SE 49, Hestival HY33SE 51, Breek HY33SE 53, Cairn HY33SE 55, Knapknowes HY33SE 60).

At Skaill Farm, measured building survey was undertaken at the two ranges and corn kiln. Geophysical survey (magnetometer) was undertaken in four blocks around the farmstead and also a single block at Brough Farm. The results from Skaill indicated the presence of earlier boundaries on a different alignment to the present post-medieval boundaries, which may relate to an earlier farm.

A small test pit was excavated in the garden area adjacent to the main farmhouse to investigate potential post-medieval midden for animal bone assemblages (8–9 and 14–15 July 2015). Midden enhanced topsoil (containing pottery, animal bone, glass and a 1743 half penny) sealed a stony demolition layer (containing fish bones and a sherd of steatite) which in turn sealed a stone wall. The wall was on a slightly different alignment to the main farm building and is likely to relate to an earlier structure and the other geophysical anomalies. The steatite suggests that the earlier farm could date to the

Viking period.

Archive: Archaeology Institute, UHI

Funder: Orkney Islands Council, Orkney Archaeology Society and Archaeology Institute, UHI

Daniel Lee, Keir Strickland, Jane Downes, Ingrid Mainland and George Geddes – Archaeology Institute, UHI and HES

(Source: DES, Volume 16)

Excavation (4 July 2016 - 8 July 2016)

HY 37384 30093 (HY33SE 161) Investigation continued, 4–8 July 2016, around the Viking/Norse/post-medieval farmstead at Skaill. Four test pits were excavated targeting structural remains, earthworks and geophysical anomalies identified last season. To the W of the farm building range, Test Pit 1 was extended (2.8 x 1.5m), having first been excavated last season in 2015 revealing walling. The walling was further exposed this season and four structural phases were identified: 1) double faced stone wall (c0.9m wide, E/W, at a depth of 0.85m below current ground level) of likely Norse

date; 2) stone wall (E/W), replacement for Phase 1; 3) Stone wall, cuts Phase 2 (N/S); 4) Present farmhouse (18th century). This complex sequence of walling attests to numerous phases of farm buildings at the site within a low farm mound.

Test Pit 2 (1.9 x 1.4m) revealed the remains of a farm building to the N of the main range at the site. The base of an outer stone wall, internal paved floor and orthostatic division were found, suggesting the building had been deliberately dismantled.

Test Pit 3 (2.9 x 0.93m) exposed the top of a linear feature identified during the geophysical survey. It consisted of a stony bank that appears to have formed part of an enclosure to the S of, and perhaps contemporary with, the Norse farmstead.

Test Pit 4 (1 x 1m) investigated the area immediately to the W of Test Pit 1, and revealed possible structural stone and vitrified fuel ash.

Excavations at Skaill were carried out in conjunction with the excavations at nearby Knowe of Swandro (HY32NE 19) in collaboration with the University of Bradford. The project included community training, open days, workshops and placements. This forms part of the Rousay Landscapes of

Change and NABO projects, which are researching long term environmental and societal change along the W side of Rousay.

Archive: Archaeology Institute, UHI (currently)

Funder: Orkney Islands Council, Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust and Archaeology Institute, UHI

Daniel Lee, Jane Downes, Ingrid Mainland and Jen Harland – Archaeology Institute, UHI

(Source: DES, Volume 17)

Excavation (10 July 2017 - 25 July 2017)

HY 37384 30093 (HY33SE 161) A third season of research excavations at the Viking/Norse/post-medieval farmstead at Skaill aimed to investigate the date, depth and character of deposits and structures within the farm mound using test pit excavation. Two intersecting transects of 21 test pits in a cross-shape were centred on the farmhouse (N/S and E/W). A total of 13 test pits were excavated/reopened this season, 10–25 July 2017. Test pits were generally 1 x 1m, but some were extended (TP 2, 3, 9 and 17).

Test Pits (TP) 2 and 3 were reopened from last season. In TP 2, the full width (4.6m) of the post-medieval stonebuilt barn was exposed. A stone culvert was located along the northern wall externally. The walls had been demolished to ground level (demolished by 1882). A partial flagstone floor survived internally. In TP 3, the suspected boundary bank sealed a stone-lined culvert and midden enhanced soil, indicating that the area to the SE of the farmstead is likely to contain complex structures and deposits relating to earlier phases of the farm.

To the N of the farm buildings, TP5 contained medieval midden (shell, pottery, animal bone), TP 6 a buried soil below later rubble, and TP 7 contained rubble. TP 9 contained a stone boundary wall (on an unlikely alignment) and TP 10 contained a modern sheep burial adjacent to the kirk boundary wall and was abandoned. Glacial till was located in TP 2, 6 and 7.

To the S, TP 11 revealed deep building rubble which contained medieval red sandstone architectural mouldings, TP 12 and 13 contained midden enhanced soils below deep topsoil. TP 14 and 15 contained topsoil. Glacial till was located at the base of all but TP11 demonstrating the substantial depth of the farm mound on the southern side.

To the W of the farmstead, two test pits were excavated revealing a stone boundary wall in TP 17 and deep soils in TP 18. No test pits on the eastern side were excavated this season (TP 19-20) and TP 1 and 4 were not reopened.

A building survey was also undertaken, 13–16 June, by the HES survey team. Scaled plans and cross sections of the farmstead at Skaill (domestic range and barn/kiln), The Wirk and St Marys Kirk were completed. In addition, walkover survey by UHI around the farmstead recorded 17 sites, including enclosures, walls, earthworks, platforms, structures and an early phase of curvilinear hill dyke (S214) upslope to the E of the road (centred on HY 37782 30589). The test pitting established that the farm mound at Skaill is over c1.5m in depth and contains well preserved structures and deposits dating to the Norse and post-medieval periods. The earlier structural phases are concentrated below the extant farmhouse. Excavations at Skaill were carried out in conjunction with the excavations at nearby Knowe of Swandro in collaboration with the University of Bradford. The project included community training, open days, workshops and placements. This forms part of the Rousay Landscapes of Change and NABO projects, which are researching long-term

environmental and societal change along the western side of Rousay.

Archive: Archaeology Institute, UHI (currently)

Funder: Heritage Lottery Fund, Orkney Islands Council, Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust, and Archaeology Institute

Daniel Lee, Ingrid Mainland, Jen Harland and Sarah Jane Gibbon – Archaeology Institute, UHI

(Source: DES, Volume 18)

Project (13 June 2017 - 26 April 2018)

At the request of Dan Lee of Orkney College, HES agreed to provide survey and recording assistance to the Landscape of Change: Archaeologies of the Rousay Clearances at Skaill Farm, Rousay, in 2017 and support for the community engagement. HES produced a measured survey of the upstanding structures at 1:50, a ground plan at a scale of 1:250 and a photographic survey. Drawings were also made of Swandro church and the Wirk, and two of the architectural fragments. The community engagement extended to children and adults, including site tours and explanations of the survey processes. Vegetation conditions in June 2017 precluded ground survey, which was completed in April 2018.

Field Visit (June 2017 - April 2018)

The farmstead of Skaill is situated on the shore to the S of the graveyard of St Mary’s Church of Westness; it extends for about 100m from N to S and occupies three small drystone enclosures between the pebble storm beach on the W and the improved fields to the E (Fig 1). It comprises at least two periods of occupation. The later one dates to the 19th century and includes two upstanding ruins, a domestic range and a kiln-barn and dairy, and the drystone-walled enclosures; the earlier one is likely to be medieval or post-medieval in date and includes two possible buildings, one of which may be another kiln-barn reduced to footings, with various other platforms and field boundaries defined by terraces and earthen banks. In both phases the main axes are roughly east-west and north-south which suggests a continuity of settlement. At least one earthen bank runs under the drystone dyke of the field on the E of the site to indicate that the settlement once extended further to the E into the field beyond. Geophysical survey by University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) in 2015 indicated ‘earlier boundaries on a different alignment to the present’ ones (Lee et al. 2015, 131) that coincide with many of the earthwork features identified during field survey, and there is a strong anomaly in the field to the E.


MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions