science

Nine very rare stone-carved 'figures' found buried under an electrical substation in Orkney


Archaeologists have unearthed nine ‘very rare’ carved stones from a dig at an electric substation at Finstown, on Orkney, that date back around 4,000 years.

The ‘amazing’ series of stones — which may have been used to tie off mooring ropes and help secure the roof of a building — stand at up to 20 inches (50 cm) tall.

Researchers from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) had to dig through around 24 inches (60 cm) of midden (waste) deposits to expose the stones. 

The archaeologists dubbed the first one to be unearthed the ‘Finstown Fella’. 

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Archaeologists have unearthed nine ‘very rare’ carved stones from a dig at an electric substation at Finstown, on Orkney that date back around 4,000 years ago

Archaeologists have unearthed nine ‘very rare’ carved stones from a dig at an electric substation at Finstown, on Orkney that date back around 4,000 years ago

WHAT ARE THE CARVED STONES? 

The carved stones were found near an electrical substation in Finstown, on Orkney’s mainland island.

Nine of the stones have been unearthed, with the largest standing at around 20 inches (50 cm) tall.

Each of appear to have been worked to give them crude shoulders, a neck and what is likely a head.

Experts believe that the stones may have been used to secure mooring ropes that would have helped keep a building’s roof secured on.

It is thought that the Finstown stones may date to the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, around 2000 BC. 

Each of the sculptures appear to have been worked to give them crude shoulders, a neck and what is likely a head.

They were found scattered around a hearth within the remains of structure that contained three cists — small stone-built coffin-like boxes — two hearths and a partial ring of holes packed with broken-off upstanding stones.

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Three of the roughly carved figures were found incorporated within either the structure of one of the hearths or the foundations of one of the standing stones.

It is believed that the stones may have been used to secure mooring ropes that would have helped keep the building’s roof on.

The purpose of the building and how it was used by its inhabitants, however, remains a mystery.

Dating the necked stones will also require further investigative work, as similar objects have also been found from Iron Age sites in Orkney.

Yet from the initial evidence, experts believe that the ones from Finstown may date to the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, at around 2000 BC.

Experts are trying to confirm the purpose of these stones — and if they are indeed figurines — by examining them for abrasion, wear and other such marks.

The 'amazing' series of stones — which may have been used to tie off mooring ropes and help secure the roof of a building — stand at up to 20 inches (50 cm) tall

The ‘amazing’ series of stones — which may have been used to tie off mooring ropes and help secure the roof of a building — stand at up to 20 inches (50 cm) tall

‘This is a significant discovery in Orkney and probably within North West Europe,’ said archaeologist Colin Richards of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

‘It is very rare to find representations of people in prehistoric Orkney and when found, they are usually individual or in very small groups.’

‘If they are figurines, to find nine figures within one structure is very exciting and together with the archaeology found at this site has the potential to add to our understanding of Orcadian society in prehistory.’

Each of the sculptures appear to have been worked to give them crude shoulders, a neck and what is likely a head

Each of the sculptures appear to have been worked to give them crude shoulders, a neck and what is likely a head

In one of the trenches, long marks were found cut into the clay subsoil, which were made by ards — a type of stone-based ploughs — providing evidence that prehistoric farming took place in Orkney.

Each ard was made from wood and a stone shaped into a rough point that let the user plough the soil ready for planting.

It is believed that the survival of these marks — together with the remnants of the Early Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements — offers an insight into how the site was used over 2,000 years ago.

This would have included people living, farming and burying their dead across the hillside land.

The stones were found scattered around a hearth within the remains of structure that contained three cists — small stone-built coffin-like boxes — two hearths and a partial ring of holes packed with broken-off upstanding stones

The stones were found scattered around a hearth within the remains of structure that contained three cists — small stone-built coffin-like boxes — two hearths and a partial ring of holes packed with broken-off upstanding stones

The project is a collaboration between ORCA and the Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN).

‘This collaborative project […] gives us the opportunity to examine an important prehistoric site that would otherwise not have been excavated,’ said ORCA project manager Pete Higgins.

‘The exploratory trenches are now recorded and covered over, while the significant artefacts are now cleaned and stored for future study.’

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‘Discussions will take place on the next steps for the development.’

It is believed that the stones may have been used to secure mooring ropes that would have helped keep a building's roof on

It is believed that the stones may have been used to secure mooring ropes that would have helped keep a building’s roof on

‘We have been working closely with ORCA Archaeology for the past 18 months while they have undertaken archaeological work at our substation site near Finstown,’ added SSEN environmental project manager Simon Hall.

‘We are delighted that the team have been able to make such a significant find at the site, hopefully furthering the understanding of Orkney’s rich heritage.’

‘We will continue to work closely with ORCA and all relevant bodies to ensure this find is appropriately managed for the people of Orkney.’

In one of the trenches, long marks were found cut into the clay subsoil, pictured, which were made by ards — a type of stone-based ploughs — providing evidence that prehistoric farming took place in Orkney

In one of the trenches, long marks were found cut into the clay subsoil, pictured, which were made by ards — a type of stone-based ploughs — providing evidence that prehistoric farming took place in Orkney



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