Focus on finds – the Orkney vole

A fraction of the vole remains recovered from the Ness over the years. (Sigurd Towrie)

A fraction of the vole remains recovered from the Ness over the years. (Sigurd Towrie)

Vole cranium. (Sigurd Towrie)

Vole cranium. (Sigurd Towrie)

Among the animal remains found at the Ness over the years are hundreds of bones from the Orkney vole (Microtus arvalis orcadensis).

This small mammal is not found in mainland Britain – only Orkney and the European Continent. Genetic analysis and radiocarbon dates suggests the vole arrived in the islands between 3455–3100BC ¹, possibly as a result of long-distance sea travel between Orkney and Europe².

Underside of vole cranium. (Sigurd Towrie)

Underside of vole cranium. (Sigurd Towrie)

Whether they arrived accidentally, in animal bedding and fodder, or were deliberately imported remains the subject of debate. It has, for example, been suggested the animals were exploited in Neolithic Orkney as a source of food³.

1. Bayliss, A., Marshall, P., Richards, C. and Whittle, A. (2017) Islands of history: the Late Neolithic timescape of Orkney. Antiquity, 91(359), 1171-1188.

2. Thaw, Susan; Jaarola, Maarit; Searle, Jeremy B.; Dobney, Keith M. (2001). Lost in Space: the origin of the Orkney vole Microtus arvalis orcadensis and its potential for reconstructing human dispersal and trade and exchange networks in the Neolithic. Orkney Archaeological Trust.

3. Romaniuk, A.A., Shepherd A.N., Clarke D.V., Sheridan A.J., Fraser S., Bartosiewicz L., Herman J.S. (2016) Rodents: food or pests in Neolithic Orkney. R. Soc. open sci. 3: 160514. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160514

Further reading

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