Stalled cairn excavation monograph now available as a free download

The remains of the Holm of Papay North stalled cairn. (📷 Dan Lee/UHI Archaeology Institute)
The remains of the Holm of Papay North stalled cairn. (📷 Dan Lee/UHI Archaeology Institute)

A 2009 book detailing the excavation of a Neolithic stalled cairn on the Holm of Papa Westray, Orkney, is the latest open access title from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

The Holm of Papa Westray North was first investigated in 1854, when the Orcadian antiquarian George Petrie “opened a sepulchral mound, which [he] had long desired to explore.”

He wrote:

“The general appearance of the place, as far as it was opened, was that of an immense grave of double the ordinary dimensions, but divided into three compartments by the large upright flags or stones, whose tops were above the surface of the mound.”

Inside Petrie found human and animal skeletal remains.

Excavation by Anna Ritchie in 1982/83 confirmed that Petrie had not revealed the entire structure and that the chamber was divided into four compartments by four orthostatic pairs.

A small cell (c1m by 1.1m) was in the southern end of the chamber.

Originally enclosed in a round cairn, the cell was the first construction on the site before being incorporated into the fabric of the stalled chamber. Its entrance was sealed off early in the chamber’s life after being filled with layers of stones, shells, deer tines, animal, fish and human bones.

After it went out of use, the stalled chamber, and its entrance passage, were filled with earth and rubble.

House societies book cover

Radiocarbon dates indicated that the tomb was in use from around 3520BC to 2900BC, making it contemporary with activity at the Knap of Howar settlement.

On the Fringe of Neolithic Europe: Excavation of a Chambered Cairn on the Holm of Papa Westray, Orkney, by Anna Ritchie, can be downloaded here.

On the subject of free titles, a reminder that The Development of Neolithic House Societies in Orkney: Investigations in the Bay of Firth, Mainland, Orkney (1994–2014) is also available online.

It details the Cuween-Wideford Neolithic Landscape Project, which identified and excavated four Neolithic settlements (Stonehall, Smerquoy, Crossiecrown and Wideford Hill) in the vicinity of Wideford Hill, and three others further afield (Varmedale, Muckquoy and the Knowes of Trotty).

The 2016 book is available free here.

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