Prehistoric quernstone is latest evidence of Early Neolithic settlement site on outskirts of Kirkwall

Saverock Saddle Quern.

The Early Neolithic quernstone after recovery. (Chris Gee)

The discovery of a huge prehistoric quernstone is the latest evidence of an Early Neolithic settlement on the outskirts of Kirkwall, Orkney.

Ploughing near Saverock, St Ola, uncovered the saddle quern, which was spotted by Ness stalwart Chris Gee, who has fieldwalked the site, after spring ploughing, since 2014.

Chris Gee, from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, with the massive saddle quern revealed by ploughing earlier this month. (Ragnhild Ljosland)

Chris Gee, from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, with the massive saddle quern revealed by ploughing earlier this month. (Ragnhild Ljosland)

Aided by volunteers and University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute students, Chris – who is a project officer at ORCA and will be a familiar face to Ness of Brodgar visitors – had previously identified spreads of large building stones around a low mound in the field and recovered a wealth of Neolithic artefacts, including stone and flint tools, pottery, a stone bead and an arrowhead.

The style of the pottery and the arrowhead suggests an Early Neolithic date (c3600-3200BC) for the Saverock settlement, meaning it pre-dates Skara Brae by centuries.

Back on site last week, careful excavation revealed the sheer size of the quern. Measuring 87cm long, 60cm wide and 46cm thick, it is estimated to weight over 200kg (440lbs). Beneath it were more sherds of Early Neolithic pottery.

It is hoped that charcoal found under the quernstone can be radiocarbon dated, allowing archaeologists to see where the Saverock site fits in with the three other known Early Neolithic settlements clustered around the lower slopes of Wideford Hill.

The in-situ quernstone looking towards Kirkwall, Orkney. (Ragnhild Ljosland)

The in-situ quernstone looking towards Kirkwall, Orkney. (Ragnhild Ljosland)

Between 1994 and 2013, the Cuween-Wideford Neolithic Landscape Project, led by Professor Colin Richards, 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).

During the project, excavation at the western base of Wideford Hill revealed the first evidence of Neolithic timber-built structures in Orkney.

Chris would like to thank John Hamilton and Derek Shearer for their assistance in recovering the quern and the landowner, William Harcus, for allowing access to the field.

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