Sea eagle bone deposit confirmed in Structure Ten

Andy Boyar excavating the sea eagle bone in Structure Ten this summer. (Ole Thoenies)

During the 2019 season, we all got very excited about the discovery of what appeared to be a second human arm bone – an ulna – from Structure Ten.

This seemed to fit with other previous presumed votive deposits under the later phase rebuild of Structure Ten, when corner buttresses were added: such as large cattle bones, the carved stone ball, beads and unusually decorated pot and stone etc.

However, once the bone was taken back to the lab and given a proper clean and fully extracted from its midden cocoon by our human bone specialist, Andy Boyar, she realised it was not human at all but the wing bone of a large bird!

Comparisons with bones from our reference collection failed to find an exact match, but Cecily Webster, our bird bone expert, very quickly dismissed potential parallels with swan or even crane bones and has came to the conclusion that the bone is from a female sea eagle!

These rare and beautiful birds were only recently re-established in Orkney but are perhaps best known in an Orcadian context from the chambered tomb of Isbister on South Ronaldsay, also known as the Tomb of the Eagles. Sea eagle remains have also been recorded in the Knowe of Ramsay (Rousay), Howe (Stromness), Links of Noltland – with cattle skulls (Westray), the Point of Cott (Westray), Calf of Eday, Toftsness (Sanday) and Pool (Sanday).

The location of the bone in Structure Ten suggests that this held some special significance to our Neolithic ancestors, but who wouldn’t be impressed by these majestic birds!