Archaeology in Orkney

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  • The Orkney Venus on display
    The Orkney Venus on display
  • Ring of Brodgar, Orkney
    Ring of Brodgar, Orkney
  • Girl going into the Tomb of the Eagles, South Ronaldsay
    Tomb of the Eagles, South Ronaldsay
  • Inside the Tomb of the Eagles
    Inside the Tomb of the Eagles

The Orkney Islands are rich in archaeological history with more than 160 sites to explore.

The history of these isles dates back thousands of years covering Neolithic, Pictish and Norse times and there are plenty of monuments which still remain today.

A single charred hazelnut found at Longhowe, Tankerness, has now been traced to around 6700 BC, providing a key to unlocking the past in Orkney. This is the surest evidence yet that human tribes were roving these islands during Mesolithic times. Excavations constantly unearth new and important relics from the past and impressive remains can be found on many of the isles.

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney can be found on the West Mainland. This is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is important not only in Scottish history but worldwide. The Great Wall of Brodgar, part of the heritage site, was discovered at an archaeological dig.

Recent excavations of the Ness of Brodgar, a thin strip of land on the West Mainland, astonished archaeologists. Excavations have proved that people in the Neolithic period were using much more advanced techniques than previously thought and that Orkney at this time was an important religious centre. Excavations are still taking place from 15 July to 23 August 2013 and visitors can take part on a tour.

On Westray the figure of a female - the Orkney Venus - was found in 2009 at the Links of Noltland dig. After further exploration, a second figure was revealed at the same site in 2010 and a third figure in 2012. All three are on display at the Westray Heritage Centre.

You can crawl into a chambered cairn on South Ronaldsay at the Tomb of the Eagles and come face to face with 5,000 years of history. This site was discovered in the 1950s and is one of the country’s top archaeological sites. Excavations have led to led to important discoveries about how people lived and worked in Orkney as the Stone Age tomb contained bones and artefacts from 5,000 years ago.

Browse the interactive map on to discover hundreds of archaeological sites from all periods, or follow the Viking Trail to find out more about the archipelago's Norse heritage.

Orkney College UHI has an archaeology department which welcomes students from all over the world and trains them to be professional archaeologists. The Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) is housed within the college and undertakes research and commercial archaeology.

The Orkney Archaeology Society is a charity that organises a programme of walks and talks with visiting speakers, provides financial assistance to archaeological projects and supplies volunteers.

You can find out more about these organisations and see online diaries from the digs in the archaeology section of Orkneyjar.