Neolithic tomb found in garden 'extremely significant'
WHEN Hamish Mowatt decided to investigate a mysterious mound as he tidied an Orkney garden, he had little idea he would uncover a hoard of bodies that had lain untouched for around 5,000 years.
Archeologists believe the tomb he discovered under a boulder outside a bistro in South Ronaldsay could lead to new insights into how our neolithic ancestors lived and died.
But they face a race against time as water washing in and out of the newly uncovered tomb could wash away its contents and dissolve any pottery and human remains inside.
Mr Mowatt uncovered the tomb in the garden of Skerries bistro and self catering cottages. He said: "There is a big slab of stone about eight foot by eight foot and I had always wondered what was underneath it. I had a bit of time at the end of the summer and I thought I would take a look."
Mr Mowatt, who runs a boat business, pushed a piece of wire down a hole at the side of the stone and discovered a cavern underneath it. He then pushed down a rod attached to an underwater camera he used for looking at wrecks and discovered a chambered cairn with skulls against the edge.
"I have never really been that interested in archaeology, but when the rod went down into the chamber I could not leave it alone, my blood was pumping when I got a torch. Carole and I looked inside and saw the skull sitting in the murky water.
"It was amazing to think that we were looking at something that had not seen the light of day for 5,000 years. One of the skulls was looking straight at me. It set me back for a moment."
Mr Mowatt and his fiancee Carole Fletcher, who owns the bistro, got in touch with Julie Gibbon, the Orkney county archeologist, who told them they had made a significant find.
"She was really blown away. She said it might be the missing part of the jigsaw - and they could discover a lot by excavating it."
Ms Gibbon said she hoped Historic Scotland would support the excavation of the site - which is around 100 metres away from the Tomb of the Eagles, the chambered cairn where Orkney farmer Ronnie Simison found 348 human skulls in 1958.
Mr Simison and his family run a tourist attraction based around the 3,000 year old tomb - which they believe was a centre for sky burials - where dead bodies were exposed on the cliffs so the sea eagles could carry off their meat.
Seventy talons from sea eagles were found inside the tomb as well as 14 birds.
The archeologist said the new find was extremely significant. She said it could lead to new discoveries about the life and the death of some of Orkney's earliest inhabitants.
Until the tomb is fully excavated it will not be known how extensive it might be.
There are at least four skulls inside - but the archeologist believes there may also be shards of pottery - or other artefacts which can be rescued before the water washes them away.
"Orkney has some of the best preserved archeology in Scotland and a lot of what we have has national and international significance.
"But it is not every day that you find the remains of people buried 4-5000 years ago.
"Because we have found them now we have the chance to excavate them in such a way that we can save more of the DNA within the bones. These sorts of techniques were not available 50 years ago."
Ms Gibbon said the tomb needed to be examined quickly because of potential damage from water seeping in and out, but that said she had high hopes that the excavation would shed fresh light on neolithic society and ritual.
"I'm hoping Historic Scotland is going to support us. This is going to give us a lot of answers about neolithic life."
Bistro owner Carole Fletcher said she was thrilled about the discovery. "I am really quite excited. I know there are a lot of archeological sites on Orkney but this is something special. I'm very interested to find out what is under there. It isn't every day you find something like this."
Posted by moss
2nd October 2010ce