The Cairns: The Broch Continues to Reveal its Secrets

The Dig season is well under way in Orkney with some excavations having started and others about to.

It’s great for visitors and locals alike to take the opportunity to see the active archaeology that is taking place in the islands.

On Tuesday 26th of June the Orkney News went out to see what was happening at The Cairns overlooking Windwick Bay in South Ronaldsay.

The archaeology has revealed the remains of what was a magnificent Iron Age broch which was surrounded by a village sustaining perhaps 100 people.

The Cairns 3 FG

As the dig has proceeded over the years it has expanded showing an area where metal working was taking place.

The Cairns metal working area FG

Area where metal working was taking place

The settlement produced every day tools but also jewellery and some of that has been of an extremely high quality.

The Cairns glass bead FG

Glass bead

It was a domestic settlement and 60,000 fragments of animal bones are evidence of meat eating. At times this has been of high status food like red deer.

The Cairns animal bones FG

Although no fragments of textiles have yet been found there are many examples of finds related to weaving and sewing including spindle whorls, pin and needles

The Cairns 2 FG

Even after the end of the broch era the site continued to be used. There are later layers from the Medieval period.

There is also some evidence of a Norse chapel at Windwick Bay on the very edge of the coastline.

If you get the opportunity to visit the site please do as the remaining stone walls are beautifully constructed.

Leading the excavation is Site Director Martin Carruthers of the UHI Institute of Archaeology in Orkney. The team consists of UHI Institute of Archaeology staff, students and 60 volunteers helping to clean and  record the artefacts.

To keep up with what is happening at The Cairns there is an excellent blog you can go to:


Here’s Martin Carruthers with a short explanation about the site

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

Related stories:

Iron Age Orkney: Evidence of a New Social Structure?

Bernie Bell: The Cairns – the story of a broch

4 replies »

  1. As The Ness keeps telling us more about it’s time, The Cairns, keeps telling us more about…..that time. There are so many levels, times, stories, characters, wrapping round that place, and more and more emerging.
    Do, go there, folks – it’s the business.
    And you had a fine day for your visit, Fiona.

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