Archaeological Remains Revealed at Proposed Finstown SubStation

The Kirkwall town improvements have uncovered the remains of Kirkwall’s Castle and kept Orkney’s archaeologists busy over the last few days.Kirkwall’s Castle

Coastal erosion at Newark Bay has revealed more of a cemetery and archaeological site dating from the Picts and the Norse. £202,000 Awarded to ORCA for Newark Bay Research

And of course this being Orkney more has been discovered due to works relating to the proposed new sub station at Finstown which ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology) have also been asked to excavate.

Finstown substationYou can read about the proposed new SSEN substation at Finstown here: Proposed Finstown Substation on Show

The planned archaeology work at the proposed substation site will involve a programme of excavation, which will investigate anomalies identified through earlier surveys conducted by ORCA Archaeology.

Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager, ORCA Archaeology said:

“This is a rare opportunity to excavate a large area of good archaeological potential and we anticipate it will add significantly to our understanding of how people interacted with the landscape near the World Heritage Area.”

Magnetometer (geophysical) surveys revealed several areas of archaeological interest  which were subsequently investigated by trial trenching.



Geophysical survey of the substation site showing anomalies

Geophysical survey of the substation site showing anomalies

Interestingly the large anomaly shown at 16 has been interpreted as a lightning strike rather than archaeology, but looks pretty spectacular in any event!

Interpretation of Geophysical Survey

Interpretation of Geophysical Survey

The sub-station site sits in an area of low glacial mounds laid to pasture, at the foot of Hill of Heddle.  An old road or track formerly ran through it along the present field boundary angling NE from Stymilders, which itself was the site of a 19th century school.  The field boundary is shown above.

The trial trenching found extensive deposits of ‘midden’ – material containing debris from human occupation – and several stone structures, probably dating from the Bronze Age (about 2000BC to 800BC in Orkney) near Stymilders and the Neolithic (4000BC to c. 2000BC) in the eastern field, feature 7 .

The current excavation follows on from this previous work and targets the known areas of archaeological potential.

Proposed archaeology trenches at the substation site

Proposed archaeology trenches at the substation site

The ORCA Archaeology team will open a series of large trenches as shown above to take samples of the midden material, investigate and record the structures present.

Simon Hall, SSEN’s Environmental Project Manager, said:

“Given Orkney’s vast, rich and highly significant archaeology, we are fully committed to work with all relevant bodies to avoid or mitigate impacts and protect Orkney’s archaeological heritage.In the event of any archaeological discoveries of interest we are committed to ensure these are fully documented, preserved if possible, with our findings shared with interested parties.”

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3 replies »

  1. Orkney Archaeology Society asked for members views on the development of the sub station, and associated transmission lines – here’s what I sent – may be of interest? Maybe not.

    “It’s a very difficult question. I would go for them being buried, as lines of…lines, marching across the countryside, isn’t appealing. Having said that, I look out my window, and see lines of lines, already marching across the countryside, and can’t honestly say it bothers me.
    If they are to be buried, and the developer pays for the excavations necessary and that reveals archaeology – that’s a very tempting proposition. You know the saying, scratch the surface of Orkney, and you find archaeology. As your email says, there would be likely to be a lot to be discovered, and with someone else paying for that discovery! Trouble is…resources for trying to investigate all those potential new sites – and UHI Archaeology Dept low on funding as it is?
    Anything that was found, could be excavated, and/or just recorded, to be properly investigated, at a later date? then the work could go ahead – as often happens. Or – if it something major was found, maybe the lines could be moved a bit? Remember what happened when they started to excavate for the new Brodgar car park, and a bit of wall was found, and they simply….moved the lines a bit.
    Even the placing of the poles to support the overhead lines, would mean some digging, which, equally, might reveal something.
    In a way, an exciting and tempting prospect, or…….messing up the countryside a wee bit more? – competing with the wind turbines. To me, the difference is – movement. The supports for transmission lines, once in place, just stand there. It’s the constant jittering of the turbines, in a still landscape, which …jitters me. I’m straying from the subject a bit.
    As to the station, in Finstown. I live not far from there, and, in a way, would not like to see the place changed too much, as it’s got a lot going for it, as it is – a very pleasant place, to sit by the water, and look about you, and – some archaeology too – with the broch. Maybe there is more be found and which might be found, if they dig for the foundations of the station? Again, as you say in your email – we can’t expect Orkney to stay frozen – each succeeding set of people, sometimes destroyed or adapted what came before – we’re here, and we need to live. But…and it’s a big but……..can we do that without messing up what’s there, too much? I say something of this, here………

    We often don’t appear to make a very good job of doing so. Maybe here’s an opportunity to show that we can ‘develop’ a place, and make best use of the ’green’ energy, without messing up a wonderful place to live. We have a massive capability for changing what’s already there, and we need to do so, with care.

    I really don’t know – and what I’ve said here, is a bit bleedin’ obvious.
    You asked for members responses, so here’s mine – maybe not very helpful, but maybe adds to the debate/process, maybe?”

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