Massive Neolithic Quernstone Discovered in Farmer’s Field

A huge prehistoric quernstone is the latest evidence of an Early Neolithic settlement on the outskirts of Kirkwall, Orkney.

Chris Gee, from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, with the massive saddle quern revealed by ploughing earlier this month. Image credit Ragnhild Ljosland University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute

Ploughing near Saverock, St Ola, earlier this month uncovered the saddle quern and brought it to the surface of the field. It was spotted by Chris Gee, of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, who has fieldwalked the site, after spring ploughing, since 2014.

Aided by volunteers and Archaeology Institute students, Chris had previously identified spreads of large building stones around a low mound in the field and recovered a wealth of Neolithic artefacts, including stone and flint tools, pottery, a stone bead and an arrowhead.

The style of the pottery and the arrowhead suggests an Early Neolithic date (c3600-3200BC) for the Saverock settlement, meaning it pre-dates Skara Brae, Orkney’s best-known Stone Age occupation site, by centuries.

Back on site last week, careful excavation revealed the sheer size of the quern. Measuring 87cm long, 60cm wide and 46cm thick, it is estimated to weight over 200kg (440lbs). Beneath it were more sherds of Early Neolithic pottery.

The in-situ quernstone looking towards Kirkwall, Orkney. Credit: Ragnhild Ljosland University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute
The in-situ quernstone. Credit Ragnhild Ljosland

It is hoped that charcoal found under the quernstone can be radiocarbon dated, allowing archaeologists to see where the Saverock site fits in with the three other known Early Neolithic settlements clustered around the lower slopes of Wideford Hill.

Chris would like to thank John Hamilton and Derek Shearer for their assistance in recovering the quern and the landowner, William Harcus, for allowing access.

The Early Neolithic quernstone after recovery. Credit Ragnhild Ljosland University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute