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Norse Hall discovered in Rousay

Skaill Norse Hall below the present farmstead. (UHI Archaeology Institute)

A large Norse hall, believed to date back to between the 10th and 12th centuries AD, has been discovered in Rousay.

The discovery was made during excavations at Skaill farmstead and was found below a more recent farmstead.

The building appears to be in excess of 13 metres long with substantial one metre wide stone walls. Internal features such as stone benches have also been found along either side.

The hall is oriented towards the sea and finds include steatite (soap stone from Shetland), pottery, a bone spindle whorl and a fragment of a Norse bone comb.

The find provides tantalising evidence of the earliest phases of inhabitation on this farm and settlement mound which may well have been inhabitated for over 1,000 years.

It provides another piece to the 5,000-year jigsaw along this archaelogy rich stretch of coast as Westness in Rousay — described as the ‘Egypt of the North’.

A team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Rousay residents and students have been digging at the site for a number of years, investigating the later stages of the farm complex and its waste heaps with a particular focus on past diet, farming and fishing practices.

Although only partly uncovered at this stage, the Skaill hall has parallels with other Norse halls excavated in Orkney, such as Snusgar, and elsewhere in Scotland.

The excavation is part of the Landscapes of Change — Archaeologies of the Rousay Clearances and Westness Estate project which is exploring the Skaill farmstead.

The present farm at Skaill dates to the 18th and 19th centuries and was part of the Rousay clearances during the mid-19th century.

The name Skaill suggests the site was home to a Norse hall or drinking hall, and was a high status site.

Westness is mentioned in Orkneyinga saga as the home of Sigurd, a powerful chieftain, so it was always likely that a Norse settlement was located somewhere at Skaill.

Earlier structures have been found below the present farm during previous seasons, and this season explored more of the Norse phases of the site.

Three dimensional models of the farmstead can be found here.

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