Between the Tomb and Cist View larger

Between the Tomb and Cist


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The funerary monuments of Crantit, Kewing and Nether Onstan.

By Beverly Ballin Smith.


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"The accidental discoveries, subsequent excavation and scientific analysis of three previously unknown and underground prehistoric structures on mainland Orkney are the subject of this book. They are a tomb and two cists at Crantit, Kirkwall; a cist at Kewing, Rendall; and a cist at Nether Onston, Stenness. They were all discovered between April 1998 and August 2002 during ploughing and landscaping activities. All three sites were built and used between the end of the late Neolithic and the end of the early Bronze Age.

The tomb, used for the burial of four people, is a uncommon underground structure where its design reflects changes and tensions between old belief systems and new ones. Two cists were later constructed beside the tomb that were used for inhuman or cremation burials. The cremations produced quantities of cramp and fibres from a woven mat, whilst the cist at Nether Onston was empty when it was found. Scientific analysis of the remains from both the tomb and the cists tells us about the individuals that were buried in these structures. It also provides us with information about the varied funerary customs used, and helps us understand more about the ideologies and beliefs of the times.

Together, these three sites demonstrate the gradual movement away from burials that were mainly inhumations to ones where cremation became the dominant practice. The evidence shows that these changes were not straightforward. Old and new burial practices existed together at this time to such an extent that they possibly reflect tensions and significant changes in society".

Beverley Ballin Smith lived and worked in Orkney as an archaeologist from the late 1970s to 1990, where she experienced  some of the most varied and exciting fieldwork of her life. 

The work and publication for this fantastic book was funded by Historic Scotland. 

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