Archive for December 10th, 2019

Neolithic Shmoos found on Orkney

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

Nine carved Neolithic figures strongly reminiscent of the Shmoo of have been unearthed in Orkney. They were discovered in an archaeological exploration at the site of an electrical substation in Finstown. Underneath two feet of midden deposits, the remains of a structure containing the figures were found.

Individual examples of these types of carved stones have been found before, usually churned up by ploughs during agricultural work, but this is the first time nine of them have been unearthed in one place. They are also unusually three-dimensional. Most of the known examples are flat with the sides chipped creating the outline of a tiny head or knob over a wider, longer body. These are rounded and carved all around the “neck.”

The archaeologists working on site uncovered the carved stones scattered around a hearth within the remains of an enigmatic structure that contained three cists, two hearths and a partial ring of holes packed with broken off upstanding stones. Three of the roughly carved figures were also important enough to the people who used the building to be incorporated within the structure of one of the hearths and in the foundations of one of the standing stones. The purpose of the building and how it was used by the inhabitants of this site four thousand years ago is still an enigma.

Dating the necked stones firmly will require further work, since they have also been found on Iron Age sites in Orkney. On initial evidence, the ones from Finstown possibly date to around the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, roughly 2000BC. Identifying the purpose of these stones, and if they are figurines, will also require further work, with a close study for abrasion, wear and any other marks on these anthropomorphic objects.

The archaeologists also discovered evidence of prehistoric farming at the site: clay subsoil marked with gouges left by ards, stone ploughshares shaped into a point. The lines intersect and hashtag each other, evidence of how intensively Neolithic farmers ploughed up the ground.

The trenches have been covered over and all the Shmoos removed and cleaned. They will be conserved and studied while the development plans for the site move forward.

Carved stone recovered before cleaning. Photo courtesy ORCA Archaeology. Carved stone after cleaning. hoto courtesy ORCA Archaeology.

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