A. N Shepherd and I. Ralston, eds., (1986). Rescue excavations on the Brough of Birsay 1974-82. Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Title
Title
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Title:
Rescue excavations on the Brough of Birsay 1974-82
Series
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Series:
Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Monograph Series
Volume
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Volume:
04
Pages
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Number of Pages:
230
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4_1986_HUNTER_Brough_of_Birsay.pdf (54 MB) : Download
DOI
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DOI
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Publication Type:
Monograph Chapter (in Series)
Abstract
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Abstract:
The Brough of Birsay (HY 239285) is a small tidal island approximately 21 hectares in area lying to the NW of Mainland Orkney. Excavations commenced in the summer of 1974 and, with the exception of the 1978 season, continued annually until 1982. 
Author
Author
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Author:
John R Hunter
Editor
Editor
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Editor:
Alexandra N Shepherd
Ian Ralston
Publisher
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Publisher:
Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Year of Publication
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Year of Publication:
1986
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ISBN:
0903903040
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ADS Archive
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Created Date:
10 Nov 2017
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Abstract
1 - 230
The Brough of Birsay is a small tidal island approximately 21 hectares in area lying to the NW of Mainland Orkney. Excavations commenced in the summer of 1974 and, with the exception of the 1978 season, continued annually until 1982. The work has provided an important stimulus to 7th-12th century Orkney studies, especially for the pre-Norse and Norse buildings. The Brough is not yet proved as monastic, though was a site of local political or ecclesiastical importance.
13 - 24
This chapter presents information on location and topography of the site, history of previous investigation, a brief outline of the excavations as reported and a note on the organisation of the report and the site record.
25 - 68
This chapter considers the Iron Age and Pictish activity before the Norse settlement. The difficulties in interpreting the native background are considered. This is followed by archaeological description and interpretation of the earliest settlement features on three separate sites. The chapter concludes with sections on the nature of the occupation and the economy and environment. It is stated that the results add nothing to the theory that Christianity was brought to the Orkneys in the late 6th or 7th century.
69 - 117
This chapter considers the evidence for the first Scandinavian settlement on the Brough of Birsay. Its nature and timing are potentially of great significance in explaining more fully the 9th century transition between native and incoming populations. A discussion of the wider evidence for Norse settlement sets the excavation in context. This is followed by an archaeological description of the earliest Norse settlement remains and their interpretation. The remains are dated to the 8th and 9th centuries. There is possible evidence for native/Norse continuity on one of the sites.
118 - 149
Later Norse settlement continued on two of the three sites excavated. Historically, this later period of structural development roughly coincides both with the growing power of the Earldom and with a notable sequence of incidents and individual exploits according to the Orkneyinga Saga. Archaeological description of the settlement is followed by discussion of its nature, economy and environment.
150 - 167
The eventual abandonment of the island was marked by thick rubble spreads of dereliction on the three sites excavated. There is some evidence for kelp-burning activity which mainly dates to the first half of the 19th century.
168 - 175
The findings from these excavations cannot in themselves be regarded as offering solutions to the fundamental problems posed by the settlement on the island itself. The findings have a much greater bearing on the more general concepts of pre-Norse and Norse society and in that respect must be seen as offering a major contribution to the study of 7th-12th century Orkney. The significant advance is undoubtedly framed within the broad scope of architectural history. The excavation provided an opportunity to analyse and record in detail the intricacies, characteristics and techniques of both pre-Norse and Norse construction.
176 - 178
All the samples were willow charcoal with the exception of three which were pine. Three phases of activity have been identified ranging from the late 7th or early 8th century to the early 11th century.
179 - 180
These are unedited extracts from the account made by Henderson during the investigations of the buildings now known as Structures 4, 5 and 6. As far as is known, no other records exist.
181 - 207
Catalogue and summary reports on bone/antler, glass, lead, pottery, shale, silver, stone, flint, copper alloy and iron, including evidence of production.
208 - 220
This section includes reports on animal bone, fish and bird remains, shells, carbonised seeds and grains and charcoal.
221 - 224
Geophysical survey was carried out in three main locations during the programme of investigations. The methods are briefly described. together with illustrations of the results.