NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Image shows Iron Age bones find site in Orkney

Find site Image copyright The Cairns
Image caption The photograph was taken after the jaw bone was removed for examination and shows antlers and shaped whalebone

Archaeologists have released an image showing where human remains were found at an Iron Age site in Orkney.

A lower jaw bone was found centrally placed in a large whalebone vertebra within the ruins of a broch at The Cairns in South Ronaldsay on Tuesday.

Brochs, also known as Atlantic roundhouses, were fortified homes built in the Scottish islands and Highlands.

The BBC News Scotland website reported the discovery of the human remains on Wednesday.

The find, which also includes two human teeth and animal remains, were made by The Cairns Project on Tuesday.

A photograph of the human remains has not been released at this stage in line with guidelines and legislation followed by archaeologists.

These include a requirement to inform the police as part of a process confirming that the remains are archaeological, and not recent.

'Interesting assemblage'

Work had been done to the whale vertebra to shape into "a vessel" to hold the human jaw bone, said the University of the Highlands and Islands, which is working on the project along with others including organisation Orkneyjar.

Careful excavations of where Tuesday's discovery was made and the wider archaeological site are still ongoing.

Image copyright The Cairns
Image caption The Cairns Project site in South Ronaldsay

The Cairns site director, Martin Carruthers, said: "Initially we could see that there were some red deer antler points projecting out of the deposit surrounding the whalebone, but these were revealed to be almost full length antlers.

"They were laid out snug against each other and the southern side of the whalebone vessel, almost cradling it.

"It now looks like the whole event that led to the deposition of the human jaw involved quite a formal laying out of the various objects - the whalebone, the deer antlers, a large saddle quern, and stone mortar, as well as portions of a juvenile pig and a juvenile cattle vertebra.

"It's quite an interesting little assemblage of materials drawn together in a moment of reflection on the part of those who put them in the ground, shortly before abandoning the broch and packing it with rubble inside and out."

He added: "Perhaps there will be one last surprise before we lift the whalebone."

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