Racing against time to save prehistoric Orkney site (Scotland)

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The site at the Links of Noltland on the island of Westray on the northern fringes of the Orkney islands (Scotland) is emerging as one of the UK's most important prehistoric digs: over the last 30 years archaeologists have uncovered a complex of neolithic and bronze age houses, field systems, rich middens and possibly ceremonial buildings dating to 3,500 BCE. Even before the recently found prehistoric figurine emerged (as we reported last week), Noltland had revealed glimpses of this slowly evolving society: they kept red deer, primitive rough-haired sheep, pigs and cattle; harvested shellfish; planted wheat nourished with domestic waste and animal dung; used whalebone for rafters, tools and clothing pins; made beads; and embellished their tools with carvings and lumps of the ochre-coloured haematite imported from nearby Hoy.

Over the last 30 years, the north Atlantic wind has remorselessly swept away thousands of tonnes of sand at Noltland, excavating dunes and finally exposing several thousand years of early human civilisation. But the wind now threatens to destroy the site, which sits just tens of metres from the surf. The gales are becoming more intense. It is a crisis increasingly common for coastline archaeological sites around Britain. Since the early 1980s, the land surface at Noltland has dropped by up to 10m (33ft), exposing what now appears to be a significant neolithic township. There are at least five neolithic houses and six later bronze age buildings on Noltland, and evidence of several others are emerging from under the sand.

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