Scene of 'great feast' uncovered in Orkney dig

The scene of what is believed to be a "huge feast" from nearly 2,000 years ago has been discovered in Orkney.

Archaeologists at the Cairns dig on South Ronaldsay found ancient bones, jewellery and metal casting tools on the site of what had been a tall monumental tower-like structure.

These items were sent for testing and have been dated back to the Middle-to-Late Iron Age.

University of Highlands and Islands scientists believe the haul is from a large gathering where people ate and socialised, with the remains of deer, cattle and otter among the findings.

Work taking place at the large formal hearth (UHI/PA)
Work taking place at the large formal hearth (UHI/PA)

Martin Carruthers, site director, said: "It seems that the people gathered at our feast were consuming beef on the bone, boiled pork, and roasted mutton and venison, some of which may have been washed down by beverages drunk from many pottery vessels.

"The close stratigraphic association between the fine metalworking and the feasting raises the question of what exactly was going on here.

"One possibility that I like very much is that the feasting could be the spectacular social event at which the products of the jewellery-making were handed out, or gifted, to their intended recipients by those who had sponsored the metalworking in the first place.

"We may therefore be peering into the social circumstances of the jewellery-making and the distribution of its products amongst the community at the Cairns."

The remains of the structure where the jewellery-making took place (UHI/PA)
The remains of the structure where the jewellery-making took place (UHI/PA)

The Cairns is known for the remains of an Iron Age broch, but also increasingly for a post-broch metal working area in which a collection of sixty metal working moulds, remains of furnaces, crucibles and further evidence of considerable metal working were unearthed in 2017.

Included among these objects are high-status jewellery objects as bronze pins and brooches.

The huge midden of animal bones and broken pots lies adjacent and partly covers this metal working area.

Two moulds for casting brooches (UHI/PA)
Two moulds for casting brooches (UHI/PA)

Radiocarbon analysis of the midden suggests that it was created in the CE 240s to 300s.

Further scientific investigation of the deposit pointed to a "great feast" event being held on the spot at a time after the broch fell into disuse.

Researchers say this was a time of great social change in northern Scotland and was contemporary to the mid and late Roman period further south.