Excavations at an early medieval cemetery at Stromness, Orkney

Tim Stevens, Melissa Melikian, Sarah Jane Grieve

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In Autumn 2002, AOC Archaeology Group excavated a cemetery at the Bu of Cairston. The site was situated on a headland known as Bu Point, 2km east of Stromness on the Orkney Mainland. The site was centred on NGR: HY 2725 0950. Scottish Water had received planning permission to construct a new waste water treatment plant at the Bu of Cairston. Archaeological investigations were carried out as a condition of this planning consent. A number of pre-cemetery features were identified at the site; these included a Neolithic gully with associated post-holes, a palaeochannel, a buried soil horizon and several rubble spreads. Excavations revealed a cemetery of 13th- to 14th-century date. A total of 109 inhumations, and a further 15 probable graves, were recorded on the site. The dating and archaeological evidence for the cemetery suggests a Christian context. The burials were supine on an east/west alignment with no associated grave goods or markers. Six individuals were buried in cist-like structures and five were buried in wooden coffins. It is thought that the original parish church of Stromness was located at the Bu of Cairston, before the parish church was moved to St Peter’s in Outertown in the 17th century. It is probable that the cemetery excavated at Cairston was that associated with the parish church.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-393
Number of pages24
JournalProceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2005


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