Later Prehistoric and Norse Communities in the Northern Isles: Multi-Proxy Environmental Investigations on Orkney

Scott Timpany, Tim Mighall, Ian Foster, Antonio Martinaz Cortizas, Olwyn Owen, Anthony Krus, Ilse Kamerling

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Little is known about the impact that Norse communities had on the landscape of Orkney. To redress this, a palaeoenvironmental investigation was conducted from the infilled Loch of Tuquoy, a basin located close to the high-status Norse farmstead and Crosskirk at Tuquoy on Westray, Orkney. Pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs, microscopic charcoal, sediment geochemistry and mineral magnetic measurements were performed on a 2.25 m core. The results suggest that a cultural landscape had already been established before the Loch's record commenced. The landscape was subsequently characterised by the near-continuous activity of a mixed agrarian economy that intensified from c. 900–150 cal. BC, and between cal. AD 700 and 1550, the latter encompassing the Norse occupation of the Tuquoy farmstead. Palynological evidence suggests that the land was used for pasture and to cultivate cereals. While the landscape was largely treeless from 900 cal. BC onwards, minor woodland/scrub clearance occurred in both periods. The Norse palaeoeconomy seems to have been a continuation of earlier practices but caused a significant change in the source of sediments deposited into the loch. Whilst the sediment geochemistry revealed little evidence for ironworking, lead concentrations show a series of peaks during the Iron Age on Orkney indicative of regional-scale pollution.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Archaeology
Early online date10 Aug 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Aug 2020


  • Orkney
  • Iron Age
  • Norse
  • Landscape
  • Palaeopollution
  • Pollen
  • 15ref2021


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