The Norse Waterways of West Mainland Orkney, Scotland

Richard Bates, Martin Bates , Barbara Crawford, John Whittaker, Alexandra Sanmark

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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Norse place-names for farms, individual landscape features and general landscape areas are ubiquitous throughout the Orkney Islands. These have an origin during the medieval period 790-1350AD when Orkney was ruled by Scandinavian earls. The oldest geographically referenced maps for the parish of Harray in the West Mainland of Orkney suggests that in the past significant waterways crossed wetlands that extended north from the Loch of Harray towards Houseby in an area associated with the earldom power base at Birsay. Subsequent drainage projects, changes in climate and possible sealevel changes have since resulted in the loss of the waterways. An investigation of the wetlands using geophysical and geological analysis provided a reconstruction of the palaeo-environments. Comparison of the reconstructions with place-names of significance allowed interpretation of possible routeways along navigable waters by shallow-draught Viking-Age vessels. The results provide the potential for re-drawing the map of Norse Orkney and postulating transfer of produce from estates in the parishes of Harray and Sandwick through the waterways to the power centre at Birsay
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Wetland Archaeology
Publication statusPublished - 4 Aug 2020


  • Viking age
  • Orkney
  • Waterways
  • Archaeology
  • place-names
  • Norse


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