The chapel and enclosure on the Brough of Deerness, Orkney: survey and excavations, 1975-1977
Burials, Chapel, Stone Chapel, Stone Altar, Enclosure Wall, Timber, Silver Penny, Enclosure, Timber Altar, Stone
Brough of Deerness; Mainland; Orkney; Scotland; UK
10th Century, 19th Century, medieval
Excavations took place at this site in 1975-6, followed by a survey in 1977, at the invitation of the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments, as clearance of turf and rubble had previously revealed a hoard of post-medieval coins. Further coins were found, which relate to the period after usage of the chapel had ceased: the group is interpreted in votive terms and related to accounts of pilgrimage to the site. The unicameral chapel itself had both a timber and a stone phase. The timber chapel probably had a stone 'cladding' and additions to the stone chapel at one stage included at least one stone bench. Little dating evidence was forthcoming, but a 10th-century coin was found in an intermediate stage between the two phases. The area around the chapel was enclosed, in the later phase, by a rectangular low stone wall, and in the earlier by a series of gullies and a possible timber fence. Few burials were found: two infant graves from the timber phase, one adult, one child and two infants from the stone phase. This raises questions about the status of the site, sometimes seen as an early Christian monastery. The survey revealed more buildings than recognized before, and a regularity of layout, which may be of more than one phase. Interpretation as a Norse monastery is referred to, and the possibility is raised that the buildings may be secular, surrounding a chapel dating from the Norse period, rather than earlier.