The end of the world, or just ‘goodbye to all that’? Contextualising the red deer heap from Links of Noltland, Westray, within late 3rd-millennium cal BC Orkney
Animal remains, The Times of Their Lives, antler, deposition, red deer, Grooved Ware pottery, fish skeleton, bird remains
Red Deer Heap; Links of Noltland; Westray; Orkney; Scotland; UK
Late Neolithic, Bronze Age
As part of a major international research project, The Times of Their Lives, a programme of radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling was undertaken to refine the chronology of activities in one small but important part of the extensive Late Neolithic and Bronze Age settlement on Links of Noltland on the island of Westray, Orkney. The selected area (Trench D) is well known for having produced, next to a wall, the remains of a heap of at least 15 red deer carcasses, on top of which had been placed a large cod, a gannet’s wing along with part of a greater black-backed gull, and a pair of large antlers. This remarkable deposit had been preceded by, and was followed by, periods of cultivation and the deposition of domestic refuse. Refined date estimates have been produced, based on 18 radiocarbon determinations obtained from 16 samples from Trench D (including nine newly obtained dates, three from individual deer in the heap). These clarify when, during this long sequence of activities, the deer were heaped up: probably in the 22nd century cal BC, around the same time as Beaker pottery was deposited elsewhere on the Links. This allows comparison between the dated activities in this part of the site with activity elsewhere on the Links and also with other episodes of deer deposition in 3rd-millennium cal BC Orkney. It encourages exploration of the possible reasons for what appears to be a remarkable act of structured deposition. The significance of an earlier, much larger scale deposit featuring cattle remains at Ness of Brodgar is discussed in exploring the nature of Orcadian society and practices during the second half of the 3rd millennium cal BC.
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