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Archaeologists discover rare polished stone balls in Orkney tomb

Sanday, Orkney
Sanday, Orkney

A team of archaeologists have discovered rare stone balls while excavating a burial tomb in Orkney.

Central Lancashire University has partnered with National Museums of Scotland for an excavation project on site at Tresness in Sanday.

The chambered tomb is located at the Southern tip of the Tresness peninsula but the site is slowly being eroded by the sea and the cliff it stands on is at risk of collapse.

Excavation work has been carried out on the tomb for several years now with a Neolithic settlement having been identified there.

The team arrived in Orkney again last month and have been sharing updates on the project via their blog, including the “exciting” polished stone finds.

On the blog, the team wrote: “Professor Vicki Cummings while assessing this area certainly got the largest gasp from the team when she uncovered a polished stone ball. This is an extremely exciting find.”

Hugo Anderson-Whymark, a senior curator of prehistory at National Museums of Scotland, is on site. His posts about the polished stone balls on social media have gained much attention from those in the field.

He wrote: “A cracking find from the tomb! Only 20 or so Neolithic polished stone balls have been found in Orkney and few have been recovered from secure contexts.”

‘Truly exciting’

The second polished stone ball was found in the chamber of the early Neolithic phase of the tomb and is shown to be around 5cm in diameter.

Mr Anderson-Whymark added: “This one is the size of a cricket ball, perfectly spherical and beautifully finished.

“It’s split along bedding in the banded sandstone but will be amazing when conserved.”

Plain stone balls have been excavated from Skara Brae and Ness of Brodgar in the past and can be made from materials including sandstone and camptonite. Meanwhile, more than 500 carved stone balls have been discovered, mainly in Aberdeenshire.

The purpose of the stones from the Neolithic period is unknown, but some theorise that they were used as weapons.

Last month, archaeologists working at Orkney’s Ness of Brodgar discovered two pieces of Neolithic wood.

The site is 17-years-old but this was the first time wood from that time, around 5,000 years ago, had been found.

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