Yorville Burnt Mound, Rousay

Coastal erosion has resulted in an exposure of burnt mound material in the soft cliff below Yorville, Rousay grid reference HY 3943 2798. A team from the University of Bradford, Orkney College and City University New York cleaned, recorded and sampled the section, 29 June–13 July 2009, as part of a NABO Field School.

Yorville burnt mound, Rousay, Orkney

The exposed archaeological deposits stretched for several metres under a soft cliff of very deep agricultural soil. A deposit of burnt stones was centred on a low rise in the natural glacial till and covered deposits of peat and gleyed clay to either side of the hillock. In the E of the section, a collapse of topsoil and larger unburnt stone suggested the presence of a structure associated with the burnt mound deposits. 

Further investigation showed that the burnt mound had been situated in an area of marshy or boggy land, with finer water-lain gleyed deposits either side of the natural rise. In the W of the section this deposit was sealed by an in situ laminated brown organic layer of presumed fen peat. Both sides of the rise were covered with a layer of ashy midden material containing visible charred plant material, which sealed the peat to the W and the grey gleyed clay to the E.

Coastal erosion of a burnt mound at Yorvlle in Rousay, Orkney

These midden deposits were in turn sealed by layers of burnt stone. Removal of the fallen rubble and topsoil in the E of the section revealed an area of paving stretching out towards the beach and fragments of walling in the section itself. Cleaning of these features showed that wave action up to the cliff face had forced modern debris between the stones of these stratigraphically early features. Traces of structures remained but they were too damaged to allow interpretation, though the presence of a spring line which emerges at various points along the base of the cliff and the paving itself suggests that the paved area may have been constructed either to allow access to open water or to provide a firm non-muddy base for a water-filled hollow. Samples were taken from the midden and peaty areas for environmental and dating evidence.