Island storms uncover medieval bones

SEVERE storms which hit Orkney last month have exposed human skeletons at a historic burial site.

Now a team of archaeologists are racing against time to excavate and study the site before the sea destroys it altogether.

The January storms revealed the remains on the foreshore below St Thomas’s Kirk and the broch at Hall of Rendall, near Tingwall. The Orkney Archaeological Trust informed Historic Scotland of the damage, and a decision was taken to move forward an excavation planned for this summer.

Patrick Ashmore, the head of archaeology for Historic Scotland, said: "St Thomas’s Kirk itself probably dates to the 12th century, and the cemetery is probably medieval.

"Of course, it is possible that there was an earlier chapel on the site, or that the cemetery continued in use after abandonment of the kirk.

"Rescuing these burials before they are destroyed by the sea will give us unique information about the people who lived and worshipped here. And we need information about the site to consider whether anything can be done to save the rest of it, or whether we have to think about more excavation in advance of its destruction."

Ronan Toolis, the excavation team leader of the AOC Archaeology Group, which is carrying out the dig, said: "We will find at least 18 burials, but there may be more than one skeleton in some of the graves and we may end up with more than 20. We're only excavating the most threatened burials."

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