The Wife of Westray was discovered in the dirt

The Wife of Westray was discovered in the dirt.


Bird cliffs

She was found by a team of archeologists while using a fine brush to sweep away the dirt and sand around a farmhouse where she was buried. It was a 5,000 year old Neolithic dwelling on the Island of Westray in the Orkney group of Islands north of Scotland.

The figure has prominent frowning eyebrows, small dots for eyes, and a broad nose. Was it a toy, a piece for a game, or for religious use?

Expert archeologists don’t know. The figure was among other stones, beads and skeletons  that a team of archeologists have been slowly exposing on the farm from the bronze age.

“It was the first Neolithic carving of a human form to have been found in Scotland, and to date it is the earliest depiction of a face found in the United Kingdom,” so states Wikipedia. It was found in 2009.

I learned about this from the Heritage Center in Westray Saturday morning. That was followed up with a trip to other sites on the island.

Robust and entertaining guide, Graham Maben drove a van with myself and three other people, a woman from Latvia, an English woman and a retired interior decorator. The decorator is a Scot, dressed finely in a sports jacket, shirt and wool vest, scarf and looked like he was going to a fancy place. He stood back away from the cliffs while Graham, myself and the two other women got fairly close to the edge of a jagged rocky cliff.

We saw hundreds of birds flying out of their nests and back in. Sheep graze so close to the edge, it’s a wonder how they know if they take one more step they’d meet their deaths.

From there we were taken to the Noup Head Lighthouse. It was built in 1898 with the purpose to warn ships off the North Shoal. The light is now automatic so it doesn’t require a lighthouse manager on site.

Graham was full of stories about his beloved island and spoke about them while traveling to the next stop. We saw the Nortland Castle, built in 1560. “It was a defensive castle,” he told us. But the architectural filigree makes you wonder why it was made so beautiful and was also defensive. To charm the enemy?

The castle was built by Gilbert Balfour who was appointed to a high office by his lover Mary Queen of Scots. From the outside it appears as many remnants of castles in other locations, but inside there are features worth noting. The fireplaces, the kitchen, and sleeping quarters and even a toilet place where a full bucket of royal waste was then delivered into the moat.

Graham took the three others to the Heritage Center, and then took me to view the Holm of Aikerness. This is an island where sheep eat only seaweed. Fresh water or nothing else goes into their diet. The sheep were originally brought to the island about 760 years ago by Norwegians, and since then kept the species, Ronaldsay Sheep, alive.

“There are 120 sheep in total: 50 lambs, 40 ewes and the rest rams,” said Graham. The sheep caretaker will travel to the island when they are ready to take in for slaughter and for other reasons.

I’ll continue this story later, as I will vacate the B&B on Westlay Island at 10 a.m., followed up by roaming around until the bus leaves around 5 p.m., to take me to the ferry. On to Kirkwell. See you later.

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