Stone tools from an Early Iron Age souterrain at Windwick, South Ronaldsay, Orkney

A fine assemblage of stone tools including saddle querns, quern rubbers and cobble tools was found during recent excavations at Windwick by Martin Carruthers, University of the Highlands and Islands.

The stone tools were used for the construction of the souterrain and above ground structure as well as for activities within the completed buildings. There appears to be some reuse of an earlier assemblage of pounder/grinders to build the souterrain as demonstrated by the reuse patterns on some of the tools. We cannot be sure just what the stone tools were used for within the souterrain but several, including the saddle querns were broken and the scattered fragments of the refitted pounder/grinder suggest some mobility of the fragments in antiquity. Above ground, the stone tools appear to have been reused in structural cuts and fills whilst the presence of the pumice and Skaill knife in above ground layers suggests the possibility of different activities to that below ground.

Saddle querns and quern rubbers form quite large assemblages at some sites of this date and at High Pasture Cave, Skye they were an important feature of the closing deposits of the Early Iron Age use of the cave (Steven Birch pers.comm.). At Bayanne, Shetland; and Mine Howe and Howe in Orkney saddle querns were also numerous but found outwith their main context of use in redeposited structural contexts or even reused as anvils or tethering stones. The saddle querns at Windwick, though broken appear to be in primary deposits and it is possible that these, together with the broken cobbles represent some kind of closing deposit.

Tool Storage

Careful recording of the finds from excavations at  Mound 1, Bornais, S Uist has given some indication of how the stone tools were used and stored during the occupation of this Iron Age roundhouse.  Many of the stone tools were clearly deposited in groups;  three discrete groups formed tight concentrations of 50cm to 60cm in diameter and were found against the surviving structures and the other groupings were more spread suggesting that they had been subject to post-depositional disturbance.

Particular combinations of tool types such as pounder/grinders – faceted cobbles (groups A and B) and smoothers – polishers (group C) were a feature of some groups whilst others were exclusively of pounder/ grinders (group E), faceted cobbles (group F) or strike-a-lights (Group D).

The clustering of the tools indicates that they were stored: perhaps they were originally hung in bags from the rafters and lay where they fell after the roof had burnt down; alternatively they could have been stored in bags or baskets set on the floor and tucked against the house wall.

For more information about excavations at Bornais go to and Niall Sharples, 2012 A Late Iron Age Farmstead in the Outer Hebrides. Excavations at Mound 1, Bornais, South Uist. Oxford.