The Bronze Age
Although often characterised as an impoverished time, Orkney’s Bronze Age has some of the richest remains in the country and many monuments survive in the form of burnt mounds and barrows.
The Bronze Age has left a rich landscape legacy in the form of barrows (burial mounds) and the huge crescent-shaped dumps of heat-cracked stone known as burnt mounds. There are nearly 600 barrows known in Orkney and archaeologists therefore know far more about how people were buried in the Bronze Age than how they lived. The most common form of burial in the period was cremation, but inhumations also occured. Barrows are often clustered such as those on the Cantick peninsula in South Walls and which include the unusual square example at Roeberry.
The Five Hillocks in Holm is an excellent example of a barrow cemetery. The finest group in Orkney, however, is the Knowes of Trotty in Harray. Rich gold and amber finds from there rival artefacts from Wessex in southern England. Bronze Age burnt mounds are also common. Archaeologists are divided as to their original function, but their location in wet ground points to specialised industrial activities like wool processing. A good example is at Liddle where a sub-circular building with a water trough and hearth survive next to a large mound of burnt stones. Large earthen boundaries known as treb dykes are also thought to date to this time, perhaps indicating new agricultural and landscape concerns. However, the Bronze Age is chiefly associated with the introduction of metalwork and Beaker pottery. Such objects are rare in Orkney but peat-cutters working at Hobbister in Orphir recently chanced upon an exceptionally rare find of a socketed bronze axe dating to c1000BC.