An archaeologist from Preston’s University of Central Lancashire was among a team which has uncovered a rare Bronze Age find.
The remains of a Bronze Age settlement have been unearthed beneath sand dunes in the Orkney Islands and UCLan’s Dr Vicki Cummings was among those who trod on the millennia-old homes without realising it.
The team, from UCLan, the University of Manchester and the University of the Highlands and Islands, discovered them on the shore at Tres Ness, on the island of Sanday, and initially thought they were just piles of stones.
They found a series of circular stone spreads which were revealed to be the remains of Bronze Age homes, each covered with a mass of stone tools.
In all 14 gatherings of stone ruins were found along a kilometre stretch and it is believed to be the largest preserved settled ever found. It includes what appears to be evenly spaced houses.
The team made the find by accident as they were walking during bad weather during a field trip on the island.
Dr Cummings, who works in UCLan’s acclaimed School of Forensic and Applied Sciences, said: “We were walking out to visit a chambered tomb in extremely windy conditions along a sandy beach when we noticed spreads of dark stone amongst the white sand.
“These spreads were so prolific we didn’t at first realise that what we were walking on were the remains of substantial stone-built prehistoric houses.
“Looking carefully at the remains we found a mass of stone tools which were clearly Bronze Age in date.”
She added: “What really stunned me was that these remains were stretched out over a kilometre making this the largest prehistoric settlement I’ve ever seen.
“This is truly a remarkable find but its exposure means that this incredible site is now under threat from rising sea levels and wintery storms.”
Professor Colin Richards, of the University of Manchester, said: “This is a major discovery as the houses and a Bronze Age land-surface has clearly been sealed beneath the dune system for some 4000 years. It was the scale and density of occupation that really surprised us. Not only are house structures present but working areas are also visible.”
This new discovery provides a rare opportunity to examine a dispersed settlement from the little understood Bronze Age in detail.
Professor Jane Downes, of the University of the Highlands and Islands, a specialist in the Bronze Age, said: “This must be one of the biggest complexes of Bronze Age settlement in the Scottish isles, rivalling the spreads of hut circles in other parts of mainland Scotland.”