SKELETONS of men, women and children have been unearthed after archaeologists discovered the ruins of a 5000-year-old tomb in Orkney.

The “incredibly rare” find at the Neolithic site in Holm, East Mainland, was uncovered by experts from National Museums Scotland and Cardiff University.

The site was largely destroyed by Victorian antiquarians 127 years ago but despite the damage, 14 skeletons have been found alongside individual pieces of human bone.

Local volunteers working with University of Central Lancashire made other finds, including pottery, stone tools and a pin carved from bone.

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Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark, who led the excavation, said: "Orkney is exceptionally rich in archaeology, but we never expected to find a tomb of this size in a such a small-scale excavation.

"It's incredible to think this once impressive monument was nearly lost without record, but fortunately just enough stonework has survived for us to be able understand the size, form and construction of this tomb.”

The National:

The three-week dig – which was also headed up by Professor Vicki Cummings of Cardiff University – revealed traces of a stone cairn 15m in diameter which had contained a 7m-long passage.

The archaeologists said a stone chamber lay at the centre of the cairn, and this was surrounded by six smaller cells.

It is believed to be a type of tomb only previously recorded 12 other times in Orkney.

Prof Cummings added: "The preservation of so many human remains in one part of the monument is amazing, especially since the stone has been mostly robbed for building material.

"It is incredibly rare to find these tomb deposits, even in well-preserved chambered tombs and these remains will enable new insights into all aspects of these peoples' lives."