A team of British archaeologists have announced the discovery of a complex of Bronze Age settlement on the island of Sanday, Orkney – situated north of John o' Groats. The team say that their finding is probably over 4,000 years old and is one of the largest Bronze Age settlements on the Scottish isles.

The team, consisting of Professor Colin Richards, of the University of Manchester, Dr Vicki Cummings of the University of Central Lancaster, Christopher Lee and Professor Jane Downes, both from the University of the Highlands and Islands, were on the beach of Tresness, Sanday, as they were hoping to analyse eroding stalled cairns – a mound of stones built as a memorial or landmark. Lee spotted what he thought was a cairn poking through the sand, and then Cummings and Downes saw stones laid out in a circular fashion close by.

On closer inspection, they discovered ard-points, stone mattocks, stone bars, hammerstones and stone flaked knives on the surface of the sand. Furthermore, there were pieces of stonewalls that were still upright, which they believe were part of a house structure.

The team's walk along the beach led them to a series of Bronze Age settlements. All in all, they found 14 examples of settlements over a 1km stretch of the beach. Also discovered were what they believed to be working areas.

Cath Parker, leader of the Sanday Archaeology Group, says "This is incredibly exciting. The archaeological landscape concealed beneath Sanday's shifting sands never ceases to amaze us. I'm sure the local community will relish the opportunity to be involved with any work which stems from this thrilling discovery."

Downes added: "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."

Richards said: "After a long history of excavating the large late Neolithic settlements or 'villages', most recently the Ness of Brodgar and Links of Noltland, we now possess a detailed understanding of Neolithic life in Orkney, but what happens in the following Bronze Age period is a bit of a mystery."