One of the most significant archaeological finds in Scotland was made by accident on an Orkney island earlier this week.

The remains of no less than 14 Bronze Age houses and a range of tools and artefacts, were discovered over a half mile stretch of beach on the island of Sanday.

A high-powered team of archaeologists stumbled across evidence of this important settlement on their way to investigate to another site.

In very poor weather, Professor Jane Downes (University of the Highlands and Islands- UHI), Professor. Colin Richards (Manchester University), Dr Vicki Cummings (University of Central Lancaster) and Christopher Gee ( ORCA Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology- UHI) were walking out to Tresness to examine the eroding stalled cairn on the point.

Initially Mr Gee noticed what appeared to be the top of a substantial cairn of stones emerging through the sand. Then Professor Downes and Dr Cummings spotted a circular spread of stones lying nearby in an intertidal zone.

Investigating the spread, a large number of implements, stone mattocks (hand tool used for digging), stone bars, hammerstones and stone flaked knives were immediately visible on the surface, according to UHI's Archaeology Institute.

Closer examination revealed sections of stone walls and uprights, which were clearly part of a house structure. The experts had only identified them as the remains of a Bronze Age house, when another spread of stones was seen lying just a few metres away. This too was a house structure covered with a mass of stone tools. As they continued walking along the sand,a series of Bronze Age sites were revealed.

The houses are visible as differently shaped spreads of stones, and in all some 14 were located distributed over a kilometre stretch along the sand.

According to UHI this vast spread of Bronze Age settlement appears to have been sealed beneath the massive sand-dunes that characterise the approach to Tresness. Indeed, a number are actually in the process of eroding from beneath the dune complex. The scale and density of occupation that really surprised the archaeologists. Not only are house structures present but working areas are also visible. Professor Downes, who specialises 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", she said.

But there is now concern that given their position in the intertidal zone, these important archaeological remains are under substantial thread from coastal erosion and it could only be only a matter of time before they will be further damaged and destroyed.

The find only reinforces Orkney's already global fame for its archaeology. A huge Neolithic site, possibly a temple complex, was discovered at the Ness of Brodgar, adding to the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and Maeshowe chambered tomb. These have been recognised by a UNESCO World Heritage Site area, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.