A man who died almost two thousand years ago in Orkney appears to have lost all but two of his teeth because he employed his mouth in every day work, archaeologists believe.

New radiocarbon dating data and a dietary assessment of human remains discovered at The Cairns, an Iron Age broch site under excavation on the island of South Ronaldsay, have given new insights into the individual. He may have been the last occupant of the broch ( drystane hollow-walled home).

In July excavations unearthed a human jaw placed in a very large, carved whalebone vessel. It is thought contemporaries of this man had placed the bone in the vessel when they de-commissioned the broch itself, probably just after his death.

The vessel was resting against the outer wall-face of the broch near to its main entrance. Also present within the whalebone container were remains of three new-born lambs, and other animal bones. There were also deer antlers. Archaeologists think he may have been an important man given the ritualistic style of his burial among animal remains in the broch.

The new radiocarbon dates show that the man died sometime between AD120 and AD240 in the latter part of what is conventionally termed the Scottish Atlantic Middle Iron Age.

The study suggests that the jaw belongs to a man of some considerable age 50 at least, but he may well have been several decades older than that.

According to The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute, which has been leading the digs and studies of a broch:

"The individual seems to have led an active working life judging by the condition of the teeth - only two were left! The jawbone had grown over most of the sockets of the missing teeth showing that these teeth had been lost during life. This tooth loss may have been brought about partly through the individual using his mouth in the manner of a third hand, to tightly clamp materials, such as grasses and straw, whilst working on them with his hands, perhaps in making plant-fibre items such as bags and containers."

Martin Carruthers, UHI Site Director, said: "It may not be pushing this line of consideration too far to suggest the possibility that it was his death that occasioned the final abandonment and decommissioning of the broch. There are plenty of examples from different cultures around the world, where the death of an important person, who had a significant association with a particular house, resulted in the end of that entire house as well."