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The Ness of Brodgar

Posted: 2011-03-15

The Ness of Brodgar, Orkney Excavations

Orkney offers so much to anyone interested in prehistory, and it seems that new investigations at the Ness of Brodgar on Orkney Mainland may be redefining what we think we know about the prehistory of the area. First some geography; if you start at the famous Stones of Stenness and head north west, you pass along a narrow isthmus of land, with the lochs of Harray and Stenness on either side, before the land widens out again and you reach the Ring of Brodgar.

Stenness and Brodgar are among the most prestigious prehistoric sites in Britain, and draw thousands of visitors to Orkney each year. But it is the area between the two sites, known as the Ness of Brodgar, that has been attracting archaeologists and the attentions of the world press lately.

Excavations at Ness of Brodgar began following the accidental discovery in 2003 of a large notched slab during farming on the site. Investigation of the site began in earnest in 2004, and has revealed a large complex of buildings built with extremely sophisticated masonry techniques, with carved and painted walls. While the exact nature of these buildings is not yet known, archaeologists have been speculating that it may be a ceremonial centre.

More than that, the presence of the site between the stone circles at Stenness and Brodgar suggest that perhaps the circles were not the focal point of religious/ceremonial activity, but that they may have been peripheral to the complex of buildings at Ness of Brodgar.

It makes you wonder how much of what we think we know about prehistory may be superceded with new interpretations as new techniques of investigation are applied and new excavations reveal more about the past. Over the past few years new research at Stonehenge has revealed that the famed stone circle was only part of a much larger ceremonial complex involving a processional pathway and other, smaller stone structures. It seems that the ancient sites surrounding Brodgar may be telling us a similar story.

Excavations at Ness of Brodgar are headed by a team from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), based out of the archaeology department at Orkney College UHI, which in turn is part of University of the Highlands and Islands.

The importance of the excavations at Ness of Brodgar have been recognised by the project being awarded the National Archaeology prize by Current Archaeology magazine.

Resources:
Ness of Brodgar on Orkneyjar
Award information from Scotland: National Rural Network
Our Orkney Travel Guide - and Ring of Brodgar, Stenness information


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