Ness of Brodgar
History and museums
Ness of Brodgar is an archaeological site covering 2.5 hectares (6.2 acres) between the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site near Loch of Harray, Orkney, in Scotland. Excavations at the site began in 2003. The site has provided evidence of housing, decorated stone slabs, a massive stone wall with foundations, and a large building described as a Neolithic "cathedral" or "palace". The site may have been occupied from as early as 3500 BC to the close of the Neolithic period more than a millennium and a half later.
According to project manager Nick Card, the discoveries are unparalleled in British prehistory, the complexity of finds is changing the "whole vision of what the landscape was 5,000 years ago" and that "it’s of a scale that almost relates to the classical period in the Mediterranean with walled enclosure and walled precincts". Additionally, according to archaeologists in general, the site could be more important than Stonehenge.
Excavations have revealed several buildings, both ritual and domestic and the works suggest there are likely to be more in the vicinity. Pottery, cremated animal bones, stone tools, and polished stone mace heads have also been discovered. Some of the stone slabs are decorated with geometrical lozenges typical of other Neolithic sites.
There are the remains of a large stone wall (the "Great Wall of Brodgar") that may have been 100 metres (330 ft) long and 4 metres (13 ft) or more wide. It appears to traverse the entire peninsula the site is on and may have been a symbolic barrier between the ritual landscape of the Ring and the mundane world around it.
The temple-like structure, which was discovered in 2008, has walls 4 metres (13 ft) thick and the shape and size of the building are visible, with the walls still standing to a height of more 1 metre (3.3 ft). The structure is 25 metres (82 ft) long and 20 metres (66 ft) wide and a standing stone with a hole shaped like an hourglass was incorporated into the walls. There is a cross-shaped inner sanctum and the building was surrounded by a paved outer passage. The archaeological team believe it is the largest structure of its kind anywhere in the north of Britain and that it would have dominated the ritual landscape of the peninsula. Recent finds include Skaill knives and hammer stones and another, perhaps even bigger wall. The dig involves archaeologists from Orkney College and from the universities of Aberdeen, Cardiff and Glasgow.
In July 2010, a remarkable rock coloured red, orange, and yellow was unearthed. This is the first discovery in Britain of evidence that Neolithic peoples used paint to decorate their buildings and is similarly coloured to the natural shades of sandstone used in the construction of the inner sanctum. It is thought that the primitive paint could have been made from iron ore, mixed with animal fat, milk or eggs. Only a week later a stone with a zigzag chevron pattern painted with a red pigment was discovered nearby.
A baked clay artefact known as the "Brodgar Boy", and thought to be a figurine with a head, body, and two eyes, was also unearthed in the rubble of one structure in 2011. It was found in two sections, the smallest of which measures 30 mm, but is thought to be part of a still larger object.
In 2013, an intricately inscribed stone was found, described as "potentially the finest example of Neolithic art found in the UK for several decades". The stone is inscribed on both sides. A few days later archaeologists discovered a carved stone ball, a very rare find of such an object in situ in "a modern archaeological context".
Prehistoric roof tiles were used in Ness of Brodgar. The archaeologists at the ongoing Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) excavations have found Orkney’s first real evidence of a Neolithic roof. In most reconstructions of prehistoric buildings, one will often see the roof made of turf, animal skins or thatch. But on the Ness, the builders used stone slates for at least one of their buildings the remains of which have been uncovered within the side recesses along the interior walls of Structure Eight.
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney was inscribed as a World Heritage site in December 1999. In addition to the Ring of Brodgar, the site includes Maeshowe, Skara Brae, the Stones of Stenness and other nearby sites. It is managed by Historic Scotland, whose "Statement of Significance" for the site begins:
The monuments at the heart of Neolithic Orkney and Skara Brae proclaim the triumphs of the human spirit in early ages and isolated places. They were approximately contemporary with the mastabas of the archaic period of Egypt (first and second dynasties), the brick temples of Sumeria, and the first cities of the Harappa culture in India, and a century or two earlier than the Golden Age of China. Unusually fine for their early date, and with a remarkably rich survival of evidence, these sites stand as a visible symbol of the achievements of early peoples away from the traditional centres of civilisation. ... Stenness is a unique and early expression of the ritual customs of the people who buried their dead in tombs like Maes Howe and lived in settlements like Skara Brae.
Since the importance of the Ness was discovered only in 2003, it was not mentioned explicitly in 1999 and was not one of the four key sites. Nevertheless, the Ness of Brodgar "contributes greatly to our understanding of the WHS" according to Historic Scotland.