Ness of Brodgar

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Ness of Brodgar
The excavations at Ness of Brodgar.jpg
Excavations at Ness of Brodgar
Shown within Orkney Islands
Location Mainland, Orkney
Region Scotland
Coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Type Neolithic settlement or religious site
Periods Neolithic
Site notes
Ownership Historic Scotland
Public access Only by guided tour during excavation
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iii, iv
Designated 1999 (23rd session)
Part of Heart of Neolithic Orkney
Reference no. 514
State Party Scotland
Region Europe and North America

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"[1] or "palace".[2] 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.[1][3]

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".[2] Additionally, according to archaeologists in general, the site could be more important than Stonehenge.[4]


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.[5][6] Some of the stone slabs are decorated with geometrical lozenges typical of other Neolithic sites.[3]

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.[3][7]

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[8] 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.[1][9][10][11]

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.[12] It is thought that the primitive paint could have been made from iron ore, mixed with animal fat, milk or eggs.[13] Only a week later a stone with a zigzag chevron pattern painted with a red pigment was discovered nearby.[14]

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.[15]

In 2013, an intricately inscribed stone was found, described as "potentially the finest example of Neolithic art found in the UK for several decades".[16] 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".[17]

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.[18]

World Heritage status

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.[19]

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 "contribute[s] greatly to our understanding of the WHS" according to Historic Scotland.[20]

See also

  • Westray Wife - another Neolithic figurine recently discovered in Orkney.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ross, John and Hartley, David (14 August 2009) " 'Cathedral' as old as Stonehenge unearthed." Edinburgh. The Scotsman. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Turnbull, Catherine (27 August 2011). "Ness of Brodgar discoveries 'rival classical Greece'". The Times Scotland. London. Retrieved 27 August 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Towrie, Sigurd (16 August 2007) "Stone wall hints at Neolithic spiritual barrier " Orkneyjar. Retrieved 17 September 2008.
  4. Thornhill, Ted (2 January 2012). "'Discovery of a lifetime': Stone Age temple found in Orkney is 800 years older than Stonehenge - and may be more important". Retrieved 2 January 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Ness of Brodgar, Stenness, Mainland, Orkney" UHI: Orkney College. Retrieved 30 August 2008.
  6. "Orkney Archaeology News" Orkneyjar. Retrieved 30 August 2008.
  7. Ross, John (14 August 2007) "Experts uncover Orkney's new Skara Brae and the great wall that separated living from dead". Edinburgh. The Scotsman. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  8. A flaked stone with a sharp edge used for cutting. This neolithic tool is named after Skaill Bay, the location of World Heritage Site Skara Brae in Orkney. See "Skaill knife" (pdf) Historic Scotland. Retrieved 21 March 2007.
  9. "Neolithic ‘temple’ revealed at site on Orkney" Glasgow. The Herald. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  10. Macintosh, Lindsay (14 August 2009) " 'Neolithic cathedral built to amaze’ unearthed in Orkney dig" London. The Times. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  11. "The Ness of Brodgar Excavations". (14 August 2009) Orkneyjar. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  12. "Rock shows Stone Age Scots keen decorators" (28 July 2010) Glasgow: The Herald.
  13. "Painted walls in Orkney '5,000 years old'". BBC News. 26 July 2010. Retrieved 28 July 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Decorated Neolithic stonework found on Orkney". (4.8.10) Glasgow: The Herald.
  15. "Brodgar Boy" Orkneyjar. Retrieved 28 Aug 2011.
  16. " 'Finest' Neolithic stone discovered at Orkney's Ness of Brodgar". BBC News. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  17. "Dig Diary — Wednesday, August 7, 2013". Orkneyjar. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  19. "The Heart of Neolithic Orkney" at the Wayback Machine (archived August 24, 2007). Historic Scotland. Wayback archive of 5 September 2007 retrieved on 14 October 2012.
  20. Heart of Neolithic Orkney - Management Plan 2014–19: Consultation Draft (PDF). Historic Scotland. 2013. p. 10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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