Ness of Brodgar textile among Scotland’s ‘most groundbreaking archaeological discoveries’ of 2020

Ness of Brodgar Excavation site. (Scott Pike)
Ness of Brodgar Excavation site. (Scott Pike)

Evidence of a woven Neolithic textile found during post-excavation work at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute’s flagship Ness of Brodgar excavation has been named one of Scotland’s “most groundbreaking discoveries of 2020”.

The Covid pandemic has had a profound impact on Scottish archaeology, with the majority of excavation work brought to a standstill. However, archaeologists and volunteers still managed to uncover new details about Scotland’s past.

Dig It!, a hub for Scottish archaeology, has compiled a list of three of the biggest stories from the last 12 months, featuring the Ness of Brodgar textile impression at number two.

The pot sherd with the cord impression (left) and the textile impression towards the bottom right. (Jan Blatchford)

Organic material from prehistory does not often survive, so the study of Neolithic textiles has to rely on secondary evidence, such as the impression that the fabric left when it was pressed against the wet clay of a pot 5,000 years ago. The impressions appear on the inner face of the vessel which suggests that they were made by the potter’s clothing during the pot’s creation.

The Ness of Brodgar team has been investigating this massive complex of monumental Neolithic buildings, in Orkney, since 2004, but all excavation and fieldwork was put on hold this year due to the pandemic.

The impressions were discovered during post-excavation examination of the huge quantities of pottery from the site. The project uses a technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), which combines multiple photos of a subject to create a highly detailed image that can reveal surface details not visible during normal examination.

The Ness textile joins the Tap o’ Noth Pictish settlement in Aberdeenshire, where, in May, archaeologists from the Leverhulme Comparative Kingship Project uncovered evidence that up to 4,000 people may have lived or gathered in hundreds of houses on the summit around 1,700 to 1,400 years ago.

In Edinburgh, when lockdown was lifted in the summer, archaeologists began unearthing skeletons and artefacts from a medieval cemetery in Leith that were to be affected by the work to extend the Edinburgh Tram line to Newhaven.

The discovery of over 350 burials which could date as far back as 1300 came as no surprise, but this wasn’t the team’s only find. Others included a cannonball that may have been fired during the 1559-60 Siege of Leith, pottery and a coin of Dutch origin which dates to 1628, and bones from the fin of an adult sperm whale, dating to around 1800, which shone a spotlight on Leith’s industrial whaling past.

Dr Jeff Sanders, Project Manager at the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’s Dig It! project, said: “Archaeology is all about discovering Scotland’s stories and these are just some of the new chapters that have been added despite the pandemic, with other finds ranging from a major Iron Age village in Aberdeenshire to a “lost” medieval bridge in the Scottish Borders.

“As Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy reminds us, archaeology is for everyone, so we hope you’ve been inspired to get involved in 2021 when it’s safe to do so.”

Launch of Ness of Brodgar monograph a ‘proud moment’ for Archaeology Institute

Two of the Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands editors – Nick Card and Anne Mitchell – at Wednesday evening’s book launch in Kirkwall, Orkney. Missing from the picture is Professor Mark Edmonds.

The third volume in the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute’s research series was officially launched on Wednesday evening.

The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands focuses on the ongoing excavation of a complex of Neolithic buildings in Stenness, Orkney, and is a major drawing together of all the strands of information available to date.

The background to the site, its discovery, excavation, the science and other specialisms being employed to tease out the story are all explored in the richly illustrated book.

Opening the launch event in Kirkwall, Orkney, Professor Jane Downes, director of the UHI Archaeology Institute, described the new volume as a “splendid addition” to the institute’s research series.

She said: “The Ness of Brodgar is the flagship excavation of the Archaeology Institute – an excavation that has grown to be of such importance to Orkney, not only economically, which it undoubtedly has been evidenced to be, but to a whole range of people, from students, tour guides, schools and Orkney visitors, to whom the site has become an annual highlight.

“This book has been eagerly awaited by legions of students, professional and amateur archaeologists and Ness of Brodgar and Orkney enthusiasts from all over the world. For the UHI Archaeology Institute this is a proud moment indeed.”

Discovered in 2003, UHI excavation at the Ness of Brodgar began in 2005 and the interim monograph features contributions from institute staff as well as specialists from around the world. The result is 27 chapters, each devoted to different aspects of the site, its excavation and interpretation.

Edited by Nick Card, Mark Edmonds and Anne Mitchell, The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands is available from bookshops priced £35.99. Purchasing online from www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk will see proceeds from each sale go to the excavation funds.

The second volume in the UHI Archaeology Institute series, Landscapes Revealed: Remote Sensing Across the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, was launched in September and also available from bookshops.

Introducing the forthcoming Ness of Brodgar book

Nick Card and Anne Mitchell of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute introduce the forthcoming interim monograph, The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands.

The book, due for release on November 18, 2020, is the third volume in the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute research series and available to pre-order now.

Ness of Brodgar monograph available to pre-order

The third volume in the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute research series is available to pre-order now.

The Ness of Brodgar – As it Stands provides a comprehensive and up-to-date account of the Ness of Brodgar excavations and is due to be released on November 18.

The full-colour book features contributions from University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute staff as well as specialists from around the world. The result is 27 chapters, each devoted to different elements of the site, its excavation and interpretation.

The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands, edited by Nick Card, Mark Edmonds and Anne Mitchell, is published by The Orcadian, priced £35.99. To pre-order, click here.

‘The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands’ – November launch for third volume of UHI Archaeology Institute’s research series

Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands Cover

A November release date has been set for the third volume of the UHI Archaeology Institute’s research series.

The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands focuses on the ongoing excavation at the Neolithic site in Stenness, Orkney, and will be launched on Wednesday, November 18.

UHI excavation at the Ness of Brodgar began in 2006 and the interim monograph presents over a decade’s worth of information on all aspects of the monumental Neolithic complex, providing a comprehensive and up-to-date account of the project’s findings.

The book features contributions from institute staff as well as specialists from around the world. The result is 27 chapters, each devoted to different aspects of the site, its excavation and interpretation.

Structure Eight. Ness of Brodgar. (Scott Pike)
Looking along the length of Structure Eight at the Ness of Brodgar. (Picture: Scott Pike)

The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands, edited by Nick Card, Mark Edmonds and Anne Mitchell, is published by The Orcadian and will be available to the public from November 18, priced £35.99.

The second volume in the UHI Archaeology Institute series, Landscapes Revealed: Remote Sensing Across the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, was launched last week.

Ness of Brodgar Success Acknowledged in Scottish Parliament

The debating chamber, Holyrood

The Ness of Brodgar has been congratulated in the Scottish Parliament for its success in the 2019 Shanghai Archaeology Forum Field Discovery Awards.

Many thanks to Orkney MSP Liam McArthur for tabling the motion. This is the second time the joint University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Ness of Brodgar Trust managed project has been acknowledged at Holyrood. The first was in 2011, when the excavation won the Current Archaeology Research Project of the Year.

The motion in full reads…….

Motion S5M-19892: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 14/11/2019

That the Parliament congratulates Ness of Brodgar Excavations in Orkney on winning the 2019 Shanghai Archaeology Forum Field Discovery Award from a shortlist of 141 global nominations; notes that this award recognises archaeological excavations that have uncovered major discoveries that significantly advance or alter understanding of the human past; acknowledges that the Orkney site, which is one of the most significant archaeological finds in Western Europe, was nominated by members of the German Archaeological Institute and the University of Cambridge; recognises that the project is managed by the University of Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute in conjunction with the Ness of Brodgar Trust; congratulates the volunteers and staff, including the site director, Nick Card, on their hard work and achievements in archaeological research being recognised on the global stage; thanks them for furthering knowledge and awareness of Neolithic life in Orkney through their outstanding and innovative efforts, and wishes the project continued success for the 2020 excavation season and beyond.

Supported by: Bill Kidd, Edward Mountain, Tom Arthur, Liam Kerr, Ruth Maguire, Gil Paterson.

The Ness of Brodgar looking north

Check out the Ness of Brodgar website here for more on this incredible archaeology excavation into the Neolithic in Orkney.