Location, Location, Location

One of the attractions of The Ness of Brodgar is the location. Situated on an isthmus between the Loch of Stenness and the Loch of Harray, with the Ring of Brodgar to the north west and the Stones of Stenness to the south east, there are few archaeological sites in the UK that are more beautiful.

It is tempting to get drawn into an examination of the structures and the intricacies of the buildings and wonder at the craftsmanship at the Ness of Brodgar, but it is equally important to view the site within a landscape. This, in many respects, is a central feature of our teaching and work at The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute….that the archaeology is seen as part of a past, present and future landscape.

Standing at the Ness, if you raise your eyes from the dig itself, get accustomed to the light, the big sky and the lack of trees, you will notice that the whole area is one huge amphitheatre. To the north, east and west, undulating hills rise up to form a bowl. But to the south the large distant hills possess a different character. The valley sides, that seem to mirror the angle of the Stones of Stenness, are actually on the Island of Hoy – the island that is unlike anywhere else in Orkney. These hills of Hoy draw your eye. Especially on wild weather days in winter when clouds erupt off the summit.

There is little doubt that visitors today think this is a special place -you just have to be there for a few hours to see that .We can also summise that Neolithic people thought the same. Perhaps it is because the area is surrounded by water which is surrounded by land and then by sea – a large model of the wider world?

We will never know, but it is evident that visitors today still think the place is special….and if you need written evidence then just take a few minutes to look at the map completed a few months ago by volunteers surveying the surrounding World Heritage Site.


The finished map. Design & layout: Iain Ashman

Download the map from Community map of the Orkney World Heritage Sites

For more information on the Ness of Brodgar go to http://www.orkneyjar.com/archaeology/nessofbrodgar/

The Amazing Ness of Brodgar

IMG_0632It is easy to become immersed in the archaeology of the Ness of Brodgar….

The sheer scale of the Neolithic archaeology concentrated in one small area, the amazing stonework, the stunning location and of course the incredible artefacts that are continually coming out of the site. Just yesterday the first decorated stone emerged from the ground.

But as I was reminded today, the site as it exists, represents a very small proportion of the whole site; perhaps 10% or even less. This means that this site was huge in terms of the neolithic and if extant today would still be a sizeable settlement (if that is the right word) on Orkney!

The craftmanship involved in the creation of the stonework itself is stunning in several areas across the site. In fact it is the first thing you notice – once you get your eye in. This is not a rough assemblage of stones, piled one on top of another, but a carefully crafted building project that required skill and knowledge to assemble. In many respects the stone looks as if it was set in place last week and is just waiting for the builders to return from their lunch break!


Hopefully this will be the first in a series of blog posts concerning The Ness of Brodgar in which I will explore various themes.

If you want to explore the Ness in full then I recommend clicking through to http://www.orkneyjar.com/archaeology/nessofbrodgar/




Digging up the Past @ The Ness of Brodgar

Throughout the summer, if you are aged between 12 and 16, you could be part of the dig team for one morning at the world famous Ness of Brodgar archaeology dig.

The dates are as follows:

  • 19th July
  • 26th July
  • 2nd August
  • 9th August
  • 16th August

Workshops on archaeological techniques and finds will also be running…this is your chance to get hands on and learn some new stuff about archaeology!

Booking is essential, so if you want to take part then contact the rangers on 01856 841732 or e-mail orkneyrangers@hes.scot

Archaeomagnetic Dating for the Scottish Neolithic


Developing Archaeomagnetic Dating for the Scottish Neolithic. Call for samples. Sam Harris, School of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford.

Supervisors: Dr Catherine Batt & Prof. Ian Armit, School of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford. Nick Card, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Orkney.

Guest blogger, Sam Harris writes…..The investigation of archaeological material for dating using magnetic methods is usually referred to as archaeomagnetism. Archaeomagnetism has been utilised as a method for dating fired and heated archaeological material successfully for a number of decades. However, in order for this method to work, the spatial behaviour of the Earth’s geomagnetic field must be understood for the archaeological period in question. Currently, our definition of the local geomagnetic field for the British Isles is characterised by a Secular Variation Curve (SVC) for the past 4,000 years (Zananiri et al. 2007)

I am part of the newest wave of researchers trying to improve our knowledge of the past geomagnetic field and how it can be utilised to assist in answering archaeological questions. More specifically I am looking at ” Developing Archaeomagnetic Dating for the Scottish Neolithic” (PhD title).

By sampling fired material from independently dated archaeological material we can begin to build a picture of the past geomagnetic field behaviour. The Ness of Brodgar is offering the perfect opportunity to sample a plethora of formal hearth features (figures 1-3 above)

In addition to the Ness of Brodgar, I am looking for additional archaeological sites to augment my data. This means I require as many possible samples as I can physically get my hands on, and it costs the archaeologists nothing!

From the 24th July I will be in Orkney for a number of weeks sampling at the Ness of Brodgar. I will be available to visit any prehistoric archaeological sites from across Orkney. So please get in touch.

Additionally, if anyone is excavating any Neolithic sites across Scotland, I would be very interested to hear from you. Any questions please contact me using the contact form below or details below. Further information is available at www.neolithicarchaeomagnetism.weebly.com

Sam Harris details


Ness of Brodgar Excavations 2016

Ness poster 2016-page-001

The preparations are now finalised for the start of the new season of excavations at the amazing Ness of Brodgar Neolithic complex.

Guided tours are available from 6th July until the 24th August 2016.

  • Monday to Friday 11am, 1pm and 3pm
  • Saturdays and Sundays 11am and 3pm

The details for individual / family and group visits are below:

Individual visitors


On Saturdays and Sundays there will be no diggers to see, but there will still be free site tours at 11am and 3pm – again just turn up. 

Special Open Days will be held on Sunday 31st July and Sunday 21st August 2016, when the diggers will be on site and there will be demonstrations and activities for all the family. These will be publicised nearer the time. 

There is free car parking space at the dig on a grass field, please note vehicles are left at owners risk. The entrance to the dig field is very narrow and is NOT suitable for large vehicles such as camper vans – please park at the Standing Stones or Ring of Brodgar car parks and walk to the site. The walk through the World Heritage Site from either the Ring of Brodgar or Stones of Stenness is very pleasant and is recommended to anyone with the time. 

Please note there is no parking in any of the passing places on the Brodgar road and you must not park in any of these places – Police Scotland patrol the road regularly and may well issue you with a parking fine if you are found parked illegally!

Tour Group visits – more than 8 people 

For logistical & health & safety reasons, we regret we can’t take tour groups of more than 8 people on any of our regular public tours. Please don’t just turn up with a large group – we will have to turn you away. 

If you would like to visit with a tour group of more than 8 people you need to contact us well in advance by email    – click here to contact us  

We will do our best to help but it may not be possible to allow your group to visit depending on the availability of site staff, other booked groups etc.

Coach Parking

Please note that there is no parking for coaches or midi coaches at the Ness of Brodgar and coaches must not be left in the passing places on the Brodgar road.

We hope that with your help the 2017 excavation season will also be able to run for 8 weeks from Monday 3rd July until Friday 25th August 2017, but we do need your help to fund all our work.

Please visit our donations page for information on our fundraising goals and how with your help we will achieve them.Visitors are welcome during the dig season, but please note that it is not possible to visit or see the site outside of this period, as the site has to be covered to protect it from the Orkney weather. 

Rock Matters: A Geological Basis for Understanding the Rock at the Ness of Brodgar

Rock Matters: A Geological Basis for Understanding the Rock at the Ness Of Brodgar

Martha Johnson writes about her research into non structural and non tool rocks found at The Ness of Brodgar.

All stone is rock but most rock is not stone. In the index or glossary of most geology texts there is no listing for stone, conversely, in most archaeology texts, there is no listing for rock.

This research has been structured to include rock in an archaeological setting. As a naturally occurring material composed of crystals or grains of one or more minerals, rock is not recognized in most archaeological sites until it has been quarried and placed upright in the ground; or it has been dressed for use in a foundation or wall; or it has been struck to form a sharp edge or ground into a tool. Until a rock is a stone something; standing stone, stone wall, flaked stone axe, or ground stone mace, it is not usually recognized as a material in its own right with information to provide. On many Neolithic sites there is incidental or non-structural, non-tool rock situated at occupation levels but this material is usually not recovered and recorded as either general or small finds.

The Rocks That Don’t Belong research project is investigating the non-structural, non-tool rocks recovered from the Late Neolithic site, the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney. These rocks, termed Foreign Stone for this research, are more often found on the spoils pile than in a finds tray. It should be noted the word “foreign” used in the archaeological finds classification, “Foreign Stone,” denotes rock originating from outside the area of excavation, not from another country. The recovery, recording and identification of these rocks as discrete rock (and mineral) species will add a petrological and geological dimension to post-excavation interpretation not commonly included in most archaeological settings.

During the 2013, 2014 and 2015 excavation seasons at the Ness of Brodgar, over 2000 Foreign Stone finds were recovered.  Each specimen has had the trench, structure and context recorded, their visible physical properties identified and recorded (colour, composition, texture/grain size, morphology…), and has had their specific rock (or mineral) species identified. Each specimen has also been examined for any evidence of heating.

The recording both archaeological and petrological data in this research will permit the cross referencing of rock species to structure or context. Though all rock recovered as Foreign Stone has been recorded and identified, the Foreign Stone of particular interest to this research involves those species not outcropping of the portion of the Stenness-Brodgar isthmus occupied by the Ness of Brodgar site. The recovery of these rocks at or near occupation levels, give indication of transport to the site during its period of use. Broad questions can then be asked concerning the presence of these rock species at the site.

The second portion of this research involved the compilation of all current and archival references regarding the location and description of any rock (or mineral) species found in Orkney. This species/location gazetteer permits an overall assessment of the rock types and species available within the Orcadian archipelago to people of the Neolithic. Questions can then be asked with respect to the distance(s) specific rock (or mineral) species recovered from the Ness of Brodgar could have been transported from its outcrop source(s) to the site.

Combining the knowledge of what rock species are found in Orkney and where they can be found with what rock species have been recovered from the Ness of Brodgar and where within the site they have been recovered generates the remaining post-excavation questions.   Specific questions will be posed to determine if there is any concentration of a specific rock species within a structure or within a context.

*Definition of petrology:  a science that deals with the origin, history, occurrence, structure, chemical composition, and classification of rocks

Using Archaeomagnetic Dating at The Ness of Brodgar

A new website has been set up by Sam Harris who is undertaking PhD research into archaeomagnetic dating (this is explained on the website) based on samples he has taken at the Ness of Broadgar. Sam’s research should provide complimentary dates to the C14 ones we have done in conjunction with the Times of Their Lives Project. This will help with the refinement of the chronology of the Ness and also the use of this technique.

The primary aim of this PhD project is to develop archaeomagnetic dating in the Neolithic period in Scotland. This research will expand on the pre-existing chronological dating tools available to the archaeologist by extending the calibration curve for archaeomagnetic dating. This will allow investigations of heated archaeological material from older parts of antiquity than previously permitted. Further afield this will contribute to geophysical understanding of the Earth’s magnetic field in the past. The Ness of Brodgar’s ongoing excavations have allowed a significant amount of sampling and will continue to do so as the PhD progresses.

Already the results are looking very promising!


How did the Neolithic Orcadians keep dry ?


Research conducted by Neil Ackerman, The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.


This project looked at the roofing flagstones from the Ness of Brodgar. This is the first evidence for Neolithic roofing of this kind on Orkney. Previously, roofs have generally been assumed to be made from organic materials, such as turf or thatch. While stone roofing has been suggested as a potential on a few occasions, this is first time a collapsed flagstone roof has been identified. The majority of flagstones come from Structure 8, providing a detailed sample to study further. This evidence provides a unique opportunity to gain insight into a poorly understood aspect of Neolithic construction.

Structural Understanding

Rebuilt south west wall of structure 12
The rebuilt south west wall of structure 12

Understanding the roof furthers our understanding of the structures as a whole. The internal piers in the building could serve to shorten the unsupported span of the roof frame significantly. It also gives a possible explanation for the failure of the south west wall from Structure 12. The significant outward thrust of a roof of this size could easily cause a collapse like this if not properly countered. The shortening of Structure 1 could also be a response to a roof collapse, with the later wall being built directly on top of the collapsed material. Shortening the structure would provide less of a weight to support.

 Construction and Collapse

The distribution of the flagstones from the roof in Structure 8 hints towards the construction methodology. The size of the flagstones reduces towards the centre of the reconstructed roofstructure, but are smallest at the end wall suggesting the roof follows the curve of the wall.As well as showing the way the roof was built, the distribution of the flagstones also shows how it collapsed. They are not found vertically against the walls as they would likely be if the roof had deteriorated over time. Rather, they are spread across the structure with 89% lying at ≤45°.


Large amounts of compact white clay were found with the flagstones when they were excavated. This could serve as a caulking material, as well as keeping the flagstones together. An internal covering is also highly likely, as there is no evidence of direct exposure to the smoke and soot from the internal hearths. A seamer method was used to cover the gaps between flagstones and reduce the amount of moisture getting into the structure.

Suggested Models

By looking at historical use of flagstone in roofing, and evidence from the Neolithic flagstones, three models are suggested:

a) Uncovered flagstone roof

b) Covered flagstone roof

c) Partial flagstone roof