Art and Architecture in Neolithic Orkney: Process, Temporality and Context (2016)

Dr Antonia Thomas
UHI Archaeology Institute Research Series: Volume One

The Neolithic sites of Orkney include an impressive number of stone-built tombs, ceremonial monuments and – uniquely for northern Europe – contemporary dwellings. Many of these buildings survive in a remarkable state of preservation, allowing an understanding of the relationship between architectural space and the process of construction that is rarely achievable. Until recently, however, relatively little has been known about the decoration of these sites.

This book addresses that gap to offer a groundbreaking analysis of Neolithic art and architecture in Orkney. Focussing upon the incredible collection of hundreds of decorated stones being revealed by the current excavations at the Ness of Brodgar, it details the results of the author’s original fieldwork both there and at the contemporary sites of Maeshowe and Skara Brae, all within the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

It provides the first major discussion of Orkney’s Neolithic carvings, and uses these as a springboard to challenge many of the traditional assumptions relating to Neolithic art and architecture. By foregrounding the architectural context of mark-making, this book explores how both buildings and carvings emerge though the embodied social practice of working stone, and how this relates to the wider context of life in Neolithic Orkney.

Available to download here.

Landscapes Revealed: Geophysical Survey in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Area (2020)

Current Archaeology Book of the Year 2023

Edited by Amanda Brend, Nick Card, Jane Downes, Mark Edmonds and James Moore
UHI Archaeology Institute Research Series: Volume Two

Landscapes Revealed cover

This volume brings together several years of work devoted to the wider landscape of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

It documents the results of a programme of geophysical and related survey across an area of c. 285 hectares between Skara Brae on the west coast of the Orkney Mainland, and Maeshowe, in Stenness.

The project has made it possible to talk, for the first time, about the landscape context of some of the most remarkable and renowned prehistoric monuments in Western Europe.

The aims are to synthesise the data from different forms of survey and to document the changing character and development of this landscape over time.

The results are genuinely remarkable are presented in a manner which makes the material of interest and value to a relatively wide readership, with an array of images which fully document and interpret the evidence.

Survey work at a landscape scale tends to deal with palimpsests. Here descriptive sections are set within a thematic structure designed to explore the changing use and significance of different areas over time. This sheds important new light on the character and extent of known prehistoric sites and ceremonial monuments. But they also document the afterlives of these and other places and their relation to the lived landscapes of the historic and more recent past.

In tracing the changing configuration of the World Heritage Area, we can begin appreciate this landscape as an artefact of several millennia of dwelling, working land, attending to wider worlds and to the past itself.

Available to buy here.

The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands (2020)

Edited by Nick Card, Mark Edmonds and Anne Mitchell
UHI Archaeology Institute Research Series: Volume Three

Archaeological excavations at the Ness of Brodgar are adding a new thread to ‘The Orkney Tapestry’. Set on a narrow isthmus between the Lochs of Stenness and Harray, this remarkable complex of stone buildings stands at the heart of an area long renowned for its Neolithic monuments.

Drawing on evidence from more than a decade of fieldwork, this book explores the character, history and significance of the site, asking why it was that people over 5,000 years ago came to create some of the most monumental stone buildings of their time.

Beautifully illustrated, The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands provides a wealth of information about the buildings and artefacts found during excavation, from flint tools and pottery to polished stone axes and maceheads.

The huge amount of carved stone artwork on the site is stunning and mysterious; so much more than mere decoration. Here we find the animals that were farmed and hunted, the fish that were caught and shellfish gathered, as well as the cultivated crops and wild plants that were used for food.

But Orkney was not isolated in the Neolithic (a modern, city-centric concept) and the chapters gathered here trace the connections between these islands and what we now recognise as Britain, Ireland and continental Europe. I once told a journalist that the discoveries at the Ness of Brodgar meant we had to tear up books on the Neolithic and start again. This exquisite study of an ongoing project is an excellent first step in that direction.

Available to buy here.