‘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.

Landscapes Revealed – second volume of UHI Archaeology Institute research series out now

A substantial Neolithic settlement at the north-western end of the Ness of Brodgar is one of hundreds of new archaeological sites outlined in a new book from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

Landscapes Revealed: Remote Sensing Across the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, the second volume in the institute’s research series, documents a nine-year project that surveyed a 285-hectare area between Skara Brae and Maeshowe.

The project, which ran from 2002 until 2011, revealed a wealth of new sites, as well as helped chart the changing character of the landscape and shed new light on the known monuments and their place in the historic and more recent past.

The Neolithic site mentioned above lies to the north-west of, and is on a par with, the Ness of Brodgar excavation site. Based on the surveys and the finds collected in the field, it seems we may have something of the same magnitude as the Ness and incorporating similarly large structures. But of particular interest is the fact that this settlement is merely one facet of a landscape incredibly rich in archaeology — containing evidence of life from the Neolithic all the way through to long-gone 19th century farmsteads.

Gradiometer data interpretation of an area north of Buckan Farm, Sandwick, at the north-western end of the Ness of Brodgar. (ORCA)

Staying on the Ness, north-west of the Ring of Brodgar are Bronze Age houses that are providing important insights into this enigmatic period of Orcadian prehistory. The structures lay close to – but a respectable distance from – the stone circle, where the householders placed the remains of their dead in a manner similar to that encountered at Stonehenge.

Bronze Age dwellings were also discovered inland from Skara Brae, showing that people did not abandon the area but adapted their way of life in the face of climate change, increasing storminess and encroaching sand.

Moving into the Iron Age, the surveys revealed in startling detail the brochs that loomed over the ruins of Skara Brae and the Stones of Stenness. With the latter, the broch-dwellers continued to act out rituals at what was already an ancient stone circle. Clearly the Neolithic monuments continued to inspire.

To find out more, pick up a copy of the book.

Landscapes Revealed: Remote Sensing Across the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, by Amanda Brend, Nick Card, Jane Downes, Mark Edmonds and James Moore.  Published by Oxbow Books, the hardback is available now, priced £35.

Ness to Ness Workshop 2019, Orkney

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have once again teamed up with Orkney College UHI Art Department to offer the popular summer Art & Archaeology workshop for 2019.

  • Dates: 2nd – 5th July 2019
  • Time: 9.00-5.00 each day
  • Cost £250 per person (limited number of concessions at £225)
  • Accommodation and food is not included
  • Material and transport to and from Kirkwall during the workshop is included

Join us for a four-day workshop exploring the synergies between Art & Archaeology through an exciting combination of field visits and studio time. Accompanied by artists and archaeologists, you will explore the themes of mark-making, materiality and the landscape in the beautiful setting of Orkney’s West Mainland and the island of Hoy.

There will be exclusive tours of the Ness of Brodgar, Pier Arts Centre and the Ness Battery as well as expert printmaking tuition in Orkney College’s Art Studio from Charles Shearer

Tuesday 2nd July 2019 Field Day Ness of Brodgar and Ness Battery

The Ness of Brodgar excavation

After an introduction to the workshop, we will visit the excavations at the Ness of Brodgar. You will have the opportunity to enjoy a bespoke tour with Site Director Nick Card and see its unique art with Neolithic art researcher Dr Antonia Thomas. In the afternoon we will have a tour of the remarkable buildings at the Ness Battery and its unique WW2 painted murals with archaeologist Andrew Hollinrake.

The Ness Battery looking across to the Island of Hoy

Wednesday 3rd July 2019 Pier Arts Centre and Hoy

For today’s session, we will study the internationally significant collection of modern and contemporary art through an exclusive tour of the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness. We will then travel by the MV Graemsay ferry to the island of Hoy and then onwards to the beautiful beach at Rackwick via the Dwarfie Stane….a Neolithic rock cut tomb made famous by Sir Walter Scott in The Pirate. Following a day on the island we then travel back to Stromness on the ferry.

The Dwarfie Stane

Thursday 4th July Studio Day One

You will develop your sketches and ideas from the previous two days into collagraph prints, guided by the internationally renowned printmaker and artist Charles Shearer. A lunchtime lecture will discuss art and artefacts from Neolithic sites in Orkney. You will also have an opportunity to handle finds from recent excavations.

Friday 5th July Studio Day Two

You will be able to develop your ideas from the previous three days further, and continue to work on collagraph printmaking with Charles Shearer. A lunchtime lecture will explore overlaps between archaeology and art as disciplines and processes.

Formal qualifications are not required for this course.

Cost: £250 for 4 days. Limited number of concessions available at 10% discount (£225) Cost includes teaching, transport and materials, but not accommodation or food.To book, contact orkney.college@uhi.ac.uk or telephone 01856 569000

Nick Card Presents Research in China

Ness of Brodgar Site Director Nick Card was invited by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to give a lecture in Xi’an this month – the birthplace of Chinese Civilisation and home to the Terracotta Army.

The trip not only gave Nick the opportunity to take part in an international workshop on heritage management and present the Ness of Brodgar as a case study of how archaeology can contribute to local economies, but also explore the amazing archaeology in and around Xi’an including the famous Terracotta Army associated with the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang – China’s first emperor.

One of the chariots discovered in a pit adjacent to the main mausoleum

Nick, when showing me the photographs from his trip, talked about the sheer scale of the archaeology present in the landscape in and around the city; pointing to huge population mobilisation (reputedly 700,000 for the construction of the mausoleum alone) and highly sophisticated social organisation over 2,000 years ago.

Model of Daming Palace

He continued,” The archaeology is breath-taking, not only in its scale…for example the Daming Palace in Xi’an itself covers an area equivalent to 300 football pitches….but in the artefacts and monuments that are being uncovered. The local archaeologists have only uncovered a tiny percentage of the mausoleum site that overall covers several square kilometres and yet the insight into this incredible civilisation provided by the discoveries so far are nothing short of astonishing.”

The largest pit (partially) excavated at the Terracotta Army. The walls between the rows of warriors supported a roof structure of logs. This one structure could cover the whole of the Ness of Brodgar

Following Nicks presentation on the Ness of Brodgar, the workshop progressed onto discussions on heritage management and the innovative methods being used in China to preserve and present the past. One line of discussion centred on the Chinese creation of huge archaeology parks such as the one in Xi’an.

Layout of the Daming Palace Archaeology Park in Xi’an

The few days Nick spent in the city also gave him the opportunity to sample the local cuisine, which gave him chance to think on LP Hartley’s opening line in the 1953 novel ‘The Go- Between’ “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”

The trip was fully funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences – a huge thanks to them for this opportunity.

The Ness of Brodgar is a University of the Highlands Archaeology Institute research excavation and is part financed by the Scottish Government and the Leader 2014-2020 Programme.

For more on the Ness of Brodgar dig click here.

Exceptional Stone Axe Discoveries at the Ness of Brodgar shed light on Neolithic Life in Orkney

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The second stone axe found last week in situ showing the natural banding in the rock reflected in the shape of the axe edge

The Ness of Brodgar is one of the largest and most important Neolithic excavations in Northern Europe.

The dig is continuing to reveal an increasingly large complex of monumental Neolithic structures together with ‘artwork’, over 30,000 pieces of pottery, large assemblages of bones and stone tools – including over 30 unique stone axes.

Last week archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the Ness of Brodgar Trust unearthed two polished stone axes in quick succession – items that give us a glimpse into the lives of the people who constructed this stone complex 5000 years ago.

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The largest Neolithic stone axe unearthed at the Ness of Brodgar in situ, showing damage to the cutting edge

The first axe was discovered in the closing moments of Thursday in the new trench on the shore of Loch of Stenness. The expertly worked and polished object was the largest axe so far discovered on site and had been heavily used and damaged at the cutting edge.

Nick Card, Site Director, said, “It is nice to find pristine examples of stone axes, but the damage on this one tells us a little bit more about the history of this particular axe. The fact that the cutting edge had been heavily damaged suggests that it was a working tool rather than a ceremonial object. We know that the buildings in the complex were roofed by stone slabs so this axe was perhaps used to cut and fashion the timber joists that held up the heavy roof.”

The second axe was discovered by one of our students, Therese McCormick, from Australia who’s volunteered at the Ness of Brodgar. This stone axe astonished the archaeologists on site through its sheer quality of workmanship. The Gneiss stone had been chosen so that the natural coloured banding was reflected in the shape of the item and then expertly worked and polished to create an object of beauty.

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Archaeologist Therese McCormick excavating the second polished stone axe found last week from Structure 10

Nick Card continues, “This axe again tells us a little more about the life of the Neolithic people who built this place. There is, in common with the large axe discovered earlier, a great deal of edge damage suggesting that this axe was used extensively as a working tool, but interestingly one of the edges has been re-worked to create a new edge and also both sides are covered in peck marks suggesting that it was also re-used perhaps as a mini anvil. This axe, in common with many of the axes found on site, was also placed in a special position within one of the structures opposite the entrance that was aligned east-west to catch the equinox sunrise and in line with Maeshowe. These polished stone axes unearthed at the Ness of Brodgar were clearly multi-functional tools that were not only ‘tools of the trade’ but were also perhaps symbols of power.”

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Stone axe in situ in Structure 10

The Ness of Brodgar is an archaeological excavation covering an area of 2.5 hectares in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, in Scotland. It has revealed a well-preserved and sophisticated complex of monumental stone buildings, enclosed by walls up to six metres thick. Built and occupied by people over 5,000 years ago, the Ness has produced decorated and painted stonework unlike any other site in the UK. Its architecture is unique and it has given us evidence for stone-tiled roofing as never previously seen.

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Archaeologists opening Trench Y where the large stone axe was found

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Overview of Structure 10 where the second axe was found

The site is run through the Ness of Brodgar Trust and the UHI Archaeology Institute.

More information see : http://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/about-the-ness-of-brodgar/

Video of discovery of the second polished stone axe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0x9BLMCi548


Join the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute to research and study the amazing Ness of Brodgar as part of your studies. See the UHI website or drop us a line at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk for a chat on your options.