Ness of Brodgar Excavation Dates Confirmed

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The Ness of Brodgar has quite rightly attracted a great deal of attention over the last few months, especially with the new BBC2 documentary series, Britain’s Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney hitting the screen.

Nick Card and the team can now confirm the schedule for this season’s introductory talk, the excavation itself and Open Days.

  • The Orkney Archaeology Society Ness of Brodgar talk will take place on 15th June at 19.00 in the Orkney Theatre.
  • The excavation will be open from Wednesday 5th July to Wednesday 23rd August.
  • Tours are available and will be conducted by team members at 11 and 1 Mon-Fri and by Historic Environment Scotland Rangers at 3 pm each day. Archaeologists will be on site most weekdays. However please check the Ness of Brodgar Trust website for up to date information as the weather has a habit of intervening at times!
  • Tours are also conducted at 1100 & 1500 on Saturday and Sunday during the dig season, but there will be no archaeologists on site during the weekend.
  • Open Days are being held on Sunday 16th July and Sunday 20th August. Last year over 1200 people attended each event and we are hoping for more this year. All are welcome…and there will be activities for the whole family, so bring along the children for a Neolithic Day out!

On seeing the sheer scale of the excavation visitors to the site frequently ask,”Who pays for all this?” We do not charge for admission and the tours are also free. You can stay as long as you wish. You can ask the archaeologists questions. You can even bring along activities and spend all day there. You will be made most welcome.

So who funds all the work?? Well, the answer is that the project is mainly supported by public donation through the Ness of Brodgar Trust and the American Friends of the Ness of Brodgar  with support from a plethora of other people who give their money or their time or both to help.  This includes Orkney Islands Council (who recognise the economic and cultural importance of archaeology in Orkney), Orkney Archaeology Society (who amongst other things organise the running of the massively important on-site shop), and the UHI Archaeology Institute.

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However, the whole project could not happen without donations from the public….from you reading this, all the other people who visit the website and donate a few pounds or indeed on some occasions thousands of pounds, the people who visit the site and buy a few items from the shop or sponsor a square. This funding is what makes it happen.

Nick and the team would also like to thank all the volunteers who give up their time to work on the site and make the whole project work like clockwork.

If you wish to help support the project then please go to the Ness of Brodgar website and if you can, donate a few quid. Many thanks from the Ness of Brodgar team.


If you are intrigued by the history and archaeology of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and want to learn more, either drop us a line through studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or go to our guide to courses on this blog or visit our University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute web page

Intriguing Structure Found in Trench T

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Trench T seen from South East

It is a given in archaeology, that the most perplexing finds are unearthed in the final stages of a dig. So, as the dig at Ness of Brodgar in Orkney started the final week, some of the most intriguing finds of the season started to be unearthed in a trench which goes under the title of ‘Trench T’.

This area of the site is not open to the public, but is part of a research programme to discover what lies beneath the largest Neolithic midden yet discovered in north Scotland.

The Ness of Brodgar site itself is no stranger to discoveries, with human remains, possible Neolithic seaweed, rock art and of course the structures themselves giving archaeologists many things to think about Neolithic society in the last few weeks. However, nothing prepared the site director Nick Card and supervisor Ben Chan for the discovery made this week in Trench T.

As digging progressed, the archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute became more and more excited. A structure unlike any other discovered so far at the Ness was emerging from the midden. It was huge being nearly 10 metres wide internally and of unknown length as it disappeared out of the trench, but the construction – the way it was built – seemed to be unique. Although the outer wall faces were constructed of fine, large masonry the inner wall faces were much rougher. However, these inner faces would have been hidden behind upright orthostats ‘cladding’ the interior. More amazing was the size of large prone orthostats that helped support the upright slabs and pinned them in place against the inner wall faces. The only one that has been fully exposed is over 4 metres in length, but there are others, only partially revealed that could be longer!

The excitement intensified as the archaeologists realised that this structure was probably built before the main structures present on the site and that it had been deliberately buried by the huge midden.

The mystery deepened as more questions were asked. Where do these huge stones originate? They have rounded edges that suggest they were weathered or worked in the same way that some of the standing stones at Stenness appear to be. They are smaller than the surviving nearby Watch Stone, but road widening in the 1920’s unearthed evidence for a twin for the Watch Stone. Could these two stones have been part of another stone circle that was mainly dismantled?

Trench T Close up
Close up of the orthostats in Trench T

Nick Card Site Director suggests, “The sheer size and scale of the stones unearthed are unprecedented on this site. The way the stones are built into the construction is also unique to the Ness. This all suggests that they may have been re-used and taken from elsewhere. Perhaps they may be part of a stone circle that pre-dates the main Ness site. It is all a bit of mystery and we won’t know more until we do more work.”

Other questions also remain unanswered for the moment. Was this structure roofed? If so then how was such a space spanned. Was this indeed, the first building on the site? What was it used for? Was it a chambered tomb? In any event it was clearly a special structure to the people who built it, but why was it covered in the largest Neolithic rubbish dump in Scotland?

As the digging season comes to a close it is a fact that these questions will only be answered through more research and more hard work next year.


Many thanks are due to James Robertson at http://orkneyskycam.co.uk/ who completed the drone photography and video work for free.

The Ness of Brodgar – The Site that Keeps on Giving.

The excavation season at The Ness of Brodgar has just a few weeks to run. So it is a good time to take stock.  Site Director Nick Card talks about the findings so far….

There are usually a few minutes in the day when there is time to muse on the continuing discoveries made at The Ness of Brodgar. Nick Card, Site Director, sat on the small, battered, wooden bench next to Structure 10 and, leaning back on the tyre wall, talked about the discoveries that were emerging this season.

Nick started by saying that he is always amazed by the continued interest in this site. Despite the worst that an Orkney summer can throw at people, they still come.

Last weekend was a case in point. Over 1000 people turned up to the Ness of Brodgar Open Day on one of those Orkney summer days when the rain drives in horizontally and visibility is down to a few yards. Keep in mind that only 20,000 people actually live on Orkney (smaller than the average sized UK town) and you can see the attraction that the Ness holds for people.

We discussed the reasons behind this and came to the conclusion that the dig at the Ness of Brodgar shows archaeology in action. People from around the world can witness Neolithic society being unwrapped before their very eyes. Nick went on to talk about a visitor from the USA who stated, when viewing the site, that he had “finally made it here”. The visitor had seen the coverage in The National Geographic and had travelled over 8,000 miles to see the site. It was a destination for him and a reason to visit our small island in the North Atlantic. Nick added, “We are also very lucky because we have an experienced team of supervisors who come back year after year. We are also lucky in our volunteers. They travel here under their own expense and work hard to unearth the story of this site.”

Nick went on to outline the salient points that for him stand out this season. The first must be the discovery of human bone under the rebuild of  Structure 10. The discovery of human remains is always tinged with emotion. At some point this bone was part of a person with the same hopes and fears that we all possess in daily lives. Their surroundings were different to ours in a way that we can only imagine, but they surely possessed those same feelings of doubt, fear and hope that we all experience on a daily basis. The remains are of course treated with care and reverence, and on initial examination we can deduce a few features about this individual’s life.

The bone formed part of a human arm and is disarticulated with no signs of injury or de-fleshing. There are no other human remains situated around the deposit. It is never certain how an individual may look from a single bone, but there is evidence of muscle attachment that indicates the person was used to hard physical labour. This was not unusual even in higher echelons of Neolithic society and so we cannot surmise on this individuals social standing by this evidence alone. However, we can suggest that this person was slender, tall, but experienced arthritis.

So where did this isolated bone come from? It was situated under re-used roof slates together with an assemblage of cattle bone under one of the corner buttresses that formed the later remodelling of Structure 10. Could it come from a possible chambered tomb in Trench T? Was the bone a revered ancestral relic that was buried here; perhaps in an attempt to resist the subsidence that was obviously evident in previous buildings? Perhaps it was the Neolithic equivalent of a lucky charm? We cannot possibly know for certain, but this discovery opens just a small window onto Neolithic society and gives us a glimpse into the minds of the people who built this site.

We concluded our discussion on the salient points of the Ness of Brodgar by talking about Trench T. This trench is not as yet open to the public, but is already full of surprises. The trench seems to be digging into a monumental midden, the size of which is unprecedented in Neolithic Britain. There appears to be a substantial (possibly 12m in width!), demolished early Neolithic structure which may pre-date the main site buildings. This in itself is worthy of further discussion, but when combined with the find of a very large animal, possibly even an auroch, makes this area all the more interesting. Has Nick and the team discovered the very earliest structures at The Ness? Structures that are even older than the main structures found so far? Only time and further research will find the answer to that question.


Donations of any amount welcome – thank you!

The Ness of Brodgar Trust (Registered Scottish Charity No: SC044890) exists to support all aspects of the excavation of the massive Neolithic ceremonial complex at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney. Please help us to continue the work at this amazing site by making either a one-off single donation or a regular monthly donation (UK bank direct debit only), which helps us to budget for future season’s work. UK taxpayers please Gift Aid your donation to give us 25% more at no extra cost to you.

To donate please click through to https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/2743#/DonationDetails

 

Magic Moments at The Ness Open Day

Yesterday (31st July) was the first Ness of Brodgar Open Day of 2016.There were displays in two locations that helped to tell the story of this amazing site.

The weather added something to the drama of the location by bringing in cloud at zero feet and horizontal rain for a few hours in the afternoon, but over 1000 people still braved the unique Orkney climate to sample a little of the Ness atmosphere.

And they came from all over the world. I talked to an engineer from Canada, a teacher from Wiltshire, a retired couple from Austria in addition to a man who could see the Ness from his kitchen window.

There were children of all ages engaged in activities from making seashell necklaces and pasta art to rope and willow working. There was even a chance to create a monster, create some neolithic art or rebuild Structure 10 in Duplo. And of course view the research work being undertaken by The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

In many respects the Open Day created an experience that gave everyone who visited, a few hours to soak up the atmosphere that makes the Ness a place that visitors return to day after day and year after year.

Talking to one visitor, he suggested that The Ness of Brodgar had a special atmosphere, even on a dull day….It attracted him to the place year after year. He suggested that the place, although a place of work, was also a place in which people feel something special. You only have to visit once to see for yourself.

You can’t help but talk to people who you have never seen before and will probably never see again. The volunteers themselves obviously possess a camaraderie that is hard to explain.  Visitors stand around and for a moment in a busy world start asking questions about the people who built these structures. Some visitors set up easels and paint while others start playing instruments…all take photographs, but not in a way that most people do on holiday, but in a studied way as if recording something special.

For me, what made yesterday a special day was a conversation I had with an Orcadian on a subject that in many respects was not connected to archaeology, but in a way would not have occurred anywhere else. It went something like this….

I started the conversation “Hello…Have you been up to the Ness before?”

“Yes I have and I go every few days to see how it is progressing. It is something special.”

“How long have you lived in Orkney…?”

“Oh. All my life. My family are Orcadian.Our history is here.”

“Oh yes there are many famous Orcadians. Did you know that the first man back on the Mary Celeste was an Orcadian?”

(Pause)….”He was my great grandfather and he told me the story when I was 4 or 5.”

There is another Open Day on the 21st August.

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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.

 

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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!

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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/

 

 

 

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 http://www.neolithicarchaeomagnetism.weebly.com

Sam Harris details