For a few years now each summer archaeologists appear at the Ness of Brodgar on Mainland Orkney to continue excavating one of the most amazing Neolithic sites. A frequent saying is "if you scratch the surface of Orkney, it bleeds archaeology". There are many archaeological sites around Orkney, big and small, domestic and grand scale, but what is being uncovered at the Ness of Brodgar is just extraordinary and has, deservedly, attracted worldwide attention. If you've not heard of this site before or want to learn more take a look at this comprehensive website on the dig which is part of Orkneyjar website.
Each year I've been visiting the site and it's brilliant to see the site unfolding and hear about all the amazing discoveries first hand. I went for my first visit in 2014 on Friday and here is a snapshot (excuse the pun!) of my visit. Tours are free so if you are in Orkney between now and August 20th do to along.
So.... above as you can see, to the untutored eye and at ground level it all looks a complete jumble. How on earth do you make sense of THAT? The black plastic is covering sensitive areas or areas that are yet to be uncovered. Because the site is only excavated 6 weeks of each year it has to be protected from the elements the rest of the time. So it's covered in plastic which is weighted down with tyres and sandbags.
Lots of fancy kit on tripods are used to measure accurately around the site.
Methodically the site is excavated - all the stone walls you can see are what have been uncovered. The earth running through the centre below actually contains the water pipe for the neighbouring farm so it's a challenge to excavate round it! Some samples of midden (rubbish heap) have been taken - they are the small squares cut out of the earth bank. These can be analysed to help build up a picture of the site - after it was "decomissioned" several thousand years ago it appears also that it was filled in with earth, so that too can tell something about farming practise at the time.
There are people digging, sifting, measuring, and...drawing.... in the background here, with heads bent are three artists who contribute to the interpretation of the site.
As I mentioned before - the stone walls are all part of the site. Some decorated stone has been found, which is quite unusual. Some stone has been painted with pigments and some have "pecked" designs, made with implements. It's all very fragile so will be covered for protection.
In recent years a viewing platform has been constructed for the tours so it helps get a better understanding of the site.
From the platform you can also see how the site sits within the surrounding landscape - one of the lochs and the Hoy hills visible in the background behind the site exhibition/shop.
I mentioned measuring earlier..... oh a lot of that seems to go on!
And while we were up on the viewing platform excited squeals came from one of the groups of excavators. One of the team had found something. It turned out to be a damaged mace head, to the experienced archaeologists it wasn't anything special it seemed, but to the young archaeologist who found it, it was treasure indeed. And for those of us watching it was exciting.... just think how many thousands of years that had lain buried, and the hands that last touched it.....
As we left the view platform we walked this wall with the flags on the floor - this is as it was found, really well preserved and with a lovely curve in the wall.
The viewing platform is on the left - swathed in blue netting for safety. You can get an idea of how huge this site is....
I mentioned earlier about the setting of the Ness of Brodgar in the landscape. It's set among some of the best Neolithic structures, there is Maes Howe (you can just see the doorway on the right - this is aligned so that for a few days in mid-winter the sun which sets between the Hoy hills will shine the last rays directly through the door, down the tunnel to the back of the chambered cairn...... and all constructed without all the fancy measuring equipment builders have today!
The picture above was taken from the top of the viewing platform, and when I turned around I then took this photo.... where the sun will set in mid-winter....
And then to the right of the viewing platform is the Ring of Brodgar...... and nearby are the Stones of Stenness
And if you click here you'll see these sites in context on a map....
And a real treat, a short National Geographic film taken last year of the Ness of Brodgar and some of the finds, with Nick Card, the site director, being interviewed..... click here
Hope you enjoyed the update on the Ness of Brodgar dig! I'm planning to go back again in a few weeks. I want to see some of the finds but had to leave the tour before the end as had to be in Kirkwall (and also couldn't stand around any longer!)