Neolithic Orkney site to be reburied

Ring of Brodgar Foto Visitorkney

Every summer since 2003, scientists and volunteers have returned to dig at the archaeological site of Ness of Brodgar in Orkney. Over the last 20 years, excavations at the site have uncovered the 5,000-year-old remains of temples, hearths, a ceramic figurine and elegant pottery.

This year, however, will be different. After one final dig in the summer of 2024, Ness of Brodgar is to be covered up to protect it for future generations. The soil will be replaced and covered in turf, making it look once again like an anonymous green field.

“What we have discovered is just the tip of a huge archaeological iceberg,” said Nick Card, who has directed excavations here for the last 20 years. “There are more than 100 buildings here, and underneath the most recent ones lie countless older edifices. We want to leave these later buildings intact instead of destroying them in order to get at those that lie underneath. So we are going to leave that task to future archaeologists who, we hope, will have the benefit of new technologies.”

Card points to techniques such as the analysis of ancient DNA, which is being used in a variety of different ways. For example, it is now possible to learn how pottery was used by analysing the food residues which it absorbed. “Drones have also transformed aerial surveys of the site – we used to fly our cameras with kites. And there is hope that in future, new types of radar and other systems can tell us what lies below the upper layers of buildings at the Ness.” “The Ness has been my life for the past 20 years,” added Card. “ I have been very lucky to have been at it from the start and to see it through to the very end – though that won’t come for a very long time. Cataloguing and publishing the vast amount of finds we have uncovered is going to keep teams of us busy for years to come.”

Ness of Brodgar

Ness of Brodgar S Marshall, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Ness of Brodgar lies on a promontory separating Orkney’s two largest bodies of inland water, the Loch of Stenness and the Loch of Harray. Excavations have shown that the mound is mostly manmade. The six-acre site dates to more than 5,000 years ago and comprised dozens of buildings which were linked to outhouses and kitchens by stone pavements. Finds include the bones of hundreds of cattle, pottery and pieces of painted ceramics. It is believed that the site was primarily a place of gathering where people would come to worship, exchange produce and socialise.

It was also was a place of lasting cultural importance and influence, occupied for something like 60 to 70 generations. In the late neolithic period, around 3,200 to 2,500BC, a new type of pottery called Grooved Ware appeared across the British Isles. It appears to have originated in Orkney and then spread out to the rest of the country.

Ring of Brodgar Foto Visitorkney

The whole area has been a World Heritage site since December 1999, and consists also of the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe, Skara Brae, the Stones of Stenness, and other nearby sites. The area is managed by Historic Scotland. The nearby Ring of Brodgar is a stone circle 104 metres in diameter, originally composed of 60 stones set within a circular ditch up to 3 metres deep and 10 metres wide.

Source:            Robin Mackie, Science editor, The Guardian            Sat 11 May 2024 /  Wikipedia


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