Neolithic discovery: why Orkney is the centre of ancient Britain
Drive west from Orkney's capital, Kirkwall, and then head north on the narrow B9055 and you will reach a single stone monolith that guards the entrance to a spit of land known as the Ness of Brodgar. The promontory separates the island's two largest bodies of freshwater, the Loch of Stenness and the Loch of Harray... continues...
The new dig season got off to a VERY wet start yesterday with all mucking-in today to catch up on the process of preparing the site for further excavation. Excellent overview to a large group of visitors by Roy Towers..........managed to complete JUST before another squall came in !
Today the site has produced its first carved stone ball, ironically found by a non-drinker as the discovery prize is whisky. I'm sure the excavation blog will mention it, so look on Orkneyjar tonight I guess. It follows the usual Orcadian form and has round bossed faces... continues...
The excavation on the Ness of Brodgar has been named the winner of the 2012 Andante Travels Archaeology Award.
The Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology/Orkney College UHI project was runner-up in the international award scheme in 2008, and went on to take the Current Archaeology Research Project of the Year title last year... continues...
Archaeologists and pagans alike glory in the Brodgar complex
Interesting article written in the Guardian by Liz Williams, though I found the original link on Heritage Daily;
Archaeologists are notoriously nervous of attributing ritual significance to anything (the old joke used to be that if you found an artefact and couldn't identify it, it had to have ritual significance), yet they still like... continues...
They are currently doing road works next to the site – not sure if this is for sea defences or widening the road which is single track at this point?
Karen parked a bit further down the road and I hopped on the small stone wall to see what I could see? All I could see was the previous years dig fully covered in tarpaulin.
The site is quite a large area.
At this point a car pulled up and wound the window down.
It was a Historic Scotland ‘Ranger’ who wanted to know what I was up to?
When I explain I was informed that this year’s dig wouldn’t be starting until 16th July.
I said ‘ok, thanks’ and she drove off while I walked back to the car.
It will be of interest to see what they unearth this year?
Covering the site for next year was well in hand on Thursday, with the building in the far corner already fully blanketed in black plastic. So I had a bit of a race against time. Actually as far as making sense of the site is concerned it is much easier to make out the structures, especially the walls, with the plastic sheet laid on the floors ! After photographing all you would need to to do is 'photoshop' the black for a less obtrusive contrast in colour. Today another big deep hearth stood out. Very close to it are two large slabs on edge making a likely corner. The hearth seems a little close to be connected or respecting it (though it could mirror the hearth's far left corner). One side is a thick rectangular slab and the other is thinner and has one angled end. On the other hand the latter also looks to line up with an edge of a thick tall-ish ortostat. Both have narrow horizontal slabs by them at ground level (that at the orthostat resembling part of a standing stone socket) and another in the space between them. From the orthostat another much lower orthostat runs to the wall of a structure, and by its RH side a small paved area [?entrance] ends at another wall. In the photograph I can see a slighly angled orthostat built into the ? far wall of the structure. Of course even looking from other directions perspective might be misleading me. But a diagram to help you see would fall foul of ORCA's no image policy. There are at least two fallen rectangular stone near all of this, one of which might well have formed a wall with the rectangular and another abutting the angle of the corner to its left. I had a look at the drain exposed below the paved circular passage near the viewing platform. It is not much wider than a small soil pipe and bounded by a mostly thin coursed wall, though there is one stone on its long edge I can see. All over the site there are the tops of walls and fallen slabs, the latter as likely isolated as not. Unlike the north end (I can even make out the N/S baulk in one image) the view from the west end spoil heap is really a mish-mash at this stage in the cover-up. Along the south end the tapes were gone. So I finally had a chance fror a peak from this direction, treading carefully like the seasoned digger I had been. I am particularly struck by a horizontal lang stane, virtually by itself, closely parallel to what was/is the E/W baulk about half-way along the east 'arm'. What is visible is mid-brown, five to six feet long and about the thickness of a brick wall course. The long edge facing me seemed to have a square cut running along the top but I see it is simply that this is a roughly flat edge [??natural]. From here I can see that my corner is less so - there is a gap before the angled slab, which is thin, and the other two stones are the true corner. But all of it is on the same 'grid', with at least another three walls on the same alignment [NW/SE if the baulks do run cardinally] between the walls/structure directly ahint the corner and the site's east end by the north end of the platform. Nick Card has noticed where I am and calls me out as this part of the site is still sacrosanct. I try to see the lang stane from the viewing platform ramp but cannot, though a digger near to it is working close to it and in front of her may be another one [?? or the same], for I can see a big long block with a horizontal split hard against the baulk. Leaving I take a gander at the finds 'trays' outside being packed. I see that large potsherd with deep ribs and two of the smooth stone balls, one an oblate spheroid and the other an almost complete ovoid with a linear crack running around it (and a piece from elsewhere detached on it, sandy coloured inside).
Reached the Ness of Brodgar around dinner-time, in between the guided tours, so decided not to ask to look at the finds. Re Brodgar Boy what in one view did look idol-like (despite that lop-sided third 'eye') in another was distinctly a broken-off top with a short 'stem' at the bottom. Now that the rest has been found the object is two-and-a-half times as long and looks like a mini-staff (a symbol of authority and/or for ceremonies, or a representation of one ?). Including the 'neck' and that stem there are three circumferential grooves that might have been for rope - you can easily imagine it with tassels ! In digging the midden of Structure Eight they have found a stone incised with an earth sign [Pars Fortuna]. . Structure One has so far produced several dozen incised stones, the last what what they take for a representation of a comet (but a circle with three trailing lines has other meanings). But the most common symbol is what they are calling a double-triangle and associating with a bee, though these also been 'read' elsewhere as butterflies (over at Banks Chambered Tomb there are vees/chevrons, which are seen as birds). Pre C14 dating one at Stonehenge was wrongly identified with the Cretan labrys (double-axe). Much has been made of Stenness infuence on the Avebury area, so is this another indicator ? Finally on site the Neolithic roof tiles were removed, only for more to be revealed at the same place after further digging - the imp of the perverse wonders if this is a dump rather than collapse in sensu strictu.
Despite the very strong wind the first thing that I did was go up the viewing platform. The lighting being distinctly flat all structures tended to merge - in these conditions what is needed for photographing features is a little light rain I recall. First new item to 'pop out' the monumental hearth in Structure Ten. ImmediatelyI thought of the one in the Stones of Stenness circle, though I think comparisons will instead be made with Barnhouse 'village'. Next I saw a long slab with ends framed by angle topped orthostats. This must be the probable Structure Ten entrance they have found - having been caught out before by dodgy contexts they are holding back judgement until they can be certain it does not belong to another period or structure (I saw what could be another rectangular feature [or part of a passage/'street'] directly in front of it). Coming down again it did not surprise me that nothing further has happened to the NE corner that took my fancy when I came here with Orkney Blide Trust the previous week (not realising we would stay for the whole 90 minute tour I'd had to come back for The Work photography) as it is at the very edge of the dig. The day I came seemed to be dedicated to cleaning and recording several parts of the site so I tried to avoid getting in their way. Nothing major looks to have appeared in the sides overlooked by the spoil heaps - I would dearly love to find out where that drain goes to in the piece by the western edge. Filling the appended SW corner Structure Twelve still sits in splendid isolation from the rest of the buildings as far as I can tell. Either that will change in future seasons or it is telling us something. Going round the final side and that massive squat standing stone still has pride of place in the SE corner. Does it extend much below what we see now or will it prove as shallow rooted as the red orthostat they have recently removed ?
Last year they lterally got to the bottom of the Lesser Wall of Brodgar, only to find that it stood on paving and possibly earlier structures. This year geophysics has confirmed that it bridges the ness and it is back to being part of a wall circuit encompassing the site they are investigating (could the paving be an extended base ??). The Kockna-Cumming chambered mound still lies outside the whole and the Brodgar Standing Stone Pair straddle the wall. Are the stones from a prior age or were they put there later than the wall, either much later to show where it was or immediately after to mark it out ? Don't be misled by its narrowness in comparison to the Great Wall as only a ditch seperated the 4m thick Great Wall from one ouside of it 'only' 2m thick. Still thicker though - might there be a presently unlocated other Great Wall in parts still virgin to excavation ?? If the remains below the Lesser Wall are from an earlier period then might we re-interpret the putatative structures and likely hearth found in testing outside the Great Wall as coming from that time too instead of post-dating the wall as originally theorised? Certainly the public perception of the wall's primacy needs revising. Indeed it is my opinion the that the Great Wall (and possibly the circuit) comes yet later in the scheme of things than first thought.
From the main road about one field west of the Stenness Kirk junction you can see that the profile of the Ness of Brodgar follows that of the Black Hill of Warbister in view behind it, or rather the sub-hill which the Bookan Tomb presides over.
August 24th 2010
Went to Brodgar day before end of dig as though they have made lovely discoveries on last days much will be be going back under black plastic early on the day. Past Bridgend went around the back of the Kokna-Cumming mound to come upon the Lesser Wall of Brodgar from behind by a gentler slope. Glad they have realised that this is a late feature as otherwise what would one make of the Brodgar standing stone pair straddling its view eastwards and the tomb outside its supposed remit. To me the point of it is to face the Staneyhill Tomb - I forget what they call it in political science but it is like gardeners "borrowing a view" by bringing a further vista into the visitor's eyeline. What does this mean for the hypothesis that the Greater Wall of Brodgar was meant to form a northern boundary to the whole Ness assemblage ? It doesn't seem to have any similar alignment [and perhaps too thick to find a statistically valid one anyhow] but is it equally late, performing a non-liminal function yet to be identified. At the bottom of the Lesser Wall's southern side there is now a pavement just under the level of the Wall base by the remains of what is to my eye another wall at a slight angle to the later Wall. Near the bottom of the Wall it looks to me as if there are what is left of two cruder walls parallel to one another over and at right angles to my putative earlier wall, and hence the pavement below. To my dismay the area of trench behind the Wall has still not been dug below the level of its top. Probably a "health and safety" thing. Here there are two arcs of collapsed wall, perhaps an inner and outer section. Not that this necessarily means one or both had not been straight when still standing. Oh, I can barely wait for their investigation. And then maybe sometime they can go down to the Wall base here to see if the Lesser Wall might be part of some other structure yet.
On to the main Ness of Brodgar site a bit of height not only gains you perspective but also frees you of photographing beige stone against beige stone and having to decipher it later ! First up is the new to this season next-to-roadside observation platform with a long ramp for wheelchair access. Then there are the large spoil heaps by the northern and western sides, as long as you don't mind the shifting soil underfoot in places. The space between Lochview and the dig is too smaa for anything but a photographic tower for the bosses, so you can't use that. It amazes me that at first glance it all looks practically the same as last time. Up on the platform on this side of the site the bulk is taken up by Structure 10 on your left with its, ahem, standing stone. No work is ongoing in the 'cathedral' now. In front of the platform's near end Structure 8 is divine. Along the western edge are what I see as three sub-square interior cells but on plan I see are duplicated on the opposite side, forming two rectangular and one long oval sub-divisions of the whole. This is basically how it has looked since last year. But on my third visit of the season exterior to the northern wall at the trenches edge are (I think) three small strucures that make you think of mini-roundhouses. All this mixing of linear and circular or sub-circular forms throughout the site strike me as less a striving for a practical form [and/or effective ritual space] and more the search for an artistic vision, squaring the circle to put the art into architecture. Very nice, whatever. Next is the small Structure 7, pinned between 8 and the Structure 1+9 combo.
The latter can be seen from the first spoil heap. Up here the first thing you spot is a large circular wall arc [?9 - the structure plan on Orkneyjar is from the season's start] in front of which work has been going on in a linear structure apparently leading up and terminating before it with what I take to be either a wide facade (pehaps fronting a courtyard entrance) or two flanking ?guard-cells. Looking left from this by the edge of the trench is a short length of low parallel orthostats that catch my eye but have been left behind for now.
From the top of the next spoil heap is a clear view of Structure 1, a large structure (oval or semi figure-of-eight) with rectangular niches or cells scattered along the interior edge. These are formed by the drystane walling (but multi-coloured) and tall thin orthostats. Near the trench edge to the right a double wall or pair of walls with pavement between them is nicely exposed. At the far end of the mound I look south to Structure 12, a large clean-looking oval with a couple of long cells. On my previous visit I only noticed the one nearest the spoil heap after I got back from an image taken near Lochview. That nearest the road looked as if someone had taken the Great Wall of Brodgar and removed the flesh to leave a rectangular skin.
The space between 12 and 10, or in 10, has three or four standing stones. I think they are roughly in a square. It is remarkable how many odd stones are scattered about the site, different in colour (red maks a change from beige) or shape (proper looking standing stones or blocky forms mostly). Not too much rhyme or reason for the most part, so I am thinking this is just a monumental version of picking up a pebble on a beach and taking it home.
All the above is only how I have this eclectic site in my mind's eye. Carefully as they excavate still there are different stages in any season's dig, structure's co-mingle and turn out to be part of other's. During an extended period of experimentation you can't even sort features out by materials used. And any single structure can be such a glorious mix of drystane walls, slabs, orthostats and standing stones, along with what I might call exhibition pieces.
By the time I am done with all three cameras there are still twenty minutes until the next tour and I give a moment's thought to tagging along for the display of new finds at its end. You are never sure what will be displayed or whether you will be able to take piccies, the latter depends on the group more than the presenter.
On the one hand there is a viewing platform at the east side of the dig, on the other a light fence has started going up around the dig itself. Finally the Lesser Wall is exposed again. They think they have reached the bottom, where there is a fine paved area revealed on the south side i.e. outside the archaeologists gargantuan temenos. Looking along the wall between the standing stone pair with my new super-duper camera I can confirm a definite alignment with the Staney Hill Tomb [there may be another site between them and some tumuli beyond but I shall stay with the certain]
If they want to know how the slate roof was put together they could do worse than look at the farm buildings. Not the usual form or fashion but tall trapezoid slates laid in even more elongated trapezoid columns with narrow and wide ends alternating along the roof.
Being the last week of this year's dig, with today the last predicted dry weather, took my final visit. Finally minded to visit the trial excavation on the other side of Lochview. Disappointingly only one face of the feature has been exposed so far. What they haven't mentioned yet is that the 'new' "great wall" is at right angles to the Lochview/Brodgar stones, possibly bisecting the gap between the pair. If this does mark the southern edge of the site that would put the likely chambered tomb on the putative 'living' side, which would raise several interesting questions.