A tantalising glimpse of what appears to be a stone age settlement on the Ness of Brodgar, in Stenness, was uncovered at the weekend – and subsequently reburied until it can be decided what to do with it.
The remains of what is suspected to be a late Neolithic house, dating roughly from the same period as Skara Brae, circa 3200-2200BC, were unearthed by Beverley Ballin-Smith, project manager with the Glasgow University archaeological research division, and Gert Petersen, a graduate from the university.
The pair were originally in Orkney to complete work at the Nether Onston cist, found in Stenness last year.
But just before arriving in the county they heard of a discovery – a large carved stone with four man-made circular notches – made at Brodgar Farm
It was originally thought that the stone was the lid of a burial cist, but on investigating, at the request of Historic Scotland, it soon became clear there was something more to the site. There was no cist – instead they found a section of an ancient circular building comprising of two rectangular inner walls and a circular outer wall.
Geophysics surveys carried out in the area, last year, would indicate there are at least two other structures nearby.
Beverley Ballin – Smith explained: “Originally we thought it was a lid from the cist, but now we think it is structural and has come from a building. We have not found a stone with four notches like this before. No one knows why the notches are there. It has received some damage by the plough, which was how it came to light.
“It looks to be very similar to the Barnhouse village excavated by Colin Richards of the University of Manchester around ten years ago. It is one of around ten late Neolithic settlements in Orkney extremely rare everywhere else, but Orkney seems to have a lot of them.”
But although the find is another exciting one for Orkney, Beverley and Gert had no remit to excavate.
“We have only taken off the top soil and we can clearly see the foundations of a house,” she said. “We think it is reasonably well preserved. It is wonderful to find the house, but frustrating that we cannot do anything with it.”
The find stands within Orkney’s World Heritage Site and as such an approved plan must be drawn up on the next course of action.
“We will write a detailed report on the site and the stone itself which will be given to Historic Scotland and the Orkney Archaeological Trust and it will be up to them to decide how the site is dealt with next.”
Although it is too early to say much about the structure, it is interesting to note its position within the surrounding landscape. Built on an area of high ground, directly in line and visible from the Ring of Brodgar, the structure lies half-way between the Stones of Stenness and the Brodgar ring. Again it may be coincidental but the buildings also lie directly between the waters of the Stenness and the Harray lochs.
But the significance of these facts, if any, will have to wait until a future excavation, when we will inevitably learn more about the the Neolithic ceremonial centre of Orkney.
Until then, the site has been covered over again for protection.