One of Orkney’s most famous ancient sites looked totally different when it was originally constructed, according to a former National Trust official, who unveiled the results of radical research this week.
Ted Fawcett claims the Ring of Brodgar was originally made up of 900 stones and what remains to is just a tiny fraction of the original Neolithic development. He presented his theory to last weekend’s Ritual Landscapes seminar, organised by ICOMOS-UK, in a talk entitled Dowsing in the Ring of Brodgar.
Mr Fawcett believes the stone circle would have been very much more impressive and imposing to look at when it was still being used for Neolithic ceremonies, thousands of years ago.
“What you have remember about all these monuments is that only the tiniest fraction of what was originally there is what we see today,” he said.
“At Brodgar, you’ll now see 23 stones standing upright, with another lot of crumpled bases which adds up to about 36. But if I’m right, there were something like 900 to start with, which makes it a very different sort of monument, because one of the things one needs to realise about the Neolithics is that they did everything in threes. Where you see one stone now, there were three.
“So the fraction of a ring that we see would be three stones deep, going in towards the centre and then, out beyond the ditch, there would be another ring and 15 paces from that, another ring. So you get three enormous rings of stones.
“They would be entered from north, south, east and west in general terms and an avenue of smaller stones leads from those entrance points to the centres. Those stones were smaller probably so everybody attending whatever ritual was being practised could see the priests or whoever it was they might be shamans, I don’t know what the word would be but certainly everybody would want to see who was coming in to conduct their rituals in the middle.
“So the entry stone avenues were smaller, and in the very centre, there would be a hardened area of about 21 paces across, I think. Everything is measures in paces. They talk about the Neolithic yard – that was what it was – an average pace. At the very centre of that hardened area there would be a single upright stone, which I found the position of yesterday.
“But the almost unique thing about the Ring of Brodgar is that although it is divided into quadrants by the approach avenues, in each of those quadrants, there was a subsidiary hardened centre with a stone in the middle of it.
“Now there is only one other set of circles that I know of which approximates to that arrangement and that is Avebury in Wiltshire, which we all know about, and we all think of as one of the greatest possible rings.
“Well you can think of your Brodgar as being equally impressive in its layout and in its science. So that, I think, is quite something to have discovered for you.”
Mr Fawcett substantiated his hypothesis about the elaborate nature of the original Ring of Brodgar during successive visits to Orkney and accepts that the findings are open to interpretation. He explained: “The interpreter is the human being and you can always make incorrect interpretations.
“But I am relatively sure of what I am saying, in that I’ve been doing this throughout Europe for something like 15 years and I don’t think there would be such a similarity of result if the whole thing were bogus.
“It is interesting to find, say within the last five years, most of the people who really decried what I was doing was hardened archaeologists because I’m a “garden historian” have secretly come up to me and said ‘You were perfectly right’.”