Four-week excavation at Orkney’s iconic stone circle

The Ring of Brodgar. (Sigurd Towrie)

The Ring of Brodgar is to be the subject of a major archaeological excavation this summer – the first in 35 years.

The month-long programme of investigations, which start next week, will be undertaken by a 15-strong team of archaeologists and scientists from Orkney College, the University of The Highlands and Islands, University of Manchester, Stirling University and The Scottish Universities Environment Reactor Centre.

Their aim will be to gather information which will enable a much better understanding of the nature of the iconic site.

Very little is actually known about the stone circle, including its exact age and the number of megaliths it once contained.

The last excavation on the ring was in the early 1970s by Professor Lord Colin Renfrew. Since then, significant developments have taken place in analytical techniques such as dating.

It is therefore hoped that the new investigations to retrieve datable material and examine archaeological and palaeo-environmental material, will reveal facts about the Ring of Brodgar and help its mysteries to be unravelled.

The 2008 project will involve the re-excavation and extension of trenches dug in 1973. Geophysical surveys will also be undertaken to investigate the location of standing stones and other features within the monument.

Dr Jane Downes of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) and Dr Colin Richards, of the University of Manchester, are the project directors who will lead the programme of fieldwork and subsequent analysis of its findings.

Dr Downes said: “Because so little is known about the Ring of Brodgar, a series of assumptions have taken the place of archaeological data. The interpretation of what is arguably the most spectacular stone circle in Scotland is therefore incomplete and unclear.

“Although the excavations 35 years ago were undertaken to obtain dating material and establish chronology, they failed due to the limitations of available dating techniques at the time. The advanced new techniques now at our disposal mean that this time our investigations should establish when the Ring of Brodgar was built and help us learn a great deal more about it.”

Dr Richards added: “At present, even the number of stones in the original circle is uncertain. The position of at least 40 can be identified but there are spaces for 20 more. Our investigations will therefore also focus on the architecture of this fascinating ancient site.”

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