A ‘most remarkable’ decorated stone unearthed on the Ness

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The latest decorated stone from the Ness of Brodgar. (Ola Thoenies)

“It’s one of the most remarkable decorated stones we have ever discovered at the Ness.”

Those were the words of Ness of Brodgar dig director Nick Card, after an ornately carved stone slab was recovered from the Stenness site on Monday.

The stone was discovered in Structure Eight by archaeologist Georgie Ritchie last week.

However, because it was tied into the bottom of a section of walling, the stones above it had to be carefully removed to allow its safe recovery on Monday.

With over 700 examples of decorated stone recovered from the Ness to date, their discovery has perhaps become an everyday event.

Georgie Ritchie and Antonia Thomas had to partially dismantle a section of the surrounding wall to remove the decorated stone. (Ola Thoenies)

Georgie Ritchie and Antonia Thomas had to partially dismantle a section of the surrounding wall to remove the decorated stone. (Ola Thoenies)

But the latest is, quite simply, stunning.

It has deeply incised, banded decoration, consisting of a series of carved parallel lines, infilled with decoration including lattice and saltire-like patterns — motifs that are common in Neolithic sites across Orkney and beyond.

The slab is now one of three similar stones found within Structure Eight, but it is far superior in terms of craftsmanship.

The first was found by antiquarians in 1925 — long before the discovery of the Neolithic complex — who wrote that they had found it associated with one of three cists. The second turned up in 2009.

But while we might think the purpose of carefully decorating a stone was because it was meant to be seen, its position within the structure’s walls hints that this might not necessarily have been the case.

A close-up of some of the finely incised designs. (Ola Thoenies)

A close-up of some of the finely incised designs. (Ola Thoenies)

Nick Card explained: “One of the many intriguing elements regarding the latest stone is that it may have been hidden — at least in one period of its life — within the wall of the structure.

“We’ve come across this on the Ness before, and it raises the daunting prospect that the walls of the Ness structures may hide many more astonishing examples of decorated stone.”

Responsible for safely recovering the stone, along with Georgie Ritchie, was Orkney College UHI research student Antonia Thomas.

Antonia, whose PhD on Neolithic art focuses on the decorated and dressed stone from Orkney, spotted very fine, incised lines on the stone which, she said, may have been the carver’s guidelines, which were then incised over more deeply.

Some, however, have not been used, which perhaps gives an idea of the earlier plans for the stone.

 

Structure Eight’s three of a kind . . .

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The original ‘Brodgar Stone’ discovered in 1925, in what, decades later, would be found to be Structure Eight. (Picture courtesy of Orkney Library Photographic Archives)

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The decorated slab found in Structure Eight in August 2009.

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