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Monday, July 21, 2008

The 2008 excavations at the Ness of Brodgar commenced this morning and with much anticipation!

This year sees a further five weeks of excavations at this substantial site of Neolithic activity and will take place between Monday July 21st until Friday of August 22nd. 

My name is Naomi Woodward and I have the role of finds assistant on the site.

This is my third year of working at the Ness of Brodgar – my first was in 2006, when I was a student on the Masters of Archaeological Practice (MAAP) at Orkney College UHI.

In the subsequent years, I have returned here to work as the finds assistant, as a member of the Orkney Research Centre of Archaeology (ORCA) projects team.

The extent of investigations here has expanded greatly over the time.

My role on site is to undertake the immediate care of finds which are being excavated and I anticipate that this will be quite some task! But this is an exciting prospect, especially given the immense collection of artefacts discovered here in previous years - including polished stone maceheads, axes, decorated pottery, flint and all manner of indications of different activities. I’m really looking forward to seeing what may be unearthed this year!

For our first day, we had the arduous task of clearing last years backfill from the established trenches. At the end of last year's excavations, we laid down large sheets of black tarpaulin and covered this with rubble and soil to protect the site – this also helps us to be able to return to a relatively ‘clean’ area to restart our investigations.


Trench P, was the first to go. The substantial structural elements of this trench are once again revealed, bringing to light the enigma of the incised stones that are included within its feature walls. The archaeology in Trench P shares many similarities with the nearby Neolithic settlement of Barnhouse.   

This clearance of the backfill is being undertaken with much anticipation and vigor, spurred on by the glorious sunshine and the crisp, clear views of the spectacular landscape in which the Ness of Brodgar is nestled. To set the scene - beyond us to the south west of the site, lie the hills of Hoy, which dominate the immediate skyline, and we have the lochs of Harray and Stenness on either side of the isthmus.

The landscape of West Mainland Orkney today is green and rolling and is famous for its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘The Heart of Neolithic Orkney’.

Could such scenery have played a key role in the location and nature of activities which may have taken place at the complex of monuments in this area; and what was the landscape here like during the Neolithic?

The Ness of Brodgar excavations will hopefully address such questions by using a wide spectrum of investigative techniques, including primary excavation, geophysical research and environmental analysis through samples that are collected. In hand with past research in this area, and significantly in unison with the excavations at the Ring of Brodgar by Jane Downes (Orkney College UHI) and Colin Richards (Manchester University), the continuing work at the Ness of Brodgar will be succinct in adding an extra dimension of intrigue and, hopefully, a substantial means of examining and understanding multiple aspects of the existences of the people who once populated this landscape and constructed these monuments.

The excavations at the Ness of Brodgar are being undertaken by a strong team of archaeologists, comprised of members of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA); students and lecturers from the Masters in Archaeological Practice at Orkney College UHI; UHI undergraduate students and local volunteers.

New trenches and also extensions to the existing excavated areas will be opened up this year. The excavations on the Ness of Brodgar is a unique opportunity to come and see archaeology in action.

We will have daily site tours taking place Monday to Friday (commencing Wednesday, July 23rd) at 11am and 3pm (in future weeks additional tours will be added).

On these, the team working at the site will explain more about the work we are doing and its background.

You can also keep up to date with our progress here, on, where members of the team will regularly update this diary and talk about their experiences of working on the site and what we are finding. We also hope to post videos of our progress.

The Ness of Brodgar
Orkney's World Heritage Site
The Ring of Brodgar
Archaeology around the Ness of Brodgar
The Standing Stones of Stenness
The Barnhouse Settlement