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Monday, August 10, 2009
(Previous entries available here)

This is my second year on the Ness of Brodgar excavations, having attended the dig last year for a few weeks after leaving school. The time I (Sandy Sanderson) spent on the site certainly whetted my interest in Orkney and made me determined to come back to the Ness this year.

Now, after completing first year Ancient Near Eastern Studies at University of London (UCL and SOAS), I feel a little more confident with my archaeological knowledge than last summer – as well as being even more excited by the site now that I can understand its place in prehistory and archaeology a little better.

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John, Tanya and Ray investigating the inner chamber of Structure 10.

The excavations have been an absolutely fascinating thing to watch in progress, with more facets of the massive monumental structures emerging every day. This sense of excitement at the Neolithic complex of buildings is especially heightened by the site’s eerily beautiful location, in between the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar.

When one considers the proximity (and alignment with) of Maeshowe, Unstan and Barnhouse, it is clear that the site is literally right in the heart of Neolithic Orkney.

One impression that I have drawn from all this is while we today view the massive stone circles and tombs as familiar symbols of ancient Orcadian religion and power, the ancient Neolithic inhabitants might well have thought of the Ness complex as the real spiritual or political focal point of their world.

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More paving outwith Structure 10 is revealed.

Someone on a tour recently asked if one of the structures was like a Neolithic cathedral, and the analogy seemed very tempting! Although this sort of guesswork is naturally extremely speculative, when you look over the site and across the surrounding landscape, the imagination conjures all sorts of tantalizing images of what went on here and why.  

There have also been some wonderful finds coming out of the site’s huge structures, with every day bringing some new and exciting discoveries. This includes a large collection of Neolithic "art" incised into the walls.

As I understand it, one of the structures has so many examples of this that, even if the other remarkable aspects of the site were forgotten, our excavation on the Ness of Brodgar would still be a very significant and unusual site.

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The latest decorated stone from Structure 10.

On a slightly more earthy level, there have been very large quantities of bone emerging from the soil, with the remains of livestock predominating but also including the occasional human bone, and so many vole skeletons that one section of Structure 10 produced a soil sample that was mostly vole bone. Also particularly fascinating have been the tools coming out of the buildings, these especially allow us to reconstruct how these people lived their lives - when you hold a stone tool in the same manner as someone did 4,000 years ago, it is almost as if you can feel their presence in the structures and landscape around you. 

Other news today is the opening of another trench, by the house of Lochview and closer to the Brig o' Brodgar. This is to evaluate another large linear anomaly to the south of the main concentration of structures. Could it be the other side of the Great Wall of Brodgar that may totally enclose the large structures rather than just defining its northern edge – time will tell, so watch this space.

STOP PRESS – even after just the initial clean of this trench the top of a large wall has been exposed – not quite on the same scale as the "Great Wall of Brodgar" but still large and who knows what may be revealed as we expose more!! 

Being on site and digging has, once again, been an absolutely amazing experience which I’ve enjoyed immensely. To get right into the physical heart of Neolithic Orkney is utterly unforgettable, and nothing seen in a museum can come close to the sensation of seeing it emerge from the ground before your eyes.

I would recommend that anyone interested in Neolithic Orkney visit the site, if possible; having come here two years in a row, I certainly hope to return next summer, as well as in years to come, as the site slowly starts to make more sense, and becomes a complete picture once again.

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Sarah recording her section through the robbed out walls at the
west end of Structure 10.
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