Stone Age artwork…

Picture Sigurd Towrie

A close up of the incised decoration on one of the many decorated stones found on the Ness. (Sigurd Towrie)

Picture Sigurd Towrie

The two stone fragments. Click the image for an enlargement. (Sigurd Towrie)

Throughout the excavations on the Ness of Brodgar, numerous examples of Neolithic “art” have been uncovered.

At the end of the 2009 dig, around 80 “decorated” items had been recovered from the site.

“We’ve got the full spectrum of Neolithic ‘art’ here,” said Nick Card.

“From simple, incised decoration to pecking and more substantial carved motifs. For obvious reasons we can’t say for sure what these represent — whether purely decoration, ritually symbolic or perhaps just somebody making their mark on a structure.”

But although the significance of the artwork remains unknown, the sheer quantity could be seen as another indicator of the significance of the site.

At Skara Brae, for example, the majority of the decoration found was in two “special” structures — houses eight and seven.

These stood apart from the rest of the settlement with noted differences in architecture. This led to the suggestion that the Skara Brae carvings had to be more than mere decor or graffiti.

“If that is indeed the case,” said Nick, “it would indicate that all the structures here were ‘special’ — something more than domestic houses. When it comes to the artwork, I suspect we’re looking at something which, again, truly emphasises the importance of this site.”

Are the designs a mere artistic expression, or was there another, more symbolic reason?

The repeated lozenge, for example. Is it just a pretty pattern? Or, as some would have it, a geometrical representation of the positions of the solstice sunrise and sunsets?

Do the incised triangular shapes have a deeper meaning, or are they merely artistic representations of a pattern found on countless Orkney shorelines  – that of weatherbeaten bedrock? The debate continues.

Picture ORCA

The “Brodgar Eye” – a cup-and-ring stone found in 2009. (ORCA)