Return to Orkneyjar Latest News Excavation Diary Excavation Background Archive Stories





Thursday, July 26
(Previous entries available here)

Picture Orkney Archaeological TrustWelcome to the latest instalment of the Blog of Brodgar (or “time off for good behaviour” as it’s now known on site): it’s day nine, the sun is shining and all’s well.

My name is Roger Crowley and I’m studying for an MA at Orkney College, along with many of the other diarists.

I’d like to be able to tell you that everything is beginning to fall into place but, in true Agatha Christie style, the more clues we find, the more the plot thickens.

I’ve spent the last couple of days chasing a group of stones that stubbornly fail to amount to anything coherent but do imply some form of settlement. Just as we’re about to give up, another group appears and gives us hope that there may be more to them than meets the eye; oh well, it keeps us busy.

They’re lying in one of the trenches on the outskirts of the dig which we opened to see if the large outer wall discovered during last years excavations continues across the Ness of Brodgar as suggested by geophysical survey.

We weren’t expecting to find evidence of settlement here, and it may be that what we are looking at is later than the rest of the settlement. However, nothing is certain.

For me, the most fascinating element is that the entire site appears to have been deliberately covered with a rich soil, actually in Neolithic times, as suggested by the quantity of flint and early pottery found in it. It was then abandoned, uninhabited and untouched during the next five millennia until we came along.

Given that the site lies in the heart of a major sacred landscape, it makes me wonder if this lack of use represents a lingering sanctity associated with the area, which was honoured by subsequent generations. This reminds me of the deliberate infilling of Neolithic chambered cairns. 

Certainly, it is impossible not to be aware of the landscape around us - the Ring of Brodgar on the horizon to the north, the Stones of Stenness to the south, Maeshowe to the east and the looming presence of Hoy to the west.

Picture Sigurd Towrie

Feeling this spiritual aspect of the site creates somewhat of a conflict in me, as excavation is a rational, noisy exercise, which can feel like an intrusion into five thousand years of peace and tranquillity.

I wouldn’t for a second suggest (at least not before I’ve been given my mark) that excavation is necessarily disrespectful to a spiritual site, if that is indeed what we are investigating, and I happily acknowledge the value in extending our knowledge of the past by such intrusive methods.

A colleague said to me at the outset of the dig that archaeology was about seeking “the Truth”.

I would modify this statement to suggest that there are a number of truths we are discovering during excavation, some of which are truths about ourselves. Discovering, and hopefully resolving, this conflict between the rational and spiritual, is one of mine.


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
Orkney Archaeological Trust
Orkney College
Historic Scotland