The Muddy Archaeologist's Blog

Blog by Gillian Hovell, The Muddy Archaeologist

NEOLITHIC ORKNEY : Ring of Brodgar

After visiting the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae, we drove on, down to the totally captivating site of Ring of Brodgar.  An ancient routeway had once led the inhabitants of Skara Brae down these slopes to this great monument which was set up in c.2,500 BC.

On our arrival, another treat lay ahead; Nick Card was waiting for us and the Ring of stones looked fabulous, with blue skies above and clear views of the mountains of the island of Hoy.  Later Bronze Age burial mounds are scattered around the Ring and they echo the backdrop of the mountains of Hoy islands; but as they are the only activity known about in the surrounding spaces, this Ring was clearly a very sacred space, set apart from everyday use.

The mighty stones, some of which stand over 4m high, were all brought from different areas of the islands of Orkney.  Each was set up facing its original home and maybe the section of the rock cut ditch (once twice as deep) was carved out with stones and bones in a competitive spirit between communities – a marvellous theory of Nick’s that echoes how communities continued to behave right through to the millennia of today.  What went on here, we cannot know.  But it was clearly central to life in Neolithic Orkney.

As we gaze past the stones down the Ness (thin peninsula) that leads across the lochs towards the Stones of Stenness, it seems inevitable that it had undoubted links to the great 5,000 year old temple which was discovered as recently as 2004 and is being excavated there

We drove on, past the Stones of Stenness, the oldest stone circle, where only four stones remain upright. But one of these constantly stuns me with its thinness and height.

And then it’s past the impressive Maes Howe burial mound.  A green mound hides immense stone engineering.  Plus a later Viking rune or two … graffiti is and eternal human habit.

But it is the Neolithic which rules here.   All these sites are connected, intertwined, created to work together over hundreds of years.  The Ness of Brodgar sacred ‘temples’ were in use for a thousand years.  Now its multiple structures hide safely under cover, protected by covers and hundreds of tyres from disturbance and the elements until the annual archaeological dig starts up again this summer.  What new insights will they find THIS summer …?

One insight is already known; this whole area is a truly ritual, sacred landscape, built with effort and imagination as well as great engineering skill.  How many monuments that we build today are likely to last four or five thousand years?

Past the magnificent Maes Howe burial mound, through the rich pasture land and past a rare Orkney woodland, back to Kirkwall and St.Magnus Cathedral.  We shall explore this great cathedral tomorrow …


Muddy Archaeologist Gillian Hovell




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