More coloured pottery from the Ness

The latest sherd of coloured Grooved Ware pot from the Ness. The original red has faded over the past 5,000 years to a pinkish hue.

The remarkable Neolithic ceremonial site at the Ness of Brodgar has a habit of springing surprises on those who work there.

Ceramics specialist Roy Towers from the Archaeology Institute of the University of the Highlands and Islands was assessing a box full of pottery from the site when a surprising sherd turned up. 

It is from a very large Grooved Ware ceramic vessel, probably used for storage, which has been decorated extensively with the decorative elements then highlighted with colour.

The decoration was made by applying strips of clay to the surface of the vessel, then incising these along their length with a pointed tool.

The applied strips were then pierced with a point and the decoration would have continued, certainly over the upper part of the vessel, with vertical and diagonal applied strips forming panels.

Most exciting, however, is the discovery that the decorated strips were carefully coloured with a red wash, which would have made them stand out clearly from the buff colour of the body of the pot.

Evidence of the use of colour in the later Neolithic (c. 3200 to 2300BC) is gathering pace, almost exclusively thus far at the Ness. It has been noted on the walls of some of the structures there and a range of pottery with red, black or white decoration applied to the exterior of the vessels has already been uncovered.

The pot was probably deposited in the infill of Structure Twelve at the Ness sometime around 2800BC and the passage of time has softened the colour to a pinkish tone. Yet the contrast with the rest of the pot is still clear.

The coloured pots from the Ness have been studied in detail by a team led by Dr Richard Jones of the University of Glasgow Ness and Ness site director Nick Card, with Roy Towers and a number of other specialists. An academic paper on the results will be published in the near future and we will let everyone know how to access it.

Ness site director Nick Card commented: “The use of colour is yet another aspect of the Neolithic that is only rarely encountered, but this provides an important insight into life 5,000 years ago. The archaeological record often only presents an almost monochrome picture but this helps us visualise the original multi coloured nature of prehistory”.