Ness dig ending in 2024 when focus shifts to post-excavation work

Since excavation began we have welcomed – and are indebted to – hundreds of volunteers who have helped with the work.

However, next year’s dig team is already in place and we will not be taking new volunteers in 2024.

Anyone who has already excavated on site should contact Nick Card.

Cleaning Trench J. (📷 Sigurd Towrie)

With some reluctance, it has been decided that fieldwork at the Ness of Brodgar will end after the 2024 season.

Although excavation could continue for decades, we feel we have reached the logical place to pause, as work on the major structures uncovered so far will be complete.

However, although on-site excavation will end, the Ness of Brodgar research project continues.

It is simply moving into a new and exciting phase of intensive work, with the focus on scientific analysis of all the recovered material – pottery, stone tools, bone and much more – found on site.

This must be fully catalogued and examined by specialists.

Tom O'Brien
Trench P in August 2023. (📷 Tom O’Brien)

The results, along with those from the environmental samples, will help unpick the story of the people who built, used and ultimately abandoned the site in the centuries around 2500BC.

Excavation is the most visible aspect of archaeology and is perhaps seen as the most exciting.

But the process of post-excavation is just as vital. It often leads to new and exciting revelations when science and expert know-how come to the fore to help us understand the life of a place.

At the Ness, many hundreds of thousands strands of evidence will refine what we know already about the site.

Often the complete picture does not come together until all the data is considered and woven together – a monumental task! This in turn will lead to full publication – probably necessitating several volumes, with much more available online.

Site tour under way. (📷 Jo Bourne)

If you want to see the site while excavation is in progress, there is just one more season to visit.

Provided our fundraising plans come together, diggers will be back on site from Monday, June 24, until Friday, August 23, 2024.

The nine-week excavation will be open to the public on weekdays between Wednesday, June 26 and Wednesday, August 16.

What happens to the site?

At the conclusion of the 2024 dig season, the trenches will be covered and the site returned to being a green field.

It will be left for future generations of archaeologists to continue the work, undoubtedly using even better scientific techniques than available now.

The Ness team gather for a group picture. (📷 Scott Pike)
August 2023. The Ness team gather for a group picture. (📷 Scott Pike)

Why infill?

Structure Twenty-Seven external paved area. (Sigurd Towrie)
2022: Structure Twenty-Seven’s external paved area. (📷 Sigurd Towrie)

We are regularly asked why the site cannot be left open for viewing.

The reason is simple – the stone used in the monumental buildings degrades very quickly if left exposed to the elements. So leaving them uncovered is not an option.

The long-term survival of the Ness complex is paramount.

Skara Brae could be left open because its buildings were constructed using tough, waterworn beach-stone.

Quarried stone, like that at the Ness, will simply not last. Its fragility is the main reason we have covered the trenches at the end of every season since we began work.

It has also been suggested that the buildings could be enclosed within a custom-built structure, however the practicalities and costs of this are prohibitive.

The future

Pippa excavating her bone spread in Trench J this afternoon. (Sigurd Towrie)
2022: Pippa excavating a bone spread in Trench J. (📷 Sigurd Towrie)

Although the excavation site will no longer be open to the public, we are looking to set up virtual tours via our website and groups wishing to visit after excavation finishes can do still do so by prior arrangement, guided by one of the Ness team.

The website will also continue to be the source of updates and news.

In addition, the new project phase includes major plans for online content covering even more about the Ness and what we are discovering during post-excavation..


Although the excavation phase is drawing to a close, the Ness of Brodgar Trust will still rely on public donation.

Post-excavation, like digging, needs funding and a team to carry out the work. Donations will continue to help ensure that we can learn all we can from the excavated material and get that knowledge published and shared.

Donations, for example, have funded the course fees of four Masters by Research (MRes) students and a PhD student, all of whom will be looking at different aspects of the Ness of Brodgar complex.

Public donation has largely brought us this far and while we are always looking to secure other funding, we hope the help of individuals across the world will continue make Ness archaeology happen.

So, although 2024 will be final opportunity to see the excavations at the Ness of Brodgar, it will not be the last chance to support this extraordinary project. We will continue to look closely at evidence from the last 20 years and bring together a detailed narrative for this outstanding Neolithic site.

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