3d model of ‘dresser’ remains in Structure Five

Supervisor Paul Durdin’s photogrammetric model of one of the six ‘dresser’ features inside Structure Five.

The position of the stone furniture in Structure Five. (Scott Pike)

The location of the six furniture features in Structure Five. (Scott Pike)

Within the primary rectangular section of Structure Five we have evidence of early “dressers,” akin to those still visible at Skara Brae.

Chris recording the possible "dresser" base in Structure Five. (Sigurd Towrie)

Chris recording a “dresser” base in Structure Five in 2022. (Sigurd Towrie)

The “dressers” are lined along the original walls of Structure Five, although only one still had its broken “shelves” in situ. They share the same Skara Brae design but appear to have been freestanding rather than built into the walls.

“Dressers” have been encountered at the Ness before and are iconic symbols of Skara Brae, where the visitor can still see complete examples. There they were built to the same design and placed in the same position — directly opposite the entrance.

The term “dresser” is a hangover from the Victorian antiquarians, who first investigated Neolithic structures in Orkney, and basically saw the stone edifices as simple display cabinets, where the householders put their best pottery and other prized possessions on show.

But the significance and role of these so-called “dressers” has been questioned over the years. Were they more than just a set of shelves? Their presence in buildings at the Ness of Brodgar, in particular Structure Ten, reignited the debate.

Skara Brae’s “dressers” were built against the walls but, like those in Structure Five, Structure Ten’s primary dresser was free-standing and incorporated slabs of striking red and yellow sandstone — stone that had been brought to the site and presumably for that specific reason.

Considering the non-domestic role of Structure Ten, it is possible that these “dressers” had a function beyond storage. However, this raises the question of why Structure Five had six.

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