About the Ness of Brodgar

The excavation

The Ness of Brodgar excavation which has been ongoing since 2004, has revealed a massive complex of monumental Neolithic buildings from the centuries around 3000BC.

Without parallel in Atlantic Europe, the site’s three hectares are filled with huge stone structures and equally spectacular finds.

These have made the Ness one of the most important archaeological excavations in the world today, changing our understanding of the culture and beliefs of Neolithic Orkney and shining a new light on the prehistory of northern Europe.

The excavation site, looking south-east along the Ness of Brodgar towards the Stones of Stenness. (Hugo Anderson-Whymark)
2014: The excavation site, looking south-east along the Ness of Brodgar towards the Stones of Stenness. (📷 Hugo Anderson-Whymark)

The isthmus

The excavation site lies at the south-eastern end of the Ness of Brodgar – a strip of land in Orkney’s West Mainland that separates the Harray and Stenness lochs. Its name derives from the Old Norse nes – headland; brúar – bridge and garðr – farm, and translates roughly as the “headland of the bridge farm”.

The isthmus acts as a bridge between the north-western corners of the Mainland and its centre – a role it has probably fulfilled for millennia.

Lying at the centre of a massive natural “cauldron” ringed by hills, the Ness of Brodgar runs north-west to south-east and is therefore naturally (and roughly) aligned to the midwinter rising sun and midsummer sunset. There is no better place to view both.

All these factors may explain why we have such a concentration of prehistoric monuments around the peninsula.

The archaeology

Ness of Brodgar Map

Forming part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, the Ness is covered in, and surrounded by, archaeology and, until the beginning of the 21st century, was best-known as the location of the Ring of Brodgar.

In 2003, that changed with the discovery of large building – one which would turn out to be part of a massive complex of monumental Neolithic structures, along with associated “artwork”, pottery, bones and stone tools, at the centre of a landscape rich in archaeology.

Within a half a mile north-west of the Ness complex is Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness, Watchstone and Barnhouse settlement to the south-east.

Bronze Age burial mounds cluster around the Ring of Brodgar, which is contained in an area bounded by the Dyke of Sean, a (suspected) prehistoric earthwork.

Further afield are Bookan, Maeshowe, Unstan and a possible Iron Age structure outside the Standing Stones Hotel.

And just as the Stones of Stenness marks the south-eastern access to the peninsula, the north-western end is watched over by the monument known as the Ring of Bookan.