A monumental complex

An aerial view of the complex of structures uncovered in Trench P on the Ness.

The discovery of a building in 2003, was confirmation of what was already suspected — that there was a mass of archaeology on the tip of the Ness of Brodgar.

Little did we know then that this structure was just a fragment of a massive Neolithic complex on the Ness — a prehistoric site that is turning our understanding of Neolithic Orkney on its head.

At its zenith, in the main phase that we are currently exploring (dating from c.3100BC), the Ness was dominated by huge freestanding buildings enclosed by a massive stone wall.

This was much more than a domestic settlement: the size, quality, and architecture of these structures, together with evidence for tiled roofs, coloured walls, and over 800 examples of decorated stone — not to mention the rich assemblages of artefacts recovered from them — all add to an overall sense of the Ness being special in some way.

Although the site’s function no doubt changed over time, during this peak period we can see that it was a place of meeting, of coming together for people from all over Orkney and probably from outside the archipelago too.

Why?

The archaeology suggests that they were feasting and exchanging ideas and objects, while the site may have also hosted rituals and celebrations of the important “political” and celestial events that were important to this evidently vibrant society.