The discovery of a large Neolithic building in 2003 confirmed what was already suspected — there was a mass of archaeology on the south-eastern end of the Ness of Brodgar.
At its zenith, around 3100BC, the Ness was dominated by a cluster of enormous freestanding buildings, flanked by two massive stone walls.
The site consists of multiple phases of activity spanning the entire Neolithic period in Orkney, approximately 3500BC to 2300BC.
Most of the buildings visible today belong to the later major phases. Raised around 3100BC, roughly two centuries after Structure Five, the piered Structures One, Eight, Twelve, Fourteen and Twenty-One were initially abandoned around 2900BC.
Structure One was likely one of the first structures built, while Structure Ten was the last. After the other buildings fell out of use, only Structure Ten remained before it too was eventually abandoned and monumentalised around 2500-2400BC.
Beneath the visible buildings in the main trench, there are earlier constructions from previous phases, including a series of smaller, earlier piered structures.
The Ness complex was much more than a simple domestic settlement.
The size, quality, and architecture of the buildings, not to mention the rich assemblages of artefacts recovered from them, together with evidence for tiled roofs, coloured walls, and around 1,000 examples of decorated stone all add to an overall sense of the Ness complex being special – a place that is, so far, unparalleled in Orkney and further afield.
Although its purpose undoubtedly changed over time, during its peak period, the evidence suggests it was a gathering place — a location where people from Orkney and possibly beyond came together.
We don’t think the Ness was continuously occupied. Instead, the archaeological evidence suggests it was a place of feasting and the exchange of ideas and objects – perhaps relating to ceremonies, gatherings, rituals and celebrations important to this evidently vibrant society.