1925 discovery of ‘Brodgar Stone’ was a taste of things to come

The 'Brodgar Stone' found on the Ness in February 1925. (Picture courtesy of Orkney Library Photographic Archive)

The ‘Brodgar Stone’ found on the Ness in 1925. (Picture courtesy of Orkney Library Photographic Archive)

Fast forward to 2015 – Dig director Nick assisting with the removal of the decorated stone.

In February 1925, a farmer ploughing a field on the Ness of Brodgar came across what was then thought to be a series of prehistoric graves.

Even back then, such finds were not uncommon, so the man set about removing the “offending and awkward stones” from his land.

It was then that he spotted “curious marks” on one of the stones — marks, it was remarked later that year, that were “sculptings of a kind never before found in these islands…”

The decorated stone, pictured above, became known as the “Brodgar Stone” and ended up in the National Museum, Edinburgh. Nothing like it was found in Orkney again –  until the excavations began at the Ness of Brodgar.

The burial cists, located “about mid-way between the larger [stone] circle and the smaller, on that part where the land narrows between the two lochs” were not graves.

Antonia and Georgie finally remove the 2015 stone after days of careful preparation. (Ole Thoenies)

We now know they were part of Structure Eight and the cists were a misinterpretation of some of the orthostatic stone features/furniture since revealed in the building.

In 2009, a similar decorated stone was recovered from Structure Eight, followed by another spectacular example in August 2015, in the same area of the site.

It too had deeply incised banded decoration, consisting of a series of carved parallel lines, infilled with decoration including lattice and saltire-like patterns. One of the many intriguing elements of this discovery was that the stone may have been hidden, at least in one period of its life, within the wall of the structure. This is a recurring theme at the Ness and raised the daunting prospect that the walls of the other structures may hide many more astonishing examples of decorated stone.

In 2019, another stone with similar designs was recovered from an earlier building beneath Structure Eight. It featured four bands of decoration, but areas appear to have been worn away while the stone was in situ during its lifetime. This stone was part of Structure Seventeen, elements of which protrude the Structure Eight’s floor levels.

The 1925 report detailing the Brodgar Stone can be downloaded here.

You may also like...