Neolithic ‘art’

Antonia and Georgie recover a spectacular example of incised stone in 2015.

Prior to the excavations on the Ness, Neolithic “artwork” was something of a rarity in Orkney.

A close-up of some of the finely incised designs.

Yes, there were examples from Skara Brae, some incised motifs recorded in Maeshowe, the Pierowall Stone and, of course, the Brodgar Stone — discovered in 1925, we now know this decorated stone came from a hole dug into a section of Structure Eight – but one of the main features of the Ness of Brodgar dig is the sheer volume of incised and decorated stone found on site.

Over 800 examples had been recorded by the end of the 2018 season.

The first “butterfly” stone, which was discovered in 2013. A number of other incised stones with this motif have since been found.

“We’ve got the full spectrum here,” said dig director Nick Card.

“These vary from simple, incised decoration to pecking and more substantial carved motifs. For obvious reasons we can’t say for sure what these represent — whether purely decoration, ritually symbolic or perhaps just somebody making their mark on a structure.”

But although the significance remains unknown, the sheer quantity could be seen as another indicator of the significance of the monumental complex. Structure One, for example, has yielded over 60 examples of incised stone.

The designs are the ones we have come to expect from this site, in that they are the standard Neolithic geometric patterns – lozenge, ladder and chevron designs. This is in addition to peck-dressed, cup-marked and even painted stonework.

Summarising, Nick Card said: “What we’ve been finding on the Ness is not quite on the same scale as the artwork found at Newgrange and Knowth, in Ireland, but it’s unprecedented in Orkney.”