Ness of Brodgar exhibition all set for tomorrow’s opening
By Anne Mitchell and Katy Firth
Last November we were getting under way with organising artefacts to send on temporary loan to the British Museum’s major exhibition, The World of Stonehenge.
We had always wanted to display Ness of Brodgar artefacts on site during the excavation period and it seemed all the more important to do so in 2022, when some of our finest were in London for six months.
A visit to Historic Environment Scotland’s (HES) Maeshowe visitor centre, just down the road from the Ness of Brodgar in Stenness village, introduced us to a space which might be a good exhibition area.
Discussions started between HES and the Ness of Brodgar Trust and so, eight months later, the exhibition, The Ness: Its People, opens tomorrow, Monday, July 11, 2022.
Two other elements of good fortune fell into place after the November discovery.
First, Orkney Islands Council announced their Culture Fund grant programme for 2022 and a Ness exhibition seemed to fit the bill.
Second, Katy Firth and Norna Sinclair, from the Stromness Museum, were happy to accept our invitation to join the project – past experience told us their knowledge, eye for display and being downright fine folk would make for a happy association.
So, we were awarded a grant and in spring of this year we turned to them to make it all happen.
Over to Katy…
The sheer number of artefacts discovered at the Ness excavation site is overwhelming, so Anne had her work cut out to decide on the shortlist.
Norna and I had a look at those selected for display and discussed several possible themes with Anne and Nick. In the end they decided that an exhibition focusing on the people of the Ness – their attributes and human characteristics would work well.
Several sub-themes emerged: Creativity, Choice, Ingenuity and Skill, Social networks and “Mystery”.
Throughout the exhibition we have grouped objects into these themes, rather than grouping them by object type or chronology.
We hope this will encourage people to think more deeply about the questions we’re raising within our interpretative text. We would like to invite creative and imaginative thought from the people visiting the exhibition and viewing the artefacts.
We also want to introduce some of the many hundreds of people involved in the excavations at the Ness of Brodgar.
The physical setting up of the exhibition will finish today and has very much been a community effort.
My dad, Jim, has been busy making display case stands and interpretation board supports, as well as kitting out cases with new locks.
Stuart Wylie of Orkney Crystal has very kindly donated two display cases to the Ness of Brodgar Trust. The Orkney Museum has loaned two of its display cases and two Highland Park kiln men spent a morning collecting and delivering the cases to Maeshowe.
Professor Mark Edmonds has helped in many ways, including loaning some of his experimental archaeology tools and projects. Martha Johnson, the site geologist, has kindly loaned some of her research collection of “foreign stone” and has spent several hours captivating me with her geological knowledge.
Likewise, it has been fantastic to spend time with Roy Towers, learning more about the Ness’s wonderful pottery assemblage.
We also had help from Travis Lowe, an NVQ archaeology student at the UHI Archaeology Institute, in setting up the displays.
The HES team at Maeshowe have been so accommodating, giving us cups of tea and loaning us display plinths and easels. We’re very lucky that the collections team at Historic Environment Scotland managed to procure us some shiny new display mounts too.
It has been a very rewarding experience to work on this exhibition, and funny to think I used to go to school in the visitor centre, back in the early 1990s!
It’s wonderful how life goes full circle.
- The Ness: Its people runs in the Maeshowe Visitor Centre on weekdays from Monday, July 11, until Friday, August 19, and on our open day, Sunday, July 31. 9.30am – 1pm. 2pm-5pm.
- The Maeshowe visitor centre is Stenness village, about a mile from the excavation site.
- Five of the artefacts on display at the exhibition are included in the latest round of our Sponsor a Find excavation fundraiser.