The prehistory of Orkney

“And think in Orkney
Of the old friendship of stone and man,
How they honoured and served each other.”

George Mackay Brown. The Friend

Introduction

Trench P and Trench J at the Ness excavation site (Scott Pike)

Aerial view of Trench P and Trench J at the Ness of Brodgar excavation site (Scott Pike)

There is no doubt that Orkney was a very special place during the Neolithic period – its remarkable range of prehistoric structures and ceremonial sites bear eloquent witness to this.

And at its heart, both literally and figuratively, lies the Ness of Brodgar.

This site occupies a central position within the Orkney archipelago, lying between the Lochs of Stenness and Harray, in the middle of the islands’ most imposing complex of monuments.

It seems clear that this was a place of pivotal importance to Neolithic Orcadians, and perhaps further afield.

Trench T, looking across the Brig o' Brodgar towards the Stones of Stenness and Barnhouse Neolithic settlement. (Scott Pike)

Trench T, looking across the Brig o’ Brodgar towards the Stones of Stenness and Barnhouse Neolithic settlement. (Scott Pike)

Our ongoing excavation has revealed a much more complex story than could ever have been imagined at the project’s outset.

We have pieced together a site biography that spans millennia, from traces of Mesolithic activity to the site’s Neolithic heyday, through to the early Bronze Age, with a later episode of use in the Iron Age.

To put this biography in context, this section briefly outlines the prehistory of Orkney to give the reader an idea of the Ness’ place in over 5,000 years of human activity.

Particular attention will be paid to the Neolithic itself and the monuments and structures that shared the landscape with the Ness complex and undoubtedly played a role in its development and life.