The F-word revisited

Visitors on site in July 2023. (📷 Jo Bourne)
Visitors on site in July 2023. (📷 Jo Bourne)

Anne Mitchell, Ness of Brodgar finds supervisor and project officer here.

I first wrote a diary piece, entitled The F word, in July 2016, and now, as we approach the end of our second-last year of digging at the Ness, an update seems like a good idea.

People this year have come from the US, from Australia, from Canada and all across the UK just to visit Orkney and the Ness of Brodgar.

They come because we have deliberately made Orkney and the Ness of Brodgar as high-profile as we possibly can in many different media – including our own website which receives huge numbers of visits annually. We will continue that effort to spread the word about Orkney and the Ness when we move into our post-excavation phase, next year.

In 12 months’ time we will stop excavating at the Ness and start the next stage, which is to make known to you all of what the science says, to let you all know the new discoveries which will ensue and what our conclusions are from all the years of excavation.

But to do that we need to finance our work, and that of the many scientists, specialists and researchers who will help us bring the story to its conclusion…

Digging is only the start of the banquet!

Funding – the F-word – is the trickiest problem we face and I want here to explain a bit about how we try hard to make a little go a long way, and to encourage you to help if you can.

The majority of the funding for the Ness of Brodgar does not come from local or central government.

Neither sector has major funding for the Ness and we live with that. We are very grateful for the financial and in-kind support both do give.

But it means an extraordinary effort to make the books balance annually, and to save for the future work we must do. That future work becomes all the more difficult to fund as we head into the post-excavation period.

It’s the work needed to do the science on all we’ve excavated, to archive all the data and records we’ve created over the last 20 years, to write up our conclusions and report on all we’ve done, to create a website giving total access to all levels of interest in what we’ve done and the conclusions we’ve reached, and getting everything we’ve found ready for museum accession.

It’s a huge undertaking, all aimed at communicating everything we can to you and future generations about this unique and very special place. The Ness, like all the other digs the UHI Archaeology Institute is involved in, has an large impact on Orkney’s massively important tourist economy and we are happy to be a catalyst in bringing large numbers of visitors here, annually in July and August, and also benefitting from the donations you make when you visit.

Excavation visitors make their way to the on-site (fundraising) shop. (📷 Jo Bourne)
Excavation visitors make their way to the on-site (fundraising) shop. (📷 Jo Bourne)

We get support from businesses across Orkney – not having to buy hand-wash or loo roll means more money for the dig itself! We run our own online shop, celebrating work by Orkney crafters and Ness artists and this profitable enterprise would not be possible without Christine’s volunteer effort.

Every guidebook, every postcard sold is another positive step.

Every square sponsored on site plays its part in making the science happen, letting the post-excavation take place and putting money away for future work.

Every pound in the site donations box and to the Ness of Brodgar Trust’s online bank account helps.

Many volunteers mean we can spin the funding further, with a tiny proportion of the team on site receiving remuneration for their hard and highest-class work.

The volunteer team dig, work on the finds operation, Meeting and Greet and make our Open Days lively and exciting events. The team comes from around the world and fund their own accommodation, food and entertainment – putting a valuable contribution back into Orkney’s economy.

The same applies to the volunteer work done other than excavation – cleaning, sorting, cataloguing finds, sample and data processing, archiving, scanning – it comes at least cost to the Ness, increasingly by UHI Archaeology Institute students coming to live in Orkney and contributing to the local economy by doing so.

The Ness guidebook (now in its third edition) has been created almost entirely by volunteer effort, with photographs and words gifted by Jim Richardson of National Geographic, Hugo Anderson-Whymark, Jo Bourne, Mark Edmonds and many others, while printing has been funded by donations to the American Friends of the Ness of Brodgar.

And so the list goes on – a large community of Ness supporters, allowing the work to go ahead, all deserving a rousing cheer for everything you do.

But – and you knew there was one – all of this effort, and magicking of the very most from what we have, still leaves us hard-pushed.

As when I first tackled the subject, we have grave concerns about what lies ahead.

We will be applying for grants wherever we can, but in a post-Brexit world with little or no access to European funds, and one where UK and Scottish Government funding is hard-pushed by many other demands, we are unsure as to how we will keep going.

In today’s world, in the spheres of heritage and culture, it seems like we all have to increasingly make active decisions about whether we value that heritage and culture enough to take some responsibility for it.

We do our very best to make the Ness the best archaeological exploration we can, to raise Orkney’s worldwide profile and to give you the best experience of this amazing place.

If we fall short, we apologise, but it’s that F-word which will trip us up.

Please consider supporting us or contact if you want to discuss funding ideas with us.

Thank you.


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