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The sophisticated ancestors of Orkney

07 Aug 2014
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The archaeological excavation in Orkney is revealing a 5,000-year-old temple complex, and a clear example of the level of sophistication within the Neolithic society.

This complex prehistoric environment is a World Heritage site known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, and the Ness of Brodgar appears to be the anchor piece

The excavation at the Ness of Brodgar is still in its early stages - only an estimated 10% - but already a far more complex picture of the prehistoric life is emerging. For example, the other major prehistoric sites on Orkney, such as the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness and the Maes Howe tomb, are now thought to be related to the Ness of Brodgar, and that these sites were built as part of a connected community.

The purpose of such an integrated landscape, however, remains unknown. Standing at the Ness of Brodgar several iconic Stone Age structures are within easy view. The excavation has revealed thousands of artefacts such as ceremonial mace heads, polished stone axes, flint knives and many forms of art. The Neolithic art infact represents the largest collection ever found in Britain.

5,000 years ago Orkney would have been a green and fertile archpelago off the northern tip of Scotland, providing a suitable location for this integrated landscape, but as archaeologists are discovering, unlike anything that had been attempted before at this time.

Quarried stone and buildings at Neolithic Ness of Brodgar

Image: courtesy of Lisa-Marie Shillito

The Neolithic inhabitants quarried many tons of sandstone, then trimmed and dressed it, and transported it to the sites for construction; construction that involved massive walls and one of the largest roofed structures in prehistoric northern Europe - 80 feet long by 60 feet wide with walls 13 feet thick.

This complex prehistoric environment is a World Heritage site known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, and the Ness of Brodgar appears to be the anchor piece, built in 3,200 B.C.E. and used for 1,000 years.



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