Archaeology in Orkney
You may have heard the saying that if you scratch the surface of Orkney, it bleeds archaeology.
Whilst we don't recommend digging up the landscape (unless you're an archaeologist or a farmer, of course) Orkney's rich legacy spans more than 5,500 years and we do have more ancient sites dotted around than anywhere else in Europe, with new discoveries still being made.
Indeed, the archaeological world is still abuzz over the emergence of a huge Neolithic site, possibly a temple complex, at the Ness of Brodgar, close to some of the other jewels in Orkney’s archaeological crown – the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and Maeshowe chambered tomb. All of these breathtakingly well preserved ancient treasures lie within a UNESCO World Heritage Site area, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.
Outside the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, there are a staggering number of other major archaeological sites across Orkney. There appear to be more visible remains in Orkney’s landscape than elsewhere in the UK and every year there are new finds. There are so many remains it is impossible to mention all the sites here. However, Historic Scotland, Visit Scotland and Orkney Islands Council produce material which details many of the sites of interest, as do isles publications, and there are many books detailing the county’s fascinating history. Orkneyjar is a good source of information online.
The Ness of Brodgar, discovered in 2003, throws up new and exciting finds regularly during its annual dig, and its scale and sophistication suggest that Orkney may have been the cultural centre of this country thousands of years ago.
The Ness of Brodgar is usually open to visitors during the summer period that archaeologists are on site making ever more fascinating discoveries. No official tour dates have been announced for the 2016 season yet but, subject to funding, the dig season will run between the 4th of July and the 26th of August. Please be aware that the site is covered over for protection outwith the excavation weeks.
Recent discoveries at the Ness of Brodgar include the earliest known examples of grooved ware pottery and walls painted with colour. Elsewhere, the Orkney Venus, or Westray Wife, was found at the Links of Noltland in Westray. She is the oldest found representation of a human figure in Scotland. A Stone Age tomb, containing a 5000-year-old skull was discovered in a garden at Banks in South Ronaldsay in October 2010.
Archaeologists carry out annual digs in the summer at several important sites including the Links of Noltland in Westray, Rousay, Wyre and Windwick, South Ronaldsay. Marine archaeology projects investigating underwater sites are ongoing too. There are many specialists in Orkney offering commercial archaeology services and archaeology holidays and we also have the Orkney Archaeological Society, a charity which hosts regular talks.
Experience Orkney's archaeological wonders for yourself with our short film...
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