Ness of Brodgar on film Ness of Brodgar on film

Ness of Brodgar on film

With the summer months now here, the focus is very much on Orkney’s archaeological excavation season.

Dig sites across Orkney are beginning to open, with the largest project of all, the work at the Ness of Brodgar, scheduled to begin again in early July.

The site was the focus of a visit by two US photographer and documentary makers in 2016. Evan Cobb and Aaron Phillips spent a month in Orkney, taking in the work at the Ness as well as travelling to other parts of the islands.

The result was a documentary short which is sure to attract more interest in the Ness of Brodgar before it opens to the public again on the 5th of July. We asked Evan to share his experiences of Orkney and the excavation with us.


Nick Card, the director of the Ness of Brodgar excavation team, summarised it best when he said: 'When we talk about history in terms of thousands of years, the numbers I think don’t quite register in the human psyche.' The archaeologists in Orkney are constantly dealing with this difficult task as they work to uncover pieces of the Neolithic past on the islands.

Aaron Phillips and I, both documentarians, were able to spend some time with the archaeologists and students at the Ness of Brodgar to learn more about the excavation being done and what it means for pre-history.

The Ness of Brodgar is a hive of activity during the summer months - photo Orkney.com


Six thousand years ago, humans began settling down in Orkney and forming lives on this fertile, but harsh landscape. Currently, archaeologists are working to piece together the Neolithic lives of these early settlers. The knowledge gained from the Ness of Brodgar and other sites around Orkney offers insight into how humans have existed.

The Ness is unique as this site has lasted far longer than many other Neolithic dwellings because Orkney structures were built with stone. This allows for a more in-depth understanding to form and re-shape prior beliefs about pre-history.

Watch the full documentary on the Ness of Brodgar from Evan and Aaron

Also, this information begins to build a solid ground for understanding early humans, which we continue to find have more in common with us than we may originally have guessed. This understanding of where we are coming from also helps give a stronger foundation for understanding the human experience. This motivation was something that continually came up as Aaron and I worked through our recordings.

We were able to listen again and again to statements about time and human history as we went through footage and interviews with members of the Ness of Brodgar excavation team. Neither of us are archaeologists and had little experience with Neolithic history, but we found ourselves sitting at the computer, listening to these reflective statements about human history and found ourselves reflecting on the gravity of many of the statements.

The mysteries of the Ness continue to be uncovered - photo by Jim Richardson


For those who are able to visit the site, we hope you are able to learn about the humans that came before us and realise what this connection means for you.

Recently, we have finalised the film, which focuses on the 2016 excavation season at the Ness of Brodgar. The film offers insight into the detailed work being done at the site and brings the viewer up-close into the day-to-day work of archaeologists and students. We hope you can support the amazing work that is being conducted at the Ness of Brodgar and other archaeological work around the islands.

We want to thank everyone at the Ness of Brodgar for letting Aaron and I learn from all of you first-hand and spend time at the site and in Kirkwall. Aaron and I were only in Orkney for a month, but the experience continues to shape our understanding of filmmaking, the passage of time, and the human experience.

The excavation team at the Ness of Brodgar - photo courtesy UHI Archaeology Institute

Visit Evan Cobb's website and Aaron Phillips' website for more information on their work.

Find out how you can visit the Ness of Brodgar in 2017 via the official website.

Take a look at the new interactive map from Visit Orkney to see all the archaeological sites that are open to the public in Orkney in 2017.