• Ness of Brodgar excavation, Orkney

Visit a dig in Orkney this summer

Orkney’s archaeologists are getting ready for another busy summer of excavations across the islands, and you can see them in action over the coming months.

Four digs will be uncovered this year, ranging from Neolithic structures and Iron Age brochs, to Viking drinking halls and 19th century farmsteads.

As always, the experts will be hoping to discover more secrets at each site, but the archaeologists are also always ready to take time to show visitors around and give you a glimpse into the past.

Find out where you can watch history being uncovered in front of you in Orkney this summer.

Tucked away in a beautiful corner of South Ronaldsay, this fascinating Iron Age site is a fabulous place to visit. With a 22-metre-wide broch at its heart, the dig has provided plenty of exciting finds over the years, including a bronze pin, pottery, and even human remains.

Work began here back in 2006, although there is evidence of excavations taking place as far back as 1902. The broch structure is full of well-preserved fixtures and has revealed plenty of artefacts.

It’s hoped the discoveries from the Cairns will help provide a clearer understanding of the buildings and their use during the Iron Age in Scotland.

This is very much archaeology on the edge. The Knowe of Swandro is found right on the southwestern coastline of Rousay and is home to an incredible array of ancient sites. Here you can find evidence of a Neolithic chambered tomb, Iron Age roundhouses, Pictish buildings and a Viking settlement.

What makes this complex site unmissable is the fact that it is slowly being destroyed by coastal erosion. Each year archaeologists return to find more of the area washed away by winter storms, making the excavation season a real race against time.

It’s a beautiful spot to visit, and the history is quite fascinating, so do stop past if you’re enjoying Rousay’s incredibly rich archaeological attractions.

  • When is it open?

    The Swandro excavation begins on June 19th but the site is only open to visitors from Sunday 25th June.

  • Can I visit?

    Visitors are very welcome from Sundays to Thursdays between Sunday 25th June and Sunday 6th August. The team usually takes Fridays and Saturdays off, and any unexpected closures or openings will be advertised on social media. If you arrive when archaeologists aren’t working, feel free to view the information boards but do stay outside the safety ropes and don’t enter the site itself.

  • How can I find out more?

This sprawling excavation in Orkney's UNESCO World Heritage Site has been the jewel in our archaeological crown since its discovery in 2002. The Neolithic complex spreads across three hectares and the sheer scale continues to surprise and fascinate archaeologists across the world.

The site has produced incredible finds over the years, ranging from decorated stones to human remains, and the focus will continue to be on uncovering as many secrets from this 5000-year-old community as possible.

It’s also set to be the penultimate year of excavating at the Ness. The dig will come to a close after the 2024 season, when the site will be covered over and backfilled. So, if you want to see this amazing location, you only have two summers left to plan your trip.

  • When is it open?

    The Ness of Brodgar excavation begins on July 5th and runs until August 16th.

  • Can I visit?

    Yes, the dig will be open to the public on weekdays, from 9.30am until 4.30pm between July 5th and August 16th. Free tours of the excavation will be held on weekdays at 11am, 1pm and 3pm, lasting approximately one hour, and there is no need to book. There is also an open day planned for July 30 with activities on site and in the Stenness Community School between 11am and 4pm.

  • How can I find out more?

The dig here is perhaps on a smaller scale to the others mentioned above but it’s also home to around a thousand years of history. It’s thought the farm was in use from the Norse period right up until the Rousay clearances in the 19th century.

Found close to the Swandro dig on the southwest coast of the island, Skaill Farm was the site of a fascinating find back in 2019 when the remains of a large Norse hall were discovered, featuring 1m-wide stone walls and other fixtures and fittings including stone benches.

This excavation is just another reason to visit Rousay this summer, not that you need an excuse given the wealth of archaeology on offer across the island.

All the digs are weather dependent, so on inclement days there may be no archaeologists on site or tours available. Please check individual websites and social media pages for detailed information, including access, parking and tour group visits.

Follow the UHI Archaeology Institute on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Read more about Orkney’s ancient history and plan your trip to the islands.

Orkney.com Newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up to receive our newsletter and get the latest updates from our beautiful, vibrant islands.
Sign Up Now