• Ness of Brodgar, Orkney

See archaeology in action this summer

If you're travelling to Orkney this summer and want to see ancient history uncovered right in front of you, planning a visit to one of our incredible archaeological excavations should be on your islands itinerary.

There are four digs scheduled this year, focusing on everything from Neolithic settlements to Iron Age structures, with Norse heritage and life in Orkney in the 1800s also under investigation.

All the excavations are open to the public and the resident archaeologists are always happy to drop their trowels and give visitors a glimpse into the past. There are regular open days and scheduled tours at some of the sites too. It's also the last season of work at the fascinating Ness of Brodgar before the sprawling site is covered over for good, so don't miss the chance to visit before it's too late.

Check out our guide below to discover what you can see and when in Orkney this summer.

The Cairns is well worth a visit if you're exploring South Ronaldsay. At the heart of this Iron Age settlement is a huge 22-metre-wide broch, but there are other buildings visible here too, from the Iron Age through to the Norse period.

Surveys at The Cairns in 2003 revealed a vast wealth of structures under the surface, with excavation work beginning in 2006. Since then the project has become one of Orkney's most exciting, with fascinating finds over the years including a bronze pin, pottery, and even ancient human remains.

This summer it's hoped the dig will continue to shed light on the use of these buildings during the Iron Age in the islands.

The excavation at Swandro is very much a race against time. Found right on the southwestern coastline of Rousay, the site is being slowly washed away by coastal erosion, making each summer of work increasingly important, and challenging.

It's a fascinating place with a vast array of sites and structures, including a Neolithic tomb, Iron Age buildings, Pictish remains and a Viking settlement. This year the focus will be on excavating the broch to gain access to the Stone Age chambered tomb.

This is archaeology on the edge. It's also a beautiful place to visit, alongside the rest of the island's rich historical attractions.

  • When are the dig dates?

    The Swandro excavation begins on June 17th but the site is only open to visitors from June 19th until August 6th.

  • Can I visit?

    Visitors are very welcome from Sundays to Thursdays between June 19th and August 6th. 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?

The centerpiece of Orkney's recent archaeological history, the Ness of Brodgar complex has captivated experts and visitors since it was first discovered in 2002.

The Neolithic settlement has been the source of worldwide interest for more than 20 years, producing an incredible wealth of data and finds, like decorated stones and human remains.

But after more than two decades of excavating, 2024 will be the last dig season here before the site is covered over for the final time and backfilled. Instead, the focus will move onto the scientific analysis of materials recovered from the Ness over the years, including pottery, stone tools, bone, and much more.

So, this summer is your last chance to see the Ness of Brodgar and its worldwide cast of archaeologists working away to reveal as many secrets as possible before the covers are placed back on for good.

  • When are the dig dates?

    The Ness of Brodgar excavation begins on June 24th, but the site is only open to the public between June 26th and August 16th.

  • Can I visit?

    Yes, the dig will be open to the public on weekdays, from 9.30am until 4.30pm between June 26th 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 are also open days planned for July 14th and August 4th, with activities on-site and in the Stenness Community School between 11am and 4pm.

  • How can I find out more?

The smallest of Orkney's archaeological excavations, the project at Skaill Farm still manages to encapsulate more than a thousand years of Orcadian history.

Work here over the years has revealed the remains of a large Norse hall, complete with thick walls and stone benches, as well as more recent evidence of habitation during the 19th century Rousay clearances.

The project here is just a stone's throw from the Swandro dig, offering the perfect opportunity for a day of history and archaeology in this special location.

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.

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