Countdown to 2016 at the Ness

The new excavation season at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney is fast approaching - we've been speaking to dig director Nick Card about the plans for 2016.

Orkney has a fantastic range of attractions for visitors heading for the islands to enjoy. We have beautiful beaches and idyllic islands, ancient sites full of history and some of the finest food, drink and craft outlets anywhere in the world.

And they’re all open, ready for business, well before the main tourist season gets underway.

But there is one special place that stays in hibernation until halfway through the summer, covered up, away from the curious glances of passersby.

The Ness of Brodgar site under moonlight - image by Jim Richardson

The breathtaking Ness of Brodgar excavation only comes alive again on the 6th of July, and for a fleeting eight week period, people will have the chance to see thousands of years of Orcadian history investigated right in front of them.

Finances and weather dictate the short timescale, but despite the challenges the large team of archaeologists heading to the Ness this year are raring to go.

‘The Ness never fails to deliver, even during the build-up to a new season,’ said dig director Nick Card, from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology at the UHI Archaeology Institute. ‘There’s a huge organisational element and logistical operation but now the heart is gaining in beats per second as we come towards the time to remove the covers.’

The Ness of Brodgar excavation in Orkney - image by Hugo Anderson-Whymark

The focus for the team in 2016 will be on the fascinating structures at the site and uncovering more of the story of each building as the soil is slowly pulled away from the surrounds.

‘We’re also going to be looking again the ‘monumental mound’ at the site, which is the largest Neolithic midden heap anywhere in the UK,’ said Nick. ‘Towards the end of last year we found a structural element at the foot of the mound that bears a remarkable resemblance to a chambered tomb in Orkney, so we’re really excited about what we might find this summer.’

Once again this year there will be daily guided tours of the site and special open days, all aimed at raising awareness of the Ness of Brodgar and the work being carried out. Last season more than 10,000 people attended the dig, breaking all previous records.

A beautiful incised stone found at the site in 2015 - image by Ola Thoenies

The Ness continues to attract interest from the world’s media. The BBC will be featuring the project this year with three programmes set to be broadcast during the autumn. Others filmed in 2015 will be broadcast on television in Europe very soon too.

The dig itself will have an international flavour to it once again with students from the United States and the Netherlands all booked to arrive in Orkney. In fact more than 1,000 applications for dig positions were turned down by the organisers this year, highlighting the regard the Ness of Brodgar is held in.

The majesty of the Brodgar peninsula and the heart of Neolithic Orkney - image by Jim Richardson

Whilst Nick will be ever-present during the dig itself, he’s actually leaving early this year – missing the final day of the season for the first time in more than a decade.

‘It will be a strange feeling as I always like to be there at the end to make sure everything is safe and secure for the rest of the year,’ he said. ‘I’m actually heading to Japan to deliver lectures about the Ness at the World Archaeology Congress, then in the spring I’ll be touring the United States with the Archaeological Institute of America. It’s a great chance to bring people all over the world the story of the Ness of Brodgar and Orkney.’

An aerial view of the main part of the excavations at the Ness of Brodgar - image by Hugo Anderson-Whymark

How you can see the Ness of Brodgar in 2016

Work will begin at the Ness on the 4th of July. The first two days will be spent clearing the site from its protective coverings before tours begin on the 6th of July. They will run until the 24th of August.

Individual visitors and family groups are welcome to join the free site tours with diggers from Monday to Friday at 11am, 1pm and 3pm. On Saturdays and Sundays there will be no diggers to see, but there will still be free tours at 11am and 3pm. Just turn up at your chosen time.

Visit the official Ness of Brodgar website for more information on parking and access.

Provisional dates are in place for the 2017 dig season too, but funding is needed to ensure the project goes ahead. Visit the Ness of Brodgar donations page for more details on how you can help. You can also donate directly.

There are many more exciting archaeology projects underway across Orkney during the summer months - the Visit Orkney website has turned the focus on four other sites you can see for yourself.

Keep up to date with the work of the Archaeology Institute UHI and visit the excellent Orkneyjar website for more information on a range of Orkney projects. Newsletter

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