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Stenness, Scotland

Ness of Brodgar

The discovery of this Neolithic settlement, which contained a Stone Age "cathedral," threw archaeologists for a loop. 

The Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, two Neolithic stone monuments, are connected by a peninsula, the Ness of Brodgar. In 2002, a geographic survey revealed that on this skinny strip of land there was a settlement that might be one of the most significant Stone Age sites ever discovered.

It was previously assumed that the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness were the most important Neolithic cultural sites in the Orkney archipelago, but the Ness turned all that on its head. The dig revealed the largest non-funerary stone structure in Britain.

Surprisingly advanced structures were uncovered, dating to approximately 3,200 BC—older than both Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza. The remnants of smaller buildings surrounded one massive “temple” structure. Evidence of ochre and animal fat indicated the buildings had been painted, and smaller stones gave the impression they had tiled roofs. Several stones even featured line and circle carvings, which excavators believe are Neolithic artwork. 

Though there isn’t any conclusive answer, archaeologists believe the site at the Ness of Brodgar was actually the focal point of Neolithic ceremonies. The vast variety of pottery shards found at the Ness indicate that people came from all over to meet here in these buildings. It is believed Structure 10, which has been called a “Neolithic cathedral,” was the locus of sacrifice and ceremony, while the smaller buildings were communal lodging for travelers. Site director Nick Card suggested that the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness might have actually been entry points along the path into the Ness settlement, rather than the important focal centers they were originally believed to have been. Excavations are ongoing, so the mystery of the Ness may be hiding just under the dirt.

Know Before You Go

The dig site is only active during the summer months.  Check the website for active dates.

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