Ness of Brodgar

The Ness of Brodgar is an archaeological site covering 2.5 hectares (6.2 acres) between the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site in Orkney, Scotland. Excavations at the site began in 2003. The site has provided evidence of decorated stone slabs, a stone wall 6 metres (20 ft) thick with foundations, and a large building described as a Neolithic temple.[1] The earliest structures were built between 3,300 and 3,200 BC, and the site had been closed down and partly dismantled by 2,200 BC.[2]

Ness of Brodgar
Ness of Brodgar 19 - 6.7.16
Excavations at the Ness of Brodgar.
Ness of Brodgar is located in Orkney Islands
Ness of Brodgar
Shown within Orkney Islands
LocationMainland, Orkney
Coordinates58°59′49″N 3°12′58″W / 58.997°N 3.216°W
TypeNeolithic settlement or religious site
Site notes
OwnershipNess of Brodgar Trust; also private ownership
Public accessOnly by guided tour during excavation
Criteriai, ii, iii, iv
Designated1999 (23rd session)
Part ofHeart of Neolithic Orkney
Reference no.514
State PartyScotland
RegionEurope and North America

The site

Ness of Brodgar - general plan
General plan of the site.

Today the Brodgar peninsula[3] is a finger of land a few hundred metres wide, situated between the saltwater Loch of Stenness to the southwest and the freshwater[4] Loch of Harray to the northeast.

To the southeast are the Standing Stones of Stenness and to the north-west is the Ring of Brodgar. A short bridge connects these two sites. Also visible from the site are, to the east, the chambered cairn at Maeshowe and, to the southeast the Barnhouse Settlement. A couple of kilometres northwest of the Ring of Brodgar is the Ring of Bookan, a third henge, with associated mounds.[5] The Neolithic village at Skara Brae lies a few kilometres away, as does the chambered cairn at Unstan. More archaeology is probably submerged beneath the lochs.[6]

In Neolithic times, the Loch of Stenness was probably a wetland area rather than a lake. People from Skara Brae would have been able to walk to the Ness of Brodgar, watch or take part in ritual activity and walk home within a day.[7]

The structures at the Ness of Brodgar are made of flagstone, a sedimentary rock found abundantly throughout Orkney.[8] Flagstone is easily split into flat stones and was therefore a good material for fine building work using Neolithic tools. Some of the stone found on site is too thin for floor tiles or wall building, and is understood as the first evidence ever found of roofs.[9]

Key structures

The structures at Brodgar are numbered in the order of discovery. As more of the site was uncovered and the interpretations improved, some numbers went out of use, so as of 2016 the key structures are numbered 1, 8, 10, 12 and 14.

Structures 1, 8, 12 and 14 appear to have been constructed around 3,000 BC. These stand on top of earlier remains that, as of 2016, have not yet been uncovered, but are thought to date to 3,300–3,200 BCE.[2]

Structure 1

Ness of Brodgar - structure 1
Structure 1
Ness of Brodgar 21 - 6.7.16
Structure 1 as it appeared in July 2016.

Structure 1 has a complex history and appears to have been built on top of the remains of an earlier structure.[10] The official guide to the dig suggests that this structure appears to have been central to the site. Originally it was more than 15 metres (49 ft) long, but was radically rebuilt within about a century of its first construction: two doors were blocked up, a new door was inserted and a new wall built. It was decorated with many pieces of stone artwork, some of which were internal to the walls and would never have been seen while the building was in use.[10]

Some of the individual stones of structure 1 were painted in yellows, reds, and oranges using ochre pigment made of haematite mixed with animal fat, milk or eggs.[11][12] This is the first discovery in Britain of evidence that Neolithic people used paint to decorate their buildings.

In 2015 the bones of a baby, which died around the time of birth, were unearthed in a recess of this building.[13]

Structure 8

Ness of Brodgar - structure 8
Structure 8
Ness of Brodgar 11 - 6.7.16
In this image taken in July 2016, structure 8 is visible to the rear. The prominent structure is structure 11.

Structure 8 is roughly contemporary with structure 1, probably having been built just after structure 1 was completed.[14] It comprised ten piers and ten recesses, and had six hearths. The remains of at least two earlier buildings lie beneath it and structure 8 appears to have undergone severe subsidence itself. Its floor slumped in antiquity, causing the roof to fall in, and some of its stones were used to form structure 10.[14]

Structure 8 was the first place where stone roof tiles were discovered on site[15] and the first place where coloured pigment was found on the walls.[14]

Uniquely among the buildings of the Ness of Brodgar, and indeed uniquely in Neolithic Europe so far as we know, finely-worked stone spatulas were found here. They resemble flattened spoons and have been made with great care. None of them show signs of wear and their purpose is unknown.[14] Other finds from this structure included a whalebone mace head[16] and a whale's tooth set in stone.

Structure 10

Ness of Brodgar - structure 10
Structure 10
Ness of Brodgar 18 - 6.7.16
This image taken in July 2016 shows archaeologists at work on structure 10.
Ness of Brodgar, Structure Ten
Structure 10, artistic reconstruction c. 3000 BC.

Structure 10 was discovered in 2008, and was described by excavators as "temple-like". It has walls 4 metres (13 ft) thick and still standing to a height of more than 1 metre (3.3 ft). The building is 25 metres (82 ft) long and 20 metres (66 ft) wide and a standing stone with a hole shaped like an hourglass was incorporated into the walls. There is a cross-shaped inner sanctum and the building was surrounded by a paved outer passage. It is believed to have been constructed around 2,900 BCE, and appears to have been partly rebuilt around 2,800 BC, probably due to structural instability.[1] This is the largest structure of its kind anywhere in the north of Britain and it would have dominated the ritual landscape of the peninsula.

Structure 10 was used until around 2,400–2,200 BCE, when it appears to have been "closed" in an extraordinary and unique episode of ceremonial demolition[17] involving the slaughter of several hundred cattle. Bones of approximately 400 cattle-tibias (shin bones)[1] comprise the vast majority of bones found[18]. The bones were laid around structure 10 and an upturned cow skull was placed within it. The tibias appear to have been cracked to extract the marrow, suggesting that this slaughter was accompanied by a feast. All the slaughter seems to have taken place in a single event.[18]

After the feast, the whole carcasses of several red deer were placed atop the broken bones, and structure 10 was largely destroyed.[18] This event appears to have marked the closure and abandonment of the Ness of Brodgar site.

Structure 12

Ness of Brodgar - structure 12
Structure 12
Ness of Brodgar 15 - 6.7.16
Structure 12 in July 2016. Just visible at the back of this photograph is celebrity archaeologist Neil Oliver.

Structure 12 was built around 3,000 BCE. It comprises six piers, four recesses and two hearths. It is the southernmost structure so far uncovered, but there are believed to be more structures farther south still underground (some of which, unfortunately, may be under the site's spoil heap). It was made of well-dressed stone but, like several other buildings on the site, appears to have suffered from structural problems and was partly rebuilt. An annexe to the north, added later in the Neolithic, is not well integrated into the original stonework.[19]

This annexe contained masses of grooved ware pottery, including some very large vessels, some made with techniques not otherwise known from the Neolithic, and some coloured black, red or white.[19] The red colour was made of ochre, and the black of soot; the source of the white colouring has not yet been determined.

The grooved ware from Orkney is the oldest known in Britain, and the style appears to originate from Orkney and radiate southwards.[20]

Structure 14

Ness of Brodgar - structure 14
Structure 14
Ness of Brodgar 5 - 6.7.16
Structure 14 as it appeared in July 2016. The tarpaulins visible in this image are left over from when the site was covered and closed down (dig restarted 4 July). The tyres were used to weigh them down.

Structure 14 was built around 3,000 BCE, roughly contemporaneously with structures 1, 8 and 12. Like them it was built on top of earlier structures. It is the most northerly of the buildings so far uncovered. It has three entrances, four piers, four recesses, and two hearths. Apart from its size it is generally similar in design to structure 8.[14]

A great deal of stone from structure 14 was taken in antiquity for re-use elsewhere, and like all the other structures except structure 10, it appears to have been largely demolished by 2,600 BCE.[21]

The ends of this building appear to have been used for different purposes and, as of 2016, the floor is undergoing chemical analysis to determine what they were.[14]

An unusual axehead, made from gneiss,[22] and a carinated bowl from the early Neolithic which may predate grooved ware,[23] have been found in this structure.



Excavations have revealed several buildings, both ritual and domestic, and the works suggest there are likely to be more in the vicinity. Pottery, cremated animal bones, stone tools, and polished stone mace heads have also been discovered.[24][25] Some of the stone slabs are decorated with geometrical lozenges typical of other Neolithic sites.[26]

There are the remains of a large stone wall (the "Great Wall of Brodgar") that may have been 100 metres (330 ft) long and 6 metres (20 ft) or more wide. It appears to traverse the entire peninsula where the site is located, and may have been a symbolic barrier between the ritual landscape of the Ring and the mundane world around it.[26][27]

A baked clay artefact known as the "Brodgar Boy", and thought to be a figurine with a head, body, and two eyes, was also unearthed in the rubble of one structure in 2011. It was found in two sections, the smaller of which measures 30 mm, but is thought to be part of a still larger object.[28]

In 2013, an intricately inscribed stone was found in structure 10, described as "potentially the finest example of Neolithic art found in the UK for several decades".[29] The stone is inscribed on both sides. A few days later archaeologists discovered a carved stone ball, a very rare find of such an object in situ in "a modern archaeological context".[30]

Recent finds include Skaill knives[31] and hammer stones, and another, perhaps even bigger wall. The dig involves archaeologists from Orkney College and from the universities of Aberdeen, Cardiff and Glasgow.[32][33][34][35]

World Heritage status

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney was inscribed as a World Heritage site in December 1999. In addition to the Ring of Brodgar, the site includes Maeshowe, Skara Brae, the Stones of Stenness, and other nearby sites. It is managed by Historic Scotland, whose "Statement of Significance" for the site begins:

The monuments at the heart of Neolithic Orkney and Skara Brae proclaim the triumphs of the human spirit in early ages and isolated places. They were approximately contemporary with the mastabas of the archaic period of Egypt (first and second dynasties), the brick temples of Sumeria, and the first cities of the Harappa culture in India, and a century or two earlier than the Golden Age of China. Unusually fine for their early date, and with a remarkably rich survival of evidence, these sites stand as a visible symbol of the achievements of early peoples away from the traditional centres of civilisation. ... Stenness is a unique and early expression of the ritual customs of the people who buried their dead in tombs like Maes Howe and lived in settlements like Skara Brae.[36]

Since the importance of the Ness was discovered only in 2003, it was not mentioned explicitly in 1999 and was not one of the four key sites. Nevertheless, the Ness of Brodgar "contribute[s] greatly to our understanding of the WHS" according to Historic Scotland.[37]

See also


  • Wickham-Jones, Caroline (2015). Between the Wind and the Water (2nd ed.). Oxford: Windgather Press. ISBN 978-1-909686-50-2.
  • Towers, Roy; Card, Nick; Edmonds, Mark (2015). The Ness of Brodgar. Kirkwall, UK: Archaeology Institute, University of the Higlands and Islands. ISBN 978-0-9932757-0-8.


  1. ^ a b c Towers et. al. 2015, pp. 22-23.
  2. ^ a b Towers et. al. 2015, pp. 2-3.
  3. ^ Wickham-Jones 2015, p. 76.
  4. ^ Wickham-Jones 2015, p. 31.
  5. ^ Wickham-Jones 2015, p. 18.
  6. ^ Wickham-Jones 2015, p. 13.
  7. ^ Wickham-Jones 2015, p. 53.
  8. ^ Towers et. al. 2015, p. 11.
  9. ^ Towers et. al. 2015, p. 10.
  10. ^ a b Towers et. al. 2015, pp. 18-19.
  11. ^ "... and painted walls". The Ness of Brodgar Trust. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
  12. ^ "Painted walls in Orkney ‘5,000 years old’". BBC News. 26 July 2010. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  13. ^ Sigurd (Towrie?) (25 August 2015). "Tuesday, August 25, 2015". Excavation Diary. The Ness of Brodgar Trust. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Towers et. al. 2015, pp. 20-21.
  15. ^ "Prehistoric roof tiles". The Ness of Brodgar Trust. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  16. ^ Sigurd (Towrie?) (6 August 2010). "Friday, August 6, 2010". Excavation Diary. The Ness of Brodgar Trust. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  17. ^ Wickham-Jones 2015, p. 75.
  18. ^ a b c Roff Smith (August 2014). "Scotland's Stone Age Ruins". National Geographic. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  19. ^ a b Towers et. al. 2015, pp. 24–25.
  20. ^ "Late Neolithic Scotland, c 3000–c 2500 BC". Scottish Archaeological Research Framework. Scottish Heritage. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  21. ^ "A rough timeline". The Ness of Brodgar Trust. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  22. ^ Sigurd (Towrie?) (15 August 2012). "Wednesday, August 15, 2012". Excavation Diary. The Ness of Brodgar Trust. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  23. ^ Sigurd (Towrie?) (23 July 2014). "Wednesday, July 23, 2014". Excavation Diary. The Ness of Brodgar Trust. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  24. ^ "Ness of Brodgar, Stenness, Mainland, Orkney". Orkney College, University of the Higlands and Islands. Archived from the original on 22 October 2008. Retrieved 30 August 2008.
  25. ^ Towrie, Sigurd. "Experts stunned by scale of Brodgar structure". Orkney Archaeology News. The Ness of Brodgar Trust. Archived from the original on 27 August 2008. Retrieved 30 August 2008.
  26. ^ a b Towrie, Sigurd (16 August 2007). "Stone wall hints at Neolithic spiritual barrier". The Ness of Brodgar Trust. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  27. ^ Ross, John (14 August 2007). "Experts uncover Orkney's new Skara Brae and the great wall that separated living from dead". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  28. ^ Towrie, Sigurd. "Brodgar Boy". The Ness of Brodgar Trust. Archived from the original on 6 August 2016. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  29. ^ "'Finest' Neolithic stone discovered at Orkney's Ness of Brodgar". BBC News. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  30. ^ Sigurd (Towrie?) (7 August 2013). "Wednesday, August 7, 2013". Excavation Diary. The Ness of Brodgar Trust. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  31. ^ A flaked stone with a sharp edge used for cutting. This neolithic tool is named after Skaill Bay, the location of World Heritage Site Skara Brae in Orkney. See "Skaill knife" (PDF). Historic Scotland. Retrieved 21 March 2007.
  32. ^ Ross, John; Hartley, David (14 August 2009). "‘Cathedral’ as old as Stonehenge unearthed". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  33. ^ "Neolithic ‘temple’ revealed at site on Orkney". The Herald. Glasgow. Archived from the original on 19 August 2009. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  34. ^ Macintosh, Lindsay (14 August 2009). "‘Neolithic cathedral built to amaze’ unearthed in Orkney dig". Times Online. London: The Times. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  35. ^ "The Ness of Brodgar Excavations". 14 August 2009. Archived from the original on 28 August 2009. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  36. ^ "The Heart of Neolithic Orkney". Historic Scotland. 24 August 2007. Archived from the original on 24 August 2007. Retrieved 14 October 2012.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  37. ^ Management Plan 2014–19 (PDF). Heart of Neolithic Orkney (Consultation Draft ed.). Historic Scotland. 2013. p. 10.

External links

Coordinates: 58°59′49″N 3°12′58″W / 58.997°N 3.216°W


Cealasaigh or Kealasay is an islet in outer Loch Ròg, Lewis, Scotland that lies north of Traigh Mhór on Little Bernera and south of Campaigh.

To the west is the islet of Eilean Fir Chrothair (isle of the shepherd) and Sgeir na h-Aon Chaorach (lone sheep rock) lies to the east.

Eilean Chearstaidh

Eilean Kearstay (Scottish Gaelic: Eilean Chearstaigh) is an uninhabited island in Loch Roag in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

It lies south east of Great Bernera, just across the water from the headland of Callanish.

In 1990 the island was sold by Prince Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees to an Australian. It was sold to new owners three years later.

Eilean Fladday

Eilean Fladday (also Fladda) is a previously populated, tidal island off Raasay, near Skye, Scotland.


A fortification is a military construction or building designed for the defense of territories in warfare, and is also used to solidify rule in a region during peacetime. The term is derived from the Latin fortis ("strong") and facere ("to make").

From very early history to modern times, walls have often been necessary for cities to survive in an ever-changing world of invasion and conquest. Some settlements in the Indus Valley Civilization were the first small cities to be fortified. In ancient Greece, large stone walls had been built in Mycenaean Greece, such as the ancient site of Mycenae (famous for the huge stone blocks of its 'cyclopean' walls). A Greek phrourion was a fortified collection of buildings used as a military garrison, and is the equivalent of the Roman castellum or English fortress. These constructions mainly served the purpose of a watch tower, to guard certain roads, passes, and lands that might threaten the kingdom. Though smaller than a real fortress, they acted as a border guard rather than a real strongpoint to watch and maintain the border.

The art of setting out a military camp or constructing a fortification traditionally has been called "castrametation" since the time of the Roman legions. Fortification is usually divided into two branches: permanent fortification and field fortification. There is also an intermediate branch known as semi-permanent fortification. Castles are fortifications which are regarded as being distinct from the generic fort or fortress in that they are a residence of a monarch or noble and command a specific defensive territory.

Roman forts and hill forts were the main antecedents of castles in Europe, which emerged in the 9th century in the Carolingian Empire. The Early Middle Ages saw the creation of some towns built around castles.

Medieval-style fortifications were largely made obsolete by the arrival of cannons in the 14th century. Fortifications in the age of black powder evolved into much lower structures with greater use of ditches and earth ramparts that would absorb and disperse the energy of cannon fire. Walls exposed to direct cannon fire were very vulnerable, so the walls were sunk into ditches fronted by earth slopes to improve protection.

The arrival of explosive shells in the 19th century led to yet another stage in the evolution of fortification. Star forts did not fare well against the effects of high explosive, and the intricate arrangements of bastions, flanking batteries and the carefully constructed lines of fire for the defending cannon could be rapidly disrupted by explosive shells. Steel-and-concrete fortifications were common during the 19th and early 20th centuries. However the advances in modern warfare since World War I have made large-scale fortifications obsolete in most situations.

Demilitarized zones along borders are arguably another type of fortification, although a passive kind, providing a buffer between potentially hostile militaries.

Fuaigh Beag

Fuaigh Beag or Vuia Be(a)g is an island in the Outer Hebrides. It is off the west coast of Lewis near Great Bernera in Loch Roag. Its name means "little Fuaigh", and is named in contrast to Fuaigh Mòr nearby.

Geology of Skye

The geology of Skye in Scotland is highly varied and the island's landscape reflects changes in the underlying nature of the rocks. A wide range of rock types are exposed on the island, sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous, ranging in age from the Archaean through to the Quaternary.

Grooved ware

Grooved ware is the name given to a pottery style of the British Neolithic. Its manufacturers are sometimes known as the Grooved ware people. Unlike the later Beaker ware, Grooved culture was not an import from the continent but seems to have developed in Orkney, early in the 3rd millennium BC, and was soon adopted in Britain and Ireland.The diagnostic shape for the style is a flat-bottomed pot with straight sides sloping outwards and grooved decoration around the top. Beyond this the pottery comes in many varieties, some with complex geometric decorations others with applique bands added. The latter has led some archaeologists to argue that the style is a skeuomorph and is derived from wicker basketry.

Grooved ware pots excavated at Balfarg in Fife have been chemically analysed to determine their contents. It appears that some of the vessels there may have been used to hold black henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) which is a poison and a powerful hallucinogen.

Since many Grooved ware pots have been found at henge sites and in burials, it is possible that they may have had a ritual purpose as well as a functional one. Grooved ware comes in many sizes, some vessels are extremely large, c. 30 gallons, and would be suitable for fermentation. The majority are smaller, ranging from jug- to cup-size, and could be used for serving and drinking. The theory that the first British farmers (c. 4000 BC) had the knowledge and ability to make ale from their crops with their pottery appears to be controversial and not yet widely discussed by the archaeological community.

The earliest examples have been found in Orkney and may have evolved from earlier Unstan ware bowls. The recent excavations at nearby Ness of Brodgar have revealed many sherds of finely decorated Grooved ware pottery, some of it representing very large pots. A large number of drinking vessels have also been identified. The style soon spread and it was used by the builders of the first phase of Stonehenge. Grooved ware pottery has been found in abundance in recent excavations at Durrington Walls and Marden Henge in Wiltshire. Here, the feasting would have involved drinking ale and eating pork. Smaller quantities of Grooved ware have been found at the nearby site of Figsbury Ring.

Grooved ware was previously referred to as Rinyo-Clacton ware, first identified by Stuart Piggott in the 1950s and named after sites where it was found. Rinyo is a neolithic settlement on the island of Rousay, Orkney. The site at Clacton now lies under the sea.

One way the tradition may have spread is through trade routes up the west coast of Britain. What seems unusual is that although they shared the same style of pottery, different regions still maintained vastly different traditions. Evidence at some early Henges (Mayburgh Henge, Ring of Brodgar, Arbor Low) suggests that there were staging and trading points on a national 'motorway' during the Neolithic and Bronze Age. This evidence perhaps explains how Cumbrian stone axes found their way to Orkney.

Unstan ware, a variation on grooved ware, emerged in Orkney. The people who used Unstan ware had totally different burial practices but managed to co-exist with their Grooved ware counterparts. Some hybrid chambered cairns have emerged in this region, containing architectural features of both the Maeshowe subclass and the Orkney-Cromarty stalled subclasses of cairn.


Hascosay (Old Norse "Hafskotsey") is a small island lying between Yell and Fetlar in the Shetland Islands, Scotland.

Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Heart of Neolithic Orkney refers to a group of Neolithic monuments found on the Mainland, one of the islands of Orkney, Scotland. The name was adopted by UNESCO when it proclaimed these sites as a World Heritage Site in 1999.

The site of patrimony currently consists of four sites:

Maeshowe – a unique chambered cairn and passage grave, aligned so that its central chamber is illuminated on the winter solstice. It was looted by Vikings who left one of the largest collections of runic inscriptions in the world.

Standing Stones of Stenness – the four remaining megaliths of a henge, the largest of which is 6 metres (19 ft) high.

Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle 104 metres in diameter, originally composed of 60 stones set within a circular ditch up to 3 metres deep and 10 metres wide, forming a henge monument. It has been estimated that the structure took 80,000 man-hours to construct.

Skara Brae – a cluster of eight houses making up Northern Europe’s best-preserved Neolithic village.

Ness of Brodgar is an archaeological site between the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness that has provided evidence of housing, decorated stone slabs, a massive stone wall with foundations, and a large building described as a Neolithic "cathedral". Although it is not part of the World Heritage Site, the Ness of Brodgar "contribute[s] greatly to our understanding of the WHS" according to Historic Scotland, which manages most of the site.In 2008, UNESCO expressed concern about plans by the local council to "erect three large 72 metres wind turbines to the north-west of the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brogdar" that might damage the site.

Holm of Grimbister

Holm of Grimbister is an inhabited tidal islet in the Orkney archipelago of Scotland. Located in the Bay of Firth near Finstown it is connected to Mainland Orkney by a causeway.

Papa, Scotland

This is a list of places in Scotland called Papa or similar, which are so named after the Papar, monks from the Early Historic Period or from their connection to other, later priests.

Prehistoric Orkney

Prehistoric Orkney refers to a period in the human occupation of the Orkney archipelago of Scotland that was the latter part of these islands' prehistory. The period of prehistory prior to occupation by the genus Homo is part of the geology of Scotland. Although some written records refer to Orkney during the Roman invasions of Scotland, prehistory in northern Scotland does not end until the commencement of the Early Historic Period around AD 600.

There are numerous important prehistoric remains in Orkney, especially from the Neolithic period, four of which form a World Heritage Site. There are diverse reasons for the abundance of the archaeological record. The sandstone bedrock provides easily workable stone materials and the wind-blown sands have helped preserve several sites. The relative lack of industrialisation and low incidence of ploughing also have helped to preserve these ancient monuments. Local tradition hints at both a fear and veneration of these ancient structures (perhaps inherited from the Norse period of occupation) that may have helped to retain their structural integrity.Prehistory is conventionally divided into a number of shorter periods but differentiating these various eras of human history is a complex task – their boundaries are uncertain and the changes between them are gradual. The Paleolithic lasted until the retreat of the ice, the Mesolithic until the adoption of farming and the Neolithic until metalworking commenced. A number of the sites span long periods of time and in particular the distinctions between the Neolithic and the later periods are not clear cut. The extraordinary wealth of structures from the Neolithic is not matched either by the early periods, for which the evidence of human occupation is sparse or non-existent, or the later Bronze Age which provides a relative dearth of evidence. The subsequent Iron Age supported a return to monumental building, especially of brochs.

Formal excavations were first recorded in the late 18th century and as they proceeded an understanding of the structures involved progressed from little more than folklore to modern archaeological science. The sites discussed are found on the Orkney Mainland unless otherwise stated.

Scalpay, Inner Hebrides

Scalpay (; Scottish Gaelic: Sgalpaigh) is an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.

Scalpay, Outer Hebrides

Scalpay (; Scottish Gaelic: Sgalpaigh or Sgalpaigh na Hearadh; i.e. "Scalpay of Harris" to distinguish it from Scalpay off Skye) is an island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

Soay, Inner Hebrides

Soay (Scottish Gaelic: Sòdhaigh, pronounced [ˈs̪ɔː.aj]) is an island just off the coast of Skye, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.

Tarner Island

Tarner Island is a triangular shaped island in Loch Bracadale just off the coast off the Harlosh peninsula of Skye in Scotland. It is about 28 hectares (69 acres) in extent.

The coastline is largely cliff-lined and rocky and there is a natural arch to the north. Tarner Island is only about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) from mainland Skye and there are several skerries including Sgeir Mhòr and Sgeir Bheag that lies just offshore to the north east between the island and Colbost Head. Wiay and the tidal islet of Oronsay lie about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) to the south.


Trondra is one of the Scalloway Islands, a subgroup of the Shetland Islands in Scotland. It shelters the harbour of Scalloway and has an area of 275 hectares (1.06 sq mi).


Vacsay (Scottish Gaelic: Bhacsaigh from Old Norse "bakkiey" meaning "peat bank island") is one of the Outer Hebrides. It is off the west coast of Lewis in West Loch Roag. It is 41 hectares (0.16 square miles) in size, and 34 metres (112 feet) at its highest point.


Whalsay (Old Norse: Hvalsey or Hvals-øy, meaning 'Whale Island') is the sixth largest of the Shetland Islands in Scotland.

World Heritage Site
Other Neolithic Sites
Iron Age Sites

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