Digging returns to the Ness of Brodgar

These are the first examples of wood surviving in situ to be found at the Ness.

After the pandemic saw excavations suspended in 2020, archaeologists were back on site at the Ness of Brodgar in July and August of this year. Excavations were concentrated in three areas – Structure 5 in Trench J, and Structure 10 and Structure 12 in Trench P – and, although the 2021 excavation was on a smaller scale than usual, a number of discoveries have been made.

Dr Jo McKenzie recovering samples of the wood from Structure 12. Photo: Sigurd Towrie.

One of the most-exciting finds was in Structure 12, where two post-holes still containing examples of Neolithic wood were discovered in the floor. They were found near to the eastern entrance, which was once a grand entryway flanked by a pair of standing stones and facing the site of the Maeshowe chambered cairn. These are the first examples of wood surviving in situ to be found at the Ness, but their preservation is quite poor and extreme care is being taken over their conservation and analysis.

While many small, round, stake-holes – thought to represent cooking arrangements – have been found previously in the floor of Structure 12, unusually these post-holes were rectangular. They may have been replacements for a stone division that once acted as a screen for the eastern entrance.

Trench J produced some interesting results, too. Structure 5 (dating to c.3300 BC, making it the earliest excavated building on site) now appears to have had multiple phases and was added to over time. It also seems the building was much bigger than first thought. Moreover, the discovery of sherds from early round-based bowls – which pre-date the Grooved Ware that defines most of the pottery found at the Ness – indicates that Structure 5’s earliest phase may be much older than suspected. Previously, sherds of round-based pottery were found underneath Structure 14, confirming its predecessor was constructed centuries earlier.

The 2021 excavation ended on 13 August, but if the necessary funding can be secured the Ness team hopes to be back on site in 2022.