The Ness of Brodgar: Possibilities

By Bernie Bell

I’ve been thinking about the Ness of Brodgar – again – and  the wider possibilities of the whole area.  For example,  I was thinking/dreaming about boats at the Ness.  In my dream, I was at the Ness, where there were a lot of people exploring a big trench, and by trench, I mean a great, big, long …trench. I  know that ‘trench’ is a term which can be used to describe what can be quite a small ….trench, but this was a huge …digging!  There were a lot of stones being found in it ( you don’t say?), and a lot of colour and patterns, on these stones.  The big excitement was, that a boat was found.  An ancient, dark coloured, basic sort of boat.  The people working  there were very excited.  The idea was, that, when they closed down the Ness, and buried it, they buried a boat, as part of the idea of burying all things to do with the Ness, and what it had been.

I hadn’t thought of this before, others probably have? The Ness was the biggest ‘settlement’ on Orkney, and was a very important place, with folk coming from all over the world, and other parts of Orkney, to visit it for all sorts of reasons – pilgrimage, trade, supplying the inhabitants etc. etc. – and it’s now recognized that travel by water was often easier and safer than travel by land, back then.

There will have been a lot of coming and going of boats, and, therefore, probably some kind of facility for coming ashore, and for leaving your boat, while you were doing whatever it was that you came to the Ness, to do.

If a boat, or boats, were buried as part of the burying of the Ness, that burial would most likely have taken place by the shore, in what is now either the soggy bit, or under water. So……the wood just might have been preserved? I realise that these thoughts of possible wood preservation, will come in part from what has been found at The Cairns   – and that’s Iron Age. But, why not? Maybe there is a boat, or boats, down there, somewhere, waiting to be found.  As I said, very unlikely , but, it’s a thought, and one which I hadn’t thought of before.

Much traffic by boat, to and from The Ness. An important part of activity at the Ness. So, important to include in the closing down of the Ness?

Just a thought, and it was a good dream – one of those where you wake up and feel that you’ve been somewhere good and feel good about what you dreamt.

For that matter  – there will have been boats which just…sank, and boats which were pulled up on the shore and left, as they are now, and as they have been down all the years in between.  Some very old boats have been found, such as the one mentioned here…. ,  and some very old bits of wood, such as the one at the Bay of Ireland……..

Wouldn’t it be great, if a boat, or boats, were found under the waters near the Ness?  Another piece of the picture.

Admittedly, this kind of exploration will have to wait for a very long time – if ever, but these possibilities are interesting to play with!

The Ness and its environs was a work in progress when it was being built and constantly changed, and now, it’s a work in progress again. 

The last image in the recently published book,  ‘The Ness of Brodgar: As It Stands’, is a photo by Mark Edmonds of a section of the Ness covered in tarpaulin and tyres – it’s a striking image.

The place might need to stay like that for a while yet, but the people of the Ness, ancient and modern, are watching and waiting, and are patient…

Illustration by Cecily Webster

The main thing is that the Ness has been found, the things found there, have been found.  The work which has been done, has been done, and shines light on other places. 

The work continues, in the UHI Archaeology Department .  The publication of ‘The Ness of Brodgar: As It Stands’, was perfectly timed.

And, speaking of which  – the work – whether indoors or outdoors – needs funding, so………I get my begging bowl out again……..

Here’s to the years, and the work, ahead!

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5 replies »

  1. Mark Cooper, of Seattle, sent me a link re. transport by water in the Neolithic…..

    “I saw your post about the Neolithic Boats of Brodgar. I have been researching this issue. Here is a talk I gave at last year’s Orkney Int Science Festival.


    Mark Cooper

    Thank you Mark – all part of the puzzle that is the past………..

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