More Than Just  A Ditch

By Bernie Bell

Pics by BB

I feel that I’m awash with reading material relating to archaeology at the moment – not a bad way to be!

I’m reading chapters of Euan MacKie’s ‘Professor Challenger and his Lost Neolithic World’, interspersed with sections of the British Museum’s publication which accompanies their current ‘The World of Stonehenge’ exhibition, and have recently been gifted a copy of ‘The Northern Isles’, Edited by F.T. Wainwright.  That should keep me quiet for a while.

Meanwhile, going with the flow of matters archaeological – a sunny Sunday – thought we’d connect the circles by parking by the Stones of Stenness, walking round the circle, then along in front of ‘Odin’ (the house with a red roof), across the Brig O’ Brodgar and  along the path by Harry Loch, then cross the road, turning right towards the Comet stone, round the Ring of Brodgar, and back.

I was wondering if the gates would be un-locked, and if we’d be able to go round the actual inner side of the Brodgar stones?  They were, and we weren’t.

Mike and I were discussing how long, or short, a time it might be until the whole ring needs to be fenced off. 

It will be a shame, as these places were for people to gather at, but in recent years the increased footfall has meant that the inner path in particular has got very damaged.  Historic Environment Scotland have tried various solutions, and it is possible to actually see why this is such a problem.  The land is peaty. Place the plastic webbing stuff on it – people walk on it – it sinks into the ground – the soil comes over it, then that gets gukky too.  Not a very scientific explanation – but it’s what has been happening. 

There are some metal grids laid round the outer path which appear to be doing the job but they don’t look good,  and would look terrible on the inner path – very intrusive, and change the whole look of the site.

Personal opinion – if the ring has to be fenced off, that will be a shame, but it’s a lot better than it getting damaged – a LOT better.  As long as the fence wasn’t too obtrusive – as long as folk could still clearly see the stones – it might come to the time when fencing off the whole Ring is the only solution.

The gates in place at the two entrances are sometimes locked, sometimes not. So, presently, sometimes folk can walk the inner circle, sometimes not.  Eventually, gates might not be enough as if they are locked, people do tend to cut across the ditch, which eventually could damage the ditch, too.

Much work has been done on working out where the different sections of the stones of the Ring of Brodgar came from , which indicates that they were brought from various sites in Orkney, probably to enable the groups of people living in those areas to feel involved and included in the importance of the site and of the raising of the Ring.

Excavations have shown that the different sections of the ditch also appear to have been cut by different groups – some are better worked than others! So the ditch, as well as the Stones, can provide valuable insight into how society was organized in Neolithic Orkney, and therefore is worthy of respect, too.

And this got me remembering some years ago when an excavation was made of a section of the ditch around the Ring of Brodgar which helped to clarify something of how the ditch was actually dug out – excavating an excavation.

When the excavation was happening we went along to see and I took some photos. The actual structure of the ditch isn’t something that folk get a chance to see very often, so I thought I’d present our photos – just as being of interest to those who are interested in the Ring of Brodgar and its stages of development.

It’s possible that, as with other sites, we were fortunate enough to experience the ‘Glory Days’ of access to the Ring of Brodgar. There weren’t so many people going there years ago, and the site could deal with the footfall.  In recent years, it’s got out of hand. It’s good that folk are interested in Orkney and its pre-history, but……..I can see a fence having to appear – possibly outside the ditch – all enclosing and all encompassing.

A lot of people coming to visit won’t mind, as they will be used to places being fenced off – places of such significance usually are. 

It’s good to have experienced the Glory Days though.

Some might say that there’s a lot of archaeology in The Orkney News………that’s because there’s a lot of archaeology, in Orkney!

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2 replies »

  1. Hello to KW Greene

    I’m not on Facebook – so I’ll respond to your comment here.

    I hope you show this article – and these too… to your brother and brother-in-law. To say that I ‘get’ the desire to make contact with the stones is an understatement – but I also honour them and value them enough to want that space to be cared for and treated with respect.
    I’m not having a go at you, or at them, but – I’m thinking of the Judgement of Solomon – a choice between the welfare of something you care about, and having it for yourself.

    It is a dilemma – and one which I wouldn’t like the job of resolving – but it is getting to the point where some kind of decisive action will need to be taken. Facts is facts.

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