One of Western Europe’s most impressive prehistoric sites and the third largest stone circle in the British Isles—Orkney’s Ring of Brodgar—is the subject of a major archaeological project to start next week.
A month-long programme will be undertaken by a 15-strong team of archaeologists and scientists from Orkney College, the University of The Highlands and Islands, Manchester University, Stirling University and The Scottish Universities Environment Reactor Centre.
Their aim will be to gather information which will enable a much better understanding of the nature of this iconic site.
A Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Property in the Care of the Scottish Government through Historic Scotland, the stone circle is part of ‘The Heart of Neolithic Orkney’ World Heritage Site, inscribed by UNESCO in 1999.
Very little is actually known about this amazing ancient site, including its exact age and purpose.
The last important archaeological studies undertaken on it were in the early 1970s by Professor Lord Colin Renfrew.
Since then, significant developments have taken place in analytical techniques such as dating.
It is therefore hoped the new investigations to retrieve datable material and examine archaeological and palaeo-environmental material, will reveal facts about the Ring of Brodgar and help its mysteries to be unravelled.
The project will involve the re-excavation and extension of trenches dug in 1973.
Geophysical surveys will also be undertaken to investigate the location of standing stones and other features within the circle. Dr Jane Downes of the archaeology department, Orkney College, UHI, and Dr Colin Richards of Manchester University are the project directors who will lead the programme of fieldwork and subsequent analysis of its findings.
Dr Downes said, “Because so little is known about the Ring of Brodgar, a series of assumptions have taken the place of archaeological data.
“The interpretation of what is arguably the most spectacular stone circle in Scotland is therefore incomplete and unclear.”
He added, “The advanced new techniques now at our disposal mean that this time our investigations should establish when the Ring of Brodgar was built and help us learn a great deal more about it.”
Dr Richards said, “At present, even the number of stones in the original circle is uncertain.
“The position of at least 40 can be identified, but there are spaces for 20 more.
“Our investigations will therefore also focus on the architecture of this fascinating ancient site.”