Skip to comments.Was Orkney The Ceremonial Capital Of Ancient Britain?
Posted on 11/03/2003 3:24:04 PM PST by blam
Was Orkney the ceremonial capital of ancient Britain?
STEPHEN STEWART November 03 2003
ORKNEY may have been the largest prehistoric settlement or ceremonial site in Britain, new research reveals today.
Archaeologists using the latest techniques to map under the soil discovered the world heritage site covering the Ness of Brodgar in Stenness, was a massive centre of activity in Stone Age times. Orkney's landscape has largely managed to avoid the rigours of industrialised farming and may yet yield its secrets about the recently-surveyed site, which in terms of scale, puts the likes of Stonehenge, Avebury and Skara Brae in the shade. Orkney Archaeological Trust (OAT) used magnetometry, a geophysical technique which measures magnetism in the soil, to trace the patterns of activity left by prehistoric Orcadians.
Ancient occurrences, particularly burning, leave magnetic traces that show up when analysed with hi-tech equipment. Buried features such as ditches or pits, when filled with burned or partially burned materials, can be detected, giving a picture of sub-surface archaeology. Nick Card, projects manager of OAT, said that if all the evidence was related, then Orkney would qualify as the largest neolithic settlement or ceremonial site in Britain.
He said: "The trust has been involved in a large programme of geophysical surveys hoping to discover new sites and put them in a new context. "A lot still survives beneath the plough soil. This shows again that Orcadian archaeology is some of the best in Europe. You can hardly put a spade in the ground without hitting more material.
"Orkney has some of the densest archaeology in Europe. There was a particularly high level of activity in one particular area and we are not sure what this signifies. "A chance find showed that this was part of large neolithic settlement. We are potentially looking at a very important site." Scans indicate that the whole Brodgar peninsula is covered in anomalies indicating major activity but the exact details remain a mystery. An area around the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Brig o' Brodgar and the house of Lochview right up to Brodgar Farm, was the scene of a flurry of activity.
Curiously, in a landscape covered with anomalies, there is a starkly defined cut-off point where activity stops. The reason for this is still unclear although there appears to have been an invisible boundary which inhabitants were reluctant to cross.
Theories on this range from a symbolic shift in the perception of the landscape to more mundane reasons such as a field or territorial boundary. The attempt to provide answers will have to await verification of the geophysics by excavation. Mr Card said there was still a lot to be discovered and hoped that the excavation of some of the geophysical anomalies would provide answers about how the sites functioned with each other.
Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology and an expert on Stonehenge said: "It is exciting that there is so much there (in Orkney) and it is preserved so much better than elsewhere. Skara Brae, for example, has whole rooms and the building intact. Orkney gives a better insight (into ancient life) than really anywhere else in Britain."
A stone dwelling halfway between the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar discovered this year will be reanalysed using various resistivity scans. The structure was found to be remarkably similar to the neolithic structure at Barnhouse, which has been interpreted as the home of a chief or person of authority.
Archaeologists hope the study of the structure and the area around it will be one of the only places in the UK to give a valuable insight into the relationship between ritual and domestic life in the Neolithic period. Approximately 45 hectares around the site have been scanned and the area between Brodgar Farm and the Ring of Brodgar has been earmarked for investigation next year.
Don't stir up old Orcs.
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