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5 July 2008
Digging up the past at the Ring of Brodgar

Work will start next week to unearth the secrets of one of Europe's most important prehistoric sites. The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney (Scotland), the third-largest stone circle in the British Isles and thought to date back to 3000-2000 BCE, is regarded by archaeologists as an outstanding example of Neolithic settlement and has become a popular tourist attraction in the islands.
     It is believed it was part of a massive ritual complex but little is known about the monument, including its exact age or purpose. It is hoped part of the mystery will be explained during a month-long programme of investigations by a 15-strong team of archaeologists and scientists from Orkney College, Stirling and Manchester universities and the Scottish Universities Environment Reactor Centre. The project will involve the re-excavation and extension of trenches dug in 1973. Geophysical surveys will be undertaken to investigate the location of standing stones and other features within the henge monument.
     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. The last important archaeological studies undertaken on it were in the early 1970s by Professor Lord Colin Renfrew.
     Dr Jane Downes, of Orkney College's archaeology department, one of the project directors, 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. The advanced 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 Colin Richards of Manchester University, the other project director who will lead the programme of fieldwork and subsequent analysis of its findings 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."

Source: The Courier, The Scotsman (2 July 2008)

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