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29 October 2011
Ness of Brodgar site was in use for a millennium

The site of the prehistoric complex on the Ness of Brodgar (Orkney, Scotland) was in use for around 1,000 years. New radiocarbon dates from two areas of the ongoing excavations show the Stenness site was occupied from at least 3200 BCE to 2300 BCE. The earliest date came from deposits under the southern boundary (the 'Lesser Wall') that was one of two prehistoric walls that enclosed the site. The second came from a huge deposit of cattle bone filling the upper levels of the paved 'passage' surrounding Structure Ten - the massive 'cathedral' building.
     Both dates came as something of a surprise to site director Nick Card, from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA). "The material under the lesser wall dates from circa 3200-3100 BCE. As such, this is probably the earliest material we have so far encountered. The bone spread around Structure Ten yielded a date of around 2300 BCe. This was much later than expected, so the two dates give us a much longer sequence than anticipated - almost a millennium of activity!"
     As there are still layers of archaeology beneath the wall, the excavators have not yet reached the earliest layers of the site. Mr Card said: "These preliminary dates give us a period of 800 years, but we can fairly safely extend that at either end of the timescale because we know the dating samples did not come from the earliest or latest phases of the site. So, I'd say we're easily looking at a millennium of activity on the Ness - from the construction of the Standing Stones of Stenness, around 3000 BCE, through to the Ring of Brodgar and into the Bronze Age."
     Mr Card added; "On the Ness of Brodgar there's not a hint of any classic Bronze Age Beaker pottery - even in the upper, most recent levels, it was all Neolithic Grooved Ware. There's something very odd going on here." It has been suggested in the past that the existing power base in the late Neolithic prevented the adoption of new ideas, such as beakers and metalworking, in order to maintain their authority.
     The late date of the cattle bones outside Structure Ten is particularly interesting as it has parallels with Bronze Age funerary practice on mainland Britain. The Ness of Brodgar bone assemblage was made up of cattle bones, particularly tibia - all deposited at the same time perhaps indicating a major feasting event associated with 'decommissioning' of Structure Ten.

Edited from Orkneyjar (27 October 2011)

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