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2 September 2006
Enigmatic structure unearthed at Brodgar

As another season's work draws to a close, the Stenness side of the Ness of Brodgar (Orkney, Scotland) continues to throw up archaeological surprises including two pieces of iconic Neolithic art. Investigating a field between Lochview and Brodgar Farm, a trench has revealed the remains of what may be a chambered tomb. And if it is, it could be the 'missing link' between the two styles of Stone Age cairn found in Orkney. Early Neolithic tombs are characterised by stalled cairns structures divided into cells, or stalls, by large upright stones. Towards the end of the period, these were superseded by circular structures with side chambers. The Brodgar building appears to show characteristics of both. It was a large oval structure but was subdivided into radial chambers similar to those found inside the Crantit cairn in 1998.
     But the surprises didn't stop there. Outside, the structure appears to have been surrounded by a large stone wall, perhaps reflecting the Barnhouse settlement's Structure Eight - a massive hall-like structure, seven metres square and surrounded by an enclosing circular wall.
     Overseeing the excavation was Nick Card, Orkney Archaeological Trust's project manager. "This year we expanded the trench expecting to find the interior of a structure, but instead, we found another concentric wall," he said. "This wall was part of an oval structure, seven to eight metres in length, and four to five metres across, with a entrance facing the south east. Inside, the structure was divided by stone uprights to form radial compartments."
     The purpose of the structure is unclear, as it appears to show elements of both ritual and domestic architecture. Nick added: "Although it could be a house, looking at its scale it is more likely that we have something else. If it's a chambered tomb it doesn't look like anything we've got anywhere else." The external wall may have been added at a later date, with the space between it and the structure filled in to create a wide stone platform. This, suggests Nick, could have been a cosmetic addition to further "monumentalise" the structure. Perhaps in its earliest phase the structure was a house, that later took on some other significance - a memorial for the community's ancestors for example.
     The geophysics scans suggest the wall could extend right out across the Ness, towards the Stenness loch. The excavators are still working down through the rubble that covered the earliest phase of the structure, but its outline was clearly apparent. The date of the structure, and how it fitted into the Neolithic settlement on the Ness, remains unclear at present. However, the building does appear to have been altered over time, with considerable secondary activity surrounding it.
     Probably dating from the early Bronze Age, by which time the structure was probably ruinous, this includes a number of exterior stone features. One of these later additions was a triangular stone cist, cut into the rubble covering the earlier structure. This cist produced two small pieces of stone incised with the same repeated lozenge/chevron design as appears on a large stone found in the same field back in 1925.
     Other finds from this year's dig included a cache of flints and a number of polished stone axes.

Source: Orkneyjar (29 August 2006)

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