It was announced last week that a new charity to support the Ness of Brodgar excavations in Orkney has been launched in the US. The American Friends of the Ness of Brodgar group aims to promote the archaeological work being carried out at the site and help raise funds for the project.
The Ness of Brodgar is a thin strip of land, in the West Mainland of Orkney, separating the Harray and Stenness lochs and excavations on the site have revealed a large complex of ‘monumental’ Neolithic buildings, ‘artwork’, pottery, bones and stone tools. It is seen as one of the most important Neolithic excavations in the world.
'Vikings in the Prehistoric Landscape: Studies on Mainland Orkney' by Alison Leonard was published in a 2011 issue of Landscapes and analyses the results of research on the landscapes of Viking-Age and Late-Norse Orkney including the Ness of Brodgar, about which the author says: "Two clusters in particular presented contrasting examples within naturally coherent landscapes of Norse interaction with pre-Norse archaeology: the area around Birsay Bay and that surrounding the Ness of Brodgar".
Introduction: Orkney and Viking archaeology
Late eighth-century Orkney was a group of islands rich with physical testaments to millennia of previous inhabitants. Standing stones, stone circles and chambered cairns from Neolithic times sat prominently in landscapes littered with barrows, cairns and mounds from the Bronze Age and later periods. Broch settlements from the Middle Iron Age punctuated the region with crumbling stone fortresses which, after the fourth century, gave way to the symbol stones and ‘figure-of-eight’ dwellings of the Late Iron Age. The latter were still occupied at the turn of the ninth century when Scandinavians, predominantly Norse, came to settle the islands. These hopeful colonists therefore had to contend not only with a native population, but also with a diverse built environment that promoted the endurance of Orkney’s ancient past, to which the Norse had no ancestral claim. This paper explores the concessions made and strategies enacted which enabled the Norse settlers to develop their presence on Orkney such that their legacy remains to this day.
Orkney has been the setting for a great deal of innovative research on the Viking Age (e.g. research on diet; bone combs; steatite; and parish formation), but Norse settlement on the islands has on the whole enjoyed less attention from a landscape perspective, in comparison to other areas of the Viking world. This is changing however, and the number of general landscape studies of Orkney is also steadily growing. Increasingly, too, questions about Norse settlement and identity in Scotland are being addressed through environmental research and other analyses. Orkney is characterised by iconic sites, notably Buckquoy and other sites in Birsay Bay, which for many years have been at the forefront of the debate regarding native-Norse interaction. The data from wellknown sites such as Buckquoy inevitably forms a key component of the following discussions. An effort is made, however, to address such sites within their wider environment, and their interpretation is informed by additional sources including place-names and traditional folklore.
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