09/08/2018
Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

'Exceptional' stone axe discoveries at Ness of Brodgar excavation, Orkney - video report

4441dd81-2d38-4dc5-bd4d-669dbe420afd

The 'exceptional' discovery of two stone axes at Ness of Brodgar have given archaeologists a glimpse into the lives of the people who constructed the stone complex at Orkney 5,000 years ago.

The dig, which is one of the largest and most important Neolithic excavations in Northern Europe, is continuing to reveal an increasingly large complex of monumental Neolithic structures together with ‘artwork’, over 30,000 pieces of pottery, large assemblages of bones and stone tools – including over 30 unique stone axes.

What is the Ness of Brodgar?

The Ness of Brodgar is an archaeological excavation covering an area of 2.5 hectares in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, in Scotland. It has revealed a well-preserved and sophisticated complex of monumental stone buildings, enclosed by walls up to six metres thick.

Built and occupied by people over 5,000 years ago, the Ness has produced decorated and painted stonework unlike any other site in the UK.

The stone axes discovery

Last week archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the Ness of Brodgar Trust unearthed two polished stone axes in quick succession.

The first axe was discovered in the closing moments of Thursday [2 August 2018] in the new trench on the shore of Loch of Stenness. The expertly-worked and polished object was the largest axe so far discovered on site and had been heavily used and damaged at the cutting edge. 

Nick Card, Site Director, said, “It is nice to find pristine examples of stone axes, but the damage on this one tells us a little bit more about the history of this particular axe. The fact that the cutting edge had been heavily damaged suggests that it was a working tool rather than a ceremonial object. We know that the buildings in the complex were roofed by stone slabs so this axe was perhaps used to cut and fashion the timber joists that held up the heavy roof.

Quality workmanship

“The second axe was discovered by one of our students, Therese McCormick, from Australia who’s volunteered at the Ness of Brodgar. This stone axe astonished the archaeologists on site through its sheer quality of workmanship. The Gneiss stone had been chosen so that the natural coloured banding was reflected in the shape of the item and then expertly worked and polished to create an object of beauty.

 “This axe again tells us a little more about the life of the Neolithic people who built this place. There is, in common with the large axe discovered earlier, a great deal of edge damage suggesting that this axe was used extensively as a working tool, but interestingly one of the edges has been re-worked to create a new edge and also both sides are covered in peck marks suggesting that it was also re-used perhaps as a mini anvil.

“This axe, in common with many of the axes found on site, was also placed in a special position within one of the structures opposite the entrance that was aligned east-west to catch the equinox sunrise and in line with Maeshowe. These polished stone axes unearthed at the Ness of Brodgar were clearly multifunctional tools that were not only ‘tools of the trade’ but were also perhaps symbols of power.”

(images copyright The Ness of Brodgar Trust/UHI)

Back to "Scottish archaeology" Category

09/08/2018 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Anne of Denmark - mother of King Charles I - was born - On this day in history

Anne of Denmark, mother of King Charles I, was born on 12 December 1574.


Ten things you might not know about the Jacobites in the 1745 Rising

From the presence of gunmen at the Battle of Culloden, to the colours of the tartan worn by participants in ...


A history of Stirling Castle

Neil Oliver explores the history of Stirling Castle, a favourite residence of the royal Stewarts. ...


Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh died - On this day in history

Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh died on 10 December 1928.


Other Articles

Malcolm IV King of Scots died - On this day in Scottish history

Malcolm IV, King of Scotland, died at Jedburgh on 9 December 1165.


Mary Queen of Scots was born - On this day in Scottish history

Mary Queen of Scots was born at Linlithgow Palace on 8 December 1542.


On this day in history - Saint Columba, founder of the monastery at Iona was born

Saint Columba, founder of the monastery at Iona, was born on 7 December 521AD.


New research reveals early Scottish migrant had brown eyes and black hair

The digital reconstruction of Ava, a skeleton buried more than 4,000 years ago in Achavanich in Caithness, ...