2024 dig season at Ness of Brodgar will be the last

06 March 2023
• Trench P at the Ness of Brodgar excavation site showing the huge Neolithic structures raised between 3100BC and 2900BC. (Hugo Anderson-Whymark)
Digging at the Ness of Brodgar site in Orkney will finish in 2024, with the site to be closed in and left for future archaeologists.

The final season of excavation at the Ness of Brodgar will take place in 2024, after which the remains of the 5,000-year-old Neolithic complex will be covered over and backfilled.

Discovered in 2003, the Orkney archaeological site went on to attract thousands of visitors each summer digging season.

The excavation has uncovered a complex of monumental Neolithic buildings, dating from around 3300BC to 2900BC, and flanked by a pair of massive stone walls. The size, quality, and architecture of the structures, together with evidence for tiled roofs, coloured walls, decorated stone and stunning artefacts has seen the Ness hit the headlines regularly over the past two decades.

A move to the post-excavation phase

But although on-site excavation is ending, research at the Ness of Brodgar continues.

The project is managed by the Ness of Brodgar Trust in partnership with the UHI Archaeology Institute. Nick Card, excavation director and trust chairman, explained: “Although fieldwork could continue for decades, we feel we have reached the logical place to pause as work on the major structures uncovered so far will be completed.

“We’re now moving into an exciting new phase of intensive work focusing on the scientific analysis of all the excavated material. The results, along with those from the environmental samples, will help unpick the story of the people who built, used, and ultimately abandoned the Ness in the centuries around 2500BC.

“Digging may be the most visible aspect of archaeology, and perhaps seen as the most exciting, but post-excavation is just as important. Often the complete picture does not come together until all the data is considered and woven together to refine what we already know about the site. This will lead to full publication, probably necessitating several volumes, with much more available online.”

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“Our website will continue to be the source of updates and news. In addition, the new project phase includes major plans for online content covering even more about the Ness and what we discover during post-excavation.”

Although its fieldwork phase is ending the project will still be reliant on public donation.

“Post-excavation, like digging, needs funding and a team to carry out the work,” said Mr Card. “Any donations will continue to help ensure that we can learn all we can from the excavated material and get that knowledge published and shared. 

“Public donation has largely brought us this far and while we are always looking to secure other funding, we hope the help of individuals across the world will continue make Ness archaeology happen.

“So, although 2023 and 2024 will be final opportunity to see the excavations at the Ness of Brodgar, it will not be the last chance to support this extraordinary project as we continue to look closely at evidence from the last 20 years and bring together a detailed narrative for this outstanding Neolithic site.”

When excavation ends in 2024, the site will be covered and returned to being a green field – left for future generations of archaeologists to continue the work.

Visiting Ness of Brodgar in 2023

The Ness of Brodgar excavations will be open to the public from July 5 to August 16, 2023, and next year from July 3, 2024, until the end of August 2024, funding permitting.