2017/18 Lecture Programme






















Ness of Brodgar Trust
























































SSEA Annual Symposium, November 2-5, 2017














We have begun a new series of articles on the archaeology of Orkney, a group of islands lying just off the northern coast of Scotland. Its insularity together with the number of prehistoric monuments, the wide range of monument type and the general use of stone in their construction make them an ideal laboratory for study. Interest in Orkney has surged dramatically since the discovery of the large Neolithic village at the Ness of Brodgar, one of the most important sites found anywhere in the world in recent years. Ongoing excavations there are rapidly changing our perceptions about how prehistoric societies functioned and has had an impact on the entire prehistory of Europe.


Ness of Brodgar, Orkney: 2017

The Ness of Brodgar is the actual heart of the UNESCO world heritage site know as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, because of the number and exceptional quality of archaeological sites crowded into this tiny area.

Activity has been going on apace in all of the principal areas of excavation, but it is fair to say that the one that has resulted in the most head-scratching this year is Trench T. Located about 75 metres southeast of the main excavations in Trench P, it cut across a mound of Neolithic midden ca. 70m in diameter and over 4m thick, the organic waste product of domestic occupation. The same material was found to overlay the buildings uncovered in the main excavations in Trench P, so there was every reason to expect architecture here as well.

Aerial of Trench T at the Ness of Brodgar (based on an original photograph by Hugo Anderson Whymark)

Trench T

In 2013 it was decided to dig a trench from the top of the mound southwards towards Loch Stenness. At the top of the trench, dug into the midden, was a stone-lined ditch of Iron Age date— similar to the sort of thing found at many of the nearby brochs belonging to the same period. In the southern part of the trench the archaeologists encountered a large number of pits— at least 50 have been cleared to date. Some of them were stone-lined and all of them had been refilled with the same midden material. Their purpose remains a bit of a mystery to say the least.

Structure 27

During the course of the 2015 and 2016 campaigns, they began to encounter more and more architectural elements— stretches of masonry and a stone-lined drain. Things turned very dramatic, however, at the end of the 2016 season when it became apparent that these were part of a rather large, rectilinear building. That part of it that has been unearthed so far indicate a structure at least 10 metres across, enclosed by thick stone walls made up of a rubble core with a carefully draughted outer face and an interior face held in place by a cladding of thin, upright sandstone slabs and a line of recumbent orthostats set on edge (left)— perhaps re-used standing stones or recycled from a stone circle. The walls were partitioned by thin upright slabs in much the same manner as the interior walls of the so-called ‘stalled’ cairns of the Orkney-Cromarty type of tomb and of Early Neolithic houses elsewhere in Orkney, such as Knap of Howar on Papa Westray.

In August of this year, yet another large, recumbent orthostat was uncovered at the northern end of the building, running parallel to the line of the interior walls and roughly midway between them. The site's director, Nick Card, has suggested that it might mark one side of an entrance passage.

The building must have been very important, as it’s construction suggests. The drains and the suggestions of pavement surrounding it would seem to confirm this impression— there must have been a fair amount of traffic around it. Elements of its construction, especially the partition slabs, suggest an early date, but, in the absence of a stratigraphic link with the rest of the site and with no pottery in a primary context nor any radiocarbon dates, it cannot yet be determined how this building fits into the overall sequence at the Ness but the fact that it was built on natural boulder clay would seem to indicate that it was early.

Trench J

Trench J was first opened in 2009 to gather evidence relating to the construction of the large enclosure wall that bounded the site on the Loch Harray side. In the course of excavation, part of what seemed to be an oval building was uncovered. Because of its shape and the fact that it too was built on boulder clay, it was probably among the first structures built at the Ness. Closed and covered up in 2009, it was re-opened this year (2017).

The wall, known as ‘The Great Wall of Brodgar’ is an enormous structure some 4m thick


Unless otherwise indicated, all photos are the property of the Orkney Research Council for Archaeology, University of the Highlands and Islands.




Gayle Gibson is leading a trip to Egypt early next year that will concentrate on the less visited monuments of southern Upper Egypt and northern Nubia. So, if you want to escape winter and join Gayle and her colleague, Ramy Darwish, on a one of a kind trip, designed with people looking for something different in mind.

Beyond Aswan

January 29-February 10 2018

Most trips to Egypt don't spend nearly enough time down south but this one is designed for folks who have been to the usual sites.  We will start in Cairo to recover from the flight and spend a day at Giza checking out what is newly opened in the old cemetery. We will make a point of visiting the new Museum of Egyptian Civilization as well as the Egyptian Museum.

But then we will head south, and spend most of our time in less-known places.  We plan to take lots of time to explore modern Luxor and Aswan, and to relax and watch life on the river Nile from a felucca.  Driving south from Luxor to Aswan, with stops at Armant, Moalla as well as El Kab with its painted tombs and desert temples.  

From our base in the Basma Hotel in Aswan, we will cross the Nile to climb up Qubbet el Hawa to visit the tombs of Harkuf, Heka-ib, and the other Old Kingdom Governors. During our stay, we will also explore the remains of over three thousand years of city life on Elephantine and visit the newly renovated site museum there. Philae and New Kalabsha are also on the menu along with a visit to the fine Nubian Museum. There will be plenty of opportunity to explore the town and the old market and time to relax in the evening sitting on the patio, looking at the sunsets Included is a cruise south on Lake Nasser to see Amada, Wadi es Sebua, and other sites saved from the rising waters behind the Aswan High Dam on our way to Abu Simbel.  


The trip finishes in Aswan, but if you have the time, there is an extension for five nights in Luxor.  On our way there, we'll spend all the time we want exploring the well-preserved temples of Kom Ombo, Edfu and Esna before settling into the Steigenberger Nile Palace in Luxor for a few days of visits to the lesser-known tombs and temples.

For more information, click this link: Your Journey

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