Orkney 5,000-year-old temple complex

Incredible sophistication of 5,000-year-old temple complex on Orkney Island


In 2014, a groundbreaking excavation of a prehistoric temple complex on the Scottish island of Orkney revealed that the Neolithic inhabitants of the island were far more advanced than initially realised. As well as a large collection of ancient artifacts that reflect a complex and culturally-rich society, archaeologists also discovered that the three major monumental structures on the island – the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stennes, and the Maes Howe tomb – were “inextricably linked in some grand theme”.

The archaeological site, known as the Ness of Brodgar, covers an area of over 6 acres and consists of the remains of housing, remnants of slate roofs, paved walkways, coloured facades, decorated stone slabs, a massive stone wall with foundations, and a large building described as a Neolithic ‘cathedra’ or ‘palace’, inhabited from at least 3,500 BC to the close of the Neolithic period more than a millennium and a half later.

“Their workmanship was impeccable. The imposing walls they built would have done credit to the Roman centurions who, some 30 centuries later, would erect Hadrian’s Wall in another part of Britain. Cloistered within those walls were dozens of buildings, among them one of the largest roofed structures built in prehistoric northern Europe. It was more than 80ft long and 60ft wide, with walls 13ft thick,” said Roff Smith, author of an article on the Ness of Brodgar to be released in the August edition of National Geographic.



The archaeological site at the Ness of Brodgar

The archaeological site at the Ness of Brodgar. Credit: Hugo Anderson-Whymark. Source.

A reconstruction of archaeological site Orkney

A reconstruction of what the site once looked like. Credit: Will MacNeil

The archaeological excavation, which has so far only unearthed around 10 per cent of the original site, has yielded thousands of incredible artifacts including ceremonial mace heads, polished stone axes, flint knives, a human figurine, miniature thumb pots, beautifully crafted stone spatulas, highly-refined coloured pottery, and more than 650 pieces of Neolithic art, by far the largest collection ever found in Britain.  

Engraved stone from the Ness of Brodgar.

An engraved stone from the Ness of Brodgar. Photo source:

The monumental sites of the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness, and the Maes Howe tomb, all located within several miles of the Ness, used to be seen as isolated monuments with separate histories, but as excavations at the Ness have progressed, archaeologists have come to believe that the megalithic sites in the surrounding region were all connected in some way with the Ness of Brodgar, although its purpose remains unknown. 

“What the Ness is telling us is that this was a much more integrated landscape than anyone ever suspected,” said archaeologist Nick Card, excavation director with the Archaeology Institute at the University of the Highlands and Islands. “All these monuments are inextricably linked in some grand theme we can only guess at. The people who built all this were a far more complex and capable society than has usually been portrayed.”

The Ring of Brodgar

The Ring of Brodgar. Source: Wikimedia

“Stand at the Ness today and several iconic Stone Age structures are within easy view, forming the core of a World Heritage site called the Heart of Neolithic Orkney,” said Smith.  “The Ness of Brodgar appears to be the anchor piece – the showpiece, if you will – that links these other great monuments into one great monumental landscape of a sort nobody had dreamed existed. And to have had it ­lying underfoot, unsuspected, for so many centuries only adds to the sense of wonder surrounding its discovery.

Featured image: The Ness of Brodgar survey results. The dark shaped area in the centres shows the area that has been excavated. Photo source .

By April Holloway


The Ness of Brodgar reconstructed VIEW [ by Will MacNeil ] of the site is an interesting image of what might have been, but the ancient telephone pole in the lower left corner brings the viewer to a new level of wonderment and takes away the critical viewers acceptance of the imaging constructed....It is said "God is in the [ small] details"! I hope that National Geographic, if they use this image, will note this detail and edit it! Interesting imagery nonetheless.
All best..... Byron Johnstad / Designer

Justbod's picture

Such an amazing site, with so much more to discover - I have been keenly consuming all the news ever since I first heard of it. It really does feel that so many things are coming to light recently which are forcing new perspectives on our distant past. Exciting times!

Sculptures, carvings & artwork inspired by a love of history & nature:




which island? it's an archipelago!

I have just released a book titled "La Merica". That should appeal to all who visit this page. The book gives the complete history of the Celts, including the application of an ancient science that proves where Henry Sinclair lived when he came to North America, Geoglyphs on the Orkney Islands and the pre-Columbian colonization of the Americas.


Arthur Faram
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OAC and other archaeological instututes are doing underwater research as and when resources allow - all comes down to money in the end, I'm afraid!


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