Under Cover in Neolithic Britain 31-31

Brodgar03After decades of searching, excavating, and studying Neolithic sites in northern Britain, scientists were dumbfounded to discover a priceless treasure hiding in plain sight. What was the purpose of this grand ceremonial complex? What beliefs went into its creation? Scientists want to know. And so does CryptoVille!

In the far Northern reaches of the Orkney islands, Britain’s vanguard against the tempestuous Arctic, scientists discovered a series of stone-aged (Neolithic) archaeological sites. But after decades of enduring the rough conditions and covering the length and breadth of that rugged landscape, scientists were surprised to find an overlooked ceremonial complex that had been hiding in plain sight for decades. (Artist’s concept of how it looked, top right.)

They found a temple complex larger than any other site previously uncovered. Scientists named this area the Ness of Brodgar and its complexity and sophistication stand in stark contrast to the bleak and inhospitable landscape around it.

Brodgar02Nick Card, who is associated with the Orkney Research Centre, discovered the Neolithic treasure. In an article for The Guardian, he said, “We have discovered a Neolithic temple complex that is without parallel in western Europe. Yet for decades we thought it was just a hill made of glacial moraine. In fact the place is entirely manmade, although it covers more than six acres of land.”

Originally there were two huge walls surrounding the area measuring 100 m (328 feet) long by 4 m (13 feet) high. Inside, scientists found the remains of approximately 12 temples, possibly more.  All around the complex the builders carefully and skillfully laid pathways leading not only to the temples, but to kitchens and outhouses as well. So far only 10% of the complex has been excavated.

Dig taking place at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney
Dig taking place at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney

Scattered everywhere are bones of cattle that were used in sacrificial rites, shards of sophisticated pottery, and painted ceramics. (Photo right by Colin Keldie, showing the excavation site.)

The University of Manchester’s Professor Colin Richards said, “This wasn’t a settlement or a place for the living. This was a ceremonial centre, and a vast one at that. But the religious beliefs of its builders remain a mystery.”

Scientists tell us that the culture of these Neolithic farmers, amounting to only a few thousand people at the time, surpassed any other civilization in their day. They go so far as to say that the quality of the work and art from this complex put it in the same category as Stone Henge and the Egyptian pyramids.  Interestingly, the Ness of Brodgar predates both Stone Henge and the wonders of Egypt.

BrodgarNickCardNick Card (photo left) adds, “We need to turn the map of Britain upside down when we consider the Neolithic and shrug off our south-centric attitudes. London may be the cultural hub of Britain today, but 5,000 years ago, Orkney was the centre for innovation for the British isles. Ideas spread from this place. The first grooved pottery, which is so distinctive of the era, was made here, for example, and the first henges – stone rings with ditches round them – were erected on Orkney. Then the ideas spread to the rest of Neolithic Britain. This was the font for new thinking at the time.”

Historian Tom Muir who is associated with the Orkney Museum said, “The whole text book of British archaeology for this period will have to be torn up and rewritten from scratch thanks to this place.”

Brodgar05Archaeologist and professor at York University, Mark Edmonds, said, “We have never seen anything like this before. The density of the archaeology, the scale of the buildings, and the skill that was used to construct them are simply phenomenal. There are very few dry-stone walls on Orkney today that could match the ones we have uncovered here. Yet they are more than 5,000 years old in places, still standing a couple of metres high. This was a place that was meant to impress – and it still does.”  (Part of the excavation site, above right.)

What Was it Used For

Archaeologists are pretty sure that the complex was a place for remembering and honoring the dead. The temples have hearths but they weren’t used for cooking. Rather stone-aged people are believed to have held rituals of purification for the dead and that fire was most likely involved. They aren’t sure if the bodies were completely cremated, or partially. They also don’t know what they did with the bones afterwards. But one thing is clear, the dead were revered and respected as evidenced by the elaborate structures they created to purify them. (Photo below left of “ritualistic finds.”)

Brodgar06RitualisticFindsWhen Was it Abandoned?

Scientists tell us that after approximately a thousand years of living there (2,300 BC), the people abandoned the area. They found animal bones in excess of 600 head of cattle that had been sacrificed at the same time. Radiocarbon dating of the bones showed that this occurred at the same time as the abandonment of the area.

The scientists think the Neolithic community must have had a huge ceremony during which they sacrificed all the cattle, to end their association with the Ness of Brodgar before they moved on.

The area then remained lifeless for 4,000 years.

Why did they leave? Scientists speculate that a new religion may have been adopted by the people, or perhaps a change in leadership prompted the drastic change.  Whatever it was, these people walked away from a thousand years of living in that area and into history.

Brodgar04Why It’s Important

I find this kind of story exciting for several reasons. Life had to be hard for these people. The scientists say few made it to 50 years of age, with most, if they managed to survive childhood, reaching only 30 or so years of age. And yet they still managed to find time to build such a sophisticated and artful complex. (Photo right of ongoing excavation at the site.)

I have to wonder what motivated them? What was so important? What did they believe in?

On another level, I have to marvel how this magnificent archaeological treasure managed to stay hidden for decades under the noses of professional archaeologists and other scientists. I can’t help but wonder, what else are we missing all over the world?!

Finally, there is a part of me that feels a little smug. Aliens had nothing to do with it! Science has plenty of evidence to prove that humans made and lived in/around these structures. This colony of humans was so innovative that their methods and technology were adopted by other Neolithic people further south, then across the waters and beyond.

Human beings are clever, resourceful, curious, inventive, wily, and courageous. To me, it’s clear we evolved on our own through experimentation, innovation, and learning.

If you’ve read any of my alien related articles, you’ll know I am afraid that we may have some aliens meddling in our world at this time, but I don’t believe for one minute that they’re here for our benefit.

In all things, it’s going to take our continued exploration, innovation, and savvy to keep growing and expanding our range (i.e., move into outer space).  I’m sure our forebears in the Neolithic past would be fascinated by and proud of us.

What do you think about this wonderful complex?


End of 31 in 31

So this is the end of my month-long challenge, to post 31 articles in 31 days to celebrate the New Year! I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found the topics as interesting as I have.

There is so much going on in our world that is fascinating and mysterious, much of which defies explanation! I hope to bring you more articles featuring these wonderful creatures, mysterious places, and strange phenomenon! So look for CryptoVille posts once or twice a week from here on.

As always, a heartfelt thank you for visiting CryptoVille!

… Susan (CryptoVille)








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