Archaeology & History Frontiers 2023

The Ness in the Museum

Written by Bernie Bell
The Ness of Brodgar is the theme of the summer exhibition in the Orkney Museum at Tankerness House. Bernie Bell has been there to see it. 

There were some old favourites which I had seen before including what, in my opinion, is the main find of the site – the Extra-Ordinary-A-Symmetrical-Six-Knobber carved stone ball: I call it the EOASSK. The EOASSK provides a very good example of how the Neolithic carved objects can express the physical world, by use of mathematics, in the form of carved objects which embody the mathematics, and also, possibly, concepts which we are yet to ‘see’ and fully explore.  

While I’m on the subject of maths – ancient geometry? ‘Butterfly’? My money’s on geometry.

And what I call the Sky Stone, because it reminds me of a summer sky.

The nice piece of Banded Gneiss – OK, I couldn’t resist that – in among other mace-heads.

The ‘Brodgar Eye’….

I have a booklet called ‘Concise Guide to Newgrange’ by Claire O’Kelly, in which there is a picture of a carving which is on the underside of Kerbstone 18 ….

… which I think looks a lot like the Brodgar Eye – both of which I think could be representations of Maeshowe from above. Maeshowe and New Grange balance each other. The sun sets in midwinter in Maeshowe, and rises in Newgrange. 

As a friend said when we were discussing this:

For me it was always the decisive difference in the full sense of the word between the sunset-orientation and the then beginning sunrise-orientation – which means for me that re-creation is always bound to death first. The sun must go down to get up again, life must come to an end, only then re-creation will be possible.”

Why is the Newgrange carving on the under-surface of the kerbstone? Zen and the Art of Neolithic Carving. 

The Brodgar Boy – I haven’t seen him for a while.

I previously mentioned the carved triangles which were found last year …

 … and here they were – but – by chance – what’s decoration and what’s reflection?

There were some objects which I had seen pictures of, but had never seen in actuality, such as the ‘Saltire’ stone …

… and the big ‘cup mark’ block.


Miniature pots – possibly for holding pigments.

And … haematite nodules – haematite was used to decorate walls and pottery.

I keep asking where’s the evidence of the Bronze Age at The Ness? Here it is – an early Bronze Age barbed and tanged arrowhead.

There’s more – much more for such a small space, but I decided not to photograph everything!

The Ness of Brodgar: Time and Place exhibition continues at the Orkney Museum, Kirkwall on an extended run until Saturday, 23 December. The opening hours are Monday-Saturday, 10.30 am – 5.00 pm. Admission is free.

About the author

Bernie Bell

Bernie Bell lives in Orkney, is interested in everything – wonders about many things – is confused by many things. “It makes life interesting – or should I say even more interesting.”