The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic stone circle or henge located 10 km north east of Stromness in Orkney, Scotland. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney comprises four sites :
- Maeshowe – a unique chambered cairn and passage grave, aligned so that its central chamber is illuminated on the winter solstice. It was looted by Vikings who left one of the largest collections of runic inscriptions in the world.
- Standing Stones of Stenness – the four remaining megaliths of a henge, the largest of which is 6 metres high.
- Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle 104 metres in diameter, originally composed of 60 stones set within a circular ditch up to 3 metres deep and 10 metres wide, forming a henge monument. It has been estimated that the structure took 80,000 man-hours to construct.
- Skara Brae – a cluster of eight houses making up Northern Europe’s best-preserved Neolithic village.
Most henges do not contain stone circles; Brodgar is a striking exception, ranking with Avebury (and to a lesser extent Stonehenge) among the greatest of such sites. The ring of stones stands on a small isthmus between the Lochs of Stenness and Harray. These are the northernmost examples of circle henges in Britain. Unlike similar structures such as Avebury, there are no obvious stones inside the circle, but since the interior of the circle has never been excavated by archaeologists, the possibility remains that wooden structures, for example, may have been present. The site has resisted attempts at scientific dating and the monument’s age remains uncertain. It is generally thought to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC, and was, therefore, the last of the great Neolithic monuments built on the Ness. A project called The Ring of Brodgar Excavation 2008 was undertaken in the summer of that year in an attempt to settle the age issue and help answer other questions about a site that remains relatively poorly understood. The results of the excavation are still preliminary.
The stone circle is 104 metres in diameter, and the third largest in the British Isles. The ring originally comprised up to 60 stones, of which only 27 remained standing at the end of the 20th century. The tallest stones stand at the south and west of the ring, including the so-called “Comet Stone” to the south-east. The stones are set within a circular ditch up to 3 metres deep, 9 metres wide and 380 metres in circumference that was carved out of the solid sandstone bedrock by the ancient residents.Technically, this ditch does not constitute a true henge as there is no sign of an encircling bank of earth and rock. Many archaeologists continue to refer to this structure as a henge; for example, Aubrey Burl classifies the ditch as a Class II henge; one that has two opposing entrances, in this case on the north-west and south-east.
Examination of the immediate environs reveals a concentration of ancient sites, making a significant ritual landscape. Within 5.2 km2 there are the two circle-henges, four chambered tombs, groups of standing stones, single stones, barrows, cairns, and mounds. The immediate area has also yielded a number of flint arrowheads and broken stone mace-heads that seem to date from the Bronze Age. Although its exact purpose is not known, the proximity of the Standing Stones of Stenness and its Maeshowe tomb make the Ring of Brodgar a site of major importance. The site is a scheduled ancient monument and has been recognized as part of the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” World Heritage Site in 1999.
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