Top rated National Geographic Orkney story boosts international interest in Ness dig

A National Geographic article on Orkney’s Neolithic sites, which focused on efforts to unearth a major prehistoric temple complex in the islands, has been voted as the most popular of 2014.

The Before Stonehenge cover feature from the magazine’s August issue came out top in a National Geographic readership survey.

Archaeologists in the islands say the article – by writer Roff Smith and photographer Jim Richardson – has boosted international interest in work at the 5,000-year-old Ness of Brodgar site, which lies close to the iconic Ring of Brodgar stone circle and Maeshowe chambered tomb.

Excavations at the Ness site began in 2004, with archaeologists going on to reveal a huge number of prehistoric buildings, along with countless important artefacts and stone-age artwork.

The discoveries have been hailed as unparalleled in British pre-history, with the Ness attracting global media attention, along with thousands of visitors each year.

Nick Card, director of excavations at the Ness, said the National Geographic article had greatly increased interest in the project.

“When you look at what the readership of National Geographic is, with millions of subscribers around the world, it’s a huge audience it’s being taken out to,” he said. “It was a great accolade to make the front cover, but to find out it’s the most popular story of 2014 is the icing on the cake. It’s not just the Ness that’s benefitting either, with tourism businesses in Orkney reporting substantial increases in enquiries and bookings off the back of the article.”

Card, from the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Archaeology Institute, said the National Geographic story, along with other international media interest, was helping boost donations for work at the site.

“Most of our funding comes through donations,” he said. “We get a small amount from the local authority excavation fund and we get other types of in-kind support, but we do rely more and more on donations. We’ve been lucky enough to secure a couple of substantial ones in the last year, but the Ness is one of those excavations which you can throw as much money as you like at, but it’s not quite enough.

“Although the excavation is manned mainly by volunteers and students, there’s still a core team of professionals who have to get paid,” he added. “It’s not just the eight weeks that we do on site that costs money, it’s also the post excavation work, which continues throughout the year. It’s a significant sum of money that’s required each year, but the returns on it for Orkney are very substantial when you think about the PR we’ve had.”

Annual excavations at the Ness of Brodgar – which lies within the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site – begin again in early July.

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