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  The Ring of Brodgar, Stenness

The significance of the landscape

Picture Sigurd TowrieAlthough there are several visible sites, a comprehensive geophysics scanning project on the entire Ness of Brodgar revealed that the entire peninsula is covered in anomalies.

These indicate that the area was once the site of considerable human activity.

But these scans have also shown that the area immediately surrounding the Ring of Brodgar seems to have been regarded "differently" by those who lived on the Ness.

The scans revealed considerable activity from the Standing Stones of Stenness right up to current Brodgar Farm. At this point, however, from a landscape rife with anomalies, there comes an almost clinically-defined line where activity ceases. A distinct cut off-point that perhaps marks an invisible boundary the area's inhabitants did not want to cross.

Does this mark the start of a symbolic shift in the perception of the landscape?

Or is there a more mundane reason? A field or territorial boundary perhaps?

The same pattern is repeated to the north of the ring, with a cut-off point that seems to demarcate the ritual area around the stone circle. Here, the boundary seems to be marked by an earthen bank that runs across the Ness.

The Dyke o' Sean

Picture Sigurd TowrieThe Dyke o' Sean (pronounced "see-ahn") is a huge earthwork that crosses the Ness of Brodgar from east to west.

Up to seven metres wide in parts, and up to a metre high, the man-made earthwork snakes across the landscape from the Stenness loch to the Harray loch.

These days, the Dyke o' Sean marks the boundary between the parishes of Stenness and Sandwick but its age has never been determined. But in light of the new geophysics data, it seems possible that the Dyke o' Sean is contemporary with the Brodgar ring, perhaps marking an outer boundary on the northern edge of the Brodgar henge complex.

A tantalising reference to a "dilapidated dyke" to the south of the ring, on a mid-19th century map of the Ness, could indicate a similar earthwork.

So within these boundaries, the land around the Ring of Brodgar seems to have been maintained as a definite "non domestic" area - a space set apart from "everyday" life and perhaps connected with the ritual or religious practices centred on the stone circle.

Or was the area around the ring perceived as being distinctly different and as such avoided?

What was the ring used for?