The Brodgar Stone

The original Brodgar Stone. Photo from Nessofbrodgar blog, courtesy of Orkney Library Photographic Archive.
The Brodgar Stone in Christopher Gee's interpretation in colour.
The Brodgar Stone in Christopher Gee's interpretation in colour.

Over the past few weeks I have been creating my own version of the Brodgar Stone as a present for friends. The original Brodgar Stone was found in 1925 at the Ness of Brodgar after the field there was ploughed. The stone was, up until recently, thought to have formed part of a stone cist, a box containing a prehistoric burial or cremation. It seems likely now that the “cists” were part of the architecture of structure 8. The hole from 1925 was located there during the recent excavations.

Although I set out to reproduce the incised patterns fairly closely on the original stone I ended up doing it my way. I don’t really do replicas. I like to understand and be inspired by the formation of designs and shapes using the same Neolithic technology (stone). I have reproduced the order of patterns in bands fairly closely but have changed the position and order of some lines in the way the designs are formed. Some Brodgar butterflies and rays of sunshine (nested triangles) have been added to the left of the design. The strata in the sandstone give the appearance of a land and skyscape. On the right end of the design there is “ephemeral” pecking which was a bit like stars or primordial chaos.

Like many of the original Neolithic decorated stones I have also tried to recreate a stratigraphy and texture of markings. Marks cut into earlier marks, sometimes under the paint while others cut over it.

The lines, like the original, are engraved with a sharp bit of flint. The small cup marks and pecking is produced with a sharp bit of Quoyelsh felsite. Quoyelsh felsite only occurs naturally from the point of Navershaw where it outcrops and northwest of there where the ice has deposited it. Otherwise it is found extensively over Orkney on Neolithic sites where it has been brought and used as a hammer stone. It is the best hammer stone material available on Orkney and is what I use to shape carved stone balls and other objects.

Pecking out the bosses on a carved stone ball.

Pecking out the bosses on a carved stone ball.

The greatest change I have made is with the addition of colour. The reds and orange are produced by rubbing hematite, the white is calcined (burnt) cattle bone and the black is charcoal. All the pigments are produced very simply by rubbing the material onto a slightly dished rough stone with some water and egg yolk as a binder.

Natural pigments Stone Age palette.

Natural pigments Stone Age palette.

It was interesting to read the other day on the Ness blog that a stone had been found several years ago that seemed to have colour variations contained within the incised lines on a decorated stone. I always imagined the stones and many other things in the Orcadian Neolithic world brightly painted.

The pottery from the Ness and Muckquoy Neolithic settlement in Firth, and some walls at the Ness have evidence of colouring. Ground hematite for reddish pigments is common at the Ness and other Orcadian Neolithic sites.

I have simply painted the patterns. The most radical use of colour on this stone has been to emphasise the small group of four cup marks that overlie the earlier incised design and to emphasise their intentional placement. In the past these pecked marks were dismissed as damage and weren’t included in reproductions of the stone’s design. In the recent excavations at the Ness several similar examples of small groupings of cup marks have been recorded as very deliberate markings on some of the buildings.

The dots at the right end also highlight and draw attention to sometimes apparently ephemeral pecking on stones.

Brodgar Stone by Chris Gee.

I also had to include a pecked horned spiral on the top of the stone. In 2013 we found two horned spirals like this pecked on the wall of Smerquoy early Neolithic house. There are several from other Neolithic sites in Orkney including the Ness of Brodgar, some of which may have been taken from earlier buildings and reused. There are also horned spirals from Green, Eday, Ersdale in Evie and Buckan in Sandwick, and I think there may be one on the face of the Westray Wife. I sometimes wonder if the horned spiral is possibly a representation of the main features of the face?


The “horned spiral” from Smerquoy, Orkney.

“Horned spiral” motif found at the Ness of Brodgar in 2018.

I hope this stone added a bit of colour to the Neolithic for you.

Regards, Christopher

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