Mysterious Stone Ball from the Ness of Brodgar Excavation Site

In 2013, a team of archaeologists found an important and enigmatic discovery of 5,000-year-old Neolithic complex, which had monumental walls and had been painted in coloured pigments in Orkney. Excavations at this non-funerary 2.5ha (6 acre) site on the Ness of Brodgar, between the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness, continue to yield discoveries. Some 450 examples of Neolithic decorative art have been found at the site so far, and that tally has now been augmented by what is probably the best example of Neolithic art uncovered in Britain.

Molly Bond, an archaeology student from Williamette University, Oregon, found a carved stone ball during her stint on the site. The stone ball was found in Structure Ten — the Neolithic “cathedral”. At the time of writing, the object has not been cleaned (a delicate process), but it may be made from basalt. It fits comfortably in the hand and has six projections, "four in a circle and two on top" as Ms Bond describes it. She said, "the ball is heavy and initial impressions suggest that it may be basalt — a very hard and uniform stone — which works well, with a great deal of time and patience."

The Stone Ball discovered by Molly Bond from the Ness of Brodgar Excavation Site

The artifact was sent to a specialist cleaning and conservation lab in Edinburgh — and, given previous finds on the site, it was hoped the Ness’s first carved stone ball might be decorated or painted. Few days later after it has been cleaned by specialist, Nick Card, excavation site director from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) said: “Unfortunately, it’s now clear that the stone ball is not decorated. But, despite that, the fact remains that it’s still a beautifully crafted item, even though it has, unfortunately, suffered a bit from 4,500 years of burial at the Ness."

Over the years, hundreds of roughly similar prehistoric stone balls have been found in Scotland and yet their nature, their purpose, remains a mystery. The Orkney' carved stone ball are unusual, being either all ornamented or otherwise unusual in appearance, such as the lack, bar one example, of the frequently found six-knobbed type. Metal may have been used to work some of the designs.

Years ago, however, architect and master geometer Keith Critchlow made a detailed analysis of these object. In his book "Time Stands Still" (1979/2007), he convincingly shows that whatever their purpose might have been, the more sophisticated examples not only shows exceptional craftsmanship, but clearly represent Platonic and complex geometric solids. Perhaps this discovery is a clue to the great Orkney complex having been a major centre of learning, a kind of university campus, whatever else it might have been.

Fortean Times Magazine Vol. 306 October 2013: "Mysterious Finds";;;

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