NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Claims that BBC's Neolithic Orkney not 'weird' enough

Ness of Brodgar
Image caption Ness of Brodgar has been called "one of the most exciting excavations in Europe today"

The BBC has defended its series about Neolithic Orkney after claims it failed to show how "weird" the islands were.

Dr Kenneth Brophy from the University of Glasgow dismissed the programme's theory that the islands were the capital of the UK 6000 years ago.

He said they hadn't focused enough on how distinctive Orkney was, or reflected wide cultural variation.

But the programme's executive producer said the series had presented complex ideas for a broad audience.

Image caption Dr Kenny Brophy says the series didn't show how "weird and wonderful" ancient Orkney was

Writing in the online magazine "The Island Review" Dr Brophy said the programme title "Britain's Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney" was "nonsensical", and "made no sense in a Neolithic context".

He argued that claims in the series that Orkney had been the centre of a "common culture" which had "swept Britain and culminated in Stonehenge" misunderstood how society worked 4,000 years before the Christian era, and how people then had perceived their world.

And he said that this narrative casts Orkney "not as a spectacular place in its own right" but as merely "the appetiser" in the run up to Stonehenge in Wiltshire, which was presented as "the main course".

That left viewers with the impression of a uniform Neolithic culture across the British Isles radiating out from Orkney, he said, and didn't present the islands as "atypical, weird, strange and wonderful".

Image caption Presenters Dr Shini Somara, Neil Oliver, Andy Torbet and Chris Packham at Ness of Brodgar

In response Rachel Bell, executive producer of the series, told BBC Radio Orkney: "The series was very much a celebration of the distinctiveness of Orkney and the feedback from the audience, with whom the series proved to be popular, shows that this really came across.

"Across the three parts, we examined the theory that during the Neolithic period, Orkney was the point of origin of a culture which spread across the British Isles. "

She said discoveries at the archaeological dig at the Ness of Brodgar indicated that it was a place of particular importance and significance.

And she added: "People understand that national identities and capitals did not exist as such then, but it provides an anchor for a modern audience to get to grips with complicated subject matter."

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