A BBC series about Neolithic Orkney has been branded “nonsensical” by a leading academic, who has dismissed its main theory that the islands were the UK capital 6,000 years ago.

The three-part series, Britain’s Ancient Capital: Secrets Of Orkney, shown this month, examined how Orkney had been the centre of a “common culture” that had “swept Britain and culminated in Stonehenge”.

But a Glasgow University academic said the series, presented by Neil Oliver, Andy Torbet, Dr Shini Somara and Chris Packham, “made no sense in a Neolithic context”.

Dr Kenneth Brophy, who is senior lecturer in archaeology at the university, with 20 years’ experience of directing excavations of Neolithic monuments and settlement sites across Scotland, said the programmes had not focused enough on how distinctive Orkney was, or reflected wide cultural variation.

Writing in the online magazine, The Island Review, Dr Brophy argued the programme misunderstood how society worked 4,000 years before the Christian era, and how people then had perceived their world.

He said this narrative casts Orkney “not as a spectacular place in its own right” but as merely “the appetiser” in the run-up to Stonehenge, which was presented as “the main course”.

Mr Brophy wrote: “The conceit of the documentary is essentially that the stone circle idea and other associated cultural traits emerged in Orkney in the middle of the fourth millennium BC, at the beginning of a rather sinister sounding 1,000-year-long ‘golden era’.

“These cultural traits – monuments, material culture, house layouts, maybe other things not specified in the show – were then disseminated across the rest of Britain. This resulted in the emergence of ‘Britain’s first common culture’, in the form of a ‘cult that swept Britain and culminated in Stonehenge’.

“This amazing revelation was all the more remarkable because Orkney is so remote and on the ‘edge of the world’. All of this is summed up in the nonsensical title for the show, Britain’s Ancient Capital, which makes no sense in a Neolithic context, a time when there was no Britain, no Scotland, no England; the concept ‘cultural capital’ misunderstands the nature of social organisation in the fourth millennium BC, how society worked back then and how people perceived their world.”

In response Rachel Bell, executive producer of the programme, said: “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.”