Scottish History Online - Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland

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Neolithic Skara Brae Orkney, Scotland

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of the Orkney Islands

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The Bay of Skaill on the Orkney Mainland had eroded back from the sea for thousands of years, but one night in 1850 the sandy dunes of the bay were to be pounded by a huge storm. In its aftermath, it was to reveal a Neolithic settlement protruding from the sandy dunes which, had disguised its existence. 1927 was to see the start of planned excavations on the site of ‘Skara Brae’ to reveal the village and its secretes.

The excavation of the subterranean site was to reveal that the inhabitants of "Skara Brae" had hurriedly left, for what reason we will probably never know.

The huts where linked by interconnecting passageways which had specific entrances into the complex from the outside, and the walls were made of sandstone slabs, with cobbled walling forming the roofs. It is believed that the huts, which were all of similar design, had thatched roofs due to the discovery of whalebones in one of the dwellings.

The interior of the huts showed a dresser, made of flag stone shelves and stone supports, which may have been used as a larder or similar storage area. A rectangular hearth in the centre of the room was used for cooking and heating. ‘Box beds’ made of upright slabs on three sides, with the walls of the hut making the fourth accounted for the sleeping arrangements. There were recesses above the beds, which may have been used for the more personal objects of the occupants. Another common feature in the huts was a ‘Limpet Box’ built with slabs and lined with clay, these boxes were used for water storage.

It is obvious that ‘Skara Braes’ occupants were skilled craftsmen working with bone and stone, as much of their pottery, tools and weapons were richly decorated. They were farmers who bred sheep, cows and grew cereal crops and hunted Red Deer and fished in a seemingly, well-organised community environment.

‘Skara Brae’ is under constant threat from the sea as the dunes around the Bay of Skail are constantly eroded.

© John A. Duncan of  Sketraw, FSA Scot.

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Skara Brae Prehistoric Dwellings, Orkney - Scotland