Skara brae is by far the Oldest Neolithic site in Northern Europe:
Standing in a village that’s over 5,000 years old is a pretty awesome experience. Skara Brae was an inhabited village long before the Egyptian pyramids were built and although we do not hear too much about it, Skara Brae was a flourishing place for centuries long before construction began at Stonehenge.
And what’s amazing about Skara Brae is that after 5,000 years, the stone village, with its intricate maze of dwellings containing stone beds, cupboards and seats, is still incredibly well preserved.
This neolithic village was discovered in 1850 when a violent storm ripped the grass from a high dune known as Skara Brae, beside the Bay of Skaill, and exposed the ruins of ancient stone buildings and an immense refuse heap. It is now one of the most famous Neolithic sites in Northern Europe and its rich evidence paint a picture of how our remote ancestors actually lived during prehistoric times.
What to See in the Village
Our visit to Skara Brae begins with a stop at the replica house that was based on house no. 7 in the village. You can walk into the model house and see what life was like during neolithic times and examples of the type of food that the villagers had.
After the replica house, we walk along a path back into the past to the actual village. Yes, we walk over 5,000 years back in time and along the path, there are concrete slabs that indicate significant events in time, such as man landing on the moon, the fall of Rome, the parthenon, the pyramids of giza, etc. It is a very fast track back to the past but one gets the idea.
The houses are well-built from closely-fitting flat stone slabs. They were set into large mounds of midden (household refuse) and linked by covered passages. Each house comprised a single room with a floor space of roughly 40sq m. The ‘fitted’ stone furniture within each room comprised a dresser, where prized objects were probably stored and displayed, two box-beds, a hearth centrally placed and small tanks set into the floor, perhaps for preparing fish bait.
During the various archaeological excavations, a rich array of artefacts and ecofacts has been discovered, including gaming dice, hand tools, pottery and jewellery (necklaces, beads, pendants and pins). Also found were richly carved stone objects which were perhaps used in religious rituals. The villagers were farmers, hunters and fishermen, capable of producing items of beauty and sophistication with rudimentary tools. Life seemed peaceful here as no weapons have been found and the settlement was not in a readily defended location. Most of the artefacts can be seen in the visitor centre, a short walk away.
The end of village life
It appears that village life ended here around 2,500 BC although no one know has yet established a reason for this. Some believe that it was because a huge sandstorm engulfed their houses, others argue that it was a more gradual occurence. As village life came to an end, new monuments were beginning to rise up on mainland Orkney, including most importantly the chambered tomb at Maes Howe and the impressive stone circles at the Ring of Brodgar and Stenness.
The site has an excellent visitor centre with touch-screen presentations, fact-finding quizzes for children and adults, and an opportunity to see artefacts discovered during archaeological excavations in the 1970s. There is a and a well stocked gift shop selling locally-made souvenirs and crafts and a cafe.
Skara Brae is located 31km north west of Kirkwall on the B9056.
1 Apr – 30 Sep : 09:30 to 17:30
1 Oct – 31 Mar : 09:30 to 16:30
*Posted on the road back from Skara Brae. More info and photos when we’re back home.