Neolithic Orkney

The monuments on Mainland, the main island of the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland, impressively document the cultural achievements of the Neolithic population around 3000–2000 BC. According to ehistorylib, these include the large chamber grave Maes Howe, the up to 5 m high stone circle of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the Stone Age settlement of Skara Brae.

Neolithic Orkney: Facts

Official title: Neolithic monuments in the Orkney Islands
Cultural monument: the Skara Brae settlement with the Standing Stones of Stenness with 4 of the original 12 stones and the Ring of Brogar with a diameter of 44 m
Continent: Europe
Country: Great Britain, Scotland
Location: Mainland (Orkney Islands)
Appointment: 1999
Meaning: extremely well-preserved Neolithic sites in northern Europe

Neolithic Orkney: History

3200-2220 BC Settlement of Skara Brae
around 2900 BC Chr. Establishment of the Standing Stones of Stenness
around 2800 BC Chr. Construction of Maes Howe
1151 Normans break into Maes Howe on their return from the Holy Land
1814 Visit of the writer Sir Walter Scott to the Standing Stones of Stenness; Partial destruction of the stone setting by a plowing farmer
1850 Storm “reveals” Skara Brae
1868 Exposure of four houses in Skara Braes
1925 partial destruction of Skara Braes by hurricane
1929-1930 further investigation by Skara Braes
1972-1973 further excavations at Skara Braes
2004-2005 Geophysical investigations on the Brodgar Peninsula revealed indications of at least one other previously unknown Neolithic settlement

Prehistoric heart of an island

Before the Vikings became aware of the Orkney Islands north of the Scottish coast on their forays, this island world belonged to the end of the world known up to that point in time. Throughout history, the islands have not been a center of innovation and technological advancement, but their residents gradually adopted new ideas and also quickly developed new skills, which are reflected in the archaeological sites preserved for posterity.

Today’s visitor first stands in front of the »British Pompeii«, a very well-preserved Neolithic settlement in northern Europe called Skara Brae. This human settlement was settled from the fourth to the third millennium BC, at a time when the building of the Egyptian pyramids of Giza or the erection of the Great Wall in China was not possible. And no human genius had already devised the “astrological” stone circle of Stonehenge, also one of the “treasures of mankind”. It is only thanks to a coincidence that this prehistoric evidence of human community was discovered at all: In the middle of the 19th century a violent storm raged over the islands, churning up the waves of the Bay of Skaill from Mainland and sweeping away dunes.

The nine houses built with thick walls are close together. Each home has an identical floor plan: a large single room with a floor plan equal to two-thirds of a modern two-bedroom English home. Flat, large blocks of stone were used as building material, and the interior furnishings were also made of stone, as wood was a rare building material. The beds were built up to the left and right of an open hearth and niches in the walls were used as “kitchen cupboards”.

The residents of this settlement were also responsible for the chamber tomb of Maes Howe, which is considered “one of the wonders of the prehistoric world”. Since the third millennium BC, Maes Howe has protruded from the area as a large grassy hill. This “tomb” was constructed from layers of peat, clay and rock fragments using the so-called corbel technique – protruding inwards layer by layer. A narrow corridor leads into an almost five meter square chamber with a cantilever vault. In particular, the cantilever technique used is of such precision that one has to take off one’s hat to the manual skills of the natives of the Orkneys. On the day of the winter solstice – December 21st – sunlight penetrates through an opening above the entrance, which is caught on the rear wall of the inner chamber.

Even if it was said that the chamber grave was inhabited by a ghost or goblin who had special powers and guarded a treasure, this did not prevent the northerners in the 12th century from entering the grave and covering their “graffiti” there Left behind: Among the stone carvings, which are still largely a mystery to this day, runes, a walrus and a dragon can be found. The archaeological sites are completed by two stone circles made of slender stone fragments up to five meters high: Stones of Stenness and Ring of Brogar; the latter, the largest stone circle in Scotland, originally consisted of 60 upright stones, which were exactly three meters apart and at an angle of six degrees to each other. It is presumed that such stone circles had astronomical functions. This is also indicated by the term used in the 18th century for Stenness as the “Temple of the Moon” and for Brogar as the “Temple of the Sun”.

Neolithic Orkney