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Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Orkney World Heritage Site Skara Brae

Five thousand years ago, in the far north of Scotland, the prehistoric people of the Orkney Islands began constructing some extraordinary monuments out of stone. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is a series of important domestic and ritual monuments. They lie in a wider archaeological landscape rich with remains from both the Neolithic and many later periods of Orcadian history.

Individually, the sites are masterpieces of Neolithic design and construction. Collectively, they represent one of the richest surviving Neolithic landscapes in western Europe, and give us exceptional insights into the society, skills and spiritual beliefs of the people who constructed them. Skara Brae is a domestic settlement whose stone walls, passageways and stone furnishings, such as beds and dressers, survive to the present day. Maeshowe, a chambered tomb, is an extraordinary example of Neolithic architectural genius. It was designed to allow the setting sun at the winter solstice to shine up the passageway and illuminate the chamber.

The Stones of Stenness circle and henge is a very early example of this type of monument. The surviving stones are enormous, standing up to 6 metres in height. The Ring of Brodgar is a great stone circle 130 metres across. Surrounded by a rock cut ditch, it is set in a spectacular natural amphitheatre of lochs and hills.

Inscription and Significance

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney (HONO) was inscribed by UNESCO in 1999 for the outstanding testimony the monuments bear to the cultural achievements of the Neolithic peoples of northern Europe.

HONO has Outstanding Universal Value as an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble and archaeological landscape which illustrate a significant stage of human history, when the first large ceremonial monuments were built. Individual monuments are technologically ingenious and monumental masterpieces, displaying the highest sophistication in architectural accomplishment.

Read the full Statement of Outstanding Universal Value [pdf, 175kb]


The Heart of Neolithic Orkney lies near Stromness on the island of Mainland, Orkney.

Managing the Site

The Site is managed and cared for by Historic Scotland on behalf of Scottish Ministers. Orkney Islands Council, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are partners in its wider management. The Management Plan guides sustainable management to maintain the Outstanding Universal Value. Other supporting documents can be found on the Orkney Islands Council website

In 2013 a new HONO WHS Research Strategy was produced in partnership with Orkney College UHI. This updates and sits alongside the 2005 HONO WHS Research Agenda (which is available from our Free Publications section) and can be downloaded below:

PDF icon Heart of Neolithic Orkney WHS Research Strategy 2013-2018 [pdf, 1.3mb]

Visiting the Site

All the monuments that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site can be visited.

Images of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney can be viewed on the Scottish Ten website.

For further information contact
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site Coordinator
Historic Scotland
c/o Orkney Islands Council
School Place
Orkney KW15 1NY


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Contact us

World Heritage Site Coordination Team
Historic Scotland
Longmore House
Salisbury Place
Tel: +44 (0) 131 668 8763

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