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Clean start for Skara Brae

7 September 2007

Historic Scotland conservators successfully remove graffiti from World Heritage Site.

Many were shocked to learn of the vandalism of one of Europe’s most important prehistoric sites.  On 14 August 2007, Historic Scotland staff were saddened to discover that stone furniture within House 1 at Skara Brae had been defaced by graffiti messages.  Now, just three weeks on, Historic Scotland conservators have successfully removed any traces of the defacement, returning this hugely significant site back to normal, with no long-term damage.

Stephen Gordon, Senior Conservator at Historic Scotland said: 'Our conservation team were on site moments after the incident occurred and from then on began working hard researching into the best possible solutions to remove the marker pen without damaging the stone.  After extensive trials, we achieved the right formula and we are delighted to say it has been remarkably successful.’

Initial examinations and photography of the graffiti confirmed that the medium used on the stone was likely to be permanent marker.  With this knowledge in mind, extensive testing was carried out off-site at the Historic Scotland Conservation Centre in Edinburgh to find the best possible method of removal.  A selection of solvents were trialled, starting with water and progressing through to a solvent that worked.  Once the correct solvent was found, it was mixed with a paper pulp to form a poultice.  On arrival at House 1 this week, the team applied two poultices which were left for a time on the graffiti.  This removed much of the marker, but two further poultices with a different combination of solvents were then added to remove any remaining residue.  The areas were then liberally flushed with water to remove any chemical residue.

Mary Dunnett, Historic Scotland Monument Manager at Skara Brae said: ‘After discovering the graffiti, we feared there may be permanent damage to this precious 5,000 year old stone, but thanks to our dedicated team of conservators, House 1 is back to its former magnificent state.  Visitors and the local community have been very supportive during the past few weeks since the incident occurred and we are thankful for their cooperation’.

The Neolithic village of Skara Brae dates back 5,000 years and appears to have been occupied for around 600 years between about 3100 BC and 2500 BC.  The structures of the semi-subterranean village survive in impressive condition, as does the furniture in the village houses.  Nowhere else in Europe is there such rich evidence of how our remote ancestors actually lived.  The profound importance of this remarkable site was given official recognition in 1999 when it was inscribed upon the World Heritage List as part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.


Notes for editors
Skara Brae is on the B9056, 19 miles north west of Kirkwall. Telephone 01856 841815. Summer tickets (1 April - 30 Sept) are adults £6.50 concessions £5.00 and children £3.25 and also give admission to Skaill House.

When a wild storm on Orkney in 1850 exposed the ruins of ancient dwellings, Skara Brae, the best preserved prehistoric village in northern Europe, was discovered.

The excavated farming settlement dates back 5000 years. Within the stone walls of the dwellings – separated by passages – are stone beds, dressers, seats and boxes for provisions, recesses for personal possessions, and a hearth where dried heather, bracken or seaweed was burned.

A replica house has been created next to the site and many original artefacts found at Skara Brae (part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site) are displayed in the visitor centre, which has a café.

Excavations were conducted at Skara Brae from 1928 to 1930 by Gordon Childe, one of the most respected archaeologists of his day.

Further work took place in the 1970s when advances in techniques allowed a much more sophisticated understanding of artefacts and organic samples.

Pieces of haematite not found on Mainland suggest the people were involved with trading. Ornately carved stones of no obvious practical use have been taken to imply ritual practices.

Historic Scotland has 345 outstanding historic properties and sites in its care. These include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country, including Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart Castles, Fort George, Linlithgow Palace, the Border Abbeys, and Skara Brae. For further details visit www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/properties.

Historic Scotland’s mission is to safeguard Scotland’s historic environment and to promote its understanding and enjoyment.

For further information


Kate Turnbull
PR Executive
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8959
kate.turnbull@scotland.gsi.gov.uk