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Orkney reaches for the stars

14 April 2008

One of Scotland’s most celebrated Neolithic sites is to commemorate a defining moment in the space race. The pathway to the Skara Brae prehistoric village, in Orkney, is lined with carved stones that form a time trail of major events in human history. Historic Scotland created it as a way of emphasising the immensity of the changes that have taken place since the settlement was inhabited 5,000 years ago.

This month a new stone will be unveiled, marking the anniversary of Russia’s success in sending the first man into space. On 12 April, 1961 cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who grew up west of Moscow, orbited the Earth in his spaceship Vostok 1.

Doreen Grove, Historic Scotland head of access and understanding, said:

“Uri Gagarin’s mission was a defining moment in human history. By sending the first man into space the Russians heralded the dawn of a new age and at Historic Scotland we are delighted to commemorate an event of such importance by including it in the Skara Brae timeline. It will help underline just how much has changed since the days of the Neolithic farmers who built Skara Brae.”

The idea for the new stone was suggested by Alexander Korobko who visited in 2006 in search of his Orcadian roots. Mr Korobko and a series of Russian dignitaries, as well as cosmonaut Georgi Michailovich Grechko, are due to be present at the unveiling which will take place at 10.30am. The event is attracting much local and international interest with the attendance of two Russian film crews.

The stone, which is around 20cm by 30cm, was engraved by Leslie Merriman, a member of Historic Scotland’s Orkney Monument Conservation Unit and simply states “1961, First Man in Space”. Other events marked in the timeline include the building of the Great Pyramids in 2500BC, the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 and invention of the telephone in 1876.

Mr Korobko said:

“I am delighted that Historic Scotland is commemorating the space flight of Uri Gagarin at Skara Brae.”

Tourism leaders have welcomed the unveiling of the stone. Tatiana Danilova, trade marketing executive at VisitScotland for Central and Eastern Europe, said:

“It is great that a moment of such significance in the history of Russia and all mankind is being recognised with the placing of a stone at Skara Brae. Russia is an important emerging tourism market for Scotland thanks to its growing economy. I hope that the stone will be something Russian visitors enjoy seeing and will talk about when they return home.”

The event has also been supported by VisitOrkney. Barbara Foulkes, area director, said:

“We are delighted at the prospect of welcoming the Russian party to Orkney this week. It is right and proper that the journey of the first man into space is recognised in this way and I hope that the addition of the stone will please Russians visiting Orkney in the years to come.”

Notes for editors

  • Skara Brae is 19 miles north west of Kirkwall on the B9056. Tel 01856 841 815.
  • Tickets are normally £6.50 for adults, £5.20 concessions and £3.25 for children in summer (including Skaill House) and £5.70, £4.70 and £2.85 in winter (Skaill House closed).

  • The settlement is of great cultural significance and is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • 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 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:

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

For further information

Rebecca Hamilton
Marketing and Media Manager
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8685 / 07788 923871

Laura Adamson
PR Executive
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8959 or 07769 630 763