Northern Europe’s best-preserved Neolithic villageThe Neolithic village of Skara Brae was discovered in the winter of 1850. Wild storms ripped the grass from a high dune known as Skara Brae, beside the Bay of Skaill, and exposed an immense midden (refuse heap) and the ruins of ancient stone buildings. The discovery proved to be the best-preserved Neolithic village in northern Europe. And so it remains today.
The housesAll the houses are well-built of 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.
The artefactsA rich array of artefacts and ecofacts has been discovered during the various archaeological excavations. They include gaming dice, hand tools, pottery and jewellery (necklaces, beads, pendants and pins). Most remarkable are the richly carved stone objects, perhaps used in religious rituals. The villagers were farmers, hunters and fishermen, capable of producing items of beauty and sophistication with rudimentary technology. No weapons have been found and the settlement was not in a readily defended location, suggesting a peaceful life.
The end of village lifeVillage life appears to have ended around 2,500 BC. No one knows why. Some argue that it was because a huge sandstorm engulfed their houses, others that it was more gradual. 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.