Neolithic Scotland: Skara Brae

Located on the Bay of Skaill, in the Orkney’s, Northern Scotland, can be found “Skara Brae” a Neolithic settlement.

Humans changed their way of life during the Neolithic Times, from hunters and gatherers with no fixed abode, to the farming and raising of animals.  The changes took place over many hundreds of years.  They found they could control their food sources, by the planting of seeds and cultivation of crops.  They domesticated animals, which provided them with varied sources of meat; cattle, sheep and pigs.

The site date backs some 5,200 years based on archaeological excavations.  There are ten single room houses, each measuring  thirty-six square metres with no windows, and heated by fire.  The roofs are all but gone, and we have to assume the roof was constructed from turf or timbers with chimney for ventilation.  The village had constructed its own drainage system, with toilets located within each house.

The buildings were constructed from flagstones, layered into the earth, amongst midden, giving greater support.  Space between walls and earth was filled with midden (rubbish) creating natural insulation.

Each dwelling contained cupboards, beds, seats and storage boxes constructed out of stone.  These people knew how to work stone, even down to their furnishings.

Located at the front of each bed, remain stumps of stone pillars, possibly supporting a canopy of fur, associated with Hebridean life-style.

Builders of Skara Brae, were probably self-sufficient as much as possible.  Bones discovered at the site, shows their stable diet would have consisted of cattle and sheep plus barley and wheat locally grown.  Great quantities of fish bones and shells shows they complimented their food with fish.

Red deer and boar would have been hunted, eggs from seabirds and even birds would have been on the menu.

The inhabitants made grooved ware pottery, which was bowls, vases, pots and containers with flat bottoms and straight sides, decorated with grooves.  This earn’t its inhabitants to be known as the Grooved Ware People of Skara Brae.  They also crafted jewellery, tools and gaming dice.

“Skara Brae” lost for thousands of years, reared its head in the 19th century.

Western Scotland was battered by heavy storms in 1850, and much sand from the beaches was blown away, revealing parts of a few structures.  Landowner; William Watt, saw these exposed sections of walls, and excavated four houses.  George Petrie started his excavations, and presented his findings to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in April of 1867.

Work on the site came to a halt, and remained untouched until 1913, when the site was plundered for artefacts.  In 1924 storm damage, led to part of a housed being washed away.

Radio-Carbon tests undertaken in 1972-73 confirmed without any doubt, that Skara Brae was occupied between 3180BC – 2500BC, when weather conditions became cold and wet, and the site was abandoned.

Red ochre found at Skara Brae, proves that body painting was taking place.  Artefacts including knives, pins and beads were made from fish, bird and whalebones.

The Neolithic settlement of “Skara Brae” received World Heritage status in December 1999.

These Neolithic people built long barrows as tombs for their ancestors.  They are remembered for the construction of ritual monuments, henges and stone circles; Stonehenge and Avebury Henge, there are many more examples scattered across our lands.

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