Skara Brae

Neolithic settlement
Mainland, Orkney
Nearest town: Stromness
Nearest village: Dounby
Map reference: HY 231188

Skara Brae Image House number 1, with the stone 'dresser' where prized objects were displayed

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In 1850 a great storm pounded the shore of the Bay of Skaill, on Orkney Mainland, leaving the buildings of a Neolithic settlement sticking up through the sand dunes which had covered them. Systematic excavations of the site have been carried out since 1927.
    Skara Brae's occupants were farmers who bred cows and sheep and grew cereals, but who also hunted red deer and fished. They were skilled craftsmen, working bone and stone, and making pottery; many of the tools, weapons and vessels were richly decorated.
    Originally the site was set back from the shore: coastal erosion now threatens Skara Brae. The village was planned as a cluster of sub-rectangular huts, with interconnecting passages. Their walls were made of sandstone slabs; corbelled walling probably formed the roofs. On the other hand, whale jawbones discovered on the floor of one hut were perhaps originally rafters supporting a thatched roof.
    All the houses had a similar interior design: against the wall facing the door was the dresser (a couple of flagstone shelves supported on stone 'legs'). This may have been the display case for the family's prized possession, carefully positioned to impress visitors. In the centre of each hut was a rectangular hearth; along each side wall was a bed, constructed of three slabs set upright to form a 'box', the house wall forming the fourth side. Above the beds were recesses, and a common feature of the hut interiors is a 'limpet box': a slab-built tank made watertight by clay caulking.
    Excavation evidence seems to indicate that the village's occupants left in a hurry, perhaps fleeing storm similar to the one which uncovered the site.

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