Neolithic Orkney

Skara Brae

Skara Brae is a stone-built Neolithic settlement which consists of eight clustered houses, and was occupied from roughly 3180 BCE–2500 BCE. Europe"s most complete Neolithic village, Skara Brae gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status. As older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, it has been called the 'Scottish Pompeii' because of its excellent preservation. In the winter of 1850, a severe storm hit Scotland, c ...
Founded: | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Ring of Brodgar

The Ring Of Brodgar Stone Circle And Henge, which is part of The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, is a spectacular stone circle. The ring is surrounded by a large circular ditch or henge. The truly circular layout of the ring is an unusual attribute that singles it out as one of the largest and finest stone circles in the British Isles. The Ring of Brodgar (alternative spelling Brogar) comprises a massive ce ...
Founded: 2500-2000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Standing Stones of Stenness

The Standing Stones of Stenness is a Neolithic monument and may be the oldest henge site in the British Isles. Various traditions associated with the stones survived into the modern era and they form part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. Maeshowe chambered cairn is about 1.2 km to the east of the Standing Stones of Stenness and several other Neolithic monuments also lie in the vicinity, suggesting tha ...
Founded: 3100 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Barnhouse Neolithic Settlement

The Neolithic Barnhouse was discovered in 1984 by Colin Richards. Excavations were conducted between 1986 and 1991, over time revealing the base courses of at least 15 houses. The houses have similarities to those of the early phase of the better-known settlement at Skara Brae in that they have central hearths, beds built against the walls and stone dressers, but differ in that the houses seem to have been free-standing. ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Maeshowe

Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave. It was probably built around 2800 BCE. It gives its name to the Maeshowe type of chambered cairn, which is limited to Orkney. Maeshowe is a significant example of Neolithic craftsmanship. The monuments around Maeshowe, including Skara Brae, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Maeshowe is one of the largest tombs in Orkney; the mound encasing the ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Dwarfie Stane

The Dwarfie Stane is a megalithic chambered tomb carved out of a titanic block of Devonian Old Red Sandstone located in a steep-sided glaciated valley between the settlements of Quoys and Rackwick on Hoy island. The attribution as a tomb was originally based on its resemblance to recognized tombs in southern Europe. The Dwarfie Stane is the only chambered tomb in Orkney that is cut from stone rather than built from stone ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Blackhammer Chambered Cairn

Blackhammer Chambered Cairn is a Neolithic cairn on Rousay. It is thought to date from around 3000 BC. The structure is a typical stalled cairn, with an interior divided into seven compartments by pairs of upright stone slabs. The cairn has a modern roof, as the cairn originally was only a few feet high. Access is by a hatchway and ladder in the roof, as the original entrance was sealed. There have been finds of bones and ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Unstan Chambered Cairn

Unstan is a particularly well preserved Neolithic chambered cairn, and somewhat unusual, example of an Orkney–Cromarty chambered cairn. Tombs of this type are often referred to as 'stalled' cairns due to their distinctive internal structure. Stalled cairns have a central passageway flanked by a series of paired transverse stones that separate the side spaces into compartments that reminded early investigators of hor ...
Founded: 3450 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Knap of Howar

At Knap of Howar on the island of Papa Westray, a Neolithic farmstead may be the oldest preserved stone house in northern Europe. Radiocarbon dating shows that it was occupied from 3700 BC to 2800 BC, earlier than the similar houses in the settlement at Skara Brae on the Orkney Mainland. The farmstead consists of two adjacent rounded rectangular thick-walled buildings with very low doorways facing the sea. The larger and ...
Founded: 3700-2800 BC | Location: Westray, United Kingdom

Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn

Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn is a Neolithic chambered cairn, dating back to around 3,000 BCE. It is cairn of similar design to Maeshowe, but on a smaller basis. Cuween Hill was constructed as a burial place by a group of Neolithic farmers. The entry to the tomb is down a narrow passage, partly open to the sky. The main chamber, built on the bedrock, stands well over 2 meters high, and was probably taller before 19th centu ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Tomb of the Eagles

The Tomb of the Eagles, or Isbister Chambered Cairn, is a Neolithic chambered tomb. First explored by Ronald Simison, a farmer, when digging flagstones in 1958, he conducted his own excavations at the site in 1976. Alerted by Simison, archaeologist John Hedges then mounted a full study, prepared a technical report and wrote a popular book that cemented the tomb"s name. 16,000 human bones were found at the site, as w ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Quoyness Chambered Cairn

The Quoyness chambered cairn is located on Sanday in Orkney. It is approximately 5,000 years old and is located on the shoreside. The cairn is about 4 metres high and can be accessed by crawling through the entrance passage, itself 9 metres long. Only half the entrance passage is roofed. A stone platform surrounds the cairn, and when originally built the cairn would have looked like Maeshowe today. Bones from 10 adults a ...
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Castle Bloody

Castle Bloody is a prehistoric feature on the island of Shapinsay, Orkney, Scotland. Hogan observes that while the feature is marked as a chambered mound on the UK Ordnance Survey map, the structure is more properly and specifically classified as a souterrain or earth house. Slightly to the north is located the ruined historic Linton Chapel.
Founded: 3000 BC | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Goseck Circle

The Goseck circle is a Neolithic circle structure. It may be the oldest and best known of the Circular Enclosures associated with the Central European Neolithic. It also may be one of the oldest Solar observatories in the world. It consists of a set of concentric ditches 75 metres across and two palisade rings containing gates in places aligned with sunrise and sunset on the solstice days.

Its construction is dated to c. 4900 BC, and it seems to have remained in use until 4600 BC. This corresponds to the transitional phase between the Neolithic Linear Pottery and Stroke-ornamented ware cultures. It is one of a larger group of so-called Circular Enclosures in the Elbe and Danube region, most of which show similar alignments.

Excavators also found the remains of what may have been ritual fires, animal and human bones, and a headless skeleton near the southeastern gate, that could be interpreted as traces of human sacrifice or specific burial ritual. There is no sign of fire or of other destruction, so why the site was abandoned is unknown. Later villagers built a defensive moat following the ditches of the old enclosure.

The Goseck ring is one of the best preserved and extensively investigated of the many similar structures built at around the same time. Traces of the original configuration reveal that the Goseck ring consisted of four concentric circles, a mound, a ditch, and two wooden palisades. The palisades had three sets of gates facing southeast, southwest, and north. At the winter solstice, observers at the center would have seen the sun rise and set through the southeast and southwest gates.

Archaeologists generally agree that Goseck circle was used for observation of the course of the Sun in the course of the solar year. Together with calendar calculations, it allowed coordinating an easily judged lunar calendar with the more demanding measurements of a solar calendar.