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, causing widespread damage and over 200 deaths. In the Bay of Skaill, the storm stripped the earth from a large irregular knoll known as 'Skerrabra'. When the storm cleared, local villagers found the outline of a village, consisting of a number of small houses without roofs. William Watt of Skaill, the local laird, began an amateur excavation of the site, but after four houses were uncovered, the work was abandoned in 1868. The site remained undisturbed until 1913, when during a single weekend the site was plundered by a party with shovels who took away an unknown quantity of artifacts. In 1924, another storm swept away part of one of the houses and it was determined the site should be made secure and more seriously investigated.

Skara Brae"s people were makers and users of grooved ware, a distinctive style of pottery that appeared in northern Scotland not long before the establishment of the village. The houses used earth sheltering, being sunk into the ground. In fact, they were sunk into mounds of pre-existing prehistoric domestic waste known as middens. The midden provided the houses with a small degree of stability and also acted as insulation against Orkney"s harsh winter climate. On average, the houses measure 40 square metres in size with a large square room containing a stone hearth used for heating and cooking. Given the number of homes, it seems likely that no more than fifty people lived in Skara Brae at any given time.

The dwellings contain a number of stone-built pieces of furniture, including cupboards, dressers, seats, and storage boxes. Each dwelling was entered through a low doorway that had a stone slab door. A sophisticated drainage system was incorporated into the village"s design. It included a primitive form of toilet in each dwelling.

Seven of the houses have similar furniture, with the beds and dresser in the same places in each house. The dresser stands against the wall opposite the door, and was the first thing seen by anyone entering the dwelling. Each of these houses had the larger bed on the right side of the doorway and the smaller on the left.

One house, called House 8, has no storage boxes or dresser. It has been divided into something resembling small cubicles. When this house was excavated, fragments of stone, bone and antler were found. It is possible that this building was used as a house to make simple tools such as bone needles or flint axes. The presence of heat-damaged volcanic rocks and what appears to be a flue, support this interpretation. House 8 is distinctive in other ways as well. It is a stand-alone structure not surrounded by midden, instead it is above ground and has walls over 2 metres thick. It has a 'porch' protecting the entrance.

The site provided the earliest known record of the human flea Pulex irritans in Europe.

Originally, Childe believed that the settlement dated from around 500 BCE. This interpretation was coming under increasing challenge by the time new excavations in 1972–73 settled the question. Radiocarbon results obtained from samples collected during these excavations indicate that occupation of Skara Brae began about 3180 BCE with occupation continuing for about six hundred years. Around 2500 BCE, after the climate changed, becoming much colder and wetter, the settlement may have been abandoned by its inhabitants. There are many theories as to why the people of Skara Brae left; particularly popular interpretations involve a major storm.

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User Reviews

Jakub K (4 years ago)
Very interesting and worth every penny. Sue was our guide and she made our tour so, so, so interesting and fun! Definitely recommend it to everyone even if not into archaeology!
Haji Victor (4 years ago)
It's a journey into History, Prehistoric BRITAIN. The whole works, theatre video clip documentary style, indoor museum and a few minutes walk to the main location. My kids enjoyed it, the tour guide was excellent, she knows her stuff and other staff were all brilliant and friendly... We are already planning a return trip
Neil Atkins (4 years ago)
visited Skara Brae after a hike around the Yesnaby Cliffs. This ancient village is quite intriguing. For everybody who thinks that history starts in the middle east and only evolves through Greece and Rome. Come and see this. So interesting to walk along and listen to the history of this discovery. If you like history, you will truly enjoy this experience.
The Thomas' (4 years ago)
Fascinating place and a real mystery as to why the village died out. Lovely to see the recreation of one of the homes so you get a real feel of what life would have been like. Reasonable to get in IMO. Worth a visit if you are in the area!
Dana Quenneville (4 years ago)
Your best bet is to take a tour bus to Skara Brae. It is a self guided tour with hosts to answer questions. Take note is The like markers along The path on your left side that note historical events. The site had been well cared for. Be considerate to stay on the path. Take time to breathe in the fresh sea air and imagine being back in that day. If you plan to make a purchase at the gift shop, do so at the start of the visit to avoid long line.
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