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 older structure is linked by a low passageway to the other building, which has been interpreted as a workshop or a second house. They were constructed on an earlier midden, and were surrounded by midden material which has protected them. There are no windows; the structures were presumably lit by fire, with a hole in the roof to let out smoke. Though they now stand close to the shore, they would have originally lain inland. The shore shows how the local stone splits into thin slabs, giving a ready source of construction material.

Looking back through the low entrance doorway into the main house, a visitor's backpack gives an idea of scale.

The walls still stand to an eaves height of 1.6 metres, and the stone furniture is intact giving a vivid impression of life in the house. Fireplaces, partition screens, beds and storage shelves are almost intact, and post holes were found indicating the roof structure.

Evidence from the middens shows that the inhabitants were keeping cattle, sheep and pigs, cultivating barley and wheat and gathering shellfish as well as fishing for species which have to be line caught using boats.

Finds of finely-made and decorated Unstan ware pottery link the inhabitants to chambered cairn tombs nearby and to sites far afield including Balbridie and Eilean Domhnuill. The name Howar is believed to be derived from Old Norse word haugr meaning mounds or barrows.

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Founded: 3700-2800 BC
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in United Kingdom

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User Reviews

Ian Gilmour (11 months ago)
Incredible to visit something with so much history! Be sure to bring your walking boots as the field is a bit boggy, if the cows are in the field just be cautious, they’re a bit curious. Lots of history and beautiful scenery, we’ll worth a visit!
Graeme MacDiarmid (12 months ago)
Able to access the buildings. Good directions from main road.
Tom Heek (12 months ago)
Stayed here for a bit in 2700 BCE, the beds were nicely made with stone and cloth, the food was also good.
Konnor Hunley (16 months ago)
Story: In 3600 BC, the orkneys built a house called "Knap of Howar". They also lived in there. 10 years later, they were struck by lightning in a big scary thunderstorm. The building survived, so that's the end.
Gamer Max (17 months ago)
OLDEST BUILDING!
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The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.

The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.

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Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.

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In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.