• Day21

    Skara Brae and Maeshowe

    August 25, 2017 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌫 13 °C

    Orkneys' prehistoric sites provide a remarkable insight to ancient civilisations. Amongst the most impressive for us was Skara Brae. Considered by many to be the best preserved Stone Age village in Europe, this amazing collection of still-furnished ancient buildings was uncovered by a storm in 1850. Long before Stonehenge or even the Egyptian pyramids were built, Skara Brae was a thriving village.

    Little is known of the early exploration of the site, as records were not kept, though artefacts were collected by the landowner of the nearby Skaill House. Subsequent investigations have yielded considerable information, and the site continues to be a source of new knowledge on the early history of these islands.

    Visitation of this site is normally limited to peering from above into the various houses that have been partially excavated. We were fortunate to happen upon a twightlight tour, which meant we could enter rooms just as it's inhabitants would have done 4500 years ago. Our informative guide wove a story of life during those times, highlighting artefacts and markings that supported current theories. The individual houses, linked by passages, cluster together, forming a close-knit community. Small doorways open to larger spaces, an effective means for keeping heat in. The same basic layout could be seen in many of the houses - a central hearth, a large "dresser", bed enclosures and limpet boxes (watertight stone boxes sunken into the floor and thought to have been used to soak limpets for fish bait). Being on the coast, seafood would have been an important food source and is well-represented in the numerous middens on site.

    A full size replica house, complete with roof, gave us a very good impression of what it must have been like living in these houses. An equally impressive exhibition provided further insight. This site is so important that Indiana Jones lectured about it (according to our guidebook)!

    Another remarkable site is that of Maeshowe. Considered to be the finest Neolithic building in north-west Europe, this chambered tomb is ingeniously aligned so that its interior is illuminated by the setting of the mid-winter sun. Built around 5000 years ago, humongous stones (upto 3 tonnes) line the walls. It must have required significant community involvement to construct such a sophisticated and complex building in an age before machinery or even metal tools. Abandoned for many centuries, it was rediscovered in the 1100s by the Vikings, who left their mark in the form of graffiti! Indeed, Maeshowe is mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga (the historical narrative of the history of the Orkney Islands written in the 1200s).
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