Neolithic village of Skara Brae is one of Orkney’s most-visited old sites and regarded by many for one of the most remarkable monuments in Europe. Skara Brae is a large stone-built Neolithic settlement, it consists of ten clustered houses, and was occupied from roughly 3180 BCE–2500 BCE.
In the wintertime from 1850, a severe storm shoot Britain making widespread damage and over two hundred deaths. In the Bay of Skaill, the storm stripped the land by an big irregular knoll, known in Scottish as a howe, which had been a local landmark. When the storm cleared, local villagers discovered in place of the howe an intact village, albeit without roofs.
All house have the same basic conception – a big square room, with a central fireplace, a bed on either side and a shelved dresser on the wall opposite the doorway. On average, the houses measure 40 square metres in size with a large square room containing a hearth which would have been 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 that could be closed “by a bar that slid in bar-holes cut in the stone door jambs”. A sophisticated drainage system was even incorporated into the village’s design, one that included a primitive form of toilet in each dwelling.
The Grooved Ware People who built Skara Brae were primarily pastoralists who raised cattle and sheep. Childe originally believed that the inhabitants did not practice agriculture, but excavations in 1972 unearthed seed grains from a midden suggesting that barley was cultivated. Fish bones and shells are common in the middens indicating that dwellers supplemented their diet with seafood. Limpet shells are common and may have been fish-bait that was kept in stone boxes in the homes.
The island’s red deer and boar were as well hunted because their meat and skins. Seal meat was consumed and, on the occasions when they found a beached whale, it is meat would get provided an welcome fiesta. In addition, they, like the generations of islanders that followed it, believably collected the eggs from seabirds as well as harvesting the birds themselves.
As well as providing meat, the animals, hunted and farmed, provided the skin and bone that was the raw material for the tools and needed for everyday life – needles, shovels, pins, knives, picks and adzes. The flint, or chert, required for their cutting edges, was either “imported” or gathered from the shore.
For fuel, the villagers probably burned a combination of seaweed and dried animal dung – fuels that remained in use until the 19th century – possibly along with the poor quality peat available to the villagers.
The village remains under constant threat by coastal erosion and the onslaught of the sand and sea. In addition, the increasing number of visitors to the site annually are causing problems. Steps are being taken, however, to alleviate, or minimise, this damage.