Some 5,000 years ago, the prehistoric people of the Orkney Islands began building extraordinary monuments out of stone. Each of the four Heart of Neolithic Orkney sites is a masterpiece of Neolithic design and construction in itself. But together they represent one of the richest surviving Neolithic landscapes in Western Europe.
The series of important domestic and ritual monuments gives us incredible insights into the society, skills and spiritual beliefs of the people who built the monuments.
Skara Brae is a domestic settlement whose stone walls, passageways and stone furnishings – including beds and ‘dressers’ – survive to the present day.
Maeshowe, a chambered tomb, is an extraordinary example of Neolithic architectural genius. It was designed so that the light of the setting sun at the winter solstice focuses on the narrow passageway, illuminating the chamber inside.
The Stones of Stenness circle and henge is a very early example of this type of monument. The surviving stones are enormous, standing up to 6m tall.
The Ring of Brodgar is a great stone circle 130m across. Surrounded by a rock cut ditch, it is set in a spectacular natural amphitheatre of lochs and hills.
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney lies in a wider archaeological landscape rich with remains from Neolithic times and many later periods of Orcadian history.
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is near Stromness on the island of Mainland, Orkney.
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site Coordinator
Historic Environment Scotland
2 Inscription and significance
UNESCO inscribed the Heart of Neolithic Orkney in 1999 for the outstanding testimony the monuments bear to the cultural achievements of the Neolithic peoples of northern Europe.
The World Heritage Site is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble and archaeological landscape that illustrate a significant stage of human history – the age when the first large ceremonial monuments were built.
Individual monuments are technologically ingenious and monumental masterpieces, displaying the highest sophistication in architectural ability.
3 Visit the Heart of Neolithic Orkney
You can visit all of the monuments that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. We look after all four sites.
Find out about visiting:
View images of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney on the Scottish Ten website.
Download the Heart of Neolithic Orkney leaflet
4 Managing the Heart of Neolithic Orkney
Historic Environment Scotland manages and cares for the Heart of Neolithic Orkney on behalf of Scottish Ministers.
Our partners in the World Heritage Site’s wider management are:
Statement of Outstanding Universal Value and management plan
Each World Heritage Site has a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value, which:
- clearly states the reasons for the site’s inscription on the World Heritage List
- identifies what must be protected, conserved and managed to protect its Outstanding Universal Value for the long term
UNESCO also requires each site to have a management plan. This provides a shared framework for a site’s active:
A new Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site Research Strategy was produced in 2013 in partnership with Orkney College UHI. This updates and supplements the previous 2005 Research Agenda.
Find other downloads relating to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney on the Orkney Islands Council website.