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History

The Knap of Howar comprises the substantially complete walls and stone fittings of two side-by-side Neolithic buildings. They’re both oblong-shaped and stand just over 1.6m tall, with intact entrances. They’re linked by a short passage. 

House 1 

House 1 is the larger and probably slightly older of the two. Upright stone partitions separate the house into two compartments, and traces of post-holes suggest it had a low-pitched roof. The roof was partially corbelled and likely thatched or turfed. A hearth and a stone-built cupboard survive inside, and there may have been an external porch. 

House 2 

House 2, like house 1, has stone-built cupboards, and once had a hearth. It’s divided into three compartments. ‘House’ is more of a term of convenience for house 2 – it may well have been used as a workshop or for storage, rather than as a dwelling. 

Found about the houses 

Excavations of the two houses help us understand the site’s Neolithic inhabitants, and put the site in its context among Orkney’s other prehistoric monuments. Finds at the Knap of Howar have included: 

  • distinctive  stone tools, including grinders and borers. These also appear at later settlements in Orkney 
  • evidence of a mixed agricultural economy, including barley and wheat production and domestic animals 
  • an antler and whalebone macehead, evidence that domestic spaces were used for ceremonial and ritual activities 
  • animal remains, providing dietary information about Scotland’s earliest farmers 

The site has not yet been completely explored. The two houses are certainly part of a larger settlement. 

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