Skara Brae is remarkable because of its age, and even more so for the quality of its preservation. Its structures survive in impressive condition – as does, incredibly, the furniture in the village houses.
Nowhere else in Western Europe can we see such rich evidence of how our remote ancestors actually lived.
Skara Brae became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney in 1999, in recognition of the site’s profound importance.
Village houses and furniture
Skara Brae was originally an inland village beside a freshwater loch.
All of the houses were:
- well built of flat stone slabs
- set into large mounds of midden
- linked by covered passageways
Each house has a single room, its floor space roughly 40sq m.
‘Fitted’ stone furniture in each room includes:
- a ‘dresser’ – perhaps to store and display special objects
- two box-beds
- a central hearth
- small tanks set into the floor – possibly for preparing fish bait
A larger structure at one end of the village has a special hearth and no box-beds, so may have been a workshop.
Artefacts and remains
A rich array of artefacts and natural remains has been discovered during various archaeological excavations.
The finds include:
- gaming dice
- jewellery – necklaces, beads, pendants and pins
- richly carved stone objects, perhaps used in religious rituals
The villagers were farmers, hunters and fishermen who were able to produce beautiful and complex items using basic tools.
No weapons have been found and the village was not in a readily defended location, both of which suggest a peaceful life.
Most artefacts found here are on display in the Skara Brae visitor centre.
The end of village life
No one knows why village life seems to have ended around 2500 BC. Some argue that a huge sandstorm covered the houses. Others believe it was a more gradual process.
As village life was ending, new monuments were starting to appear on mainland Orkney. The most important of these are Maeshoww Chambered Cairn, and the impressive Ring of Brodgar Stone Circle and Henge and Stones of Stenness Circle and Henge.
Ongoing excavations at Links of Noltland, Westray and Ness of Brodgar are now revealing other settlements of a similar period to Skara Brae.