Skip to comments.Footsteps From The Past: The Ancient Village Of Skra Brae
Posted on 10/12/2005 5:23:11 PM PDT by blam
Footsteps from the past: the ancient village of Skara Brae
SCOTLAND'S towns and settlements are proud of their roots, but few can boast the antiquity of Skara Brae on the Orkney Islands.
Originally built around 3100BC to house a small group of Neolithic farming families, the abandoned houses with their stone dressers, beds and hearths provide a remarkable glimpse of a lifestyle that has long disappeared.
Of course the village developed slowly, as any village today, but Skara Brae is notable for the quality of its remains. The historic site still provides a powerful message, even for the 21st century visitor used to home comforts which the early Orcadians never knew.
A close-up look inside a house offers stunning detail.
Picture: Sigurd Towrie
Skara Brae today comprises eight well-preserved houses, with the remains of others below and around them; all but one are inter-connected by passages with stone roofs which must have provided much-needed shelter in the harsh Orcadian winters. The buildings are sub-circular, skilfully constructed using local stone, and there is considerable uniformity in their design. Each contains a single room with central hearth, a dresser opposite the low doorway and a bed to either side. Small cells were built into the walls, some of which provided storage while others have interconnected drains and may indicate early internal plumbing. Smaller fittings include stone seats and watertight tanks to keep shellfish and fish.
Scattered around the houses archaeologists found the usual clutter of everyday objects, now removed for safe keeping. At first it is hard to identify with the unfamiliar tools, but a closer glance reveals a world of finely decorated pottery, elaborate bone pins and needles, polished stone axes and sharp stone flakes that were set into hafts or the handle of a weapon as versatile implements.
A wealth of beads and fine pendants attest that life was not just a daily grind. There was leisure to provide for other needs and these included jewellery and art. Decorative motifs are scratched on to the stones of the houses and passages, and remains of haematite and ochre suggest that these were highly coloured.
Skara Brae lies on the coast and in winter it is not uncommon for waves to break over the site. But that has not always been so. When the houses were occupied the sea lay further off. There was a freshwater lochan, or pond, and small fields surrounded the settlement.
The inhabitants were farmers who cultivated barley and some wheat, and they kept cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. They supplemented their diet with wild birds and their eggs, fish, shellfish, fruits, berries and nuts gathered from the surrounding landscape.
Even 5000 years ago, however, the sea could be a problem. As the water gradually eroded its way towards the settlement, so too were the fields subject to increasing salt spray, and wind-blown sand. Farming became difficult and gradually the houses were abandoned as families left to seek more fertile land. With time the encroaching sand took its toll and by 2500BC the village lay buried, hidden and preserved as a veritable time capsule.
Skara Brae lay thus for over 4000 years until 1850 when a storm ripped off its protective covering to expose the ruins once more. Since then the site has provided a fertile base for archaeological research that continues today.
The surviving material from the site is truly remarkable, even by the standards of a nation rich in archaeological remains such as Scotland. Favourable preservation means that unusual details like fungi - probably collected as medicine - and rope have survived. This has played an important part in the development of Scotlands contribution to world archaeology. In addition, the continual development of new techniques mean that the contribution of Skara Brae is not over. Research work is still taking place that broadens our understanding of the site and of sites elsewhere.
In Orkney, Skara Brae was not alone. Similar Neolithic village sites are known, and people can also visit the ritual circles of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness. Likewise, it is possible to enter Neolithic tomb buildings such as Maeshowe. Together these monuments provide a comprehensive view of life 5000 years ago, and in 1999 this was recognised when they were accorded World Heritage Status.
They brewed beer!
"their stone dressers, beds and hearths provide a remarkable glimpse of a lifestyle that has long disappeared."
Nah uh!! The flintstones had those too!!! But did they find the car???
Simon Schama's TV series on "Britain" has great video of Skara Brae. It sure looks cold there!
Would the local people have been "Picts" or not?
Scotland: A Concise History
(The Land And The People)
Possibly. At the time at least most of Scotland was inhabited by the Picts. Later the Orkneys (and other places) were invaded by the Vikings; also a group of Irish (the Scotti) moved on in to western Scotland, becoming the Highlanders and Islanders.
Perhaps it's just my imagination.
"Later the Orkneys (and other places) were invaded by the Vikings; also a group of Irish (the Scotti) moved on in to western Scotland, becoming the Highlanders and Islanders."
I had understood the Celts (Scotti) came much later than 5,000 years ago.
And I think the Nordics came later, too.
So that goes back to the picts or pre-picts; eg. what one might label the indiginous people of the British Isles.
(Before Celts, Romans, Agles, Saxons, Frisians, Jutes, Normans, Belgians, Vikings, etc.---5,000 years ago)
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Interesting. This village was built, then, around the same time Kint Tut ruled and Homer was writing the Iliad. Give or take a couple of decades.
The important question is: Did the inhabitants have red hair?
Thank you, I was trying to remember why that name was familiar.
Cold stone furnishings
Actually, it's generally agreed that the Picts were probably a Celtic people. The remains of their stone circles and the inscriptions on those stones are near cousins to similar remains on the continent in known Celtic sites. Of course, the Celts may have simply conquered and absorbed the peoples who built the stone structures.
The Scotti migrated from Ireland in the 6 - 7th centuries, and the Vikings began their invasions in the 7 - 8th centuries.
The original Celtic invasions of what became known as Britain and Scotland would probably have been 1,000 - 1,500 years earlier. It is known that Celtic tribal migrations continued up into Roman times, as various tribes tried to escape Rome.
It is highly likely that there were earlier invasions of other peoples that are lost in the mists of time, just like the rest of Western Europe.
Quite correct on both accounts. Those were the big waves
...and if not, why study 'em? ;'D
Yeh -weren't they the Picts?
My wife & I spent several weeks in Scotland some years ago and visited Skara Brae. It was very interesting but the Ring o' Brodgar was unreal. Talk about primative! The ring is found in the Mainland parish of Stenness. Walking around these huge standing stones was awesome.
We hope to return to Scotland for another visit in the next few years. It was great fun, with wonderful people there.
i stayed at a b&b there, you are right about it, non of the stones were very impressive on their out, but the amount was immense, we got up at sunrise to get some pics, it was perfect, there was a mist covering the area with the sunrise and a flock of funny looking sheep still bedded down.
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