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Footsteps From The Past: The Ancient Village Of Skra Brae
Scotsman ^ | 10-12-2005 | Caroline Wickham-Jones

Posted on 10/12/2005 5:23:11 PM PDT by blam

Footsteps from the past: the ancient village of Skara Brae

CAROLINE WICKHAM-JONES

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 Scotland’s 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.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: ancient; brae; footsteps; from; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; orkneyislands; past; scotland; scotlandyet; skara; skarabrae; village

1 posted on 10/12/2005 5:23:21 PM PDT by blam
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To: SunkenCiv

GGG Ping.


2 posted on 10/12/2005 5:24:51 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam
The inhabitants were farmers who cultivated barley...

They brewed beer!

3 posted on 10/12/2005 5:26:08 PM PDT by Publius
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To: blam


"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???


4 posted on 10/12/2005 5:28:25 PM PDT by Wiseghy (Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will. – Ralph Waldo Emerson)
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To: Publius
They were truly civilized.
5 posted on 10/12/2005 5:30:54 PM PDT by Redcloak (We'll raise up our glasses against evil forces singin' "whiskey for my men and beer for my horses!")
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To: blam

Simon Schama's TV series on "Britain" has great video of Skara Brae. It sure looks cold there!


6 posted on 10/12/2005 5:35:43 PM PDT by Tax-chick (When bad things happen, conservatives get over it!)
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To: blam
In Origin's Ultima series of computer games, Skara Brae was the town of spirituality.
7 posted on 10/12/2005 5:38:40 PM PDT by COEXERJ145 (Cindy Sheehan, Pat Buchanan, John Conyers, and David Duke Are Just Different Sides of the Same Coin.)
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To: blam

Would the local people have been "Picts" or not?


8 posted on 10/12/2005 5:42:06 PM PDT by truth_seeker
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To: truth_seeker
"Would the local people have been "Picts" or not?"

Scotland: A Concise History
(The Land And The People)

9 posted on 10/12/2005 5:50:37 PM PDT by blam
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To: truth_seeker; LibreOuMort
Would the local people have been "Picts" or not?

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.

10 posted on 10/12/2005 5:54:16 PM PDT by sionnsar (†trad-anglican.faithweb.com† || (To Libs:) You are failing to celebrate MY diversity! || Iran Azadi)
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To: blam
There's something odd about this pic...

Perhaps it's just my imagination.

11 posted on 10/12/2005 5:55:39 PM PDT by Redcloak (We'll raise up our glasses against evil forces singin' "whiskey for my men and beer for my horses!")
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To: sionnsar

"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)


12 posted on 10/12/2005 6:44:02 PM PDT by truth_seeker
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To: blam; FairOpinion; Ernest_at_the_Beach; StayAt HomeMother; 24Karet; 3AngelaD; asp1; ...
Thanks Blam.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list. Thanks.
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13 posted on 10/12/2005 10:07:16 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (Down with Dhimmicrats! I last updated by FR profile on Sunday, August 14, 2005.)
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To: blam

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.


14 posted on 10/12/2005 10:11:08 PM PDT by ChocChipCookie (Democrats: soulless minions of orthodoxy.)
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To: devolve

Ping


15 posted on 10/12/2005 10:15:23 PM PDT by ntnychik
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To: SunkenCiv

The important question is: Did the inhabitants have red hair?


16 posted on 10/12/2005 10:27:48 PM PDT by ValerieUSA
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To: COEXERJ145
In Origin's Ultima series of computer games, Skara Brae was the town of spirituality.

Thank you, I was trying to remember why that name was familiar.

17 posted on 10/12/2005 10:44:07 PM PDT by Dustbunny (Jihadist, they want to die for Islam, we need to help them achieve that goal.)
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To: ntnychik


Cold stone furnishings

Tough stock


18 posted on 10/12/2005 10:56:22 PM PDT by devolve (------------------ ( -- under deconstruction -- ) ------------------)
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To: truth_seeker

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.


19 posted on 10/13/2005 3:06:41 AM PDT by jimtorr
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To: Dustbunny; COEXERJ145
The name "Skara Brae" was also used as the town name in the original "Bard's Tale" game for the Commodore 64.

NFP

20 posted on 10/13/2005 4:45:00 AM PDT by Notforprophet (Democrats have stood their own arguments on their heads so often that they now stand for nothing.)
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To: truth_seeker
I had understood the Celts (Scotti) came much later than 5,000 years ago.
And I think the Nordics came later, too.

Quite correct on both accounts. Those were the big waves

21 posted on 10/13/2005 8:20:53 AM PDT by sionnsar (†trad-anglican.faithweb.com† || (To Libs:) You are failing to celebrate MY diversity! || Iran Azadi)
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To: ValerieUSA

...and if not, why study 'em? ;'D


22 posted on 10/13/2005 10:11:37 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (Down with Dhimmicrats! I last updated by FR profile on Sunday, August 14, 2005.)
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To: blam

Yeh -weren't they the Picts?


23 posted on 10/13/2005 10:41:05 AM PDT by RoadTest (The Clintons have no sense of shame.)
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To: blam

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.


24 posted on 10/13/2005 10:53:49 AM PDT by Spottys Spurs
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To: Spottys Spurs

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.


25 posted on 10/14/2005 9:25:08 AM PDT by Docbarleypop (Navy Doc)
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26 posted on 11/14/2010 7:15:32 PM PST by SunkenCiv (The 2nd Amendment follows right behind the 1st because some people are hard of hearing.)
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