Skara Brae is the most complete Neolithic stone village of its kind in Scotland, which gives invaluable insight into life during the period of 3100 to 2500 BC. Located on the west coast of the windswept island of Orkney, Skara Brae is virtually unparalleled in how well it was preserved by sediment, and how well it was planned and built as a settlement during that time.
Skara Brae was discovered in 1850 when severe storms eroded the grass and sediment from the buildings that had been carved into mounds. Initial excavation was started and abandoned within a few years until Vere Gordon Childe, an Australian archaeologist, resumed excavation in 1928, which lasted two years. What was uncovered at Skara Brae would answer questions archaeologists had been pondering for years, while leaving even more unanswered.
The settlement consisted of 10 buildings clustered on a hillside. Winding, covered passages snaked between the homes; their main entrance equipped with a locking door to protect the inhabitants from weather or enemies. The homes were built with the same basic plan: they were circular in shape, with a central hearth, a stacked stone dresser, or shelving unit on the wall opposite the entrance, and bed “boxes” built off the side walls. All the homes had basically the same furniture that was built with flat, stacked stone.
Orkney winters are cold, and Skara Brae was built to shelter its inhabitants from the elements while they were in their homes and while they moved about the settlement. Insulating layers of “midden” which was in essence, refuse, surrounded and covered the dwellings. Interestingly, all the homes were fairly equal in size, comfort and furnishing, suggesting that residents were considered equals.
The builders of Skara Brae demonstrated great planning and even some early skills in plumbing. The rudimentary drainage system provided each home with a basic toilet and holding tank for water. The village even had an extra building with apparent work stations to manufacture tools such as flint axes and bone needles.
The residents of Skara Brae were farmers with livestock. Their diet apparently consisted of the grains that were farmed, deer, fish and shellfish. It remains a mystery as to why the settlement seems to have been abruptly abandoned around 2500 BC. This mystery, coupled with the remarkable preservation of the site, make Skara Brae a popular tourist destination on Orkney.