Skara Brae (HY232188), by the shore of the Bay of Skaill on
virtually unique. This remarkably well preserved village is one of
very few archaeological sites where it is actually possible to
imagine the lifestyle of the inhabitants.
First revealed after a
severe storm in 1850, this prehistoric community was occupied for
about 600 years. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the site was
occupied from before 3100 BC to about 2600 BC.
The group of six houses and a workshop is
connected by a covered close, and all the buildings except for the
workshop were buried to the tops of the walls by midden.
clay-like mixture of refuse consists of ashes, shells, bones, sand
and other domestic detritus and has been a major factor in
protecting the site from erosion. It seems that the occupants had
built the midden around their houses intentionally as an integral
part of the construction.
It appears to have been stored and used
deliberately rather than piled round existing houses. Damp-proof
courses had also been invented over 5,000 years ago. The foundations
of the houses have a layer of blue clay in the bottom course which
would have worked as well as polythene does today.
5,000 years ago the Bay of Skaill
may have been much smaller, with more sand dunes and perhaps a
freshwater loch behind the dunes. The village would have been behind
this lagoon amid pasture much like exists today.
very likely caused by encroaching sand, perhaps because of a great
storm which set the sand dunes in motion and overwhelmed the village
in a short time, as at the sands of Forvie more recently. However it
continued in use for some time after this, as there were several
occupation layers in the sand which filled the houses.
The houses vary in size from over 6m square to
barely 4m square, with a maximum surviving wall height of 2.4m. The
designs are quite similar (was there a local builder at work in
Orkney in 3000 BC?), with beds, dressers, tanks in the floor,
cupboards in the walls and cells off the main room. The cells in
some cases have drains, possibly for toilet purposes and are very
similar to the cells in chambered cairns.