Skara Brae is in the heart of the Orkney islands of Scotland, and it was occupied in the Neolithic times. This is a unique place, and one that brings to light the fact that ancient men were not incompetent brutes, but they were highly intelligent, resourceful and ingenious. However, the modern discovery of this site does not have a good beginning.
In the winter of 1850, a tragedy came over Scotland – a terrible storm that wrecked the land and caused the deaths of over 200 people. In the bay of Skaill, a knoll known as Scerrabra was stripped of earth. When the storm passed, locals found that the storm had uncovered ancient stone houses without roofs. They alerted a land owner, William Watt of Skaill, but he only uncovered a few houses and abandoned the excavation in 1868. It was left for many years, until in 1913, the stone houses were ransacked, and an unknown number of artefacts were stolen. Then, in 1924, another storm flattened a house! This site was not off to a good start. However, in 1927, a Professor from the University of Edinburgh, V. Gordon Childe, decided to investigate – properly. What he – and later, others – found was truly astonishing.
The houses at Skara Brae were sunk into the ground, so that the stone walls were surrounded by earth, which would have not only insulated the house, it would have protected it from storms. (Remember how when the houses were uncovered, they went over in the wind?) Each house measures roughly 40 square meters, with a stone hearth set in one of the square rooms. These houses also have been found to have had stone – built furniture! Dressers, cupboards, beds, storage boxes, and seats all survive to this day, thanks to having been made of stone. Each house had a low doorway, with a bar that slid over the stone door to lock the door closed, and there is even a sophisticated drainage system built into the village, which was used by the toilets in each house!
Think about this for a moment. Often, we are told that the first ‘civilized’ age came about with the Romans. But look at the evidence for yourself – Skara Brae had toilets and a sewer system long before the Romans!
Join me next time as we learn more about the Archaeology at Skara Brae!