Skara Brae and the Maeshowe Tomb

For Ed Mooney’s great History Challenge on Wednesday-

skaill bay fadedIn the winter of 1850 a wild North Sea storm uncovered Neolithic ruins at Skaill Bay on the Orkney Islands of Scotland.  Further excavations and study determined that a small village of  10 homes had been established there circa 3500 BC.  All the homes were the same in size and structure. This little egalitarian community of around 50 people had come together before the Great Pyramids of Egypt were built.

Skara Brae tecture

The dig yielded many artifacts including pottery, tools, jewelry, and even gaming dice which are preserved in the museum in Kirkwall.  The houses had a central hearth,  bed boxes and cupboards all made from stone. As trees struggle to survive on the storm blown islands it is speculated that the inhabitants may have used drift wood from the beaches for their fires. No war-like weapons were discovered and the people were most likely peaceful farmers who also fished for sustenance. Sometime around 2500 BC the village was abandoned.


skarabrae door

the winding passageways and low doorways kept out the winds


skara brae village

Skara Brae with Skaill House in distance

The Orkneys are home to the famous Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness which also date back to before the pyramids.the land of the standing stones3

These are part of the Henge Monuments, but who built them and why is still surrounded in some mystery.

stones of Brodgar, Orkneys

the Ring of Brodgar, Orkneys

Stones of Stenness

A bit further from the famous stones is the Maeshowe Tomb. This site is very similar to those found in Ireland and are from the same period.



It is a  burial mound with ceremonial significance.  The placement of the doorway aligns with the  winter solstice. Interestingly on the inside walls of  Maeshowe  are Viking runes.  One possible and colourful story is that a group of vikings sought shelter in the tomb during a storm. It might have been a bit frightening to find themselves in an ancient burial chamber, and there probably was not much in the way of plunder,  so in the bravado of the day- as well as one of those culturally defining moments, (loosely translated)- are scratched the words “Eric was here and looted the place.

Ring of Brodgar

Also check out this post on St. Magnus Cathedral and John Rae on the Orkneys.