2. Scara Brae, Scotland


The Village of Skara Brae, Orkney Islands, Scotland

And so the people in the castle that you see at the top of this  picture, woke up one  morning to see that very ancient people had lived very near them a long time ago.

Can you imagine what it might have been like walk down the hill and take a look?

I would suspect they become awestruck.

Let’s walk around this village to see what the village is made of and look for clues that will give us an idea of what life was like in this village.

The village was built so that the villagers entered their homes through this entryway.

What is the entrance made of?

 What is covering the opening and what do you think it is made of?

The island of Orkney happens to be very cold and having huge amounts of wind. In order to protect themselves from freezing to death these new villagers discovered that Pete Moss, which grew abundantly in the area, could protect them from the cold and the wind.  That is the green which you see growing over the hill.It grew around their homes as well.

The Village of Skara Brae  

Look below.                                             

If we were visiting the village in 3,000 B.C., this is what we would have seen. Research shows that the first village was built about 5,000 B.C. You would enter with your head bent down into your home. Think about that. Another thing to know about this place is that the wind blew so hard that trees could not grow. (Ingval Maxwell)


There are a number of things to notice here. The castle is a long way from the ocean that this village was built very near to.  Notice how high the village walls are. You can see the paths that the villagers used to walk around and you are not allowed to do that today.

Over time the peat moss returned and covered part of the village.  We can see the village this way because in the 1800’s a huge storm ripped the tops off of the entire village.

Here you can see how close the village is to the ocean. Over time the land has eroded and sand has been blown away in great storms.

Their main source of food came from the ocean. Fish and shell-fish bones and shells were found in their middens.

We will start our trip through the village by looking at a single home from something of the distance. Every home was created using the same architectural design.Here we see the interior of a house. The middle of the house was the fire place.

Another view of the a home.

A passage way.

This is the passage the villagers would have used during the long dark winters to visit one another.

We can now take a walk around the village.








A close look at the beginning of a passage.

Why do you think the walls were so thick?

The seven houses uncovered by the great stormed were all laid out the same way. Here you can find the fireplace in the middle of the room, what is called a bed at top side of the fireplace and what are called shelves to your left. The image on the right shows us how wonderfully done was the stone work.

Another view of a house. Keep in mind that there were roofs for the houses so the interior would have been very dark. Walk in to this room and imagine that the only light was from the fire place.

A closer look.

The shelves and what looks to me as a bowl to grind seeds on the right side of the shelves.

Shelves in another house. Same idea and different slabs of rock.

This gives you an idea of just how well their stone masons worked with the natural stone found on the island. Keep in mind that there were now trees big enough to supply wood for making houses.

This last picture is to give you an idea of scale. The people who built this town were a lot smaller than we are today.

This gives you a close look at the quality of the stone work done by these very ancient people.



As we leave this early village. we want you to have some idea of what it might look like with a person in the house.


I would like everybody to do something after they have completed a unit. To help this happen I have added  a site gives you the tools to paint and draw. I hope you take the time to use this and if you do so you are more likely to remember what you just learned.


Katherine Bolman

Copyright©2009 Applied History of Art and Architecture

Please make use of this information in a way that will be helpful to you.

George Mackay Brown http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/index.html

The Orkney Islands have a long and colorful history. It is no exaggeration to say that the isles are a place where this history remains a part of everyday life.

Every corner of the islands has its ancient monuments, most of them in a remarkable state of repair. For thousands of years, people have lived and worked in Orkney.
From the stone age Orcadian, who left a legacy of monuments that continue to inspire today, through to the Vikings, who took the islands in the ninth century and made them the centre of a powerful Earldom and part of the kingdom of Norway, and beyond. The Orkney islands are covered with monuments that stand as constant reminders of the events and people who have gone before.
Houses and tombs dating back 5,000 years share the landscape with Bronze Age cemeteries, standing stones, 2,000 year old broths, viking ruins, medieval churches and Renaissance palaces.
Our history is therefore not something that exists only in schoolbooks, or in the thoughts of academics. Orkney’s history and heritage is everywhere . An intricate tapestry of events stitched into the very fabric of the islands themselves. Arcadians have a connection with this history, events that were witnessed by their ancestors many generations ago.

The past is alive and remains part of everyday life, albeit unconsciously.