The Neolithic settlement Skara Brae, Scotland, dubbed the “Scottish Pompeii” due to its excellent preservation. This site was occupied approximately 3180 BCE–2500 BCE.

8 stone dwellings are what remain of Skara Brae today, each of these are linked together by low, covered passages. Considering the age of these structures, their preservation is astonishing, the walls still stand, and the alleyways are each roofed with their original slab of stone.

The preserved interior fittings of Skara Brae offer a rare insight and glimpse into the daily of Neolithic Orkney. Each house is similar in their basic design, each have a large square room, beds on either side, a shelved dresser on the wall opposite the doorway, and a central fireplace.

It was declared part of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999, and was described as proclaiming the triumphs of the human spirit in early ages and isolated places.”

Photos courtesy & taken by Michel Guilly.


Skara Brae

Northern Europe’s best-preserved Neolithic village

The Neolithic village of Skara Brae was discovered in the winter of 1850. Wild storms ripped the grass from a high dune known as Skara Brae, beside the Bay of Skaill, and exposed an immense midden (refuse heap) and the ruins of ancient stone buildings. The discovery proved to be the best-preserved Neolithic village in northern Europe. And so it remains today.

Skara Brae was inhabited before the Egyptian pyramids were built, and flourished for centuries before construction began at Stonehenge. It is some 5,000 years old. But it is not its age alone that makes it so remarkable and so important. It is the degree to which it has been preserved. The structures of this semi-subterranean village survive in impressive condition. So, amazingly, does the furniture in the village houses. Nowhere else in northern Europe are we able to see such rich evidence of how our remote ancestors actually lived.

The profound importance of this remarkable site was given official recognition in 1999 when it was inscribed upon the World Heritage List as part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

The houses

All the houses are well-built of closely-fitting flat stone slabs. They were set into large mounds of midden (household refuse) and linked by covered passages. Each house comprised a single room with a floor space of roughly 40sq m. The ‘fitted’ stone furniture within each room comprised a dresser, where prized objects were probably stored and displayed, two box-beds, a hearth centrally placed and small tanks set into the floor, perhaps for preparing fish bait. 

The artefacts

A rich array of artefacts and ecofacts has been discovered during the various archaeological excavations. They include gaming dice, hand tools, pottery and jewellery (necklaces, beads, pendants and pins). Most remarkable are the richly carved stone objects, perhaps used in religious rituals. The villagers were farmers, hunters and fishermen, capable of producing items of beauty and sophistication with rudimentary technology. No weapons have been found and the settlement was not in a readily defended location, suggesting a peaceful life.

Most of the artefacts are now on view in the visitor centre, a short walk away.

The end of village life

Village life appears to have ended around 2,500 BC. No one knows why. Some argue that it was because a huge sandstorm engulfed their houses, others that it was more gradual. As village life came to an end, new monuments were beginning to rise up on mainland Orkney, including most importantly the chambered tomb at Maes Howe and the impressive stone circles at the Ring of Brodgar and Stenness.

TEXT © Historic Scotland who manage the site.

Fuller details can be found at

Rediscovered: 5,000-year-old figurine from Skara Brae

A long lost Neolithic human figurine, found at Skara Brae in the 1860s, has been rediscovered in the collections of Stromness Museum.

Dr David Clarke identified the figurine among artefacts from Skaill House donated to the museum without provenance in the 1930s, while undertaking research on Skara Brae funded by Historic Environment Scotland.

The representation has been carved from a piece of whalebone and measures 9.5cm high by 7.5cm wide. Eyes and a mouth have been cut in the face and the body has a navel, but is otherwise unadorned. Holes through the head and body may have been used to suspend the figurine. 

The figurine was originally discovered by William G. Watt, the local laird, when excavating a stone bed compartment in House 3 of the Neolithic village. Read more.

Skara Brae, Scotland

Photograph by KEENPRESS, National Geographic

Visitors peer into the past in the Orkney Islands, where in 1850 a strong storm uncovered the remains of the Skara Brae settlement. Later excavations revealed a complex of stone houses linked by passageways that dates to between 3200 and 2500 B.C. It’s considered the best preserved Neolithic village ever found in northern Europe and is a World Heritage site.


And finally, my pictures from Skara Brae. I have others but the 10 picture limit means I could only upload the most interesting. 

I’ve been wanting to visit Skara Brae since I start academic archaeology 4 years ago and although the site was smaller than I expected it was no less as amazing.

For anyone who doesn’t know what Skara Brae is, it is the remains of a Neolithic settllement, it’s called the best preserved in Europe, and it probably is, however if you really want to have a good nosy I’ve been told that the ’Knap of Howar’ on Papay is the place to visit. Skara Brae was protected by sand until a storm in 1850 uncovered part of the site, not all houses were excavated at that time. 

A friend of mine, who is doing her master at Orkney College through UHI is doing her dissertation on different ways to interact with Skara Brae without visiting the site (although she still thinks that nothing compares to visiting the site), her focus was on house 7 , take a look at some of her work here.

I hope to go back when Skaill House is open during the summer but it depends on transport, time and money. 


Archaeology: A Secret History - BBC Four 

Episode 3 “The Power of the Past”.

The Neolithic site of Skara Brae in Scotland’s Orkney Islands.

Skara Brae is the best preserved Neolithic village in Western Europe. Occupation began about 3180 BC and continued for about 600 years.

All the houses were well built of closely fitting flat stone slabs and linked by covered passageways. The structures of this semi-subterranean village survive in impressive condition as well as the furniture in the houses. Each house comprised a single room with a floor space. The fitted stone furniture within each room comprised a ‘dresser’, where prized objects may have been stored and displayed, two box-beds and a stone hearth centrally placed and used for heating and cooking. Just outside the complex of houses, a workshop stands on its own where chert (a local flint substitute) was made into stone tools.

Artefacts like tools, pottery, gaming dice, richly carved stone objects and jewellery (necklaces, beads, pendants and pins) have been discovered. No weapons have been found and the settlement was not in a readily defended location.

Skara Brae was discovered in 1850 when a violent storm ravaged the Orkney Islands and revealed the Neolithic village buried beneath the sand dunes.In 1999 Skara Brae (along with the other Orkney sites Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness) were designated as a World Heritage site.

Skara Brae, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK

Skara Brae is an outcrop of land in Orkney, Scotland. The people that lived here did so before Stonehenge was even built. or before the Pyramids were a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and was built around 3150 BCE.

In 1850, a massive storm hit Orkney, causing 200 deaths. The storm stripped landscapes, tore trees out by their roots, demolished buildings, and made a grassy knoll fly off an irregular peninsula. Beneath that knoll lay Skara Brae, a settlement of seven neolithic houses. As you can see, they were very near perfectly preserved.

Although a local landowner started having a dig around, only four of the seven houses were uncovered, and the site remained undisturbed until 1913. Unfortunately, archaeology at this point in time was done as a hobby, and carelessly, with little to no regulations. As a result, the site was plundered of a vast amount of fantastically important historical artefacts over the course of a single weekend by an excavation party; there’s no telling what was lost.

More than 50 people lived in Skara Brae five thousand years ago. They made pottery and built their houses into pre-existing household waste which acted as an early form of insulation against the harsh Scottish climate. They had furniture made out of stone and had doors to their houses.  They raised sheep and cows and made clay pots. An ancient Hebridean custom until recent times was that the male of the house had a larger bed, something reflected in the stone beds still viewable in Skara Brae.

Recent excavations have uncovered proof of one of the earliest forms of flea.

The settlement also had a fairly sophisticated drainage system.

Despite the level of care and sophistication present, Skara Brae was abandoned after 600 years of habitation. Although archaeologists disagree as to whether this was a quick event or not, the artefacts that were left behind indicate it could have been a sudden departure.

Over time, sand blew in to the hearths they’d cooked in and over the beds the inhabitants had slept in, filled up the dressers and the drains, grass grew on top of the sand, and Skara Brae slept undisturbed until hurricane winds revealed its existence some five thousand years later.

Skara Brae, Orkney Photograph by Paul Sutherland Archaeology received a gift from nature in 1850, when a strong storm hit the Orkney Islands, stripping away sand dunes and uncovering the remains of the Skara Brae settlement. Later excavations would reveal a complex of stone houses linked by passageways that dates to between 3200 and 2500 B.C. It’s considered the best preserved Neolithic village ever found in northern Europe and is a World Heritage site.

50 fascinating facts you should know about Scotland, apparently.

1. The official animal of Scotland is the Unicorn.

2. The shortest scheduled flight in the world is one-and-a-half miles long from Westray to Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. The journey takes 1 minute 14 seconds to complete.

3. Scotland has approximately 790 islands, 130 of which are inhabited.

4. The Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae (pictured below), on the island of Orkney, is the oldest building in Britain, dating from 3100 BC.

5. The Hamilton Mausoleum in South Lanarkshire has the longest echo of any man-made structure in the world; a whole 15 seconds.
(Edit - longest echo is now at 112 seconds taken in a man-made structure has been set in an underground fuel depot constructed in Scotland before World War Two.)

6. Scotland has more than 600 square miles of freshwater lakes, including the famous Loch Ness.

7. The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh, is only its second largest city, after Glasgow.

8. Edinburgh was the first city in the world which had its own fire brigade.

9. Like Rome, Edinburgh was built on seven hills and the capital has more listed buildings than anywhere in the world.

10. Scotland had its own monarch until 1603. After Elizabeth I died,James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, ruling both countries.

11. St Andrews Links is considered the “home of golf”; the sport has been played there since the 15th century.

12. Queen Victoria is reputed to have smoked cigarettes during her visits to the Highlands of Scotland to keep away midges.

13.Edinburgh was home to Skye terrier Grey Friar’s Bobby, who captured the hearts of the nation by sitting on the grave of his dead owner for 14 years.

14.Scotland is currently the second largest country in the UK, after England.

15. The highest point in Scotland is Ben Nevis, at 4,406ft (1343m)

More facts after the cut.

Keep reading