neolithic village

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skara brae ▴ bay of skaill, orkney, scotland

consisting of eight clustered houses, this neolithic village – europe’s “most complete” – was occupied from roughly 3180 bc to about 2500 bc. it has been called the “scottish pompeii” because of its excellent preservation.

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Skara Brae is a stone-built Neolithic settlement, located on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of Mainland, the largest island in the Orkney archipelago of Scotland. Consisting of eight clustered houses, it was occupied from roughly 3180 BC to about 2500 BC. Europe’s most complete Neolithic village, Skara Brae gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as one of four sites making up “The Heart of Neolithic Orkney”. Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, it has been called the “Scottish Pompeii” because of its excellent preservation.

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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

Jarlshof

At the end of the 19th century, storms ripped open the low cliffs at Jarlshof, near the southern tip of Shetland. They revealed an extraordinary settlement site embracing 4,000 years of human history. Upon excavation, the site was found to contain a remarkable sequence of stone structures – late Neolithic houses, Bronze-Age village, Iron-Age broch and wheelhouses, Norse longhouse, medieval farmstead, and 16th-century laird’s house.

Into the Stone Age With a Scalpel: A Dig With Clues on Early Urban Life

CATALHOYUK, TURKEY — A pair of space-age shelters rising from the beet and barley fields of the flat Konya Plain are the first clue to the Catalhoyuk Research Project, where archaeologists are excavating a 9,000-year-old Neolithic village.

The experts, armed with scalpels, gingerly scraped away micro-layers of white plaster from a wall deep in the dig last month to reveal what the project director, the British archaeologist Ian Hodder, called a “very exciting” and “particularly intriguing” painting with deep reds and reddish oranges thought to be made with red ochre and cinnabar.

“We were taking off many, many layers of plaster and we have a program where a joint team of Turkish and British conservators try to take them off one by one, so it’s extremely slow-going,” Dr. Hodder said this week by telephone.

“I got called over to where they were working because they saw some paint. The pattern initially didn’t look like very much: We often find just specks of paint or a wall of all-red paint. But this time it gradually emerged that this was a complete painting, and the best preserved painting that I’ve ever seen at Catalhoyuk, with wonderfully fresh, bright colors and very neat lines.” Read more.

This is one of the models at the Stonehenge visitors centre.

There are several stages of the monument, where bits were added or moved around through its usage.

The earliest pieces of the site are the henge style monument itself (the ring ditch and bank formation) and the avenue leading away to the Cursus. This avenue itself follows enormous gouge marks in the chalk made by a glacier during the last Ice Age. The oldest standing stone, the Heelstone which sits in the entrance to the avenue, is aligned along the walkway to be in the exact point to watch the midwinter sunset behind it.

Aubrey Holes running around the inside were next. They were backfilled with chips from the large Sarson stones and other bits of debris. Their use is debated, with same suggesting wooden posts influenced by the nearby Woodhenge, and some following Parker Pearson’s interpretation that the holes originally contained the 56 Bluestones.

The Bluestones were transported all the way from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, Wales. This is around 180 miles. The stones are thought to have healing properties according to local tales, so this may attribute to their presence at the monument. The stones are a shifting piece of Stonehenge throughout the 2000 or so years it was in use. Aside from the theory they originally occupied the Aubrey Holes, they were moved a further two times within the inner horseshoe of stones, and some were placed in pits with cremations in them.

The final stage of the monument is the part we all think of as being Stonehenge, the circle of lintel Sarson stones. These stones were transported around 25 miles from the north, a little further than Avebury (the biggest henge monument) where the stones were also used. The difference is that the Stonehenge megaliths have been precisely shaped and worked to create the architectural illusion of the stones tapering off towards the tops, making them look taller and more imposing than they really are. They are arranged to allow the midwinter sunset be seen through the central trilithon from the direction of the avenue, while the external 4 Station stones chart the lunar rises and sets.

This is widely thought to be a very important time for Neolithic and early Bronze Age people, due to many other monuments such as Irish passage tombs, other stone circles and Scottish cairns. At this time of year, everything is dying and the world is a cold and harsh place to live. The symbolic sunset heralded the last of the days getting shorter and the world starting to come back to life. The nearby site of Durrington Walls - the largest Neolithic village found - gives evidence for the pilgrimage to Stonehenge being during the winter through the tooth eruption of 9 month old pigs taken from all over the British Isles to be slaughtered. This village could swell to hold and look after up to 4000 people. The two sites are connected by avenues leading to the River Avon, suggesting a possible processional way. This theory created by Parker Pearson is one of the most widely accepted around today.

The surrounding landscape is full of spiritual usage, with the hilltops and rises covered in round barrows leaning in slightly towards the henge, yet more evidence for the Stonehenge Ritual Landscape being a hugely important place for prehistoric people.