Skara Brae

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Alternative Names Skerrabrae; Skea Brae; Bay Of Skaill; Skaill House; Skail Bay
Site Type SETTLEMENT (NEOLITHIC)
Canmore ID 1663
Site Number HY21NW 12
NGR HY 23125 18745
Council ORKNEY ISLANDS
Parish SANDWICK
Former Region ORKNEY ISLANDS AREA
Former District ORKNEY
Former County ORKNEY
Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Canmore Mapping
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C14 Radiocarbon Dating
C14 radiocarbon dating


Treasured Places - HLF funded

The Neolithic settlement at Skara Brae consists of drystone structures linked by paved passageways. Most are built within a mound of midden material that has been packed up against the outer walls, resulting in a semi-subterranean arrangement. Each house is furnished in a similar fashion using stone slabs with repeated elements including central hearths, box-beds and shelved 'dressers'. An exception is House 8, a freestanding building, which may have been used as a workshop.

Remains of at least ten structures have been recorded, but these were not contemporary. The village may have been in use for around five hundred years, the well preserved houses that are currently visible representing the latest phase of rebuilding and occupation.

Information from RCAHMS (SC) 22 June 2007
Ritchie, A 1995
Ritchie, A and Ritchie, G 1998

An image of this site has been nominated as one of Scotland's favourite archive images. For more information about the project visit http://www.treasuredplaces.org.uk

Notes and Activities Click to sort results by Event date ascending

Archaeological Notes

HY21NW 12.00 23125 18745

(HY 2313 1874) Skerrabrae (NR)
OS 6" map, Orkney, 2nd ed., (1903).

See also HY21NW 30.00, HY21NW 30.01 and HY21NW 36.

HY21NW 12.01 HY 231 187 Stone: Rune-Inscribed
HY21NW 12.02 HY 230 187 Animal Remains; Stone Knives; Hearth
HY21NW 12.03 HY 230 187 Burial; Midden

For comparable settlements at Barnhouse (Mainland), Rinyo (Rousay) and Pool (Sanday), see HY31SW 61-2, HY43SW 20 and HY63NW 17 respectively.

Skara Brae, a Neolithic/Early Bronze Age settlement dated from its close similarity to the settlement at Rinyo (HY43SW 20), is a cluster of seven huts, connected by covered alleys, all contained within a heap of midden material. There are three phases of occupation, all of similar nature. The buildings are of drystone construction. They had been covered with blown sand, in which were found two stone cists containing pagan, probably Norse, inhumations. (For full details see authorities).
V G Childe 1950; RCAHMS 1946.

The settlement at Skara Brae is as described, planned and illustrated by the above authorities.
Resurveyed at 1/2500.
Visited by OS (NKB) 25 May 1967

HY 231 187. Excavations were undertaken on behalf of the Department of the Environment, 25m W of the present guardianship area where a storm had revealed the remains of a wall. The walling forms part of a structure or structures of a type not previously documented at the site. Two phases are represented and the line of the walling of each phase diverges as they go inland, becoming two separate walls. Both have walling running at right angles to the main walls. Preservation is extermely partial ranging from substantial walling several courses high to a single stone continuing the line. No significant midden deposits were associated with either phase of walling.
D V Clarke 1977

Radiocarbon Dates:
Birm 436 End of phase II village Mixed animal bone 2090bc +-110
2655BC +-125
Birm 434 End pf phase II village Mixed animal bone 2070bc +-110
2625BC +-125
Birm 435 End of phase II village Mixed animal bone 1920bc +-100
2415BC +-115
Birm 433 End of phase II village Mixed animal bone 1880bc +-100
2355BC +-125
Birm 793 Base of waterlogged layer in midden deposits at periphery of domestic area Mixed animal bone 2110bc +-130
2685BC +-145
Birm 477 Base of waterlogged layer in midden deposits at periphery of domestic area Mixed animal bone 2000bc +-100
2520BC +-115
Birm 478 Top of waterlogged layer in midden deposits at periphery of domestic area Mixed animal bone 2190bc +-120
2830BC +-135
Birm 792 Top of waterlogged layer in midden deposits at periphery of domestic area Mixed animal bone 1980bc +-110
2495BC +-125
Birm 437 Top of waterlogged layer in midden deposits at periphery of domestic area Mixed animal bone 1830bc +-110
2275BC +-125
Birm 795 Occupation deposits on old land surface Mixed animal bone
2520bc +-120 3270BC +-135
Birm 480 Occupation deposits on old land surface Mixed animal bone
2370bc +-100 3055BC +-135Birm 794
Occupation deposits on old land surface Mixed animal bone
2330bc +-100 3005BC +-115
Birm 637 Beginning of Phase I village Mixed animal bone
2480bc +-100 3215BC +-115
Birm 638 Beginning of phase I village Mixed animal bone
2480bc +-120 3215BC +-135
Birm 639 Beginning of phase I village Mixed animal bone
2450bc +-100 3175BC +-115
Birm 636 Beginning of phase I village Mixed animal bone
2400bc +-130 3095BC +-145
Birm 790 End of phase I village Mixed animal bone
2420bc +-150 3125BC +-160
Birm 789 End of phase I village Mixed animal bone
2360bc +-120 3045BC +-135
Birm 791 End of phase I village Mixed animal bone
2340bc +-100 3020BC +-115
Birm 788 Beginning of phase II village Mixed animal bone
2340bc +-120 3020BC +-135
Birm 786 Beginning of phase II village Mixed animal bone
2330bc +-120 3005BC +-135
Birm 787 Beginning of phase II village Mixed animal bone
2200bc +-100 2850BC +-115
J L Davidson and A S Henshall 1989.

HY 231 187 A watching brief was conducted at the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae (NMRS HY21NW 12) between February and March 2000. The work to be monitored was the removal of fence posts and their concrete settings around the S and E of the site, and the excavation of a trench and holes for a new perimeter fence and rabbit netting. Naturally accumulated sand deposits were most common, with occasional buried ground horizons. However, close to the S side of House 7, midden deposits were observed. A bone point, two cobble tools and six Skaill knives were retrieved.
Further archaeological monitoring of a substantial deturfing exercise to create a new footpath was carried out in April 2000. The turf was cut partly by hand and partly by machine. In both of the excavated trenches, the depth of excavation did not penetrate beneath archaeologically insensitive topsoil material. Consequently, no finds were recorded or retained.
Sponsor: Historic Scotland.
P Sharman and D Stewart 2000.

Scheduled as 'Skara Brae, settlement, mounds and other remains [comprising] the Neolithic village at Skara Brae, nearby remains of structures and activity areas of similar date, a large mound containing a succession of prehistoric and early medieval structures, and an area in which related remains are likely to survive, including ancient soils and field systems'.
Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 2 February 2004.

'The Orcadian' newspaper makes a number of references to Skara Brae. In 1866 it described the donations from 1863, from the site, given to the scottish Antiquarian Museum, and discussed the excavations being carried out at Skara Brae. In 1882 2 stone balls from the site were mentioned.

Standing building recording HY 2313 1874 A continuing programme of survey between February and November 2005 included stone-by-stone recording of the passageways and other areas not completed by an earlier photogrammetric survey, and the identification and positioning of inscribed stones (on-site).
Archive to be deposited in NMRS.
Sponsor: HS.
D Sproat 2005

Watching brief HY 2316 1875 A watching brief was undertaken in September 2005 during minor excavations near the NE entrance gate to the Neolithic village to allow access to a telephone cable. Only ground previously disturbed and redeposited during the original installation of the cable was disturbed. No finds, deposits or structures of archaeological significance were encountered in this small excavation.
Archive to be deposited in NMRS.
Sponsor: HS.
A Hollinrake 2005

HY 2311 1873 A watching brief was undertaken in March and April 2006 during the lifting of turf and paving slabs as part of a programme of works to alter visitor access paths in and around Skara Brae Neolithic Village. These works did not penetrate beyond turf and topsoil in any of the excavated areas, and as a result, no deposits, finds or structures of archaeological significance were encountered.
Archive deposited with Orkney SMR held at Orkney College, Kirkwall, Orkney. Archive to be deposited in NMRS.
Sponsor: Historic Scotland.
A Hollinrake 2006.

1850 to 1868
 ANTIQUARIAN OBSERVATION

Notes The Laird of Skaill, William Watt, began to explore the site and by 1868, four of the houses had been cleared out and a very rich collection of objects had been lodged in Skaill House.




Further details

1850
 REFERENCE

Notes In the winter of 1850 an extremely severe storm stripped the grass from the high dune known as Skara Brae in the south corner of the Bay of Skail. The storm exposed an immense midden mound or refuse heap and the ruins of ancient dwellings.
D Clarke and P Maguire 1989


Further details

1865 to 1867
 ANTIQUARIAN OBSERVATION

Notes


Further details

1866 to 1882
 REFERENCE

Notes 'The Orcadian' newspaper makes a number of references to Skara Brae. In 1866 it described the donations from 1863, from the site, given to the Scottish Antiquarian Museum, and discussed the excavations being carried out at Skara Brae. In 1882 two stone balls from the site were mentioned.
The Orcadian 1971; 1972; 1973.


Further details

1924
 PHOTOGRAPHIC RECORD

Notes


Further details

1925 to 1927
 CONSERVATION

Notes The seawall was built and buildings strengthened and consolidated. Further undisturbed structures were discovered.



Further details

1925
 INCIDENT

Notes A storm washed away part of the midden mound and damaged part of the previously cleared structures.



Further details

1927 to 1930
 EXCAVATION

Notes Skara Brae, a Neolithic/Early Bronze Age settlement dated from its close similarity to the settlement at Rinyo (HY43SW 20), is a cluster of seven huts, connected by covered alleys, all contained within a heap of midden material. There are three phases of occupation, all of similar nature. The buildings are of drystone construction. They had been covered with blown sand, in which were found two stone cists containing pagan, probably Norse, inhumations. (For full details see authorities).
V G Childe 1950; RCAHMS 1946.

Further details

1955
 AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY

Further details

31 May 1956
 PHOTOGRAPHIC SURVEY

Further details

22 July 1957 to 23 July 1957
 PHOTOGRAPHIC SURVEY

Further details

1963
 PHOTOGRAPHIC RECORD

Further details

1967
 FIELD VISIT

Notes The settlement at Skara Brae is as described, planned and illustrated by the above authorities.
Resurveyed at 1/2500.
Visited by OS (NKB) 25 May 1967

Further details

1971
 AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY

Further details

1972 to 1973
 EXCAVATION

Notes Excavations were undertaken on behalf of the Department of the Environment, 25m west of the present guardianship area where a storm had revealed the remains of a wall.


Further details

16 September 1978
 SALVAGE RECORD

Further details

16 September 1978
 INCIDENT

Notes Storm Damage

Further details

1989
 RADIOCARBON DATING

Notes Radiocarbon Dates:
Birm 436 End of phase II village Mixed animal bone 2090bc +-110
2655BC +-125
Birm 434 End pf phase II village Mixed animal bone 2070bc +-110
2625BC +-125
Birm 435 End of phase II village Mixed animal bone 1920bc +-100
2415BC +-115
Birm 433 End of phase II village Mixed animal bone 1880bc +-100
2355BC +-125
Birm 793 Base of waterlogged layer in midden deposits at periphery of domestic area Mixed animal bone 2110bc +-130
2685BC +-145
Birm 477 Base of waterlogged layer in midden deposits at periphery of domestic area Mixed animal bone 2000bc +-100
2520BC +-115
Birm 478 Top of waterlogged layer in midden deposits at periphery of domestic area Mixed animal bone 2190bc +-120
2830BC +-135
Birm 792 Top of waterlogged layer in midden deposits at periphery of domestic area Mixed animal bone 1980bc +-110
2495BC +-125
Birm 437 Top of waterlogged layer in midden deposits at periphery of domestic area Mixed animal bone 1830bc +-110
2275BC +-125
Birm 795 Occupation deposits on old land surface Mixed animal bone
2520bc +-120 3270BC +-135
Birm 480 Occupation deposits on old land surface Mixed animal bone
2370bc +-100 3055BC +-135Birm 794
Occupation deposits on old land surface Mixed animal bone
2330bc +-100 3005BC +-115
Birm 637 Beginning of Phase I village Mixed animal bone
2480bc +-100 3215BC +-115
Birm 638 Beginning of phase I village Mixed animal bone
2480bc +-120 3215BC +-135
Birm 639 Beginning of phase I village Mixed animal bone
2450bc +-100 3175BC +-115
Birm 636 Beginning of phase I village Mixed animal bone
2400bc +-130 3095BC +-145
Birm 790 End of phase I village Mixed animal bone
2420bc +-150 3125BC +-160
Birm 789 End of phase I village Mixed animal bone
2360bc +-120 3045BC +-135
Birm 791 End of phase I village Mixed animal bone
2340bc +-100 3020BC +-115
Birm 788 Beginning of phase II village Mixed animal bone
2340bc +-120 3020BC +-135
Birm 786 Beginning of phase II village Mixed animal bone
2330bc +-120 3005BC +-135
Birm 787 Beginning of phase II village Mixed animal bone
2200bc +-100 2850BC +-115
J L Davidson and A S Henshall 1989.

Further details

1993
 PHOTOGRAPHIC RECORD

Notes Photographs taken during an informal visit in 1993.

Further details

1997
 AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY

Project 1997 RCAHMS Aerial Survey

Further details

February 2000 to April 2000
 WATCHING BRIEF

Notes A watching brief was conducted at the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae between February and March 2000. Further archaeological monitoring of a substantial deturfing exercise to create a new footpath was carried out in April 2000.


Further details

February 2005 to November 2005
 STANDING BUILDING RECORDING

Notes A continuing programme of survey between February and November 2005 included stone-by-stone recording of the passageways and other areas not completed by an earlier photogrammetric survey, and the identification and positioning of inscribed stones (on-site).


Further details

September 2005
 WATCHING BRIEF

Notes A watching brief was undertaken in September 2005 during minor excavations near the NE entrance gate to the Neolithic village to allow access to a telephone cable.


Further details

March 2006 to April 2006
 WATCHING BRIEF

Notes HY 2311 1873 A watching brief was undertaken in March and April 2006 during the lifting of turf and paving slabs as part of a programme of works to alter visitor access paths in and around Skara Brae Neolithic Village. These works did not penetrate beyond turf and topsoil in any of the excavated areas, and as a result, no deposits, finds or structures of archaeological significance were encountered.
Archive deposited with Orkney SMR held at Orkney College, Kirkwall, Orkney. Archive to be deposited in NMRS.
Sponsor: Historic Scotland.
A Hollinrake 2006

Further details

March 2007
 WATCHING BRIEF

Notes HY 2312 1873 During March 2007 a watching brief was maintained during the excavation of material from behind the sea wall just to the E of Skara Brae Neolithic Village. During recent severe weather, areas of subsidence had appeared in two small areas just to the inland side of the far E end of the concrete wall. As anticipated, the ground behind the wall was seen to be imported material, mostly large stones and sand from the beach. No finds or features of archaeological significance were seen during this work.
Archive deposited with Orkney SMR. Archive to be deposited with RCAHMS.

Further details

29 May 2007
 WATCHING BRIEF

Notes HY 2311 1872 On 29 May 2007 five small test pits were excavated around the glass roof covering House 7 at Skara Brae Neolithic Village. This was required to make sure that the removal of turf and topsoil during the removal of the glass roof from over House No 7 would not disturb any sensitive archaeological features. Only the concrete base of the glass roof and sand were revealed. There were no finds or features of archaeological significance revealed during this work.
Archive deposited with Orkney SMR. Archive to be deposited with RCAHMS.
Funder: Historic Scotland.

Further details

6 October 2008
 WATCHING BRIEF

Notes HY 2318 1874 and HY 2340 1880 A watching brief was undertaken during the excavation of two small holes near Skara Brae on 6 October 2008. The first was for the relocation of a sign next to the access path near the village, while the second was for the placement of a new stone in the ‘Timeline’ at the end of the path nearest the visitor centre. Only turf, topsoil and underlying sand were disturbed and there were no finds or features of archaeological significance.
Archive: RCAHMS (intended)
Funder: Historic Scotland
Andrew Hollinrake – Kirkdale Archaeology

Further details

 
Books and References

Armit, I (1996) The archaeology of Skye and the Western Isles, Edinburgh
Page(s): 94, 108, 115 Held at RCAHMS E.2.1.ARM

Armit, I (1998i) Scotland's hidden history, Stroud, Gloucestershire
Page(s): 30-3 Figs 19-20 Held at RCAHMS E.2.1.ARM

Ashmore, P (1998) 'Radiocarbon Dates for Settlements, Tombs and Ceremonial Sites with Grooved Ware in Scotland', in Gibson, A and Simpson, D Prehistoric ritual and religion: essays in honour of Aubrey Burl, Stroud
Page(s): 142-6 Figs 11.1-11.2 Held at RCAHMS E.1.1.GIB

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