What is Skara Brae?
By Shani Asokan
Ceylon Today Features
Today we’re going to travel 5000 years back in history to learn about one of Britain’s most fascinating prehistoric villages, Skara Brae!
Located on the Orkney Islands off the northern shores of Scotland, archaeologists estimate Skara Brae was built and occupied between 3000 BCE and 2500 BCE, a period that is referred to as the Neolithic era or New Stone Age.
Fun fact, this village is older than the pyramids and Stonehenge!
Skara Brae is one of the most well-preserved settlements from the Neolithic era, in all of Western Europe. This makes it a very interesting find for archaeologists as the village and everything found within it give us insight into what life was like in Britain at the time. We are able to learn how people who lived in this village built their homes, the tools they used, the food they ate and so much more.
Houses, tools and people
One of the most interesting things about Skara Brae are its houses. If you visit the site today, you’ll see a collection of prehistoric, circular houses built from slabs of stone stacked over each other. The houses are just one room each and are connect to each other by stone passageways.
Today, the tops of these houses are open to the air, but archaeologists and historians think that they may have had roofs made of thatched seaweed, straw or turf (which is common to older dwellings in Scotland). What’s really interesting that much of the furniture inside these houses have survived 5000 years! Made from stone, the beds, shelves, dressers and hearths all remain in the houses today. So, if you were to take a look inside, you’d be able to picture the house just as it was, all those years ago.
Artefacts such as tools, bones and remains of crops found at the site show that the people of Skara Brae weren’t just skilled fishermen and hunters, they were farmers too! While fishing is likely to have been popular, considering how close the village is to the sea, archaeologists have been able to unearth evidence that they grew crops such as barley and wheat, and reared sheep, cattle and pigs. As before the Neolithic era, people only hunted wild animals or gathered wild fruits and vegetables, this makes them some of Britain’s first farmers!
No weapons have been discovered at the site, but what archaeologists have found is jewellery, pottery, and ornaments suggesting that they were a creative people, who also enjoyed their free time.
Skara Brae was lost to history for several thousand years, hidden by a huge sane dune. It remained covered by the sand until a huge storm hit the Orkney Islands in 1850. The storm winds blew away the sand, exposing the lost village to the world for the first time in a long time.
In the 1860s, a team of archaeologists headed by William Watt began excavating the site. They were able to uncover four buildings. Another storm in 1926 washed away more of the sand, leading to further excavations which revealed more of the houses and artefacts.
To this day, no one really knows what happened to Skara Brae all those years ago. The village was abandoned around 2500 BCE and the reason for this remains a mystery. Some think it could have been due to a huge sandstorm, during which the villagers were forced to evacuate, leaving most of their belongings behind. Some new research suggests that the process of leaving may have been more gradual, with people leaving to look for more fertile lands. We may never really know what happened, but there is still so much to learn from the remains of Skara Brae, and only time will tell!