Skara Brae is a Neolithic Age site, consisting of ten stone structures, near the Bay of Skaill, Orkney, Scotland. Today the village is situated by the shore but when it was inhabited (c.3100-2500 BCE) it would have been further inland. Steady erosion of the land over the centuries has altered the landscape considerably and interpretations of the site, based upon its present location, have had to be re-evaluated in light of this. The name `Skara Brae’ is a corruption of the old name for the site, `Skerrabra’ or `Styerrabrae’ which designated the mound which buried (and thereby preserved) the buildings of the village. The name by which the original inhabitants knew the site is unknown.
Traditionally, Skara Brae is said to have been discovered in 1850 CE when an enormous storm struck Orkney and dispersed the sand and soil which had buried the site. The landowner, one William Watt, noticed the exposed stone walls and began excavations, uncovering four stone houses. Recognizing the importance of his find, he contacted the Orcadian antiquarian George Petrie. Petrie began work at the site and, by 1868, had documented important finds and excavated further (presenting his progress at the April 1867 CE meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland). The Orcadian #writer and historian, Dr. Ernest Marwick (1915-1977 CE) claimed that this story of the `discovery’ of Skara Brae was “a complete #fiction” (Orkeyjar, 1) and that it was long established there was an ancient site at the location.
In a 1967 CE article, Marwick cited one James Robertson who, in 1769 CE, recorded the site in a journal of his tour of Orkney and claimed to have found a skeleton “with a sword in one hand and a Danish axe in the other” (Orkeyjar, 2). Whether any similar finds were made by William Watt or George Petrie in their excavations is not recorded. Petrie extensively catalogued all the beads, stone tools and ornaments found at the site and listed neither swords nor Danish axes. In fact, no weapons of any kind, other than Neolithic knives, have been found at the site and these, it is thought, were employed as tools in daily life rather than for any kind of warfare. Work was abandoned by Petrie shortly after 1868 CE but other interested parties continued to investigate the site.
Clearly, people in the Late Neolithic period were capable of building sturdy stone huts. Perhaps the villagers in my novel Trespass lived in huts like this
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