Heart of Neolithic Orkney


  • Name of archaeological site: Heart of Neolithic Orkney
  • Country site is located in: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (specifically in Scotland)
  • Year added to the World Heritage List: 1999
  • Criteria for sites nomination: i, ii, iii, iv: Heart of Neolithic Orkney is a site that is loaded with domestic, ritual and burial practices of this 5,000 year old culture. This settlement is an exceptional verification to the cultural accomplishments and is one of the best preserved sites in Northern Europe.
  •  Number of Cultural and Mixed Heritage Sites in country: 24

Basic Archaeological Site Information

  • Site Size: 15 hectares
  • Time period representation: 3000-2000 B.C.
  • Cultural period: Neolithic Period/Early Iron Age
  • Cultural group: Originally settled by Norsemen and Viking crusaders, later by native tribes.

Archaeological Summary

     The archaeological site, Heart of Neolithic Orkney, is found in Northern Scotland in a range of areas. These include the island of Mainland, the Loch of Harray, the Loch of Stenness ,  and the Bay of Skaill.  First dominated by pillaging, Viking crusaders and Norsemen of the mid-12th century, these settlements later returned to the native tribes of early Scotland. These pastoral people rapidly built monumental ceremony sites, homes, religious spheres and burial grounds that would define their age as the Neolithic Period. Strangely, the inhabitants abandoned these settlements after 600 years and the location was covered by a sand dune. It was not until the mid-19th century when a violent storm sifted away the sand to reveal the remains of the Skara Brae.  Archaeological expeditions began in 1913, a protective breakwater was built in 1924, and soon after the restoration of the Ring of Brogar and the Stones of Stenness proceeded. The site was added to the World Heritage List in 1999.

     What we have learned from such explorations is that it was the beginning of a new culture. The Neolithic people were a group of herders and farmers. People that made their livelihood off of cattle, sheep, fish and cereal grain. Though their means of life were traditional, their places of worship and shelter were not. The Neolithic Period is characterized by massive rock formations and intricate architecture that at this time had never been seen before. Archaeologists discovered massive burial structures, tunnels and passages joining homes within the village, stone-built furniture, religious henges, and even a cathedral.

     The most famous of these are Maes Howe, the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae and the Ness of Brodgar. The Maes Howe is a long chamber that was ravaged by the Vikings who left inscriptions on the walls of the chamber. Maes Howe is a unique site because it was only to be used during the Winter Solstice. The Standing Sones of Stenness form a ceremonial stone circle of megaliths, or more commonly known as a henge, that range up to nineteen feet high. The Ring of Brodgar is another one of these henge monuments that forms a circular realm of reverence.  The Ness of Brodgar lies between the previous two and is the site of a large building known as the Neolithic “cathedral.” Lastly, The Skara Brae is a group of ten houses that are some of Northern Europes best preserves Neolithic archaeological sites. The site holds ancient beds, dressers and other pieces of furniture made from stone. It is a site that is loaded with domestic, ritual and burial practices of this 5,000 year old culture. 



There are no known threats to this cite at this time.




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