Monday, 22 July 2013

That Feeling You Get When You Realise You're Standing Where People Stood Five Thousand Years Ago

Orkney Isles, Scotland

It's a difficult feeling to describe. I had it several times on Orkney, a set of islands to the north of Scotland.

Upon arriving on the ferry, we hemmed and hawed before deciding to go straight to the real reason we went to Orkney at all - Skara Brae. There were other things along the way, but Skara Brae was top of our list (and really the only thing on the list, everything else was a bonus). We drove past some magnificent standing stones, which I'll get to later. First, Skara Brae. And don't think about skipping ahead. I know standing stones are great but this is better, trust me. 'What can be better than standing stones?' you're asking yourself. Well, just read on and stop dallying.


Skara Brae was a little village once inhabited 5,000 years ago approximately. They lived near the sea and ate a lot of shellfish. They even had little boxes made of stone to keep the lobsters in. They were lidless, pretty much like lobster fences. Each little stone house you can see had a hearth (open fireplace) in the centre, and beds around the outside. The 'bed boxes' as they were called looked like the lobster boxes but human sized. 
Inside, several types of item were found. Carved stone, bone and shell beads were used for jewellery. Pottery had been made here, probably for cooking. The houses are all around the same size, which indicates that there was no leader - everyone was of more or less equal status. However, we may never know for sure of these things. 

Some houses did seem better outfitted than others. Some had more shelves, for instance. It was strange to see where people who lived in such a different world prepared food, slept and sat round the fire. They may have been my ancestors. To see such a place so well preserved. . . well, it was humbling. 

Alright, alright, the standing stones of Steness. 
This is probably a familiar sight. The stones were thinner than ones used at the Henges in the south of England, and taller. One got struck by lightning in the 80's and they think that this has been happening since they were erected. 
A short walk from these stones, another small village had been found and dug up by archeologists. For some reason they decided to cover it back up though, and they made a recreation of the houses above the ground. Here was a strange building with a hearth at the entrance that you had to step over to get inside. There were no beds in the building, so it may have been a religious or ceremonial place. The extra hearth may be to ward away evil spirits. 

Our last visit was to the Tomb of the Eagles, so called because over seventy eagle talons were found inside the tomb. From what we can tell, eagles may have been lured down to the ground by fresh meat, and then killed. In other tombs around Okney, other animal parts were found (a lot of dog bones at Skara Brae) so it's possible that each tribe had a favoured animal. 

The type of rock was really interesting but I won't get into geology right now. Look how tall that one was!