The spellbinding stone circle – the Ring of Brodgar – is arguably the most iconic symbol of Orkney’s prehistoric past. It is a site of ritual and ceremony, and hauntingly beautiful.Orkney.com
The Ring of Brodgar is an archaeological treasure and without doubt one of the islands’ most visited attractions. It can be found in a magical landscape that is the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most photographed attractions in Orkney – particularly at sunset. The ring was built around 2500-2000BC and covering an area of almost 8,500 square metres it is the third largest stone circle in the British Isles – just pipped by Avebury and Stanton Drew.
Sitting within a natural amphitheatre of hills and surrounded by a ditch, 27 of the original 60 stones survive today and the guided tour of the site by Historic Scotland is highly recommended to discover the secrets of the ring. According to legend, it was a religious shrine and possibly a place of ritual, while others believe the ring was built for the astronomical observation of the equinox and solstice. The truth is, we don’t know for sure which only adds to the mystique.
Nearby, the solitary Comet Stone keeps a watchful eye, while just one mile from the site the Standing Stones of Stenness cast their spell. Four giant megaliths, at a towering six metres, date back to 3100BC making it one of the oldest stones circles in Britain. Close by, the Barnhouse settlement reveals an excavated group of house dwellings dating from 3300-2600BC.
The Ring of Brodgar comprises:Historic Environment Scotland
– A massive stone circle, originally consisting of 60 stones
– At least 13 prehistoric burial mounds
– A large rock-cut ditch surrounding the stone circle
The Scottish geologist Hugh Miller, visiting in 1846, wrote that the stones ‘look like an assemblage of ancient druids, mysteriously stern and invincibly silent and shaggy’.
The Ring of Brodgar is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, a series of important domestic and ritual monuments built 5000 years ago in the Orkney Islands.
The Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae is one of the best preserved groups of prehistoric houses in Western Europe. It gives a remarkable picture of life 5,000 years ago, before Stonehenge was built.
The Neolithic village of Skara Brae was discovered in the winter of 1850. Wild storms ripped the grass from a high dune known as Skara Brae, beside the Bay of Skaill, and exposed an immense midden (refuse heap) and the ruins of ancient stone buildings. The discovery proved to be the best-preserved Neolithic village in northern Europe. And so it remains today.
Skara Brae was inhabited before the Egyptian pyramids were built, and flourished for centuries before construction began at Stonehenge. It is some 5,000 years old. But it is not its age alone that makes it so remarkable and so important. It is the degree to which it has been preserved. The structures of this semi-subterranean village survive in impressive condition. So, amazingly, does the furniture in the village houses. Nowhere else in northern Europe are we able to see such rich evidence of how our remote ancestors actually lived.
The profound importance of this remarkable site was given official recognition in 1999 when it was inscribed upon the World Heritage List as part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.
All the houses are well-built of closely-fitting flat stone slabs. They were set into large mounds of midden (household refuse) and linked by covered passages. Each house comprised a single room with a floor space of roughly 40sq m. The ‘fitted’ stone furniture within each room comprised a dresser, where prized objects were probably stored and displayed, two box-beds, a hearth centrally placed and small tanks set into the floor, perhaps for preparing fish bait.
A rich array of artefacts and ecofacts has been discovered during the various archaeological excavations. They include gaming dice, hand tools, pottery and jewellery (necklaces, beads, pendants and pins). Most remarkable are the richly carved stone objects, perhaps used in religious rituals. The villagers were farmers, hunters and fishermen, capable of producing items of beauty and sophistication with rudimentary technology. No weapons have been found and the settlement was not in a readily defended location, suggesting a peaceful life.
Most of the artefacts are now on view in the visitor centre, a short walk away.
Village life appears to have ended around 2,500 BC. No one knows why. Some argue that it was because a huge sandstorm engulfed their houses, others that it was more gradual. As village life came to an end, new monuments were beginning to rise up on mainland Orkney, including most importantly the chambered tomb at Maes Howe and the impressive stone circles at the Ring of Brodgar and Stenness.isitors can explore this prehistoric village and see ancient homes fitted with stone beds, dressers and seats. A replica house allows visitors to explore its interior, while the visitor centre provides touch-screen presentations, fact-finding quizzes and an opportunity to see artefacts discovered during the archaeological excavations of the 1970s.VisitScotland