I’m safely back across a Very Wavy North Sea, now, and survived a Very Odd Encounter with a Highland Gnome, so I think in order to forget the trauma of those two events, it’s time for a new blog post. I’ve got a bit of a whiffy internet connection, but I’ll try to share some shots of Skara Brae, a neolithic settlement I had a chance to peek at whilst traipsing about Orkney.
You know, one of the things I get asked a LOT is how I come by my ideas. Book-writin’ ideas, of course. No one cares how I come up with the idea that it might be a good time to pay the bills or buy a few groceries. But the book-writin’ ideas have never been a problem. Of course, it helps that every once and a while I get to time travel for real….
Skara Brae was buried for at least 4 millennia, perhaps 5. Then, so the story goes, after a big Orkney storm 160 or so years ago, a young laird was walking along the shoreline near his house, when he made a bit of a breath-taking find.
First of all…this is what the seventh Laird, whose name was William Graham Watt, had to look at after the storm — the beach near his wee mansion, Skaill House:
Not a bad view…
The beach is part of a gentle bay that faces the North Sea.
Yes, THAT North Sea. Safe to say, it doesn’t often look like it did the day I saw it. [Someday I’ll blog about my unbelievable weather karma. Or maybe not…don’t want to jinx it…]
Anyway, there was Laird Willie, minding his own business on a fine day in 1850, strolling along the sand, kicking rocks and looking for North American driftwood since there are NO TREES on Orkney, when he stumbled across this:
Now, it likely looked a little dustier than this, and since much of it was still underground it probably was a bit darker, but you get the idea. Laird Willie wisely brought in a few experts, who dug around, cleaned things up and shook his hand with manly firmness. Ye’ve done noble, Laird Willie…well found, man!
Skara Brae is a collection of neolithic homes from a time when the people who lived there had access to fresh water [long since overtaken by the sea], and were evidently fairly expert fishers, farmers and foragers. They were fine stonemasons, and the different levels of the site show an evolution in fashion through the course of their time in this location. Beds were first built tucked into walls, and then later migrated closer to the centre of the the room [warmer by the hearth?]. Also, from the size of the beds, they were not exactly lanky.
As you can see from this picture, or perhaps more comprehensively from the map at the beginning of this post, the various homes are connected by a series of winding tunnels, all carefully constructed. Each wee house had it’s own hearth and beds, and a door that could be barred closed to ensure privacy. They used pots of fired clay very similar to the ‘coil’ pot style that is still taught in pottery classes today.
They had hammers and fish hooks and spears and other tools. They did not have metal.
The site has been carbon-dated to be around 5000 years old. The people themselves are thought to have come from Africa, though that’s not confirmed. Definitely not Pictish.
[It reminded me, actually, of something one of the comics I got to see at the Edinburgh Fringe had to say about Australians visiting the UK. “So you get up one morning, you look out at the bright blue sky, the warm sun and the gorgeous beaches and you say “I just can’t take it anymore! I have to get out of here and move to live with 6 other Aussies and a Kiwi in a cupboard in Croyden for a year.”]
Anyway, while Orkney is no cupboard in Croyden, they came, they stayed happily for a few hundred years, and then they left. Speculation is that the fresh water ran out. There is no evidence of war, or that disease ravaged the population. They just left.
An astonishing, mind-blowing spot. Quite, quite typical of the Orkney’s, as it turned out. [You can read more about Skara Brae here: http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/skarabrae/ and here: http://www.skaillhouse.co.uk/skarabrae.asp
Pretty rich site for story-writin’ ideas, wouldn’t you say?
More soon on some of the other things these neolithic folks got up on whilst on Orkney…