Skara Brae is recognised as one of the best-preserved Neolithic settlements in Western Europe. At some 5,000 years old, it is 2,900 years older than the Roman General, Julius Caesar. It was inhabited long before Stonehenge and even before the Egyptians built the pyramids.
A cluster of ten houses, made from flagstones and featuring stone hearths, beds and cupboards, the Neolithic village was uncovered during the winter of 1850. Wild storms ripped away from the turf from a high dune known as Skara Brae, beside the Bay of Skaill, and exposed a massive midden (refuse heap) and the ruins of ancient stone buildings. Preserved below the sand, the structures of this semi-subterranean village survived in impressive condition. Radiocarbon dating confirmed that the settlement dated from the late Neolithic era — inhabited for around 600 years, until around 2500BC. Nowhere else in northern Europe can we see such rich evidence of how our remote ancestors lived.
During archaeological excavations, a large number of artefacts were unearthed. These include gaming dice, hand tools, pottery and jewellery (necklaces, beads, pendants and pins). Many of the artefacts discovered are now on view in the visitor centre. As the settlement was not in a readily defended position, the inhabitants likely led a peaceful life as farmers, hunters and fishers. However, experts still do not know why the settlement was abandoned around 2,500 BC. At this time, new monuments were beginning to be built on mainland Orkney, including the chambered tomb at Maes Howe and the impressive stone circles at the Ring of Brodgar and Stenness.