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Orkney World Heritage Tour
Back in 1999 four of Orkney’s pre-history sites gained the UNESCO World Heritage Site award, let me guide you to these four sites known as ‘Neolithic Orkney’.
Let’s start with Maeshowe, Orkney’s finest and largest chambered cairn (tomb), marvel at the most amazing Viking graffiti making this one of the largest gatherings of Norse runic inscriptions outside Scandinavia. Hear how Neolithic people, from 5000 years ago, buried their dead and how the winter solstice setting sun shines directly down the entrance passage into Maeshowe.
Stepping back a further 300 years we will then visit the Standing Stones of Stenness a stone circle which originally had 12 monoliths and is a diameter of 30m. There are a few possible solar and lunar alignments which makes it likely that this was part of Neolithic ritual, or was it? There are many questions that remain unanswered but what we do know, through radiocarbon testing, is the date of this henge monument, 3100BC.
Just along the road and past the Watchstone, situated on the Bridge of Brodgar, we will pass the Ness of Brodgar. An archeological dig has been carried out on the Ness of Brodgar every year since a Geophysical survey in 2003 revealed up to twelve possible structures over an area roughly 125m by 75m. The largest structure measuring 20m squared with walls 5m thick has been named the Neolithic Cathedral. The oldest radiocarbon dates found so far are 3500BC raising even more questions about this ceremonial site, certainly highlighting it’s importance to Stone Age Orcadians. This site can be visited for an 8 week period over July and August.
No distance and we arrive at the Ring of Brodgar one of the finest stone circles, originally 60 stones now 27 stand tall around a perfect circle with a diameter of 103.7m with these stones being placed approximately 6 degrees apart. The surrounding ditch was originally 5m wide and 4m deep, imagine digging this out using only stone and bone tools. Hear about how this site was used for approximately 2000 years from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age.
Travelling 6 miles we head for the last of the four World Heritage Sites where we can clearly imagine what life was like living in Orkney 5000 years ago. Skara Brae is a remarkably well preserved Neolithic village which was only revealed following a fierce storm back in 1850 when the sand dune that covered it was partially washed away. Subsequent archeological studies have identified that this settlement was occupied for 600 years and possibly even longer. Hear about the 2 distinct architectural features that have luckily been preserved through the site being sensitively treated by archeologists. There will be the opportunity to visit one of Orkney’s finest manor houses, Skaill House, situated next door to Skara Brae. Hear about William Watt’s part in the discovery of Skara Brae and how he used his home, Skaill House, as a museum displaying his many finds from Skara Brae of jewelry, tools and earthenware.