Sunday, October 9, 2011

Skara Brae

One evening I curled up with a blanket, some hot chocolate, my Kindle, and the sound of steady rain on the back porch. I had just begun Bill Bryson’s book, “At Home: A Short History of Private Life.” After several minutes of reading, I was totally intrigued by Skara Brae, a place I had never heard mention of before.

Skara Brae was discovered during the winter of 1850 when a storm swept through Britain. Many ships were destroyed and hundreds of people were killed in just one night from the winds and stormy waters. Several hundred miles north of Britain lay the Orkney Islands of Scotland-which are so far north that they are not physically part of Scotland. After the storm raged through the waters surrounding Britain, it continued north to the Scottish islands and blew a grassy covering entirely off of a rocky area near the water. Once the islanders recovered from the storm and began to evaluate the damage, they found that the grassy area had actually been covering an ancient stone village that was amazingly intact –Skara Brae. This well preserved piece of history “consisted of nine houses, all still holding many of their original contents, the village dates from five thousand years ago. It is older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, older than all but a handful of built structures on Earth” (Bryson). This Stone Age village was incredibly detailed and included locking doors, drains and large rooms with ten-foot ceilings. There were also built-in storage areas and dressers as well as water tanks. Hardly what one would think of when visualizing a Neolithic village.
There were no trees near Skara Brae so the inhabitants burned seaweed to keep warm and cook their food during the long, cold, northern nights. The lack of trees available in Skara Brae would have been a challenge but it became a boon for historians today, since these Neolithic villagers were forced to make their homes from stones instead of trees, thus preserving them for thousands of years.

Using my iPhone, I was able to travel through space and time and become acquainted with this distant location. I googled pictures of Skara Brae and was impressed with how well preserved it was, how beautiful the ocean cliffs, are and how far north the Orkney Islands are. I wonder how these early people got to these remote islands in the first place, where they came from, how long they lived there and how their civilization abruptly ended. I am reminded that there are so many minute corners of time yet to be discovered . . . . what an exciting challenge!