Jarlshof and Skara Brae

I am combining sites of human settlements from the Shetland (Jarlshof) and Orkney (Skara Brae) Islands today because of the proximity of the timeline… The Orkneys are an archipelago closer to the Scottish mainland. We took a five-hour car ferry from the Shetlands to reach them. A word for the wise: Check with the crew about the smoothest parts of the ship. We didn’t, and three of our six retasted lunch !!

Before leaving the Shetlands, we visited an archeological site that was inhabited during the Neolithic Age, about six thousand years ago. This particular site revealed later civilizations who built more developed dwellings adjacent to those that preceded them… The latest were Viking longhouses, dating back to the 1300s. The photo above shows the ruins of three or four eras. A wild windstorm blew the sand and vegetation off the site… Prior to this fierce wind, only the stone of the longhouse (on the right) was visible.

A couple days later, we tour the ancient sites in the Orkneys. Prior to seeing their dwelling sites, we had the honor of seeing the Ring of Brodgar. It is a stone ring that once had 60 stones erected in a circle. It dates back to between 2500 – 2000 B.C., and 27 stones remain standing. The Ring was almost completely surrounded by water with a central site in the middle that has not been excavated. This site is larger than Stonehenge, and may have been erected a few hundred years earlier. I jokingly suggested to our party that we didn’t need to visit Stonehenge and could now avoid the crowds.

And then it was on to Skara Brae. Once again, these dwelling sites were uncovered when a fierce storm blew the covering of sand dune and vegetation away, revealing the most intact dwelling ruins of the Neolithic Age. The ruins clearly show stone beds cut into the walls, with hearths in the central floor. Using the dunes allowed the stone foundations and earth to provide warmth. Once again, these ruins date back 5000 years… I wondered why people choose this relatively cold spot to live. The experts say it was a land of plenty…Deer and boar to hunt, good lands for foraging, and fish aplenty. Their existence here began at roughly the same time as recorded life in the Middle East, but these cultures were less advanced in their building skills and tool making.  The people here also gradually withdrew from these dwellings within a millennium, and the experts are stumped as to why and where they went.

After all these viewings of the past, we drove to the coast to hike the Orkney cliffs of the present. Many years ago, we missed seeing Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher due to fog cover. After today, I don’t know if we need to go back there either. All in all, a wonderful day.

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