Was Orkney Once the Centre of Everything?

If we are to judge the buildings the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans left behind as pointing to the epitome of civilisation, then the Orkney Islands just north of the northernmost tip of Scotland may have a prior claim. These islands have provided shelter and sustenance to humans for over 8,000 years. To put that in perspective, that is 4,000 years before the first Egyptian Pharos ruled. Nowadays, we can visit their ancient fortress by ferry from Aberdeen.

Stromness Marina: A Gateway to the Orkney Islands Archaeology Sites

Orkney Islands Archaeology Sites: Stromness Marina
Stromness Marina: Photo on Flickr by (Alan Jamieson / CC BY 2.0

Then, the Orkney Islands were the hunting grounds of Mesolithic nomadic tribes. In about 3,500 BC, a Neolithic descendent built the first farmhouse of which we know. This was not far from Skara Brae, thought to date from 3,200 BC. Its mysterious inhabitants were probably the architects of the Standing Stones of Steness, Midhowe Broch, and the Maes Howe Passage Grave. If only we knew what made them tick, we might be a little closer to the origins of modern, settled human culture.

Maeshowe Burial Chamber

Orkney Islands Archaeology Sites: Maeshowe Burial Chamber
Maeshowe Burial Chamber: Photo on Geograph by Brian Elliott, CC BY-SA 2.0

In 2003, the owner of Brogdar Farm on a finger-like peninsula between the Harray and Stenness lochs – and at the centre of an archaeological gold mine – decided to plough a new field. He turned up a notched stone he knew might be important and reported it to archaeologists at Orkney College. They uncovered a neolithic stone circle 104 metres across, set within a ditch 3 meters deep carved out of bedrock, and four chambered tombs in the vicinity known as Maeshowe Burial Chamber.

Broch of Gurness

Orkney Islands Archaeology Sites: Broch of Gurness
Broch of Gurness: Photo on Flickr by Shadowgate / CC BY 2.0)

As I clambered up the hill, the repositioned stones before me were like giant sails of ships traveling across the horizon. Nobody has claimed to know their deeper meaning. The Broch of Gurness, an Iron Age village is more than a monument to human ingenuity. It is a timeless statement of the triumph of human spirit over all adversity in 2,500 BC.

Ring of Brogdar on a Sunny Day

Orkney Islands Archaeology Sites: Ring of Brogdar, Orkney Islands
Ring of Brogdar, Orkney Islands: Photo on Flickr by cinnamonster / CC BY-NC 2.0

The Ring of Brogdar’s neolithic time matches the archaic period of Egypt, the brick temples of Sumeria, and the first cities of the Harappa culture in India – and is two centuries earlier than the Golden Age of China. Was Orkney once the centre of everything, before those civilizations emerged from the mists of time … who were these people, would we have shared similar aspirations and dreams?

About Richard Farrell

Richard FarrellI tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time.My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast (30.7167° S, 30.4667° E). I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned.

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