A Neolithic Revolution: Skara Brae

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  • Topic: Skara Brae, Neolithic, Orkney
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A Neolithic Revolution: Skara Brae

The Neolithic revolution took place around 5,000 – 10,000 years ago. During that time, many changes occurred in regards as to how groups of people resided, collected their food and settled in small villages. This incredible innovation led to the reshaping of what farming has become today. Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland, is an incredible indication of the villages that people set up during this time period. This innovation of switching from hunting and gathering to domestication made huge enhancements into the way that people do things today. This domestication meant that the people of Skara Brae and the Neolithic revolution were able to settle down and build small communities without having to rely on going out and hunting for their food. Throughout, the group that resided at Skara Brae will be referred to as “the people” because they were never assigned a formal name due to the archaeological and historical perspective of the site.

The archaeological site of Skara Brae is considered as one of the best-preserved group of Stone Age houses in Western Europe. (Leask and Garrod, 2009, 3) The site is located in the Bay of Skaill, right next to the ocean. It is believed that the village was inhabited around 3100 BC to 2500 BC (Leask and Garrod, 2009, 3) which coincides with the Neolithic revolution. The houses on the site appear to have been modified over time, and although there was a great abundance of land that they could have used in order to expand the sizes of their villages, it appears that they continually built on top of the existing village, and therefore there are remains of older houses underneath the ones that are currently on the site. (Simpson et al., 2006, 225) The collection of houses is connected by roofed passageways and contains stone furniture, hearths and drains. (Leask and Garrod, 2009, 3) The incredible preservation of the site gives an incredible view as to how the people of Skara Brae lived, through just being able to see how their village was connected and the household items that were used. During excavations of the site, a number of artifacts were uncovered, which included hand tools, pottery, jewellery and gaming dice. (Leask and Garrod, 2009, 3) This is a good indication that the people who lived at Skara Brae were capable of hunting, crafting and also enjoyed the entertainment of game play. Due to Orkney’s extremely windy climate, it has also been suggested that “the village was built in order to prevent the sands from the ocean blowing onto the arable land that the settlers would use in order to grow crops”. (Simpson et al., 2006, 229) The sand was a very challenging obstacle for the people as it caused lands to become unfertile and therefore they had an excruciating time trying to grow their crops. Extensive research indicates that “prior to the deposition of sand, open woodland extended inland of the site, with grassland to the west”. (de la Vega Leinert et al., 2000, 510) This therefore shows, that it made sense to protect the land by building the houses right next to the ocean because the fertile land that was once there, had been destroyed by the sands that were blowing inland, as the sand accumulated, open vegetation replaced woodlands. (de la Vega Leinert et al., 2000, 510) Due to the damage caused by the sand on trees, it is now obvious as to why the houses were built of stone, and therefore so well preserved. With the lack of trees on the island, it meant that the people had to build with some other type of construction material, and stone was the only other material readily available to them. Inside the houses of the village, there was an abundance of stone furniture, this was because of the same reason that the houses were built of stone and not wood, because “the trees weren’t big enough to make large structures and the stone was readily available and easily workable”. (Clarke, 2000, 13) There was some wood available to the people, but it came...
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