Excerpts from 1,000 word illustrated article


by Pam Hobbs

You don't need a lot of imagination to see these islands off northern Scotland, as they were thousands of years ago. The evidence is right here in Stone Age habitations, preserved by the sands of time. Visitors can even handle some of the treasures found in them, and so get a real sense of every day happenings here as long ago as 3000 BC.

Take the Tomb of the Eagles at South Ronaldsay on Orkney's largest island, known simply as Mainland. Here, local farmer Ronnie Simison stumbled upon a burial mound while scouring his property for old ceremonial tools about 50 years ago. Now, on this wind-blown morning, I find myself standing in a glass-fronted porch of the family home holding a 5,000 year-old human skull. Next I am given a jawbone with a full set of teeth, and weighty stone implements shaped to fit comfortably in a hand. All belonged to Stone Age inhabitants of Mainland who were buried in the Tomb of the Eagles between 3000 and 2000 BC.

There are 76 known burial tombs on these islands, and probably more yet to be discovered. Obviously a source of pride and prestige to their builders, they were added to and perfected by several generations. All have very low entrance tunnels. At the Tomb of the Eagles you can be pulled into the main chamber on a sleigh-like device, if you prefer not to crawl. Inside, a long narrow room has compartments on either side, each with a stone shelf. It is estimated that work started around 3150 BC and concluded about two centuries later....

From high ground, we can look down into substantial remains of the roofless dwellings. All are of the same design, having one large room with recesses and alcoves for beds and seats. Walls are about three metres high, entrances little more than a metre. Doors, made from stone or wood, are pinned in place with whalebone bars. Each house has a primitive draining system. The central fireplace was used for heat and cooking. Slabs of stone served as beds, while overhead wall recesses stored personal effects.

Although less exciting than the village, the standing stones

of the Ring of Brodgar are very impressive. Originally there were 60 vertical slabs, each weighing about 60 tonnes. Now there are 27 complete stones, and several stumps. The stones were erected with mathematical precision around 2500 BC to form a perfect circle.