The Heart of Neolithic Orkney

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Site Information

Country: Scotland
State: Orkney
Location: 59° 3' 19" N - 2° 53' 50" W
Field Documentation Date(s): August 1st, 2010
Project Release Date(s): August 1st, 2012
Time Range: 3100 BCE - 2500 BCE
Era: Neolithic
world map with location

Photograph (wide angle) of the interior of Maes Howe

Site Description


This well-preserved grouping of Neolithic monuments and structures includes six sites: Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe, Stones of Stennes, Watch Stone, and Barnhouse Stone. Occupied roughly between 3100-2500 BCE, the six sites that comprise the Heart of Neolithic Orkney lie on the Scottish Orkney Islands, and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.
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Perspective of Skara Brae, showing topographic height as colour gradient

Project Narrative


Neolithic Orkney is one of ten sites included in the Scottish Ten project, a partnership project between CyArk, Historic Scotland, and Glasgow's School of Art's Digital Design Studio. In August 2010, a team from Historic Scotland and the Glasgow School of Art digitally documented the site as part of the Scottish Ten. The Scottish Ten ambitiously strives to create accurate digital models of Scotland's five UNESCO designated World Heritage Sites over the course of 5 years. Along with Neolithic Orkney, the Scottish Ten will also digitally preserve the remaining four sites in Scotland - the Antonine Wall; the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh; New Lanark; and St. Kilda - as well as five international heritage sites.

For more information about the World Heritage Sites, visit Historic Scotland’s website.
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Area Descriptions

Maes Howe
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Stones of Stenness

Maes Howe Description:

Passage graves such as Maes Howe, built around 3000 BCE, were large structures, made from stones ordered to form a passage leading from the outer edge of the mound to the chamber containing the remains of the dead. Whether these graves were meant for the elite or for all the people of the community is still unknown, but the large amount of human and animal bones, pottery and other objects discovered in these mounds testify that they were important social and religious centres. The general orientation of these structures also demonstrate the knowledge of the builders in respect to seasonal movements. The passage of Maes Howe, for example, points close to midwinter sunset and the setting sun of winter solstice shines on its chamber.

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Ring of Brodgar Description:

The Ring of Brodgar Stone Circle and Henge is one of the largest and finest stone circles in the British Isles, dating approximately between 2500 and 2000 BCE. Surrounded by a circular rock-cut ditch, or henge, the Ring of Brodgar is a large ceremonial enclosure and stone circle and a magnificent testimonial to the late Neolithic period.

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Skara Brae Description:

The Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae lies near the dramatic white beach of the Bay of Skaill, and exists today as the best preserved group of prehistoric houses in Western Europe. Buried over time in sand, the site was uncovered in 1850 by a storm. Built 5,000 years ago, Skara Brae has particularly rich surviving remains. It displays remarkable preservation of stone-built furniture and a diverse range of ritual and domestic artifacts, which together demonstrate the domestic, ritual, and burial practices of a now vanished culture with exceptional completeness.

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Stones of Stenness Description:

The Stones of Stenness Circle and Henge was built approximately 5400 years ago, and the surviving four stones, stone stumps, and concrete markers today outline the estimated 30m diameter stone enclosure. A large hearth at the center of the circle interior is still visible today, indicating the site's use in ceremony and food preparation.

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