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Archeological Sites of Orkney Scotland- Barnhouse Settlement

Updated on June 19, 2013

Remains of Settlement

Near the south shore of Harray loch, is the remains of a Stone
Age settlement. This settlement is commonly known as the "Barnhouse Settlement". In 1984 archeologist Dr. Colin Richards was out on a field-walking exercise during which he discovered the "Barnhouse Settlement". There was not much left of the remains unlike the vast remains at the "Skara Brae" site. The "Barnhouse Settlement" is non the less interesting for various reasons.

15 Dwellings Found!

There was 15 dwellings found at different stages of development. They were round in shape believed to have had turf or timber roofs with turf surrounding the outside of the structures walls. These buildings were free standing; they did not have passages connecting them to each other like those at "Skara Brae". What is very interesting is that each of these dwellings was demolished at the end of their use. The structural styles of "Barnhouse Settlement" and "Skara Brae" are different. This is not surprising as the "Barnhouse Settlement" was no longer in use about 450 years before "Skara Brae"' it's architecture was not as advanced as "Skara Brae". The earliest dwellings at "Skara Brae" are the most similar to those at "Barnhouse Settlement".

Two Large Structures Stand Out!

It is known that the "Barnhouse Settlement" was built around the same time as the "Standing Stones O'Stenness" it's largest structure has a large central hearth in it like Stenness henge. There is two large structures at "Barnhouse Settlement" that stand out compared to the other structures there. These are thought to have housed someone of importance within the tribal hierarchy. These two larger structures are known as "House Two" and "Structure Eight".

People Constructed Stone Ring

One theory is that the people who lived in the dwellings of the "Barnhouse Settlement" were the ones who constructed the stone ring. This could explain why the dwellings were demolished after their use. When the people completed their project they moved on.

Priest Housed Here

Another idea is that a special class of "priest" were housed here. This idea was first brought forth many years before the "Barnhouse Settlement was discovered. It had been suggested that priests stayed at "Skara Brae" to over see all the ceremonies that took place around the Stenness rings. The idea resurfaced when the "Barnhouse Settlement" was discovered.

Location- right in the cermonial heartland of Neolithic Orkney

"House Two" has structural similarities to Orkney's chambered cairns. Perhaps these structures were special meeting halls for the priests or wisemen to gather near their ceremonial centre. The location of the "Barnhouse Settlement"- right in the ceremonial heartland of Neolithic Orkney- the Ring O'Brodgar, Maeshowe, and the Stenness Stones are all clearly visible from the "Barnhouse Settlement". This giving weight to the idea that it was a place where priests or wisemen gathered for ceremonial or religious reasons.

Structure Eight

"Structure Eight" is the largest covered structure from Neolithic Orkney discovered to date. It was built around 2600 B.C. after the village had been abandoned. It was a massive hall-like structure, 7 meters square it also had incredibly thick walls. It was built on a platform of yellow clay this is similar to the cairns of "Maeshowe". The clay platform of "Structure Eight" was surrounded by an enclosing wall which was circular in shape; this created a internal courtyard over 20 meters across. To enter the inner chamber the visitor would have to walk through a 3 meter passage way. Built into the passage way was a hearth- believed to be there for symbolic reasons; perhaps some form of ritualistic purification before the visitor could enter the inner chamber. There seemed to be great importance put on the hearth in Neolithic Culture.

Stone Dresser

When archeologists discovered a stone dresser inside "Structure Eight" it proved to them that this was more than just a piece of furniture. They figured it probably had some type of ritual or religious significance behind it. It was believed that the "Structure Eight" was built as a symbol of changes in the ritual and religious ceremonies and how or were they were practiced. In the past these were performed out in the open; but then they started to be performed in enclosed areas. They then became only accessibly by a select few. The layout of "Structure Eight" is similar to "Standing Stones O'Stenness". Perhaps the builders of "Structure Eight" were trying to recreate the sacred space to more suit the beliefs of the time. I guess we will never know for sure what their reasons for creating such wonders of architecture were but I can say I am glad they did! These structures are giving us a window into our ancestors way of life which is amazing to get a glimpse of it by seeing these sites. I hope you enjoyed our wee visit to the "Barnhouse Settlement".



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    • Pamela-anne profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Miller Lake

      MsDora thanks again for your kind words of support I hope you will continue to join me on my wee adventure in Orkney take care and God Bless!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 years ago from The Caribbean

      There's definitely some mystery behind these great structures. You make me want to visit them with you. Thanks for sharing.


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