Skara Brae Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Anne Butler

Anne has a bachelor's in K-12 art education and a master's in visual art and design. She currently works at a living history museum in Colorado.

Did you know there are places in this world that you can visit that have been around for thousands of years? There you can see how people lived thousands of years ago, like at Skara Brae in Scotland.

Where is Skara Brae?

Can you imagine finding the remains of an ancient village buried at the beach? That's just how the old village of Skara Brae was found.

Skara Brae is a prehistoric stone settlement on the coast of the Orkney islands in Northern Scotland. It sits on a bay and is constantly exposed to the wind and waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

Here is a map of Scotland. Skara Brae is on the coast of the Orkney Islands, circled.

Who Discovered Skara Brae?

Scotland gets a lot of rain, and it was in 1850 that a storm with high tides and wind uncovered Skara Brae. The storm had stripped a lot of grass from the mounds on the beach, revealing the outlines of stone structures.

The local 'laird', which is a Scottish term for a landowner, was William Watt. He began excavating the site, but by 1868 only four houses had been uncovered and the site was abandoned. It would remain unbothered until 1925, when another storm damaged some of the excavated areas.

After the 1925 storm, locals constructed a sea wall to prevent the tide from damaging the site further. More buildings were discovered while the wall was being built, and between 1928 and 1930 these additional structures were uncovered. Scientists used carbon dating, which is a way of measuring how old something is, and discovered that the site was built around 3200 BCE to 2200 BCE. That puts it in the Neolithic time, thousands of years ago!

Neolithic people were some of the first people to settle down and raise crops and livestock. The people of Skara Brae were probably a very close community since their homes were so near each other.

What Can You See at Skara Brae?

Inside of a Skara Brae dwelling

If you went to Skara Brae today you'd see eight buildings from a path that winds through the site. Each of the dwellings is connected by a series of passages, a bit like alleyways. The passages have stone roofs that allowed the residents to go from house to house even in bad weather.

Since everything was covered in sand for 4,000 years, the interiors of each dwelling are very well preserved. They are all similar to each other, with a large room, a fireplace, bed area, and even shelves, all made of stones.

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