Skara Brae: The prehistoric village on Orkney that’s older than Great Pyramid of Giza

The best-preserved Neolithic settlement in Europe isn't in a French cave or an Italian hillside; it's Skara Brae on Orkney, far beyond the north of Scotland.

In 1850, a great storm swept across Orkney, tearing a layer of soil and sand off a site beside the Bay of Skaill and revealing the remains of a Stone Age village. Upon excavation, it was found to be the most complete in Northern Europe.

The first houses were built about 5,000 years ago, which makes them older than Stonehenge, or any of Egypt’s pyramids.

Skara Brae really is right on the beach.

They were built into middens — a compost made of household waste and animal dung, strengthened with pebbles, bones and shells, which dried to form a strong material, like a weaker concrete.

View of the interior of House 1 at Skara Brae. Houses like this were square or rectilinear, one-room houses, with central hearth and flanking bed-alcoves built into the walls.  (Photo by Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

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Furniture was made not out of wood — there are few trees on windswept Orkney — but sheets of local stone. The community living here was peaceable, with apparently no use for weapons and little obvious hierarchy, as all the houses are the same size.

Furniture on Skara Brae.

How to visit Skara Brae

Orkney has dozens of smaller islands in the chilly seas that surround it, but thankfully Skara Brae is on the main island, on the western coast and a 17-mile drive from Kirkwall. The site the site is open all year round, and adult tickets cost between £7.50 and £10.50 depending on the season. The website at has more details.

Getting to Orkney itself is something of a marathon if you use the train, bus and ferry routes, but there are direct flights to Kirkwall from Aberdeen — and from there it’s simple to connect to the rest of the world.