Whilst on Orkney various field trips were set up by the organisers. Although aware that there is so much archaeology to see on the islands, I wanted to have time to do some shore work with Bas. However, there was one site that was not to be missed and indeed, had been a magnet for a number of the delegates at the meeting.
Skara Brae is a stone-built Neolithic settlement, located on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of Mainland, the largest island in the Orkney archipelago of Scotland. It consists of eight clustered houses, and was occupied from roughly 3180 BC–2500 BC. Europe’s most complete Neolithic village, Skara Brae gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as one of four sites making up “The Heart of Neolithic Orkney.” Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, it has been called the “Scottish Pompeii” because of its excellent preservation.
What more is there to say? It was a fine day when the Famous Five visited the site, clear and cold and with high seas rolling in to good effect. I walked round the ‘ramparts’ of this bijou hobbit village and marvelled.
Afterwards, having a double ticket, we walked round the former home of the man who discovered Skara Brae at the bottom of his garden. William Watt of Skaill, the local laird, began an amateur excavation of the site, but after four houses were uncovered, the work was abandoned in 1868. The site remained undisturbed until 1913, when during a single weekend the site was plundered by a party with shovels who took away an unknown quantity of artefacts. In 1924, another storm swept away part of one of the houses and it was determined that the site should be made secure and more seriously investigated. One can only wonder what accessories to the lives of the former inhabitants were removed from posterity.
After afterwards Sonia drove us to Birsay where we grabbed a light lunch in the cafe with the amazing view then Bas and I descended to the shore and causeway to investigate for shells. We were looking for good seams of shellsand which were not immediately evident. This is a serendipity pastime, it just depends on what the weather and the sea have combined to throw up for one’s delectation. After searching for a while we were joined by Alastair Skene who confirmed that we were searching in the right place. I was hoping to find Erato voluta, of which I picked up one example and maybe even Simnia patula, of which Alastair found a fragment.
The photo on the left shows the living mollusc on its host food, Dead Man’s Fingers, Alcyonium digitatum. Until very recently there was only one Simnia species described from our islands. However Keith Hiscock noted that animals found on the sea fan Eunicella verrucosa were sufficiently different to investigate the possibility that they might be a separate species. Which they were found to be….. Keith has the honour of giving his name to this second species, Simnia hiscocki. Before we left the shore Alastair presented Bas and me with a bag of shellsand to sort at leisure. What treasures it might hold!!