An Island Adventure
For the past couple of weeks, Auchindrain has had an ambassador on Orkney. While this meant she couldn’t attend the museum’s Open Day, it did mean that she was able to visit the incredible Neolithic village at Skara Brae, and to notice some surprising similarities with the township.
Perhaps the only obvious parallel between Auchindrain and Skara Brae is that the dwellings of both settlements are stone-built. The houses at Skara Brae are, when first encountered, almost unrecognisable as such. They were built into piles of rubbish, known as ‘midden’, which would have acted as insulation from the strong Orkney winds, and linked together by tunnels, which were roofed over in the final stage of the village’s life.
From a distance, Skara Brae would have appeared as a large, rounded mound, rather different from the freestanding buildings at Auchindrain. However, although the exteriors of the Skara Brae buildings may look strange at first, the purpose-built box beds and the prominent location of the hearth are interior features shared with the buildings of Auchindrain. Like the barns at Auchindrain, at Skara Brae evidence has been found for at least one specifically non-domestic building, known as the ‘Workshop’. It is also not too much of a stretch to imagine that the tightly clustered layout of the houses at Skara Brae could have been mirrored in a communal system of land holding and use, like the runrig field systems that existed on the hillsides surrounding Auchindrain.
There are obvious differences between the two settlements – for one thing, Skara Brae probably had a far more sophisticated sewerage system! But the similarities between the two places, and between the houses of Auchindrain and our own comfortable, modern homes, are an insight into the continuity of the human experience, regardless of when or where you are living. Everybody needs, to sleep, eat and stay warm, to have a space to share with their family, and a place where they can work on important tasks and projects. The similarities between the homes of people who lived in Scotland 5000 years ago and those of the people of a township inhabited up until the 1960s can make it easier for us to place ourselves in their lives, and to imagine how they once worked and played, ate and slept, spoke, sang and dreamed, in the places that now contain only their echoes.