Scottish History – Bringing the Past to Life

From the very earliest times, Scotland was an attractive place for people to live in, invade or trade with. Evidence of settlement in Scotland, going back thousands of years can be seen right across the land, with the impact of successive waves of invasion from Roman Legions to marauding Vikings adding to the rich seam of material.

There are more than 100,000 sites of archaeological interest in Scotland, and many of these are accessible to the public thanks to the work of bodies like Archaeology Scotland and Historic Scotland. Initiatives like Scottish Archaeology Month have greatly helped in this, with more than 200 archaeology events providing a chance to get up close and personal with the past. Wherever you go in Scotland you will stumble across important archaeology and monuments. But for a totally awe-inspiring look at what life was like in the Bronze Age and beyond, nothing can beat a trip to the Orkney Islands.

Orkney – Revealing Islands of Scotland

Anne Brundle, curator of archaeology for Orkney Museum says, "There is so much going on just now, so many different groups coming to Orkney and so much being uncovered."

The islands that make up Orkney, which might appear to be remote and even inaccessible to the modern traveller (there is an excellent and regular ferry and air link to the mainland) were actually part of an ancient superhighway. In ages past, sea travel was the quickest, easiest and most effective means of getting around and Orkney was well placed within an arc that took in modern day Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, Greenland and Norway.

A hundred and fifty years ago terrific storms laid bare the ruins of the Neolithic village of Skara Brae on the west coast of the main island. Eight dwellings, wonderfully preserved by the sands, frozen in time four thousand years ago were uncovered. Today there is an innovative visitor centre with touch-screen presentations, but also a chance to see the tools and other artefacts that have been found on the site.

The History of Orkney has provided archaeologists with a treasure trove of materials, and over the past few decades a whole series of long lost villages, iconic buildings and isolated churches have been uncovered. The large concentration of monuments and standing stones, such as the haunting majesty of the Ring o' Brodgar, thought to have been erected around 2500 BC, led to the "Heart of Neolithic Orkney" being awarded World Heritage Status in 1999. The island's Maeshowe Chambered Cairn is considered to be the finest tomb of its kind in northern Europe. It is believed to be around 5000 years old. Vikings ransacked the chamber, and left their mark by carving graffiti that can still be seen inside the tomb.

Internationally Significant Scottish Archaeology

And the explorations, and the discoveries, keep coming. Those in recent years have drawn international acclaim. "This has been an amazing time, especially on Westray. Getting the female figurine was just fabulous" is how Anne Brundle sums up what some have called the biggest find since Skara Brae.

Archaeologists have been working at the Links of Noltland on the island of Westray at the northern tip of Orkney for thirty years, uncovering a network of houses and field systems as the ferocious sea gales swept away thousands of tons of sand and debris. Finding a tiny sandstone carving of a woman, perhaps a fertility symbol, and at 5,000 years old Scotlands earliest human figurine, in 2009 caused a sensation. Online traffic to a daily blog at soared and visitors have flocked to the Westray Heritage Centre to find out more about Noltland and what it means for our understanding of the past.

But while the Westray dig may be the most significant excavation taking place on Orkney at the moment, it is far from the only one. According to Anne Brundle "There are big works taking place at the Cairns of South Ronaldsay, the Ness of Brodgar and on the Brough of Deerness. All of this is so exciting, it is bringing so many experts and archaeologists to Orkney and tells us so much about how life was lived and how important Orkney was in ages gone by."

There's never been a better time and there most definitely is not a better place than Scotland for all budding Indiana Jones to start exploring!

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