National Geographic : 2014 Aug
34 national geographic • AUGUST 2014 Sometimes you don’t even need to do that. In 1850 a gale tore away some sand dunes along the Bay of Skaill, on the western flank of Mainland island, exposing an astonishingly well preserved Stone Age village. Archaeologists date the vil- lage, called Skara Brae, to around 3100 B.C. and believe it was occupied for more than 600 years. Skara Brae must have been a cozy setup in its day. Lozenge-shaped stone dwellings linked by covered passages huddled close together against the grim winters. There were hearths inside, and the living spaces were furnished with stone beds and cupboards. Even after the passage of thousands of years the dwellings look appealingly personal, as though the occupants had just stepped out. The stage-set quality of the homesteads and the glimpse they offer into ev- eryday life in the Neolithic, to say nothing of the dramatic way they were revealed, made Skara Brae Orkney’s most spectacular find. Until now. The first hint of big things underfoot at the Ness came to light in 2002, when a geophysical survey revealed the presence of large, man-made anomalies beneath the soil. Test trenches were dug and exploratory excavations begun, but it wasn’t until 2008 that archaeologists began to grasp the scale of what they had stumbled upon. Today only 10 percent of the Ness has been excavated, with many more stone structures Student Jessica “Jo” Heupel uncovers a polished stone axhead—“the finest one I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing discovered,” says excavation director Nick Card (left).