I have always been taken in by the spaces of the places I enter. I notice the architecture, the layout, the form, the material, the colour, the feeling, the smell, the objects and the people that make up the place. Whether it is a skyscraper, a shopping mall, a temple or church, I take it all in. Not to critique it, to see its story.
It is perhaps why I’m more fascinated to visit places (rather than museums) that show how people lived, especially during periods we know little about like the ruins of Pompeii and Skara Brae, where I recently visited this past August.
On the plague (from the Skara Brae Visitor Centre): Skara Brae is a village without metal. From radiocarbon dating, we know that the village at Skara Brae was inhabited for a period of about 600 years, from around 3100-2500 BC*. This is the later part of the period known as the Neolithic or New Stone Age, a time before metals had been discovered. During the Neolithic, new forms of communities were established based on farming crops and rearing animals. Skara Brae is important because it is one of the earliest known farming villages in Britain. However, the people who lived here not only farmed, but also fished and hunted.
Other than this the information on this plaque, we know very little about the community that lived there because there was no written language. We can speculate from the space left left behind that it was a close-knit community that relied on each other. The houses (consisting of one room) of the village were free standing but connected through a passageway which was low. When you entered a house you had to crouch down into it. And each house door had a lock (from the inside).
Some believe the low passageways and entryways were there defensively to protect and alert one of outsiders or maybe to keep heat in during winters in Orkney. Each of the houses were standard suggesting there was no clear leader in this collectivist society.
I noticed something interesting when I read the plaques for each of the houses. One plaque was called ‘Secure Storage’. On the plaque it states: ‘Storage spaces were built into the wall of House 5. One of these is behind the dresser and would have been concealed, perhaps deliberately hidden, when the dresser was in use. Others were more accessible and probably held everyday goods such as pottery. Some probably provided stands for lamps which burned oil from whales, seals or seabirds.’
A concealed dresser in a close-knit community? Evidence of hiding places and locks? It made me think about living in a close-knit society, we are not so different – boundaries were necessary some 5000 years ago.
*Older than the Egyptian pyramids.
Here are more photos from Skara Brae.