web analytics

One of pre-history’s great WTFs

Okay, so the Orknies are those islands on the North coast of Scotland. Bleak, tiny and cold as witch titty. And eight years ago, archeologists discovered a gigantic Neolithic building complex up there. Presumably a temple complex, because the thing is so huge and weird.

How huge? Well the site — smack between two well-known stone circles — is (I believe they said) the size of four football fields end-to-end (presumably they meant soccer fields, which are even bigger than real football fields). They’ve only excavated a tiny part of it, but scans say there are about a hundred buildings total.

And by buildings, I mean dressed stone buildings with slate rooves and weirdly curvy walls fifteen feet thick. Some evidence of carving and painting on the walls, lots of tools and bits of pottery. Whatever they were doing up there in the ass end of nowhere, they were doing it for a thousand years, somehow keeping themselves amply supplied with workmen, man-hours and quarried stone. Peat for the fires and food for the priests.

Oh, and they found a pit full of beef bones. Testing showed the cattle were raised on fodder with a high nitrogen content — in other words, raised by farmers who used sophisticated fertilizer, presumably manure-based. But — get this — these cattle were all slaughtered at the same, or about the same, time.

They had a beef feast for 10,000 and smashed the whole place up, deliberately. Probably not invaders, because another similarly-constructed hall was then built on the ruins.

And this five hundred years before Stonehenge was assembled.

If you’re in the UK, you can catch a program about it on the iPlayer for another week (sorry, fellow Yanks — I can’t watch Hulu, you can’t watch BBC). If not, you can follow the dig’s own site (excavation ended in August and will begin again in June, but there’s lots of background information). Oh, if you must, here’s an overview from the Daily Mail


Comment from Mitchell TAFKAEY
Time: January 2, 2012, 10:03 pm

Finally! Proof that the Scots have been far weirder for far longer than previously estimated!

Comment from Ghost
Time: January 2, 2012, 10:13 pm

That’s freakin badass.

Comment from Redd
Time: January 2, 2012, 10:59 pm

Missed it. I was too busy watching Sherlock.

Comment from Man Mountain Molehill
Time: January 2, 2012, 11:00 pm

Wow! I didn’t know about this one. Add this to Stonehenge, West Kennet Long Barrow, Avebury and Silbury Hill. Prehistoric Britain must have been a wild and crazy place.

More evidence that the climate was warmer back then.

Comment from Mrs. Compton
Time: January 2, 2012, 11:17 pm

Ah, my fav, the Daily Mail!

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: January 2, 2012, 11:25 pm

So I sez to me mates, “I’m bored. Ain’t nuffing to do up here on God’s elbow” and me right mate Ug, he sez “Cor let’s be building some temples to kill the time.”

Well, we builds them and that’s great but then we’re all bored as your Aunt Katie’s areshole again so we ‘re just sitting there and suddenly Ogg he says “Right then , let’s throw a great fooking party!”

So we round up a great lot of cattle, and brew some beer and we’re off to having a grand barbeque till somebody got a bit snooked and starts calling the Druids tree-fookers or some such shite. The next thing you know the whole place is ruint, and half buried and it’s 800 years before we can get anybody to agree to build anything again.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: January 2, 2012, 11:30 pm

I suppose it was inevitable but the programme raised more questions than it answered.

For example, even if the climate had been warmer 5,000 years ago, Orkney would still have been pretty remote and relatively inhospitable, so why was it the apparent centre of European neolithic culture?

If some Elijah figure or an Akhenaten had come along, what became of the new temple he persuaded those people to build? Was it abandoned, destroyed?

Above all, what led to the Orcadians’ decline?

Neolithic Britain is a fascinating subject and greatly ignored since far better preserved and ‘exotic’ remains were found in the ME during the 19th Century.

I just wish the buggers had learned how to write.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 2, 2012, 11:31 pm

<rolls up a Daily Mail and shakes it at Mrs C>

Comment from steve
Time: January 2, 2012, 11:34 pm

@ Some Vegetable:

That sounds about right!

Comment from steve
Time: January 2, 2012, 11:37 pm

Above all, what led to the Orcadians’ decline?

Colder and even more inhospitable places were discovered, Iceland and Greenland….persuading them to move to the places even more remote than “Gods elbow”.

Comment from Mrs. Compton
Time: January 2, 2012, 11:46 pm

Unca B, have you read London by Edward Rutherford? You’ll find all the answers in there. 🙂

*ducks and runs from Ms Weasel.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: January 3, 2012, 12:08 am

Funnily enough, yes, Mrs. C – and I’ll tell you a story about that one day 😉

Comment from Redd
Time: January 3, 2012, 12:28 am

For example, even if the climate had been warmer 5,000 years ago, Orkney would still have been pretty remote and relatively inhospitable, so why was it the apparent centre of European neolithic culture?

Cuz, they had central heating and in door plumbing?? Hell, I’d live there. 🙂

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: January 3, 2012, 12:44 am

When I was a King and a Mason — a Master proven and skilled —
I cleared me ground for a Palace such as a King should build.
I decreed and dug down to my levels. Presently, under the silt,
I came on the wreck of a Palace such as a King had built.

There was no worth in the fashion — there was no wit in the plan —
Hither and thither, aimless, the ruined footings ran —
Masonry, brute, mishandled, but carven on every stone:
“After me cometh a Builder. Tell him, I too have known.”

Swift to my use in my trenches, where my well-planned ground-works grew,
I tumbled his quoins and his ashlars, and cut and reset them anew.
Lime I milled of his marbles; burned it, slacked it, and spread;
Taking and leaving at pleasure the gifts of the humble dead.

Yet I despised not nor gloried; yet, as we wrenched them apart,
I read in the razed foundations the heart of that builder’s heart.
As he had risen and pleaded, so did I understand
The form of the dream he had followed in the face of the thing he had planned.

* * * * *

When I was a King and a Mason — in the open noon of my pride,
They sent me a Word from the Darkness. They whispered and called me aside.
They said — “The end is forbidden.” They said — “Thy use is fulfilled.
“Thy Palace shall stand as that other’s — the spoil of a King who shall build.”

I called my men from my trenches, my quarries, my wharves, and my sheers.
All I had wrought I abandoned to the faith of the faithless years.
Only I cut on the timber — only I carved on the stone:
“After me cometh a Builder. Tell him, I too have known!”

The Palace, Rudyard Kipling

Comment from Mrs. Compton
Time: January 3, 2012, 1:08 am


Comment from drew458
Time: January 3, 2012, 2:11 am

Hey there Woozle fans. Just checking in to see if anyone had Bob Anderson in the Dead Pool. No? How about Darth Vader? No?

Looks like the dick is safe for another day then.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: January 3, 2012, 3:32 am

Well if I lived up there I’d want 15 foot thick walls, too.

Comment from Oceania
Time: January 3, 2012, 8:14 am

Another site that pushes human history way back. Google Puma Punku.

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: January 3, 2012, 3:19 pm

I am always fascinated by the amazing things that the ancients were able to do. Incredible feats of architecture, science, and art. Then I am humbled by somethat James Thurber once said: “Why are we always so amazed that a man 10’000 years ago could draw a duck that looks like a duck?” We are no smarter than they. And sadly, it would seem (at least in the vegetable household) no wiser…here are the contents of the shopping list Mrs Vegetable left on the counter for me this morning:

Red, White, Sangria, mouthwash, eggs.

I’m thinking perhaps we left something off our New Year’s resolution list….

Comment from Wolfus Aurelius
Time: January 3, 2012, 3:27 pm

Can’t Hark, I pride myself that I knew you were quoting Mr. Kipling even before I read the attribution line. Not that I knew the poem; but nobody else could deliver such grand rolling rhythms. It’s a shame he’s fallen out of favor or style these days.

Comment from Mr. Dave
Time: January 3, 2012, 5:26 pm

I went to a three day wedding on Hoy. My liver has never been the same.

Comment from A pretty pissed-off Pirate of Penzance
Time: January 3, 2012, 6:11 pm

O Noes!!1! They have discovered our all but inaccessible lair!!

Comment from mojo
Time: January 3, 2012, 6:14 pm

Dig diary: “GodDAMN! it’s cold!! I mean REAL cold, the kind of cold that makes you want to leap onto a funeral pyre, just to defrost your ears. Found a rock.”

Comment from mojo
Time: January 3, 2012, 6:16 pm

Dig diary: “Day two. Did I mention the wet? Cold and wet. Found another rock.”

Comment from Mr. Compton
Time: January 3, 2012, 6:56 pm

Well DUH, obviously the place was destroyed by the Occupy Orkney protests.

Comment from Rich Rostrom
Time: January 4, 2012, 1:33 am

More evidence (if more was needed) that the people of other eras were not like us.

It’s obvious, even in Roman history. One reads along through Suetonius, about intrigues and adulteries and elections and embezzlements and satires, and it all seems quite contemporary, and then something comes by that was quite common with Romans and is completely alien to our way of thinking.

And when it comes to Stone Age peoples – we really don’t have more than a slim clue.

Comment from GregO
Time: January 4, 2012, 2:37 am

That is totally wild.

I can’t help but recall reading my Penguin Classic translation of the “Orkneyinga Saga” the story of medieval warlords, and various other barbarians bickering over control of the Orkneys in the ninth through the twelfth centuries. Proof that this area has been valued and occupied during historic times.

But “prehistoric” times? Wow.

Pingback from Stranger Than You Can Imagine | Daily Pundit
Time: January 4, 2012, 5:31 am

[…] Than You Can Imagine Posted on January 3, 2012 9:30 pm by Bill Quick S. Weasel And by buildings, I mean dressed stone buildings with slate rooves and weirdly curvy walls fifteen […]

Comment from ermine
Time: January 5, 2012, 3:24 am

I hears Orkney and I thinks Skullsplitter.

Comment from ryukyu
Time: January 5, 2012, 4:02 am

“Google Puma Punku”

Google Gobekli Tepe.

Write a comment

(as if I cared)

(yeah. I'm going to write)

(oooo! you have a website?)

Beware: more than one link in a comment is apt to earn you a trip to the spam filter, where you will remain -- cold, frightened and alone -- until I remember to clean the trap. But, hey, without Akismet, we'd be up to our asses in...well, ass porn, mostly.

<< carry me back to ol' virginny