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Orkneyjar – the barnhouse neolithic settlement

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But despite

the architectural differences, the Barnhouse Settlement visitor will still be able to

pick out the similarities between the two ancient settlements – both have the

  • same central, kerbed hearths, recessed box-beds
  • and stone furniture.
  • But two of the Barnhouse buildings are very different.

    These structures – House Two and Structure Eight – are larger and more elaborate than the other buildings at Barnhouse

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  • or Skara Brae.
  • These differences, clearly apparent on
  • the site plan to the right, prompted the theory that the structures were built

    to house someone of importance within a tribal hierarchy.

  • We know the Barnhouse settlement was in
  • use at the same time as the Standing Stones
  • o’ Stenness and within the largest structure is a central hearth,

  • similar to the one in the Stenness henge.
  • Was the settlement
  • created to house certain individuals who were instrumental in the construction

    of the stone ring? This might explain why the buildings were demolished after

    use – when the project was completed the artisans moved on.

  • Home of a priesthood?
  • Another idea is that the village was constructed
  • to house an elite class of “priest”.
  • This theory
  • originally surfaced a number of years before Barnhouse was discovered, when it

    was suggested that Skara Brae was the home of “priests” who officiated at tribal

    ceremonies in and around the Stenness rings. At the time, however, the idea was

    abandoned, only to be resurrected after the Barnhouse settlement was found.

    The design of House Two seems to fit with this idea as

    there are structural similarities between it and Orkney’s chambered

    cairns. Perhaps this building was not a mere dwelling but was actually some

    form of meeting hall, connected with the ceremonies at the nearby stone rings.

    Or were the tribal wise-men cloistered in this sacred compound, close to their

  • ceremonial centre?
  • The ritualistic elements apparent in
  • the design of the Barnhouse settlement and its location in the ceremonial

  • heartland of Neolithic Orkney – the Ring o’
  • Brodgar, the Stenness Stones and
  • Maeshowe are all clearly visible from Barnhouse
  • - certainly lends weight to this idea.
  • A clear connection between Barnhouse and the Standing Stones o’ Stenness is the large stone hearth found in the centre of the stone circle. This hearth was constructed from four large stone slabs, and, according to Colin Richards, was transplanted Barnhouse to the interior of the ring.

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    The mystery of House Two

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