Neolithic Orkney


The Heart of Neolithic Orkney refers to a group of Neolithic monuments found in a harsh physical environment on the Scottish Orkney Islands.

The structures were built during the period from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. Archeological evidence suggests that they were important social and religious centres.

The designated area consists of four sites, which are spread out over two locations about 6.6km apart on the island of Mainland. Three sites are located close to each other:

1. Maeshowe: a burial mound built on an artificial platform, with an interior passage and chambers. It is aligned so that the rear wall of its central chamber held up by a bracketed wall, is illuminated on the winter solstice (like in Newgrange). Maeshowe was looted by Vikings in about the 12th century. The more than thirty runic inscriptions they left behind on the walls of the chamber represent the largest single collection of such carvings in the world.

2. Standing Stones of Stenness: 12 large standing thin slabs of stone, 4 of them were part of a stone circle; it also includes the Watch Stone, a monolith 5.5m tall

3. Ring of Brodgar: a series of tall stones (originally 60, now 27 left) forming a circle of 104m diameter. The area also holds thirteen burial mounds.

The 4th site, the neolithic village of Skara Brae, lies on the west coast of Mainland. This is a settlement composed of stone-built houses. It was rediscovered in 1850 after a fierce storm uncovered it.

An earlier incarnation of this nomination, of Maes Howe, Stenness, and Brogar was deferred in 1989. ICOMOS regretted the fact that other Neolithic monuments on Orkney, and in particular Skara Brae, had not been included in the nomination.


Community Reviews

Christer Sundberg - July 2014

For over 25 years I have been traveling to World Heritage Sites around the world. This is a film about the Orkney Island north of Scotland (Swedish voice-over and English subtitles).

John Booth - May 2010

Orkney Coaches run a fantastic service linking the four parts of the WHS with Stomness and Kirkwall. A day ticket cost 7 pounds, and I felt right at home on the bus (the driver was from Tasmania). I found the ancient dwellings at Skara Brae very intesting, but Maes Howe seemed a smaller version of the mound at Newgrange, Ireland.

Connecting from the Scottish rail system to Kirkwall was made very simple with a return ticket costing 28 pounds, which covered the journey fron Thurso to Kirkwall via John O'Groats and Burwick and back again to Wick, in itself an interesting journey.

Pamela Cooper - August 2008

I have made two trips to Orkney. It's a magical place. The neolithic sites of the Ring of Brogdar, the Standing Stones of Stenness, Maeshowe and Skara Brae are all wonderful. Part of the magic is that it's not over crowded. The rest of Orkney is worth visiting as well. St. Magnus Cathedral is fascinating. And the town of Stromness is more than a ferry port. South Ronaldsay, where my grandfather grew up is over the Churchill Barriers. You can visit the Italian Chapel which was done built by 20th century POWs. There are many jewelry designers and other artists on the island. Go to Hoy to say a more wild place than Orkney's mainland. You can see towers that were built for defense during the Napoleonic Wars. From near Longhope you can look back over the Pentland Firth to the mainland of Scotland. Read George Mackay Brown's stories to learn more about Orkney.

Larry Edelstein

My trip to the Orkney Islands was wonderful. I spent one full day and parts of two. With my friend I visited the Ring of Brodgar, the Maeshowe tomb, and the settlement of Skara Brae. All were very interesting.

The ring is very large and can be walked around freely (unlike, say, Stonehenge). You can walk right up to the slabs. It's right off the road.

The tomb is awe-inspiring. The space is maybe 15'x15'x15'. It is pretty completely dark except for the light from the guide's torch (flashlight for us Americans). My friend and I were the only folks in the tomb with the guide, and it was all the better for it. Not only do you get a 5000-year old stone tomb that took a hundred thousand man hours to build, but you also get a collection of 11th century Viking graffiti, too. The tomb is in a grass mound a short way from the road; you must buy a ticket (I think it was 10 quid) at the converted farmhouse opposite.

And the settlement is the most beautiful. Set right by the ocean, it is a sprawling area of holes in the ground, surrounded by rocks, and with some treasures inside. You can actually see a 5000-year old "stone dresser", which is clearly a shelving unit built out of rock for the room's inhabitants. It's still standing. On a nice day this is a really wonderful place to be. Another 5 or 10 quid.

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Site Info

Full name: The Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Site History

  • 1999 - Inscribed

    Reasons for inscription
  • 1990 - Deferred

    As "Orkneys": Less restrictive site required
  • 1989 - Deferred

    Nominated and deferred on recommendation of the Bureau as "Maes Howe and Brogar" for extension and increased protection
  • 1989 - Revision

    On T List as "Mainland Orkney"


The site has 4 locations.

  • Maes Howe Mainland Orkney, Scotland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irela
  • Ring of Brogar Mainland Orkney, Scotland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irela
  • Skara Brae Mainland Orkney, Scotland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irela
  • Stones of Stenness Mainland Orkney, Scotland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irela


The site has 14 connections.



  • Archaeological potential "together with a number of unexcavated burial, ceremonial and settlement sites"
  • Neolithic age 
  • Oldest Buildings 3180 -2500BC - Skara Brae "A stone-built Neolithic settlement, ... It consists of eight clustered houses, and was occupied from roughly 3180-2500BC. Europe's most complete Neolithic village" (Wiki) "Because nothing survived of Skara Brae's roof structures, we must assume that they were made of a perishable, organic material - whalebone or driftwood beams supporting a roof of turf, skins, thatched seaweed or straw"
  • Shell Mounds (Middens) Skara Brae

Human Activity


  • Dubbed as another WHS Skara Brae has been called the "Scottish Pompeii" because of its excellent preservation (wiki)
  • Indiana Jones movie In the 2008 adventure film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Dr. Jones' lecture on the culture of Skara Brae is interrupted with the news that he has been put on indefinite suspension from the university (AB ev)
  • On Banknotes Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney - ?100 - 2009

World Heritage Process