New protection measures at Skara Brae

Scientific monitoring of House Seven,  at Skara Brae, has shown that further measures are needed to preserve it for future generations.

Equipment installed by Historic Scotland, which cares for the site, has confirmed that a glass roof, built over the house in the 1920s, can create problems associated with heat gain in the summer months.

As the internal temperature rises and falls the moisture is sucked in and out of the walls, which is feared could damage the stonework and the delicate Neolithic carvings.

In an attempt to stabilise the atmosphere, a year-long monitoring exercise is planned from the end of June which will involve fitting a reflective film to the glass of the existing roof.

While this means that visitors cannot look through the roof to the inside, they will still have full access to the nearby replica of House Seven and will be able to visit the rest of the village as usual.

Visitors will each be given a bookmark printed with an explanation of the work to shield the roof.

Stephen Watt, Historic Scotland district architect, said: “This work only affects one of the 10 excavated houses and other structures, but Skara Brae is a site of world importance and we must keep it safe for future generations.

“It is important to find solutions now as we do not want to run the risk of unnecessary damage.

“The public have never been able to go inside House Seven, but it has been possible to look through the glass roof.

“While the roof has done a superb job of protecting the house from wind, rain, sand, snow and frost it has led to other problems.

“An additional concern is that our monitoring suggests that the weight of the roof, and of visitors walking on the wall heads, has caused some structural movement.”

While the movement is described as “minor”, Historic Scotland is also looking at how it should be dealt with.

In the short-term it is likely that an existing path across the wallheads, which cut across the site to let visitors see through the roof of House 7, will be closed while access across the rest of the site will be retained and improved.

Similar monitoring work at Maeshowe has largely shown it to be structurally stable.

However, moisture does appear to be leaking in from the top where a Victorian roof and overlying early 20th century concrete cap were built to cover the hole left centuries before by Vikings who broke in to search for treasure.

Four trial trenches, measuring 1m by 1m will be dug during the summer to investigate the problem.

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