By the south shore of the Harray loch, on a point of land called Antaness, around
150 metres to the north of the Standing
Stones o' Stenness, are the remains
of an Orcadian Stone Age settlement.
Now known simply as
the Barnhouse Settlement, only the reconstructed lower courses of a small section of the village's stonework
are visible today.
But although these meagre remains are
nowhere near as impressive as its contemporary, Skara
Brae, the Barnhouse Settlement is particularly interesting for a number of
village was discovered in the winter of 1984, after a field-walking exercise undertaken
by archaeologist, Colin Richards.
over the centuries meant that little remained of the site, but the resulting excavations
uncovered evidence of 15 small dwellings in varying stages of development.
structures were round - perhaps with timber and turf roofs - with turf cladding
surrounding the outer walls. Because there were no roofed passageways between
the huts - such as those at Skara Brae
- it appears that the Barnhouse dwellings were free standing and not encased in
But particularly intriguing was the fact that
each building appeared to have been deliberately demolished at the end of its life.
Today, although only the reconstructed
lower walls are visible, the similarities between Barnhouse and Skara Brae are obvious.
This is not particularly surprising given the two villages were
in use at the same time. On closer examination, however, it becomes clear that
the Barnhouse structures actually differ in style to Skara Brae.
difference, however, is not great and probably due to the fact that the Barnhouse
settlement fell out of use 450 years before Skara Brae. As such, its architecture
did not develop to the same extent.
at Skara Brae has shown that its earliest dwellings were relatively similar to
the Barnhouse structures.
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.
two of the Barnhouse buildings are very different.
structures - House Two and Structure Eight - are larger and more elaborate than the other buildings at Barnhouse
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.
of a priesthood?
Another idea is that the village was constructed
to house an elite class of "priest".
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
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
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.