Eight - a Neolithic temple?
opposite House Two are the remains of one of the largest, covered
structure from Neolithic Orkney discovered to date.
This building, built around 2600BC, after the village had been abandoned, was a massive,
hall-like structure, seven metres square, with incredibly thick outer walls. The structure was built on a platform of yellow clay - a feature paralleling the nearby cairn of Maeshowe (see right column).
Structure Eight's clay platform was enclosed by a
circular wall, creating an internal courtyard over 20 metres across.
Because the complex's spatial
layout closely resembles that of the nearby Standing
Stones o' Stenness, it is highly likely that the building was involved in ritual of some
sort. However, we can only guess at the form these rituals took.
access the central enclosure, the Stone Age visitor had to first pass through
a three-metre long entrance passage.
into the floor of this passage was a hearth, flanked by two standing
Although this hearth was probably paved over,
its presence is interesting and probably symbolic - perhaps representing some form of ritual
purification that took place before the individual was permitted to enter the
On the other hand, it may be that the hearth
was simply the remnant of a foundation ceremony that took place before the construction
of Structure Eight began. Either way, its presence once
again highlights the importance placed on the hearth
in Neolithic Orcadian culture.
of the dresser
Inside, things were more or less the same
as the smaller houses, with a large central hearth and stone dresser, similar
to those found in practically all late Neolithic houses.
the discovery of the dresser in Structure Eight proved to archaeologists was that
it was more than a mere item of furniture and probably
had ritual or religious significance.
During the excavation,
a complete Grooved Ware pot was found to have been set into the clay floor by
the eastern wall of the central building. This pot, undecorated except for the
rim area above ground, contained 14 flint nodules - a quantity that would have
been regarded a treasure hoard at the time, given the scarcity of flint in Orkney.
But what was
The construction of Structure Eight seems to indicate
a change in religious and ritual practices of the time.
once the ceremonies took place within the stone circles, open to the entire community,
by the time Structure Eight was built things seem to have changed. The rituals
and religious ceremonies now took place in an enclosed space that was accessible
to a select few.
It has also been pointed out that the
design of Structure Eight closely follows the layout of the Standing
Stones o' Stenness.
So were the builders of Structure
Eight trying to recreate the sacred space of their predecessors but in way that
would suit the changing beliefs of the time?