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  A Brief History of Orkney
The Iron Age - 700BC-500AD

The Riddle of the Iron Age Dead Religion and Belief

Religion and belief

Like funerary custom, a lack of evidence means that there is little we can say for certain about the religious beliefs of the Iron Age Orcadians. However, from discoveries made at brochs and past work at Minehowe and the Knowe o' Skea, as well as evidence from other areas of Scotland, we can make some suppositions.

Fragments of the beliefs of Iron Age Orkney probably survived, to a certain extent, in some of the customs and traditions of Orkney. For example, the Iron Age inhabitants of the isles probably believed in a number of gods, or spirits, who affected their everyday lives in various different ways - from calming storms to working metals, from ensuring bountiful crops to protecting the household.

In the Iron Age, it would appear the people had a particular affinity to water - particularly springs, pools or lochs. In Orkney, as well as throughout the British Isles, we have evidence of artefacts being ritually thrown into bodies of water, presumably as offerings of some sort.

These water-logged discoveries are borne out by the Roman accounts which confirm that the people of north-western Europe revered bodies of water, considering them to be "gateways" to their gods. These customs appear to have been present in Orkney, with a number of spectacular items found in areas of marshy ground in Tankerness.

These water-cults may also have had some connection to the "wells" found in a number of brochs, most notably Gurness, and, of course, the underground chamber of Minehowe.

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