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House Seven

Possibly the oldest, and longest used, structure in Skara Brae goes by the name of House Seven. This structure — the best preserved on the site — was found to be standing on natural sand, while the other houses in the settlement were built on top of the remains of previous structures.

Picture Sigurd TowrieLooking out towards House Seven — covered at the time this picture was taken by a metal and glass roof.

During the 1928 excavations, it was assumed that, because of the architectural similarities with the other later houses, the foundations for House Seven must have been dug through earlier remains. Otherwise, it would have to be contemporary with the earlier houses on the site.

However, the possibility remains that House Seven was one of the first structures on site — one that was remodelled over the years. This was first suggested during excavations in 1972, after the discovery of circular outer walling running around the building.

A definitive answer to this question will, however, require a full excavation.

Despite the similarities to the other houses in the settlement, House Seven has some clear differences.

The top of House Seven. The metal and glass roof was replaced in 2006.

Perhaps the most obvious is the fact that it is completely "detached” from its neighbours. Access to the structure was by a dedicated side-passage — a passage that served House Seven only.

Inside, excavations revealed the bodies of two women in a stone-built grave under the right-hand bed and wall section. The inhumations, in a stone cist decorated with carvings, were made prior to the structure being built. This has led to the suggestion the bodies were involved in some kind of foundation ritual, perhaps hinting that the structure had a special significance.

The idea that House Seven was not a mere dwelling is strengthened when we consider that its door could only be bolted from the outside. In short, whoever went into House Seven had no physical control over when they got out.

Because it was specifically designed to be sealed off from the outside, it has been suggested that House Seven was used to exclude people from the rest of the community.

The question is, why?

Was it used in rituals surrounding death? A place for the recently-deceased to “lie out” before inhumation?

Or perhaps, a birth-house, separating the theoretical rituals surrounding childbirth from everyday life.

Or a structure used for initiation rituals surrounding coming of age, marriage or the like?

Or was House Seven just a temporary jail — a place to incarcerate “lawbreakers”.