Off the northern coast of Scotland lay the Orkney Islands. These islands have a population of around 22,000 and have a long Viking history. The Orkney Islands boast a much older history going all the way back to the Neolithic times (and predating the Pyramids). The Orkney Islands are remarkable for the four UNESCO-listed Neolithic sites on these isles called "Heart Of Neolithic Orkney."

When many people think of the Orkney Islands, they think of cold windswept islands but they are secretly rich in pre-history. Among the Neolithic ruins are also Henges. Stonehenge isn't the only oldest or impressive henge in the British Isles.

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Heart Of Neolithic Orkney

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is a group of four stunning and ancient Neolithic monuments on the Mainland of the Orkney Islands in Scotland. They were listed together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. They are made up of:

Skara Brae: Northern Europe's Best Preserved Neolithic Village Made up of Eight Houses

  • Ring of Brodgar: A Stone Circle Forming A Henge Monument With 27 Remain Megaliths
  • Standing Stones Of Stenness: The Remains of A Henge With Four Remaining Megaliths - Much Larger Than The Ring Of Brodgar
  • Maes Howe: A Unique Chambered Cairn and Passage Grave. It is Illuminated On The Winter Solstice

Anyone visiting the Orkney Islands should visit all of these very ancient attractions.

Skara Brae Neolithic Settlement

Skara Brae is a Neolithic settlement on the Mainland of the Orkney Islands. It is was built of stone and consisted of ten clustered houses. They were made of flagstones and were in earthen dams to support the walls.

Inside these ancient houses were hearths, beds, and cupboards. They even have a primitive sewer system with "toilets" that would drain into the ocean.

  • Date: 3180 BC to Around 2500 BC
  • Inhabited: For around 600 Years
  • Status: UNESCO Listed

Related: Göbekli Tepe Dates From the Neolithic Period in Turkey (It's So Old That It Makes The Great Pyramid Look Young)

Today Skara Brae is Europe's most complete Neolithic village. Having been inhabited from 3180 BC to 2500 BC, it is so old that it predates Stonehenge and even the Great Pyramids of Giza. Still, as old as it is, there is no betting the ages of Karahan Tepe and Gobekli that are believed to be around 12,000 years old.

The site was discovered in the winter of 1850 when a great storm battered Orkney, the storm stripped the grass from the large mound revealed the stone buildings that had been lying buried for thousands of years. The site was partly excavated but then storms started to damage the 4 excavated buildings, a sea wall was built to preserve these remains, but while building the sea wall yet more Neolithic buildings were discovered.

Thanks to the protective cover of sand that blanketed the settlement for 4,000 years they are incredibly well-preserved. After so many years of habitation, Skara Brae became embedded in its own rubbish and together with the encroaching sand dunes eventually led the village to be abandoned.

Admission: Adult: £9.00 (16-64 Years Old) | Child: £5.40 (5-15 Years Old)

Hours Open: 30 Apr to 30 Sept: Daily, 10 am to 5 pm | 1 Oct to 31 Mar: Daily, 10 am to 4 pm

Related: This Is What It's Like To Be Inside The Great Pyramid Of Giza

Ring Of Brodgar

The Ring of Brodgar represents Orkney's ancient heritage and is locally iconic.

Much remains to be discovered about the Ring of Brodgar as the interior has never been fully excavated or even scientifically dated and so the site's age remains uncertain. But it is thought to date from between 2500 BC and 2000 BC. If that is true is it the last of the Neolithic monuments built here.

  • Date: From Between 2500 BC and 2000 BC

The stone ring was built in a circle almost 104 meters (almost 100 yards) wide and is the third-largest stone circle in the British Isles. It is thought to have originally had 60 megaliths, although today only 27 stones remain. There are also at least 13 prehistoric burial mounds.

  • Megaliths: 27 Stones Today, Perhaps 60 Originally

The Brodgar stones vary in height from 2.1 meters (7 feet) to as much as 4.7 meters (over 15 feet). While it looks like a henge, it lacks the external bank of a true henge.

  • Admission: Free To Visit
  • Open: Year-Round

Standing Stones o' Stenness And Maes Howe

The megaliths here stand at a maximum height of six meters or around 19 feet. At this height, they make the monument visible for miles around. Today only 4 of these massive megaliths remain. Originally they were laid out in an ellipse and it is thought that there were originally 12 megaliths. It would also seem that the ring was never completed with one or two never being erected.

  • Date: At Least 3100 BC

While there see the Maes Howe, this is a Neolithic chambered cairn that could have been built around 2800 BC. Today it appears as a large grassy mound and it is clearly visible for miles around.

  • Date: Around 280 BC

Next: Stonehenge: 20 Surprising and Mysterious Facts Most People Aren't Aware Of