The Heart of Neolithic Orkney

5,000 year old ceremonial center



Maes Howe by Historic Environment ScotlandCyArk

Expedition Overview

In 2010, Historic Environment Scotland partnered with CyArk and the School of Simulation and Visualisation to document five of Scotland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites in five years. These sites include the Antonine Wall, St. Kilda, Edinburgh, New Lanark and Neolithic Orkney. Neolithic Orkney is a grouping of neolithic monuments in the Orkney archipelago on the Northeast coast of Scotland that provide a rare glimpse into prehistoric life in Northern Europe. Documentation efforts at Neolithic Orkney focused on several key archaeological sites including Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe and the Stones of Stenness. In August 2010, the project partners used LiDAR, or laser scanning, to record the present condition of the structures as well as the surrounding context for use in monitoring and to support the ongoing management of the sites.

Skara Brae by Historic Environment ScotlandCyArk

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Some 5,000 years ago, the prehistoric people of the Orkney Islands began building extraordinary monuments out of stone. Each of the four Heart of Neolithic Orkney sites is a masterpiece of Neolithic design and construction in itself. But together they represent one of the richest surviving Neolithic landscapes in Western Europe. The series of important domestic and ritual monuments gives us incredible insights into the society, skills and spiritual beliefs of the people who built the monuments. Skara Brae is a domestic settlement whose stone walls, passageways and stone furnishings – including beds and ‘dressers’ – survive to the present day. Maeshowe, a chambered tomb, is an extraordinary example of Neolithic architectural genius. It was designed so that the light of the setting sun at the winter solstice focuses on the narrow passageway, illuminating the chamber inside. The Stones of Stenness circle and henge is a very early example of this type of monument. The surviving stones are enormous, standing up to 6m tall. The Ring of Brodgar is a great stone circle 130m across. Surrounded by a rock cut ditch, it is set in a spectacular natural amphitheatre of lochs and hills.

Maes Howe by Historic Environment ScotlandCyArk

Maes Howe

Maeshowe, a monumental chambered tomb, is the finest Neolithic building to survive in north-west Europe. Built around 5,000 years ago, it is a masterpiece of Neolithic design and construction – not least because of its use of massive stones.Creating such a huge building must have been a major challenge for our remote ancestors, working without metal tools or powered machinery. It also clearly shows a tremendous social commitment.From the outside, Maeshowe looks just like a large grassy mound. (The word ‘howe’ comes from the Old Norse for ‘hill’.) To appreciate its size and significance, visitors must enter Maeshowe, stooping to walk its long passageway to reach the central, stone-built chamber. The outside world feels far away, with just a small glint of light entering the tomb.

Open Heritage 3D by CyArkCyArk

Data from this project is now freely available through Open Heritage 3D.

Download the data from:

Skara Brae
The Ring of Brodgar
The Stones of Stenness

About Open Heritage 3D

The mission of the Open Heritage 3D project is to:

● Provide open access to 3D cultural heritage datasets for education, research and other
non-commercial uses.

● Minimize the technical, financial and legal barriers for publishers of 3D heritage data.

● Promote discovery and re-use of datasets through standardized metadata and data formats.

● Foster community collaboration and knowledge sharing in the 3D cultural heritage community.

● Share best practices and methodologies for the capture, processing and storage of 3D cultural heritage data

Credits: Story

The heart of Neolithic Orkeny was documented as part of the Scottish 10, the project set out in late 2009 to digitally document Scotland’s then five World Heritage Sites and a further five international heritage sites to create accurate 3D data to help with their conservation and management, their interpretation and virtual access.

It is a collaborative project between Historic Environment Scotland and The Glasgow School of Art’s School of Simulation and Visualisation (working together as the Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation), with CyArk

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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