The Heart of Neolithic Orkney Celebrates 20 Years as a UNESCO Site

This week The Heart of Neolithic Orkney has been celebrating its 20th birthday as a World Heritage Site.

It was in December 1999 that the sites of the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe and Skara Brae were recognised for their uniqueness and their importance for world heritage by UNESCO.

The group of Neolithic monuments on Orkney consists of a large chambered tomb (Maes Howe), two ceremonial stone circles (the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar) and a settlement (Skara Brae), together with a number of unexcavated burial, ceremonial and settlement sites. The group constitutes a major prehistoric cultural landscape which gives a graphic depiction of life in this remote archipelago in the far north of Scotland some 5,000 years ago. UNESCO

The four monuments that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney are unquestionably among the most important Neolithic sites in Western Europe. These are the Ring of Brodgar, Stones of Stenness, Maeshowe and Skara Brae. They provide exceptional evidence of the material and spiritual standards as well as the beliefs and social structures of this dynamic period of prehistory UNESCO

The sites are managed by Historic Environment Scotland. A fee is charged to enter both Skara Brae and Maeshowe but the standing stones at both Stenness and Brodgar are free to visit.

The sites are visited by many thousands of visitors every year but for the People of Orkney they continue to be special places too.

Late in August this year the pupils of the local school at Stenness who are themselves very knowledgeable about the sites helped the HES team to celebrate the 20th birthday as a UNESCO site.

The sites are under pressure from high visitor numbers and the effects of climate change but being World Heritage Sites does mean that they have to be cared for to a degree that many other sites do not benefit from.

Here’s a wee video from UNESCO. Enjoy the pronunciations.

Stenness CReporter: Fiona Grahame

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