Culture

Tracing Orkney’s Origins

A new book by Laird Scranton

“Just after 4000 BCE, a group of settlers took up residence in the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland.

They established the earliest family farms of the United Kingdom, and later the UK’s first known farming village, Skara Brae.

Skara Brae Neolithic Village

This same group later erected some of the earliest and finest megalithic structures in the British Isles – centuries before Dynastic Egypt.

There is no academic consensus regarding who these first Orcadian farmers were, or from where they originated, in part because each societal element found on Neolithic Orkney is either seen as unique to the region, or else fails to point definitively to any particular place of origin.

Each might conceivably have arrived on Orkney by any number of different paths.

However, there is another approach to these questions of origin. It begins with recognizing several distinct clusters of founding elements on Orkney – some agricultural, others architectural, some linguistic, some that pertain to animal husbandry – still others that are symbolic or cosmological in nature. Some rest with cultural practices that likely existed on the island from earliest times.

These clusters share a common origination point and we can show that they migrated hand-in-hand with each other, and by what likely path. As we follow that track of transmission we shed new light on how ancient cultural traditions must necessarily have related to one another.

Certain mysteries of word etymology, choice of locality for various ancient sites, naming of sites, matching architectural forms, and common mythological themes seem to intuitively resolve.

We come to see certain references as constants across the tradition.

These threads sensibly tie an archaic symbolic tradition to Orkney through a series of historical eras and geographical regions.”

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