With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

Eaten by Otters

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 15, 2018

September 21st – 26th, 2017

When you visit all these neolithic sites on Orkney, you come across the same questions over and over again. Who were these people? Where did they come from? Where did they go? What were they doing with all those large rocks and cairns? The answers are a little hard to come by.

Who were these people? Picts? Maybe… It is believed that the ancient people of Orkney either became the Picts or they were invaded by the Picts. Or neither could be true. Maybe some of them were Picts. There is evidence that people came and went. There might have been several peoples moving about the islands throughout prehistory. It all started sometime after the last ice age when area thawed out and people walked to Scotland.

checking out a cairn

Where did they come from? Europe, most likely; maybe Scandinavia. We know that later on the Vikings showed up and started placing their loot and sometimes their dead in the cairns they found on the island. The Vikings didn’t build the cairns… Well, not many of them. They might have made a cairn or two. Who knows?

But we do know they liked writing on one cairn in particular. Inside the Maeshowe cairn there is a lot of Viking graffiti. Some of the writing is of a woman’s complaints that men just aren’t real men anymore. There is even a few lines about Ragnar Lothbrok and his “smooth sons”, whatever that means. I guess someone would have been a fan of (at least the first few seasons of) Vikings on the History Channel.

Besides the Vikings and the Picts, there might have been other people coming and going. I spoke to a man working at the Broch of Gurnes and he told me what really amazed him. He said that someone would find a wall or some other evidence of a building. Excavation would start and the building would be unearthed. In that process another building further down would be found. In removing that building, yet another would be found underneath.

For some reason, people kept just building on top of buildings instead of picking some place new. Why? Well, he told me that they haven’t figured that out yet. People kept building in the same spots regardless of whether the people one level up knew about the existence of the people one level down. We can only guess what their reasons were.

What are cairns? Cairns are man-made mounds built of stone with grass grown over them. When archaeologists look inside, sometimes they find bones of humans and animals. Oddly, they don’t usually find any complete skeletons. For example, in the Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn they found mostly sculls. Some were from humans and some were from dogs. So entire bodies are not being placed into cairns like we would put a body in a crypt these days.

The cairns are a lot like the homes. But, cairns did not have a fireplace. The houses were round with shelving; the cairns were round with shelving. There is a theory that a building started off as a home. Then after some deaths, the fireplace was removed, bones were placed inside, and it became a burial chamber. Then after some time the stones of the cairn were used for something else and bigger stones, like monoliths, were place around where the cairn once was.

In other words, something like the Stones of Stenness is now on a spot where some house that was turned into a cairn was. Since the islands have a lot of houses and many cairns, but there is a huge lack of standing stones, it is believed that the last part was reserved for only very wonderful people.

There is another belief that these “monoliths of honor” over the years became a religion. Many people deified the dead that they honored. People walked in circles going from one set of monoliths to another for ceremonies at certain times of the year.

Of course, all of this is mostly speculation. No one wrote down, in a way we could understand today, what they did or why they did it.

Then there are the burial places where things are just bizarre. One is the Tomb of the Otters. The other is the Tomb of the Eagles. What makes these places stand out is that it seems that the bodies of the dead were given to animals to be eaten. No where else on the island is there evidence that this was common practice. So, why here?

Both these tombs appear not to have too many people buried in them when the length of time these tombs were being used is considered. So, why were otters and eagles allowed to eat these specific people. Were they especially loved or hated?

Who knows? But, it’s all very interesting.


The United Kingdom

How to get there:

You can enter this country by land via an underwater tunnel, air, or sea.

Check with your local UK embassy for visa information.

Phone:

  • Use 112 or 999 for the police, fire department, or to get an ambulance

Website:

Data:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • If you’re going to do a lot of travel by train or bus, looking for a Rail card or buss pass before you buy your first ticket.
    • Railway Cards
    • Oyster Card
    • Even getting a day pass on a bus could be cheaper than getting 3 single passes, or a return ticket and a single pass.
  • If you are going to stay in hostels, join Hosteling International, or any of it’s subsidiaries.
    • YHA – England & Wales
    • SYHA – Scotland
      • Membership at any of these will get you the discounted rate at any of the other hosteling organizations.
      • These hostels tend to be better than most hostels.

Orkney Islands

Basic Information

How to get there:

Information by Wikipedia:

Website

Downloads:

Notes:

  • Leave the umbrellas at home.
  • Bring a good rain coat, rain boots, rain pants, and hope it doesn’t rain.
  • Before visiting any of the sights, get membership in either Historic Scotland (mainly if you plan to travel all over Scotland) or Orkney Explorer Pass.

Yesnaby

Basic Information

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • 24hrs

Notes:


Maeshowe

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • £6
  • Free with Historic Scotland membership

Hours:

  • 9:30 – 17:00

Videos:

Notes:


Earls Bu and Church

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 24hrs

Notes:

  • This is the oldest surviving round church in Scotland.
  • This is near a walking path.
  • This is right next to the Orkneyinga Saga Centre.
    • It’s free and unmanned.
    • The door is left unlocked.
    • You can use the bathroom.

Skerries Bistro

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

Hours:

  • MONDAY 12-4 PM   &   6-9PM
  • TUESDAY   12-4 PM
  • WEDNESDAY 12-4 PM   &  6-9PM
  • THURSDAY 12-4 PM
  • FRIDAY 12-4 PM     &   6-9PM
  • SATURDAY 12-4 PM  &    6-9PM
  • SUNDAY 12-4 PM

Notes:

  • You can book and pay for your tour of the Banks Chambered Tomb.
  • Great local dishes.

Banks Chambered Tomb
Tomb of the otters

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • £7.50

Hours:

  • 11:00 – 17:00 (last tour 16:00)

Notes:

  • Personally, I think this is a must see.

Tomb of the Eagles

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • £7.50

Hours:

  • March          10:00 – 12:00
  • Apr~Sept     9:30 – 17:30
  • Oct                9:30 – 12:30
  • Nov~Feb      Closed

Videos:

Notes:

  • This is one of the oldest building in Britain.
  • You are given rain boots and rain pants so your clothes and shoes can stay dry and mud free.
  • It’s also a really lovely walk along the cliff.

Highland Park

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

Hours:

  • 10:00 – 17:00
  • Closed Sundays

Notes:

  • It’s best to book a tour in advance.

Don’t Miss:

Map:

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