Orkney is an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland, situated off the north coast of the island of Great Britain. It has about 70 islands, of which 20 are inhabited. The largest island, the Mainland, has an area of 523 square kilometres, making it the sixth-largest Scottish island and the tenth-largest island in the British Isles. Orkney’s largest settlement, and also its administrative centre, is Kirkwall.
The islands have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years, originally occupied by Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes and then by the Picts. Orkney was colonized and later annexed by the Kingdom of Norway in 875 and settled by the Norsemen. In 1472, the Parliament of Scotland absorbed the Earldom of Orkney into the Kingdom of Scotland, following the failure to pay a dowry promised to James III of Scotland by the family of his bride, Margaret of Denmark.
The local people are known as Orcadians; they speak a distinctive dialect of the Scots language and have a rich body of folklore. Orkney contains some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe; the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site including, among other sites, Skara Brae – a stone-built Neolithic settlement, located on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of Mainland, the largest island in the Orkney archipelago of Scotland. Consisting of ten clustered houses, made of flagstones, in earthen dams that provided support for the walls; the houses included stone hearths, beds, and cupboards. A primitive sewer system, with “toilets” and drains in each house, carried effluent to the ocean. The site was occupied from roughly 3180 BC to about 2500 BC and is Europe’s most complete Neolithic village. Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza, it has been called the “Scottish Pompeii” because of its excellent preservation.