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8 amazing structures with mysterious origins

By: Josh Lew on May 23, 2014, 8:19 a.m.
Skara Brae

Photo: genevieveromier/Flickr

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Skara Brae

Located on Scotland's rugged Orkney Islands, the round mound-like buildings of Skara Brae are in remarkably good condition considering that they are thought to be much older than the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Most estimates put these structures at 5,000 years of age. The settlement has been called the “Scottish Pompeii,” not because it was destroyed by a volcano, but because it remains in almost pristine condition despite being abandoned thousands of years ago. The buildings were well preserved because they were covered with dry sand blown from Orkney's coastal dunes. 

The eight dwellings of Skara Brae and the passageways that connect them are now a popular attraction for tourists, many of whom come via cruise ship. These dwellings have brought scientists a great deal of insight about life in Scotland in Neolithic times, but the history of this site remains quite mysterious. Human remains, carvings, and a bull's head were found in a building that was isolated from the rest of the complex, inspiring theories about ancient religious rituals. Also, it is uncertain whether it was the encroaching sand dunes or some catastrophic event that caused the village to be abandoned more than 4,000 years ago.