In the years since Skara Brae re-emerged from the sand, one of the most commonly asked questions has been how were these Neolithic structures roofed.
Because nothing survived of the Skara Brae roofs, we must assume that they were made of a perishable, organic material — whalebone or driftwood beams supporting a roof of turf, skins, thatched seaweed or straw.
But out on the Ness of Brodgar, the archaeologists found Orkney’s first real evidence of a Neolithic roof.
In most reconstructions of prehistoric buildings, you’ll often see hotch-potched arrangements of turf, animal skins or perhaps thatch.
But on the Ness, the Neolithic builders used stone slates for at least some of their buildings. One of these was Structure Eight, where the roofing remains were uncovered within the side recesses along the interior walls.
Site director, Nick Card, explained in 2010:
Are we seeing the first evidence for a “standard” roofing system?
With no evidence of post holes inside the structure, it seems likely that a wooden framework was secured to the top of the building’s walls, and the slates attached to it.
Every “roof tile” at the Ness is carefully removed in sequence, numbered, measured and recorded so that the experts can not only piece together how they were used but also how the roof collapsed.