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  The Barnhouse Neolithic Settlement

House Two - the seat of power?

Two of the structures found in the Barnhouse Settlement stand out and may hint at the ritualistic nature of the settlement.

Unlike Skara Brae, the layout of the Barnhouse huts seems to indicate that the settlement had a hierarchical social structure, with a chief, or religious leader, overseeing the community's daily activities.

Whereas Skara Brae's houses had a uniform size and layout - perhaps indicating that no individual was more important than another - Barnhouse was distinctly different. There, at least six "normal" dwellings surrounded a larger, more elaborate 'house'.

This structure now goes by the unremarkable name of House Two.

Chambered cairn similarities

Standing in the south-western quarter of the village, the size and architecture of House Two was completely different to the other contemporary houses excavated in the settlement.

Much larger, and built to a higher standard, the building was partitioned with stone slabs to form two chambers with six rectangular recesses built into the interior wall.

Although these recesses look like the bed "chambers" found in other Orcadian Neolithic dwellings, their similarity to the interior of the Quanterness chambered cairn has led to the theory that this was not their actual purpose.

In addition, each of the building's two chambers had a central hearth.

A few feet in from the main entrance, a stone cist in the floor was found to contain a number of human bones. Covered by a triangular slab of stone, the cist was positioned in such a way that anyone entering the structure was forced to pass over it. Click here for more on this.

The cist, together with the architectural similarity to chambered cairns, could suggest that the structure symbolised a link to the villages' dead or ancestors.

Because of this, it is thought that the structure was more than a mere residence. Instead, it appears to have been involved in rituals or ceremonies significant to the village.

A Communal focal point?

While all the other houses in the settlement were periodically pulled down and rebuilt, House Two was left untouched throughout the life of the village.

This, together with its central position and the open "communal" area to the front of the building, suggests it was a focal point for the community.

A religious structure, perhaps?

Two unfinished mace heads and a polished stone chisel found inside also suggests that the building was used for the manufacture of ceremonial, perhaps sacred, objects.

Structure Eight - a Neolithic temple?